Sunday, June 05, 2005

Prosecute Mark Felt now!

In one not unlikely scenario of why top FBI agent Mark Felt turned traitor toward the Chief Executive, he was blocking a secret Republican agenda, which could again be verging on success today, as the Patriot Act and other measures directed ostensibly toward terrorism come under review. We'd do well to learn now why Mark Felt acted as he did.

Two articles in the Post, one by Woodward and one by Michael Dobbs speak to Mark Felt's motivations in leaking info about the Watergate burglary, and the two seem to contradict each other. Dobbs suggests that Felt didn't object to the Nazi-like practices of Cointelpro so much as he did to interference from the White House in the choice of on whom to snoop. That strikes me as a darn petty complaint, considering that the FBI is a branch of the executive, that it's head is appointed by the president and that the consequence of Felt's rebellion was the ousting of a president. Looks like we had an administration of tyrants and one of the littler tyrants stabbed the big tyrant in the back. Hurray for democracy.

Yet Woodward paints Felt as motivated mostly by sympathy for the constitution, or at least the freedoms it protects. "On whom to snoop," the decision I invoked above, is a sort of crux, which shouldn't be glossed. There is spying that interferes with protected freedoms like political organizing--such as only the likes of the Nazis do. But there's also spying to interfere with theft, arson, extortion and the like. The necessity of a warrant means activities of both kinds can be illegal, but they're not equivalent.

Had Felt not participated in Cointelpro, we could say simply here's a guy who didn't mind bending rules (breaking laws?) in "nailing the bad guys," but who put his foot down when he saw the reigns of power shifting to somebody--Nixon--who wouldn't be working over just the traditional bad guys. But because Felt was in on Cointelpro, it seems like it took him a while to put his foot down, leaving us to wonder whether he really minded so much policing lifestyle and ideology. It would be nice to know specifically what aspects of Cointelpro and what actions he went along with, as well as with how much complaint he went along.

Woodward says Felt voiced none to him at the time, but that Felt did in his 1979 autobiography of his life in the FBI.

There is little doubt Felt thought the Nixon team were Nazis. During this period, he had to stop efforts by others in the bureau to "identify every member of every hippie commune" in the Los Angeles area, for example, or to open a file on every member of Students for a Democratic Society.

If Felt were a dedicated opponent of Cointelpro and police state-type use of the FBI, then given that Felt was due to succeed Hoover as FBI head very soon, we would expect Felt to reject the choice of simply resigning or otherwise displaying less than deep allegiance to the agency. If we accept the claim in Felt's book that he did thwart an intended expansion of surveillance into hippies and the SDS, it's not hard to imagine that, whatever Felt's attempts to display a loyal demeanor, Nixon well knew he strongly opposed his vision for the agency, and regarded Felt as likely to use the FBI directorship to prevent expansion of political surveillance--which presumably it was Nixon's pleasure to see proceed--or even to roll it back. Nixon passed over Felt in appointing Hoover's successor, and it may have been for that very reason; i.e. that Nixon wanted to use the FBI to instrumentalize something like a police state, whereas Felt, a dedicated defender of our constitutional freedoms, did not.

By surprising Felt with his appointment choice of somebody else, Nixon executed an extremely adept if well established maneuver that would have neutralized Felt well and good, but for the capture of the bungling Watergate burglars. The ineluctable investigation offered Felt the Plan B that was Deep Throat and the resulting scandal. So I find it very plausible that Felt is a true hero--that is, someone who acted for the right reasons,who slayed the monster through tactical prowess, saved the village, survived and even shunned his deserved glory.

Regarding the thwarting of the planned moves toward an anti-hippie police state, it's no wonder that the culturally arch-conservative, Nixon-era insider Pat Buchanan has shown all but palpable spite for Felt on TV. It would be no wonder if John Ashcroft felt the same way, and yet if this hard-line former Justice chief also fully supported the Bush administration's apparant plan not to move a hair's breadth in the direction of investigating Felt's Watergate behavior. If Felt's motives indeed were as I've speculated, then a public prosecution of Felt might well bring them to light. How frustrating it would be for current Republicans, if they were pursuing still the very same secret agenda that turned Felt against Nixon, and if that agenda were made public just as the Patriot Act and other domestic security measures came under review!

My view is that anybody who is a fan of Mark Felt ought to call for an immediate and open investigation toward prosecution. A relevant statute of limitations may have expired, but I want to hear that testimony as to motive!


t.s. said...

I'd love to see Attorney General Gonzales prosecute a 90+-year-old whistleblower in failing health, if only because he'd get a political beating he just deserved. But I'm not sure why Mark Felt's motives matter.

t.s. said...

"justly" deserved

Murky Thoughts said...

Nixon is a benchmark for Republican ambitions. What exactly were his ambitions? The known facts suggest that Mark Felt was convinced of certain aspects of those ambitions, and he was in as good a position as anybody to know. Were you not interested in Richard Clarke's testimony about the Bush's attitude toward Iraq and terrorism before 9/11? Don't you think that should have mattered to voters when reelection time came around? We don't know our presidents, even though it's vital that we do. That's why it matters what Mark Felt was thinking.