Advertisement

Watergate’s ‘Deep Throat’ Is Revealed

Times Staff Writers

W. Mark Felt, a former No. 2 man at the FBI, has revealed that he was the legendary source known as “Deep Throat” who helped two Washington Post reporters expose details in the Watergate scandal that forced President Nixon to give up the White House.

Bob Woodward, who along with Carl Bernstein led the Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation, confirmed Felt’s identity as the source, ending one of Washington’s most tantalizing mysteries.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Jun. 03, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 03, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 73 words Type of Material: Correction
“Deep Throat” -- An article in Wednesday’s Section A about the disclosure that Watergate source Deep Throat was retired FBI official W. Mark Felt said Felt was later involved in illegal activities. The article should have specified that the illegal activities occurred during the Watergate era of 1972 to 1973 and that Felt was convicted in 1980 of authorizing break-ins without warrants in investigations of a radical antiwar group. President Reagan pardoned Felt.

Watergate, which brought about the only presidential resignation in U.S. history, centered on Nixon’s efforts to cover up an array of illegal and unethical activities against political opponents leading up to his reelection in 1972.

Although other newspapers and journalists contributed important reporting, it was Woodward and Bernstein and the Post who pushed the story the hardest and became most closely identified with the Watergate scandal. Woodward told the Post’s website Tuesday that Felt had helped the paper at a time of tense relations between the White House and the FBI.

Advertisement

Having a source as highly placed as Felt buttressed the newspaper’s confidence in pursuing the story, even though he was never quoted by name. The reporters said Deep Throat provided important inside information early in the Watergate scandal, which helped keep the story alive until televised congressional hearings rocked the country.

The stories Woodward and Bernstein wrote about Watergate also have been credited with helping launch an era of investigative journalism -- and with encouraging the use of anonymous sources in stories dealing with controversial subjects.

Trying to figure out the identity of Deep Throat became a cottage industry for journalists and historians in the decades after Nixon’s resignation on Aug. 9, 1974.

Now, in an article in the July issue of Vanity Fair magazine, the 91-year-old Felt is described as having confided to family and friends that he was the source.

Advertisement

“I’m the guy they used to call Deep Throat,” author John O’Connor said Felt told him on several occasions. O’Connor, a San Francisco lawyer and former federal prosecutor, wrote the article with the cooperation of the Felt family, who he said had grown concerned that the former FBI official’s role in history might pass unnoticed.

Felt, who suffered a stroke in 2001, had been a prime candidate in the 30-year guessing game about the identity of Deep Throat. Nixon once voiced suspicion that Felt might be the Post’s secret source.

On Tuesday, at the two-story home in Santa Rosa, Calif., that he shares with his daughter, Felt appeared briefly before reporters and camera crews but took no questions. He stood with his walker at the front door for a minute or two, smiling and waving to the crowd.

“We appreciate you coming out like this. Nice to see you,” he said in a clear, strong voice. “Thanks for coming.”

Neighbor Nan Bardes said that in addition to Felt’s daughter, Joan, who is a Spanish teacher, a live-in couple cares for him. She described Felt as “very pleasant [and] alert.”

In his No. 2 position at the FBI, Felt headed an agency investigation into the Watergate break-in and was in a position to know details that formed the basis of stories the Post team broke.

Why he decided to leak confidential information and why he and his family decided to reveal his role in the saga remain unclear.

Relatives are portraying Felt as a silent hero who took action against a powerful but corrupt president.

Advertisement

“Mark Felt Sr. is a great American hero who went well above and beyond the call of duty at much risk to himself to save his country from a horrible injustice,” a statement released by the family said. “We all sincerely hope the country will see him this way as well.”

Watergate-era journalists suggested Tuesday that Felt might have had other motives as well.

The break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate apartment and office complex occurred shortly after the death of longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Felt’s decision to become a source for Woodward and Bernstein coincided with his efforts -- as well as attempts by other FBI officials -- to become Hoover’s successor, journalists said.

Felt and others wanted to see an agency veteran succeed Hoover, but Nixon nominated an administration insider, then-Assistant Atty. Gen. L. Patrick Gray, to take over.

Gray served as acting director, but the White House pulled his nomination after he acknowledged sharing information about the FBI’s investigation with White House Counsel John W. Dean III and destroying Watergate-related evidence in a fireplace at his Connecticut home.

By helping to propel the Watergate investigation, Felt undercut Nixon and Gray, journalists said.

Felt was also later involved in illegal activities.

In November 1980, Felt and Edward S. Miller, then head of the FBI’s intelligence division, were convicted of authorizing break-ins without warrants into the homes of family members of the Weather Underground, a radical antiwar group, in the 1970s. During the trial, Felt testified that he had followed standard procedures for government investigations, the Vanity Fair article said.

Advertisement

Felt was pardoned by President Reagan.

O’Connor, the lawyer and author of the article, said Felt blamed the trial for contributing to the death of his wife in 1984. Felt and his wife “felt betrayed by the country he had served,” O’Connor wrote.

Revealing his identity as Deep Throat is seen by some analysts as an effort by Felt to refurbish his image.

Former Post Executive Editor Benjamin C. Bradlee told the paper’s website Tuesday that although he had known Deep Throat was a high-level government official, he did not learn Felt’s name until after Nixon had resigned.

“The No. 2 guy at the FBI, that was a pretty good source,” Bradlee said. “I knew the paper was on the right track.”

In the Post, Felt was never referred to as Deep Throat, a nickname derived from an infamous pornography film of the era.

Over the years, Nixon aides, conspiracy theorists and journalists spawned books and scores of newspaper and magazine articles devoted to the topic of unmasking Deep Throat.

“I am happy it happened when I’m still alive, because every good secret is entitled to a decent burial,” said Leonard Garment, a former White House counsel and onetime Nixon law partner. In his 2000 book, Garment acknowledged Felt as a “reasonable” candidate but speculated that Deep Throat was John Sears, a GOP strategist.

Among others thought to be likely suspects: Nixon speechwriters Pat Buchanan and David Gergen; Gray, the acting FBI director; Alexander Haig, the presidential candidate and deputy national security advisor; and George H.W. Bush, the former president and onetime head of the CIA.

In October 1972, a month after the first suggestions that the Watergate burglars were part of a wider conspiracy, Nixon threatened to take action against the FBI. He mentioned Felt’s name in conversations with H.R. Haldeman, one of his closest aides, as the possible source of the leaks.

Nixon, the Vanity Fair article said, asked whether Felt was Catholic. Haldeman told him he was Jewish. The magazine described Felt, whose ancestors were Irish, as claiming “no religious affiliation.”

“It could be the Jewish thing. I don’t know. It’s always a possibility,” Nixon wondered aloud.

James Mann, a former Los Angeles Times reporter, had named Felt in a 1992 article in Atlantic Monthly as one of several FBI officials who could be Deep Throat.

Mann, who worked at the Washington Post when Watergate broke, said he thought the FBI was the most likely source of the leak, partly based on conversations in which Woodward had mentioned that a friend at the FBI had helped in the reporting.

At the time of the break-in, Mann said, Nixon was attempting to regain control over the agency and put it to use investigating political enemies. FBI officials, used to thinking of themselves as an agency apart, resented the interference, which intensified as Watergate spiraled out of control.

“One big institutional motivation underlying Deep Throat was a desire of senior FBI officials to prevent political control of the FBI,” Mann said. “When individuals act, their motivation can reflect institutional motivations as well as personal motivations. We don’t realize how important institutions are.”

The parlor game surrounding Deep Throat’s identity has served to obscure another important fact: He was one of many sources for Woodward and Bernstein in their investigation.

Barry Sussman, a former editor at the Washington Post who oversaw some of the Watergate stories, wrote in a 1997 article that Deep Throat was “basically unimportant” to the newspaper’s coverage.

He wrote that Deep Throat served mostly to confirm or deny information. “Deep Throat may have known a lot but he didn’t give much away,” Sussman wrote. “I can’t recall any story we got because of him.”

Sussman could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The unmasking of Felt began with a chance meeting in 2002 at a dinner party that O’Connor threw for his daughter and seven friends from Stanford at their home in Marin County. The subject of the FBI came up. O’Connor related a story about how his father was an undercover FBI operative during World War II. One of the young guests said his grandfather had also worked for the FBI.

The guest turned out to be Felt’s grandson.

The family later elicited O’Connor’s help in persuading the former FBI man to come forward. Initially, Felt was adamant about remaining silent on the subject until his death, concerned that his past disclosures might somehow be perceived as dishonorable, O’Connor wrote.

O’Connor reported that the Felt family talked about profiting from the disclosure.

The article said Felt had confided his secret to a handful of people over the years, including a friend and social companion who coincidentally owned a condo in the Watergate complex. But all were sworn to silence.

Woodward had a warm relationship with his source, Vanity Fair said. He paid a visit to the Felt home in 1999, the 25th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation. Woodward took Felt to lunch in a chauffeured limo, and the two shared martinis.

O’Connor recounted how Joan Felt picked up clues about her father’s role in history while watching a Watergate TV special with him. Hearing his name come up as a Deep Throat candidate, Joan Felt tried to elicit a response by questioning her father in the third person.

“Do you think Deep Throat wanted to get rid of Nixon?” Joan Felt asked her father.

“No, I wasn’t trying to bring him down,” she says he responded. He claimed that he was “only doing his duty.”

Times staff writer James Rainey in Los Angeles and special correspondent Donna Horowitz in Santa Rosa contributed to this report.

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Key events in Watergate scandal

1972

June 17: Five men are arrested in the burglary of Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office and apartment complex in Washington.

June 19: W. Mark Felt, the No. 2 official at the FBI and a leader in the federal investigation of the break-in, begins providing information to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. In “All the President’s Men,” the book Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote about their investigation, the reporters referred to their secret source as “Deep Throat.”

Aug. 1: A $25,000 cashier’s check, apparently earmarked for President Nixon’s reelection campaign, ends up in the bank account of a Watergate burglar, the Washington Post reports.

Sept. 29: John N. Mitchell, while serving as attorney general, controlled a secret Republican fund used to finance widespread intelligence-gathering operations against Democrats, the Post reports.

Oct. 10: FBI agents establish that the Watergate break-in stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of the Nixon reelection effort, the Post reports.

Nov. 7: President Nixon is reelected with more than 60% of the vote.

1973

Jan. 30: Former Nixon aides G. Gordon Liddy and James W. McCord Jr. are convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping in the Watergate incident.

April 30: Nixon’s top White House aides, H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, and Atty. Gen. Richard G. Kleindienst resign over the Watergate scandal. White House Counsel John W. Dean III is fired.

May 18: The Senate Watergate Committee begins its nationally televised hearings. Atty. Gen.-designate Elliot L. Richardson names Archibald Cox as Watergate special prosecutor.

July 23: Nixon refuses to turn over the presidential tape recordings to the Senate Watergate Committee or the special prosecutor.

Oct. 20: The “Saturday night massacre": Richardson and his deputy, William D. Ruckelshaus, resign rather than follow Nixon’s order to fire Cox. Nixon abolishes the office of the special prosecutor.

Nov. 17: Nixon declares, “I am not a crook,” maintaining his innocence in the Watergate scandal.

1974

Feb. 6: The House votes 410 to 4 to give the Judiciary Committee broad power to conduct an impeachment investigation.

April 30: The White House releases more than 1,200 pages of edited transcripts of the Nixon tapes to the House Judiciary Committee. The panel demands that the actual tapes be turned over.

July 24: The Supreme Court rules that Nixon must turn over the tape recordings of 64 White House conversations, rejecting the president’s claim of executive privilege.

July 27-30: The House Judiciary Committee approves three articles of impeachment.

Aug. 5: Responding to a Supreme Court order, Nixon releases the “smoking gun” tape, which showed that he took part in the coverup six days after the break-in.

Aug. 9: Nixon resigns.

Sept. 8: President Ford grants Nixon a “full, free and absolute pardon.”

Source: Times reporting, Washington Post

Los Angeles Times


Advertisement