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Profile: J. Edgar Hoover

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J. Edgar Hoover was a participant or observer in the following events:

Father Charles Coughlin.Father Charles Coughlin. [Source: Spartacus Schoolnet]Father Charles Edward Coughlin, an ordained Catholic priest, hosts what may be the first politically oriented national radio broadcast in US history. Coughlin, who started his political involvement as a supporter of President Roosevelt’s New Deal, quickly becomes a virulent Roosevelt critic, calling Roosevelt’s economic policies “socialism.” By 1930, CBS broadcasts Coughlin’s weekly radio show nationwide. Coughlin’s harsh criticism of communist and socialist governments, such as the Soviet Union, widens to encompass the US government and many aspects of American life. He accuses the citizenry of “scorn[ing] the basic family and national doctrine of Jesus Christ,” citing divorce statistics as “proof” of his assertions. He does not spare the corporations, blasting them for treating working families unfairly and warning of the dangers of the “concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.” Coughlin begins claiming that American communists have infiltrated many levels of government and corporate leadership, and lashes out at what he calls the “Bolshevism of America.” In April 1931, CBS refuses to renew his contract, and Coughlin organizes his own radio network which eventually claims over 30 radio stations and some 30 million listeners. In 1936, Coughlin, who has grown disillusioned with Roosevelt over his administration’s failure to take over the nation’s banking system and other of Coughlin’s suggested reforms, forms a hardline anti-Communist, isolationist organization called the “Christian Front.” When the US begins publicly opposing the German Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, Coughlin turns on Roosevelt entirely, accusing him of advocating “international socialism or Sovietism,” and praising Hitler and Italy’s Benito Mussolini as “anti-Communist fighters.” By 1940, according to playwright Arthur Miller, Coughlin is “confiding to his 10 million Depression-battered listeners that the president was a liar controlled by both the Jewish bankers and, astonishingly enough, the Jewish Communists, the same tribe that 20 years earlier had engineered the Russian Revolution.… He was arguing… that Hitlerism was the German nation’s innocently defensive response to the threat of Communism, that Hitler was only against ‘bad Jews,’ especially those born outside Germany.” Coughlin echoes Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels in claiming that Marxist atheism in Europe is a Jewish plot. He claims that America is overrun by “Jewry,” resulting in critics labeling him a “fascist.” Boston police discover that for several years Jewish youths in the city have been beaten and terrorized by what the Christian Science Monitor calls “Coughlinites and the Christian Front”; other assaults on American Jews are later found to have been carried out by people who support Coughlin, often with the complicity of local law enforcement and Catholic officials. The Christian Front collapses in January 1940 when the FBI raids its New York branch and finds a cache of weapons; FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover tells the press that the organization is planning the assassinations of a number of prominent Jews, communists, and “a dozen Congressmen.” Coughlin’s influence is badly damaged by the FBI’s claims, and Coughlin’s rhetoric continues to move to the extreme. By September 1940, he is calling Roosevelt “the world’s chief warmonger,” and in 1941 says that the US, not Germany or the Soviet Union, is the biggest threat to impose its domination on the world. “Many people are beginning to wonder who they should fear most,” he says, “the Roosevelt-Churchill combination or the Hitler-Mussolini combination.” When the US enters World War II at the end of 1941, the National Association of Broadcasters arranges for Coughlin’s broadcasts to be terminated. At Roosevelt’s behest, the US Post Office refuses to deliver his weekly newspapers. And in May 1942, Coughlin is ordered by Archbishop Francis Mooney to cease his political activities or be defrocked. Although Coughlin will continue to write pamphlets about the dangers of communism until his death in 1979, his influence on American political thought ends in the first months of the war. (New York Times 1/21/1940; Dinnerstein 1995, pp. 132-133; Spartacus Schoolnet 2010)

Director of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover orders the bureau to begin preparing a list of individuals to be closely monitored and/or detained in the event of a national emergency or war. The list is to be comprised of persons considered to have strong “Nazi” and “Communist tendencies.” The FBI is ordered to collect information on suspected individuals from employment records, school records, newspapers, and “confidential sources of information.” The list will become part of the FBI’s Custodial Detention Program in 1940 (see November 1940-1943). (Crewdson 10/23/1975; Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities 5/1976, pp. 412)

The FBI maintains a list of individuals that are to be closely monitored and/or detained in the event of a national emergency or war. The index of names, known officially as the “Custodial Detention Program,” is spawned from a list established in 1939 by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover (see November 1939). The updated list is composed of persons thought to have a “Communistic, Fascist, Nazi, or other nationalistic background.” The list includes individuals that distribute “literature and propaganda favorable to a foreign power and opposed to the American way of life,” as well as “agitators who are adherents of foreign ideologies.” The names on the list are divided into two categories: those who are to be immediately detained in the event of war and those who are to be subject to close surveillance in the event of war. The program will be criticized for being unreliable and potentially illegal (see 1943). (Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities 5/1976, pp. 417)

Attorney General Francis Biddle abolishes the FBI’s Custodial Detention Program, which is designed to round up suspected dissidents in times of national emergency or war (see November 1940-1943). However, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover secretly re-establishes the list under a new name: the Security Index (see Early 1943-1971). Biddle clearly informs the FBI: “There is no statutory authorization or other present justification for keeping a ‘custodial detention’ list of citizens.… [I]t is now clear to me that this classification system is inherently unreliable.” The attorney general comments: “The evidence used for the purpose of making the classifications was inadequate; the standards applied to the evidence for the purpose of making the classifications were defective; and finally, the notion that it is possible to make a valid determination as to how dangerous a person is in the abstract and without reference to time, environment, and other relevant circumstances, is impractical, unwise, and dangerous.” But Hoover does not comply with the attorney general’s order. He instead changes the name of the list from the Custodial Detention Program to the Security Index. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will later report, “The attorney general and the Justice Department were apparently not informed of the FBI’s decision to continue the program.” FBI headquarters informs its field offices, “The fact that the Security Index and Security Index Cards are prepared and maintained should be considered strictly confidential, and should at no time be mentioned or alluded to in investigative reports, or discussed with agencies or individuals outside the bureau other than duly qualified representatives of the Office of Naval Intelligence and the Military Intelligence Division, and then only on a strictly confidential basis.” (Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities 5/1976, pp. 420-421)

The FBI, led by director J. Edgar Hoover, begins to “accumulate the names, identities, and activities” of American citizens who are regarded as suspect. The information is gathered in a “security index,” which rapidly expands. In a letter to the White House during the Truman administration, Hoover will state that in the event of certain emergency situations, suspect individuals would be held in detention camps overseen by “the National Military Establishment.” By 1960, a congressional investigation will later reveal, the FBI list of suspicious persons will include “professors, teachers, and educators; labor-union organizers and leaders; writers, lecturers, newsmen, and others in the mass-media field; lawyers, doctors, and scientists; other potentially influential persons on a local or national level; [and] individuals who could potentially furnish financial or material aid” to unnamed “subversive elements.” (Ketcham 5/2008)

J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), tells the House Appropriations Committee that the FBI is prepared to arrest 14,000 purported communists inside the US in the event of war with Russia. James M. McInerney, assistant attorney general, refuses to provide the committee with details regarding those on the list, but says they are “either out-and-out Communists” or are “sympathetic toward the Communist cause.” The officials are apparently referring to the FBI’s Security Index, which was established in 1943 (see 1943 and Early 1943-1971). (New York Times 4/28/1951)

Henry Kissinger.Henry Kissinger. [Source: Library of Congress]Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, determined to prove to President Nixon that news stories about the secret Cambodian bombings are not being leaked to the press by liberals in the National Security Council offices, urges FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to wiretap several of Nixon’s top aides, as well as a selection of reporters. Kissinger will later deny making the request. (Werth 2006, pp. 169) In March 1973, W. Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s famous “Deep Throat” background source, will confirm the wiretappings, saying: “In 1969, the first targets of aggressive wiretapping were the reporters and those in the administration who were suspected of disloyalty. Then the emphasis was shifted to the radical political opposition during the [Vietnam] antiwar protests. When it got near election time [1972], it was only natural to tap the Democrats (see Late June-July 1971 and May 27-28, 1972). The arrests in the Watergate (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) sent everybody off the edge because the break-in could uncover the whole program.” (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 271) Felt will tell Woodward that two of the reporters placed under electronic surveillance are Neil Sheehan and Hedrick Smith. Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg will leak the Defense Department documents to Sheehan (see March 1971). Eventually, future FBI director William Ruckelshaus will reveal that at least 17 wiretaps are ordered between 1969 and 1971. The logs of those wiretaps are stored in a safe in White House aide John Ehrlichman’s office. In all, 13 government officials and four reporters are monitored. (Bernstein and Woodward 1974, pp. 313) The FBI will send Kissinger 37 letters reporting on the results of the surveillance between May 16, 1969 and May 11, 1970. When the surveillance is revealed to the Senate Watergate Committee, it will be shown that among those monitored are Nixon speechwriter and later New York Times columnist William Safire; Anthony Lake, a top Kissinger aide who will later resign over the secret bombings of Cambodia; and the military assistant to Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, whom Kissinger regards as a political enemy. (Woodward 2005, pp. 21-22)

The FBI wiretaps Sunday Times reporter Henry Brandon. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover decides to wiretap Brandon after President Nixon, looking for National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, finds him at Brandon’s home. (Reeves 2001, pp. 86)

President Nixon meets with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, CIA Director Richard Helms, and the heads of the NSA and DIA to discuss a proposed new domestic intelligence system. His presentation is prepared by young White House aide Tom Charles Huston (derisively called “Secret Agent X-5” behind his back by some White House officials). The plan is based on the assumption that, as Nixon says, “hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Americans—mostly under 30—are determined to destroy our society.” Nixon complains that the various US intelligence agencies spend as much time battling with one another over turf and influence as they do working to locate threats to national security both inside and outside of the country. The agencies need to prove the assumed connections between the antiwar demonstrators and Communists. The group in Nixon’s office will now be called the “Interagency Committee on Intelligence,” Nixon orders, with Hoover chairing the new ad hoc group, and demands an immediate “threat assessment” about domestic enemies to his administration. Huston will be the White House liaison. Historian Richard Reeves will later write: “The elevation of Huston, a fourth-level White House aide, into the company of Hoover and Helms was a calculated insult. Nixon was convinced that both the FBI and the CIA had failed to find the links he was sure bound domestic troubles and foreign communism. But bringing them to the White House was also part of a larger Nixon plan. He was determined to exert presidential control over the parts of the government he cared most about—the agencies dealing with foreign policy, military matters, intelligence, law, criminal justice, and general order.” (Reeves 2001, pp. 229-230)

After President Nixon approves of the so-called “Huston Plan” to implement a sweeping new domestic intelligence and internal security apparatus (see July 14, 1970), FBI director J. Edgar Hoover brings the plan’s author, White House aide Tom Charles Huston (see June 5, 1970), into his office and vents his disapproval. The “old ways” of unfettered wiretaps, political infiltration, and calculated break-ins and burglaries are “too dangerous,” he tells Huston. When, not if, the operations are revealed to the public, they will open up scrutiny of US law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and possibly reveal other, past illegal domestic surveillance operations that would embarrass the government. Hoover says he will not share FBI intelligence with other agencies, and will not authorize any illegal activities without President Nixon’s personal, written approval. The next day, Nixon orders all copies of the decision memo collected, and withdraws his support for the plan. (Reeves 2001, pp. 236-237) W. Mark Felt, the deputy director of the FBI, later calls Huston “a kind of White House gauleiter over the intelligence community.” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will note that the definition of “gauleiter” is, according to Webster’s Dictionary, “the leader or chief officoal of a political district under Nazi control.” (Woodward 2005, pp. 33-34)

Documents from the FBI describing extensive domestic surveillance of college students, minorities, and war protesters are anonymously mailed to several major newspapers and members of Congress. The records are sent to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Senator George S. McGovern (D-SD), and Representative Parren J. Mitchell (D-MD). According to the New York Times, “The documents suggest that FBI surveillance of dissenters on the political left has been far more extensive than was generally known.” The papers “show that the subjects of inquiries include obscure persons marginally suspected of illegal activity.” The files describe attempts to infiltrate colleges, student unions, minority groups, and political organizations. According to the documents, the FBI is under orders to investigate all students, teachers, and scientists that travel to the Soviet Union. The documents show that the FBI has gone as far as investigating a Boy Scout trip to the Soviet Union. The papers also reveal that the FBI is under orders to monitor all student groups that are “organized to project the demands of black students.” The files also state that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover approved plans for the recruitment of informants as young as 18 years old. (Graham 3/25/1971)

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover promotes W. Mark Felt to be the #3 official in the bureau. Though Hoover’s longtime assistant and confidante Clyde Tolson is putatively the #2 man at the bureau, Tolson is seriously ill and does not often come to work, so Felt essentially becomes the FBI’s deputy director, in charge of day-to-day operations. Felt has access to virtually every piece of information the FBI possesses. Felt will become the celebrated “Deep Throat,” Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s inside source for the Watergate investigations (see May 31, 2005). (Woodward 2005, pp. 35)

The FBI, acting against the will of Congress, maintains a secret list of citizens to be monitored and/or detained in the event of a national emergency. Congress recently attempted to ban the FBI’s secret “Security Index” by revoking the Emergency Detention Act of the 1950 Subversive Activity Control Act (see 1971). The FBI, in an apparent attempt to subvert the repeal, changes the title of the detention list to the “Administrative Index,” or “ADEX” for short. A source from the FBI will say the change is in “name only.” Another FBI official acknowledges that the new index could be “interpreted as a means to circumvent [the] repeal of the Emergency Detention Act.” The Justice Department secretly decides that Congress has not restricted the FBI’s authority. In a memo to J. Edgar Hoover, Attorney General John N. Mitchell says the repeal by Congress does “not alter or limit” the FBI’s authority to “record, file, and index” names of purportedly subversive individuals. According to Mitchell, the FBI maintains plans for a national emergency that are “prepared on the basis of authority other than” the provisions revoked by Congress. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will later report that the FBI “continued to evade the will of Congress, partly with Justice Department approval, by maintaining a secret administrative index of suspects for round-up in case of a national emergency.” The FBI will maintian control of the list until 1985, when it will be transferred to FEMA (see Late 1971-1985 and 1985). (Associated Press 12/18/1975; New York Times 4/29/1976; Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities 5/1976, pp. 542-548; Crewdson 3/2/1986)

W. Mark Felt, the number three official at the FBI, is given the memo allegedly written by ITT lobbyist Dita Beard (see February 22, 1972) by Assistant Attorney General L. Patrick Gray to have it forensically analyzed. However, Gray soon demands the memo’s return. Felt has the memo analyzed, but no solid conclusions as to its validity can be initially determined. Shortly after returning the memo to Gray, Felt receives a phone call from White House counsel John Dean; Dean tells Felt that ITT experts had determined that the Beard memo was a forgery. On March 17, as Beard is denying writing the memo, FBI analysts report to Felt that the memo is likely authentic. Before the FBI can release its findings to the public, Dean presses Felt to change the letter; both Felt and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover refuse, and Hoover releases the finding on March 23. Hoover even refuses a direct request from President Nixon to back off on the finding of authenticity. Felt feels that the request is nothing less than pressure from the White House to cover up the ITT-GOP connection, pressure which Felt will later characterize as “in some ways a prelude to Watergate.” (Gentry 2001, pp. 716-717; Woodward 2005, pp. 37-39)

Acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, writhing under harsh questioning in his Senate confirmation hearings (see February 28-29, 1973), has displayed a candor and a willingness to reveal information that the White House has found disturbing. But that comes to an end; after Gray’s early offer to let senators examine the FBI’s files on the Watergate investigations, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst overrules that offer. Kleindienst insists that Gray has no authority to make such an offer, and instead proposes that only the chairman of the Judiciary Commiteee, James Eastland (D-MS), and its ranking member Roman Hruska (R-NE), be allowed to view the files. Gray is privately ordered by Kleindienst to stop talking about the FBI investigation. Gray reluctantly obeys, and begins responding to questions about the investigation by saying, “I respectfully decline to answer that question.” Towards the end of the hearings, Gray will inform the committee about Kleindienst’s “gag order.” Kleindienst may have issued the order because of Gray’s testimony that he was pressured by White House aides John Dean and John Ehrlichman to find and close media leaks they believed were coming from within the FBI, requests that Gray resented “because I don’t think there were those leaks within the FBI.” (Time 4/2/1973; O.T. Jacobson 7/5/1974 pdf file)
Gray's Partisanship Questioned - Committee members also question Gray’s open advocacy of the Nixon administration, a position they find unbecoming in a supposedly nonpartisan FBI director. They want to know why in September 1972 he abandoned the agency’s nonpartisan tradition and ordered 21 field offices to file expert advice on how best Nixon and his aides could handle campaign issues related to criminal justice. And they are disturbed that during the 1972 campaign, Gray himself stumped for Nixon in three separate speeches, in what Time magazine calls “blatantly political activity his predecessor [J. Edgar Hoover] would never have undertaken.” Committee member Robert Byrd (D-WV) said before the hearings: “In the nine months that Mr. Gray has held the post of acting director, there has been increasing criticism of that bureau as becoming more and more a political arm of the administration. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI had always been a nonpolitical bureau, and Mr. Hoover meticulously avoided partisanship in campaigns.” Confirmation of Gray, Byrd continued, “would be damaging to the proficiency and morale of the agency.” Many senators also question Gray’s lack of law enforcement experience. (Time 3/5/1973)
'Twist[ing] in the Wind' - During the hearings, Nixon aide John Ehrlichman privately proposes that the White House not support Gray, and instead leave him to “twist slowly, slowly in the wind” until he resigns (see April 5, 1973). Shortly before his death in 2005, Gray will say, “I made the gravest mistake of my 88 years” in going to work for Nixon. “I put the rudder in the wrong direction.” (Purdom 7/7/2005)

Former CIA director Richard Helms.Former CIA director Richard Helms. [Source: Search.com]Former CIA director Richard Helms indirectly confirms the involvement of the Nixon administration in his agency’s illegal domestic surveillance operations during his testimony before the Senate Watergate investigative committee. Helms tells the committee that he was told by Nixon’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board that the CIA could “make a contribution” in domestic intelligence operations. “I pointed out to them very quickly that it could not, there was no way,” Helms testifies. “But this was a matter that kept coming up in the context of feelers: Isn’t there somebody else who can take on these things if the FBI isn’t doing them as well as they should, as there are no other facilities?” (FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s opposition to the idea of spying on US citizens for Nixon’s political purposes is well documented.) CIA officials say that, despite Helms’s testimony, Helms began the domestic spying program as asked, in the beginning to investigate beliefs that the antiwar movement was permeated by foreign intelligence agents in 1969 and 1970. “It started as a foreign intelligence operation and it bureaucratically grew,” one source says in 1974. “That’s really the answer.” The CIA “simply began using the same techniques for foreigners against new targets here.” The source will say James Angleton, the CIA’s director of counterintelligence (see 1973), began recruiting double agents inside the antiwar and civil rights organizations, and sending in “ringers” to penetrate the groups and report back to the CIA. “It was like a little FBI operation.” Angleton reportedly believes that both the protest groups and the US media are riddled with Soviet intelligence agents, and acts accordingly to keep those groups and organizations under constant watch. One source will say Angleton has a “spook mentality.” Another source will say that Angleton’s counterintelligence bureau is “an independent power in the CIA. Even people in the agency aren’t allowed to deal directly with the CI [counterintelligence] people. Once you’re in it, you’re in it for life.” (Hersh 12/22/1974 pdf file)

Bo Burlingame, a former member of the radical antiwar group the Weather Underground, interviews former Nixon White House aide Tom Charles Huston, the author of the notorious, unconstitutional “Huston Plan” (see July 14, 1970). Huston is just coming off a speech to a conservative audience in which he said that his plan, and Nixon’s attempt to seize executive power at the expense of Congress and the Constitution, was excessive and mistaken (see Late 1973). Huston, a lawyer, a former Army intelligence officer, and an early leader of the Indiana chapter of the conservative extremist group Young Americans for Freedom, tells Burlingame that he found an interesting parallel between his group of right-wing extremists and Burlingame’s left-wing extremists: “I was interested to learn that you people were frustrated because nobody was listening to you. You know, we felt the same thing at the White House. It seemed as if a momentous crisis was at hand, and nobody was aware of it or cared.”
Coup d'Etat Begins with Creation of Fear in Populace - Huston is contemptuous and dismissive of many of his former White House colleagues, particularly Richard Nixon. “Frankly, I wouldn’t put anything past him and those damn technocrats,” he says of Nixon and his senior aides. “[Y]ou can’t begin to compete with the professional Nixonites when it comes to deception.… If Nixon told them to nationalize the railroads, they’d have nationalized the railroads. If he’d told them to exterminate the Jews, they’d have exterminated the Jews.” He took a position with the White House in January 1969 “believing that things were finally going to be set straight.”
Disillusioned - Huston became increasingly disillusioned with the lack of idealism in the Nixon White House, and left after deciding that Nixon and his top officials were less interested in implementing true conservative reforms and more interested in merely accumulating power. The Nixon team was an apolitical, power-hungry bunch “whose intellectual tradition is rooted in the philosophy of [marketing and advertising guru] J. Walter Thompson.… This administration has done more to debauch conservative values than anything else in recent history.”
Fear and Repression - Considering his plan to abrogate the fundamental rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans, Huston seems quite supportive of those rights even in the face of national danger. “The real threat to national security is repression,” he had told a New York Times interviewer not long before the Burlingame interview. “A handful of people can’t frontally overthrow the government. But if they can engender enough fear, they can generate an atmosphere that will bring out every repressive demagogue in the country.”
Explaining the Huston Plan - Huston explains the rationale behind his radically repressive plan, telling Burlingame that the country was on the brink of mass insurrection and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was not doing nearly enough to combat the civil rights and antiwar protesters, particularly groups like the Black Panthers and Burlingame’s Weather Underground. By early 1970, many in the White House were ready to ease Hoover out of power; when, shortly thereafter, the mass protests against the Cambodia bombings (see February 23-24, 1969 and April 24-30, 1970) and the Jackson State and Kent State shootings (see May 4-5, 1970) occurred, Huston and others at the White House thought there was a far more organized and systematic underground, left-wing revolution going on than they had evidence to document. “We just didn’t believe we were getting the whole story,” he says.
Removing Hoover - Getting rid of Hoover and replacing him with someone more amenable to the White House’s agenda was the first goal, Huston says. The June 1970 “Interagency Committee on Intelligence” (see June 5, 1970) was designed to maneuver around Hoover and have him implicitly authorize counter-insurrection methods that he had always opposed, including “surreptitious entry” and “covert mail coverage.” The committee was the genesis of the Huston Plan. But Hoover stops the plan in its tracks by going through Attorney General John Mitchell. Whatever he said to Mitchell is not known, but Mitchell chewed out Huston and saw to it that the plan was terminated. Huston says that the unit of illegal campaign operatives later known as the “Plumbers” (see July 20, 1971) stems in part from the White House’s inability to force Hoover from power. Had Hoover made the FBI available to conduct the illegal burglaries and surveillances that Nixon wanted done—had Nixon supported the Huston Plan—the Plumbers would have never come into existence. “I find that totally indefensible,” Huston observes.
Ethical Confusion - Burlingame is bemused by Huston’s apparent ethical schizophrenia—on the one hand, Huston has come out strongly for constitutional freedoms, and on the other hand is now saying that his plan, which he himself has long admitted was blatantly illegal, would have avoided the entire Watergate contretemps and would have worked to bring the country into line. In fact, Huston asserts, he believed at the time that the Watergate conspiracy was completely legal. “I took the view that in internal security matters the president had the right to infringe on what would, in other circumstances, be constitutional rights, but that decision encompassed a decision that you forfeit the right to prosecute.” This view is why he left the Justice Department entirely out of the loop on his plan, he says.
Deliberately Keeping outside the Framework of the Law - The entire Huston plan would have never been used for anything except intelligence-gathering, he says. It was necessary for the plan to be exercised outside the structure of US law, he says. “[Y]ou don’t want a constitutional or legal mandate,” he says. “You don’t want to institutionalize the excesses required to meet extraordinary threats. The law just can’t anticipate all the contingencies.” He now thinks that he went too far with pushing for extraordinary powers; that if Hoover could have been eased out of power, the FBI could have done what needed doing without breaking the law. Burlingame writes that he cannot help but think that Huston is employing “tortured legalisms” to “cover his flank,” and questions Huston’s portrait of himself as an increasingly marginalized conservative idealist who became so disillusioned with the amoral power-mad bureaucrats of the Nixon administration that he walked out rather than further jeopardize his own principles. (Burlingame 10/1974)

Former President Richard Nixon, generally acknowledged as having bested his interviewer David Frost in the first rounds of a set of interviews (see April 6, 1977), now defends his support for the infamous Huston Plan, admitted by the plan’s author himself to be illegal in its breathtaking contempt for civil liberties and the rule of Constitutional law. Former Watergate prosecutor Philip Lacovara had told Frost’s aide James Reston Jr. that it was surprising Huston was not taken out and shot. Reston will later write acidly: “Not only was Tom Charles Huston not taken out and shot, the plan was calmly considered and signed by Nixon, and was in force for a week, until J. Edgar Hoover objected on territorial rather than philosophical grounds (see July 26-27, 1970). Only then was approval rescinded (although many felt it remained in effect under the code name COINTELPRO).” Reston will write that during this interview, Nixon paints a picture of an America engulfed in armed insurrection, a portrait so convincing that the Huston Plan actually seems a rational response. Frost fails to press the point that the antiwar protests were largely nonviolent and not a threat to national security. (Reston 2007, pp. 102-105) Frost does ask that if this was indeed so vital to national security, why not ask Congress to make such acts legal? “In theory,” Nixon replies, “this would be perfect, but in practice, it won’t work.” It would merely alert the targeted dissenters and raise a public outcry. (Time 5/30/1977) This part of the interview sessions will be aired on May 19, 1977. (Landmark Cases 8/28/2007)

Advertisement for Nixon/Frost interviews.Advertisement for Nixon/Frost interviews. [Source: Bamboo Trading (.com)]Former President Richard Nixon, generally acknowledged as having bested his interviewer David Frost in the first rounds of interviews (see April 6, 1977), now defends his support for the infamous Huston Plan, admitted by the plan’s author himself to be illegal in its breathtaking contempt for civil liberties and the rule of Constitutional law. Former Watergate prosecutor Philip Lacovara had told Frost’s aide James Reston Jr. that it was surprising Huston was not taken out and shot. Reston will write acidly: “Not only was Tom Charles Huston not taken out and shot, the plan was calmly considered and signed by Nixon, and was in force for a week, until J. Edgar Hoover objected on territorial rather than philosophical grounds (see July 26-27, 1970). Only then was approval rescinded (although many felt it remained in effect under the code name COINTELPRO).” Reston will write that, during this interview, Nixon paints a picture of an America engulfed in armed insurrection, a portrait so convincing that the Huston Plan actually seems a rational response. Frost fails to press the point that the antiwar protests were largely nonviolent and not a threat to national security. (Reston 2007, pp. 102-105) Frost does ask that if this was indeed so vital to national security, why not ask Congress to make such acts legal? “In theory,” Nixon replies, “this would be perfect, but in practice, it won’t work.” It would merely alert the targeted dissenters and raise a public outcry. (Time 5/30/1977) This part of the interview sessions will be aired on May 19, 1977. (Landmark Cases 8/28/2007)

W. Mark Felt.W. Mark Felt. [Source: Life Distilled.com]The identity of “Deep Throat,” the Watergate source made famous in Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s book All the President’s Men, is revealed to have been W. Mark Felt, who at the time was the deputy director of the FBI. As “Deep Throat,” Felt provided critical information and guidance for Bernstein and Woodward’s investigations of the Watergate conspiracy for the Washington Post. Felt’s identity has been a closely guarded secret for over 30 years; Woodward, who knew Felt, had repeatedly said that neither he, Bernstein, nor then-editor Ben Bradlee would release any information about his source’s identity until after his death or until Felt authorized its revelation. Felt’s family confirms Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” in an article published in Vanity Fair. Felt, 91 years old, suffers from advanced senile dementia. Felt’s character as the romantic government source whispering explosive secrets from the recesses of a Washington, DC, parking garage was burned into the American psyche both by the book and by actor Hal Holbrook’s portrayal in the 1976 film of the same name. Woodward says that Holbrook’s portrayal captured Felt’s character both physically and psychologically. (Drehle 6/1/2005) Bernstein and Woodward release a joint statement after the Vanity Fair article is published. It reads, “W. Mark Felt was Deep Throat and helped us immeasurably in our Watergate coverage. However, as the record shows, many other sources and officials assisted us and other reporters for the hundreds of stories written in the Washington Post.” (Woodward 2005, pp. 232)
Surveillance Methods to Protect Both Felt and Woodward - Felt used his experience as an anti-Nazi spy hunter for the FBI to set up secret meetings between himself and the young reporter (see August 1972). “He knew he was taking a monumental risk,” says Woodward. Woodward acknowledges that his continued refusal to reveal Felt’s identity has played a key role in the advancement of his career as a journalist and author, as many sources trust Woodward to keep their identities secret as he did Felt’s.
Obscuring the Greater Meaning - Bernstein cautions that focusing on Felt’s role as a “deep background” source—the source of the nickname, which references a popular 1970s pornographic movie—obscures the greater meaning of the Watergate investigation. “Felt’s role in all this can be overstated,” Bernstein says. “When we wrote the book, we didn’t think his role would achieve such mythical dimensions. You see there that Felt/Deep Throat largely confirmed information we had already gotten from other sources.” (Drehle 6/1/2005) Felt was convicted in 1980 of conspiring to violate the civil rights of domestic dissidents belonging to the Weather Underground movement in the early 1970s; Felt was pardoned by then-President Ronald Reagan. (Woodward 2005, pp. 146-147) At that time, Felt’s identity as “Deep Throat” could have been revealed, but was not.
Felt, Daughter Decide to Go Public - The Vanity Fair article is by Felt family lawyer John D. O’Connor, who helped Felt’s daughter Joan coax Felt into admitting his role as “Deep Throat.” O’Connor’s article quotes Felt as saying, “I’m the guy they used to call Deep Throat.” O’Connor says he wrote the article with the permission of both Felt and his daughter. Woodward has been reluctant to reveal Felt’s identity, though he has already written an as-yet unpublished book about Felt and their relationship, because of his concerns about Felt’s failing health and increasingly poor memory. The Washington Post’s editors concluded that with the publication of the Vanity Fair article, they were not breaking any confidences by confirming Felt’s identity as Woodward’s Watergate source. (Drehle 6/1/2005)
Endless Speculation - The identity of “Deep Throat” has been one of the enduring political mysteries of the last 30 years. Many observers, from Richard Nixon to the most obscure Internet sleuth, have speculated on his identity. Watergate-era figures, including then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan, Nixon deputy counsel Fred Fielding, Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig, National Security Council staffers Laurence Lynn and Winston Lord, then-CBS reporter Diane Sawyer, and many others, have been advanced as possibilities for the source. Former White House counsels John Dean and Leonard Garment, two key Watergate figures, have written extensively on the subject, but both have been wrong in their speculations. In 1992, Atlantic Monthly journalist James Mann wrote that “Deep Throat” “could well have been Mark Felt.” At the time, Felt cautiously denied the charge, as he did in his 1979 memoir, The FBI Pyramid. (Woodward 2005, pp. 153-156; Drehle 6/1/2005) In 1999, the Hartford Courant published a story saying that 19-year old Chase Coleman-Beckman identified Felt as “Deep Throat.” Coleman-Beckman had attended a day camp with Bernstein’s son Josh a decade earlier, and Josh Bernstein then told her that Felt was Woodward’s source. Felt then denied the charge, telling a reporter: “No, it’s not me. I would have done better. I would have been more effective. Deep Throat didn’t exactly bring the White House crashing down, did he?” Woodward calls Felt’s response a classic Felt evasion. (Woodward 2005, pp. 158-159)
Motivated by Anger, Concern over Politicization of the FBI - Woodward believes that Felt decided to become a background source for several reasons both personal and ideological. Felt, who idealized former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, was angered that he was passed over for the job upon Hoover’s death; instead, the position went to L. Patrick Gray, whom Felt considered both incompetent and far too politically aligned with the Nixon White House. The FBI could not become an arm of the White House, Felt believed, and could not be allowed to help Nixon cover up his participation in the conspiracy. He decided to help Woodward and Bernstein in their often-lonely investigation of the burgeoning Watergate scandal. Woodward and Bernstein never identified Felt as anyone other than “a source in the executive branch who had access” to high-level information. Felt refused to be directly quoted, even as an anonymous source, and would not give information, but would merely confirm or deny it as well as “add[ing] some perspective.” Some of Woodward and Felt’s conversations were strictly business, but sometimes they would wax more philosophical, discussing, in the words of the book, “how politics had infiltrated every corner of government—a strong-arm takeover of the agencies by the Nixon White House…. [Felt] had once called it the ‘switchblade mentality’—and had referred to the willingness of the president’s men to fight dirty and for keeps…. The Nixon White House worried him. ‘They are underhanded and unknowable,’ he had said numerous times. He also distrusted the press. ‘I don’t like newspapers,’ he had said flatly.” (Woodward 2005, pp. 167-215; Drehle 6/1/2005)


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