Woodward’s ‘Deep Throat’ Piece Appears, Holds Few Major Surprises

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By: Greg Mitchell

In a lengthy, first-person account in the Thursday Washington Post, Bob Woodward finally begins to tell the full story of how he met and later utilized W. Mark Felt, now identified as Deep Throat, in his Watergate sleuthing that helped bring down the Nixon presidency.

The story, which contains few big surprises, appears on page A1 of the newspaper under Woodward’s sole byline, though he went into seclusion with his former partner, Carl Bernstein, on Tuesday night.

Among other things, Woodward reveals that in some discussions with Felt, then a top FBI official, “I was somewhat apologetic for plaguing him and being such a nag. … Felt said I not should worry about pushing him.”

Woodward elaborates on what he has written previously about how the two men arranged meetings. He describes, for example, how they hit upon the idea of Woodward signalling Felt that he wanted to meet him, using a red flag and flowerpot on his balcony (a story that some have doubted). They would meet the same night about 2 a.m. on the bottom level of an underground garage just over Key Bridge in Rosslyn.

Felt instructed Woodward on strict counter-surveillance techniques and advised him not to use his own car but take two separate cabs and walk a fair distance too, meaning it would be a trip of one or two hours. But Woodward himself raises questions about how Felt “could have made a daily observation of my balcony.”

Before all that, however, the story unfolds in chronological fashion, opening with Woodward meeting Felt in a fluke occurence at the White House, when he was still in the U.S. Navy and delivering a package. They struck up enough of a conversation to talk again later. Then, when Woodward, who had no real newspaper experience, landed a job at a paper in the Maryland suburbs, he asked Felt for advice. “Felt said he thought newspapers were too shallow and too quick on the draw,” Woodward writes. “Newspapers didn’t do in-depth work and rarely got to the bottom of events.”

Woodward kept in touch with Felt and they became friends. After Woodward was hired by the Post, Felt gave him some leads when the reporter was covering the shooting of Gov. George Wallace.

Then Woodward details how he started working with Bernstein on their first story on the Watergate break-in, in June 1972, with Woodward calling Felt almost immediately. At first, Felt hangs up on him (he didn’t like calls at the office) but later gave him helpful information on Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt.

Later, Woodward called Felt, who wouldn’t talk. So the reporter showed up at Felt’s Virginia home. Felt didn’t like that either (too many people around) and “if we were to talk it would have to be face to face where no one could observe us.” That’s when they came up with flowerpot-signaling idea.

Felt also proposed that if he had something to offer the reporter he would leave a message on page 20 of Woodward’s copy of The New York Times which was delivered inside the front door of his apartment building. This is another story that has inspired skeptics, but Woodward writes today that Felt somehow got in the building, “how, I never knew.”

Woodward concludes his story this way:

“It was only later after Nixon resigned that I began to wonder why Felt had talked when doing so carried substantial risks for him and the FBI. Had he been exposed early on, Felt would have been no hero. Technically, it was illegal to talk about grand jury information or FBI files — or it could have been made to look illegal.

“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. The young eager-beaver patrol of White House underlings, best exemplified by John W. Dean III, was odious to him.

“His reverence for Hoover and strict bureau procedure made [L. Patrick] Gray’s appointment as director all the more shocking. Felt obviously concluded he was Hoover’s logical successor.

“And the former World War II spy hunter liked the game. I suspect in his mind I was his agent. He beat it into my head: secrecy at all cost, no loose talk, no talk about him at all, no indication to anyone that such a secret source existed.” Felt also declared: “I have to do this my way.”

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