Deep Throat (Watergate)

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W. Mark Felt, circa 2005

Deep Throat is the pseudonym that was given to a secret source who leaked information about the involvement of U.S. President Richard Nixon's administration in the events that came to be known as the Watergate scandal. Deep Throat was an important source for Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who together wrote a series of articles on the scandal that played a decisive role in exposing the misdeeds of the Nixon administration. The scandal would eventually lead to the resignation of President Nixon as well as prison terms for White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman, G. Gordon Liddy, chief counsel Charles Colson, and presidential adviser John Ehrlichman. In 2005 W. Mark Felt, a former Associate Director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, confirmed that he is Deep Throat.

Howard Simons, the managing editor of the Washington Post at the time, dubbed the secret informant "Deep Throat," an allusion to a pornographic movie of the same name that had become a cultural phenomenon during the period; it was also a play on the term "deep background", used in journalism to mean information provided by a secret source that may not be reported directly. Deep Throat came to public attention when Woodward and Bernstein wrote All The President's Men, a book also made into an Academy Award-winning movie. In the movie, Deep Throat was portrayed by Hal Holbrook.

The identity of Deep Throat was one of the biggest mysteries of American politics and journalism in recent times, and the source of more than 30 years of much public curiosity. Woodward and Bernstein insisted they would not reveal his identity until he died. However, on May 31, 2005, after Felt himself revealed his identity in a Vanity Fair magazine article, Woodward, Bernstein, and former Post executive editor Ben Bradlee confirmed that Felt was the Watergate source known as Deep Throat.


Role in Watergate

On 17 June 1972 at 2:30AM, five men were arrested by police on the sixth floor of the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee. Police had arrived on the scene after being alerted by an observant security guard who had noticed that a door leading into the hotel had been taped open.

The five men were unusual: they carried between them $2,300 in hundred-dollar bills with serial numbers in sequence, some lock-picks and door-jimmies, one walkie-talkie, a receiver capable of tuning in to police frequencies, two cameras, 40 rolls of unused film, tear-gas guns, and sophisticated devices capable of tapping in to all conversation that might be held in the offices.

At least one of the men was a former CIA employee. This person, Jim McCord, Jr., was at the time of his arrest a security man for President Nixons Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP). On two of the men, meanwhile, were found notebooks containing the telephone number of one E. Howard Hunt, whose name in the notebooks was accompanied by the inscriptions W House and W.H.

The scandal immediately attracted media scrutiny. A protracted period of clue-searching and trail-following then ensued, with reporters and eventually the U.S. Senate and judicial system probing to see how far up the Executive branch of government the Watergate scandal, as it had come to be known, extended.

A pair of young Post reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, wrote up the coverage of the story over a period of two years. The scandal eventually was shown to involve a variety of legal violations and implicated large numbers of the Nixon White House and State Department. With increasing pressure from the courts and the Senate, President Nixon eventually became the first and only U.S. President to resign, in disgrace, over the affair, narrowly avoiding impeachment by the House Judiciary Committee.

Woodward and Bernstein had an advantage over their competitors in writing their stories: the trust of a highly placed individual who oversaw the federal investigation of the crimes perpetrated by the Nixon administration. Woodward had befriended this individual years earlier, and had eventually come to see him as something of a mentor. This man provided Woodward with detailed tips and hints about how the investigation was proceeding, where to look for the clues, and how to proceed with uncovering the scandal on the pages of their newspaper. This man was the legendary informant: Deep Throat.

Secrecy was key

Woodward, in All the President's Men, first mentions Deep Throat on page 72. He describes him as "a source in the Executive Branch who had access to information at CRP, as well as at the White House." The book also calls him "an incurable gossip", "in a unique position to observe the Executive Branch", and a man "whose fight had been worn out in too many battles."

Woodward claimed that he would signal Deep Throat that he desired a meeting by moving a flowerpot with a red flag on the balcony of his apartment. When Deep Throat wanted a meeting he would make special marks on page twenty of Woodward's copy of The New York Times; he would circle the page number and draw clock hands to indicate the hour. They often met "on the bottom level of an underground garage just over the Key Bridge in Rosslyn," at 2:00 in the morning.

Many were dubious of these cloak and dagger methods. Adrian Havill investigated these claims for his 1993 biography of Woodward and Bernstein and found them to be factually impossible. He noted that Woodward's apartment 617 at 1718 P Street, Northwest, in Washington faced an interior courtyard and was not visible from the street. Havill said anyone regularly checking the balcony, as Deep Throat was said to have done daily, would have been spotted. Havill also said that copies of The Times were not delivered to individual apartments but delivered in an unaddressed stack at the building's reception desk. There would have been no way to know which copy was intended for Woodward.

Woodward, however, has since claimed that in the early 1970s the interior courtyard was an alleyway and had not yet been bricked off, and that his balcony was visible from street level to passing pedestrians. It was also visible, Woodward conjectured, to anyone from the FBI surveilling nearby embassies. Also revealed was the fact that Woodward's copy of the New York Times had his apartment number indicated on it. Former neighbor Herman Knippenberg stated that Woodward would sometimes come to his door looking for his marked copy of the Times, claiming "I like to have it in mint condition and I like to have my own copy" [1] (

Further, while Woodward in his book stressed these precautions, he also admits to calling Deep Throat on the telephone at his home.


In public statements following the disclosure of his identity, Felt's family has called him an "American hero," suggesting that he leaked information about the Watergate scandal to the Post for moral or patriotic reasons. A number of media commentators, however, have suggested that Felt bore Nixon a personal animus for having passed him over when appointing a successor to J. Edgar Hoover as Director of the FBI. Others have claimed that Felt acted mainly out of institutional loyalty to the FBI, whose independence many believed had been constrained by the Nixon administration.

Hints to his identity

For almost 30 years after the Watergate scandal, Deep Throat's identity was known only to four people: Woodward, Bernstein, their editor Benjamin C. Bradlee, and Felt himself. Woodward said in repeated interviews that the identity of Deep Throat would be kept confidential until Deep Throat died or agreed to let his name be made public.

In the years prior to Felt's disclosure, there was much speculation about the identity of Deep Throat. Woodward would only confirm that Deep Throat was a specific man in Nixon's administration — not a composite of several secret informants — who smoked heavily and liked drinking scotch.

Woodward gave specific denials to six other possibilities, at the request of those people:

Following the disclosure in May 2005 of Deep Throat's identity, Slate writer Tim Noah pointed out in a column ( that some of Woodward's characterizations, including the claim that Deep Throat was a heavy smoker, were misleading.

Deep Throat revealed

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Although confirmation of Deep Throat's identity remained elusive for over 30 years, there were suspicions that Felt was indeed the reporters' elusive source long before the public acknowledgement in 2005.

  • Richard Nixon himself believed that Felt was Deep Throat, but did not try to oust him, fearing that if he did, Felt would publicly reveal details about the Watergate coverup.
  • Carl Bernstein did not even share Deep Throat's identity with his immediate family, including wife Nora Ephron (As he said on NBC's Today Show on June 2, 2005, "I was never dumb enough to tell [Ephron]." "...which was very smart because I would have told the whole world by now," Ephron once commented.) Ephron became obsessed with figuring out the secret and eventually correctly concluded it was Mark Felt.[2] ( In 1999, a 19-year-old college freshman, Chase Culeman-Beckman, claimed to have been told by Bernstein's son that Felt was Deep Throat. According to Culeman-Beckman, Jacob Bernstein had said that he was "100 percent sure that Deep Throat was Mark Felt. He's someone in the FBI." Jacob had reportedly said this approximately 11 years prior, when he and Culeman-Beckman were classmates. Ephron explained that their son overheard her "speculations" and Carl Bernstein himself also immediately stepped forward to refute the claim but many did not believe these claims.
  • James Mann, who had worked at the Post at the time of Watergate and was close to the investigation, brought a great deal of evidence together in a 1992 article ( in The Atlantic Monthly that fingered Felt and convinced many. He argued that the information Deep Throat gave Woodward could only have come from FBI files. Felt was also embittered at having been passed over for the Director General position and believed that the FBI in general was hostile to the Nixon administration. In previous unrelated articles, Woodward had made clear he had a highly placed source at the FBI, and there is some evidence he was friends with Felt.
  • Woodward has kept in close touch with Felt over the years, even showing up unexpectedly at his house in 1999, after Felt's dementia began. Woodward showed up unexpectedly at the home of Felt's daughter, Joan, in Santa Rosa, California, as well. Some suspected at that time that Woodward might be asking Felt if he could reveal him to be Deep Throat, though Felt, when asked directly by others, had consistently denied being Deep Throat.
  • In 2002, Timothy Noah called Felt "the best guess going about the identity of Deep Throat."
  • In February 2005, Nixon's former White House Counsel (and current columnist) John Dean reported that Woodward had recently informed Bradlee that Deep Throat was ailing and close to death, and that Bradlee had written Deep Throat's obituary. Both Woodward and the current editor of the Post, Leonard Downie, denied these claims. Felt was a primary suspect, especially after the mysterious meeting that occured between Woodward and Felt in the summer of 1999.

On May 31, 2005, Vanity Fair magazine reported ( that William Mark Felt, then aged 91, claimed to be the man once known as Deep Throat. Later that day, Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee released a statement through the Washington Post confirming that the story was true, finally bringing to rest an enduring mystery in modern American politics.

On June 2, 2005, the Washington Post ran a lengthy front-page article ( by Woodward in which he detailed his friendship with Felt in the years before Watergate. Woodward wrote that he first met Felt by chance in 1970, when Woodward was a Navy lieutenant in his mid-twenties who was dispatched to deliver a package to the White House's West Wing. Felt arrived soon after, for a separate appointment, and sat next to Woodward in the waiting room. Woodward struck up a conversation, eventually learning of Felt's high position in the FBI. Woodward, who was about to get out of the Navy at the time and was unsure about his future direction in life, became determined to use Felt as a mentor and career advisor, and so he got Felt's phone number and kept in touch with him.

After deciding to try a career as a reporter, Woodward eventually joined the Washington Post in August, 1971. Felt, who Woodward writes had long had a dim view of the Nixon administration, began passing pieces of information to Woodward, although he insisted that Woodward keep the FBI and Justice Department out of anything he wrote based on the information. The first time Woodward used information from Felt in a Post story was in mid-May of 1972, a month before the Watergate burglary, when Woodward was investigating the man who had attempted to assassinate presidential candidate George Wallace. Nixon had put Felt in charge of investigating the would-be assassin as well. A month later, just days after the Watergate break-in, Woodward would call Felt at his office, marking the first time Woodward spoke with Felt about Watergate.

Commenting on Felt's motivations for serving as his Deep Throat source, Woodward wrote, "Felt believed he was protecting the bureau by finding a way, clandestine as it was, to push some of the information from the FBI interviews and files out to the public, to help build public and political pressure to make Nixon and his people answerable. He had nothing but contempt for the Nixon White House and their efforts to manipulate the bureau for political reasons."

Interestingly, in 1980, Felt himself was convicted of ordering illegal break-ins at the homes of Weathermen suspects, & their families. Ironically, Richard Nixon testified on his behalf- for the man who did so much to undermine his Administration.

Composite character theory

Although speculation always tended to focus on identifying Deep Throat as an individual, it was periodically suggested that the famous source was actually a composite character combining information the reporters obtained from several sources. When various accounts tried to identify the source based on the information provided by Woodward and Bernstein, they generally also sought to rebut alternative theories. The resulting evidence against each candidate suggested that either the reporters' tale was inconsistent, or that no single person fit the facts. Some analysts believed that the Deep Throat character was primarily a dramatic device used by the reporters to liven up their book's narrative. Before his admission, on previous occasions Felt himself had said he thought the character was likely a composite.

Possible confirmation for this idea came out after Felt's identity as Deep Throat was publicly acknowledged. Former FBI agent Paul Daly told the Albany Times-Union that the source in question was not Felt alone, but that a number of FBI officials had coordinated the leaks, discussing what aspects they should reveal to the press. The participants named by Daly included Robert G. Kunkel, agent-in-charge of the Washington field office and leader of the Watergate burglary investigation, along with Richard Long, chief of the white-collar crimes section, and Charles Bates, assistant director of the criminal investigative division.

Other suspected candidates

Fred Fielding

Another leading candidate was generally considered to be Fred F. Fielding. In April 2003 Fielding was presented as a potential candidate as a result of a detailed review of source material by William Gaines and his journalism students, as part of a class at the University of Illinois journalism school. [3] ( [4] ( Fielding was the assistant to John Dean and as such had access to the files relating to the affair. Gaines felt that statements by Woodward "ruled out" Deep Throat being in the FBI and that Deep Throat often had information before the FBI did. H.R. Haldeman suspected Fielding as being Deep Throat.

Dean had been one of the most dedicated hunters of Deep Throat. Both he and Leonard Garment dismissed Fielding as a possibility, reporting that he had been cleared by Woodward in 1980 when Fielding was applying for an important position in the Ronald Reagan administration. However this assertion, which comes from Fielding, has not been corroborated.

One reason that many experts believed that Deep Throat was Fielding and not Felt was due to Woodward's apparent denial in an interview that Deep Throat worked in the intelligence community:

LUKAS: Do you resent the implication by some critics that your sources on Watergateamong them the fabled Deep Throatmay have been people in the intelligence community?
WOODWARD: I resent it because it's untrue. Quote from Playboy interview, 1979 (

In retrospect, it appears that Woodward was only excluding the CIA with that statement, and not the FBI.

Other credible candidates

Other suggested candidates included:

  • John Ehrlichman: Nixon advisor. Passed away prior to Dean's 2005 article which indicated Deep Throat was still alive.
  • Ron Ziegler: press secretary. Passed away prior to Dean's 2005 article which indicated Deep Throat was still alive.
  • William E. Colby: head of the CIA. Passed away prior to Dean's 2005 article which indicated Deep Throat was still alive.
  • Charles W. Bates: FBI executive that Mann mentioned but considered less likely than Felt.
  • William C. Sullivan: former head of the FBI intelligence operations, fired by J. Edgar Hoover in 1971.
  • L. Patrick Gray: FBI director, who lived only four blocks away from Woodward, fingered by a CBS documentary.
  • Robert Kunkel: FBI Washington Bureau Chief that Mann mentioned but considered less likely than Felt as he moved to St. Louis partway through the investigation.
  • Cord Meyer: CIA agent fingered in Mark Riebling's Wedgie: The Secret War Between the FBI and the CIA. However, in an interview, Woodward stated that Deep Throat was not part of the intelligence community.
  • Raymond Price: Nixon speechwriter.
  • Stephen Bull: administrative assistant.
  • Lowell Weicker: U.S. Senator from Connecticut, believed by Pat Buchanan to possibly be Deep Throat.
  • Secret Service technicians: Richard Cohen argued it was whoever in the Secret Service maintained Nixon's secret taping devices.

Famous, but less credible, candidates

  • William Rehnquist: Currently the Chief Justice on the Supreme Court, had a position in the Department of Justice early in the Nixon administration, working for Attorney General John N. Mitchell. More than five months before the Watergate break-in he was appointed to the Supreme Court and it would have been almost impossible for him to have had access to much of the information Deep Throat is meant to have provided. In February 2005, Dean reported that Deep Throat was ailing, leading many to believe that Rehnquist was Deep Throat. However, Woodward later stated that the notion that Deep Throat was ailing was a misunderstanding.
  • Henry Kissinger: Nixon's National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, was out of the country on some of the dates Woodward reported to have met with Deep Throat.
  • George H. W. Bush: Was nominated in February 2005 by Adrian Havill — author of a 1993 biography of Woodward and Bernstein, Deep Truth (ISBN 1559721723) — following the unveiling of Woodward's notes at the University of Texas. Havill had argued in his biography that Deep Throat was a composite figure, but stated in a letter to Poynter Online that based on more recent events and research, he now believed Deep Throat was George H. W. Bush.
  • Alexander Haig: Authors Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin speculated in their 1991 book Silent Coup: The Removal of a President that Haig may have been Deep Throat.
  • Diane Sawyer:
  • Ben Stein: A Nixon speechwriter and the son of Nixon economic advisor Herbert Stein; later an actor and political commentator.
  • Gerald R. Ford: Nixon's successor.
  • Pat Buchanan: Served as special assistant to the President, was nominated as a potential candidate by Dean in his June 2002 book Unmasking Deep Throat. Buchanan repeatedly denied the claim, stating in a Time magazine article on the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in that "The last time I cooperated with the Washington Post...was in 1952, when I was a paper boy delivering the damn thing in northwest Washington."

Popular culture references


  • In an episode of War of the Worlds television series, the rogue Quinn refers to himself as being Deep Throat when he meets secretly with reporter Cash McCullough to uncover the Blackwood Project. When Cash asks for his name, Quinn replies "Woodward and Bernstein didn't need a name." He later calls the two "ungrateful bastards."
  • On NewsRadio, the character of Jimmy James (Stephen Root) claims to be Deep Throat.
  • On Will & Grace, the character of Karen Walker implied she was Deep Throat . . . "only to one of them."
  • On The X Files, lead character FBI agent Fox Mulder meets with an anonymous source called Deep Throat to get clues as to how to proceed with investigating cases.
  • On The Simpsons, Waylon Smithers meets up with Bart and Lisa to reveal fraud in the Springfield mayoral elections. Lisa is proud of their being "just like Woodward and Bernstein", while Bart replies "Yeah, except their dad wasn't waiting in the car reading Archie comics." Smithers, lurking in the shadows as Deep Throat takes a drag from his cigarette and states that all he can reveal is, how he worked on the an election campaign, but is interrupted by Homer Simpson, who turns on his car's headlights and shouts "Hey, Mr. Smithers!". An exasperated Smithers replies "Well, you might as well give me a ride home now". [5] (


  • A significent part of the plot of the 1999 film Dick depicts the film's protagonists as Deep Throat.

The printed word:

  • In the novel The Truth by Terry Pratchett, an individual codenaming himself "Deep Bone" passes inside information about an ongoing political scandal to newspaper journalist William de Worde (the novel contains numerous other references to the Watergate scandal in general).
  • In the last panel of MAD magazine's parody of the film All the President's Men, "Strep Throat" is revealed to be Gerald Ford.
  • In the comic book mini-series Marvel: The Lost Generation, Deep Throat was Undersecretary Scott, one of a number of aliases assumed by the Skrull spy Velmax, also the superhero Effigy.

Video games: In the video game Metal Gear Solid, a character claiming to be Deep Throat anonymously contacted protagonist Solid Snake at several points in the game with insider information about Snake's location.

Music: Several days after the identity of Deep Throat was revealed, a USA Today reporter asked singer-songwriter Carly Simon for the answer to another three-decades-old mystery: Who was the subject of her 1970s mega-hit "You're So Vain"? Simon, who has been asked this question many times, exclaimed with a laugh "It's about Mark Felt!" [6] (

External links

ca:Deep Throat (Watergate) es:Garganta Profunda (Watergate) fr:Gorge_Profonde_(informateur) he:גרון עמוק (ווטרגייט) hu:Mly Torok id:Deep Throat (Watergate)ja:ディープ・スロート (ウォーターゲート事件) no:Deep Throat (Watergate) pl:Głębokie Gardło sv:Deep Throat zh:深喉 (水门事件)


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