Monday, June 06, 2005
W. Mark Felt
Journalists cannot hope to approach an accurate rendering of an event without revealing their sources. Every source who has supplied a journalist with a part of a story has selected that bit of information, whether it is true or false, for a particular purpose. That purpose may be to advance his own career, to advance (or subvert) the interests of the agency he works for, to discredit an enemy, to advance an ideological agenda, or simply to assist a reporter. The bits of information thus supplied can be properly evaluated only in light of the circumstances and context in which they were given. It is not enough simply to present the assertion of an interested party— even if it can be shown that it is "accurate," in the trivial sense of accuracy" (which simply means correctly specifying the details touching on the event). One must know who made the disclosure and, ideally, why he made it to that particular individual at that particular moment in history. Concealing such information from the public amounts to a deliberate disguising of the event itself, since such a process hides all the interests that selected, shaped and possibly distorted the disclosures. To be sure, concealing the interests behind the disclosures of sources often serves the self interest of the journalist by making more likely that his sources will provide him with information for public disclosure. This makes his job much easier, but it also may omit a critical part of the story.
Consider, for example, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’ celebrated Watergate stories– described on the jacket of their book, All The President’s Men, as "the most devastating political detective story of the century." For 30 years, they kept secret one of their principal sources, W. Mark Felt, the FBI’s Associate Director, who now they identify as the "Deep Throat" character in their book. Felt, who began his career in the FBI in 1941 as a disinformation officer, was himself deeply involved with illegal break-ins. After J. Edgar Hoover died in 1972, and his secret files purged, Felt was gained control over some of the most sensitive files, including one entitled "Black Bag Jobs." Prior to Watergate, Felt had authorized a number of highly-secret FBI operations, including warrentless and illegal break-ins into the homes of relatives of political radicals (for which he in 1980 was convicted in Federal court of "unlawfully, willfully, and knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree together and with each other to injure and oppress citizens.") In June 1972, when the Watergate burglars were arrested, and then one of their co-conspirators Alfred C. Baldwin III, a former FBI agent, provided the FBI with details of a wide ranging wire-tap operation, Felt, and other FBI officials who had authorized their own illegal black bag jobs, had a motive in controlling the press reaction. In addition, Nixon's appointment of L. Patrick Gray to succeed Hoover as FBI director had set off a brutal power struggle. So Felt's efforts to steer Woodward, Bernstein and other journalist may be a relevant part of the event.
Felt carefully controlled the information he (as well as possibly others in the FBI) fed to journalists. For instance, he did not tell Woodward in the summer of 1972 about the prior break-ins and extensive electronic eavesdropping that the ex-FBI officer Baldwin had revealed to the FBI. Instead, as the prosecutors determined, he supplied Woodward with FBI "302" reports that detailed activities about one Donald H. Segretti. Segretti, a young Republican lawyer, had been playing "dirty tricks" on various Democrats in the primaries-- such as sending two hundred copies of a defamatory letter to Democrats-- but had nothing to do with illegal break-ins or Watergate. Felt, however, told Woodward that these dirty tricks were an integral part of Watergate, and that there were fifty other Segretti-type agents, all receiving information from Watergate-type bugging operations. Felt’s "50 other agents" never materialized anywhere except in a Woodward and Bernstein story. This detour-- which occupied almost one-third of Woodward and Bernstein's reporting-- led to a dead end.
To be sure, Felt also directed Woodward to a number of more profitable areas, such as the destruction of documents by his superior at the FBI,Gray. Less than 2 months after he supplied Woodward with this story, Felt was out of the FBI, but the flow of information to Woodward did not stop. According to a recent disclosure by another former FBI executive, Paul V. Daly, at least 3 other FBI officers were involved with Felt in this clandestine effort, all falling under the portmanteau cover of Deep Throat. Such a collaboratve effort might also explain how the Deep Throat package continue to pass White House secrets to Woodward 4 months after Felt had left the FBI. If so, the Machiavellian operation was effectively obscured by Woodward's Deep Throat. Instead of learning that a high-ranking FBI executive-- possibly with the aid of others in the FBI-- had been manipulating the press, the public was presented with a heroic tale of a patriotic loner, code named Deep Throat, who helped a dynamic duo of journalists defeat the governmental Goliath. The perpetuation of this myth for three decades is a triumph of the literary skills of Woodward and Bernstein over reality.
Thursday, June 02, 2005
Deep Throat Component
On June 1, 2005, W. Mark Felt Jr., a retired FBI official, claimed that he was "Deep Throat." Yes, Felt had been a source for Bob Woodward (and many other reporters) during the Watergate era. In my book Between Fact and Fiction-- published in 1975-- I wrote about "Deep Throat": The prosecutors at the Department of Justice now believe the mysterious source was probably Mark Felt, who was then an associate deputy director, because one statement the reporters attribute to Deep Throat could only have been made by Felt."There were similar stories in the Los Angeles Times published prior to Woodward and Bernstein's in the Washington Post, so presumably Felt had other outlets.
The traceable information that aroused the interest of the Watergate prosecutors concerned data from a few FBI 302 files that sent Woodward and Bernstein after Donald Segretti, and turned out to be, if not a wild goose chase, not relevant to the Watergate crime. The issue here was the FBI's curious role in feeding Woodward and other reporters stories on Watergate. (See my 1974 article in Commentary.) The FBI had a powerful interest in such a diversion since it had itself been guilty of a series of secret warrantless break-ins on Vietnam veterans which had been illegally ordered by Felt. (and would later result in Felt being convicted on a criminal charge of conspiracy.) The prosecutors eventually concluded that Felt provided this information to Woodward "to get rid of [FBI chief L.Patrick] Gray." Felt certainly was well versed in disinformation techniques, having begun his FBI career in 1945 with a successful disinformation operation. Woodward now confirms that the prosecutors were correct: Felt provided him information from FBI files. So we know what we knew 30 years ago.
The question at issue now is: is Felt the source described in Woodward's book as Deep Throat-- or is he merely a part of a composite character, a package called Deep Throat?
Consider, for example, Woodward and Bernstein explosive Washington Post story on November 8, 1973 about "deliberate erasures" on one of the White House tapes. In his book All The President's Men, Woodward says that in the first week of November he "moved the flower pot" on his sixth floor balcony (a signal to Deep Throat), then met Deep Throat that night in an underground garage. Deep Throat then told him that the tapes contained "gaps" that indicated it had been tampered with. So that story is sourced to Deep Throat in November 1973.
But the person who provided that information that night could not have been Felt according to records examined by Nixon's biographer Jonathan Aitken. In November 1973, only six people knew about the gaps in the tape-- Richard Nixon; Rose Mary Woods (Nixon's personal secretary); Alexander Haig (The White House chief of staff); Haig's deputy, Major General John C Bennett and two trusted Nixon White House aides, Fred Buzhardt and Steve Bull. Not only was Felt not privy to that White House secret, but he was no longer even in the FBI, having left that October.
Felt himself repeatedly denied being the source of this information for some 30 years. He states in his 1979 autobiography that he met Woodward once-- and in his FBI office-- and rejected Woodward's request for information. If so, Felt cannot be the "Deep Throat" character who met with Woodward over and over again in an underground garage. If Felt himself is truthful in his book, he can be no more than a component of the Deep Throat package.
Part of the "mystery" enjoyed by Woodward, is that there are no corroborative witnesses to any of these meetings between Woodward and Deep Throat (no more than there was a corroborative witness to Woodward's putative death bed interview with CIA Director William Casey). Not even Woodward's co-author, Carl Bernstein, was present at any of these meetings that supposedly took place in an empty underground parking garage.
Woodward never mentioned Deep Throat in any of the newspaper stories he wrote in the Washington Post between 1972 and 1974. In these stories he consistently attributes his information to multiple sources. Consider, for example, his (and Bernstein's) 1972 revelation that at least "50 people" who worked for the White House and the Nixon campaign were involved in spying and sabotage. In the Washington Post (October 10, 1972, p A1), he attributes the information to multiple "FBI reports." In 1974, in All The President's Men (p.135), he puts the exact same information in the mouth of Deep Throat, saying "You can safely say that 50 people worked for the White House and the CRP to play games and spy and sabotage and gather information."
According to Woodward's own book agent, David Obst: "In the original draft of their book, Deep Throat was not mentioned. In the second draft he suddenly appeared and it was a better book for the addition, a much more exciting one." What Woodward perhaps did not antipate is that his character would take on a life of his own-- and 30 years later be adopted by the handlers of Mr. Felt.