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June 02, 2005

Comments

Hi Half Sigma
I think age is a factor in how you view this story. I'm old enough to remember Watergate as it was happening. I was only 10 or 11 when Watergate began to pick up steam but I was very interested in the story. I remember the Redford and Hoffman movie a few years later very well. So this was very interesting to me.

I think people can make too much out of motive. The important thing is that he told the truth and gave valuable information.

I was four when Nixon resigned, so that's where I'm coming from in all this. Now I'm hearing Liddy say something about prostitutes, talk of revenge, Felt is just in it for the money...

Now I don't know what to think, but to me, at least, it all smacks of revenge for being passed over.

I'm going to do my own research on this, so I know the story...

I remember Watergate very well. Mark Felt’s motives were much more complex than just revenge for being passed over. J. Edgar Hoover was the FBI director from 1924 until his death in 1972. He died only a few months before the Watergate break in. J. Edgar Hoover had professionalized the FBI and insulated it from politics. J. Edgar Hoover also directed the FBI to engage in illegal wire tapping, mail opening and break-ins, mostly in the name of national security, but sometimes for questionable reasons and J. Edgar Hoover used FBI resources to illegally compiled extensive files on the personal lives of politicians which he used to threaten politicians who tried to challenge his independence.

When J. Edgar Hoover died, the FBI expected someone from inside the FBI to be appointed director. Mark Felt probably considered himself a good candidate. Instead Nixon appointed L. Patrick Gray, a Justice Department official and a political appointee to be the new director. Many people in the FBI, including Mark Felt, thought this was an attempt by the Nixon administration to politicize the FBI and bring it under political control. The Nixon administration had drawn up an enemies list and had the IRS do tax audits on the people on this list as a form of harassment, but J. Edgar Hoover had prevented the FBI from being used in a similar way.

After the Watergate break in the FBI was the lead agency in the investigation. It quickly became clear to Mark Felt that the burglars were connected to the Nixon re-election committee, and probably to the White House. When the burglars were arrested, they had large amounts of cash on them. The FBI was able to trace that cash back to contribution to the Nixon re-election campaign. L. Patrick Gray, the FBI director, was passing all the information that the FBI was gathering on the case to the White House and the White House was pressuring Gray to end the investigation with the burglars and to stop looking into connections with the Nixon re-election campaign.

Mark Felt probably did resent not getting the FBI directors job, but he also felt that the FBI was being politicized and that the White House trying to shut down the Watergate investigation to cover up it own political dirty tricks was corruption at the highest levels of government. Given the pressure being placed on the FBI to end its investigation, it was unclear that any branch of government could actually investigate Watergate.

Later Mark Felt was charged with illegally opening mail and perhaps wire tapping, but that was a very different story. In the 1960s and early 1970s, at J. Edgar Hoover’s direction, the FBI frequently opened the mail and wire tapped people who were thought to be national security threats without obtaining search warrants. It was widely thought inside the FBI that the government had the authority to do this, as long as the evidence was not used in a criminal case and as long as it was only used to prevent criminal acts. (The wire tapping of Martin Luther King is an example of the abuse of this, but that was J. Edgar Hoover’s doing, not Mark Felt.). Mark Felt was accused of illegally opening the mail of members of the Weathermen, which was an anti-war terrorist group responsible for a number of terrorist style bombings. Mark Felt thought the FBI had the authority to do this, and he thought he was doing this to prevent future bombings and protect public safety. Ronald Regan pardoned Mark Felt when he was elected president.

It is interesting that people like Liddy, who broke the law for purely political gain, are criticizing the motives of Mark Felt, who broke that law trying to protect national security and to protect the FBI from corrupt political influence.

People have been convicted of conspiracy for not objecting clearly enough when someone said "Hey, let's rob a bank sometime." If all I knew about someone was that he was once convicted of unspecified conspiracy, I'd trust him more than if all I knew was that he once worked for the FBI.

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