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"Names and attributes must be accommodated to the essence of things, and not the essence to the names, since things come first and names afterwards." – Galileo

Washington Post: Richard Cohen Column

A Brave Friend

Wednesday, June 1, 2005; Page A19

A long time ago I wrote a magazine piece about how Bob Woodward’s famous source, “Deep Throat,” could have been a mere Secret Service technician — any one of several people detailed to keep Richard Nixon’s secret White House taping system operating. I figured that anyone with access to the system could quickly learn all that mattered about the Watergate burglary: The president’s men had done it and the president was covering it up. I showed the piece to Woodward, who would not say whether it was right or wrong, just that it made sense. We both knew, though, that “Deep Throat” was Mark Felt.

Woodward’s knowledge was firsthand, up close and certain. Mine was different. It came from having worked with Woodward early in his career. I was looking into rumors that Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew of Maryland, was under investigation by the U.S. attorney’s office in Baltimore. Somehow — I can’t remember exactly — I worked a bit with Bob on that story. His source, a person he used to call “my friend,” had terrific information — stuff that, looking back on it, not even the prosecutors in Baltimore had yet learned. Woodward would refer to his notes, and I could see the initials “M.F.” They stood either for “my friend” or Mark Felt, whose name almost instantly surfaced. I thought it didn’t matter. The two were the same. There was a single source.

Now we know it is Mark Felt. He has confessed, if that’s the right word — although given his age (91) it’s not exactly clear what he was intending. Suffice it to say, though, that he is the man. He was No. 2 in the FBI back in the Watergate days, and he just could not abide the way the bureau was being abused by Nixon and his White House colleagues. They wanted to use the FBI to block any real investigation into the Watergate burglary. Felt simply would not permit that.

I applaud. We all applaud, or we should. Here was a man who put his career — and it was a truly great career — on the line. Here was a man who took seriously all that stuff about duty and loyalty and — permit me, please — the American Way. He was, to say the least, no showboater. He did not rush out to write a book or appear on “Larry King Live” or sell his story to the movies, which he could have done. No, he did what he thought was right.

The reason I loved my theory about the nonexistent Secret Service technician is that he was the proverbial little man. He was the guy you don’t notice who is appalled by wrongdoing and wants to do the right thing. He asks no reward and he demands no fame. He wants only to show the big boys that the little guys, in the end, cannot be taken for granted. He is always there. He has to be taken into account. He can always go to the media.

Felt was too important to be “the little guy.” That made what he did even braver. He was always an obvious suspect. He clearly knew too much.

For more than 30 years I have had people tell me that Deep Throat did not exist. He was invented, made up. Or he was a composite — a piece of this person and a piece of that person with some fiction thrown in. I knew better. I had seen the notes and, besides, I knew Woodward and Carl Bernstein. They would not lie.

We live in a cynical era. The press has been knocked off its Watergate-era pedestal and prosecutors are rounding up anonymous sources because it is more important to seal a leak than to get at the truth. The public either applauds or does not give a damn. Everything is the same. Big government. Big media. What does it matter?

But Mark Felt knew that it mattered. Remember: He was No. 2 in the FBI. Remember: He carried a gun. And remember, too: Despite all that, when he was afraid for his bureau and for his country, he went to a reporter and told his story and changed history. Richard Nixon resigned and countless White House officials went to jail partly because of what Felt told that reporter. That’s how it started, anyway.

Now that I know for sure that Mark Felt is Deep Throat, nothing really changes. I always suspected it was him. And I knew, no matter who it was, that I could always paraphrase Woodward: For what Felt did for us all, he was “our friend.”

cohenr@washpost.com

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“Deep Throat” is ex-FBI official, Mark Felt

W. Mark Felt appears on CBS’ “Face The Nation” in Washington Sunday Aug.30, 1976. The former FBI official claims he was “Deep Throat,” the long-anonymous source who leaked secrets about President Nixon’s Watergate coverup to The Washington Post, Vanity Fair magazine reported Tuesday, May 31, 2005. (AP Photo)
Photo Credit: File Photo Of Mark Felt Appearing On Cbs’ “Face The Nation” On Aug. 30, 1976/Associated Press Photo
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SCOOP! “Deep Throat” Identity Revealed!

Deep Throat Speaks

Wednesday, June 1, 2005; Page A18

FOR MORE THAN three decades Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and former executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee preserved an extraordinary secret: the identity of the source known as Deep Throat, who helped inform the stories The Post published in 1972 and 1973 exposing what became known as the Watergate scandal. They kept the secret despite extraordinary press ure on The Post from the White House, including charges that Deep Throat was an invention; through the hearings and impeachment proceedings that led to President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation in August 1974; and despite endless speculation about the source’s identity in the years afterward. Mr. Woodward, now a Post editor, and Mr. Bernstein, who no longer works here, said that they had made a commitment not to reveal Deep Throat’s identity until after his death. Yesterday that pact was finally superseded by the publication of statements by W. Mark Felt, former deputy director of the FBI, confirming that he was Deep Throat. He revealed his role in part because of his family’s belief that he deserves to be honored for his actions while he is alive.

The honor is surely deserved. Mr. Felt, now 91, was a dedicated servant of the FBI, and no softie: He was convicted of (and later pardoned for) authorizing illegal acts in pursuit of leftist radicals in the early 1970s. Yet he was also outraged that the Nixon White House brazenly interfered with the FBI’s investigation of the burglary of Democratic Party headquarters in June 1972 and by what he saw as Mr. Nixon’s attempt to gain control over the FBI for political purposes. Risking dismissal or prosecution, he began meeting with Mr. Woodward secretly to confirm The Post’s reporting about the funding of the operation and about other illegal acts by the president’s top aides. He was not the only source The Post relied on; Mr. Woodward and Mr. Bernstein tracked down dozens of others, many of whom were named in their articles. Deep Throat was nevertheless crucial to the paper’s reporting of Watergate. Following book and movie depictions of his role, he became the most famous anonymous source in the history of American journalism, and a model for government whistle-blowers.

Mr. Felt was ambivalent about his decision to cooperate with Mr. Woodward. He declined to disclose his actions for years after he retired, denying his role even to his family. By leaking details of the FBI’s probe into Watergate, he violated the bureau’s standards and arguably the law. Yet in retrospect it is clear that his decision was the right one. Mr. Nixon had set out to subvert the U.S. system of justice: While publicly ordering the FBI to investigate, he secretly directed a coverup intended to prevent the agency from confirming the connections between his campaign and the Watergate burglars. The FBI criminal investigation of senior White House and campaign officials was effectively blocked. Only when the complicity of such figures as former attorney general John N. Mitchell was publicly disclosed with the help of Mr. Felt did Congress begin an investigation that eventually revealed the full scope of the Watergate crimes. Had Mr. Felt remained quiet, Mr. Nixon might have succeeded in one of the most serious abuses of power ever attempted by an American president.

In a small irony, Deep Throat’s unveiling comes as the media and Washington officialdom engage in one of their periodic debates about the use of anonymous sources. We think that both the debate and the newly professed cautions about relying on such sources are healthy. As we noted, The Post’s reporting depended on many sources, and the truth emerged thanks to the courage of U.S. District Judge John J. Sirica, then-Sen. Sam Ervin and others who rose to the occasion. But it’s worth remembering that this landmark victory for the rule of law also depended on the secret patriotism of a source named Deep Throat — that is, Mark Felt. It’s nice to be able to honor him by his real name while he still lives.

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