That Deep Throat should turn out to be Mark Felt is not the most welcome news at the Washington Post. The paper would have much preferred a crypto-liberal such as Leonard Garment in the role (assuming that Adam Sandler wasn’t available). Almost anyone, in other words, would have been better than the guy responsible for supervising the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO operations during the 1960s.
As anyone who marched in the Sixties knows, these were secret and unconstitutional counterintelligence programs targeting the Left and a handful of white supremacists. As head of the FBI’s Inspection Division, it was Felt’s responsibility to maximize the effectiveness of the program in the field. Lest there be any doubt about this, it should be emphasized that Felt’s brief was not to ensure that anyone’s civil liberties were protected, or even that the law was adhered to, but to make certain that Hoover’s attack on the anti-war movement ran smoothly.
So bestowing the mantle of Deep Throat on the Toscanini of black-bag jobs must have felt like crowning Jenna Jamison “Sweetheart of the Year.” (Yes, she’s done important work, but…no.) Watergate editor Ben Bradlee and his colleagues would no doubt like the public to see this as an irony—one of those wacky things that happen in Washington all the time. But it’s not that. It’s much more.
Historically, Deep Throat has been cast as an American hero, the Nixon Administration official who came forward, however secretively, to blow the whistle on the Administration’s improprieties and crimes. By helping the Post unravel the White House cover-up, Throat and his cub-reporter buddies almost single-handedly destroyed the Wicked Warlock of the West Wing. The rest is history.
One of the most lasting consequences of the Watergate affair has been its corrosive effect upon investigative reporting. Through its unquestioning embrace of Deep Throat, Hollywood and the press have romanticized the anonymous source and, in so doing, legitimized him. The results are there to be seen in your daily newspaper: story after story, attributed to no one in particular. “Speaking on condition of anonymity… “ “White House sources denied…” “A Pentagon official said…”
As sources disappear, the news becomes more propagandistic. Ambitious and calculating pols drop innuendos and send up trial-balloons, without ever having to take responsibility for what they’ve said. Or not said. In the playground of anonymous sources, the public is increasingly informed by creative writers like Jason Blair (formerly of the New York Times), Stephen Glass (ex-New Republic), Jack Kelly (gone from USA Today), and, ironically, Woodward’s former protégé at the Post, Janet Cooke. Not surprisingly, the public becomes increasingly skeptical.
The problem with anonymous sources is not just that they might be “composite” characters, or that they might not exist at all, but rather that the source’s motives are beyond scrutiny. So the story is necessarily incomplete.
That said, our view of the Watergate affair may now be changed by the certain knowledge of Throat’s identity. Until recently, his motives could only be inferred. And the inference was that he was a government official so outraged by the Nixon Administration’s hubris and disregard for the law that he risked all to alert the public. A real Good Guy, in other words.
That’s what Hollywood and the Post would have us think, and it is what Mark Felt’s grandchildren believe. But inasmuch as Grandpa was himself convicted of “conspiring to injure and oppress citizens of the United States” by having authorized countless black-bags job and warrantless searches at the Bureau, it seems unlikely that Felt would be traumatized by a break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate office building.
If I am right about that, then it’s likely Throat’s concern was as much political as it was civic.
In his June 2, 2005 article in the Post, outing his source, Woodward tells us that Felt regarded the Nixon White House as “corrupt…sinister…(a) cabal.” And, as the Post reporter makes clear, this was a view that Felt held long before to the Watergate break-in. Indeed, Woodward says, “Felt thought the Nixon team were Nazis.”
As it happens, this is exactly what I thought at the time, as did nearly every other liberal that I knew. Strange, then, to learn that this same point of view was shared by Mark Felt, a professional Red-hunter so highly placed in the FBI that only the Director, J. Edgar Hoover, outranked him.
Or maybe it’s not so strange.
A similar view of the Nixon Administration was held by James McCord, the rightwing evangelist and former CIA Security chief who led the break-in team at the Watergate. In a series of bizarre “newsletters” written after he had been arrested, McCord put forward a conspiracy theory suggesting that the Rockefeller family was lunging for control of the government’s critical national security functions, using the Council on Foreign Relations and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger as its means to an end.
At the Pentagon, then-Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, went even further. To Zumwalt, the Nixon Administration was “inimical to the security of the United States.” [Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., On Watch (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1976), p. xiv.] Indeed, as the admiral later explained, he eventually left the Administration because “its own officials and experts reflected Henry Kissinger’s world view: that the dynamics of history are on the side of the Soviet Union; that before long the USSR will be the only superpower on earth and…that the duty of policy-makers, therefore, is at all costs to conceal from the people their probable fate…” [Ibid.]
Egad…they’ve sold us out!
But Zumwalt, Felt and McCord were by no means alone in their suspicions of the Nixon White House. Within the Pentagon, a military spy-ring was pillaging Kissinger’s secrets on behalf of Adm. Thomas Moorer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since 1970.
Within the offices of the National Security Council, and on secret missions to China, Kissinger’s briefcases were rifled and his burn-bags ransacked. In all, perhaps a thousand top-secret documents were stolen and transmitted to Moorer’s office (if not elsewhere, as well) by Yeoman Charles Radford, a young Mormon acting on orders of Adm. Robert Welander.
Here, matters become a bit incestuous.
Admiral Welander was an aide to Moorer. But he was also a mentor of Lt. Bob Woodward, whose commander Welander had been aboard the USS Fox. Reportedly, it was at the urging of Welander—who had yet to be implicated in “the Moorer-Radford affair”—that Woodward extended his tour of duty in 1969, going to the Pentagon to serve as Communications Duty Officer to then-Chief of Naval Operations, Tom Moorer.
In that capacity, Woodward presided over the CNO’s code-room, reading every communication that went in and out, while acting, also, as a briefer and a courier. This, he tells us, is how he met Deep Throat, while cooling his heels outside the Situation Room in the White House. It was 1970 and, according to Woodward, Mark Felt was sitting in the chair next to him, cooling his heels.
The Moorer-Radford affair is not usually considered a part of the Watergate story, though it deserves to be. The Nixon Administration learned of the Pentagon spy-ring in late 1971, but the affair itself did not become public until nearly three years later. By then, the Watergate story was almost played out.
While president, Nixon was determined to keep the affair secret, telling Kissinger aide David Young, “If you love your country, you’ll never mention it.” But the Pentagon’s chief investigator, W. Donald Stewart, was more forthcoming. Asked how seriously the affair should be taken, Stewart replied with a rhetorical question: “Did you see that film, ‘Seven Days in May’? That’s what we were dealing with…”
The film is about a military conspiracy to topple the president. A coup d’etat, in other words.
So it is interesting to learn that Mark Felt placed Yeoman Radford under electronic surveillance long after the White House learned of his activities, and even after Radford had been transferred to a dead-end military post 3000 miles from Washington, D.C. This suggests that Felt may have been more concerned with counterintelligence issues than he was with prosecutorial ones. (Radford was never charged with a crime.)
So why did Radford do it?
According to Radford, whom I interviewed many years ago, his “superiors” believed that Kissinger’s foreign policy was “catastrophic” by design. His own espionage activities, Radford insisted, were intended to defeat a conspiracy conceived by “the Rockefeller family” and orchestrated by the Council on Foreign Relations. The purpose of this supposed conspiracy, according to Radford, was to win the Soviets’ cooperation in guaranteeing the Rockefellers’ “continued domination” over the world’s currencies. In return for this, Nixon and Kissinger were to construct a foreign policy that would ensure Soviet hegemony and a one-world government. [Jim Hougan, Secret Agenda: Watergate, Deep Throat and the CIA (Random House, New York, 1984), p. 75]
From Egad, we move to Yikes! It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Nixon. But not quite.
It wasn’t just Donald Stewart who was worried about a Seven Days in May scenario. The CIA, was spying on the White House, as well. Enter Woodward’s second source: Robert Bennett.
Until Woodward identified Mark Felt as Deep Throat, I was of the firm opinion that the honor belonged to Bennett. This was so because it seemed to me that, at a minimum, for someone to be taken seriously as a candidate for Deep Throat, there should be some evidence that he met secretly with Woodward and fed him stories about Watergate.
Until Woodward outed Felt, the only candidate who fit the bill was Bennett.
In 1972, when Mark Felt was reading transcripts of Yeoman Radford’s conversations, Bennett was the new owner of the Robert R. Mullen Company. This was a CIA front with offices in Washington and abroad. Among Bennett’s employees was the seemingly retired CIA officer, E. Howard Hunt. Politically hyper-active during the Nixon Administration, Bennett was also the Washington representative of the Howard Hughes organization (which was just entering negotiations with the CIA over plans to recover a sunken Soviet submarine from the Pacific Ocean’s floor). It was Bennett who suggested that Hunt might want to interview ITT lobbyist Dita Beard, and it was Bennett who volunteered his own nephew to work as an infiltrator at the DNC. One might go on with Bennett’s contributions to the Watergate affair, but the point is made: Bennett was an extremely well-placed source, if not a co-conspirator.
Today, Senator Bennett is a Mormon elder and one of the richest men in Congress. That he was also a key source of Bob Woodward’s during the Watergate affair is memorialized in a Memorandum to the Record written by Martin J. Lukoskie, Bennett’s CIA case-officer in 1972 . [The memo was first published in the so-called “Nedzi Hearings” of the House Armed Services Committee’s “Inquiry into the Alleged Involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Watergate and Ellsberg Matters,” which began May 11, 1973. See, also, Secret Agenda, pages 329-31.] According to Lukoskie, Bennett “established a ‘backdoor entry’ to the Edward Bennett Williams law firm which is representing the Democratic Party (and the Washington Post )…” Bennett’s job was to “kill off any revelation” about the Mullen Company’s relationship to the CIA. A second part of his brief was to dissuade reporters from pursuing a ‘Seven Days in May’ scenario” that would have implicated the CIA in a conspiracy to “take over the country.”
Sounds like Bennett should to have had a word with Donald Stewart, as well.
The relationship between Bennett and the Post was subsequently clarified by Lukoskie’s CIA boss, Eric Eisenstadt. In a memo to the Deputy Director of Plans, Eisenstadt wrote that Bennett “has been feeding stories to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post with the understanding that there be no attribution to Bennett. Woodward is suitably grateful for the fine stories and by-lines he gets and protects Bennett (and the Mullen Company).” [The memo is dated March 1, 1973.]
It’s enough to make you wonder, though not, apparently, enough to make the press wonder. But this is what the Deep Throat mystery is all about. It’s not just a parlor game to canonize yet another celebrity. Rather, it’s a question of deciding whether or not the Post’s coverage was manipulated by a cabal of spooks who were working to destroy an unpopular president.
This is, of course, a conspiratorial point of view. Most of the press has embraced Mark Felt as the celebrity de jour and, toward that end, the only motive they impute to his behavior is a love of country. And that is what’s likely to be taught in the schools.
More objective observers, however, will point to the fact that FBI Director Hoover died a few weeks before the Watergate break-ins, and will suggest that his second-in-command, Mark Felt, went after the Nixon Administration because he was disappointed at not being named to take Hoover’s place.
That’s possible, of course, but even if Felt didn’t get to be Director, he got the next best thing. That is to say, he got the files. Within hours of Hoover’s death, Felt took charge of Hoover’s Official and Confidential files—including one that was headed “Black-Bag Jobs.” The fate of other files in Hoover’s executive suite, including the Director’s Personal and Confidential files and the so-called “Do Not File” files, remains a mystery. [For details, see Inquiry into The Destruction of Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s Files and FBI Record-keeping, Hearings before the Government Information and Individual Rights Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations, 94th Congress, 1st session, Dec. 1, 1975. ]
Now that we know that Mark Felt is Deep Throat, it would be grand to ask him about the Director’s missing files, his view of Yeoman Radford’s spying, and his reasons for going to the press, rather than to the Justice Department, with his concerns about Watergate. It’s clear, however, that his family has no intention of making the old man available. He is, after all, 91-years-old and not entirely well.
My guess, however, is that if Felt were asked about these issues, he would take a more conspiratorial view of them than most. What makes me think so is Woodward’s account of a meeting he had with Throat, shortly before the Watergate hearings began in the Senate. According to Woodward, Throat Felt told him:
Everyone’s life is in danger…
(E)lectronic surveillance is going on and we had better watch it.
C-I-A… ”[Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, All the President’s Men (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974), p. 317.]
Now, there’s a story! But curiously, it never appeared in the Post.