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Watergate anniversary sparks new interest in a deep mystery

John Dean, Richard Nixon's White House counsel, called it a "great mental game to figure out who in the hell this person is. It replaced crossword puzzles." William Gaines, a University of Illinois professor and former reporter, said he relishes a chance to solve "the great journalism mystery of the 20th century."

And so, with the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in on June 17, Gaines and Dean have launched fresh ventures in an effort to reveal, once and for all, the identity of the most famous confidential source, most noteworthy leaker, and most enduring political riddle in American history - Deep Throat.

Dean's e-mail book, trying to finger the person who helped bring down a president, will be published on Salon.com on June 17. Gaines's report, narrowing the candidates to about a half-dozen, tentatively called "A Finder's Guide to Deep Throat," will be released next month.

And a new book on the FBI by a former Washington Post reporter, Ronald Kessler, contains reporting that points the finger at a possible suspect in the FBI.

None of this is virgin territory. Deciphering the identity of Deep Throat has been an ongoing exercise - one that ebbs and flows - for decades. Everyone from Dean to the former Nixon chief of staff, Alexander M. Haig, to the former Nixon press aide turned ABC news star, Diane Sawyer, have been the subject of speculation. And through the years that speculation, predictably, has generated heated denials.

But with this Watergate landmark looming, what one observer calls Washington's favorite parlor game is heating to a boil, with an eruption of media attention certain to follow.

Of course, the people who don't have to guess at the identity aren't talking. Speaking at a Shorenstein Center seminar in Cambridge on March 13, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post would say only that Deep Throat is a man who is still alive. Woodward also restated his position that he would not reveal the identity until his source died or gave him permission to do so. (Woodward did not return calls for this story.)

Woodward's old boss, Ben Bradlee, the Post's former executive editor, , seemed to view the new speculation with seasoned bemusement. "All of these guys are making their second or third try at this," he said. "Sooner or later, someone will come up with this. They haven't yet."

In his book "Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI," Kessler said that in 1999, Woodward traveled to California to pay what appeared to be a social visit to a former deputy associate FBI director, Mark Felt, who was by then aged and infirm. That visit would have occurred shortly after The Hartford Courant reported that Jacob Bernstein, son of Woodward's colleague in the Watergate stories, Carl Bernstein, once told a summer camp friend that he was certain that Felt was Deep Throat.   Continued...

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