W. Mark Felt wanted to become FBI director. President Nixon and his closest aides thought that ambition might make Felt the ideal person to sidetrack an FBI investigation into the Watergate burglary.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Rather than helping shield Nixon, Felt became the best-known anonymous source in history. As “Deep Throat,” he was a key figure in the scandal that eventually led to Nixon’s resignation.
Information was traveling from Felt, the No. 2 official at the FBI, to the news columns of The Washington Post via reporter Bob Woodward, snippets from a criminal investigation that led ultimately to the president.
The Post on its Web site Tuesday quoted Woodward as saying that Felt helped the newspaper at a time of tense relations between the White House and much of the FBI hierarchy.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover died shortly before the Watergate break-in. Felt himself had hopes that he would be the next FBI director, according to the Post, but Nixon instead appointed an administration insider, assistant attorney general L. Patrick Gray, to the post.
Felt’s ambition was no secret, as White House tape recordings from the Watergate scandal show.
Six days after the break-in at the offices of the Democratic National Committee, Nixon and his co-conspirators discussed ordering the FBI to shut down its probe, on grounds that the investigation would interfere with a CIA operation.
“Mark Felt wants to cooperate because he’s ambitious,” White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman said.
“Yeah,” the president replied.
Months later on the Watergate tapes, Nixon and his aides discussed Felt as a possible leaker.
“We know who leaked it,” Haldeman said on Oct. 19, 1972.
“Somebody in the FBI?” Nixon asked.
“Yes, sir, Mark Felt,” Haldeman replied.
The Post’s executive editor during Watergate, Ben Bradlee, said Tuesday it’s a good thing for the country that Felt’s identity has finally been revealed.
Bradlee has never met Felt, but “I would thank him” if the two men ever did get together, Bradlee said.
Felt had a storied career at the bureau, one that also had its share of controversy.
A jury found him guilty in 1980 of violating civil rights by authorizing warrantless searches at homes of friends and relatives of left-wing fugitives during the early 1970s. President Reagan pardoned him, along with another former FBI official convicted in the case. Felt and his co-defendant had argued they were authorized by Gray to approve break-ins without first going to court for a warrant.
In breaking the story that Felt was Deep Throat, Vanity Fair magazine wrote of his ascent inside the bureau run at the time by J. Edgar Hoover.
“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,” the magazine wrote.
A magazine named Felt as the likely Deep Throat in 1974, prompting a denial from Felt and a threat to sue that he never followed up on. Felt’s name never disappeared from the list of Deep Throat suspects.
In 1992, former Post reporter James Mann wrote in The Atlantic Monthly that Deep Throat was certainly in the FBI, and named Felt as one of three likely candidates. In the 2002 book “The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI,” another former Post reporter, Ronald Kessler, wrote that Deep Throat was probably Felt.
Born in Twin Falls, Idaho, in 1913, Felt graduated from the University of Idaho, went to George Washington University Law School and joined the FBI in 1942.