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FBI Was Clueless on "Deep Throat"

The FBI apparently had no clue the agency’s second in command during Watergate – Mark Felt – was the newspaper source nicknamed “Deep Throat” who helped bring down a president, newly released documents show.

Felt’s FBI file, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, is more than 2,000 pages long, and shows the agency maintained documents on him from 1960s to 1980s. However, the FBI withheld 900 pages, citing national security and privacy statutes.

The released files are perhaps most notable for what is not inside: There is no mention of Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter who relied on Felt as a key source in the newspaper’s Watergate investigations.

Woodward said in an interview Monday the FBI withheld so many pages it is impossible to know for certain whether the agency ever suspected Felt. “That’s the trouble with these files. With so much redacted, you don’t know what you’ve got,” said Woodward.
Felt was monitoring internal investigations into Watergate leaks while feeding information to The Washington Post, Woodward added.

Briefed on Watergate

The files do contain Watergate-related documents, and underscore Felt’s role as the FBI’s No. 2 agent. Among the papers are handwritten notes by L. Patrick Gray III, the acting director of the FBI at the time. He wrote about how Felt, two days after the June 17, 1972 break-in into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, briefed him on the crime that ultimately would lead to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

Most of the material obtained by the FBI’s Watergate investigators passed through Felt, the bureau’s associate director, before reaching Gray. This gave Felt unprecedented access to information about the Nixon White House’s illegal wiretapping, burglaries and money laundering.

Felt kept his tipster role secret for more than 30 years until he revealed he was Deep Throat in a 2005 Vanity Fair article. Many, including Nixon’s right-hand man Bob Haldeman, suspected Felt was behind the leaks because, as Felt later wrote, he was infuriated with the president. When J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972, Nixon skipped over Felt for the top job, and instead appointed Gray.

With Felt’s help, Woodward and Post colleague Carl Bernstein combined on a series of stories that shook the nation. The reporters’ efforts were chronicled in their book, “All the President’s Men,” later turned into an acclaimed movie that featured actor Hal Holbrook as the mysterious American icon “Deep Throat.”

Pursuit of Radicals

The bulk of the FBI’s dossier on Felt deals with radical groups of the 1960s and 1970s – including his role in the FBI’s own break-ins to gather intelligence about the Weather Underground, which advocated the overthrow of the government. Felt authorized those break-ins, later ruled illegal, the files show.

In the early 1970s, Felt approved surreptitious entry into its Weather Underground members’ homes, so-called “black bag jobs.” Felt later was prosecuted along with Gray and Edward S. Miller, the deputy director. In 1980, Felt and Miller were convicted for conspiring to violate the constitutional rights of Americans. Gray was found not guilty.

The FBI’s file on Felt shows that, during the trial, the U.S. Attorney General’s office wrote to FBI leaders requesting a “damage assessment” of evidence to be released. The FBI was concerned courtroom disclosures would reveal the identities of confidential informants, both domestic and overseas.

Some of these sources had infiltrated meetings of the Weather Underground and the Students for a Democratic Society. Felt’s file contains detailed intelligence reports on the groups’ leaders. In some cases, the FBI followed the groups’ young members around the world – including to a youth convention in Bulgaria and on college campuses around the United States. One memo alleged a student at the State University of New York traveled to Moscow as a guest of the KGB.

The Felt file also includes notations about the Black Panthers, Symbionese Liberation Army, and Veterans Against The War In Vietnam, whose ranks included John Kerry, who would later become a senator and the Democratic nominee for president.

One memo outlined how domestic terrorism was a top priority for the bureau. The memo, prepared for Senate hearings, revealed the FBI once maintained a list of 13,000 individuals who were under surveillance for being perceived to be possible threats to national security. In 1972, the director reduced the number to several thousand who posed an “immediate threat.” That included specifically expanding a program monitoring black extremist groups to encompass surveillance of the Klu Klux Klan.

Along with domestic groups, the file outlines the agency’s efforts to monitor threats overseas. Among them were “Arab terrorists,” including Al Fatah, the group responsible for the 1972 Munich massacre of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes and coaches.

Wide-Ranging Concerns

The FBI file also reveals internal concerns, from the mundane to the deadly serious. The top brass wrote memos discussing matters such as grooming standards and body weight limits. The documents show they critiqued the agents’ response to terrorist threats, such as in Chicago, when field operatives lacked enough bulletproof vests to respond to a planned plane hijacking.

The documents were obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request, which calls on the agency to release certain documents to the public once the person has died. Felt died Dec. 18, 2008, in California, at age 95. The file includes a wide range of materials, from notes prepared for Congressional hearings to internal memos.

Felt advanced to the No. 2 position in the agency and presided over much of the FBI’s operations while Gray traveled around the country visiting FBI offices.  Gray was forced to resign in April 1973 when it was revealed he had destroyed a document relating to Watergate. Felt again was passed over for advancement by Nixon. He retired from the FBI in June 1973, ending a 31-year career.

Felt’s FBI file picks up again in 1978, at the onset of his criminal prosecution. President Reagan pardoned Felt and Miller just seven months after their 1980 conviction.

  • eliana

    Its amazing how Deep Throat’s identity was kept a secret! I was just going over the Watergate story in my Journalism class and I found it exciting that the “Investigative Reporting” was brought back by these two young journalists, since the Muckracking Era….