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Watergate source 'Deep Throat', dies

Mark Felt, who died at the age of 95, helped reveal one of the biggest political scandals of the 20th century, which ended when Richard Nixon became the first US president to resign in disgrace.

world Updated: Dec 20, 2008 01:06 IST

Mark Felt, who died at the age of 95, helped reveal one of the biggest political scandals of the 20th century, which ended when Richard Nixon became the first US president to resign in disgrace.

Felt, the number-two official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the time, was the secret informant known as "Deep Throat", who provided two Washington Post reporters with crucial information about the Watergate scandal.

For over 30 years after the scandal broke in 1972, Felt kept his role in the affair secret even from his family. It was only in 2005 that he made the revelation, saying that after years of remorse he was finally proud of what he had done.

Watergate was the name of a Washington office building in which the Democratic Party had offices; when they were burgled in June 1972 nobody suspected that the job could have been ordered by the party's Republican rivals, much less by people linked to the president himself.

The revelations of reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, aided by meetings with Felt in secret locations such as underground car parks, were to make the name synonymous with a political scandal that forced Nixon to his humiliating departure in August 1974.

Mark Felt was born in 1913 into a modest family in the western state of Idaho.

After university he moved to Washington, where he was hired by the FBI -- the top US law enforcement agency -- during World War II.

Good-looking and with a reputation for methodical efficiency, he rose over the years to become number two under the agency's veteran leader J Edgar Hoover.

When Hoover died in 1972, just a month before the Watergate break-in, Felt expected that he would take over the top job, but Nixon preferred an administration insider.

When Felt finally revealed his role as "Deep Throat", he said he believed the administration was meddling in the agency's affairs, and notably seeking to cover up the Watergate scandal.

Just a few months before the break-in, Felt had agreed to talk to Carl Woodward, then 29, about corruption in the Washington police department.

The Watergate affair was to turn Woodward and Bernstein into journalistic heroes, portrayed respectively by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in the 1976 film "All the President's Men." Award-winning actor Hal Holbrook played the shadowy "Deep Throat."

A Post editor nicknamed the anonymous source "Deep Throat" after the title of a pornographic movie which was popular at the time.

As Watergate revelations began pouring out in 1973, leading to a crisis that was both political and institutional -- with Congress preparing for the rare step of impeaching Nixon -- Felt came under heavy pressure to admit being the source.

He systematically denied being "Deep Throat" and also denied he was resentful at having been passed over for the top job at the FBI.

Felt, then aged 59, retired from the agency in mid 1973; he spent his long retirement years first near Washington and then in California.

In the same year of 1973 he and several other officials were indicted over a completely separate affair concerning the FBI's undercover activities against the Weather Underground, a violent radical leftist group.

Although Felt was finally convicted over that affair in 1980, he got off with a fine, and he and his co-defendants were later pardoned by president Ronald Reagan.

In 1979 Felt published a memoir entitled "The FBI Pyramid: from the Inside", again denying that he had been "Deep Throat".

Before agreeing to be their informant he had made Woodward and Bernstein swear that they would never reveal his identity.

It was only in 2005, when he was frail and in poor health, that he finally revealed the secret to his daughter Joan Felt, who on Friday reported his death in a California hospice.

In 2006, when asked on the CNN TV show "Larry King Live" how he would like to be remembered, Felt said "As a government employee who did his best to help everybody."