“Leak”: A New Look at Watergate’s Deep Throat

The Watergate scandal was a formative episode in American political culture that powerfully reinforced public skepticism towards government and fostered a heroic image of the intrepid reporter aided by his truth-telling source.  But the reality, as usual, is more complicated than the received narrative.  In a fascinating new book, “Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat,” Max Holland probes deep into the record of Watergate to illuminate some of those complications.

The question that Holland sets out to answer is the nature of “Deep Throat’s” agenda.  What drove FBI official Mark Felt to disclose sensitive investigative information about the Watergate burglary and the ensuing coverup to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post?  What were his motivations and what was he hoping to accomplish?

Holland pays close attention to what Felt told Woodward (and when), what Felt could have told Woodward but did not, and what he told Woodward that was not actually true.

His conclusion, spelled out at the beginning of the book, is that Felt’s actions are best understood in the context of the struggle over who would succeed J. Edgar Hoover as director of the FBI.  Felt hoped it would be him.

“More than any other single factor, the desperate, no-holds-barred war of succession explains why Mark Felt did what he did, and to a considerable extent, why the scandal played out in the media as it did,” Holland writes.  “The contest to succeed Hoover was perceived as a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and it brought out the worst in the Bureau and Mark Felt.”

“The portrait of Felt that emerges when we follow this thread does not resemble any of Bob Woodward’s depictions,” in Holland’s judgment.  “Felt held the news media in contempt and was neither a high-minded whistle-blower, nor was he genuinely concerned about defending his institution’s integrity.”

“Woodward believed that he and Felt were on the same side, allies in the struggle to expose the facts and larger truth.  For Felt, however, their relationship was simply a means to the end of becoming FBI director.  If that end was best served by salting the information he gave Woodward with details that had only a casual relationship with the facts, so be it.”

Strictly speaking, Felt’s motives in leaking information are of secondary importance, if not quite irrelevant.  Holland cites an observation by Timothy Noah that “If the free flow of vital information about our government depended on the purity of heart of all concerned, we would know very little.  Happily, we are as likely to learn what we need to know through the pursuit of cheap advantage.”

Still, Holland says, “a recognition that Felt was seeking personal advancement first and foremost would have led to heightened scrutiny of his claims and a better version of the obtainable truth.”

More broadly, a reader of the book will be reminded to question the motives of sources, especially anonymous sources.  Further, one may conclude that the mantle of “whistleblower” is not one to be lightly claimed or bestowed.  (Some may feel that publishing collections of stolen email, for example, does not qualify.)

“Leak” is a work of impressive scholarship, yet it is vividly told and quite engrossing.  Reading it on the subway, I missed my stop.  The book benefits from the intrinsic drama of Watergate, and from the enduring impact of Woodward and Bernstein’s book (and Redford’s movie) “All the President’s Men.”  For better or worse, the story is one that transcends its time.

“Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat” by Max Holland was published last week by University of Kansas Press.

The book was recently reviewed by Jack Shafer, Glenn Garvin, and John Dean.

FAS Roundup- March 11, 2012

Lessons learned from Fukushima, future of nuclear power, Russia’s nuclear forces and much more.

Fukushima: One Year Later

  • Listen to the new edition of the FAS podcast series, “A Conversation With An Expert,”  featuring FAS President Dr. Charles Ferguson. In this podcast, Dr. Ferguson discusses the lessons learned from Fukushima, safety of U.S. nuclear plants, future of nuclear power use, and Japan’s new energy policy post- Fukushima.
  • FAS President Dr. Charles Ferguson is the executive producer and featured in the Council on Foreign Relations nuclear energy multimedia guide, which explores the past, present and future of nuclear power.
  • Fukushima- A Year Later: March 11 marks the one year anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan, setting into motion the events that culminated in multiple reactor meltdowns. Dr. Y reflects on a few lessons we have learned as a result of this accident on the ScienceWonk blog.
  • FAS President Dr. Charles Ferguson presented at a conference hosted by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace to examine the impact of the Fukushima accident. Dr. Ferguson spoke about the potential implications for the use of nuclear power post Fukushima and implications for safety, education, economics and waste disposal. You can view the slides from his presentation here.
  • Japan’s Nuclear Dilemma:  In a new interview with Toni Johnson of the Council on Foreign Relations, FAS President Charles Ferguson spoke about Japan’s future energy program and states that Japan’s economy is taking a huge hit due to loss of significant power generation and high imported energy costs. Yet, Japan is not open to renewable energy as an alternative. Post-Fukushima, should Japan use nuclear power?

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New FAS Podcast: One Year Later: Fukushima and the Future of Nuclear Power

March 11th marks the one year anniversary of the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast coast of Japan. These natural disasters resulted in the crisis at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant. One year later, there are massive amounts of nuclear waste and high levels of radiation, and those citizens who live near the plant have not been able to return to their homes.

As a result of this crisis, many questions still remain. What is the future of nuclear power usage not only for Japan, but other countries such as the United States, South Korea, Germany and China? How should Japan properly dispose of the radioactive waste as a result of this accident? Finally, what should Japan’s new energy policy look like post-Fukushima?

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Special Ops Forces Create “Visible and Dramatic Effects”

U.S. special operations forces are engaged in “more than 100 countries worldwide,” said Adm. William H. McRaven, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.

“In significant ways, our forces are creating visible and dramatic effects of the greatest magnitude across the globe,” Adm. McRaven said in the 2012 US SOCOM posture statement.

“The decade of war after 9/11 has proffered many lessons; among them, specific to SOF, is the complementary nature of our direct and indirect approaches and how these SOF approaches are aligned to this changing strategic environment,” Adm. McRaven said.

“The direct approach is characterized by technologically-enabled small-unit precision lethality, focused intelligence, and interagency cooperation integrated on a digitally-networked battlefield…. Extreme in risk, precise in execution and able to deliver a high payoff, the impacts of the direct approach are immediate, visible to the public and have had tremendous effects on our enemies’ networks throughout the decade.”

“However, the direct approach alone is not the solution to the challenges our Nation faces today as it ultimately only buys time and space for the indirect approach and broader governmental elements to take effect. Less well known but decisive in importance, the indirect approach is the complementary element that can counter the systemic components of the threat.”

“The indirect approach includes empowering host nation forces, providing appropriate assistance to humanitarian agencies, and engaging key populations. These long-term efforts increase partner capabilities to generate sufficient security and rule of law, address local needs, and advance ideas that discredit and defeat the appeal of violent extremism.”

“As Al Qaeda and other extremist organizations attempt to franchise their ideology and violence globally, we will likely remain engaged against violent extremist networks for the foreseeable future,” he said.

In a rare unclassified “notification of special forces operation,” President Obama formally advised Congress last January of the rescue of an American in Somalia.

“At my direction, on January 24, 2012, U.S. Special Operations Forces conducted an operation in Somalia to rescue Ms. Jessica Buchanan, a U.S. citizen.  The operation was successfully completed,” President Obama wrote.  The report was transmitted “as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed.”

Restrictions on Foreign Use of U.S. Weapons Systems

“In accordance with United States law, the U.S. Government places conditions on the use of defense articles and defense services transferred by it to foreign recipients,” a new report from the Congressional Research Service explains. “Violation of these conditions can lead to the suspension of deliveries or termination of the contracts for such defense items, among other things.”

In practice, however, no clear-cut violations have been found, so no contracts have been terminated.

“Since the major revision of U.S. arms export law in 1976, neither the President nor the Congress have actually determined that a violation did occur thus necessitating the termination of deliveries or sales or other penalties set out in section 3 of the Arms Export Control Act.”

On the other hand, the U.S. government has occasionally exercised options short of termination, including temporary suspension of weapon deliveries and refusal to allow new arms orders.

In the past, “The United States has utilized at least one such option against Argentina, Israel, Indonesia, and Turkey.”  Background on each of those cases is provided in the new CRS report.  A copy of the report was obtained by Secrecy News.

See U.S. Defense Articles and Services Supplied to Foreign Recipients: Restrictions on Their Use, March 6, 2012.


New Nuclear Notebook: Russian Nuclear Forces 2012

More than two-thirds of Russia’s current ICBM force will be retired over the next 10 years, a reduction that will only partly be offset by deployment of new road-mobile RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2) ICBMs such as this one near Teykovo northeast of Moscow.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Russia is planning to retire more than two-thirds of its current arsenal of nuclear land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles by the early 2020a. That includes some of the most iconic examples of the Soviet threat against the United States: SS-18 Satan, SS-19 Stiletto, and the world’s first road-mobile ICBM, the SS-25.

The plan coincides with the implementation of the New START treaty but significantly exceeds the reductions required by the treaty.

During the same period, Russia plans to deploy significant numbers of new missiles, but the production will not be sufficient to offset the retirement of old missiles. As a result, the size of Russia’s ICBM force is likely to decline over the next decade – with or without a new nuclear arms control treaty.

This and much more is described in our latest Nuclear Notebook published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.

FAS Roundup- March 5, 2012

FAS Roundup: March 5, 2012

Syria and WMD, Chinese ICBMs spotted, DoD responds to nuclear targeting questions, why sanctions on Iran won’t work and much more.


From the Blogs

  • DoD Responds to Questions on Nuclear Targeting: Are U.S. nuclear forces on hair trigger alert? Not exactly, a Department of Defense official told Congress. “Although it is true that portions of the U.S. nuclear triad are capable of rapid execution upon authorization from the President, a robust system of safeguards and procedures are in place to prevent the accidental or unauthorized launch of a U.S. nuclear weapon,” said James N. Miller, Jr., Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.
  • Chinese Mobile ICBMs Seen in Central China: Hans Kristensen writes that recent satellite images show that China is setting up launch units for its newest road-mobile Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) in central China. Several launchers of the new DF-31/31A appeared at two sites in the eastern part of the Qinghai province in June 2011; which is part of China’s slow modernization of its small (compared with Russia and the United States) nuclear arsenal.
  • Court Says Agency Classification Decision is Not “Logical”: DC District Judge Richard W. Roberts did an astonishing thing that federal courts almost never do: He probed into the decision to classify a government document and concluded that it was not well-founded, in an opinion that was published this week. He ordered the agency to release the document under the Freedom of Information Act.

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Army Lawyers Face “Legal Intensity of Military Operations”

Questions of compliance with law now arise in every aspect of U.S. military operations, including the most highly classified clandestine activities, and so legal assistance must be routinely factored into military planning and mission execution.  A newly updated Army manual describes the diverse forms of legal support to military operations.

“Legal issues are a fundamental part of modern military operations,” the manual observes.  “Assigning JAGC [Judge Advocate General’s Corps] Soldiers directly to warfighting units has become commonplace.”

“While the legal intensity of military operations is a relatively recent phenomenon, lawyers in uniform are not new” and date back to pre-Revolutionary War times.

“Judge advocates serve at all levels in today’s are of operations and advise commanders on a wide variety of operational legal issues.  These issues include the law of war, rules of engagement, lethal and nonlethal targeting, treatment of detainees and noncombatants, and military justice.”

“Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, JAGC Soldiers have deployed in large numbers in support of operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.  Current operations continue to give rise to significant legal issues.  As a result, judge advocates are in high demand in operations.”

The need for legal support extends to irregular warfare and clandestine missions performed by special operations forces (SOF).

“The practice of international and operational law is of particular emphasis as special operations missions are legally and politically sensitive, especially in the absence of international armed conflict,” the manual states.  “Judge advocates advise the commander on traditional law of war issues, as well as the requirements of domestic United States law (such as fiscal, security assistance, and intelligence oversight laws) and broader international law requirements.”

“Due to the political sensitivities associated with many SOF direct action missions, judge advocates [must] thoroughly understand the rules of engagement.”

“In many instances, special forces will conduct counterterrorism operations unilaterally due to the political sensitivities of the United States as well as the host nation.  This will often present issues of sovereignty.  Of equal importance will be any issues addressing associated detention operations and intelligence exploitation.”

See “Legal Support to the Operational Army,” Field Manual (FM) 1-04, 26 January 2012.

The newly updated Army manual does not address the law of armed conflict.  That topic is treated in the much older, but still current, FM 27-10, “The Law of Land Warfare,” July 1956.

An overview of the military justice system, including the conduct of Army courts-martial, is provided in “Legal Guide for Commanders,” FM 27-1, January 1992.