Deep Throat Mark Felt waves to press from behind window
Lou Dematteis  /  Reuters
With his daughter Joan Felt at his side, Former FBI deputy director and legendary informant "Deep Throat", MarkFelt, 91, gives the thumbs up to the press from behind his living room window of his home in Santa Rosa, California, May 31, 2005.
By MSNBC analyst & former FBI profiler
updated 6/13/2005 10:59:43 AM ET 2005-06-13T14:59:43

The big disclosure last week was that the highly-placed source that helped to keep the Washington Post’s Woodward and Bernstein on track during the Watergate investigation was not some political hack, DC power broker or Washington insider (who had managed to keep a high profile, and an accompanying high salary for some three decades).

"Deep Throat" turned out to be a poorly-paid but highly dedicated outsider carrying a badge who had long since left the Washington scene.

“Well,” say the Nixon insiders, “let the character assassinations begin!” And so they have, and with a vengeance! Enough of the hand-wringing, the whining and the phony expressions of moral indignation from some of the old crooks from the 1970s! I’ve heard just about all of the petty bitterness that I can stand (and I still have that option as a citizen, thanks, in part, to the revelations that came out during the Watergate investigation.) 

Mark Felt was a career government employee. He was an FBI agent who rose through the ranks to become the #2 G-Man in the entire country. Not bad for a guy who like many FBI agents before and after him, had worked his way through undergraduate (University of Idaho) and graduate (George Washington University law school) schools. Felt did this by waiting tables and doing every job he could to make a buck, knowing that his salary in the FBI would never be great. But he still responded to a higher call, one of service to his country, something FBI agents to this day refer to as "Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity."
Some will say that Felt’s hero was J. Edgar Hoover and that when Hoover died, so did a part of Felt; or that he became embittered and vengeful when he was passed over by President Nixon for Hoover’s job. Others will suggest that Felt loved the FBI and believed so strongly in our country that nothing could have driven him from the Bureau, nothing but a two-bit burglary of the 1972 Democratic National Committee (DNC) HQs located in Washington’s Watergate Hotel. 

Now that the shock has worn off, let's review some of the questions— both historical and psychological— that have come as a result of this revelation.

Why was Watergate burglarized?
Why did the Watergate conspirators chose to burglarize that unremarkable office staffed mainly by the usual volunteers and low-level political hopefuls? What in their cost/benefit analysis suggested it was worth the chance of getting caught has never been fully explained.  President Nixon and his “Committee to Re-Elect the President” were ahead in the polls by at least 20 points at the time of Watergate, and they went on to win the election by 60 percent— huge when you look at more recent election results and margins of victory.

So why?  Why was Richard Nixon and those who supported him so paranoid that they were willing to take the risk and the potential loss associated with such a petty crime of questionable benefit to the campaign and the president at that time?

There could always be some tidbit that might have been gained (election speech material, statistics concerning the Nixon administration, political dirt, etc.), the potential of which was apparently enough to put together the dirty tricks team of former government agents, including ex-CIA spooks like E. Howard Hunt, and other former administration officials who believed that another (though former FBI) “G-man,” in this case G. Gordon Liddy, could lead a haphazard team of inept burglars into and out of the DNC HQ without being detected (and I’m sure they “guaranteed” they’d never be caught).  Well, as history has proved, they had either read one too many spy novels or simply didn’t count on the tenacity of one otherwise insignificant building security guard who found Liddy’s illegal point of entry into the Watergate. He called the police who caught the hapless burglars and lit the fire that ultimately burned down a political administration. All this played a role in Felt’s decision to go “public” via the media. Felt was either attempting to sink the president or save the Republic— or both. 

Felt’s motivation and "other options"
“Why didn’t he just tell his boss?" whine some, referring to acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray. But Gray was believed to be loyal to a fault to the president. He allegedly carried away and burned papers in his own home fireplace. The papers were believed to be Watergate-related evidence, and were said to be incinerated at the request of a White House flunky.

Others argue that Felt could have told the Attorney General (John Mitchell was also up to his neck in this case!), or go directly to the president (are you nuts?), or do something else (such as…?)  Who could Felt trust that wouldn’t just submarine him and his information and make him another victim? In the infamous 1973 Saturday Night Massacre, President Nixon ordered his then AG and Deputy AG to fire the Watergate Special Prosecutor, resulting in all three leaving government.

But didn’t Felt really want to be FBI Director himself? Hoover died six weeks before “the gang that couldn’t burglar straight” got caught in the Watergate. And isn’t that why he became the willing informant of the media known as “Deep Throat?”

Human Motivation 101 says that we humans are complex beings who do things for many reasons, usually a combination of reasons. Do I believe that Mark Felt was a true believer in our country and in the role of FBI? If you asked me, you'd get a resounding “yes,” even though he would later be convicted, and still later pardoned for his role in approving FBI black bag (read: illegal, without a warrant) searches for the Weather Underground domestic terrorists/bombers of that time. 

Mark Felt probably believed he had a number of reasons to go to and meet secretly with a newspaper reporter, and started so perhaps even before the Watergate burglary. Any such contact would have been a strong FBI “no-nos” at that time, although these days, it seems to be open season for FBI whistle blowers who want money, fame and fortune and who could care less about the organization as a whole. Again, might just some small part of Felt’s reasoning have to do with personal vindictiveness for not being named FBI Director? 

Well, who knows? I can’t read his mind and as a far more famous person than even Richard Nixon once said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”  I guess we’d all have to lay down our rocks at that statement, but our mouths would still continue to run. Notwithstanding Mr. Felt’s choice, I still wish he had come up with another option that would have kept the investigation on track and running without running it through the media.

Why come forward now?
But why did Felt come forward now?  It’s just like Felt probably told the Post reporters in their investigation: “Follow the money.” In Felt’s case, his daughter, a former counter-culture hippie who probably was seeing her father fade away, wanted to claim something for herself and her family before her dad dies: tell the story, set the record straight, give her dad some peace and, (as if not more important) pick up a few bucks along the way.  61-year-old Joan Felt may be trying to get her father’s story out before Woodward and Bernstein are able to roll out yet another book at her father’s expense (“The Secret Man” due out in July), notwithstanding the reporters’ questioning of Joan having encouraging her father to come forward and Mark Felt’s real ability to tell his story by himself.

Did the Post reporters have a right to question Felt’s daughter’s motivation? Did they think about having to share the limelight and fortune with Felt and his daughter in the mutual telling of Felt’s story, something that would have been the reporters’ alone if Felt took the truth to his grave? Had Woodward and Bernstein not been scooped, the revelation of "Deep Throat" would have brought them further fame and fortune while the Felt family got nothing for his efforts and his 30 years of silence— other than the finger-shaking and name calling from the likes of Gordon Liddy, Chuck Colson and other Nixon era Watergate jail birds and supporters (many of whom have built careers and fortunes on hyping their dishonorable and illegal actions during this time).

So here we are today with more Watergate cannon fodder for the media; a new book and yet more money, fame and fortune for the two Post reporters; Mark Felt’s daughter fighting for her piece of the rock about her father’s activities at a time (which could be $1 million dollars or more for the book) when she probably renounced what he stood for then— all this before he moves on from this world. The rest of us are still left, like any investigator, to question reason, motivation, and intent on the part of everyone involved. 

The lessons of Watergate
Maybe Watergate continues to be a lesson for all of us.  What truly motivates us? Truth, duty, honor, country, responsibility, the quest for attention, the need for power, notoriety, fame and fortune, or any of a thousand other reasons— usually with many rolled in together. But to 91-year-old Mark Felt, who various people now refer to as anything from a hero to a villain, if he really told the two young Post reporters what he did for the good of the country, if that was in fact his higher motivation, then the personal demons that have told him for three decades that he broke the trust may in fact be wrong. We may well owe him our lasting gratitude for his efforts in saving the Constitution from destruction. 

If, however, he’s just a nasty, vindictive, and plotting old man; well then he deserves his demon companions of the last three decades and the Republic has survived in spite of him. 

A world without Watergate
And as to how the world would be different today if that security guard hadn’t found the Liddy gang’s tape on the door lock at Watergate, and if Mark Felt had never passed on FBI investigative information to the Washington Post... well President Nixon would have had two full terms; Pat Gray would have been FBI Director, perhaps a good one had he not been “snookered” by those associated with Watergate; Vietnam might have gone another way; we’d probably never had a president who gave away the Panama Canal; Governor Reagan might never have been President Reagan; Iran-Contra probably would not have been and Ollie North could have made General; there might not have been a VP and President Bush I and, therefore, no President Bush II, and Bill Clinton might never have left Arkansas, staying instead to run a savings and loan. The world would surely have been a different place... if only. You fill the blank.

But “could-have-beens” and “should-have-beens” and “would-have-beens” are not what history is made of, and neither are we.  We live the life we are dealt and play our life cards as best as we can.  And that’s our true reality. We'll have to wait for the book to come out to determine Mark Felt's true reality...

Stay safe.

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Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Van Zandt Associates Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed, a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and was the leader of the analytical team tasked with identifying the "Unabomber."


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