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'Deep Throat' betrayed murdered policeman in 'Omaha Two' case

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William Mark Felt, the infamous ‘Deep Throat’ of Watergate fame, was no hero.  Sometimes portrayed as heroically risking his job at the Federal Bureau of Investigation to expose President Richard Nixon’s illegal ‘Plumbers’ unit that burglarized Democratic National Committee headquarters, Felt coveted the job as director.  Felt, who had engaged in and covered up dirty tricks and illegal conduct of FBI agents for years, was making a move to become the new boss. 

The largest FBI crime spree that Felt kept under wraps was Operation COINTELPRO and his name appears on a secret FBI memo in the ‘Omaha Two’ case authorizing the withholding of a crime lab report.  Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa (formerly David Rice) were leaders of a Black Panther Party chapter in Omaha, Nebraska and targets of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover’s clandestine war on the party.  Hoover was determined to crush the party and jail or eliminate its leadership. 

In 1975, Noam Chomsky put the two illegal operations in context writing about COINTELPRO misdeeds.  “The criminal activities of the FBI were initiated under the liberal Democratic administrations and carried further under Nixon.  The programs were (partially) exposed during the Watergate period, and though incomparably more serious than anything charged against Nixon, they were virtually ignored during this period by the liberal national press and journals of opinion, and only marginally discussed since.” 

The August 17, 1970 bombing murder of Omaha, Nebraska policeman Larry Minard gave Hoover’s agents the opportunity to place the blame on the Panther leaders and have them charged with the crime.  Assistant Chief of Police Glen W. Gates was agreeable to compromising the investigation into Minard’s killing in order to get the two Panthers. 

One snag to the COINTELPRO plot was a tape recording of the killer’s voice made on the recently installed 911 system when a false report was made of a woman screaming.  A plan was made the same day of Minard’s murder to send the recording to the FBI Crime Laboratory for analysis.  However, the crime lab was not to issue a report on the testing which would have to be disclosed to defense attorneys. 

The scheme to withhold evidence and drop the search for Minard’s actual killer was outlined in a confidential COINTELPRO memorandum addressed to Ivan Willard Conrad, the FBI lab director.  Conrad spoke with Hoover on the phone on August 19th, the day before officer Minard’s mangled body was buried, about the unusual request.  Hoover authorized withholding the report and Conrad noted Hoover said it was “OK to do” on his copy of the memo. 

The jury that convicted Ed Poindexter and Mondo we Langa never got to hear the recording of the killer’s voice.  The jury also never learned that J. Edgar Hoover had personally authorized withholding evidence from them about the killer’s identity.  Hoover’s dirty role did not come to light until years later in a Freedom of Information request by Mondo we Langa.  Although the released document was heavily redacted enough information was left by FBI censors to reveal the awful details of the plot to let Minard’s killer get away with murder in order to pin the crime on Poindexter and Langa. 

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Felt, as chief of the Inspection Division, was on the COINTELPRO directorate that oversaw the field operations and approved or denied actions of the agents.  Felt was also on the distribution list of the Omaha memo.  Felt’s name appears sandwiched in between Conrad and James H. Gale, his predecessor at the Inspection Division. 

Although Mondo’s heavily redacted copy of the COINTELPRO memo does not reveal Felt’s initials there can be little doubt Felt was aware of the plan to let Minard’s killer escape justice.  In his autobiographical memoir, The FBI Pyramid From the Inside, Felt bragged about his total oversight of field operations. 

“The chief inspector occupied a unique position in the FBI hierarchy.  Operating under the direct supervision of the Director and with authority to inquire at any time and any place on any matter.” 

Felt elaborated, “The whole operation was a pyramid with everything funneling up through ever tightening lines of responsibility until it reached Hoover.” 

Felt also describes in his book his close working relationship with Conrad, with whom he was quick to pick up a phone and call when questions arose on a case.  As chief inspector, Felt should have insisted that a laboratory report be issued on the vocal analysis of Minard’s killer. 

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When the Church Committee of the U.S. Senate investigated COINTELPRO in the mid-70’s, Felt was the star witness, stonewalling the committee.  In another book, A G-Man’s Life, a sanctimonious Felt complained about the Senate inquiry and defended COINTELPRO abuses. 

“I found myself becoming the foremost FBI witness, I was interviewed on five separate occasions by the committee staff—an exercise in futility and frustration, since most of what I said was ignored and the rest taken out of context.” 

Felt kept up his drumbeat, “I emphasized as strongly as I could that our country’s complacency against domestic terrorism would eventually lead to disaster.” 

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Michael Richardson is a freelance writer based in Boston. Richardson writes about politics, law, nutrition, ethics, and music. Richardson is also a political consultant.

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