But who was this elusive Mark Felt? And how did he avoid detection all these years? Wikipedia, of course, has an extensive biography of Felt, now updated to include his confirmed role as Deep Throat whilst #2 at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And when it comes to it, he’s been reported as the leading candidate for Deep Throat for many years. But it was really J Edgar Hoover who probably provided the best reason for Felt’s anonymity all these years. A charismatic and decidedly public face of the Bureau, Hoover was frequently challenged in his controlling position, aware of the desire in Nixon to sack him, and possibly even advocating Felt’s role in the downfall of an American president. When L Patrick Gray took over as Head of the FBI in 1972, and Felt assumed the role of Associate Director, it was carte blanche for Felt to direct the attention of a couple of journalists from the Washington Post to the activities of a corrupt government. It’s fascinating even to hear what Nixon has to say about Felt’s ambition in the original Smoking Gun Tapes recording just after Hoover’s death in 1972.
But Felt himself was not so very far from corrupt. Investigating radical bombing attempts in the mid-1970s, Felt approved the action of FBI agents breaking in to homes and collecting evidence without a warrant. When this issue went to court, Felt managed to get away with a US$5000 fine, when the maximum charge for this action was 10 years imprisonment. Jack Limpert at the Washingtonian Magazine said in August 1974, that the “one that got away” was Mark Felt, and that every lead he had to Deep Throat led to Mark Felt. But Felt had categorically denied association. Indeed, he is directly quoted as saying, “I can tell you that it was not I and it is not I”. So not only was he a conspiracist, he was a liar.
I’m not actually trying to bring Felt down. I think what he did was necessary and fabulous. But I question whether he did it because it was moral. Instead, I will go so far as to suggest that Felt exposed Nixon because it suited his ambition, and the objectives of his former employer, J Edgar Hoover. I do not believe he made a choice based on the good of the people, but rather the good of the Bureau, and in order to sustain control. I’m also trying to point out that it is often those we most suspect, and we most argue with, who will be most “at fault”. The only trouble is that these people have the capacity to lie through their teeth, and do so with equanimity. So comfortable and skilled are they with the art of lying, that not even a polygraph test could pick them.
So what do we learn from this? That an outright and distinct denial from a government official is worth nothing? That someone who may have exposed corruption somewhere may also be guilty of their own brand of corrupt behaviour? How then, are we expected to place trust in the judicial system, when officials can comfortably perjure themselves and pervert the course of justice? And what kind of a victory for democracy is it, when we laud the actions of a proven liar?