El obituario de The Washington
Throat' Mark Felt Dies at 95
W. Mark Felt Sr.,
the associate director of the FBI during the
Watergate scandal who, better known as "Deep
Throat," became the most famous anonymous
source in American history, died yesterday. He
Felt died at
12:45 p.m. at his home in Santa Rosa, Calif.
"was fine this morning" and was
"joking with his caregiver," according
to his daughter, Joan Felt. She said in a phone
interview that her father ate a big breakfast
before remarking that he was tired and going to
away," she said.
second-highest official in the FBI under longtime
director J. Edgar Hoover and interim director L.
Patrick Gray, Felt detested the Nixon
administration's attempt to subvert the bureau's
investigation into the complex of crimes and
coverups known as the Watergate scandal that
ultimately led to the resignation of President
Richard M. Nixon.
guided Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward as
he and his colleague Carl Bernstein pursued the
story of the 1972 break-in of the Democratic
National Committee's headquarters at the
Watergate office buildings and later revelations
of the Nixon administration's campaign of spying
and sabotage against its perceived political
insisted on remaining completely anonymous, or on
"deep background." A Post editor dubbed
him "Deep Throat," a bit of wordplay
based on the title of a pornographic movie of the
time. The source's existence, but not his
identity, became known in Woodward and
Bernstein's 1974 book, "All the President's
Men," and in the subsequent movie version,
in which actor Hal Holbrook played the
charismatic but shadowy source.
a dashing figure with a full head of silver hair,
an authoritative bearing and a reputation as a
tough taskmaster, adamantly denied over the years
he was Deep Throat, even though Nixon suspected
him from the start.
"It was not
I and it is not I," Felt told Washingtonian
magazine in 1974. Five times, Nixon ordered Gray
to fire Felt, but Gray, convinced by Felt's
denials, never did.
Felt, a master
of bureaucratic infighting and misdirection,
seized upon a Post story that had not used him as
a source. In a bold stroke, he denounced it in an
internal memo and ordered an investigation into
the leak. "Expedite," he commanded. The
next day, in a notation on another memo that
passed over his desk, he pointed to a prosecutor
as the source of the leak.
"I was impressed. My
guy knew his stuff," Woodward wrote in
"Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep
Throat" (2006). "The memo was an
effective cover for him, the very best
counterintelligence tradecraft. Not only had he
initiated the leak inquiry, but Felt appeared to
have discovered the leaker."
wasn't until May 30, 2005, that Felt's family
revealed his identity in an article for Vanity
Fair magazine. The article, written by San
Francisco lawyer John D. O'Connor, did not make
clear why Felt, who was suffering from dementia,
admitted his identity after more than 30 years.
Woodward confirmed the revelation, and secret was
could imagine such a straight-arrow career
employee, known for enforcing the FBI's strict
rules of behavior and demeanor, playing such a
dangerous game. Although Deep Throat was a hero
to the counterculture, civil rights advocates and
Nixon's opponents, Felt was no friend to the
political left.Few could imagine such a
straight-arrow career employee, known for
enforcing the FBI's strict rules of behavior and
demeanor, playing such a dangerous game. Although
Deep Throat was a hero to the counterculture,
civil rights advocates and Nixon's opponents,
Felt was no friend to the political left.
In 1980, he was
convicted of approving illegal "black
bag" break-ins against the families and
friends of Weather Underground radicals. He was
later pardoned by President Ronald Reagan.
In his 1979
book, "The FBI Pyramid From the
Inside," co-authored with conservative
writer Ralph de Toledano, Felt supported Hoover's
bugging of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during
the Kennedy administration. He opposed Gray's
decisions to hire women as FBI agents, to loosen
the dress code and to ease the weight
restrictions for FBI agents.
He came from the
traditional crime-fighting FBI, having started
with the agency in 1942. He unmasked a German spy
in the United States, chased bank robbers and for
years led what was known internally as the
"goon squad," which monitored the
performance of field agents. Even after he was
promoted to deputy associate director in 1971,
his reputation was that of a hard-line Hoover
No one knows
exactly what prompted Felt to leak the
information from the Watergate probe to the
press. He was passed over for the post of FBI
director after Hoover's 1972 death, a crushing
But by the time
he told O'Connor "I'm the guy they used to
call Deep Throat," he was enfeebled by a
stroke and his memory of the era had almost
vanished because of Alzheimer's disease.
his 2006 book with O'Connor, "A G-Man's
Life," Felt expressed his anger at White
House officials who attempted to interfere with
the FBI investigation.
impossible to exaggerate how high the stakes were
in Watergate," he and his co-author wrote.
"We faced no simple burglary, but an assault
on government institutions, an attack on the
FBI's integrity, and unrelenting pressure to
unravel one of the greatest political scandals in
our nation's history.
start, it was clear that senior administration
officials were up to their necks in this mess and
would stop at nothing to sabotage our
investigation. White House staffers, high and
low, were either evasive or obstructive. They
drew the Justice Department and the CIA into
their cover-up. They used the acting director of
the FBI, a political appointee, to inform them of
the information we dug up and attempt to limit
can't describe adequately how bad it was,"
the book went on. "As investigators trying
to bring the truth to light, we could not rely on
Justice Department prosecutors or even federal
grand juries to bring indictments. What we needed
was a 'Lone Ranger' who could bypass the
administration's hand-picked FBI director and
Justice Department leadership and derail the
White House cover-up."
Felt, who saw
all the FBI investigative paperwork on Watergate,
was acquainted with Woodward from a chance
meeting at the White House in 1970 when Woodward
was still in the Navy. After Woodward became a
reporter, Felt helped him on a story about the
attempted assassination in May 1972 of George C.
Wallace Jr., the segregationist Alabama governor
then running for president.
Days after the
June 17, 1972, break-in at the Watergate, Felt
told Woodward that The Post could safely make a
connection between the burglars and a former CIA
agent working at the White House, E. Howard Hunt.
Felt again provided key context and reassurance,
telling Woodward that a story tying Nixon's
campaign committee to the break-in could be
"much stronger" than the first draft
and still be on solid ground.
of the most important encounters between Woodward
and his source came Oct. 8, 1972. In the wee
hours in a deserted parking garage in Rosslyn,
Felt laid out a much broader view of the scandal
than Woodward and Bernstein had yet imagined.
evenings such as these, Deep Throat had talked
about how politics had infiltrated every corner
of government -- a strong-arm takeover of the
agencies by the Nixon White House. . . . He had
once called it the 'switchblade mentality' -- and
had referred to the willingness of the
president's men to fight dirty and for
keeps," Woodward and Bernstein wrote in
"All the President's Men." "The
Nixon White House worried him. 'They are
underhanded and unknowable,' he had said numerous
Woodward to follow the case to the top: to
Nixon's former attorney general, John N.
Mitchell; to Nixon's inner brace of aides, H.R.
"Bob" Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman;
and even to Nixon himself.
president and Mitchell know" everything, he
It took many
newspaper stories, a House and Senate
investigation, the revelation of a secret tape
recording system in the Oval Office, the firing
of a special prosecutor, the opening of articles
of impeachment and the discovery of a
"smoking gun" tape recording before
Nixon resigned Aug. 9, 1974.
The Post won
journalism's highest honor, the 1973 Pulitzer
Prize for public service for its investigation of
the Watergate case.
Felt was passed
over for the job of FBI director a second time,
in 1973, and retired from the bureau that summer.
in 1978, he was drawn back into the public view
when he and another top FBI official, Edward G.
Miller, were indicted for nine illegal break-ins
in New York and New Jersey that had happened in
1972 and 1973.
Felt said he
approved the break-ins against the relatives of
fugitives with the Weather Underground, a radical
leftist movement, believing he was acting with
the approval of the FBI director. When he was
arraigned, several hundred FBI agents greeted him
at the courthouse in a show of solidarity.
It was during
that period that Felt came closest to losing his
secret identity. Under questioning by grand
jurors, he cavalierly mentioned that he was often
suspected of being Deep Throat. A grand juror
immediately asked him if he was. Felt, according
to assistant attorney general Stanley Pottinger,
turned pale and denied it. According to
Woodward's book, Pottinger went off the record,
reminded Felt he was under oath and offered to
withdraw the "irrelevant" question if
Felt preferred. Withdraw it, Felt snapped.
Few others came
that close. After his wife, Audrey Felt,
committed suicide in 1984, Felt told a close
friend, Yvette LaGarde, of his secret identity,
and she told her son.
On the day of
his conviction in 1980, he told reporters,
"I spent my entire adult life working for
the government, and I always tried to do what I
thought was right and what was in the best
interest of this country and what would protect
the safety of this country."
months later, Reagan pardoned Felt and Miller.
Felt Sr. was born Aug. 17, 1913, in Twin Falls,
Idaho, the son of a general contractor and a
housewife. He worked his way through the
University of Idaho, waiting tables and stoking
furnaces, and graduated in 1935.
He moved to
Washington to work for two Idaho Democrats, Sen.
James P. Pope and then Sen. David Worth Clark,
while attending night law school at George
Washington University. He graduated in 1940.
school, he worked briefly at the Federal Trade
Commission, where he was assigned to ask
consumers about their impression of the Red Cross
brand of toilet paper. He disliked the job, and
in 1942, he joined the FBI.
counterintelligence work, he thrived. In his 1979
book, Felt said he that he learned techniques and
the uses of misinformation that allowed him to
unmask a German spy on U.S. soil just before
World War II.
After the war, he chose
to go to the FBI's Seattle office, and then
Houston, San Antonio, Washington, New Orleans,
Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, where he was
named special agent in charge in 1956. He led the
FBI field office in Kansas City, a town that was
a hotbed of political corruption, and returned to
Washington in 1962 -- 17 moves by the time he
He formed firm
opinions about some government officials.
"Bobby Kennedy thought of the FBI as a kind
of private police department, with Hoover as its
desk sergeant," he wrote disapprovingly.
1964, Felt began a six-year stint as chief
inspector, making sure that all agents and field
offices toed the line on regulations. During that
time, he also served as FBI liaison and technical
adviser to MGM Studios for "The FBI"
all accounts, he was loyal to Hoover and
suspicious of the Nixon White House effort to
bring the FBI under its control. He resisted a
directive from the White House in 1971 to begin
massive wiretaps to find the source of leaks
about the administration's national security
strategy. But he won the administration's
confidence when he quietly closed a
Hoover-ordered investigation into "a ring of
homosexualists at the highest levels," an
allegation that proved unfounded.
In early 1972,
the administration was embarrassed by a memo from
ITT lobbyist Dita Beard that said if her employer
contributed to Nixon's campaign fund, the Justice
Department would drop its antitrust
investigation. Hoping to prove the memo was a
forgery, the White House sought the FBI's
cooperation. But Felt reported that the FBI
laboratory could not make a definitive finding.
White House special counsel Charles W. Colson
pressured Felt to change the FBI's summary of its
investigation, but Felt would not budge.
death on May 2, 1972, Nixon appointed Gray as
acting director of the agency. Felt was
infuriated by Gray's capitulation to the
administration's demands, including turning over
FBI investigative files to the White House staff.
But he succeeded in persuading Gray to resist
Nixon's attempt to get the FBI off the case of
the Watergate burglary.
worked with the White House, and spent part of
each week visiting most of the FBI's bureaus
across the country, Felt was in operational
charge of the agency. But after a disastrous
confirmation hearing, Gray resigned, and Nixon
refused to promote Felt, instead appointing
William D. Ruckelshaus to the top FBI spot.
soon accused Felt of leaking information about
illegal wiretaps -- not to The Washington Post,
but to the New York Times. Felt angrily denied
the charge, then immediately retired. Even in
retirement, he stayed in touch with sources and
reporters and tipped off Woodward one last time.
The secret White House tape recordings that were
rumored to exonerate Nixon contained "one or
more . . . deliberate erasures," he said.
Felt moved to
Santa Rosa from Alexandria in 1989. He had a
stroke in 1999 and a second stroke in 2001.
His son, Mark,
became an Air Force pilot and flew then-Vice
President George H.W. Bush in Air Force Two. His
daughter, after living a countercultural life in
California, became a teacher and lives in Santa
Rosa. Survivors also include several
questions about his memory by 2005, it is unclear
whether Felt or co-author O'Connor wrote in his
last book: "People will debate for a long
time whether I did the right thing by helping
Woodward. The bottom line is that we did get the
whole truth out, and isn't that what the FBI is
supposed to do?"
* Patricia Sullivan is a Washington Post Staff Writer. Staff writers Clarence
Williams and Anita Kumar contributed to this
report. Friday, December 19, 2008; 12:48 PM