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Home » Archives » May 2005 » I'm The Guy They Called Deep Throat. Mark Felt.

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05/31/2005: "I'm The Guy They Called Deep Throat. Mark Felt."

On a sunny California morning in August 1999, Joan Felt, a busy college
Spanish professor and single mother, was completing chores
before leaving for class. She stopped when she heard an unexpected
knock at the front door. Upon answering it, she was met
by a courteous, 50-ish man, who introduced himself as a journalist
from The Washington Post. He asked if he could see her father,
W. Mark Felt, who lived with her in her suburban Santa
Rosa home. The man said his name was Bob Woodward.
Woodward¡¯s name did not register with Joan, and she assumed
he was no different from a number of other reporters, who had
called that week. This was, after all, the 25th anniversary of the resignation
of President Richard Nixon, disgraced in the scandal known
as Watergate, and hounded from office in 1974. The journalists had all
Despite three decades of intense speculation, the identity of ¡°Deep Throat¡±¡ª
the source who leaked key details of Nixon¡¯s Watergate cover-up to Washington Post
reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein¡ªhas never been revealed.
Now, at age 91, W. Mark Felt, number two at the F.B.I. in the early 70s, is finally
admitting to that historic, anonymous role. In an exclusive,
JOHN D. O¡¯CONNOR puts a name and face to one of American democracy¡¯s heroes,
learning about the struggle between honor and duty that nearly led Felt
to take his secret to the grave
Former F.B.I. official
W. Mark Felt, 91, is now a
retiree living in Santa Rosa,
California. He has told friends
and intimates that he was the
confidential inside source
of Watergate fame.
been asking whether her father¡ªthe number-two man in the
F.B.I. during the Watergate years¡ªwas ¡°Deep Throat,¡± the legendary
inside informant who, on the condition of anonymity,
had systematically passed along clues about White House misdeeds
to two young reporters. Joan figured that similar phone
calls were probably being placed to a handful of other Deep
Throat candidates. (See sidebar on page 131.)
These names, over the years, had become part of a parlor
game among historians: Who in the top echelons of government
had mustered the courage to leak secrets to the press? Who had
sought to expose the Nixon administration¡¯s conspiracy to obstruct
justice through its massive campaign of political espionage and its
subsequent cover-up? Who, indeed, had helped bring about the
most serious constitutional crisis since the 1868 impeachment trial
of Andrew Johnson¡ªand, in the process, changed the fate of the
Joan was suddenly curious. Unlike the others, this reporter
had come by in person. What¡¯s more, he claimed to be a friend
of her father¡¯s. Joan excused herself and spoke to her dad. He
was 86 at the time, alert though clearly diminished by the years.
Joan told him about the stranger at the door and was surprised
when he readily agreed to see ¡°Bob.¡±
She ushered him in, excused herself, and the two men talked
for half an hour, Joan recalls. Then she invited them to join her
for a drive to the market nearby. ¡°Bob sat in the backseat,¡± she
says. ¡°I asked him about his life, his job. He said he¡¯d been out
here on the West Coast covering [Arizona senator] John Mc-
Cain¡¯s [presidential] campaign and was in Sacramento or Fresno¡±¡ª
four hours away¡ª¡°and thought he¡¯d stop by. He looked
about my age. I thought, Gee, [he¡¯s] attractive. Pleasant too. Too
bad this guy isn¡¯t single.¡±
Woodward and Felt waited in the car while Joan popped into
the grocery store. On the way home, Joan remembers, Woodward
asked her, ¡°Would it be all right to take your dad to lunch
and have a drink?¡± She agreed. And so, once back at the house,
Woodward left to get his car.
Joan, always looking after her dad¡¯s health, realized she
should probably caution Woodward to limit her father to one or
two drinks. Yet when she opened the front door, she could find
neither the reporter nor his car. Puzzled, she decided to drive
around the neighborhood, only to discover him outside the Felts¡¯
subdivision, walking into a parking lot of a junior high school
some eight blocks from the house. He was just about to enter a
chauffeured limousine. Joan, however, was too polite to ask Woodward
why he had chosen to park there. Or why, for that matter,
he had come in a limo.
That night her father was ebullient about the lunch, recounting
how ¡°Bob¡± and he had downed martinis. Joan found it all a
bit odd. Her father had been dodging reporters all week, but
had seemed totally comfortable with this one. And why had
Woodward taken such precautions? Joan trusted her instincts.
Though she still hadn¡¯t made the connection between Woodward,
The Washington Post, and the Watergate scandal, she was convinced
that this was a less than serendipitous visit.
Sure enough, in the years to follow, Mark Felt and his daughter,
along with Joan¡¯s brother, Mark junior, and her son Nick,
would continue to communicate with Woodward by phone (and
in several e-mail exchanges) as Felt progressed into his 90s. Felt
suffered a mild stroke in 2001. His mental faculties began to deteriorate
a bit. But he kept his spirit and sense of humor. And
always, say Joan, aged 61, and Mark junior, 58, Woodward remained
gracious and friendly, occasionally inquiring about Felt¡¯s
health. ¡°As you may recall,¡± Woodward e-mailed Joan in August
of 2004, ¡°my father [is] also approaching 91. [He] seems happy¡ª
the goal for all of us. Best to everyone, Bob.¡±
hree years after Woodward¡¯s visit, my wife, Jan,
and I happened to be hosting a rather lively dinner
for my daughter Christy, a college junior, and
seven of her friends from Stanford. The atmosphere
had the levity and intensity of a reunion, as
several of the students had just returned from
sabbaticals in South America. Jan served her typical
Italian-style feast with large platters of pasta, grilled chicken,
and vegetables, and plenty of beer and wine. Our house, in Marin
County, overlooks the San Rafael Hills, and the setting that spring
evening was perfect for trading stories about faraway trips.
Nick Jones, a friend of Christy¡¯s whom I had known for three
years, listened as I related a story about my father, an attorney
who had begun his career in Rio during World War II by serving
as an undercover F.B.I. agent. When talk turned to the allure
and intrigue of Rio in the 40s, Nick mentioned
that his grandfather, also a lawyer, had
joined the bureau around that time and had
gone on to become a career agent. ¡°What¡¯s
his name?,¡± I asked.
¡°You may have heard of him,¡± he said.
¡°He was a pretty senior guy in the F.B.I. . . .
Mark Felt.¡±
I was blown away. Here was an enterprising
kid who was working his way through
school. He reminded me of myself in a way:
an energetic overachiever whose father, like
Nick¡¯s grandfather, had served as an intelligence
agent. (Nick and I were both good high-school athletes. I
went to Notre Dame, the University of Michigan Law School,
class of ¡¯72, then joined the U.S. Attorney¡¯s Office in San Francisco,
ultimately landing at a highly respected Bay Area law
firm.) I had taken Nick under my wing, encouraging him to
consider studying to become a lawyer. And yet I had no idea
that his grandfather was the same guy¡ªlong rumored as the infamous
Deep Throat¡ªwhom I¡¯d heard about for years from my
days as a federal prosecutor. Felt had even worked with my early
mentor, William Ruckelshaus, most famous for his role in the
so-called Saturday Night Massacre, of 1973. (When Watergate
special prosecutor Archibald Cox subpoenaed nine Nixon tape
recordings that he had secretly made in the Oval Office, the
president insisted that Cox be fired. Rather than dismiss Cox,
Nixon¡¯s attorney general, Elliot Richardson, and his deputy,
88 V A N I T Y F A I R J U L Y 2 0 0 5
Joan was too polite to ask
Woodward why he parked
eight blocks from the house.
Ruckelshaus, resigned in protest, becoming national heroes.)
Deep Throat, in fact, had been the hero who started it all¡ª
along with the two reporters he assisted, Bob Woodward and
Carl Bernstein (both of whom would go on to make their journalistic
reputations, and riches, through their Watergate revelations).
And my daughter¡¯s friend, I suspected, was the famous
source¡¯s grandson. ¡°Mark Felt!,¡± I exclaimed. ¡°You¡¯re kidding
me. Your granddad is Deep Throat! Did you know that?¡±
Nick answered calmly, and maybe with an air of uncertainty,
¡°You know, Big John, I¡¯ve heard that for a long time. Just recently
we¡¯ve started to think maybe it¡¯s him.¡±
We let the subject drop that night, turning to other matters.
But a few days later Nick phoned and asked me, in my role as
an attorney, to come over and meet his grandfather. Nick and
his mother wanted to discuss the wisdom of Felt¡¯s coming forward.
Felt, Nick said, had recently admitted his secret identity,
privately, to intimates, after years of hiding the truth even from
his family. But Felt was adamant about remaining silent on the
subject¡ªuntil his death¡ªthinking his past disclosures somehow
Joan and Nick, however, considered him a true patriot. They
were beginning to realize that it might make sense to enlist someone
from the outside to help him tell his story, his way, before he
passed away, unheralded and forgotten.
I agreed to see Mark Felt later that week.
he identity of Deep Throat is modern journalism¡¯s
greatest unsolved mystery. It has been said that he
may be the most famous anonymous person in
U.S. history. But, regardless of his notoriety, American
society today owes a considerable debt to the
government official who decided, at great personal
risk, to help Woodward and Bernstein as they pursued
the hidden truths of Watergate.
First, some background. In the early-morning hours of June 17,
1972, five ¡°burglars¡± were caught breaking into the headquarters
of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex,
along the Potomac River. Two members of the team were
found to have address books with scribbles ¡°W. House¡± and
¡°W.H.¡± They were operating, as it turned out, on the orders of
E. Howard Hunt, a onetime C.I.A. agent who had recently
worked in the White House, and G. Gordon Liddy, an ex¨CF.B.I.
agent who was on the payroll of the Committee to Re-elect the
President (CRP, pronounced Creep, which was organizing Nixon¡¯s
run against Senator George McGovern, the South Dakota Democrat).
Funds for the break-in, laundered through a Mexican bank
account, had actually come from the coffers of CRP, headed by
John Mitchell, who had been attorney general during Nixon¡¯s
first term. Following the break-in, suspicions were raised throughout
Washington: What were five men with Republican connections
doing with gloves, cameras, large amounts of cash, and
bugging equipment in the Democrats¡¯ top campaign office?
The case remained in the headlines thanks to the dogged reporting
of an unlikely team of journalists, both in their late 20s:
Carl Bernstein, a scruffy college dropout and six-year veteran of
the Post (now a writer, lecturer, and Vanity Fair contributor), and
Bob Woodward, an ex¨Cnavy officer and Yale man (now a celebrated
author and Post assistant managing editor). The heat was
also kept on because of a continuing F.B.I. investigation, headed
by the bureau¡¯s acting associate director, CON T I NU E D ON PAG E 12 9
P H O T O G R A P H B Y H A R R Y B E N S O N ( B E R N S T E I N A N D WO O DWA R D )
J U L Y 2 0 0 5
From top: quick-draw Felt at a firearms
range in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1956;
Felt (far left) with F.B.I. director
and mentor J. Edgar Hoover (third from
left); Washington Post reporters
Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward in
the paper¡¯s newsroom in 1974;
Robert Redford, as Woodward, at a
rendezvous with Deep Throat (played
by Hal Holbrook) in the 1976 film
All the President¡¯s Men.
Whoever Deep Throat might have been,
he was certainly a public official in private
turmoil. As the two Post reporters would explain
in their 1974 behind-the-scenes book
about Watergate, All the President¡¯s Men,
Deep Throat lived in solitary dread, under
the constant threat of being summarily fired
or even indicted, with no colleagues in whom
he could confide. He was justifiably suspicious
that phones had been wiretapped,
rooms bugged, and papers rifled. He was
completely isolated, having placed his career
and his institution in jeopardy. Eventually,
Deep Throat would even warn Woodward
and Bernstein that he had reason to believe
¡°everyone¡¯s life is in danger¡±¡ªmeaning
Woodward¡¯s, Bernstein¡¯s, and, presumably,
his own.
In the months that followed, the Post¡¯s
expos¨¦s continued unabated in the face of
mounting White House pressure and protest.
Deep Throat, having become more enraged
with the administration, grew more bold.
Instead of merely corroborating facts that the
two reporters obtained from other sources,
he began providing leads and outlining
an administration-sanctioned conspiracy. (In
the film version of the book, Robert Redford
and Dustin Hoffman would portray
Woodward and Bernstein, while Hal Hol-
CONT INU E D F ROM PAG E 8 9 Mark Felt, whose
teams interviewed 86 administration and CRP
staffers. These sessions, however, were quickly
undermined. The White House and CRP
had ordered that their lawyers be present
at every meeting. Felt believed that the C.I.A.
deliberately gave the F.B.I. false leads. And
most of the bureau¡¯s ¡°write-ups¡± of the interviews
were being secretly passed on to
Nixon counsel John Dean¡ªby none other
than Felt¡¯s new boss, L. Patrick Gray. (Gray,
the acting F.B.I. director, had taken over
after J. Edgar Hoover¡¯s death,
six weeks before the break-in.)
Throughout this period, the Nixon
camp denied any White House
or CRP involvement in the Watergate
affair. And after a threemonth
¡°investigation¡± there was no
evidence to implicate any White
House staffers.
The Watergate probe appeared
to be at an impasse, the break-in
having been explained away as
a private extortion scheme that
didn¡¯t extend beyond the suspects
in custody. McGovern couldn¡¯t
gain campaign traction with the
issue, and the president was reelected
in November 1972 by an
overwhelming majority.
But during that fateful summer
and fall, at least one government
official was determined not
to let Watergate fade away. That
man was Woodward¡¯s well-placed
source. In an effort to keep the
Watergate affair in the news, Deep
Throat had been consistently con-
firming or denying confidential information
for the reporter, which he and Bernstein
would weave into their frequent stories, often
on the Post¡¯s front page.
Ever cautious, Woodward and Deep Throat
devised cloak-and-dagger methods to avoid
tails and eavesdroppers during their numerous
rendezvous. If Woodward needed to initiate
a meeting, he would position an empty
flowerpot (which contained a red construction
flag) to the rear of his apartment balcony.
If Deep Throat was the instigator, the
hands of a clock would mysteriously appear
on page 20 of Woodward¡¯s copy of The New
York Times, which was delivered before seven
each morning. Then they would connect
at the appointed hour in an underground
parking garage. (Woodward would always
take two cabs and then walk a short distance
to their meetings.) The garage afforded
Deep Throat a darkened venue for hushed
conversation, a clear view of any potential
intruders, and a quick escape route.
brook assumed the Deep Throat role.)
Soon public outcry grew. Other media
outlets began to investigate in earnest. The
Senate convened riveting televised hearings
in 1973, and when key players such as
John Dean cut immunity deals, the entire
plot unraveled. President Nixon, it turned
out, had tape-recorded many of the meetings
where strategies had been hashed
out¡ªand the cover-up discussed (in violation
of obstruction-of-justice laws). On
August 8, 1974, with the House of Representatives
clearly moving toward impeachment,
the president announced his resignation,
and more than 30 government
and campaign officials in and
around the Nixon White House
would ultimately plead guilty
to or be convicted of crimes. In
brief, Watergate had reaffirmed
that no person, not even the
president of the United States,
is above the law.
Due in no small part to the
secrets revealed by the Post,
sometimes in consort with Deep
Throat, the courts and the Congress
have been loath to grant a
sitting president free rein, and
are generally wary of administrations
that might try to impede
access to White House documents
in the name of ¡°executive
privilege.¡± Watergate helped set
in motion what would become
known as the ¡°independent counsel¡±
law (for investigating top
federal officials) and helped make
whistle-blowing (on wrongdoings
in business and government) a
legally sanctioned, if still risky
and courageous, act. Watergate
invigorated an independent press,
virtually spawning a generation of investigative
And yet, ever since the political maelstrom
of Nixon¡¯s second term, Deep
Throat has declined to reveal himself. He has
kept quiet through seven presidencies and
despite an anticipated fortune that might
have come his way from a tell-all book, film,
or television special. Woodward has said that
Deep Throat wished to remain anonymous
until death, and he pledged to keep his
source¡¯s confidence, as he has for more than a
generation. (Officially, Deep Throat¡¯s identity
has been known only to Woodward, Bernstein,
their former editor Ben Bradlee¡ªand
to Deep Throat himself.)
In All the President¡¯s Men, the authors
described their source as a man of passion
and contradiction: ¡°Aware of his own
weaknesses, he readily conceded his flaws.
He was, incongruously, an incurable gossip,
careful to label rumor for what it was, but
Deep Throat
Mark Felt was working his way
through law school in Washington, D.C.,
when he reconnected with fellow University
of Idaho student Audrey Robinson.
The pair posed circa 1938, the year
they were married.
J U L Y 2 0 0 5 129 V A N I T Y F A I R
fascinated by it. . . . He could be rowdy,
drink too much, overreach. He was not good
at concealing his feelings, hardly ideal for a
man in his position.¡± Even though he was a
Washington creature he was ¡°worn out¡± by
years of bureaucratic battles, a man disenchanted
with the ¡°switchblade mentality¡±
of the Nixon White House and its tactics
of politicizing governmental agencies. Deep
Throat was someone in an ¡°extremely sensitive¡±
position, possessing ¡°an aggregate
of hard information flowing in and out of
many stations,¡± while at the same time quite
wary of his role as a confidential source.
¡°Deep Throat,¡± noted Woodward in a lecture
in 2003, ¡°lied to his family, to his
friends, and colleagues, denying that he had
helped us.¡±
And as the years went on, Joan Felt
had really begun to wonder whether her father
might just be this courageous but tortured
Born in Twin Falls, Idaho, in 1913, Mark
Felt came of age at a time when the F.B.I.
agent was an archetypal patriot¡ªa crime-
fighter in a land that had been torn by war,
the Depression, and Mob violence. Raised
in modest circumstances, the outgoing, takecharge
Felt worked his way through the University
of Idaho (where he was head of his
fraternity) and the George Washington University
Law School, married another Idaho
grad, Audrey Robinson, then joined the bureau
in 1942.
Dapper, charming, and handsome, with a
full head of sandy hair that grayed attractively
over the years, Felt resembled actor Lloyd
Bridges. He was a registered Democrat (who
turned Republican during the Reagan years)
with a conservative bent and a common
man¡¯s law-and-order streak. Often relocating
his family, he would come to speak at each
new school that Joan Felt attended¡ªwearing
a shoulder holster, hidden under his pinstripes.
In the bureau, he was popular with
supervisors and underlings alike, and enjoyed
both scotch and bourbon, though he was
ever mindful of Hoover¡¯s edicts about his
agents¡¯ sobriety. Felt helped curb the Kansas
City Mob as that city¡¯s special agent in charge,
using tactics both aggressive and innovative,
then was named second-in-command of the
bureau¡¯s training division in 1962. Felt mastered
the art of succinct, just-the-factsma¡¯am
memo writing, which appealed to the
meticulous Hoover, who made him one of
his closest prot¨¦g¨¦s. In 1971, in a move to
rein in his power-seeking head of domestic
intelligence, William C. Sullivan,
Hoover promoted Felt to a newly created
position overseeing Sullivan, vaulting Felt to
While Felt rose through the ranks, his
daughter, Joan, became decidedly anti-
Establishment. As Joan¡¯s lifestyle changed,
her father quietly but strongly disapproved,
telling her that she and her peers reminded
him of radical Weather Underground
members¡ªa faction he happened to be in
the process of hunting down. Joan cut off
contact with her parents for a time (she
has been reconciled with her dad for more
than 25 years now), retreating to a commune
where, with a movie camera rolling,
she gave birth to her first son, Ludi (Nick¡¯s
brother, now called Will), a scene used in
the 1974 documentary The Birth of Ludi.
On one occasion her parents arrived at
Joan¡¯s farm for a visit, only to find her and
a friend sitting naked in the sun, breastfeeding
their babies.
Joan¡¯s brother, Mark junior, a commercial
pilot and retired air-force lieutenant
colonel, says that at that stage their father
was utterly absorbed in his work. ¡°By the
time he¡¯d got to Washington,¡± Mark recalls,
¡°he worked six days a week, got home, had
dinner, and went to bed. He believed in the
F.B.I. more than anything else he believed
in in his life.¡± For a time, Mark says, his
dad also served as an unpaid technical adviser
to the popular 60s TV program The
F.B.I., occasionally going onto the set with
Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who played an agent
with responsibilities similar to Felt¡¯s. ¡°He
was a cool character,¡± says the younger Felt,
¡°willing to take risks and go outside of the
rule book to get the job done.¡±
In his little-known 1979 memoir, The
F.B.I. Pyramid, co-written with Ralph de
Toledano, Felt comes across as a downto-
earth counterpart to the imperious Hoover¡ª
a man Felt deeply respected. Hoover,
in Felt¡¯s view, was ¡°charismatic, feisty,
charming, petty, giant, grandiose, brilliant,
egotistical, industrious, formidable, compassionate,
domineering¡±; he possessed
a ¡°puritanical¡± streak, the bearing of an
¡°inflexible martinet,¡± and obsessive habits.
(¡°Hoover insisted on the same seats in the
plane, the same rooms in the same hotels.
[He had an] immaculate appearance . . . as
if he had shaved, showered, and put on a
freshly pressed suit for [every] occasion.¡±)
Felt, a more sociable figure, was still a man
in the Hoover mold: disciplined, fiercely
loyal to the men under his command, and
resistant to any force that tried to compromise
the bureau. Felt came to see himself,
in fact, as something of a conscience of
the F.B.I.
Well before Hoover¡¯s death, relations
between the Nixon camp and the
F.B.I. deteriorated. In 1971, Felt was called
to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The president,
Felt was told, had begun ¡°climbing
the walls¡± because someone (a government
insider, Nixon believed) was leaking details
to The New York Times about the administration¡¯s
strategy for upcoming arms talks
with the Soviets. Nixon¡¯s aides wanted the
bureau to find the culprits, either through
wiretaps or by insisting that suspects submit
to lie-detector tests. Such leaks led the
White House to begin employing ex-C.I.A.
types to do their own, homespun spying,
creating its nefarious ¡°Plumbers¡± unit, to
which the Watergate cadre belonged.
Felt arrived at the White House to confront
an odd gathering. Egil ¡°Bud¡±
Krogh Jr., deputy assistant for domestic
affairs, presided, and attendees included
ex-spy E. Howard Hunt and Robert Mardian,
an assistant attorney general¡ª¡°a
balding little man,¡± Felt recalled, ¡°dressed
in what looked like work clothes and dirty
tennis shoes . . . shuffling about the room,
arranging the chairs and I [first] took him
to be a member of the cleaning staff.¡±
(Mardian had been summoned to the
West Wing from a weekend tennis game.)
According to Felt, once the meeting began,
Felt expressed resistance to the idea
of wiretapping suspected leakers without a
court order.
After the session, which ended with no
clear resolution, Krogh¡¯s group began to
have reason to suspect a single Pentagon
employee. Nixon, nonetheless, demanded
that ¡°four or five hundred people in State,
Defense, and so forth [also be polygraphed]
so that we can immediately scare the bastards.¡±
Two days later, as Felt wrote in his
book, he was relieved when Krogh told him
that the administration had decided to let
¡°the Agency,¡± not the F.B.I., ¡°handle the
polygraph interviews. . . . Obviously, John
Ehrlichman [Krogh¡¯s boss, Nixon¡¯s top
domestic-policy adviser, and the head of
the Plumbers unit] had decided to ¡®punish¡¯
the Bureau for what he saw as its lack of
cooperation and its refusal to get involved
in the work which the ¡®Plumbers¡¯ later undertook.¡±
In 1972, tensions between the institutions
deepened when Hoover and Felt resisted
White House pressure to have the F.B.I.
forensics lab declare a particularly damning
memo a forgery¡ªas a way of exonerating
the administration in a corruption scandal.
Believing that trumped-up forgery findings
were improper, and trying to sustain the
reputation of the F.B.I. lab, Felt claimed to
have refused entreaties by John Dean. (The
episode took on elements of the absurd
when Hunt, wearing an ill-fitting red wig,
showed up in Denver in an effort to extract
information from Dita Beard, the communications
lobbyist who had supposedly written
the memo.)
Clearly, Felt harbored increasing contempt
for this curious crew at the White
Deep Throat
130 V A N I T Y F A I R J U L Y 2 0 0 5
House, whom he saw as intent on utilizing
the Justice Department for their political
ends. What¡¯s more, Hoover, who had died
that May, was no longer around to protect
Felt or the bureau¡¯s Old Guard, the F.B.I.
chief having been replaced by an interim
successor, L. Patrick Gray, a Republican
lawyer who hoped to permanently land Hoover¡¯s
job. Gray, with his eyes on that prize,
chose to leave an increasingly frustrated Felt
in charge of the F.B.I.¡¯s day-to-day operations.
Then came the break-in, and a pitched
battle began. ¡°We seemed to be continually
at odds with the White House about almost
everything,¡± Felt wrote, regarding the dark
days of 1972. He soon came to believe that
he was fighting an all-out war for the soul
of the bureau.
As the F.B.I. pushed on with its Watergate
investigation, the White House
threw up more and more barriers. When Felt
and his team believed they could ¡°trace the
source of the money that had been in the
possession of the Watergate ¡®burglars¡¯¡± to a
bank in Mexico City, Gray, according to
Felt, ¡°flatly ordered [Felt] to call off any interviews¡±
in Mexico because they ¡°might
upset¡± a C.I.A. operation there. Felt and
his key deputies sought a meeting with
Gray. ¡°Look,¡± Felt recalled telling his boss,
¡°the reputation of the FBI is at stake. . . .
Unless we get a request in writing [from the
C.I.A.] to forgo the [Mexico] interview, we¡¯re
going ahead anyway!
¡°That¡¯s not all,¡± Felt supposedly added.
¡°We must do something about the complete
lack of cooperation from John Dean and
the Committee to Reelect the President. It¡¯s
obvious they¡¯re holding back¡ªdelaying and
leading us astray in every way they know.
We expect this sort of thing when we are investigating
organized crime. . . . The whole
thing is going to explode right in the President¡¯s
At a subsequent meeting, according to
Felt, Gray asked whether the investigation
could be confined to ¡°these seven subjects,¡±
referring to the five burglars, plus Hunt and
Liddy. Felt responded, ¡°We will be going
much higher than these seven. These men
are the pawns. We want the ones who
moved the pawns.¡± Agreeing with his team,
Gray chose to stay the course and continue
the probe.
Felt¡¯s book gives no indication that during
this same period he decided to go outside
the bounds of government to expose
the corruption within Nixon¡¯s team¡ªor to
overcome the impediments they were placing
on his ability to do his job. There are
only scant clues that he might have decided
to pass along secrets to The Washington
Post; in fact, Felt makes a point of categorically
denying he is Deep Throat. But, in
truth, the White House had begun asking for
Felt¡¯s head, even though Gray adamantly
defended his deputy. Felt would write:
Gray confided to me, ¡°You know, Mark, [Attorney
General] Dick Kleindienst told me that
I might have to get rid of you. He says White
House staff members are convinced that you
are the FBI source of leaks to Woodward and
Bernstein.¡± . . .
I said, ¡°Pat, I haven¡¯t leaked anything to
anybody. They are wrong!¡± . . .
¡°I believe you,¡± Gray answered, ¡°but the
White House doesn¡¯t. Kleindienst has told me
on three or four occasions to get rid of you
but I refused. He didn¡¯t say this came from
higher up but I am convinced that it did.¡±
It is clear from the Watergate tapes that
Felt was indeed one of the targets of
Nixon¡¯s wrath. In October 1972, Nixon insisted
he would ¡°fire the whole Goddamn
Bureau,¡± and singled out Felt, whom he
thought to be part of a plot to undermine
him through frequent press leaks. ¡°Is he a
Catholic?¡± he asked his trusted adviser H. R.
Haldeman, who replied that Felt was Jewish.
(Felt, of Irish descent, is not Jewish and
claims no religious affiliation.) Nixon, who
sometimes suggested that a Jewish conspiracy
might be at the root of his problems,
seemed surprised. ¡°Christ,¡± he said, ¡°[the
bureau] put a Jew in there? . . . It could be
the Jewish thing. I don¡¯t know. It¡¯s always a
It was Gray, however, not Felt, who became
the fall guy. At Gray¡¯s confirmation
hearings, in February 1973, he was abandoned
by his onetime allies in the West
Wing and was left to ¡°twist slowly, slowly in
the wind,¡± in the words of Nixon aide John
Ehrlichman. With Gray now gone, Felt had
lost his last sponsor and protector. Next up
was interim F.B.I. director Ruckelshaus,
who ultimately resigned as assistant attorney
general in Nixon¡¯s Saturday Night Massacre.
Felt left the bureau that same year
and went on the lecture circuit.
Then, in 1978, Felt was indicted on
charges of having authorized illegal F.B.I.
break-ins earlier in the decade, in which
agents without warrants entered the residences
of associates and family members of
suspected bombers believed to be involved
with the Weather Underground. The career
agent was arraigned as hundreds of F.B.I.
colleagues, outside the courthouse, demonstrated
on his behalf. Felt, over the strong
objections of his lawyers that the jury had
been improperly instructed, claimed that he
was following established law-enforcement
procedures for break-ins when national security
was at stake. Even so, Felt was convicted
two years later. Then, in a stroke of
good fortune while his case was on appeal,
Ronald Reagan was elected president and,
in 1981, gave Felt a full pardon.
Felt and his wife had always looked forward
to a retirement where they could live
J U L Y 2 0 0 5
Parsed Throat
Felt, Fielding, and
a raft of other candidates
eep Throat¡±¡ªa phrase derived
from the title of the popular porn
film at the time¡ªwas the code
name by which Washington Post insiders
referred to Bob Woodward¡¯s confidential
Watergate source. ¡°Watergate¡± was the
nickname used for the political-conspiracyand-
cover-up scandal that had been set
in motion in 1972 when five men were
arrested during a botched break-in at the
headquarters of the Democratic National
Committee, located in the Watergate,
Washington, D.C.¡¯s famous hotel-apartmentand-
office complex.
Other figures who have been mentioned
as plausible Deep Throat suspects
include: F.B.I. officials Robert Kunkel and
L. Patrick Gray (the bureau¡¯s acting director,
who lived four blocks from Woodward);
Nixon speechwriters Patrick
Buchanan, David Gergen, and Raymond
Price; Deputy Press Secretary Gerald
Warren; Republican strategist John
Sears; White House counsels Len Garment
and Jonathan Rose; Assistant
Attorney General Henry Peterson; presidential
aide Stephen Bull; Alexander
Butterfield, Nixon¡¯s deputy assistant (who
disclosed the existence of Nixon¡¯s Oval
Office tape-recording system); Al Haig,
top aide to national-security adviser
Henry Kissinger; and Kissinger himself.
As a project in his University of Illinois
investigative-journalism class, Professor
Bill Gaines had his students attempt to
identify Deep Throat; in 2003 they determined
the likeliest prospect to be Fred
Fielding, White House deputy counsel
and assistant to John Dean, who became
a central Watergate player. Other suspects
who have emerged in recent years
have included Gerald Ford (Nixon¡¯s
vice president) and the U.N. ambassador
at the time, George H. W. Bush.
Ex¨CWashington Post editor Barry Sussman
has provided strong evidence that
Deep Throat was an F.B.I. source; the
case for Felt has been made persuasively
by several writers, including Ronald Kessler
and James Mann.
comfortably and bask proudly in his accomplishments.
But as he endured years of
courtroom travails, they both felt betrayed
by the country he had served. Audrey, always
an intense person, suffered profound
stress, anxiety, and nervous exhaustion,
which both of them bitterly blamed on his
legal troubles. Long after her early passing,
in 1984, Felt continued to cite the strain of
his prosecution as a major factor in the death
of his wife.
Aweek after our festive dinner in 2002,
Nick Jones introduced me to his mother,
Joan Felt¡ªdynamic and open-minded,
high-strung and overworked, proud and
protective of her father, slim and attractive
(she had been an actress for a time)¡ªand
to his grandfather. Felt, then 88, was a
chipper, easygoing man with a hearty laugh
and an enviable shock of white hair. His
eyes sparkled and his handshake was firm.
Though he required the assistance of a metal
walker on his daily rounds, having sustained
a stroke the year before, he was
nonetheless engaged and engaging.
I soon realized the urgency behind
Nick¡¯s request. A few weeks before¡ªpossibly
in anticipation of the 30th anniversary
of the Watergate break-in¡ªa reporter for
the Globe tabloid, Dawna Kaufmann, had
called Joan to ask whether her father was
actually Deep Throat. Joan talked briefly
about Woodward¡¯s mysterious visit three
years before. Kaufmann then wrote a piece
headlined DEEP THROAT EXPOSED! In her
story she quoted a young man by the
name of Chase Culeman-Beckman. He had
claimed, in a 1999 Hartford Courant article,
that while attending summer camp in
1988 a young friend of his named Jacob
Bernstein¡ªthe son of Carl Bernstein and
writer Nora Ephron¡ªhad divulged a secret,
mentioning that his father had told
him that a man named Mark Felt was the
infamous Deep Throat. Ephron and Bernstein,
divorced by 1999, both asserted that
Felt was the favorite suspect of Ephron¡¯s,
and that Bernstein had never disclosed
Deep Throat¡¯s identity. According to Bernstein¡¯s
response at the time, their son
was simply repeating his mother¡¯s guess.
(When approached by reporters speculating
about Deep Throat¡¯s identity, Woodward
and Bernstein have consistently refused
to divulge it.)
Soon after the Globe article appeared,
Joan Felt received a frantic phone call from
Yvette La Garde. During the late 1980s, following
his wife¡¯s death, Felt and La Garde
had become close friends and frequent social
companions. ¡°Why is he announcing it
now?¡± a worried La Garde asked Joan. ¡°I
thought he wouldn¡¯t be revealed until he
was dead.¡±
Joan pounced. ¡°Announcing what?¡± she
wanted to know.
La Garde, apparently sensing that Joan
did not know the truth, pulled back, then
finally owned up to the secret she had
kept for years. Felt, La Garde said, had
confided to her that he had indeed been
Woodward¡¯s source, but had sworn her
to silence. Joan then confronted her father,
who initially denied it. ¡°I know now that
you¡¯re Deep Throat,¡± she remembers telling
him, explaining La Garde¡¯s disclosure.
His response: ¡°Since that¡¯s the case, well,
yes, I am.¡± Then and there, she pleaded
with him to announce his role immediately
so that he could have some closure, and accolades,
while he was still alive. Felt reluctantly
agreed, then changed his mind. He
seemed determined to take his secret with
him to the grave.
But it turned out that Yvette La Garde
had also told others. A decade before,
she had shared her secret with her eldest
son, Mickey, now retired¡ªa fortunate
confidant, given his work as an army lieutenant
colonel based at NATO military
headquarters (requiring a top-secret security
clearance). Mickey La Garde says he
has remained mum about the revelation
ever since: ¡°My mom¡¯s condo unit was
in Watergate and I¡¯d see Mark,¡± he recalls.
¡°In one of those visits, in 1987 or ¡¯88, she
confided to [my wife] Dee and I that
Mark had, in fact, been the Deep Throat
that brought down the Nixon administration.
I don¡¯t think Mom¡¯s ever told anyone
Dee La Garde, a C.P.A. and government
auditor, corroborates her husband¡¯s account.
¡°She confessed it,¡± Dee recalls. ¡°The three
of us might have been at the kitchen table
in her apartment. There¡¯s no question in my
mind that she identified him. You¡¯re the first
person I¡¯ve discussed this with besides my
The day of her father¡¯s grand admission,
Joan left for class, and Felt went for a ride
with Atama Batisaresare, an assisted-living
aide. Felt, as a rule, exhibited a calm demeanor,
letting his thoughts wander from
one topic to another. On this trip, however,
so Batisaresare later told Joan and me, Felt
became highly agitated and focused on
one subject, which sort of came out of the
blue. The caregiver now recalls, in his thick
Fijian accent, ¡°He did tell me, ¡®An F.B.I.
man should have loyalty to the department.¡¯
He talked about loyalty. He didn¡¯t
mention he was a Deep Throat. He told
me he didn¡¯t want to do it, but ¡®it was
my duty to do it, regarding Nixon.¡¯¡± (Felt
would frequently return to this theme.
While watching a Watergate TV special
that month, he and Joan heard his name
come up as a Deep Throat candidate. Joan,
trying to elicit a response, deliberately questioned
her father in the third person: ¡°Do
you think Deep Throat wanted to get rid of
Nixon?¡± Joan says that Felt replied, ¡°No,
I wasn¡¯t trying to bring him down.¡± He
claimed, instead, that he was ¡°only doing
his duty.¡±)
On that Sunday in May when I first met
Mark Felt, he was particularly concerned
about how bureau personnel, then
and now, had come to regard Deep Throat.
He seemed to be struggling inside with
whether he would be seen as a decent man
or a turncoat. I stressed that F.B.I. agents
and prosecutors now thought Deep Throat
a patriot, not a rogue. And I emphasized
that one of the reasons he might want to
announce his identity would be for the very
purpose of telling the story from his point
of view.
Still, I could see he was equivocating.
¡°He was amenable at first,¡± his grandson
Nick recalls. ¡°Then he was wavering. He
was concerned about bringing dishonor to
our family. We thought it was totally cool.
It was more about honor than about any
kind of shame [to] Grandpa. . . . To this day,
he feels he did the right thing.¡±
At the end of our conversation, Felt
seemed inclined to reveal himself, but refused
to commit. ¡°I¡¯ll think about what
you have said, and I¡¯ll let you know of my
decision,¡± he told me very firmly that day.
In the meantime, I told him, I would take
on his cause pro bono, helping him find a
reputable publisher if he decided to go that
route. (I have written this piece, in fact, after
witnessing the decline of Felt¡¯s health
and mental acuity, and after receiving his
and Joan¡¯s permission to reveal this information,
normally protected by provisions of
lawyer-client privilege. The Felts were not
paid for cooperating with this story.)
Our talks dragged on, however. Felt told
Joan that he had other worries. He wondered
¡°what the judge would think¡± (meaning:
were he to expose his past, might he
leave himself open to prosecution for his
actions?). He seemed genuinely conflicted.
Joan took to discussing the issue in a circumspect
way, sometimes referring to Deep
Throat by yet another code name, Joe
Camel. Nevertheless, the more we talked,
the more forthright Felt became. On several
occasions he confided to me, ¡°I¡¯m the guy
they used to call Deep Throat.¡±
He also opened up to his son. In previous
years, when Felt¡¯s name had come up
as a Deep Throat suspect, Felt had always
bristled. ¡°His attitude was: I don¡¯t think
[being Deep Throat] was anything to be
proud of,¡± Mark junior says. ¡°You [should]
not leak information to anyone.¡± Now his
Deep Throat
132 V A N I T Y F A I R J U L Y 2 0 0 5
father was admitting he had done just that.
¡°Making the decision [to go to the press]
would have been difficult, painful, and excruciating,
and outside the bounds of his
life¡¯s work. He would not have done it if he
didn¡¯t feel it was the only way to get around
the corruption in the White House and Justice
Department. He was tortured inside,
but never would show it. He was not this
Hal Holbrook character. He was not an
edgy person. [Even though] it would be the
most difficult decision of his life, he wouldn¡¯t
have pined over it.¡±
At one lunch at a scenic restaurant overlooking
the Pacific, Joan and Mark sat
their father down to lay out the case for
full, public disclosure. Felt
argued with them, according
to his son, warning them
not to betray him. ¡°I don¡¯t
want this out,¡± Felt said.
¡°And if it got in the papers,
I¡¯d guess I¡¯d know who put
it there.¡± But they persisted.
They explained that they
wanted their father¡¯s legacy
to be heroic and permanent,
not anonymous. And beyond
their main motive¡ª
posterity¡ªthey thought that
there might eventually be
some profit in it. ¡°Bob Woodward¡¯s
gonna get all the
glory for this, but we could
make at least enough money
to pay some bills, like
the debt I¡¯ve run up for the
kids¡¯ education,¡± Joan recalls
saying. ¡°Let¡¯s do it for
the family.¡± With that, both
children remember, he finally
agreed. ¡°He wasn¡¯t particularly
interested,¡± Mark
says, ¡°but he said, ¡®That¡¯s a good reason.¡¯¡±
Felt had come to an interim decision: he
would ¡°cooperate,¡± but only with the
assistance of Bob Woodward. Acceding to
his wishes, Joan and I spoke to Woodward
by phone on a half-dozen occasions over a
period of months about whether to make a
joint revelation, possibly in the form of a
book or an article. Woodward would sometimes
begin these conversations with a
caveat, saying, more or less, ¡°Just because
I¡¯m talking to you, I¡¯m not admitting that he
is who you think he is.¡± Then he¡¯d express
his chief concerns, which were twofold, as I
recall. First, was this something that Joan
and I were pushing on Felt, or did he actually
want to reveal himself of his own accord?
(I interpreted this to mean: was he
changing the long-standing agreement the
men had kept for three decades?) Second,
was Felt actually in a clear mental state? To
make his own assessment, Woodward told
Joan and me, he wanted to come out and
sit down with her father again, not having
seen him since their lunch.
¡°We went through a period where he
did call a bit,¡± Joan says of her discussions
with Woodward. (Nick says he sometimes
answered the phone and spoke with him,
too.) ¡°He¡¯s always been very gracious. We
talked about doing a book with Dad, and
I think he was considering. That was my
understanding. He didn¡¯t say no at first. . . .
Then he kept kind of putting me off on
this book, saying, ¡®Joan, don¡¯t press me.¡¯
. . . For him the issue was competency: was
Dad competent to release him from the
agreement the two of them had made not
to say anything until after Dad died? At one
point I said, ¡®Bob, just between you and
me, off the record, I want you to confirm:
was Deep Throat my dad?¡¯ He wouldn¡¯t
do that. I said, ¡®If he¡¯s not, you can at least
tell me that. We could put this to rest.¡¯ And
he said, ¡®I can¡¯t do that.¡¯¡±
Joan says that during this period Woodward
had at least two phone conversations
with Felt ¡°without anyone else listening.
Dad¡¯s memory gradually has deteriorated
since the original lunch they had, [but] Dad
remembered Bob whenever he called. . . . I
said, ¡®Bob, it¡¯s unusual for Dad to remember
someone as clearly as you.¡¯¡± She says
that Woodward responded, ¡°He has good
reason to remember me.¡±
Woodward spoke with Mark junior at
his home in Florida, as well. ¡°He called me
and discussed whether or not, and when,
to visit Dad,¡± he says. ¡°I asked him briefly,
¡®Are you ever going to put this Deep
Throat issue public?¡¯ And he said, essentially,
that he made promises to my dad or
someone that he wouldn¡¯t reveal this. . . . I
can¡¯t imagine another reason why Woodward
would have any interest in Dad or me
or Joan if Dad wasn¡¯t Deep Throat. His
questions were about Dad¡¯s present condition.
Why would he care so much about
Dad¡¯s health?¡±
According to Joan, Woodward scheduled
two visits to come and see her father and,
so she hoped, to talk about
a possible collaborative venture.
But he had to cancel
both times, she says, then never
rescheduled. ¡°That was disappointing,¡±
she says. ¡°Maybe
[he was] just hoping that I
would forget about it.¡±
Today, Joan Felt has only
positive things to say about
Bob Woodward. ¡°He¡¯s so reassuring
and top-notch,¡± she
insists. They still stay in touch
by e-mail, exchanging good
wishes, their relationship engendered
by a bond her father
had forged in troubled
Nowadays, Mark Felt
watches TV sitting beneath
a large oil painting of
his late wife, Audrey, and
goes for car rides with a
new caregiver. Felt is 91 and
his memory for details seems
to wax and wane. Joan allows
him two glasses of wine each evening,
and on occasion the two harmonize in a
rendition of ¡°The Star-Spangled Banner.¡±
While Felt is a humorous and mellow
man, his spine stiffens and his jaw tightens
when he talks about the integrity of his
dear F.B.I.
I believe that Mark Felt is one of America¡¯s
greatest secret heroes. Deep in his psyche,
it is clear to me, he still has qualms
about his actions, but he also knows that
historic events compelled him to behave as
he did: standing up to an executive branch
intent on obstructing his agency¡¯s pursuit
of the truth. Felt, having long harbored the
ambivalent emotions of pride and selfreproach,
has lived for more than 30 years
in a prison of his own making, a prison
built upon his strong moral principles and
his unwavering loyalty to country and cause.
But now, buoyed by his family¡¯s revelations
and support, he need feel imprisoned no
more. ¡ö
J U L Y 2 0 0 5 133 V A N I T Y F A I R
Felt, seated by his backyard pool,
is joined by his caregiver
Fereimi Boladau, daughter Joan,
and family dog Carlos.

Replies: 1 Comment

on Wednesday, June 1st, sid said

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New Comment
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angry, grr blush confused
cool crazy cry
sleepy hehe LOL
plain jane rolls eyes satisfied


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