Felt’s Goon-Squad Past


WASHINGTON, D.C.—Mark Felt’s rise to the stature of a hero is ironic, because the former FBI goon-squad leader is a sleazebag and because the Bureau treats its present-day whistle-blowers like scum. Sibel Edmonds, the FBI translator who wants to tell all about the FBI and 9-11, is the most prominent recent whistle-blower. But there are plenty of others scattered through Washington’s intelligence labyrinth—they’re being ridiculed, hounded out of their jobs, blackballed, and literally driven nuts.

Portrayed as the courageous FBI agent, Felt may turn out to be a PR gift for the FBI. For at least a decade the Bureau has been in a suicide dive—botching laboratory tests, losing or covering up documents, flip-flopping around with its ancient computer system, and misleading and obstructing Congress.

Felt played a major role in directing and implementing the ruthless wrecking of people’s lives. He led a goon squad in black-bag operations, invading homes and offices of friends and families of the Weather Underground and thousands of innocent citizens it decided were Communists. Hoover’s FBI was celebrated as our premier law enforcement agency. In fact, it was a political intelligence operation, and a lousy one at that.

Under Hoover, FBI agents were trained to break the law. In their witch hunt for commies, FBI agents were told how to conduct warrantless electronic wiretaps, surreptitious entries, and burglaries to cover their tracks. Agents went to lock-picking schools. For jobs well-done, they were rewarded with bonuses. In 1966 the director banned black-bag jobs, but the burglaries and illegal bugging continued. This was Felt’s world. He told a grand jury he had approved some of the goon squad jobs himself. When the Church Committee investigated these abuses, the FBI ordered the unit in charge of conducting black-bag jobs to investigate the culprits itself, and the unit soberly told the committee it had conducted 238 burglaries of 15 domestic groups between 1942 and 1968.

Subsequently, M. Wesley Swearingen, a retired FBI agent with 25 years’ service, said FBI agents and bosses were a bunch of liars. He himself had conducted more than 238 jobs, he said, and his Chicago office had “conducted thousands of bag jobs.” He himself had received commendations and a bonus for burglarizing Chicago-area homes of Communist Party members.

Felt claimed that the break-ins were related to the Nixon administration’s expanded foreign-intelligence operations. Swearingen said that was “absolute nonsense,” pointing out that during the seven years (1970-77) he served as coordinator of the Weather Underground case, no presidential authority had ever been cited for conducting break-ins. Frank Donner’s The Age of Surveillance, which provides a detailed history of the Bureau during this period, puts the total number of black-bag jobs at around 7,500.

Felt admitted approving break-ins to search for Arab terrorists following the ’72 Munich Olympics, at which Arab commandos seized Israeli athletes and executed 11 of them. Nixon applauded the illegal break-ins.

A jury found Felt guilty of illegal break-ins, but President Reagan pardoned him, citing lack of “criminal intent.” And Reagan later commended him and others because they “acted on high principle to bring an end to terrorism that was threatening our nation.”

In particular, the FBI had a long-term obsession with the Socialist Workers Party. When a 15-year-old high school student wrote a letter to the group requesting information as part of a social studies class project in 1973, the FBI, which was reading the SWP’s mail, made her a “subversive activities” target. An agent visited her principal and told him the kid was being investigated for her ties to the commies. It took years to erase the smear job against the teen. That’s Felt’s world.

Why do you think they called it CREEP?

Charles Colson, chief counsel to Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973, once said, “I’d walk over my own grandmother to re-elect Richard Nixon.”

Colson was tied up with CREEP, which spent $250,000 for “intelligence gathering” on the Democratic Party. Along with John Ehrlichman, he oversaw the “plumbers’ unit” and organized the burglary of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in hopes of discrediting the man who leaked the Pentagon Papers. Colson went to jail for a while for his part in the scandal, found God, and became a prison minister. He is a prominent voice on the Christian right.

Last week, when Mark Felt’s identity as Deep Throat was confirmed, Colson was quoted as saying, “I never thought anybody with such a position of sensitivity at the Justice Department would breach confidences.” Colson added, “Mark Felt could have stopped Watergate. He was in a position of that kind of influence. Instead, he goes out and basically undermines the administration.”

Europe’s delicate constitution

It is always possible that last week’s “no” in the Netherlands and France on the proposed European constitution will result in a breakthrough that heralds the rise of a new Europe. The problem is that no one can seem to agree on what the balloting was for. “Is this a constitution or not?” asks Erik Wesselius, secretary of the European No Campaign in the Netherlands. “I’ve been in a debate with a law professor who said this is a constitutional text. Another said it’s a treaty. [There’s a] lot of disagreement over the exact status. The name ‘constitution’ was chosen consciously. . . . It was meant to provide an extra source of legitimation for the EU, which has a low level of legitimacy with EU citizens. . . . I think it’s a ridiculous document to be presented as a constitution. I think a constitution should be relatively short and clear . . . ”

Europeans might eventually agree on a text, says Wesselius, but a constitution would only become clear after interpretations of the text began.

For now, adds Wesselius, “lawyers are sitting in the position of a politician. They can determine what basic laws are governing Europe. I think that’s a bad thing.”

In France especially, the political fallout from that country’s “no” vote is viewed as a way to break the gridlock of stagnant French politics and propel forward a man of the right—not left—as an agent of change. But he’s not a man of the far right. His name is Nicolas Sarkozy, originally a Chirac protégé, the new interior minister, head of the ruling center-right political party, and widely thought to be first in line to be the next president of France. Most of all, he is seen as the one man who can block the rise of LePen and the far right.

Sarkozy, who has Hungarian roots, first became budget minister in 1993 under Edouard Balladur, whom he backed in his unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 1995. Previously Sarkozy had been close to Chirac, once even dating his daughter. But his supporting Balladur was an act of betrayal Chirac couldn’t stomach, and he turned against Sarkozy, attempting to block his political rise. However, by 2002 Chirac was in trouble, and Sarkozy was brought back into government as interior minister, this time accompanied by his wife, Cecilia, as a key adviser. Like the Clintons, the two became a power couple in politics.

Sarkozy is a man of the right. He is for deregulation and wants to downsize the welfare state. He wants the French to contribute to medical coverage (which is now pretty much free). He is willing to extend the work week from the current 35 hours.

One good thing about him: The elites don’t like his manners. Sarkozy goes into the bad neighborhoods, and he works closely with Muslim groups. As the new interior minister, he runs the police and will have considerable sway in the war against terror. He is pro-American, admires Tom Cruise, and is given to a sort of pragmatism, saying things like this: “The rigidities of ideology limit your choices when the best solutions might involve a mix: more liberalism where best, intervention when necessary.”

Additional reporting: Christine Lu, Natalie Wittlin, and Halley Bondy