One
of the greatest mysteries of journalism and politics has today been
solved: the identity of “Deep Throat,” the anonymous source for much of
the 1970s Watergate scandal which led to the resignation of US
president Richard Nixon.

He is W Mark Felt, a former number-two official at the FBI, who acknowledges his role in this extensive story in Vanity Fair, published today. Felt, now 91, lives in retirement in California.

The celebrated Washington Post reporters who made the Watergate story one of the classics in journalism history, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, today confirmed
that “W Mark Felt was Deep Throat and helped us immeasurably in our
Watergate coverage. However, as the record shows, many other sources
and officials assisted us and other reporters for the hundreds of
stories that were written in The Washington Post about Watergate.”

Ben Bradlee, who was the Post’s executive editor during Watergate, said today: “The thing that stuns me is that the goddamn secret has lasted this long.”

The Vanity Fair story, written by San Francisco attorney John O’Connor, is a rivetting exposé in its own right. It starts like this:

On a sunny California morning in August 1999, Joan Felt, a busy college
Spanish professor and single mother, was completing chores before
leaving for class. She stopped when she heard an unexpected knock at
the front door. Upon answering it, she was met by a courteous, 50-ish
man, who introduced himself as a journalist from The Washington Post.
He asked if he could see her father, W Mark Felt, who lived with her
in her suburban Santa Rosa home. The man said his name was Bob Woodward.

Mark Felt, according to Vanity Fair, is:

Dapper, charming, and handsome, with a full head
of sandy hair that greyed attractively over the years, Felt resembled
actor Lloyd Bridges. He was a registered Democrat (who turned
Republican during the Reagan years) with a conservative bent and a
common man’s law-and-order streak. Often relocating his family, he
would come to speak at each new school that Joan Felt attended—wearing
a shoulder holster, hidden under his pinstripes. In the bureau, he was
popular with supervisers and underlings alike, and enjoyed both scotch
and bourbon, though he was ever mindful of Hoover’s edicts about his
agents’ sobriety. Felt helped curb the Kansas City Mob as that city’s
special agent in charge, using tactics both aggressive and innovative,
then was named second-in-command of the bureau’s training division in
1962. Felt mastered the art of succinct, just-the-facts-ma’am memo
writing, which appealed to the meticulous Hoover, who made him one of
his closest protégés. In 1971, in a move to rein in his power-seeking
head of domestic intelligence, William C. Sullivan, Hoover promoted
Felt to a newly created position overseeing Sullivan, vaulting Felt to
prominence.

In 1971, according to today’s revelation, Felt was called
to the White House because Nixon had begun “climbing the walls” over
leaks to The New York Times about forthcoming arms talks with
the Soviets. “Nixon’s aides wanted the bureau to find the culprits,
either through wiretaps or by insisting that suspects submit to
lie-detector tests. Such leaks led the White House to begin employing
ex-CIA types to do their own, homespun spying, creating its
nefarious “Plumbers” unit, to which the Watergate cadre belonged.”

So
why has Felt now decided to out himself? Mainly because his two
children, Joan and Mark, urged him to do it. According to O’Connor’s
story, “they explained that they wanted their father’s legacy to be
heroic and permanent, not anonymous. And beyond their main
motive – posterity – they thought that there might eventually be some
profit in it.”

According to O’Connor, Felt has “long harboured
the ambivalent emotions of pride and self-reproach,” and has “lived for
more than 30 years in a prison of his own making, a prison built upon
his strong moral principles and his unwavering loyalty to country and
cause. But now, buoyed by his family’s revelations and support, he need
feel imprisoned no more.”

In All the President’s Men,
Woodward and Bernstein described “Deep Throat” as a man of passion and
contradiction: “Aware of his own weaknesses, he readily conceded his
flaws. He was, incongruously, an incurable gossip, careful to label
rumour for what it was, but fascinated by it… He could be rowdy, drink
too much, overreach. He was not good at concealing his feelings, hardly
ideal for a man in his position”… a man “worn out” by years of
bureaucratic battles, disenchanted with the “switchblade mentality” of
the Nixon White House and its tactics of politicising governmental
agencies… someone in an “extremely sensitive” position, possessing
“an aggregate of hard information flowing in and out of many stations,”
while at the same time quite wary of his role as a confidential source.

Today’s revelation is more than a bit embarrassing for those who staked
their reputations on guessing “Deep Throat’s” identity. Like the
University of Illinois which spent four years unmasking the mystery
man, only to conclude that it was Fred Fielding, deputy counsel to former President Richard Nixon. But one person was on the money way earlier than Vanity Fair:
19-year-old Chase Culeman-Beckman. He got the big tip-off way back in
1999 while on summer camp with the loose-tongued Jacob Bernstein – Carl
Bernstein’s son – who told him “I’m 100% sure that Deep Throat was Mark Felt. He’s someone in the FBI.”

CRIKEY: A few months ago, amid speculation that Deep Throat was ill and dying, Ross Stapleton published this article in Crikey. Felt’s name was on the list.