Deep Throat, antihero.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
May 31 2005 6:49 PM

Deep Throat, Antihero

His unmasking makes everybody look a little less noble.

W. Mark Felt: Deep Throat unmasked 
Click image to expand.
W. Mark Felt: Deep Throat unmasked

For years the better class of Deep Throat sleuth—discriminating, Campari-sipping sophisticates like James Mann, Nora Ephron, Richard Nixon, Washingtonian magazine, Chase Culeman-Beckman, Ronald Kessler, and yours truly—have been fingering W. Mark Felt, former deputy associate director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as the likely anonymous source described by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in All the President's Men. What the theory lacked in originality it more than made up for in plausibility. One month before the Watergate break-in, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had died. Hoover loyalists at the bureau were frantic that President Richard Nixon would get his mitts on the FBI, which Hoover had kept independent of political control through a variety of nasty methods, including blackmail. The Hooverites' bureaucratic anxieties were well-founded: After the Watergate break-in, Hoover's acting successor, a Nixon loyalist named L. Patrick Gray, routinely passed FBI files about Watergate directly to White House counsel John Dean, who was a party to (but eventually would expose) the White House's illegal coverup. In effect, the White House ended up knowing everything the FBI knew. (That's why it seemed so plausible that, if not Felt, Deep Throat might be Deputy White House Counsel Fred Fielding, a theory that, I regret to say, undermined in recent years my previous rock-solid conviction that it was Felt, or at least some other high-ranking G-man—case closed.) Felt pushed back by helping Woodward and Bernstein discover that high-level White House aides were in up to their necks in Watergate, up to and including Nixon.

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The July 2005 Vanity Fair piece fingering Felt as Deep Throat has now been confirmed by Bob Woodward. Why did Felt maintain his silence for so long? Part of the reason, I imagine, is that Felt knew his prosaic, bureaucratic-infighting motive was at least as strong as any moralistic desire to expose the truth about the crooks in the White House. That tarnishes Deep Throat's luster a little. Also, Felt's previous brush with national publicity involved his criminal conviction for bypassing warrants in his investigation of the Weather Underground. Ronald Reagan pardoned him, but it was a deeply painful experience, and Felt thinks the stress contributed to his wife's early death. It would only be logical that he'd avoid the spotlight after that. Possibly, too, he could imagine that the press would note that Deep Throat shared with Nixon an enthusiasm for illegal break-ins.

But the main reason, I think, was that Felt saw his leaks as a betrayal of the FBI. Six years ago, I asked Felt (who at that point was still denying he was Deep Throat) whether, if he were Deep Throat, that would be so terrible. His reply:

It would be terrible. This would completely undermine the reputation that you might have as a loyal, logical employee of the FBI. It just wouldn't fit at all.

But wasn't Deep Throat a hero?

That's not my view at all. It would be contrary to my responsibility as a loyal employee of the FBI to leak information.

Now that we know Felt was Deep Throat, I have a few bones to pick with Woodward and Bernstein. One is that, in All the President's Men, Deep Throat is described as a heavy smoker. But Felt quit smoking in 1943. I suppose Woodstein would call this necessary misdirection. I call it conscious fabrication, however trivial. Also, a November 1973 Woodward and Bernstein Post story sourced anonymously to "White House sources" is described in All the President's Men as being sourced to Deep Throat. Yet Felt was not a "White House source." It's conceivable that Deep Throat was an additional, unacknowledged source on the story, but it's also possible that Woodward and Bernstein were misleading readers about where they got their information. Which was it, gentlemen? Finally, why did Woodward, in a 1979 Playboy interview with J. Anthony Lukas, flatly deny that Deep Throat was anyone inside the "intelligence community"? The FBI, where Felt worked, is most definitely part of the intelligence community. But take a look at this 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.

When I first looked at this, I concluded that Woodward was probably thinking of the FBI not as an "intelligence" agency but as a "crime-fighting" agency. On further reflection, though, that didn't seem plausible—the Vietnam-era controversies about the FBI's domestic spying were still fresh in everybody's mind. This made me, for a time, conclude that I'd been wrong to think that Mark Felt was Deep Throat. It never occurred to me that Woodward would actually lie. Why did you lie to Tony Lukas, Bob?

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