John Dean, Deep Throat, and the FBI.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
June 17 2002 6:55 PM

John Dean Says Deep Throat Was Not a G-Man

But mostly fails to persuade Chatterbox.

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in, Salon has published an e-book by John Dean, former White House counsel to (and chief Watergate witness against) Richard Nixon, called Unmasking Deep Throat. The book is largely a fiasco because the candidate whom Dean originally intended to "unmask," a Nixon White House staff assistant named Jonathan C. Rose (whose father, Chappie Rose, provided Nixon legal assistance on Watergate), threatened to sue, and, in follow-up research, Dean "learned in confidence from 'a highly reliable [but apparently second-hand] source' that Rose was not Deep Throat." Chatterbox does not know what to make of all this.

Advertisement

Dean's book contains the most comprehensive list Chatterbox has ever seen of candidates whom Bob Woodward has ruled out as his famous secret source. (Click here to read why Chatterbox, pace David Obst and Edward Jay Epstein, believes that Deep Throat is real.) Most notable on the list is L. Patrick Gray, whom CBS fingered plausibly as Deep Throat in 1992. Apparently Woodward nixed Gray in TV Guide sometime after the CBS report aired. (Chatterbox actually knew this once and managed subsequently to forget it.) The others Woodward has ruled out are: Al Haig (fingered today in the Miami Herald by Glenn Garvin), John Sears (promoted in Leonard Garment's book, In Search of Deep Throat), Diane Sawyer (accused by Nixon loyalist Rabbi Baruch Korff), and David Gergen (named by Taylor Branch in a 1976 Esquire article; apparently Woodward told Dean personally that Gergen wasn't Deep Throat). All five have denied being Deep Throat. Dean also claims that, prior to Nixon White House deputy counsel Fred Fielding being hired by the Reagan White House, Woodward assured Reagan officials that Fielding wasn't Deep Throat. But Dean's source on that isn't Woodward, but Fielding, rendering this information of little apparent value. (Woodward has stated that the real Deep Throat has lied in order to protect his identity.)

Notably absent from Woodward's list is W. Mark Felt, then the No. 3 man at the FBI. Felt is still Chatterbox's preferred candidate, in spite of his having denied it to this column three years ago. (Richard Nixon thought Felt was Deep Throat, and even Felt's children have apparent suspicions.) More broadly, Chatterbox continues to believe (with James Mann) that Deep Throat worked in the FBI. But a major argument running through Dean's book, and also through the just-released computer-assisted Finder's Guide to Deep Throat, by William Gaines' journalism class at the University of Illinois, with whom Dean pooled some research, is that Deep Throat was not a G-man, but rather somebody who worked in the White House. Their evidence:

  • On June 19, 1972, Deep Throat told Woodward that E. Howard Hunt was involved in Watergate, something that the FBI did not yet know, according to investigative records, though they were "suspicious." (Dean)

Chatterbox's counterargument: Written records may not indicate the FBI knew it, but it's hard to conclude that no one in the FBI knew it. This was one of the easiest links to make in Watergate—Hunt's phone number was found on the Watergate burglars, and Hunt had been working in the White House!

  • On Sept. 16, 1972, Deep Throat told Woodward that the Committee to Re-Elect the President had funded the break-in. Written records show the FBI didn't know this, either, though it was "maybe suspicious." (Dean)

Chatterbox's counterargument: But Dean writes that this information was in the Watergate burglars' indictment, which had been issued the day before. The indictment would have been a public document, easily available to everyone, including the Washington Post and the FBI.

  • On Oct. 8, 1972, Deep Throat told Woodward that the FBI had limited its investigation to the break-in and ignored other illegal intelligence-gathering activities. (Dean)

Chatterbox's counterargument: Different factions within the FBI were almost certainly at war over how aggressively to investigate Watergate. There were probably one or more back channels through which disloyal White House and CREEP employees could tip off people in the FBI (who were perhaps not part of the official investigation) as to what was going on.

  • The FBI "knew days after the burglary that a $25,000 check meant for Nixon's campaign fund was in the bank account of one of the burglars. It took the Post six weeks to learn about this, and the information did not come from Throat, All the President's Men states." Also, the FBI knew of Donald Segretti's involvement two months before the Post did. (Gaines.)

Chatterbox's counterargument: This could just as easily show either that Deep Throat didn't know everything the FBI knew or that Deep Throat didn't tell Woodward everything he knew.

Dean and Gaines list several additional examples of things that "only" the White House knew. In every instance, it's quite possible to imagine that somebody in the White House was blabbing to somebody at the FBI.

The most challenging bit of evidence against the FBI theory is Dean's and Gaines' observation that in a Nov. 8, 1973, story, Woodward and Carl Bernstein quoted Deep Throat (identified as such not in the piece, but in a reference to that piece in All the President's Men) and that the story clearly identified Deep Throat as one of several "White House sources." This is a definite problem for the G-man theory. It's possible, though, that the article misidentified Deep Throat's place of employment, either inadvertently in the heat of meeting a deadline or as deliberate misdirection.

[Update, June 18: Another bit of evidence running counter to Chatterbox's theory that Deep Throat was a G-man—one that Dean and Gaines seem to have overlooked—is flagged by Darrel M. West, a political scientist at Brown, on his Web site. West notes that in a 1989 Playboy interview with J. Anthony Lukas, Woodward said "it's untrue" that Deep Throat was a member of the intelligence community, as many have alleged. Here is the complete exchange:

Lukas: Do you resent the implication by some critics that your sources on Watergate—among them the fabled Deep Throat—may have been people in the intelligence community? 

Woodward: I resent it because it's untrue. As you know, I'm not going to discuss the identity of Deep Throat or any other of my confidential sources who are still alive. But let me just say that this suggestion that we were being used by the intelligence community was of concern to us at the time and afterward. When somebody first wrote the article saying about me, "Wait a minute; this is somebody in an intelligence agency who doesn't like Nixon and is trying to get him out," I took that seriously.

The CIA is an agency with professional covert manipulators who try to alter events by deceiving people and directing them, running them like an intelligence agent. I have revisited this question of disinformation—I'd rather not go into how it was done
—but I've satisfied myself and others that that was not the case.

This, combined with the 1973 Post story cited above by Dean and Gaines, does harm James Mann's case that Deep Throat worked for the FBI, which Chatterbox previously considered air-tight. But it does not destroy Mann's case. From the context, it appears likely that when Lukas asked Woodward about "the intelligence community," Woodward thought Lukas was talking about the CIA (even though Lukas, an experienced Watergate reporter himself, almost certainly meant the FBI). Prior to Sept. 11, people tended to refer to the FBI not as an "intelligence" agency so much as a crime-fighting agency. "Intelligence" tended to refer to foreign intelligence. That may explain why Woodward, in answering Lukas' question, mentioned the CIA by name, but not the FBI. The only firm conclusion we can draw from the Playboy interview is that Deep Throat was not (according to Woodward) a CIA agent.]

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.

  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Dec. 19 2014 4:15 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? Staff writer Lily Hay Newman shares what stories intrigued her at the magazine this week.