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Meet the Real Deep Throat

Ann Schneider Jun 15, 2005

Ah, the delicious irony of Mark Felt’s career! The man who denounced the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) “interfering with government work” and “helping criminals,” becomes, through his misdeeds, the spur for a generation of laws strengthening public oversight of the Executive Branch of government.

Felt not only took it upon himself to employ any means necessary to bring in the Weather Underground, but in his megalomania, he took aim at President Nixon who passed him over for a promotion to FBI Director. It was he, as “Deep Throat,” who revealed to the Washington Post that the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CREEP) was wiretapping their Democratic opponents in the Watergate Hotel.

In his penchant for lawlessness, Felt authorized at least five warrantless break-ins of homes of relatives and acquaintances of members of the WU, the 1970s group that took credit for bombings of the Capitol and Pentagon in retaliation for U.S. actions in Chile, Angola and Vietnam. He and co-conspirator Edward S. Miller were indicted by a federal grand jury in 1978 for violation of constitutional rights, and convicted in a lukewarm prosecution. Felt and Miller called Nixon to testify on their behalf and say that all presidents since FDR authorized the Bureau to conduct break-ins for intelligence and counterespionage operations. They were fined a total of $8,500 and later granted full and unconditional pardons by incoming President Reagan.

Felt and Miller were the only FBI agents convicted for their COINTELPRO activities, and their crimes are just the tip of the iceberg. The sister of WU leader Bernadine Dohrn used the FOIA to get her 200,000- page FBI file and learned that a plan had been discussed to kidnap her newborn baby in hopes that this would persuade Bernadine to surface from hiding. “Breathless” actress Jean Seberg delivered a still-born and later committed suicide after rumors were planted by the FBI that she was pregnant by a member of the Black Panther Party, rather than her husband. “Neutralizing” the Black Panthers was the primary and successful objective of COINTELPRO. Historian Lawrence Wittner writes, “By 1969, dozens of Black Panthers had been killed by police and one hundred others imprisoned, virtually wiping out the leadership of the organization.”

The Watergate revelations led to major governmental reforms, including the passage of the 1974 Privacy Act and the strengthening of the FOIA and the now-expired Independent Counsel Act. The Office of the Inspector General Act of 1978 established an Inspector General in each federal agency that is required to investigate all complaints of misconduct received and to report to Congress every six months. A recent fruit of this law was DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine’s excellent investigation into the detention conditions of the thousands of Muslims rounded up in the months following September 11.

Interviewed in 1976, Mark Felt said he was just being made a “scapegoat” for the bureau. Although he admitted his black bag jobs were “extralegal,” he also said his cause was “justified, and I’d do it again tomorrow.”