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How Deep Throat Fooled the FBI | The Nation

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How Deep Throat Fooled the FBI

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The recent dramatic revelation about W. Mark Felt--the former top FBI man who has confessed to being Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's secret source during the Watergate scandal--has yielded what seems to be the final chapter in the Deep Throat saga, and thus the conclusion to a three-decade-long whodunit rich in detail, psychology and irony.

Research support was provided by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

About the Author

Jeff Goldberg
Jeff Goldberg is an author and independent television producer of documentaries for PBS, BBC and the Discovery Channel.
David Corn
David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. Until 2007, he was Washington editor of The Nation. He has written...

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But Felt's role as the most famous anonymous source in US history was even more complex and intrigue-loaded than the newly revised public account suggests. According to originally confidential FBI documents--some written by Felt--that were obtained by The Nation from the FBI's archives, Felt played another heretofore unknown part in the Watergate tale: He was, at heated moments during the scandal, in charge of finding the source of Woodward and Bernstein's Watergate scoops. In a twist worthy of le Carré, Deep Throat was assigned the mission of unearthing--and stopping--Deep Throat.

This placed Felt, who as the FBI's associate director oversaw the bureau's Watergate probe, in an unusual position. He was essentially in charge of investigating himself. From this vantage point Felt, who had developed espionage skills running FBI counterintelligence operations against German spies in World War II, was able to watch his own back and protect his ability to guide the two reporters whose exposés would help topple the President he served.

Felt at different points became an FBI plumber--in the parlance of the Nixon White House, a "plumber" was an operative who took care of leaks--even though he was the number-one leaker. He was in the perfect spot to deflect any accusations that might implicate him and to misdirect suspicion. And when President Nixon and his top aides became convinced that Felt was a key source for the Washington Post--they still couldn't touch him, because of what he knew about their skulduggery.

The Felt memos do not cover the entire time period (from right after the June 17, 1972, break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters to November 1973) during which Felt assisted Woodward. But when placed alongside the recent disclosure and the previously available accounts--most notably, the Woodward and Bernstein book All the President's Men; Felt's 1979 memoir, The FBI Pyramid (in which he denied he was Deep Throat); and the Nixon White House tapes--these memos (snapshots from inside Felt's world) significantly expand and shift the view that historians and the public now have of the unique, secret space Felt occupied during Watergate.

Immediately after the June break-in, Woodward covered the arraignment of the five burglars. Two days later he called Felt, whom he had been cultivating as a mentor and contact for two years. Woodward had gotten a clue from Watergate burglar Bernard Barker's seized address book that Howard Hunt of the White House might have been involved in the break-in. He was hoping that Felt could confirm his suspicion about Hunt, or steer him off if he was wrong. Felt reported that Hunt was definitely involved in the burglary. He added that things were going to "heat up." Later that day, a nervous Felt assured Woodward that "the FBI regarded Hunt as a prime suspect in the Watergate investigation for many reasons." Thus, Felt had a hand in the first Post front-page story that tied the White House to the break-in.

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