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Deep Throat: Too Late the Hero

The passing of Mark Felt of Watergate fame forces us to examine the irony in his betrayal of Nixon.

by
Clarice Feldman

Bio

December 20, 2008 - 10:23 am
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When I decided to write something on Mark Felt who passed away this week at 95, an online friend, Narciso, wrote of the “incremental irony of Mark Felt.” When I asked him to elaborate he wrote back:

He conducted illegal or at least dubious surveillance against the Weathermen, he then faults Nixon for the same tactics, he undermined his own agency and ultimately almost ended up in jail.

Besides sage words about being wary of the motives of government employees bearing tales of corruption to the press, Narciso’s words constitute as complete an epitaph of Mark Felt as I can summon.

Felt has been lionized in the media for his revealed role as “Deep Throat” in the Watergate scandal. But he also has a history that shows him to be less than deserving of those accolades.

1. He Conducted Illegal or at Least Dubious Surveillance Against the Weathermen

In 1972 and 1973, the FBI was vigorously pursuing  the Weather Underground, a domestic terrorist  group who had planted bombs at the Capitol, the Pentagon, and the Department of State. On nine occasions, Felt authorized FBI agents to secretly break into five different residences in New York and New Jersey occupied by persons believed to be associated with the Weathermen.

These break-ins — called “black bag” operations — were conducted without court-approved search warrants. In United States v. U.S. District Court, 407 U.S. 297 (1972), the U.S. Supreme Court declared such warrantless surveillance to be unconstitutional, and the Carter administration, under Attorney General Bell, investigated the FBI’s role in the matter. As a result, Felt was charged with conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens (Title 18, Sec. 241 USC) in 1978. After an unsuccessful attempt to plea bargain, the case went to trial in 1980.

Former President Nixon, driven from office by Felt’s revelations to Woodward and Bernstein, still did not know he had been his betrayer. Nixon not only contributed to his defense, but also testified on his behalf – as did other members of his administration.Though found guilty of violating the civil rights of citizens, Felt received a relatively light sentence of a $5,000 fine, and even escaped that when, in March 1981, then-President Reagan pardoned him to the great joy of his fellow agency employees, officers, and Nixon.

2.   He Faulted Nixon for the Same Tactics

Unknown to those in the agency who defended him, and to Nixon who supported him, Carter who indicted him, and to Reagan who pardoned him, Felt had been the source “Deep Throat.” His work for Woodward and Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters whose conversations with Felt revealed details of the “black bag” operatives working for Nixon, illuminated the entire illegal intelligence operation that included the break-in at the Watergate Hotel.

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