Felt Became 'Deep Throat'
In 1970, when I
was serving as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and
assigned to Adm. Thomas H. Moorer, the chief of
naval operations, I sometimes acted as a courier,
taking documents to the White House.
One evening I
was dispatched with a package to the lower level
of the West Wing of the White House, where there
was a little waiting area near the Situation
Room. It could be a long wait for the right
person to come out and sign for the material,
sometimes an hour or more, and after I had been
waiting for a while a tall man with perfectly
combed gray hair came in and sat down near me.
His suit was dark, his shirt white and his
necktie subdued. He was probably 25 to 30 years
older than I and was carrying what looked like a
file case or briefcase. He was very
distinguished-looking and had a studied air of
confidence, the posture and calm of someone used
to giving orders and having them obeyed
I could tell he
was watching the situation very carefully. There
was nothing overbearing in his attentiveness, but
his eyes were darting about in a kind of
gentlemanly surveillance. After several minutes,
I introduced myself. "Lieutenant Bob
Woodward," I said, carefully appending a
Felt," he said.
I began telling
him about myself, that this was my last year in
the Navy and I was bringing documents from Adm.
Moorer's office. Felt was in no hurry to explain
anything about himself or why he was there.
This was a time
in my life of considerable anxiety, even
consternation, about my future. I had graduated
in 1965 from Yale, where I had a Naval Reserve
Officers' Training Corps scholarship that
required that I go into the Navy after getting my
degree. After four years of service, I had been
involuntarily extended an additional year because
of the Vietnam War.
During that year
in Washington, I expended a great deal of energy
trying to find things or people who were
interesting. I had a college classmate who was
going to clerk for Chief Justice Warren E.
Burger, and I made an effort to develop a
friendship with that classmate. To quell my angst
and sense of drift, I was taking graduate courses
at George Washington University. One course was
in Shakespeare, another in international
When I mentioned
the graduate work to Felt, he perked up
immediately, saying he had gone to night law
school at GW in the 1930s before joining -- and
this is the first time he mentioned it -- the
FBI. While in law school, he said, he had worked
full time for a senator -- his home-state senator
from Idaho. I said that I had been doing some
volunteer work at the office of my congressman,
John Erlenborn, a Republican from the district in
Wheaton, Ill., where I had been raised.
So we had two
connections -- graduate work at GW and work with
elected representatives from our home states.
Felt and I were
like two passengers sitting next to each other on
a long airline flight with nowhere to go and
nothing really to do but resign ourselves to the
dead time. He showed no interest in striking up a
long conversation, but I was intent on it. I
finally extracted from him the information that
he was an assistant director of the FBI in charge
of the inspection division, an important post
under Director J. Edgar Hoover. That meant he led
teams of agents who went around to FBI field
offices to make sure they were adhering to
procedures and carrying out Hoover's orders. I
later learned that this was called the "goon
Here was someone
at the center of the secret world I was only
glimpsing in my Navy assignment, so I peppered
him with questions about his job and his world.
As I think back on this accidental but crucial
encounter -- one of the most important in my life
-- I see that my patter probably verged on the
adolescent. Since he wasn't saying much about
himself, I turned it into a career-counseling
deferential, but I must have seemed very needy.
He was friendly, and his interest in me seemed
somehow paternal. Still the most vivid impression
I have is that of his distant but formal manner,
in most ways a product of Hoover's FBI. I asked
Felt for his phone number, and he gave me the
direct line to his office.
I believe I
encountered him only one more time at the White
House. But I had set the hook. He was going to be
one of the people I consulted in depth about my
future, which now loomed more ominously as the
date of my discharge from the Navy approached. At
some point I called him, first at the FBI and
then at his home in Virginia. I was a little
desperate, and I'm sure I poured out my heart. I
had applied to several law schools for that fall,
but, at 27, I wondered if I could really stand
spending three years in law school before
starting real work.
sympathetic to the lost-soul quality of my
questions. He said that after he had his law
degree his first job had been with the Federal
Trade Commission. His first assignment was to
determine whether toilet paper with the brand
name Red Cross was at an unfair competitive
advantage because people thought it was endorsed
or approved by the American Red Cross. The FTC
was a classic federal bureaucracy -- slow and
leaden -- and he hated it. Within a year he had
applied to the FBI and been accepted. Law school
opened the most doors, he seemed to be saying,
but don't get caught in your own equivalent of a
two-week tryout: Coming to The Post
In August 1970,
I was formally discharged from the Navy. I had
subscribed to The Washington Post, which I knew
was led by a colorful, hard-charging editor named
Ben Bradlee. There was a toughness and edge to
the news coverage that I liked; it seemed to fit
the times, to fit with a general sense of where
the world was much more than law school. Maybe
reporting was something I could do.
scramble and search for a future, I had sent a
letter to The Post asking for a job as a
reporter. Somehow -- I don't remember exactly how
-- Harry Rosenfeld, the metropolitan editor,
agreed to see me. He stared at me through his
glasses in some bewilderment. Why, he wondered,
would I want to be a reporter? I had zero --
zero! -- experience. Why, he said, would The
Washington Post want to hire someone with no
experience? But this is just crazy enough,
Rosenfeld finally said, that we ought to try it.
We'll give you a two-week tryout.
After two weeks,
I had written perhaps a dozen stories or
fragments of stories. None had been published or
come close to being published. None had even been
See, you don't
know how to do this, Rosenfeld said, bringing my
tryout to a merciful close. But I left the
newsroom more enthralled than ever. Though I had
failed the tryout -- it was a spectacular crash
-- I realized I had found something that I loved.
The sense of immediacy in the newspaper was
overwhelming to me, and I took a job at the
Montgomery Sentinel, where Rosenfeld said I could
learn how to be a reporter. I told my father that
law school was off and that I was taking a job,
at about $115 a week, as a reporter at a weekly
newspaper in Maryland.
crazy," my father said, in one of the rare
judgmental statements he had ever made to me.
I also called
Mark Felt, who, in a gentler way, indicated that
he, too, thought this was crazy. He said he
thought newspapers were too shallow and too quick
on the draw. Newspapers didn't do in-depth work
and rarely got to the bottom of events.
Well, I said, I
was elated. Maybe he could help me with stories.
answer, I recall.
During the year
I spent on the Sentinel, I kept in touch with
Felt through phone calls to his office and home.
We were becoming friends of a sort. He was the
mentor, keeping me from toilet-paper
investigations, and I kept asking for advice. One
weekend I drove out to his home in Virginia and
met his wife, Audrey.
Somewhat to my
astonishment, Felt was an admirer of J. Edgar
Hoover. He appreciated his orderliness and the
way he ran the bureau with rigid procedures and
an iron fist. Felt said he appreciated that
Hoover arrived at the office at 6:30 each morning
and everyone knew what was expected. The Nixon
White House was another matter, Felt said. The
political pressures were immense, he said without
being specific. I believe he called it
"corrupt" and sinister. Hoover, Felt
and the old guard were the wall that protected
the FBI, he said.
In his own
memoir, "The FBI Pyramid: From the
Inside," which received almost no attention
when it was published in 1979, five years after
President Richard M. Nixon's resignation, Felt
angrily called this a "White House-Justice
At the time,
pre-Watergate, there was little or no public
knowledge of the vast pushing, shoving and
outright acrimony between the Nixon White House
and Hoover's FBI. The Watergate investigations
later revealed that in 1970 a young White House
aide named Tom Charles Huston had come up with a
plan to authorize the CIA, the FBI and military
intelligence units to intensify electronic
surveillance of "domestic security
threats," authorize illegal opening of mail,
and lift the restrictions on surreptitious
entries or break-ins to gather intelligence.
Huston warned in
a top-secret memo that the plan was "clearly
illegal." Nixon initially approved the plan
anyway. Hoover strenuously objected, because
eavesdropping, opening mail and breaking into
homes and offices of domestic security threats
were basically the FBI bailiwick and the bureau
didn't want competition. Four days later, Nixon
rescinded the Huston plan.
Felt, a much
more learned man than most realized, later wrote
that he considered Huston "a kind of White
House gauleiter over the intelligence
community." The word "gauleiter"
is not in most dictionaries, but in the
four-inch-thick Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged
Dictionary of the English Language it is defined
as "the leader or chief official of a
political district under Nazi control."
There is little
doubt Felt thought the Nixon team were Nazis.
During this period, he had to stop efforts by
others in the bureau to "identify every
member of every hippie commune" in the Los
Angeles area, for example, or to open a file on
every member of Students for a Democratic
None of this
surfaced directly in our discussions, but clearly
he was a man under pressure, and the threat to
the integrity and independence of the bureau was
real and seemed uppermost in his mind.
On July 1, 1971
-- about a year before Hoover's death and the
Watergate break-in -- Hoover promoted Felt to be
the number three official in the FBI. Though
Hoover's sidekick, Clyde Tolson, was technically
the number two official, Tolson was also ill and
did not come to work many days, meaning he had no
operational control of the bureau. Thus, my
friend became the day-to-day manager of all FBI
matters as long as he kept Hoover and Tolson
informed or sought Hoover's approval on policy
tips: Agnew, and then Wallace
In August, a
year after my failed tryout, Rosenfeld decided to
hire me. I started at The Post the next month.
Though I was
busy in my new job, I kept Felt on my call list
and checked in with him. He was relatively free
with me but insisted that he, the FBI and the
Justice Department be kept out of anything I
might use indirectly or pass onto others. He was
stern and strict about those rules with a
booming, insistent voice. I promised, and he said
that it was essential that I be careful. The only
way to ensure that was to tell no one that we
knew each other or talked or that I knew someone
in the FBI or Justice Department. No one.
In the spring,
he said in utter confidence that the FBI had some
information that Vice President Spiro T. Agnew
had received a bribe of $2,500 in cash that Agnew
had put in his desk drawer. I passed this on to
Richard Cohen, the top Maryland reporter for The
Post, not identifying the source at all. Cohen
said, and later wrote in his book on the Agnew
investigation, that he thought it was
"preposterous." Another Post reporter
and I spent a day chasing around Baltimore for
the alleged person who supposedly knew about the
bribe. We got nowhere. Two years later, the Agnew
investigation revealed that the vice president
had received such a bribe in his office.
About 9:45 a.m.
on May 2, 1972, Felt was in his office at the FBI
when an assistant director came to report that
Hoover had died at his home. Felt was stunned.
For practical purposes, he was next in line to
take over the bureau.
Yet Felt was
soon to be visited with immense disappointment.
Nixon nominated L. Patrick Gray III to be the
acting director. Gray was a Nixon loyalist going
back years. He had resigned from the Navy in 1960
to work for candidate Nixon during the
presidential contest that Nixon lost to John F.
As best I could
tell Felt was crushed, but he put on a good face.
"Had I been wiser, I would have
retired," Felt wrote.
On May 15, less
than two weeks after Hoover's death, a lone
gunman shot Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, then
campaigning for president, at a Laurel shopping
center. The wounds were serious, but Wallace
Wallace had a
strong following in the deep South, an increasing
source of Nixon's support. Wallace's spoiler
candidacy four years earlier in 1968 could have
cost Nixon the election that year, and Nixon
monitored Wallace's every move closely as the
1972 presidential contest continued.
Nixon called Felt -- not Gray, who was out of
town -- at home for an update. It was the first
time Felt had spoken directly with Nixon. Felt
reported that Arthur H. Bremer, the would-be
assassin, was in custody but in the hospital
because he had been roughed up and given a few
bruises by those who subdued and captured him
after he shot Wallace.
too bad they didn't really rough up the son of a
bitch!" Nixon told Felt.
offended that the president would make such a
remark. Nixon was so agitated and worried,
attaching such urgency to the shooting, that he
said he wanted full updates every 30 minutes from
Felt on any new information that was being
discovered in the investigation of Bremer.
In the following
days I called Felt several times and he very
carefully gave me leads as we tried to find out
more about Bremer. It turned out that he had
stalked some of the other candidates, and I went
to New York to pick up the trail. This led to
several front-page stories about Bremer's
travels, completing a portrait of a madman not
singling out Wallace but rather looking for any
presidential candidate to shoot. On May 18, I did
a Page One article that said, among other things,
"High federal officials who have reviewed
investigative reports on the Wallace shooting
said yesterday that there is no evidence
whatsoever to indicate that Bremer was a hired
It was rather
brazen of me. Though I was technically protecting
my source and talked to others besides Felt, I
did not do a good job of concealing where the
information was coming from. Felt chastised me
mildly. But the story that Bremer acted alone and
without accomplices was a story that both the
White House and the FBI wanted out.
story breaks: Secrey Is paramount
A month later,
on Saturday, June 17, the FBI night supervisor
called Felt at home. Five men in business suits,
pockets stuffed with $100 bills, and carrying
eavesdropping and photographic equipment, had
been arrested inside the Democrats' national
headquarters at the Watergate office building
about 2:30 a.m.
By 8:30 a.m.
Felt was in his office at the FBI, seeking more
details. About the same time, The Post's city
editor woke me at home and asked me to come in to
cover an unusual burglary.
paragraph of the front-page story that ran the
next day in The Post read: "Five men, one of
whom said he is a former employee of the Central
Intelligence Agency, were arrested at 2:30 a.m.
yesterday in what authorities described as an
elaborate plot to bug the offices of the
Democratic National Committee here."
next day, Carl Bernstein and I wrote our first
article together, identifying one of the
burglars, James W. McCord Jr., as the salaried
security coordinator for Nixon's reelection
committee. On Monday, I went to work on E. Howard
Hunt, whose telephone number had been found in
the address books of two of the burglars with the
small notations "W. House" and
"W.H." by his name.
This was the
moment when a source or friend in the
investigative agencies of government is
invaluable. I called Felt at the FBI, reaching
him through his secretary. It would be our first
talk about Watergate. He reminded me how he
disliked phone calls at the office but said the
Watergate burglary case was going to "heat
up" for reasons he could not explain. He
then hung up abruptly.
tentatively assigned to write the next day's
Watergate bugging story, but I was not sure I had
anything. Carl had the day off. I picked up the
phone and dialed 456-1414 -- the White House --
and asked for Howard Hunt. There was no answer,
but the operator helpfully said he might be in
the office of Charles W. Colson, Nixon's special
counsel. Colson's secretary said Hunt was not
there this moment but might be at a public
relations firm where he worked as a writer. I
called and reached Hunt and asked why his name
was in the address book of two of the Watergate
God!" Hunt shouted before slamming down the
phone. I called the president of the public
relations firm, Robert F. Bennett, who is now a
Republican U.S. senator from Utah. "I guess
it's no secret that Howard was with the
CIA," Bennett said blandly.
It had been a
secret to me, and a CIA spokesman confirmed that
Hunt had been with the agency from 1949 to 1970.
I called Felt again at the FBI. Colson, White
House, CIA, I said. What did I have? Anyone could
have someone's name in an address book. I wanted
to be careful about guilt by association.
nervous. He said off the record -- meaning I
could not use the information -- that Hunt was a
prime suspect in the burglary at the Watergate
for many reasons beyond the address books. So
reporting the connections forcefully would not be
In July, Carl
went to Miami, home of four of the burglars, on
the money trail, and he ingeniously tracked down
a local prosecutor and his chief investigator,
who had copies of $89,000 in Mexican checks and a
$25,000 check that had gone into the account of
Bernard L. Barker, one of the burglars. We were
able to establish that the $25,000 check had been
campaign money that had been given to Maurice H.
Stans, Nixon's chief fundraiser, on a Florida
golf course. The Aug. 1 story on this was the
first to tie Nixon campaign money directly to
I tried to call
Felt, but he wouldn't take the call. I tried his
home in Virginia and had no better luck. So one
night I showed up at his Fairfax home. It was a
plain-vanilla, perfectly kept,
everything-in-its-place suburban house. His
manner made me nervous. He said no more phone
calls, no more visits to his home, nothing in the
I did not know
then that in Felt's earliest days in the FBI,
during World War II, he had been assigned to work
on the general desk of the Espionage Section.
Felt learned a great deal about German spying in
the job, and after the war he spent time keeping
suspected Soviet agents under surveillance.
So at his home
in Virginia that summer, Felt said that if we
were to talk it would have to be face to face
where no one could observe us.
I said anything
would be fine with me.
We would need a
preplanned notification system -- a change in the
environment that no one else would notice or
attach any meaning to. I didn't know what he was
If you keep the
drapes in your apartment closed, open them and
that could signal me, he said. I could check each
day or have them checked, and if they were open
we could meet that night at a designated place. I
liked to let the light in at times, I explained.
another signal, he said, indicating that he could
check my apartment regularly. He never explained
how he could do this.
some pressure, I said that I had a red cloth
flag, less than a foot square -- the kind used as
warnings on long truck loads -- that a girlfriend
had found on the street. She had stuck it in an
empty flowerpot on my apartment balcony.
Felt and I
agreed that I would move the flowerpot with the
flag, which usually was in the front near the
railing, to the rear of the balcony if I urgently
needed a meeting. This would have to be important
and rare, he said sternly. The signal, he said,
would mean we would meet that same night about 2
a.m. on the bottom level of an underground garage
just over the Key Bridge in Rosslyn.
Felt said I
would have to follow strict countersurveillance
techniques. How did I get out of my apartment?
I walked out,
down the hall, and took the elevator.
Which takes you
to the lobby? he asked.
Did I have back
stairs to my apartment house?
Use them when
you are heading for a meeting. Do they open into
Take the alley.
Don't use your own car. Take a taxi to several
blocks from a hotel where there are cabs after
midnight, get dropped off and then walk to get a
second cab to Rosslyn. Don't get dropped off
directly at the parking garage. Walk the last
several blocks. If you are being followed, don't
go down to the garage. I'll understand if you
don't show. All this was like a lecture. The key
was taking the necessary time -- one to two hours
to get there. Be patient, serene. Trust the
prearrangements. There was no fallback meeting
place or time. If we both didn't show, there
would be no meeting.
Felt said that
if he had something for me, he could get me a
message. He quizzed me about my daily routine,
what came to my apartment, the mailbox, etc. The
Post was delivered outside my apartment door. I
did have a subscription to the New York Times. A
number of people in my apartment building near
Dupont Circle got the Times. The copies were left
in the lobby with the apartment number. Mine was
No. 617, and it was written clearly on the
outside of each paper in marker pen. Felt said if
there was something important he could get to my
New York Times -- how, I never knew. Page 20
would be circled, and the hands of a clock in the
lower part of the page would be drawn to indicate
the time of the meeting that night, probably 2
a.m., in the same Rosslyn parking garage.
was a compact of trust; nothing about it was to
be discussed or shared with anyone, he said.
How he could
have made a daily observation of my balcony is
still a mystery to me. At the time, before the
era of intensive security, the back of the
building was not enclosed, so anyone could have
driven in the back alley to observe my balcony.
In addition, my balcony and the back of the
apartment complex faced onto a courtyard or back
area that was shared with a number of other
apartment or office buildings in the area. My
balcony could have been seen from dozens of
apartments or offices, as best I can tell.
A number of
embassies were located in the area. The Iraqi
Embassy was down the street, and I thought it
possible that the FBI had surveillance or
listening posts nearby. Could Felt have had the
counterintelligence agents regularly report on
the status of my flag and flowerpot? That seems
highly unlikely, if not impossible.
kinship: Felt knew reporters' plight
In the course of
this and other discussions, I was somewhat
apologetic for plaguing him and being such a nag,
but I explained that we had nowhere else to turn.
Carl and I had obtained a list of everyone who
worked for Nixon's reelection committee and were
frequently going out into the night knocking on
the doors of these people to try to interview
them. I explained to Felt that we were getting
lots of doors slammed in our faces. There also
were lots of frightened looks. I was frustrated.
Felt said I
should not worry about pushing him. He had done
his time as a street agent, interviewing people.
The FBI, like the press, had to rely on voluntary
cooperation. Most people wanted to help the FBI,
but the FBI knew about rejection. Felt perhaps
tolerated my aggressiveness and pushy approach
because he had been the same way himself when he
was younger, once talking his way into an
interview with Hoover and telling him of his
ambition to become a special agent in charge of
an FBI field office.
It was an
unusual message, emphatically encouraging me to
get in his face.
With a story as
enticing, complex, competitive and fast-breaking
as Watergate, there was little tendency or time
to consider the motives of our sources. What was
important was whether the information checked out
and whether it was true. We were swimming, really
living, in the fast-moving rapids. There was no
time to ask why they were talking or whether they
had an ax to grind.
I was thankful
for any morsel or information, confirmation or
assistance Felt gave me while Carl and I were
attempting to understand the many-headed monster
of Watergate. Because of his position virtually
atop the chief investigative agency, his words
and guidance had immense, at times even
staggering, authority. The weight, authenticity
and his restraint were more important than his
design, if he had one.
It was only
later after Nixon resigned that I began to wonder
why Felt had talked when doing so carried
substantial risks for him and the FBI. Had he
been exposed early on, Felt would have been no
hero. Technically, it was illegal to talk about
grand jury information or FBI files -- or it
could have been made to look illegal.
Felt believed he
was protecting the bureau by finding a way,
clandestine as it was, to push some of the
information from the FBI interviews and files out
to the public, to help build public and political
pressure to make Nixon and his people answerable.
He had nothing but contempt for the Nixon White
House and their efforts to manipulate the bureau
for political reasons. The young eager-beaver
patrol of White House underlings, best
exemplified by John W. Dean III, was odious to
for Hoover and strict bureau procedure made
Gray's appointment as director all the more
shocking. Felt obviously concluded he was
Hoover's logical successor.
And the former
World War II spy hunter liked the game. I suspect
in his mind I was his agent. He beat it into my
head: secrecy at all cost, no loose talk, no talk
about him at all, no indication to anyone that
such a secret source existed.
In our book
"All the President's Men," Carl and I
described how we had speculated about Deep Throat
and his piecemeal approach to providing
information. Maybe it was to minimize his risk.
Or because one or two big stories, no matter how
devastating, could be blunted by the White House.
Maybe it was simply to make the game more
interesting. More likely, we concluded,
"Deep Throat was trying to protect the
office, to effect a change in its conduct before
all was lost."
Each time I
raised the question with Felt, he had the same
answer: "I have to do this my way."
subdirector de investigación del diario The Washington Post, donde publicó este texto en la
primera plana el martes 2 de junio de 2005. (©
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