WASHINGTON -- Mark Felt, finally revealed as the "Deep Throat" who divulged the Watergate scandal, is wearing the hero's laurel 32 years later. But that designation comes across as peculiar to those of us who lived through the turbulent times.
Felt deserves praise for breaking the rules as FBI associate director, providing Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post the guidance to determine whether they were on the correct path in uncovering the machinations of President Nixon.
However, Felt was considered by reformers at the FBI to be part of the problem rather than the solution. He was viewed as a sycophantic lieutenant of lifetime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover who came down hard against any agents who tried to bring change to the bureau.
Everybody knew that Felt was leaking information to Woodward and Bernstein about the Watergate investigation. The reporters made no secret of the fact that they were getting leaks from inside the FBI, and it was presumed that Felt was one of the leakers. Felt was very unhappy with the Nixon White House, partly for many reasons that were not necessarily noble or patriotic.
Indeed, Felt often was rumored to be Deep Throat. But the general feeling inside Washington was the super-source described by the reporters in "All the President's Men" had to be closer to the scandal than a senior FBI bureaucrat.
Consequently, major past and present figures in the Nixon White House over the years were listed as Deep Throat candidates: Alexander Haig, David Gergen, Leonard Garment and John Sears. Any of them would seem more dramatic than Mark Felt.
Felt unquestionably provided an invaluable service to Woodward and Bernstein in pointing them in the right direction. But his motivation may not have been as noble as his family now makes it out to be.
As a high-ranking FBI official, Felt helped clean out of the bureau the critics who stood up to the dictatorial Hoover. One of the victims whom Felt helped to purge was Assistant Director William Sullivan, Hoover's arch foe who was considered one of the FBI's most liberal leaders.
Felt was known to be angry with Nixon for naming a political appointee, Patrick Gray, as FBI director when Hoover died. Gray was all too willing to do whatever Nixon wanted and was forced to resign in 1973 when he became entangled in the administration's unfolding scandals.
Gray's successor was the high-minded William Ruckelshaus, the first head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Felt was around during Ruckelshaus' tenure for less than a month before he quit. During that period, he offered only obstruction to efforts by the new FBI director to investigate Watergate. The FBI effort got poor grades from unbiased agents who wanted a well-run investigation.
Felt might have been more interested in leaking to Woodward than conducting an investigation that Nixon was trying to obstruct. Whether that makes him a hero will be the judgment of history.