Friday, July 08, 2005

On Mark Felt and Ethical Integrity

I watched Tom Brokaw's interview with Bob Woodward the other night. It was an interesting interview, but it drove my mind back to a line of thinking from several weeks ago, when "Deep Throat" was identified for the first time. That line of thought was this: Was Mark Felt a hero deserving of honor?

I must confess I have no clear answer to that. History will never reveal the outcome of a Watergate scandal without Deept Throat. Would justice have been served? Would Nixon have resigned? What would have happened in Vietnam and SE Asia? Would the recession of the late 70s have been different? We will never know. But we can ponder the requirements of a life driven by integrity.

I am no expert on the FBI, but my understanding is that FBI agents at all levels take oaths of confidentiality regarding their work and investigations. Felt raised his right hand and swore to uphold that oath ... and then solicited a young reporter for the express purpose of violating that oath. Why not resign? Why not let the grand jury and the other investigations play out? Why hide behind anonymity for more than thirty years?

In a strange twist, when the White House gave orders that the leak was to be found, that investigation was headed up by none other than Mark Felt. He carried on a charade of an investigation, knowing the answer all along. Interestingly, the White House tapes reveal that Nixon, Haldeman, and others believed the leak to be coming from Felt.

In a grand jury investigation in the years after Watergate regarding FBI authorized burglaries, Felt was asked, almost off handedly it seems, whether or not he was Deep Throat. He denied it. The prosecutor was stunned, according to the interview with Woodward. He reminded Felt that he was under oath, and gave him the opportunity to have the question and answer stricken from the record. Felt agreed to have the question and answer removed. Felt was eventually convicted of authorizing those break-ins. In an ironic twist of politics, and a stark illustration of the cliche that "politics makes strange bedfellows," one of the key witnesses for Felt's defense was none other than Richard M. Nixon.

What are we to make of this situation? Can a person who violated his oath, carried on a sham investigation, lied in the grand jury, and hid for thirty years be considered a hero? Does not integrity call for more? Should not we expect a higher level of ethics from people, especially those at the highest level of government? There can be no question that Nixon and his campaign staffers were wrong. From all reports, Nixon was a brutal pragmatist, willing to do whatever he needed to get what he wanted. It seems clear to me that he was unfit for the office of President of the United States.

But should we honor a man just as crooked as Nixon, a man who, like Nixon, violated his oath of office; a man who, like Nixon, authorized break-ins; a man who, like Nixon, did whatever he needed to do get a desired end; a man who, unlike Nixon, hid in secrecy for more than thirty years, and only revealed his identity in order to reap financial gain for his family? That hardly seems like integrity to me. Felt is no hero to this American too young to remember Watergate.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you.