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Deconstructing Deep Throat

A new, comprehensive analysis theorizes that while the FBI’s Mark Felt was the “Throat,” a more familiar Watergate character was the “Deep.”

John Dean in 2006, who the author suspects has purposely obscured the issues that remain unsolved in the Watergate case. Photograph by Joe Marquette/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Philip T. Mellinger is a high-tech security analyst who is currently chief scientist at Trusted Knight Corporation in Annapolis, creating anti-malware solutions for the financial industry. During his 30-year career in computer science, he has served with the National Security Agency, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the US Air Force, and two federal think tanks. His duties as a federal agent included investigating anonymity and leaks on the Internet. He became interested in Watergate in 2004 when he read about efforts to trace the anonymous source Deep Throat.

Early on the morning of June 17, 1972, five men were arrested while burglarizing the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate office complex. Two days later, a secret source began guiding the investigative efforts of the Washington Post in unraveling the involvement of President Richard Nixon’s White House in the break-in and subsequent coverup. Some 17 months later, the same secret source hinted that someone had deliberately erased White House tape recordings—a hint that would blossom into the infamous “18½-minute gap.”

Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein first revealed the existence of this secret source, code-named Deep Throat, in their 1974 book, All the President’s Men. Through Woodward and Bernstein, Deep Throat helped bring down a President and win the Washington Post a Pulitzer Prize.

But who was Deep Throat? For more than three decades, experts and amateurs alike analyzed clues to Deep Throat’s identity. In June and July 1974, The Washingtonian’s Jack Limpert made a case that the source likely was the former number-two man in the FBI, Mark Felt. But Felt managed to shrug off the identification, and without Woodward’s confirmation or other compelling evidence, no one was able to break his cover credibly.

Finally, on May 31, 2005, Felt admitted in Vanity Fair that he was Deep Throat. Suddenly, the mystery appeared to be solved, especially when Woodward confirmed Felt’s admission and followed it with publication of his book The Secret Man, about his long and complicated relationship with Felt.

But the mystery doesn’t end there. A methodical, multi-year analysis reveals—as other investigators and commentators also have suggested over the years—that Mark Felt wasn’t the primary source of the information he passed to Woodward. The initial source—the real Deep Throat—was someone much closer to the center of the Nixon White House, and someone who has made a career of commenting on the scandal.

• • •

Mark Felt fed Bob Woodward a steady diet of Watergate insights—reported in some 200 articles in the Post—between June 19, 1972, and the first week of November 1973, a period covering 500 days. Because Felt had been the FBI’s deputy director, reporters and others assumed that the information he gave Woodward came from FBI files.

In All the President’s Men, Woodward quotes Deep Throat on the supposed source of his Watergate information: “It’s all in the files.” It seemed an obvious explanation: Felt, as the FBI’s number two, got his information from the FBI’s Watergate investigation. But for years no one bothered to check.

In fact, according to The Secret Man, the book he wrote following Felt’s admission to being Deep Throat, Woodward visited the FBI archives prior to the 20th anniversary of the Watergate arrests—and failed to locate the information Felt had provided. Without directly admitting that he couldn’t find the information in the files, Woodward noted that “there was more to [Felt’s] knowledge than the written record in FBI files.”

That the information couldn’t be found in FBI files indicates not only that Felt hadn’t gotten his information from the FBI’s investigation but also that he hadn’t shared the information he gave Woodward with FBI personnel investigating Watergate.

So where did Felt get his Watergate knowledge? What, or who, was the source of his inside information about Watergate?

The week after Felt retired from the FBI, John Wesley Dean III, President Nixon’s fired legal counsel—who would later plead guilty to obstruction of justice and serve time in jail—testified against the President on national television for five days. Dean began his testimony by reading a 245-page statement. His calm demeanor, remarkable memory, and clarity of thought under intense questioning were impressive. His testimony validated much of what Deep Throat had told Woodward and that the Post had printed about Watergate.

Behind closed doors in the White House, Dean had hinted at a Deep Throat–type character long before Woodward publicly acknowledged his existence. Only weeks after the Watergate arrests, White House chief of staff H.R. “Bob” Haldeman told President Nixon in a taped conversation, “Dean hasn’t discounted that we’re dealing with a double agent in this thing somewhere.”

The President tried to get clarification: “A double agent that is putting out this information, giving leads, or what?”

No one knew.

After the release of All the President’s Men, one reporter suggested that Dean might have been the double agent, attempting to legitimize his own testimony by having it appear to be corroborated in the Post. Following Felt’s 2005 admission that he was Deep Throat, Dean again raised the notion of a White House double agent: “Was Woodward by [November 1973] aware that Felt had an agent inside the White House, or a mole?” he wrote in an article, “Why the Revelation of the Identity of Deep Throat Has Only Created Another Mystery,” posted on the legal Web site FindLaw.

As it turns out, in the three decades since the Watergate break-in, Dean has been the most active and vocal commentator on the case and on the mysteries still surrounding it. But his remarks—in books, articles, lectures, and interviews—have done more to obfuscate than to illuminate the issues that remain unresolved. And from the outset, that seems to have been his intent.

Next: The search for Deep Throat

Following the release of All the President’s Men, there were three noteworthy attempts to identify Deep Throat through analysis of the information he gave Bob Woodward. The first was completed in a very short time, the second was a team effort that spanned several years, and the third—John Dean’s solo effort—lasted more than three decades. All three shared one feature: None identified Mark Felt as a person likely to have first-hand the knowledge that Deep Throat provided to Woodward.

In 1974, St. Louis Post-Dispatch researcher Mark Olshaker was assigned to locate the Washington Post’s sources for its Watergate stories. Within weeks of Woodward’s disclosing the existence of Deep Throat in All the President’s Men, Olshaker theorized in an article in New Times magazine, based on his analysis of the information attributed to Deep Throat, that John Dean might be the secret source. Olshaker also named Dean’s deputy, Fred Fielding, as a possible candidate based on Fielding’s proximity to Dean and the fact that Fielding—but not Dean—was still in the White House on November 4, 1973, when Deep Throat gave Woodward a tip that “deliberate erasures” had been made to one or more tape recordings of Oval Office conversations.

In his 1982 book, Lost Honor, Dean refuted Olshaker’s theory:

“Many names were tossed into the public till, and it was inevitable, I suppose, that mine would be among them… . [Olshaker] suggested that I might be double-agenting my way out of the mess I was in because I knew the story was bound to come out anyway and figured I might ‘legitimatize’ my own information by having it appear in the Post.

The second, more formal attempt to trace Deep Throat’s knowledge came to a conclusion similar to Olshaker’s. From 1999 to 2003, University of Illinois professor William Gaines, a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and his journalism students analyzed the information provided by Deep Throat in an effort to discover his identity.

Gaines and his students pared the list of candidates down to either Dean or someone close to him, ultimately eliminating Dean from contention because he wasn’t in the White House at the time of Deep Throat’s “deliberate erasures” tip; Gaines gave the nod instead to Dean’s deputy, Fred Fielding, noting that Fielding knew much of the same information as Dean and was in the White House at the time of the tip.

Dean dedicated his 2002 book, Unmasking Deep Throat, to Gaines and his students’ efforts but dismissed Gaines’s nominee, Fred Fielding, from contention, claiming that Woodward had assured staffers for President Ronald Reagan that Fielding wasn’t Deep Throat when Fielding was under consideration to become Reagan’s White House counsel. As Tim Noah has written in Slate, there is no corroboration or evidence that Woodward gave anyone any such assurance, and Woodward has remained silent on the subject.

In 2005, after Felt had admitted being Deep Throat, William Gaines concluded in an online article titled “We Were Wrong” that, despite Felt’s admission, an “[e]xamination of Throat’s words and the newspaper stories that resulted shows that much of the information was far removed from the FBI, and instead was White House insider information.”

The third, most extensive, longest, and ultimately contradictory effort to identify Deep Throat was conducted by John Dean himself. Over three decades, he has propounded a profusion of Deep Throat theories and candidates of his own, ranging from former Watergate prosecutor Earl Silbert to former Nixon White House speechwriter David Gergen to former Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig.

Next: Deep Throat and Dean—Déjà Vu?

On October 23, 1976, Victor Wilson of Newhouse News Service reviewed Dean’s book Blind Ambition and noted a “twice-told tale” experience: “In fact, many passages have the familiar ring of lengthy quotations attributed by reporters to unnamed sources.” Referring to the unnamed source who informed Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein about Watergate, Wilson wrote: “Though still unnamed, Deep Throat sounds exactly like author Dean in passage after passage quoted earlier by the two reporters … . Could Dean be that first-hand source?”

An example: In Blind Ambition, Dean wrote that he received two warnings on April 20, 1973—one from his attorney, concerned that Dean’s life might be in danger, and a second from Dean’s deputy, Fred Fielding, who told Dean, “Be careful what you say, because I’m worried that my phone might be bugged.”

Now for the déjà vu: Felt gave Woodward the same two warnings on May 16, 1973. In one of the most famous scenes in the movie All the President’s Men, Woodward types out the warnings in a note to Bernstein: “Everyone’s life is in danger” and “Deep Throat says that electronic surveillance is going on and we had better watch it.” In Blind Ambition, Dean wrote that Woodward and Bernstein later forwarded him the warning about “everyone’s life” being in danger.

Tracking the Origins of Felt’s Watergate Information

In 2002, Roger Depue, a forensic psychologist formerly with the FBI, used psycholinguistics to analyze Deep Throat’s quotes in All the President’s Men. Based on wording and phraseology, Depue estimated Deep Throat’s age, education, and type of work and concluded that Mark Felt was likely Deep Throat—three years before Felt admitted being the secret source.

But if the words sounded like Felt, the information—as Olshaker, Gaines, and I have determined—matched the information known to and supplied by Dean, or perhaps Dean’s deputy, Fred Fielding. Put words and information together and Deep Throat appears to be Felt transmitting information provided by Dean. If Felt was the Throat, Dean was the Deep.

Felt avoided giving Woodward information from FBI files, so the information couldn’t be tied to him or the Bureau. If Felt gave Woodward only information that originated from Dean, it couldn’t be traced to the FBI or Felt—a nearly perfect cutout operation. No wonder for decades no one was able to tie Deep Throat’s information to Felt or the FBI.

With the identification of Felt as Deep Throat, it became possible to assess Woodward’s use of unidentified sources. To do so, I set out to analyze each piece of information that Felt gave Woodward.

There are four main repositories of Felt’s Watergate revelations. First, Woodward made notes of his interactions with Felt, though only portions have been made available to the public. Second, Woodward and Bernstein published some 200 Washington Post articles between June 19, 1972, and the publication of Felt’s final tip on November 8, 1973; some of these contain snippets of information from Felt, though they’re unattributed. Third, Woodward reconstructed his interactions with Deep Throat for the book All the President’s Men. Finally, Hollywood made Woodward and Bernstein’s book into a movie, to which Woodward apparently contributed at least one new Deep Throat morsel—that White House “plumber” G. Gordon Liddy had once held his hand over a burning candle to prove he could endure pain.

Next: Gathering information on Deep Throat

To determine the source of the information Felt passed to Woodward, I collected all the passages referring to Deep Throat from All the President’s Men into one electronic document. About 18 pages of text from the book and eight short scenes from the movie wound up in this Deep Throat “database.”

Some 57 book passages and one movie scene in the database appeared to contain “traceable” Deep Throat information—that is, information with sufficient specificity to allow its origins to be determined. If the information was too widely known, the source would be impossible to trace.

I then distilled the book and movie passages into 46 topics. All references to the same topic were combined, and each topic was assigned a name and number based on its earliest appearance in the book and movie.

Next I gathered all available sources of Watergate information—ideally those disclosed by or at least known to the sources of such information prior to the release of All the President’s Men. I then searched Watergate material for other references to each topic. I conducted two evaluations of each of the 46 topics. First, I compared the information Felt gave Woodward with the information contained in FBI Watergate files. Second, I searched Watergate testimony, books by Watergate participants, court records, and archives in an attempt to identify the origins of the information for each topic: Who knew the information and when?

While some topics could be single-sourced and others had more than one possible source, time after time my analysis revealed that the Deep Throat operation came down to one common source: John Dean shared his Watergate knowledge with Mark Felt, and Felt then shared it with Bob Woodward, who wrongly assumed that it came from the FBI investigation.

My next step was to gather Watergate information known to Dean prior to the release of All the President’s Men. Dean and his lawyers met with Watergate prosecutors in an attempt to obtain immunity, and prosecutors carefully documented the information Dean provided them. Then there was Dean’s extensive testimony before the Senate, after which he continued to communicate with prosecutors and reveal information, such as the admission that he’d destroyed notebooks, retrieved earlier from White House “plumber” E. Howard Hunt’s safe, that Hunt said contained the names of people who had planned and approved the Watergate operation (including, erroneously, Dean).

Dean’s book Blind Ambition, though released after All the President’s Men, contained information consistent with the information Felt had given Woodward. Curiously, there was no mention of Deep Throat in Dean’s book. Dean verbally communicated this information to ghostwriter Taylor Branch, perhaps without realizing that it might later show that he was the source of Deep Throat’s knowledge.

Finally, I evaluated the way Dean traced the information following the release of All the President’s Men. Did Dean recast the information or delete critical phrases or use any other techniques to change or discredit Deep Throat’s information in some way?

The first traceable information encountered from Deep Throat in All the President’s Men was that Howard Hunt was involved in Watergate—information, according to the book, that Felt gave Woodward some time before 3 PM on June 19, 1972. Dean wrote in Blind Ambition that he learned of Hunt’s involvement in Watergate from Gordon Liddy at an 11:15 AM meeting on June 19, 1972—a matter of hours before Felt gave Woodward the information. Except for Felt, no one in the FBI yet knew of Hunt’s Watergate involvement. And besides Hunt and Liddy, the only other people who knew of Hunt’s involvement (or even his real name) were in jail and hadn’t made any phone calls.

Another example: On October 9, 1972, Felt told Woodward that Hunt had “manufactured items” for the press. Few people knew that Hunt had fabricated military cables and disseminated them to the press in his work at the White House. Dean had gained access to the fabricated cables from Hunt’s safe on the evening of June 19, 1972, and passed them nine days later to acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, who subsequently destroyed them.

One of the most memorable examples didn’t appear in the book All the President’s Men but became a famous scene in the 1975 movie, in which Deep Throat tells Woodward, “I was at a party once and Liddy put his hand over a candle and kept it there—he kept it in the flame until his flesh was burned. Somebody said, ‘What’s the trick?’ and Liddy said, ‘The trick is not minding.’”

According to Dean in Blind Ambition, Liddy told him of the incident in January 1972—including the detail that he had held his hand over a burning candle. Yet in his own book, Will, Liddy wrote that he held his hand over the flame from a cigarette lighter and that he told others “back at the committee” that a pack of matches had gone off in his hand. In any event, the only two accounts that say it was a candle were Deep Throat’s and John Dean’s.

These are but four of the 46 examples of information Deep Throat supplied to Woodward that was known almost exclusively by John Dean at the time. All 46 are outlined here.

This pattern held for the duration of the Deep Throat operation: John Dean would get information, and Mark Felt would later present the information to Bob Woodward.

Next: The FBI was not the source of information

John Dean in Washington in 1973. Over a period of years, Dean has failed to respond to e-mails from the author. Photograph by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

My findings clearly confirm that the FBI was not the source of the information Felt gave Woodward. In only two of the 46 topics analyzed was the FBI the source of the information Felt gave Woodward. In one of these two cases, Patrick Gray was the source: This was the fact that Gray had burned the Hunt files—a detail that wasn’t in FBI files at all but that Gray had confided to John Dean. In the second case, Felt himself knew from his FBI duties of the so-called “Kissinger wiretaps” of reporters and government officials that the FBI had undertaken at the request of the White House for the purported purpose of stopping national-security leaks. This was the only information traced that was in FBI files. (Interestingly, while a separate leak of this information resulted in Felt’s retirement from the FBI, Felt was not the leaker; a different FBI staffer gave the information to a New York Times reporter.) Felt confirmed the wiretaps to Woodward but didn’t leak information from FBI files.

My findings also clearly indicate that Dean was the source of the information Felt gave Woodward. The White House counsel had verifiable prior access to the information Felt gave Woodward in 43 of the 46 cases—no one else was even a close second. In these 43 cases, few others besides Dean had the information before Felt gave it to Woodward. Dean had proximity to others with the information in two of the three remaining cases. In the last case, the information was traced to the White House after Dean had departed, but his documented actions indicate that he likely also knew the information.

All evidence consistently suggests that Dean was the actual source of the information that Felt passed to Woodward. Removing Dean from the list of possible Felt sources means that dozens of people would have to have shared the individual bits of Watergate information with Felt that Dean alone could have provided. The odds that this many people would give Felt sensitive Watergate information and none would later realize that Felt was Deep Throat is extremely unlikely. Only Dean could have been the single source for the totality of the information that Felt gave Woodward.

John Dean has not responded to e-mails over a period of years containing questions about his role in the revelation of Watergate information to the Washington Post, or to an e-mail request for a meeting with me. When asked by Mother Jones’s David Corn about my conclusion that Dean had been the source behind Deep Throat, Dean replied, “That’s absolute nonsense.”

The Dean/Felt Relationship

That Dean would be in a position to share information with Felt should come as no surprise. The two had a close working relationship—Dean was Felt’s designated contact within the White House both before and during the Watergate investigation. It’s worth noting that prior to telling Woodward of Dean’s expected resignation from the White House, Felt never mentioned Dean’s name to Woodward despite Dean’s direct involvement in many of the situations Felt described—a fact consistent with an attempt by Felt to hide Dean’s involvement from Woodward. After Dean’s resignation, Felt frequently mentioned Dean to Woodward.

Asked about Dean and Felt’s relationship, a former Watergate prosecutor said they were the best of friends. It appears Dean and Felt’s relationship ended when Dean’s admission to destroying the Hunt notebooks became public on November 5, 1973. Not surprisingly, Dean never acknowledged his relationship with Felt even after Felt admitted in 2005 that he was Deep Throat.

So why did Dean and Felt do it? Dean provided Felt with Watergate information in a likely attempt to implicate others with Watergate responsibility. Other than Dean’s attendance at some early intelligence-planning meetings, Dean doesn’t appear to have been directly involved in approving the Watergate operation. The Hunt notebooks that Dean destroyed wrongly implicated Dean in the approval of the Watergate operation.

On January 28, 1972, Gordon Liddy briefed Attorney General John Mitchell, John Dean, and Jeb Magruder, Mitchell’s deputy at the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP), on a million-dollar proposal for intelligence-gathering in the upcoming campaign. Mitchell rejected the plan as too expensive. On February 4, 1972, Liddy briefed Mitchell, Dean, and Magruder on a half-million-dollar proposal. Mitchell again rejected Liddy’s plan. Liddy told Howard Hunt that Dean attended the meetings. Hunt recorded Dean’s attendance at the Watergate planning meetings in his notebooks. Liddy later received approval for the project and advised Hunt, who assumed that Mitchell, Dean, and Magruder were involved in the approval. Hunt recorded this erroneous conclusion in the notebooks that Dean later retrieved and destroyed.

Mark Felt’s motive appears to have been more selfish. His leaking of what seemed to be FBI information made it appear that acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray was manipulating the FBI’s Watergate investigation to protect the White House. In a June 17, 2009, lecture at the Nixon library, Dean himself, when asked if he was surprised that Felt was Deep Throat, replied, “I was disappointed. I had hoped it would be somebody with somewhat loftier motives than Mark Felt, who was trying to ease out Pat Gray and gain the appointment as permanent director of the FBI because he wanted his job… .” Felt avoided passing findings from the FBI’s investigation to Woodward to prevent his own involvement with the Washington Post from being uncovered.

Next: Three decades of muddling

Dean’s putative 30-year quest to identify Deep Throat appears to have been an ongoing attempt to prevent others from tracing Deep Throat’s information and identifying Dean as its source. Dean generated a series of Deep Throat candidates and theories that muddied the issue, systematically modifying, misinterpreting, and omitting information that was traceable to him. A brief distillation:

• Within months of the publication of All the President’s Men, Mark Felt told The Washingtonian’s Jack Limpert, “I don’t think it will ever be resolved whether it was an actual person or a composite… .” On March 14, 1975, in anticipation of a CBS television interview with Nixon’s former chief of staff Bob Haldeman, Dean reiterated Felt’s “composite” theory. In the interview on March 29, 1975, Haldeman said, “[W]e were told that Mark Felt was leaking FBI information.”

• On May 2, 1975, a month and a half after parroting Felt’s composite theory, Dean told reporters during a college lecture tour that he believed former Watergate prosecutor Earl Silbert was Deep Throat.

• On October 14, 1976, Dean named David Gergen as the possible inside source in interviews, but Dean’s first book, Blind Ambition, released a month later, made no mention of Deep Throat.

• Haldeman, on the occasion of his February 20, 1978, book release, said that Fred Fielding was Deep Throat. Within days, Dean claimed, on a Los Angeles radio show he hosted, to have identified Deep Throat and insisted it wasn’t Fielding—saying he would reveal the identity of the real source later.

• In his book Lost Honor, released in November 1982, Dean acknowledged his erroneous series of previous candidates and concluded that Alexander Haig was Deep Throat.

• With the June 17, 2002, release of his book Unmasking Deep Throat, which included a list of Deep Throat candidates, Dean answered questions about his Deep Throat search in an online interview and wrote a FindLaw article suggesting that Deep Throat was a lawyer working in the White House.

• On February 6, 2005—after the release of a portion of Woodward’s notes about his meetings with Deep Throat—Dean wrote a Los Angeles Times article, “Should We Jail Deep Throat?,” claiming that Deep Throat was sick and arguing that his identity should be protected.

• On June 3, 2005, within days of Felt’s admission in Vanity Fair that he was Deep Throat, Dean published a FindLaw article raising questions about the viability of Felt as Deep Throat. In fact, Dean expressed disappointment: “Bob [Woodward] once told me that when I learned who, in fact, Deep Throat was, all my questions would be clarified. That, however, has not happened. To the contrary, I only have more questions now that I know Throat was Mark Felt.”

Dean also consistently claimed through the years that much of Felt’s information was incorrect, thereby discouraging other sleuths from analyzing Felt’s information.

When Woodward, in All the President’s Men, attributed Felt’s information to Deep Throat, Dean probably became concerned that others would realize Dean and Felt had cooperated. Dean likely grew more concerned when Woodward decided he would reveal Deep Throat’s identity upon the secret source’s death. Dean began positing Deep Throat candidates and theories while undermining the credibility of Deep Throat’s information. Dean also began his ostensible search for Deep Throat but in reality modified the information Felt gave Woodward in ways that made it harder for others to trace it to Dean.

Dean issued his own list of Deep Throat passages from All the President’s Men just days after the 2005 revelation that Felt was Deep Throat. A comparison of Dean’s list with the 46 topics I identified reveals interesting differences. For one thing, Dean paraphrased much of Felt’s information, sometimes losing critical details in his “translation.” He also failed to associate different passages about the same topic. Nearly half the items on Dean’s list appeared to contain no traceable information, and passages containing easily traced information were not included. Dean broke some passages into multiple parts, disassociating details. These manipulations of Deep Throat’s information make it much harder to trace its actual source.

Dean produced three main works in which he allegedly attempts to identify the source of Deep Throat’s Watergate information following the publication of All the President’s Men. In each of these, he attempts to distance himself from the information Deep Throat gave Woodward. Dean’s 1982 book, Lost Honor, documented his early efforts to identify Deep Throat. Twenty years later, his Unmasking Deep Throat focused entirely on attempting to identify Deep Throat—but didn’t do so. And finally, on June 3, 2005, Dean’s FindLaw article “Why the Revelation of the Identity of Deep Throat Has Only Created Another Mystery” raised questions about whether Felt actually could be Deep Throat.

Although facts Dean revealed in his Watergate testimony and in subsequent meetings with investigators often matched the information provided by Deep Throat, he later disparaged or disputed much of it. In his 1982 book, Lost Honor, Dean stated that Deep Throat’s warnings about wiretapping and lives being in danger “seem rather exaggerated in hindsight.” In his 2002 book, Unmasking Deep Throat, Dean said that “Throat got so many facts wrong” and was “overly paranoid about someone wiretapping or following Woodward, and purported danger to Woodward and Bernstein’s lives.” He also characterized Deep Throat’s dual warnings as “incorrect statements.”

In his June 3, 2005, FindLaw article, just days after the revelation that Felt was Deep Throat, Dean stated: “[Felt] has told him—now, it clearly seems, falsely—‘Everyone’s life is in danger … electronic surveillance is going on and we had better watch it. The CIA is doing it.’ The CIA role in Watergate was investigated, and had this occurred, it would be known today.”

Next: Why did Dean dispute the warnings later?

The question is, after reporting those very warnings himself in Blind Ambition, why did Dean dispute them later? Taylor Branch, Dean’s ghostwriter on Blind Ambition, confirmed that the stories in Dean’s book originated with Dean and were derived solely from his conversations with him.

There are many such examples. Felt told Woodward on October 9, 1972, that 50 undercover Nixon operatives were sabotaging and spying on campaigns. (An FBI memo ten days later called the statement “absolutely false” and said the FBI had no such information.) Dean told prosecutors on May 2, 1973, that Donald Segretti, a political prankster working in the Nixon White House, “had a network of 50 operatives and kept records of all the people and movements.” But in both his 1982 and 2002 books, Dean called Deep Throat’s assertion about “50 operatives” in All the President’s Men “bad information” and again in 2005 deemed it false. (For his part, Segretti stated in a 1994 oral history of the Nixon administration, and reiterated to me via e-mail, that the figure was “a great exaggeration.”)

All told, there were dozens of instances in which Dean’s information initially matched Felt’s but that Dean later disparaged or attempted to discredit.

Of course, one wonders how much Bob Woodward knew or suspected about the Deep Throat operation. Woodward hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment on this research over several years, the most recent in September 2011. Whether Woodward knew about and hid Felt’s association with Dean or failed to suspect it, Dean appears to taunt Woodward in his writings. Take, for example, these excerpts from Dean’s 1982 book, Lost Honor:

See Also:

Findings on the Origins of Deep Throat’s Information

The Deep Throat Operation and the “18½-Minute Gap”

• “I do not think Deep Throat alone had enough information to bring down Nixon. If the Nixon White House had had to contend only with the Washington Post, the Watergate coverup probably would have succeeded. But they had other problems—myself among them.”

• “The public already believes that the Washington Post uncovered Watergate almost single-handedly. They didn’t. But who am I to say?”

• “There is a growing school of thought that there is no Deep Throat, that I was right in saying he was a composite.”

And finally, here is a choice 2002 quotation from Dean:

“I also have my personal motivation: I’d truly like to chat with, and tip my hat to the one person who will go into history outranking me on Richard Nixon’s final enemies list. According to Monica Crowley, Richard Nixon’s last aide, Nixon said of Deep Throat: ‘Whoever it was was just trying to save his own ass, bail himself out from a sinking ship. Dean was a traitor, but [Deep Throat]—well, he went even beyond that.’”

Dean’s writings are replete with such suggestive passages. He seems to revel in having outfoxed others and publicly flaunts, often tongue in cheek, his success in doing so.

Mark Felt died on December 18, 2008. The next day, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann asked Dean if knowing the identities and motives of the people feeding Mark Felt information was essential for a historical understanding of Deep Throat or whether Felt’s identity was enough. Dean replied, “I think it’s enough… . We certainly are not going to add anything by knowing who fed Felt what and why.”

But learning that John Dean was the source of the information Felt fed to Bob Woodward does change our understanding of the Watergate saga in ways both subtle and profound. If Woodward had known that Felt was transmitting information from a single White House insider and not from FBI findings, would he have deemed it reliable? And what does it say about the legacy of investigative reporting and the use of confidential sources?

Watergate did happen, and Richard Nixon and members of his administration were involved, but without the media frenzy generated by the Washington Post’s reporting, would the results have been the same? Would Nixon ultimately have been forced to resign?

Maybe so, but knowing who fed Mark Felt and why casts the entire Watergate episode in a new historical light.

Copyright © 2011 by Philip T. Mellinger

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