Does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth

Much of what you think you know to be true is not.  Your perceptions have been managed by people who work very hard at getting you to think and feel and believe in ways favorable to their objectives.  This has been going on in an organized, scientific fashion since WWI, but in 1973 they stepped it up several notches, and overthrew a sitting President.  Watergate was a coup d’etat.  Woodward and Bernstein became the heroes that all the journos wanted to grow up to be.  But they were chumps. I never did like those guys. Even as a teenager the jackals pulling down Nixon failed to impress me.

George Friedman at Stratfor, on  The Death of Deep Throat and the Crisis of Journalism

Mark Felt died last week at the age of 95. For those who don’t recognize that name, Felt was the “Deep Throat” of Watergate fame. It was Felt who provided Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post with a flow of leaks about what had happened, how it happened and where to look for further corroboration on the break-in, the cover-up, and the financing of wrongdoing in the Nixon administration. Woodward and Bernstein’s exposé of Watergate has been seen as a high point of journalism, and their unwillingness to reveal Felt’s identity until he revealed it himself three years ago has been seen as symbolic of the moral rectitude demanded of journalists.

In reality, the revelation of who Felt was raised serious questions about the accomplishments of Woodward and Bernstein, the actual price we all pay for journalistic ethics, and how for many years we did not know a critical dimension of the Watergate crisis. At a time when newspapers are in financial crisis and journalism is facing serious existential issues, Watergate always has been held up as a symbol of what journalism means for a democracy, revealing truths that others were unwilling to uncover and grapple with. There is truth to this vision of journalism, but there is also a deep ambiguity, all built around Felt’s role. This is therefore not an excursion into ancient history, but a consideration of two things. The first is how journalists become tools of various factions in political disputes. The second is the relationship between security and intelligence organizations and governments in a Democratic society.

Watergate was about the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington. The break-in was carried out by a group of former CIA operatives controlled by individuals leading back to the White House. It was never proven that then-U.S. President Richard Nixon knew of the break-in, but we find it difficult to imagine that he didn’t. In any case, the issue went beyond the break-in. It went to the cover-up of the break-in and, more importantly, to the uses of money that financed the break-in and other activities. Numerous aides, including the attorney general of the United States, went to prison. Woodward and Bernstein, and their newspaper, The Washington Post, aggressively pursued the story from the summer of 1972 until Nixon’s resignation. The episode has been seen as one of journalism’s finest moments. It may have been, but that cannot be concluded until we consider Deep Throat more carefully.

Deep Throat Reconsidered

Mark Felt was deputy associate director of the FBI (No. 3 in bureau hierarchy) in May 1972, when longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover died. Upon Hoover’s death, Felt was second to Clyde Tolson, the longtime deputy and close friend to Hoover who by then was in failing health himself. Days after Hoover’s death, Tolson left the bureau.

Felt expected to be named Hoover’s successor, but Nixon passed him over, appointing L. Patrick Gray instead. In selecting Gray, Nixon was reaching outside the FBI for the first time in the 48 years since Hoover had taken over. But while Gray was formally acting director, the Senate never confirmed him, and as an outsider, he never really took effective control of the FBI. In a practical sense, Felt was in operational control of the FBI from the break-in at the Watergate in August 1972 until June 1973.

Nixon’s motives in appointing Gray certainly involved increasing his control of the FBI, but several presidents before him had wanted this, too, including John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Both of these presidents wanted Hoover gone for the same reason they were afraid to remove him: He knew too much. In Washington, as in every capital, knowing the weaknesses of powerful people is itself power — and Hoover made it a point to know the weaknesses of everyone. He also made it a point to be useful to the powerful, increasing his overall value and his knowledge of the vulnerabilities of the powerful.

Hoover’s death achieved what Kennedy and Johnson couldn’t do. Nixon had no intention of allowing the FBI to continue as a self-enclosed organization outside the control of the presidency and everyone else. Thus, the idea that Mark Felt, a man completely loyal to Hoover and his legacy, would be selected to succeed Hoover is in retrospect the most unlikely outcome imaginable.

Felt saw Gray’s selection as an unwelcome politicization of the FBI (by placing it under direct presidential control), an assault on the traditions created by Hoover and an insult to his memory, and a massive personal disappointment. Felt was thus a disgruntled employee at the highest level. He was also a senior official in an organization that traditionally had protected its interests in predictable ways. (By then formally the No. 2 figure in FBI, Felt effectively controlled the agency given Gray’s inexperience and outsider status.) The FBI identified its enemies, then used its vast knowledge of its enemies’ wrongdoings in press leaks designed to be as devastating as possible. While carefully hiding the source of the information, it then watched the victim — who was usually guilty as sin — crumble. Felt, who himself was later convicted and pardoned for illegal wiretaps and break-ins, was not nearly as appalled by Nixon’s crimes as by Nixon’s decision to pass him over as head of the FBI. He merely set Hoover’s playbook in motion.

Woodward and Bernstein were on the city desk of The Washington Post at the time. They were young (29 and 28), inexperienced and hungry. We do not know why Felt decided to use them as his conduit for leaks, but we would guess he sought these three characteristics — as well as a newspaper with sufficient gravitas to gain notice. Felt obviously knew the two had been assigned to a local burglary, and he decided to leak what he knew to lead them where he wanted them to go. He used his knowledge to guide, and therefore control, their investigation.

Systematic Spying on the President

And now we come to the major point. For Felt to have been able to guide and control the young reporters’ investigation, he needed to know a great deal of what the White House had done, going back quite far. He could not possibly have known all this simply through his personal investigations. His knowledge covered too many people, too many operations, and too much money in too many places simply to have been the product of one of his side hobbies. The only way Felt could have the knowledge he did was if the FBI had been systematically spying on the White House, on the Committee to Re-elect the President and on all of the other elements involved in Watergate. Felt was not simply feeding information to Woodward and Bernstein; he was using the intelligence product emanating from a section of the FBI to shape The Washington Post’s coverage.

Instead of passing what he knew to professional prosecutors at the Justice Department — or if he did not trust them, to the House Judiciary Committee charged with investigating presidential wrongdoing — Felt chose to leak the information to The Washington Post. He bet, or knew, that Post editor Ben Bradlee would allow Woodward and Bernstein to play the role Felt had selected for them. Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee all knew who Deep Throat was. They worked with the operational head of the FBI to destroy Nixon, and then protected Felt and the FBI until Felt came forward.

In our view, Nixon was as guilty as sin of more things than were ever proven. Nevertheless, there is another side to this story. The FBI was carrying out espionage against the president of the United States, not for any later prosecution of Nixon for a specific crime (the spying had to have been going on well before the break-in), but to increase the FBI’s control over Nixon. Woodward, Bernstein and above all, Bradlee, knew what was going on. Woodward and Bernstein might have been young and naive, but Bradlee was an old Washington hand who knew exactly who Felt was, knew the FBI playbook and understood that Felt could not have played the role he did without a focused FBI operation against the president. Bradlee knew perfectly well that Woodward and Bernstein were not breaking the story, but were having it spoon-fed to them by a master. He knew that the president of the United States, guilty or not, was being destroyed by Hoover’s jilted heir.

This was enormously important news. The Washington Post decided not to report it. The story of Deep Throat was well-known, but what lurked behind the identity of Deep Throat was not. This was not a lone whistle-blower being protected by a courageous news organization; rather, it was a news organization being used by the FBI against the president, and a news organization that knew perfectly well that it was being used against the president. Protecting Deep Throat concealed not only an individual, but also the story of the FBI’s role in destroying Nixon.

Again, Nixon’s guilt is not in question. And the argument can be made that given John Mitchell’s control of the Justice Department, Felt thought that going through channels was impossible (although the FBI was more intimidating to Mitchell than the other way around). But the fact remains that Deep Throat was the heir apparent to Hoover — a man not averse to breaking the law in covert operations — and Deep Throat clearly was drawing on broader resources in the FBI, resources that had to have been in place before Hoover’s death and continued operating afterward.

Burying a Story to Get a Story

Until Felt came forward in 2005, not only were these things unknown, but The Washington Post was protecting them. Admittedly, the Post was in a difficult position. Without Felt’s help, it would not have gotten the story. But the terms Felt set required that a huge piece of the story not be told. The Washington Post created a morality play about an out-of-control government brought to heel by two young, enterprising journalists and a courageous newspaper. That simply wasn’t what happened. Instead, it was about the FBI using The Washington Post to leak information to destroy the president, and The Washington Post willingly serving as the conduit for that information while withholding an essential dimension of the story by concealing Deep Throat’s identity.

Journalists have celebrated the Post’s role in bringing down the president for a generation. Even after the revelation of Deep Throat’s identity in 2005, there was no serious soul-searching on the omission from the historical record. Without understanding the role played by Felt and the FBI in bringing Nixon down, Watergate cannot be understood completely. Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee were willingly used by Felt to destroy Nixon. The three acknowledged a secret source, but they did not reveal that the secret source was in operational control of the FBI. They did not reveal that the FBI was passing on the fruits of surveillance of the White House. They did not reveal the genesis of the fall of Nixon. They accepted the accolades while withholding an extraordinarily important fact, elevating their own role in the episode while distorting the actual dynamic of Nixon’s fall.

Absent any widespread reconsideration of the Post’s actions during Watergate in the three years since Felt’s identity became known, the press in Washington continues to serve as a conduit for leaks of secret information. They publish this information while protecting the leakers, and therefore the leakers’ motives. Rather than being a venue for the neutral reporting of events, journalism thus becomes the arena in which political power plays are executed. What appears to be enterprising journalism is in fact a symbiotic relationship between journalists and government factions. It may be the best path journalists have for acquiring secrets, but it creates a very partial record of events — especially since the origin of a leak frequently is much more important to the public than the leak itself.

The Felt experience is part of an ongoing story in which journalists’ guarantees of anonymity to sources allow leakers to control the news process. Protecting Deep Throat’s identity kept us from understanding the full dynamic of Watergate. We did not know that Deep Throat was running the FBI, we did not know the FBI was conducting surveillance on the White House, and we did not know that the Watergate scandal emerged not by dint of enterprising journalism, but because Felt had selected Woodward and Bernstein as his vehicle to bring Nixon down. And we did not know that the editor of The Washington Post allowed this to happen. We had a profoundly defective picture of the situation, as defective as the idea that Bob Woodward looks like Robert Redford.

Finding the truth of events containing secrets is always difficult, as we know all too well. There is no simple solution to this quandary. In intelligence, we dream of the well-placed source who will reveal important things to us. But we also are aware that the information provided is only the beginning of the story. The rest of the story involves the source’s motivation, and frequently that motivation is more important than the information provided. Understanding a source’s motivation is essential both to good intelligence and to journalism. In this case, keeping secret the source kept an entire — and critical — dimension of Watergate hidden for a generation. Whatever crimes Nixon committed, the FBI had spied on the president and leaked what it knew to The Washington Post in order to destroy him. The editor of The Washington Post knew that, as did Woodward and Bernstein. We do not begrudge them their prizes and accolades, but it would have been useful to know who handed them the story. In many ways, that story is as interesting as the one about all the president’s men.

Consider some alternate history.  What would 2008 be like had Nixon served out his second term?  Saigon wouldn’t have fallen.  No Killing Fields of Cambodia.  No Jimmy Carter.  Maybe no Ronald Reagan, either.  No two decade recovery from defeat.  No Powell Doctrine.  No Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  No mujahadeen.  No Osama bin Laden.  No Al Qaeda.   Thanks, Main Stream Media.  I hope when the Washington Post dies  they leave some headstone or monument upon which I can gleefully void my bladder.

My respects to Cyber Guerilla Chieftain Richard Fernandez, whose comments section brings me half the hits this obscure little blog ever gets. 

UPDATE 200812300444: All the FBI’s Men

This is a perfect example of how a narrative can arise and influence our interpretation of history and inspire people to act. Woodward/Bernstein became the archetype of the modern journalist. The noble investigative journalists pursuing the truth and bringing down a corrupt president. How many people became journalists to live out their “All The President’s Men” fantasy? How many times have we heard journalists lecture us on how important they are because they are holding public officials accountable and speaking truth to power? Journalists have used Watergate as a justification for publishing leaks, including classified information while keeping sources secret from the public. Knowing that Mark Felt was Deep Throat reveals the Woodward and Bernstein legend to be a lie. Contrary to what we have believed for several decades, this was a story about how Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee knowingly participated in a black ops mission to bring down a president. Woodward and Bernstein owe their fame and careers to the fact they they were chosen by the secret policeman to play a role in his operation.



Filed under Idea War, Morale Operations, Old Media

12 responses to “Does your conscience bother you? Tell the truth

  1. Ok, for my very first time commenting on this obscure little blog. Ya know some of us are called ‘lurkers’ for a reason. Ha Ha.
    Just wanted to tell you that I think you do a damn good job getting some good information out there in the blogosphere…

    Oh, one more thing, if you think about it, we’ve been fed nothing but propaganda since the very beginning. But only the discerning will be able to see beyond the BS. Everyone knows that the “whole truth and nothing but the truth” isn’t to be found anywhere near where our government leaders are congregated.

  2. Pingback: Pages tagged "loyal"

  3. Thank you, ma’am.

    I have my little niche, which I try to fill when I have spare time and brain cells to devote to it.

    Our Founding Fathers understood Psychological Operations. Thomas Paine was a dead tree blogger, and Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence was certainly designed to influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes, or behavior of all who read it or heard it read.

    But everything we have been fed hasn’t been propaganda. If I believe it and agree with it, then it couldn’t possibly be propaganda, could it?

  4. You’re more than welcome.

    Sounds like it’s all a matter of perspective…Or as my Daddy used to say “Birds of a feather flock together.” then again, “great minds think alike”
    Me, I prefer “just the facts, ma’am.”

    Have a Merry Christmas.

    btw, thanks for adding me to your links. Such an honor to be included with some of the best out there.

  5. Grimmy

    We all fall for it sometimes. Some more than others.

    One way I try to guard myself against it is to do what I can to go back to the events preceding something in the political/social Sacred Cow theme and work at the pattern of links and the who’s who in what’s said.

    Everything has a pattern to it. I find it to0 often to be true that a thing’s place in a pattern says very much about the intentions of the thing itself.

    But, we all get T3 at times. Our only hope is to never devolve into C4.

    T3 = Temporary malfunction in the Twit, Tw*t, Tard line.
    C4 = Congenital malfunction in the Coward, C**t, C*****cker, Commie line. For the purposes of the C4 designation CSer refers to an individual that is either too stupid, too weak, too pathetic or too naive to resist being turned out and made to preform acts and/or actions against his/her own nature. It is not a reference to those who enjoy that sort of thing for whatever reason.

  6. suek

    In this line, this article plus the links it has should be of interest. Seems to me that something of the same ilk is in process…

  7. Link

    Check the main post.

    A Navy stenographer assigned to the National Security Council during the Nixon administration “stole documents from just about every individual that he came into contact with on the NSC,” according to newly declassified White House documents.

    The two-dozen pages of memoranda, transcripts and notes — once among the most sensitive and privileged documents in the Executive Branch — shed important new details on a unique crisis in American history: when investigators working for President Richard Nixon discovered that the Joint Chiefs of Staff, using the stenographer as their agent, actively spied on the civilian command during the Vietnam War.
    As Radford later described his work — in polygraph tests, sworn testimony, and interviews with historians and journalists — he spent 13 months illegally obtaining NSC documents and turning them over to his superiors, with the understanding that the two admirals were, in turn, funneling the materials to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and other top uniformed commanders. Radford’s espionage took many forms: making extra photocopies of documents entrusted to him as courier; retrieving crumpled drafts from “burn bags”; even brazenly rifling through Kissinger’s briefcase while the national security adviser slept on an overseas flight.

    Combine this with Felt’s illegal breaking and entering of Weather Underground homes and you have even more tree branches.

    The good thing about learning military tactics, strategy, and logistics is that it can definitely provide you an easier learning curve to political mechanations.

  8. While Watergate was seething, Felt authorized nine illegal break-ins at the homes of friends and relatives of members of the Weather Underground, a violent left-wing splinter group. The people he chose as targets had committed no crimes. The FBI had no search warrants. He later said he ordered the break-ins because he felt national security required it.

    In a criminal trial, Felt was convicted in November 1980 of conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of Americans. Nixon, who had denounced him in private for leaking Watergate secrets, testified on his behalf. Called by the prosecution, he told the jury that presidents and by extension their officers had an inherent right to conduct illegal searches in the name of national security.

    “As Deep Throat, Felt helped establish the principle that our highest government officials are subject to the Constitution and the laws of the land,” the prosecutor, John Nields, wrote in The Washington Post in 2005. “Yet when it came to the Weather Underground bag jobs, he seems not to have been aware that this same principle applied to him.”

    Seven months after the conviction, President Ronald Reagan pardoned Felt. Then 67, Felt celebrated the decision as one of great symbolic value. “This is going to be the biggest shot in the arm for the intelligence community for a long time,” he said. After the pardon, Nixon sent him a congratulatory bottle of Champagne.

    The link provides a great example of the white washing that has gone in the public conscience. All you have to do is to look at the precise diction used and how the narrative is phrased. Assuming you have the skill to analyze the raw data, of course.

    I am reminded again of the difference between spies, lawyers, and soldiers.

    Soldiers value loyalty and honor, spies cannot afford loyalty or honor, lawyers cannot afford to be loyal to anything but the “Law”.

    When they are all against each other… weird things start happening.

    They are archetypes and do not actually represent a single individual, but suffice it to say that the military must be apolitical, lawyers biased towards their clients, and spies willing to backstab whomever they need to in order to get the job done for their nation (or whomever they are really working for or will be working for).

    I believe i understand why Reagan pardoned Felt. Because if people responsible for the execution of the law and the protection of America against domestic and foreign enemies could be prosecuted for it, then we would be left defenseless. Yet how can we be protected from external and internal enemies if the guard dogs are themselves breaking the laws? Bush’s answer was the Patriot Act. The military’s answer was to Not Break the law, period.

    Nixon also faced a similar choice when he realized the Joint Chiefs were spying on him. Did he prosecute and endanger national security or did he keep quiet? Nixon, for his own reasons, put nation first. Even if that meant testifying in defense of the man that brought him down, in the end.

    Nixon did the same for the Jews in Israel, while saying, on the voice recorder, that he would do so even when he knew the Jews in America had voted against him and would still be against him. Nixon backed Israel for national security reasons.

    Nixon was said to be paranoid and that this brought down his downfall, in that he abused his powers. I don’t believe I can completely buy into that argument any more. More and more it looks to me like Nixon was brought down because he was predictable, put the nation before himself, and also put national security before the law.

    As the acquittal of Ayers has proven, however, violating the law for short term tactical gain is not going to work for you in the long run. Bush saw this and he made the right decision. The Left and the government tried to take him down anyways.

    In the end, I still believe that the President must be ruthless. This includes towards people like Mark Felt, William Ayers, and Osama Bin Laden. No pardons. No legal fictions. No get out of jail free cards.

    Mark Felt, was in the end, more of a threat to national security than domestic terrorists. The fact that Richard Nixon didn’t recognize this… perhaps spoke for his lack of paranoia rather than overabundance of it.

  9. Merry Christmas KW, Grimmy, suek, ymar and lurkers.

  10. Grimmy

    Merry Christmas to you too sir. And thanks again for doing what you do. Helps the rest of us keep our place in the line.

  11. Merry Christmas to you, C4, and company.

  12. suek

    A blessed and merry Christmas to you C4, and Grimmy and Ymar. And a Happy New Year as well.

    Were you a little closer, all would be welcome at our traditional New Year’s Day family open house…a remnant of my early days in a military family. I suspect those traditional open houses may no longer be de rigeur, but those were in the days of most military families living on post/base. Personally, I think it’s a mistake to disperse military families out into the civilian community, although I could also argue in favor of it. Still, the cohesiveness of being a community both in work and in social activities is good for troops and families, imo.

    Hot Tom and Jerrys….mmmmm!