Monday, December 6, 2010

Mark Felt's "Coup" Against Richard Nixon

Ivan Greenberg, writing at the History News Network after studying 3,500 pages of (legally obtained; how quaint, how old school) records about FBI official W. Mark Felt, Bob Woodward's most important Watergate source:
[W]hen Felt’s role as Deep Throat first was made public in 2005 few in the media, with the exception of the Albany Times Union, adequately appreciated that he did not act alone. At least three other top-level FBI officials or agents worked with him to coordinate the leaks to the press. What might properly be called a “coup” inside the government, led by Felt, forced the President to resign. The actions of this FBI faction were extraordinary. Instead of targeting political liberals or radicals, they went after the chief executive using information as a weapon.

Felt’s motives have been discussed at length. He saw himself as a patriotic whistleblower acting to preserve the integrity of government. Nixon broke the law during Watergate and so the President should be exposed. Critics see less noble purposes. Felt resented being passed over for the Director’s job by Nixon after J. Edgar Hoover died in early May 1971. In addition, Felt acted as a vigilante against Nixon because the President wanted to run “dirty tricks” intelligence operations directly out of the White House bypassing the FBI altogether. The latter point is critical: Felt hoped to preserve the dominant role of the FBI to spy on Americans in domestic politics. Felt called it preserving the FBI’s “independence.”

FBI files show that the Felt faction engaged in a high-level of deception within the Bureau to protect its secret contact with the press. Soon after the Watergate break-in, Director L. Patrick Gray III put Felt in charge of finding sources of FBI leaks to the press. In short, the fox had been put in charge of protecting the chickens.

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