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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.” By Philip T. Mellinger
Comments () | Published November 16, 2011

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

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Posted at 03:00 PM/ET, 11/16/2011 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Washingtonian.com Articles