A hero or a traitor? Deep Throat faces the music after 30 years

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Having finally revealed himself as Deep Throat, the former FBI agent Mark Felt is facing praise and condemnation for having leaked details of President Richard Nixon's corrupt and illegal activities to reporters.

Having finally revealed himself as Deep Throat, the former FBI agent Mark Felt is facing praise and condemnation for having leaked details of President Richard Nixon's corrupt and illegal activities to reporters.

When he finally stepped out of the shadows on Tuesday to bring to an end a mystery that has beguiled pundits for three decades, Mr Felt's family said they believed that he was an "American hero".

Many agreed but others accused Mr Felt, now 91, of treachery. Several Nixon-era officials - among them some who served prison time for their own behaviour - said Mr Felt breached professional ethics.

Gordon Liddy, a Nixon operative who engineered the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Campaign headquarters in Washington's Watergate building and served four-and-a-half years in jail for doing so, said: "If he possessed evidence of wrongdoing, he was honour-bound to take that to a grand jury and secure an indictment, not to selectively leak it to a single news source."

Leonard Garment, Nixon's chief legal counsellor from 1969-73, said he thought Mr Felt kept his role secret for 31 years "because he felt that what he had done could well be considered dishonourable".

Chuck Colson, the head of White House communications in 1972 and another official who served prison time, said Mr Felt could have helped America avoid a wrenching political crisis had he gone through different channels. "He was in a position of that kind of influence. Instead, he goes out and basically undermines the administration."

A former Nixon speechwriter, Pat Buchanan, said Mr Felt was a "traitor".

Mr Felt received as much praise as he did criticism. Ben Bradlee, who was editor of The Washington Post and who stood by his young reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, told The Independent: "It's amazing - people like Gordon Liddy. Liddy is a common crook. I'm just going to keep my sense of values steady. For these people to talk about the immorality of Deep Throat makes me laugh."

In its editorial, The Washington Post, which found itself effectively scooped by Vanity Fair magazine on a story it "owned", said: "Had Felt remained quiet, Nixon might have succeeded in one of the most serious abuses of power ever attempted by an American president."

Mr Felt had long been among a small list of strong contenders to be Deep Throat. Many speculated that he was motivated partly by a desire to get back at Nixon for failing to appoint him head of the FBI after J Edgar Hoover died.

In a forthcoming article the magazine makes clear that Mr Felt has long been concerned about public reaction to news that Deep Throat was a senior FBI official. He had even expressed concern as to "what the judge might think".

Indeed, in 1999, on the 25th anniversary of Nixon's resignation, Mr Felt told a reporter that it would be terrible if someone in his position had been Deep Throat. "It would be terrible. This would completely undermine the reputation that you might have as a loyal, logical employee of the FBI. It just wouldn't fit at all," he said.

It appears Mr Felt now agrees with those who consider him a hero. John D O'Connor, a San Francisco lawyer and author of the forthcoming article, said Mr Felt "knows now that he did the right thing".

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