Nixon source 'Deep throat' dies aged 95

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The Independent US

Mark Felt, the most famous anonymous source in the history of journalism who was known to the world as "Deep Throat", died yesterday aged 95.

As the associate director of the FBI, Mr Felt was outraged by the Nixon administration's attempts to block its investigation of the Watergate scandal which ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.

A master of counter-intelligence from his days tracking German WWII spies, he secretly helped Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein pursue the story. It was thirty four years before he finally broke cover, admitting in 2006: "I'm the guy they used to call Deep Throat."

By then, he was so crippled by a stroke and Alzheimer’s disease that his memory of his role in US history had almost vanished.

From the first day of the bungled 1972 break-in of the Democratic National Committee's headquarters in the Watergate hotel Mr Felt was at the heart of the FBI investigation. The agency soon learned that the Nixon administration was running an extensive spying and sabotage campaign against its political enemies. Under intense pressure from the White House to suppress its investigation, the FBI was starting to buckle.

A protégé of the famous FBI director Herbert Hoover, the Mr Felt was already embittered for being passed over as his replacement. When White House officials tried to block the FBI’s corruption investigation, he became infuriated with what he would call their 'switchblade mentality.'

A debonair man about town and incurable political gossip, Mr Felt was already known to Mr Woodward when he first reached out to him. Soon he was arranging cloak and dagger meetings with the young reporters in darkened parking garages across the Potomac River. The chain-smoking FBI-man provided an insight into the scale of the presidential scandal that was larger than anyone had imagined.

"Deep Throat", the name given to him at the Washington Post, was a wordplay based on a well known pornographic movie and his insistence on remaining on "deep background" despite the sensational nature of his revelations.

From the outset President Nixon suspected him of being the leaker and five times ordered the FBI director Patrick Gray to fire him. Felt's adamant denials were convincing enough and he was never sacked.

Deep Throat continued to leak and on the assumption that he was being monitored he had elaborate procedures for contacting Mr Woodward. When he had information to pass on, he would arrange meetings by circling the page number on page twenty of the reporter’s copy of The New York Times and then drawing the hands of a clock to signal the hour. If Mr Woodward wanted to see him he would simply place a red flag in a flowerpot on the balcony of his P street apartment.

Over the course of the scandal, Deep Throat supplied crucial information for some 400 Washington Post stories. The reporters went on to win a Pulitzer prize, journalism’s highest accolade.

A master of the black arts of disinformation, at FBI headquarters he alighted on a newspaper story for which he was not the source and ordered an investigation to find the leaker. He then fingered a prosecutor as the source.

Mr Woodward wrote in his 2006 expose, "Secret Man: The Story of Watergate's Deep Throat" that "The memo was an effective cover for him, the very best counterintelligence tradecraft. Not only had he initiated the leak inquiry, but Felt appeared to have discovered the leaker."

By then Deep Throat's real identity had already been revealed in Vanity Fair magazine. More than 30 years after Watergate and Mr Woodward confirmed the revelation, finally letting his secret out. By then Mr Felt was suffering from dementia and had little or no memory of his role in history.

Though Deep Throat was a hero to the anti Vietnam War movement and the left, Mr Felt was no liberal. A law and order crime-fighter, he ran the agency’s "goon squad" to monitor agents in the field. He also advised Hollywood for its 1965 television series The FBI, ensuring that G-men were always shown in the most favourable light.

Long after Watergate he was convicted of running his own so called "black bag" burglaries of the radical Weather Underground movement. He was later pardoned by President Ronald Reagan. In a 1979 book, he bragged about the FBI’s bugging of the Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King and he vehemently opposed the hiring of women agents by the FBI.

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