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A former FBI agent reacts to 'Deep Throat' revelation

Does the polygraph, in the hands of a trained, competent individual really allow the operator to detect deception on the part of the person being tested?  Well, yes and no. Try betting your life or your career on that one!

• June 1, 2005 |

Deep Throat's identity finally revealed

A story in this week's Vanity Fair magazine will identify 91-year-old former FBI #2 man W. Mark Felt as ““Deep Throat,” the anonymous government insider who, by providing investigative leads to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, allowed the Nixon Administration’s role in facilitating the Watergate break-in to come to public attention. This eventually brought down that administration and ultimately the president himself.

As an FBI agent for 25 years, I know that it was believed by many inside and outside of both the government and the FBI itself that Mark Felt was the one person, as head of FBI Investigations world wide, who would have had access to information that could have broken this case open if revealed to the media. 

As history will soon know, Felt, an FBI loyalist, was probably very upset with the initial Watergate investigation and his sense of loyalty to the country and to the FBI. He may have been offended by President Nixon and members of that administration involving itself in political dirty tricks and common street crimes, i.e., the break-in into offices connected with the opposite political party in Nixon’s bid to seek reelection. 

It is believed that Nixon, as subsequently revealed by secret White House audio tapes, attempted to cover-up his and his administration’s role in the attempted break-in, including Nixon suggesting that the CIA should attempt to stop or at least impede the FBI investigation by suggesting that it was a national security matter that was being handled by the CIA (and that the FBI should keep out of the case).

I believe that Felt did what he did for altruistic reasons. He, as an FBI agent and a high ranking FBI  official, was probably so offended by the president’s attempts to manipulate an investigation that he saw no other way to force the investigation to go forward other than to leak information to the media, which in turn could affect public and congressional opinion to demand more, not less investigation by the FBI into the Watergate break-in.

The identity of “Deep Throat” has been kept secret for some 30-years, remarkable by today’s standards when “secrets” are kept for hours or days at best by government officials. It speaks positively for the media, particularly the reporters of the Washington Post and their editor for keeping to their word not to reveal the identity of their source. 

This story will have deep repercussions throughout the media and the government, especially at the FBI where it is believed by many that you do not talk to the media no matter what. The source's advise to the Post reporters has been the key to FBI investigations for years. “Follow the Money” said “Deep Throat”, and it will lead you to the top. 

In the case of Watergate, the money led from the burglars themselves, to include former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy, to a former CIA official, to the Attorney General of the U.S., and eventually to the White House and the Oval Office and the person occupying the chair in that office.

Whether Felt’s information alone would have brought down President Nixon (note that Felt has told his daughter that this was not his goal) is unknown, but when a then FAA official by the name of Butterfield, revealed that there was a recording device in the Oval Office that tape-recorded the president’s conversations, that was when the media, Congress and the nation became even more interested. These tapes proved not only to show the sordid side of the conversations in that office, but also provided information to confirm that the president himself was up to his neck in Watergate.  As we know, President Nixon was eventually forced to resign his office and was later granted a pardon by then President Ford for his role in Watergate and Felt, later indicted for his approval of “black bag jobs” seeking to identify anti-war bombers, was himself later pardoned by President Reagan. 

This is an exciting part of American history, something that shows that even when confronted by the highest levels of corruption, democracy can lead to the truth, and the Republic can survive both corruption and truth, and no one, not even a seated President, is above the law. Of interest are the altruistic actions of a high-ranking FBI official who had to weigh his responsibility as a government official with that of his oath as an FBI agent and his duty as a citizen.  Some, such as Gordon Liddy, will suggest that Felt was wrong to have gone to the media (obviously Mr. Liddy went to jail for his role in Watergate), while others will suggest that Felt was a whistleblower in the best of senses.

But why come forward, and why now?  First know that Mark Felt is a 91-year-old man whose body and mind are, like most people his age, challenged by his years on earth, and the decisions he has had to make.  Some will suggest that he came forward for glory and money.  After 30 years? Nuts to that!  According to the Vanity Fair article Felt’s daughter suggested to him that the truth need be told before he dies and that she and her children could use the money.  Mark Felt never sought attention or money for himself, unlike many modern day whistle blowers, especially those that have come from within the FBI.  He was one of the old school FBI Agents; he did what he did because he thought it was right thing to do and best for the country.  

Thankfully he made the right decision, and truth, though long in coming, eventually came to the surface and our nation was better for it.

Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed , a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and was the leader of the analytical team tasked with identifying the "Unabomber."