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Watergate & the weather underground: former FBI second-in-command Mark Felt, aka Watergate's "Deep Throat," was an opponent of both presidential corruption and domestic terrorism.

According to talk radio ranter Michael Savage, 91-year-old former FBI second-in-command Mark Felt, fleshly revealed as the Watergate whistleblower known as "Deep Throat," should be thrown in prison, along with his daughter Joan. During his June 1 program, Savage reasoned (if that word can be tortured into applying here) that since Joan Felt had long known her father's secret, she had the duty to turn him in to the authorities for prosecution.

This would make perfect sense--in Stalin's Soviet Union, that is, which made a state hero out of young Pavlik Morozov for informing on his father.

While most other right-leaning commentators haven't embraced Savage's neo-Stalinist perspective on the matter, many consider Felt to be a criminal and something akin to a traitor--or worse.

Commentator Patrick Buchanan, who worked in the Nixon White House, denounced Felt as a "snake" and a "corrupt cop" for "sneaking around garages leaking the results of an investigation to a Nixon-hating newspaper...." Nor is he reluctant to speculate about Felt's motives, insisting that he leaked information about the Nixon administration's coverup because "he was passed over for [FBI] Director and he was bitter and full of resentment, and this was payback."

In his comments about Felt's actions, former Nixon senior aide Charles Colson, who served a prison term for obstruction of justice, admitted: "There were times when I should have blown the whistle, so I understand his feelings." However, he continued, "I cannot approve of his methods."

Felt "broke the law, broke his code of ethics, [and] broke his oath" by serving as "the main source for Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward's articles that helped depose Richard Nixon," insists Ben Stein. Nixon's removal, Stein asserts, "made the conditions necessary for the Cambodian genocide."

Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal echoes Stein's assessment, writing that Nixon's downfall led to "a cascade of catastrophic events--the crude and humiliating abandonment of Vietnam and the Vietnamese, the rise of a monster named Pol Pot, and millions--millions--killed in his genocide. America lost confidence; the Soviet Union gained brazenness."

This conclusion attributes to the U.S. president qualities one would associate with a divine emperor-king. Even if it's assumed that presidential fortitude could have prevented the fall of South Vietnam and the Killing Fields of Cambodia, it should be remembered that it was under Nixon that the floodgates of aid and trade were opened to the Soviet Union, and diplomatic relations were opened to Communist China. It's not clear how the fate of Southeast Asia was altered by the replacement of one detente-minded liberal Republican (Nixon) by another (Ford), who in any case deferred most foreign policy matters to Henry Kissinger--the real coarchitect of the disasters accurately described by Stein and Noonan.

The estimable Thomas Fleming denounced Felt's "malfeasance" and his whistle-blowing as "a despicable example of disloyalty." The Watergate scandal, Fleming insisted, was an affair blown out of proportion "by a gaggle of reporters egged on by disaffected federal bureaucrats who resented President Nixon's attempt to make them subordinate to the law and Constitution."

Who is the "Master"?

If Dr. Fleming is correct in his description of the role played by career bureaucrats, then Nixon brought about his own ruin by radically expanding the federal bureaucracy. It was Nixon, after all, who (in defiance of the Constitution) created the Environmental Protection Agency. He signed the law creating the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; enacted wage and price controls; expanded the size and reach of the "civil rights" enforcement bureaucracy; and in manifold other ways abetted the growth of the regulatory leviathan. Compared to the routine crimes against the Constitution committed by Nixon by way of official policy, Watergate was little more than a series of silly pranks.

Dr. Fleming concludes his condemnation of Felt by warning that there is a "special place in Hell reserved for those who betray their masters." True though this may be, it's difficult to see how it applies to Felt's actions regarding Watergate--unless one assumes that it is the president, not the Constitution, that should be recognized by federal officials as their "master."

Felt's motives in blowing the whistle on Watergate were, in all likelihood, a mixture of genuine moral outrage and personal opportunism. In nurturing the Washington Post's investigation of the Watergate coverup, Felt may well have been indulging a private grudge. But it's also true that the man for whom he was passed over as FBI head, Patrick Gray, was deeply implicated in the coverup--a fact that made it practically impossible for Felt to pursue the matter through proper channels.

Some of Felt's critics insist that the honorable thing to do in those circumstances was to resign and call a press conference to disclose what he knew. It's likely that had Felt done so, the same critics would have assailed him for both "betraying" Nixon and whoring after headlines--and the material impact of his disclosures may have been pretty much the same.

While Felt's critics accuse him of destroying the Nixon presidency, ironically, on an assignment unrelated to the Watergate scandal he may have literally saved the White House from a planned terrorist attack.

In 1972, members of the Weather Underground, a terrorist network aligned with the Soviet Union and Communist Cuba, committed a bombing at the Pentagon. This followed an earlier attack on the Capitol. Felt, at the time the head of the FBI's counterterrorist effort, issued orders authorizing 13 surreptitious break-ins (known as "black bag jobs") of suspected Weather Underground hideouts. This most likely disrupted the terrorist group's plans to carry out a bombing of the White House.

In his 2001 memoir Fugitive Days, Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers (presently a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago), acknowledged that by 1972, "we'd already bombed the Capitol, and we'd cased the White House. The Pentagon was leg two of the trifecta." The White House was the third target.

Nor were these attacks the work of mere vandals. In March 1970, three "Weathermen"--including Ayers' then-girlfriend, Diana Oughton--were killed in the basement of a Greenwich Village apartment building when a bomb they were assembling detonated prematurely. The bomb, intended for use at Fort Dix during a dance, was a vicious anti-personnel device tightly packed with screws and nails. Ayers admits that the bomb would have inflicted "some serious work beyond the blast, tearing through windows and walls and, yes, people too." The victims would have included not only U.S. military personnel but their dates and any other innocent people who happened to be within the blast radius.

Taking Responsibility

In the fall of 1975, in the immediate aftermath of the Watergate scandal, U.S. Attorney General Edward Levi ordered the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division to begin an internal investigation of the FBI, to determine (among other things) who had been "harassing" the Weather Underground. The following spring, Felt and FBI Counterintelligence Chief Edward Miller effectively blew the whistle on themselves by publicly admitting that they had authorized the "black bag jobs" assuming full responsibility for them.

In violation of the Constitution's prohibition against ex post facto laws, Felt and Miller were indicted in April 1978 of violating administrative guidelines enacted by Levi in 1976. After a lengthy court battle, Felt and Miller were given modest fines, but saddled with millions of dollars in legal expenses. (They were pardoned in 1981 by President Reagan.) Eventually, a total of 140 FBI agents were brought to trial for what was described as a "conspiracy to injure and oppress citizens of the United States"--that is, the Soviet-sponsored Weather Underground terrorist network and its allies in the radical left.

The prosecution of the FBI agents made unconstitutional use of administrative guidelines that weren't in force at the time of the alleged offenses. That some genuine abuses of power by bureau officials took place (particularly by way of the notorious COINTELPRO operation) is obvious. But for the most part, the bureau's pre-Levi counterterrorist efforts were conducted within the law and in harmony with federalism.

Rather than focusing on specific abuses, the Justice Department embarked on a judicial purge of the FBI's counterterrorism division. As Felt pointed out in a 1983 interview with The Review of the News (a predecessor to THE NEW AMERICAN), Levi's crack-down "for all purposes put the FBI out of the domestic security business."

Whatever its defects, the Bureau of 1972 was immeasurably better, from a constitutionalist perspective, than the post-Levi FBI that precipitated the Waco massacre of 1993, or that was deeply mired in the murky buildup to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the post-bombing coverup.

In leaking critical information to Woodward and Bernstein, Felt's actions were of dubious legality. The same was true of his role in authorizing "black bag jobs" at suspected Weather Underground redoubts. In both instances he probably acted out of what he saw as an urgent necessity to deal with threats to the Constitution--one posed by an administration abusing its powers, the other by a terrorist cabal bent on murder and mayhem.

What distinguished Felt from Nixon was the fact that Felt was willing to take full legal responsibility for his actions in authorizing the break-ins, rather than letting his subordinates absorb the blame and face the consequences. His judgment was imperfect, his motives were mixed, and the results of his actions were not what he expected, but Mark Felt's actions were hardly those of a traitor--unless, as too many contemporary conservatives insist, patriotism is defined by unqualified loyalty to Republican presidents.
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Title Annotation:POLITICS
Author:Grigg, William Norman
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 27, 2005
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