Book Review: Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat

Kunk Fu Zoby Kung Fu Zu2/14/18
By Max Holland  •  Lest people believe that FBI high-ups leaking like a sieve for their own personal agenda is something new, I would like to recommend readers peruse the pages of Max Holland’s Leak: How Mark Felt Became Deep Throat.

Anyone who was not comatose at the time will remember the “Watergate” story as per the best-selling book and following movie, All the President’s Men. A fearless duo of Woodward and Bernstein, by dent of tireless investigative work, jointly dug-up the goods on the Nixon Whitehouse. The two intrepid reporters found a mysterious character, “Deep Throat,” who worked within the government and, driven by patriotism, leaked information to the dynamic duo so as to keep the country from being taken over by a fascist group in the White House, or something along those lines. What rubbish.

For decades, the actual identity of Deep Throat was kept secret, but a few years before his death in 2008 at the age of 95, Mark Felt, or better said, his children arranged to let the world know the truth. To say they did this for monetary reasons might be less than charitable, but given that the man was apparently deep in the depths of dementia, one can’t help but wonder.

Holland’s book completely debunks the myth of Deep Throat as patriotic squealer and makes a very convincing case that Felt’s actions were anything other than selfish and self-serving.

To explain why this was so, Holland takes the reader back to the time shortly before J. Edgar Hoover’s death; a time of the so-called “succession war” in the FBI.  It had appeared there were three contenders for the directorship, once Hoover retired or died. Shortly before Hoover’s death, two of these men departed the FBI and the third, Mark Felt, appeared to be heir-apparent. Much to Felt’s consternation, when Hoover died suddenly in May of 1972, President Nixon appointed an outsider, L. Patrick Gray, as Acting Director of the FBI. Nixon was deeply involved with his re-election effort at the time, and wanted to wait until he was re-elected to appoint the permanent director.

Deeply disappointed at not being chosen director, Felt decided that he needed to demonstrate to the White House that an FBI outsider would not be able to control the Bureau.  Once the White House learned this lesson, Felt thought the President would likely dismiss Gray and ask Felt to lend his steady hand in running the Bureau.

With this in mind, Felt contacted a young unknown reporter, Bob Woodward, at the Washington Post who covered the D.C. city desk, not national news. Felt laid out to Woodward the ground rules under which they were to cooperate and once Woodward agreed to these rules, Felt started to leak small controlled bits of information about the Watergate break-in.  Carl Bernstein was brought in later, apparently for his writing ability, but he had no contact with Felt. The only time Bernstein met Felt was shortly before Felt’s death.

Once the Post started publishing Woodward’s and Bernstein’s articles, the White House went ballistic. The administration was convinced someone at the FBI was leaking and it was clear to them that Gray was not able to control the Bureau. Gray was told to tighten things up, but the man was apparently so naïve as to believe his subordinates at the FBI were loyal to him and would not do anything so base as to leak confidential info.

Had Felt known how successful his campaign had been within the upper-realms of the White House, he would probably have cut back on the information flow to Woodward pretty quickly. The White House had come to the conclusion that the FBI needed an insider to run it and it was thought that Felt would be the man to choose as director once Nixon was re-elected.  Had the leaks stopped at this time, it is likely that the “Watergate” scandal would never have occurred.   But Felt was an impatient man and decided to up the pressure on the White House by increasing his leaking. We know how that turned out.

Surprisingly, the White House soon became convinced Felt was the leaker, but decided to leave him in place as they were afraid of the damage he could wreak should he be fired outright. Nixon had advised Gray to have Felt take a lie-detector test, but Gray would not do this because he was sure Felt was a faithful subordinate and it would be an insult to ask such a thing. Decades later, when Felt came out as Deep Throat, Gray was shocked and hurt at Felt’s betrayal. One wonders how anyone could be so unaware of what was going on around him.

Holland was also able to show that it is probable that others within the Bureau worked together with Felt in leaking information. The likely suspects are a small clique of men who would have moved up the FBI ladder with Felt, had he become director

In the end, Gray was forced to resign the directorship. The White House, knowing of Felt’s duplicity, appointed William Ruckelshaus as Acting Director. He demanded Felt’s resignation after receiving information from someone purporting to be a reporter from the New York Times, claiming that Felt had leaked information to the paper regarding illegal wire-taps during the Hoover era. The actual leaker was probably one of Felt’s old FBI rivals. All of Felt’s machinations turned out to be for naught.

Despite Woodward’s requests he come out, Felt continued to deny he was Deep Throat, even after he left the FBI. It turns out that this was a wise move, as in 1978 the Carter Justice Department decided to indict Felt for illegal “Black-Bag” operations, which he had approved during the Hoover years.

Outraged at the indictment, many past and present FBI agents contributed money to a legal fund to defend Felt. Had he not received this money, it is likely that his legal costs would have bankrupted him. If those agents had known that Felt was Deep Throat, Holland believes they would have been less forthcoming with their help.

In what must be seen as the irony of ironies, Richard Nixon testified at Felt’s trial claiming that what Felt did, being under orders from the president, was not illegal. Nixon also contributed money to Felt’s defense fund. Who says fiction is stranger than truth?

In the event, Felt was found guilty on November 6, 1980, but was pardoned by President Reagan in April of 1981.  He was free, but bad news was soon to come. His wife committed suicide in 1984, after which time he moved to California to be near his children and grandchildren.

Leak is something of a historians’ book. There is a lot of detail to follow. It takes Holland less than 200 pages to tell his story, but there are an additional 80 pages of notes and bibliography. It is a very well researched volume.

The book is not uplifting, but such books rarely are. It makes clear that the culture of the FBI was poisonous. Felt lied to Gray, to Woodward, to the press and to his colleagues. Some of Felt’s rivals acted in much the same way. One wonders if the rewards are really worth the costs.

Leak is a warning to us all. Holland has reminded us what happens to people at the highest levels of government. This should be enough to motivate everyone to stay involved and pay attention to what is happening in our country. The actors may change, the script doesn’t.


Kung Fu Zu is a conservative prognosticator who has traveled widely and lived outside the United States. He often leaks, but behind closed doors. • (150 views)

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25 Responses to Book Review: Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Very good review, Mr. Kung. Felt looks like the kind of weasel who would be a weasel.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    I believe I recall that someone pointed out the likely motive at the time Felt (or his children) came out with this revelation. At least such leaks and betrayals seem to have been relatively rare at the time, and this one likely had nothing to do with politics. Today it’s much worse. Like the CIA, the FBI seems to have a lot of east coast liberals running things. This leads to an inability to understand middle Americans, especially really odd ones such as Randy Weaver and David Koresh. That often leads to disaster.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    One very interesting take-away from the story is how the purely personal often plays a very important part in political history. There was no policy objective at play, yet Felt’s actions, literally, changed history.

    Another interesting point is how unintended consequences and chance work to shape history.

  4. Rosalys says:

    I really should take a few minutes to wake up completely before I turn on the computer; when I first saw the title of the article, I thought it read, “Leak: Why My Felt Marker became Deep Throat.” I figured it was another one of Mr. Kung’s funny little vignettes. And no, I am not joking – I really was that foggy this morning!

    Now that I am completely awake…

    Good review, and it makes me think I want to read it. I was a teenager at the time of Watergate (and therefore not paying as much attention as perhaps I ought.) I was also born into a staunchly conservative Republican family. Therefore I never viewed the Watergate scandal with the seriousness it supposedly deserved. I still don’t. That is, the actual break in. Nixon’s lying? Yeah, but still hardly the crime of the century. The real damage was that the press was able to take down a president, and the absolute power seems to have corrupted absolutely. I believe very little of what comes out of the main stream (so-called – because I don’t think they are anymore. They are just liberal.) It’s almost to the point where if they tell us that Mr. Whosie-dinger had eggs for breakfast, I assume he wanted his Maypo.

    Unfortunately for Nixon’s legacy, he has been cast as America’s greatest villain, who lied continuously about everything. The truth is that he was a tragic figure, and all too human. Years later, when I was older, (and if not wiser, at least I was now paying attention,) I watched an old interview with Nixon and was struck by just how brilliant he was.

    Compared to the stuff going on today, Watergate is almost laughable.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      The few people I know who had met Dick Nixon all report that he was personable, funny with an ironic sense of humor, and staunchly loyal to those who were loyal to him. I think some of this is evident in the Frost interviews.

      I am willing to forgive many of his faults because he personally ordered the DoD to supply the IAF with the “black boxes” that enabled Israel to defeat Egyptian and Syrian air defenses in the Oct 73 war, thus preventing nuclear war in the ME.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Nixon had a lot of personal popularity (he was actually the most popular 1968 candidate, at least after RFK was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan), and was very knowledgeable about foreign affairs. But he also seems have been paranoid and resentful of those who never had to struggle for money. Those problems led to his difficulties once he was president.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I thought it read, “Leak: Why My Felt Marker became Deep Throat.”

      This is worthy of Emily Litella who Timothy mentioned the other day.

      Long story short: Abuse of power is bad when Republicans do it, and the press are heroes for uncovering it. Abuse of power is good when directed at a Republican and the press are heroes for covering it up.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I thought it read, “Leak: Why My Felt Marker became Deep Throat.”

      Thanks for my laugh of the day, Rosalys!

      Compared to the stuff going on today, Watergate is almost laughable.

      Holland, a man of the Left who campaigned for McGovern against Nixon, mentioned that both Johnson and Kennedy had people wire-tapped without warrants. In fact, this practice went back to FDR.

      When looking at the Watergate crisis, one can’t help but wonder how so many people could do so many stupid, unprofessional things. The burglars were caught because they were so sloppy.

      Unfortunately for Nixon’s legacy, he has been cast as America’s greatest villain, who lied continuously about everything. The truth is that he was a tragic figure, and all too human. Years later, when I was older, (and if not wiser, at least I was now paying attention,) I watched an old interview with Nixon and was struck by just how brilliant he was.

      I can tell you that Nixon was held in very high regard in Europe. Europeans were very impressed with his Detente agreement with the USSR and his opening to China.

      And I don’t remember who said, “Just because you are paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you”, but that describes Nixon’s situation perfectly.

      The Left had a particular hate for Nixon because he was the man who finally got Alger Hiss, the communist in government. And there were many communists in government and the media at the time, despite the B.S. which is spread today about the “Red Scare.”

      In fact, one of Bernstein’s bosses at the Washington Post opined that Bernstein was trying to get Nixon for the sake of Bernstein’s parents’, who Bernstein had described as, I believe the term was, “atheistic communist Jews.”

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Scammon and Wattenberg mentioned in The Real Majority that a Brit, after visiting Nixon, mentioned how nice it was the we finally had a professional president.

        Wiretapping without a warrant was legal because there was no law against, and SCOTUS hadn’t yet ruled against it. They couldn’t use the results in court without a warrant, but quite often they didn’t care about it. For example, the FBI used to inform a chap running his own non-mob craps games whenever the New England family was going to kill him, thus keeping him alive. Then SCOTUS at last declared such wiretaps unconstitutional. He didn’t last too long after that.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          If I understood correctly, the reason the Watergate break-in worried the White House was that the people involved in it were also involved in breaking into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office.

          The Watergate break-in could be explained away as simply one political party vs. another, whereas the thing with Ellsberg would be seen as attacking an individual.

          There was also the question of a pattern evolving.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          Scammon and Wattenberg mentioned in The Real Majority that a Brit, after visiting Nixon, mentioned how nice it was the we finally had a professional president.

          I believe I have mentioned that an old boss of mine was friendly with a State Department high-up who had worked with both Kennedy and Nixon. This man basically told my boss that Nixon was much nicer and respected people, whereas Kennedy was an ass-hole. Another case of the difference between public-image and private-reality.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Interestingly, Nixon and Kennedy got along all right. In fact, in 1950 JFK dropped off a campaign donation from his father for Nixon. Of course, the family was heavily anti-Communist at the time (RFK was Joe McCarthy’s minority counsel later, JFK was careful to be in the hospital when the Senate voted to censure him, and McCarthy remained a welcome visitor at the family compound), and Helen Gahagan Douglas made herself unpopular with regular Democrats by beating an incumbent in the primary.

  5. David Schmalz says:

    It wasn’t just Alger Hiss, but Whitaker Chambers and a host of others. All associated with the Democrat party that vigorously defended them until the truth won out.
    I have learned to ignore MSM maxims, among which are that Nixon was just paranoid.
    As history has certainly shown, he had good reasons to be.
    -David

    • Timothy Lane says:

      As the saying goes, you’re not paranoid if they’re really after you.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Thankfully, Whitaker Chambers became disillusioned with the Communist Party and blew-up a good portion of the Soviet spying apparatus in the USA.

      I have looked into this whole episode and have put together lists of Soviet spies in the USA which would shock you.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I’ve read biographies by Arthur Herman and M. Stanton Evans of Joseph McCarthy (as well as Buckley’s biographical novel), so it won’t shock me at all. I even know that McCarthy’s notorious list of State Department communists came from a pair of lists of security risks there from 1948 — unlike leftists, who believe in the gospel of The Manchurian Candidate.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I have read the M. Stanton Evans book and found it very credible.

          What amazed me, was the amount of material J. Edgar Hoover had on traitors, which he kept from others.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Not all of it was usable in court. Wiretapping without a warrant was legal, but the resulting evidence could not be admitted in evidence. And much of the evidence (e.g., the Venona intercepts) resulted from decoding Soviet communications, which they might still be using (at least occasionally) using the same codes/ciphers. Hoover didn’t want them to know what we had broken and what we hadn’t. He did supply a lot of that to McCarthy.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              I believe almost all of this material is now made public and the left will still not admit how much treason went on.

              I know some people still maintain Hiss was not a spy.

              Can you imagine the influence Lauchlan Currie, economic adviser to Roosevelt and Harry Dexter White, a senior Treasury and I.M.F. official, had?

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Henry Wallace, if he had been elected in 1948 (and presumably if FDR had died during his 3rd term, when Wallace was VP), planned to name White as Secretary of the Treasury — and Hiss as Secretary of State. Old Joe would have been most pleased.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                That would, probably, have been worse than Philby as head of MI6.

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