mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

Mark Felt, Watergate, and Deep Throat

In the early morning of June 17, 1972, thirty-three years ago today, five men were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate hotel. Given the anniversary, today is a good day for me to talk about Mark Felt, who just revealed himself to be Deep Throat, the famous anonymous source for reporter Bob Woodward of the Washington Post.

As soon as the news came out about Felt, I requested a copy of his memoir The FBI Pyramid: From the Inside (Putnam, 1979) from our local library system. For a few years now, I've been fascinated by the FBI and how they operate; I've even written a story that featured an FBI agent investigating a crime. I've read quite a few books on the FBI and was granted a tour of their New York office a few years after 9/11 even though it is normally closed to the general public. So Felt's book was on my list as something I wanted to read for research purposes.

But the main reason I requested the book right now should be obvious: I wanted to see what Felt said about Watergate and Deep Throat.

Anyone who followed the news learned that at the time of Watergate, Felt was the number two man at the FBI. Many people have speculated that Felt was annoyed when Nixon installed his own man, L. Patrick Gray III, as head of the FBI after Hoover died. The theory is that Felt was a strong Hoover supporter, and therefore became Deep Throat to take revenge on Nixon for not promoting him.

Oddly enough, Felt tackles that accusation head on, when he writes (page 226):

It is true that I would like to have been appointed FBI Director on the death of Hoover. It is not true that I was jealous of Gray. Once the die was cast, I resolved, for the good of the FBI, to help Gray in every way I could. It is true that I frequently said "no" to the White House staff members.

I never leaked information to Woodward and Bernstein or to anyone else!

However, reading between the lines in the following pages, one realizes that Felt is suppressing a lot of distaste for and possibly anger with Gray. He seems to resent the way Gray chose to run things differently from Hoover. He notes that Gray spent much of his tenure visiting field offices, making speeches, and taking long weekends at his home in Connecticut. He does try to ameliorate his criticism by noting things like the following (page 221):

In fairness to Gray, I must repeat that he took bulging briefcases full of work to his home in Connecticut. He truly wanted to become an excellent Director of the FBI and he loved the assignment.

But I should add that he put those words in parentheses, at the end of a paragraph, making it an afterthought. It feels as if his ghost writer, Ralph de Toledano (whose name is only listed on the copyright notice, along with Felt's), advised him to balance out his criticism of Gray.

In his book, Felt does come off very much as an FBI booster. That shouldn't be a surprise, considering he spent almost all of his adult career as an FBI agent. He has a lot of harsh things to say about the press, the left, and the FBI's critics, claiming that all the FBI was trying to do was protect the American people. (Remember that Gray was one of the two agents convicted for breaking into the Weather Underground Office without proper authorization; at the time the book was published, Reagan had not yet pardoned him.) He also denies that Hoover kept any secret files on people, and even describes how Gray kept wanting to see those files and how he kept telling Gray that they didn't exist.

Felt ties his animosity towards Gray together with his support of the FBI as an institution when he says (page 277):

The record amply demonstrates that President Nixon made Pat Gray the Acting Director of the FBI because he wanted a politician in J. Edgar Hoover's position who would convert the Bureau into an adjunct of the White House machine.

In short, Felt's actions as Deep Throat were probably due to a desire to defend the FBI's role as a quasi-independent agency. One gets the chilling feeling that had Nixon promoted Felt to the position of Director, Felt himself might have given the Watergate investigation scant resources. It is not too difficult to imagine an alternate world where Felt, as the new FBI Director, rebuffs Woodward and tells him that there's no story here. In such a world, the Watergate break-in would be blamed solely on the five burglars, acting independently of the White House -- and the legend of Deep Throat would never have happened.

In the end, despite his denials, Felt (or his publisher, perhaps) wasn't above using the rumors to promote the book. The front cover flap begins, "Mark Felt, who was rumored to be the famous informer Deep discloses his fascinating and utterly frank autobiography."

I recommend Felt's book to anyone interested in learning more about Deep Throat or the inner workings of the FBI from the 1940s to the 1970s (but be sure to take much of what Felt says with a grain of salt). Sadly, the book is currently out of print, so you'll have to look for it in your local library. But I'd be surprised if we don't see it reprinted sometime soon.
Tags: history, politics

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