Sala de Prensa

Enero 2009
Año X, Vol. 4




El obituario de The Washington Post

'Deep Throat' Mark Felt Dies at 95

Patricia Sullivan *

Mark Felt, rodeado por su hija y su nieto. (AP)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 was 95.

Felt died at 12:45 p.m. at his home in Santa Rosa, Calif.

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.

"He slipped away," she said.

As the 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.

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.

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 actor Hal Holbrook played the charismatic but shadowy source.

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, 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."

It 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 finally out.

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.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 loyalist.

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 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," 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.

"From the 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 our inquiries...

"I really 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.

Months later, 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 Rosslyn, Felt laid out a much broader view of the scandal than Woodward and Bernstein had yet 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."

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 himself.

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

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.

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 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."

Five months later, Reagan pardoned Felt and Miller.

William Mark 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.

After law 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.

Assigned to 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.

Mark Felt, en 1958 (AP)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 retired.

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.

In 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" television series.

By 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.

After Hoover's 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.

While Gray 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.

Ruckelshaus 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 grandchildren.

Because of 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

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