Deep Throat (Watergate)

Mark Felt

Deep Throat is the pseudonym given to the secret informant who provided information to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post in 1972 about the involvement of U.S. President Richard Nixon's administration in what came to be known as the Watergate scandal. In 2005, 31 years after Nixon's resignation and 11 years after Nixon's death, a family attorney stated that former Federal Bureau of Investigation Associate Director Mark Felt was Deep Throat. Felt was battling dementia at the time, and had previously denied being Deep Throat, but Woodward and Bernstein confirmed his claim.


Deep Throat was first introduced to the public in the 1974 book All the President's Men, written by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, which was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film two years later. According to the authors, Deep Throat was a key source of information behind a series of articles on a scandal which played a leading role in introducing the misdeeds of the Nixon administration to the general public. The scandal would eventually lead to the resignation of President Nixon as well as prison terms for White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman, G. Gordon Liddy, Egil Krogh, White House Counsels Charles Colson, former United States Attorney General John N. Mitchell, John Dean, and presidential adviser John Ehrlichman.

Howard Simons, the managing editor of the Post during Watergate, dubbed the secret informant "Deep Throat", alluding to the deep background status of his information and to the movie which was a cause of controversy at the time. The name was chosen due to the amount of publicity of the film and the ambiguity of its lacking an identifiable connection to the events.

For more than 30 years, the identity of Deep Throat was one of the biggest mysteries of American politics and journalism and the source of much public curiosity and speculation. Woodward and Bernstein insisted they would not reveal his identity until he died or consented to have his identity revealed. Even though J. Anthony Lukas correctly "speculated" that the identity of Deep Throat was in fact W. Mark Felt in his 1976 book, Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years, (based on three The New York Times Sunday Magazine articles—two published in full), Lukas was widely criticized. In a 1989 interview with Lukas for Playboy, Woodward denied that Deep Throat was part of the "intelligence community", according to an April 28, 2003, article in Slate.

On May 31, 2005, Vanity Fair revealed that William Mark Felt, Sr. was Deep Throat, when it published an article (eventually appearing in the July issue) on its website by John D. O'Connor, an attorney acting on Felt's behalf, in which Felt reportedly said, "I'm the guy they used to call Deep Throat." After the Vanity Fair story broke, Woodward, Bernstein, and Benjamin C. Bradlee, the Post's executive editor during Watergate, confirmed Felt's claim to be Deep Throat.[1] L. Patrick Gray, former acting Director of the FBI and Felt's boss, disputes Felt's claim to be the sole source in Gray's book, In Nixon's Web, written with his son Ed Gray. Instead, Gray and others have continued to argue that Deep Throat was a compilation of sources combined into one character in order to improve sales of the book and movie. Woodward and Bernstein, however, defended Felt's claims and detailed their relationship with Felt in Woodward's book The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat.

Role in the Watergate scandal

Main article: Watergate scandal

On June 17, 1972, at 2:31 a.m. local time, five men were arrested by police on the sixth floor of the Watergate Hotel building in Washington, D.C., inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee. Police had arrived on the scene after being alerted by Frank Wills, a security guard, who noticed that a door leading into the hotel had been taped open.

The situation was unusual because the five men apprehended had among themselves $2,300 in hundred-dollar bills with serial numbers in sequence, some lock-picks and door-jimmys, a walkie-talkie, a radio scanner capable of listening to police frequencies, two cameras, 40 rolls of unused film, tear-gas guns, and sophisticated electronic devices capable of recording all conversations that might be held in the offices.

At least one of the men was a former Central Intelligence Agency employee. This person, James McCord, Jr., was, at the time of his arrest, a security man for President Nixon's Committee to Re-elect the President (also known by its acronym, "CREEP", among Nixon's political opponents). Notebooks were found on two of the men containing the telephone number of E. Howard Hunt, whose name in the notebooks was accompanied by the inscriptions "W House" and "W.H."

The scandal immediately attracted some media scrutiny. A protracted period of clue-searching and trail-following then ensued, with reporters, and eventually the United States Senate and the judicial system probing to see how far up the Executive branch of government the Watergate scandal, as it had come to be known, extended.

A pair of young Washington Post reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, wrote the coverage of the story over a period of two years. The scandal eventually was shown to involve a variety of legal violations and it implicated many members of the Nixon White House. With increasing pressure from the courts and the Senate, Nixon eventually became the first U.S. president to resign, thereby avoiding impeachment by the House of Representatives and removal from office by the Senate.

Woodward and Bernstein's stories contained information that was remarkably similar to the information uncovered by FBI investigators. This was a journalistic advantage not enjoyed by any other journalists at the time. In their later book, All the President's Men, Woodward and Bernstein claimed this information came from a single anonymous informant dubbed "Deep Throat". It was later revealed, and confirmed by Woodward and Bernstein, that Deep Throat was Felt.

Woodward had befriended Felt years earlier, and had consulted with him on stories before the Watergate scandal. Woodward, Bernstein, and others credit the information provided by Deep Throat with being instrumental in ensuring the success of the investigation into the Watergate Scandal.

Methods of communication

Woodward, in All the President's Men, first mentions Deep Throat on page 71; earlier in the book he reports calling "an old friend and sometimes source who worked for the federal government and did not like to be called at his office". Later, he describes him as "a source in the Executive Branch who had access to information at CRP as well as at the White House". The book also calls him "an incurable gossip", "in a unique position to observe the Executive Branch," and a man "whose fight had been worn out in too many battles".

Woodward claimed that he would signal "Deep Throat" that he desired a meeting by moving a flowerpot with a red flag on the balcony of his apartment. When Deep Throat wanted a meeting he would make special marks on page twenty of Woodward's copy of The New York Times; he would circle the page number and draw clock hands to indicate the hour. They often met "on the bottom level of an underground garage just over the Key Bridge in Rosslyn," at 2:00 a.m. The garage is located at 1401 Wilson Boulevard and has a historical marker erected in 2011; the garage was scheduled to be demolished, though the county decided to save the historical marker, and the landowner promised to design a memorial commemorating the Watergate scandal.[2]

Many were skeptical of these cloak and dagger methods. Adrian Havill investigated these claims for his 1993 biography of Woodward and Bernstein and found them to be factually impossible. He noted that Woodward's apartment 617 at 1718 P Street, Northwest, in Washington faced an interior courtyard and was not visible from the street. Havill said anyone regularly checking the balcony, as "Deep Throat" was said to have done daily, would have been spotted. Havill also said that copies of The New York Times were not delivered to individual apartments but delivered in an un-addressed stack at the building's reception desk. There would have been no way to know which copy was intended for Woodward. Woodward, however, has stated that in the early 1970s the interior courtyard was an alleyway and had not yet been bricked off, and that his balcony was visible from street level to passing pedestrians. It was also visible, Woodward conjectured, to anyone from the FBI in surveillance of nearby embassies. Also revealed was the fact that Woodward's copy of The New York Times had his apartment number indicated on it. Former neighbor Herman Knippenberg stated that Woodward would sometimes come to his door looking for his marked copy of the Times, claiming, "I like to have it in mint condition and I like to have my own copy."[3]

Further, while Woodward in his book stressed these precautions, he also admits to calling "Deep Throat" on the telephone at his home.

Controversy over motives

In public statements following the disclosure of his identity, Felt's family called him an "American hero", stating that he leaked information about the Watergate scandal to the Washington Post for moral and patriotic reasons. Other commentators, however, have speculated that Felt may have had more personal reasons for leaking information to Woodward.

In his book The Secret Man, Woodward describes Felt as a loyalist and admirer of J. Edgar Hoover. After Hoover's death, Felt became angry and disgusted when L. Patrick Gray, a career naval officer and lawyer from the Civil Division of the Department of Justice with no prior law enforcement experience, was appointed Director of the FBI over Felt, a 30-year veteran of the Bureau. Felt was particularly unhappy with Gray's management style of the FBI, which was markedly different from Hoover's. Felt selected Woodward and Bernstein because he knew they were assigned to investigate the burglary. Instead of seeking out prosecutors at the Justice Department, or the House Judiciary Committee charged with investigating presidential wrongdoing, he methodically leaked information to Woodward and Bernstein to guide their investigation while keeping his own identity and involvement safely concealed.

Some conservatives who worked for Nixon, such as Pat Buchanan and G. Gordon Liddy, castigated Felt and asserted their belief that Nixon was unfairly hounded from office.[4]

Revelation of identity

Although confirmation of Deep Throat's identity remained elusive for over 30 years, there were suspicions that Felt was indeed the reporters' elusive source long before the public acknowledgement in 2005.

In February 2005, Nixon's former White House Counsel, news columnist John Dean, reported that Woodward had recently informed Bradlee that "Deep Throat" was ailing and that Bradlee had written Deep Throat's obituary. Both Woodward and the then-current editor of The Washington Post, Leonard Downie, denied these claims. Felt was something of a suspect, especially after the mysterious meeting that occurred between Woodward and Felt in the summer of 1999. But others had received more attention over the years, such as Pat Buchanan, Henry Kissinger, then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, General Alexander Haig, and before it was revealed that "Deep Throat" was definitely not female, Diane Sawyer.

On May 31, 2005, Vanity Fair reported that Felt, then aged 91, claimed to be the man once known as "Deep Throat".[14] Later that day, Woodward, Bernstein, and Bradlee released a statement through The Washington Post confirming that the story was true.

On June 2, 2005, The Washington Post ran a lengthy front-page column[15] by Woodward in which he detailed his friendship with Felt in the years before Watergate. Woodward wrote that he first met Felt by chance in 1970, when Woodward was a Navy lieutenant in his mid-20s who was dispatched to deliver a package to the White House's West Wing. Felt arrived soon after, for a separate appointment and sat next to Woodward in the waiting room. Woodward struck up a conversation, eventually learning of Felt's position in the upper echelon of the FBI. Woodward, who was about to get out of the Navy at the time and was unsure about his future direction in life, became determined to use Felt as a mentor and career advisor, and so he got Felt's phone number and kept in touch with him.

After deciding to try a career as a reporter, Woodward eventually joined The Washington Post in August 1971. Felt, who Woodward writes had long had a dim view of the Nixon administration, began passing pieces of information to Woodward, although he insisted that Woodward keep the FBI and Justice Department out of anything he wrote based on the information. The first time Woodward used information from Felt in a Washington Post story was in mid-May 1972, a month before the Watergate burglary, when Woodward was reporting on the man who had attempted to assassinate presidential candidate George C. Wallace; Nixon had put Felt in charge of investigating the would-be assassin. A month later, just days after the Watergate break-in, Woodward would call Felt at his office, marking the first time Woodward spoke with Felt about Watergate.

Commenting on Felt's motivations for serving as his Deep Throat source, Woodward wrote, "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."

In 1980, Felt himself was convicted of ordering illegal break-ins at the homes of Weathermen suspects and their families. Richard Nixon testified on his behalf. President Ronald Reagan pardoned Felt and the conviction was subsequently expunged from the record.

Composite character theory

Prior to Felt's revelation and Woodward's confirmation, part of the reason historians and other scholars had so much difficulty in identifying the real Deep Throat is because no single person seemed to truly fit the character described in All the President's Men. This had caused some scholars and commentators to come to the conclusion that Deep Throat could not possibly be a single person, and must be a composite of several sources. Woodward and Bernstein consistently denied the theory.[16]

From a literary business perspective, this theory was further supported by David Obst, the agent who originally marketed the draft for All the President's Men, who stated that the initial typescript of the book contained absolutely no reference to Deep Throat.[16] Obst believed that Deep Throat was invented by Woodward and Bernstein for dramatic purposes.[16] It also led to speculation that the authors played at condensing history in the same way Hollywood scriptwriters do.[16]

Ed Gray, the son of L. Patrick Gray III, stated in In Nixon's Web: A Year in the Crosshairs of Watergate that his examination of Woodward's interview notes pertaining to Deep Throat at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin provided "convincing evidence that 'Deep Throat' was indeed a fabrication".[17] According to Gray, the file contained notes regarding four interviews that were attributed to either Felt, "X", or "my friend", and a fifth interview dated March 24, 1973, that was unattributed.[17] He said he discovered that he had already seen the paper in 2006 after Woodward released interview files with people who were not Deep Throat.[17] Gray wrote that he contacted Stephen Mielke, the archivist who oversees the Woodward-Bernstein collection at the University of Texas, who said that a carbon copy of the paper contained a note in Woodward's handwriting attributing the interview to Donald Santarelli, an official with the Department of Justice during the Watergate era.[17] Gray wrote that he contacted Santarelli who confirmed that the March 24 meeting was with him.[17] Other interview notes attributed to "X" were interpreted by Gray as containing content that could not have been known by Felt.[17]

Regarding Gray's allegations, Woodward wrote that the March 24 notes were obviously not from an interview with Felt because Felt is referred to by name twice in quotes from the source, and that he never stated or wrote that he met with Deep Throat on that date.[18] According to Woodward, Mielke said the page was likely misfiled under Felt due to a lack of source.[18]

Other suspected candidates

Fred Fielding

Another leading candidate was White House Associate Counsel Fred F. Fielding. In April 2003 Fielding was presented as a potential candidate as a result of a detailed review of source material by William Gaines and his journalism students, as part of a class at the University of Illinois journalism school.[19][20] Fielding was the assistant to John Dean and as such had access to the files relating to the affair. Gaines felt that statements by Woodward ruled out Deep Throat's being in the FBI and that Deep Throat often had information before the FBI did. H. R. Haldeman himself suspected Fielding as being Deep Throat.

Dean had been one of the most dedicated hunters of Deep Throat. Both he and Leonard Garment dismissed Fielding as a possibility, reporting that he had been cleared by Woodward in 1980 when Fielding was applying for an important position in the Reagan administration. However this assertion, which comes from Fielding, has not been corroborated.

One reason that many experts believed that Deep Throat was Fielding and not Felt was due to Woodward's apparent denial in an interview that "Deep Throat" worked in the intelligence community:

LUKAS: Do you resent the implication by some critics that your sources on Watergateamong them the fabled Deep Throatmay have been people in the intelligence community?
WOODWARD: I resent it because it's untrue.[21]

Other credible candidates

Any candidate who died before the Felt admission ceased to fit Woodward's criteria at that time, since Woodward had stated that he was free to reveal his identity when "Deep Throat" died.

Less credible candidates

Fictional portrayals


  1. Woodward, Bob. The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat, Simon & Schuster, 2005. ISBN 0-7432-8715-0
  2. Simpson, Ian (15 June 2014). "'Deep Throat' garage from U.S. Watergate scandal to be razed". Reuters. Retrieved 16 June 2014.
  3. "New Zealand man's Deep Throat mystery solved". The New Zealand Herald. June 3, 2005. Retrieved September 27, 2011.
  4. Morgan, Dan (June 1, 2005). "Contemporaries Have Mixed Views", The Washington Post, May 31, 2005.
  5. Max Holland (March 6, 2012). "Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat". Univ Pr of Kansas. p. 119. ISBN 978-0700618293.
  6. James Mann (May 1992). "Deep Throat: An Institutional Analysis". The Atlantic. pp. 106–112.
  7. Michael Dobbs (June 27, 2005). "Revenge Was Felt's Motive, Former Acting FBI Chief Says". Washington Post.
  8. Max Holland (March 6, 2012). "Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat". Univ Pr of Kansas. p. 98. ISBN 978-0700618293.
  9. George V. Higgins (1975), The Friends of Richard Nixon, 1976 reprint, New York: Ballantine, Ch. 14, p. 147, ISBN 978-0-345-25226-5.
  10. Ephron, Nora (May 9, 2010). "Deep Throat and Me: Now It Can Be Told and Not for the First Time Either". Huffington Post.
  11. "Deep Throat". tribunedigital-thecourant.
  12. Mann, James. "Deep Throat: An Institutional Analysis", The Atlantic Monthly, May 1992.
  13. Noah, Timothy. "Why Did Bob Woodward Lunch With Mark Felt in 1999?", Slate, May 2, 2002.
  14. O'Connor, John D. (May 31, 2005). "I'm the Guy They Called Deep Throat". Retrieved November 28, 2008.
  15. Woodward, Bob (June 2, 2005). "How Mark Felt Became 'Deep Throat'". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 28, 2008.
  16. 1 2 3 4 Greenberg, David (June 1, 2005). "Throat Clearing; Watergate conspiracy theories that still won't die.". Slate. Retrieved July 21, 2014.
  17. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Gray III, L. Patrick; Gray, Ed (2008). "The Watergate Books: Fact and Fiction" (PDF). In Nixon's Web: A Year in the Crosshairs of Watergate. New York: Times Books. pp. 291–300. ISBN 9780805089189.
  18. 1 2 Woodward, Bob. "Full Biography". Bob Woodward. Retrieved July 24, 2014. External link in |website= (help)
  19. Deep Throat: Uncovered (archived), Department of Journalism, University of Illinois
  20. Who Was Deep Throat?, Smithsonian Magazine, December 2003
  21. Noah, Timothy. "Deep Throat, Antihero: His unmasking makes everybody look a little less noble", Slate, May 31, 2005. Quote from Playboy interview, 1979.
  22. Wedge: From Pearl Harbor to 9/11-How the Secret War between the FBI and CIA Has Endangered National Security, (2002) Touchstone ISBN 0-7432-4599-7
  23. Deborah Davis, 'Katharine the Great: Katharine Graham and the Washington Post' (1987) National Press, ISBN 0-915765-43-8.

External links

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