Mark Felt, a.k.a. Deep Throat, was, according to William F. Buckley, a "Brutus." As Hamlet might have noted, 'twas a brute part of him to kill a calf in the capitol.
But how did this brute learn (before November of 1973) of the "deliberate erasure" of more than one Watergate tape -- including the one with the 18 1/2 minute gap? Felt was out of government service by this point, and only five or six people within the Nixon White House knew this darkest of secrets.
Of all the lingering questions besetting Throat-spotters, this may be the most difficult to resolve. The semi-official answer (according to Mickey Kaus and others) is that Rose Mary Woods, Nixon's ever-loyal secretary, told Felt about the erasures.
How likely is this scenario?
Not very.Mark Felt, The FBI, and "Rose Mary's boo-boo."
In order to understand why this "semi-official" scenario is absurd, let's review some FBI history.
In the last year of J. Edgar Hoover's life, many in Washington had decided that he had to resign. (At this time, Martha Mitchell quipped: "If you've seen one FBI Director, you've seen 'em all.") Liberals hated Hoover, as did (for other reasons) the larger intelligence community. In 1971, Nixon called the Director into the Oval Office -- then refused to follow through with the firing. No-one really knows what J. Edgar said to keep his job, although nearly everyone suspects that blackmail played a part.
William Sullivan, the high-ranking FBI man with close connections to James Jesus Angleton's CIA faction, had hoped to inherit Hoover's position. Rankled by Nixon's refusal to fire Hoover, Sullivan quit. He then told the press about various FBI and administration misdeeds. Do not go gently
, as the poet said.
Hoover died in May of 1972. (One witness -- possibly two
witnesses -- secretly told the Ervin committee that the FBI chieftain was poisoned.) James Jesus Angleton later semi-"confessed" to author Curt Gentry that he (Angleton) had helped to snatch up Hoover's 'juiciest' files -- the ones dripping with blackmail material. No-one knows what then happened to those files; they may have been stored at the Blue Ridge Club in Harper's Ferry, a "boy's club" for like-minded high-ranking CIA and FBI men. The club went up in flames shortly thereafter.
Nixon immediately appointed L. Patrick Gray, an outsider, to the post of acting FBI director. The President did not
consider giving the job to Hoover loyalist Mark Felt, who had been, in large measure, running the Bureau during the last year of Hoover's life.
(Hoover had originally placed Felt in this august position to keep an eye on Sullivan, who could not be fired directly. Sullivan's CIA friend James Jesus Angleton possessed incriminating evidence of Hoover's homosexuality.)
Why didn't Nixon give the Director's position to the very ambitious Mark Felt in 1972? And why didn't he offer the job to Felt in early 1973, when Nixon had lost faith in Gray's abilities and began to search for a replacement?
At that time, Nixon (through an aide) contacted Felt and asked about a possible new FBI Director. 'What about Sullivan?'
the aide asked. Felt responded that the old Hoover loyalists would rebel. Other names were mentioned. Felt was not on the list.
The obvious message: You ain't getting the job, Felt. We know you're ambitious. But as long as Dick Nixon is in the White House, you are not going to get the spot you covet.
Why go to such lengths to convey that humiliating message? Because Nixon wanted Felt to take the step he actually took not many months later: Quit
Nixon and his staff viewed Mark Felt with distrust and disdain because they believed him to be a leaker to the press.
We come now to October/November 1973, that eerie Halloween season when Woodward learned that more than one Watergate tape had been deliberately erased. That was the word Throat used: deliberately
All thinking people have long understood that the erasures were, in fact, deliberate. Rose Mary Woods tried to convince Watergate investigators that she had created the 18 1/2 minute gap accidentally, but her explanation never held water.
Rose Mary Woods knew those tapes intimately, and she therefore must have understood that her boss did not trust Mark Felt.
Which brings us to a simple question: Why would she blab to Mark Felt, someone she would NOT consider trustworthy or discreet, about one of the great political crimes of the century? Would you
tell a man you considered a press-friendly blabbermouth all the sordid details of a matter that could land both you and your boss in jail?
And why would she or anyone else in the Nixon White House invite further interrogation about what used to be on that 18 1/2 minutes of oxide?
So much for the semi-official theory about Felt's knowledge.The Company we keep.
Once we toss out Kaus' silly presumption about Rose Mary Woods, we must confront the deeper problems: Who, aside from a half-dozen White House insiders, might have learned the truth about the erasures? And who had reason to relay that information to Mark Felt?
Which is another way of asking: Who was the Deep Throat behind Deep Throat?
The answer is simple: The CIA.
The CIA had, almost certainly, bugged the White House. How do we know this? For one thing, Tad Szulc, a very respected journalist, published a little-noticed article revealing that CIA men had, early in the Nixon administration, posed as painters to plant bugs in the White House. The Moorer/Radford eavesdropping operation was also directed at the White House -- specifically at Kissinger, who was viewed with mistrust. Although the Moorer spy ring was a Navy operation, the information thus gleaned made its way to James Jesus Angleton. An extreme ideology joined these men together. In their view, Kissinger was nothing less than a possible Soviet plant.
But the evidence of CIA eavesdropping goes deeper still.
The individual who had installed President Nixon's taping system was himself a not-so-secret CIA man. Jim Hougan's Secret Agen
da (pages 58-60) makes this point clearly enough.
We would never have learned about the tapes if not for the information volunteered by Alexander Butterfield, a former Air Force officer who had joined the White House staff under still-mysterious circumstances. Butterfield had overseen the installation of the presidential taping system.
Many in the Nixon White House -- including Haldeman, Rose Mary Woods, Secret Service technician Bill McMahon and (probably) Charles Colson -- believed that Butterfield was really CIA. (McMahon himself, interestingly enough, had a CIA background.)
The reasoning behind this belief involves a rather complex argument which had much to do with the odd circumstances of Butterfield's hiring, and with the fact that he needlessly resigned his Air Force commission to take the White House job. The resignation would have been mandated by a CIA-Air Force protocol arrangement -- if
, as many suspect, Butterfield was one of the many who then served both the Air Force and the Agency.
If a CIA man installed the presidential taping system, then we have good reason to believe that Nixon's private conversations were also heard back in Langley, Virginia.
That's just what Charles Colson thought: "The CIA had tapes of everything related to the White House."
Colson was so certain of this that he asked the mysterious "detective" Gordon Novel
to erase the CIA's copies of the presidential tapes using a "degaussing gun." Novel himself has confirmed that Colson made the request -- which, he later said, went unfulfilled only because his price was not met.
Many commentators on this odd episode have said that the degaussing scheme was impossible. An early Jack Anderson report gave the erroneous impression that Novel needed to fire the degaussing "gun" across the Potomac! Actually, the erasing process would have been simpler: All Novel needed was access to CIA headquarters -- and we know (from Anthony Summers' Official and Confidential
) that Novel was indeed visiting CIA headquarters during this period. To be specific: Novel had ties to James Jesus Angleton, the likeliest person to have possessed the CIA's copies of the Nixon tapes. Like Hoover, Angleton had pissed off many
powerful people in Washington -- and, like Hoover, he used blackmail to keep his position.
Obviously, Colson would not go to such lengths to erase the CIA copies of the presidential tapes unless he knew damn well that such copies existed
Over the past few decades, many have asked two obvious questions: Why did Butterfield tell investigators that the taping system existed? And why didn't Nixon simply destroy the tapes?
Conventional historians have yet to offer persuasive explanations. Yet all mysteries find resolution the moment we accept the idea that CIA hard-liners -- men who distrusted Kissinger and despised the opening to China -- set out to control or undermine Nixon's presidency.
Butterfield spilled the beans about the tapes precisely because he knew
that they would bring about Nixon's downfall. Nixon could not destroy the tapes because CIA had copies of the same material, and could release them to the press.
(Readers may recall that, in later years, very similar taped revelations beset both Princess Diana and Prince Charles.)
What, then, was on the erased segments? And why would Nixon erase that 18 1/2 minute's worth of material while leaving the "smoking gun" tape intact?
Obviously, the deleted material concerned a matter that both
the CIA and Nixon preferred to keep under wraps. You may supply your own suggestion as to what that matter might be. If no ideas occur to you, ask a JFK assassination researcher.
For present purposes, the important point that we must always keep in mind is this: The CIA's hands were all over Watergate
-- and Woodward's coverage kept the agency out of the picture. As previous posts have emphasized, Robert Bennett of the CIA worked closely with Woodward.
Bennett's Mullen Company, a CIA front, employed Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt. Hunt and McCord were CIA plants in the president's re-election effort. They used CIA resources and CIA personnel in such matters as the drawing up of psychological profiles. (The creation of such a profile is precisely the reason why the Plumbers broke into the offices of Daniel Ellsberg's shrink.) The break-ins were funded by the same "Mexican bank" conduit the CIA had set up for the Bay of Pigs operation. Secret Serviceman Bill McMahon complained that McCord had somehow managed to fill many security positions in the White House with personnel from the Agency's Office of Security.
Hoover had presciently referred to the fact that Nixon had "some former CIA men working for him that I'd kick out of my office. Someday, that bunch will serve him up a fine mess."
Nixon always felt that his enemies were liberals. In fact, he made his greatest enemy when he fired CIA director Richard Helms in early 1973. Mark Felt and the CIA.
We have not yet completed the puzzle, of course. The scenario I've drawn here depends on one basic assumption -- an assumption I consider logical even though (as I freely admit) we have very little direct evidence backing the notion.
I presume that Mark Felt was approached and, in essence, recruited by someone associated with the CIA. That "someone" may have been James Jesus Angleton.
Has Felt ever made a statement to this effect? Offhand, I can think of only one direct quote which serves this argument: Deep Throat told Woodward that everyone -- including the Washington Post
reporters themselves -- were being spied upon by the CIA. How could Felt have known this, unless a CIA source fed him the information?
Indeed, how could Felt have known all that "Deep Throat" knew -- unless a source with access the the CIA tapes fed him the information?
Logic tells us that the CIA might well have fingered Mark Felt as someone easy to "turn." After all, Nixon had twice made clear to Felt that he would never get the FBI Directorship that he so obviously desired. Nixon had insulted
Felt. Felt must have wanted retribution.
We have excellent reason to believe that Felt met the CIA's James Jesus Angleton socially at the Blue Ridge Club in Harper's Ferry. (Hoover, Felt, Sullivan and Angleton would all get together to play poker at this "boy's club.") One can easily picture Angleton approaching Felt at a later date. Indeed, one can almost hear the words: Play ball with us, and we'll try to get you the Director's job after Nixon is out.
Can I prove
that those words were said? No.
But the postulate of such an offer immediately explains at least half the lingering mysteries surrounding Watergate and the removal of Richard Nixon.Final Note:
I am very grateful to Xymphora for linking to my work on Deep Throat; the referral brought many new readers. However, I do not want my own thoughts on Watergate connected in any way to the egregious Silent Coup
thesis of Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin. Their demonization of John Dean never sat well with me. In my view, their book is a mixture of fascinating and important factual material (particularly regarding the Moorer/Radford affair) and some Olympian conclusion-hopping. (Yes, I may be guilty of a leap or two myself in the text above, but at least I've tried to give my readers all proper warning.)
The Silent Coup
scenario has served the purposes of our current-day far right propagandists -- which is why NewsMax and like-minded "news" outlets have given those ideas so much play. (Incidentally, NewsMax asked me for contact information on Jim Hougan, which I refused to give. Now I know why they asked.)
Most importantly, the Colodny/Gettlin thesis covers up CIA involvement in Watergate.
If we ignore CIA, we will never get at the real facts of this scandal.
Anthony Summers' Nixon bio pretty much demolishes the Colodny/Gettlin thesis that Dean's attractive wife Maureen worked for a call girl ring at the center of Watergate. I'll never understand why Summers relegated his data to a mere footnote. But it's a long and telling footnote, and I believe his information to be accurate.Update:
An odd thought just now occurred to me.
Why, many wonder, did Woodward and Bernstein include so many misleading clues regarding Throat's identity? They described him as a tall, lanky chain-smoker with a strong literary bent. Mark Felt never fit that picture -- but James Jesus Angleton did. If my surmise about the Throat-behind-Throat is correct, perhaps Woodward knew more than he has ever let on about the "insider" aiding Mark Felt.