Washington — The conviction of two former top FBI officials for ordering secret break-ins of private homes will make the bureau more cautious in the future, say observers.
For the first time, the top ranks of the FBI have been held criminally liable for violating citizen rights. W. Mark Felt and Edward S. Miller, who were No. 2 and No. 3 in command during 1972-73, face possible 10-year jail terms following their conviction Nov. 6 by a District of Columbia jury.
The defendants argued that the burglaries, known as "black bag jobs," were justified because they were part of a search for fugitive members of the violent antiwar group, the Weather Underground.
"I think it will have a powerful impact," said Frank Donner, author and noted authority on the FBI, following the convictions. "Fear of sanction is most important as a control."
Warned Norman W. Philcox, president of the Society of Former Agents of the FBI: "I think it would probably have a deleterious effect" on agents by making them overcautious in their investigations.