W. Mark Felt Sr., ?Deep Throat? in Watergate case; at 95

Associated Press/File 1976''It was not I and it is not I,'' W. Mark Felt Sr. told Washingtonian magazine in 1974. His family revealed his identity as ''Deep Throat'' in 2005. Above, he held up a publication smuggled from Cuba into the United States. Associated Press/File 1976''It was not I and it is not I,'' W. Mark Felt Sr. told Washingtonian magazine in 1974. His family revealed his identity as ''Deep Throat'' in 2005. Above, he held up a publication smuggled from Cuba into the United States. (Associated Press/File 1976)
By Patricia Sullivan and Bob Woodward
Washington Post / December 20, 2008
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WASHINGTON - 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 Thursday. He was 95.

Mr. Felt died at a hospice near his home in Santa Rosa, Calif., where he had been living since August.

Mr. Felt "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 sleep.

As the second-highest official in the FBI under longtime director J. Edgar Hoover and interim director L. Patrick Gray, Mr. 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, which ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.

He secretly 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 enemies.

Mr. Felt 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 Hal Holbrook played the charismatic but shadowy source.

Mr. Felt, 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, though Nixon suspected him from the start.

"It was not I and it is not I," Mr. Felt told Washingtonian magazine in 1974. Five times, Nixon ordered Gray to fire Mr. Felt, but Gray, convinced by Mr. Felt's denials, never did.

It wasn't until May 30, 2005, that Mr. 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 Mr. Felt, who was suffering from dementia, admitted his identity after more than 30 years. Woodward confirmed the revelation.

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, Mr. 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 Reagan.

In his 1979 book, "The FBI Pyramid From the Inside," co-authored with conservative writer Ralph de Toledano, Mr. Felt supported Hoover's bugging of the Rev. Martin Luther King 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.

No one knows exactly what prompted Mr. 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 career disappointment.

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.

In his 2006 book with O'Connor, "A G-Man's Life," Mr. Felt expressed his anger at White House officials who attempted to interfere with the FBI investigation.

"It's 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."

Days after the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Watergate, Mr. 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.

Months later, Mr. 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.

One of the most important encounters between Woodward and his source came Oct. 8, 1972. In the wee hours in a deserted parking garage in northern Virginia, Mr. Felt laid out a much broader view of the scandal than Woodward and Bernstein had imagined.

"On 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 times."

Mr. Felt urged 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.

"Only the president and Mitchell know" everything, he hinted.

It took many newspaper reports, 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 on Aug. 9, 1974.

The Post won journalism's highest honor, the 1973 Pulitzer Prize for public service, for its investigation of the Watergate case.

Mr. Felt was passed over for the job of FBI director a second time, in 1973, and retired from the bureau that summer.

But 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 happened in 1972 and 1973.

Mr. Felt said he approved the break-ins of 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.

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."

Five months later, Reagan pardoned Mr. Felt and Miller.

William Mark Felt Sr. was born 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.

After completing law school at George Washington University in 1940, he worked briefly at the Federal Trade Commission before joining the FBI to work in counterintelligence.

He moved to Washington to work for two Idaho Democrats, Senators James Pope and David Worth Clark, while attending night law school at George Washington University. He graduated in 1940.

Working at the Federal Trade Commission, Mr. Felt 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.

Mr. Felt moved to Santa Rosa from Alexandria, Va., in 1989. He had a stroke in 1999 and a second stroke in 2001.

His son, Mark, became an Air Force pilot. His daughter became a teacher and lives in Santa Rosa. Mr. Felt also leaves several grandchildren.

Because of questions about his memory by 2005, it is unclear whether Mr. Felt or coauthor 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?"

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