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Who was Mark Felt?

Douglas Caddy

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The role of Mark Felt in the origins of Watergate has never fully been revealed.

That story will be told here in two parts. The first consists of biographical material on Felt that appears in Wikipedia. The second consists of revelations about Felt’s role in Watergate as recounted by Robert Merritt in his book, “Watergate Exposed: A Confidential Informant Tells How the Watergate Burglars Were Set-Up and Reveals Other Government Dirty Tricks, by Robert Merritt as told to Douglas Caddy, Original Attorney for the Watergate Seven.”


William Mark Felt, Sr. (August 17, 1913-December 18, 2008).

On July 1, 1971, Felt was promoted by [J. Edgar] Hoover to Deputy Associate Director, assisting Associate Director Clyde A. Tolson. Hoover’s right-hand man for decades, Tolson was in failing health and no longer able to attend to his duties.

Hoover died in his sleep and was found on the morning of May 2, 1972. Tolson was nominally in charge until the next day when Nixon appointed L. Patrick Gray III as acting FBI director. Tolson submitted his resignation, which Gray accepted. Felt took Tolson’s post as Associate Director, the number-two job in the bureau.

In his memoir, Felt expressed mixed feelings about Gray…His frequent absences, combined with Gray’s hospitalization and recuperation from November 20, 1972 to January 2, 1973, meant that Felt was effectively in charge for much of his final year at the Bureau. Bob Woodward wrote “Gray got to be director of the FBI and Felt did the work.” Felt wrote in his memoir: “The record amply demonstrates that President Nixon made Pat Gray the Acting Director of the FBI because he wanted a politician in J. Edgar Hoover’s position who would convert the Bureau into an adjunct of the White House machine.”

As Associate Director, Felt saw everything compiled on Watergate before it went to Gray. The agent in charge, Charles Nuzum, sent his findings to Investigative Division head Robert Gebhardt, who then passed the information on to Felt. From the day of the break-in, June 17, 1972, until the FBI investigation was mostly completed in June 1973, Felt was the key control point for FBI information. He had been among the first to learn of the investigation, being informed at 7:00 on the morning of June 17. Robert Kessler, who had spoken to former Bureau agents, reported that throughout the investigation they “were amazed to see material in Woodward and Bernstein’s stories lifted almost verbatim from their reports of interviews a few days or weeks earlier.”

Despite initial suspicions that other agents, including Angelo Lano, had been speaking to the Post, in a taped conversation on October 19, 1972, [H.R.] Haldeman told the President that he had sources, which he declined to name, confirming Felt was speaking to the press. “You can’t say anything about this because it will screw up our source but there’s a real concern. Mitchell in the only one who knows about this and he feels strongly that we better not do anything because…if we move on him, he’ll go out and unload everything. He knows everything that’s to be known in the FBI. He has access to absolutely everything.”

On another White House tape, from May 11, 1973, Nixon and White House Chief of Staff Alexander M. Haig spoke of Felt leaking material to The New York Times. Nixon said, “he’s a bad guy, you see,” and that William Sullivan had told him Felt’s ambition was to be director of the Bureau.

Felt retired from the Bureau on June 22, 1973, ending a thirty-one-year career.

In the early 1970’s, Felt oversaw Operation COINTELPRO during the turbulent period in the FBI’s history. The FBI was pursuing radicals in the Weather Underground who had planted bombs at the Capitol and the Pentagon and the State Department. Felt, along with Edward S. Miller, authorized FBI agents to break into homes secretly in 1972 and 1973, without a search warrant, on nine separate occasions. These kinds of FBI burglaries were known as “black bag jobs.” The break-ins occurred at five addresses in New York and New Jersey, at the homes of relatives and acquaintances of Weather Underground members, and did not lead to the capture of any fugitives. The use of “black bag jobs” by the FBI was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in the Plamondon case, 407 U.S. 297 (1972).

The Attorney General in the new Carter administration, Griffin B. Bell, investigated, and on April 10, 1978, a federal grand jury charged Felt, Miller and Gray with conspiracy to violate the constitutional rights of American citizens by searching their homes without warrants, though Gray’s case did not go to trial and was dropped by the government for lack of evidence on December 11, 1980.

After eight postponements, the case against Felt and Miller went to trial in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia on September 18, 1980. On October 29, former President Nixon appeared as a rebuttal witness for the defense, and testified that presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt had authorized the bureau to engage in break-ins while conducting foreign intelligence and counterespionage investigations. It was Nixon’s first courtroom appearance since his resignation in 1974.

The jury returned guilty verdicts on November 6, 1980. Although the charge carried a maximum sentence of 10 years, Felt was fined $5,000. (Miller was fined $3,500).

Felt and Miller appealed the verdict.

In a phone call on January 30, 1981, Edwin Meese encouraged President Ronald Reagan to issue a pardon, and after encouragement from law enforcement officials and former bureau agents, he did so. The pardon was given on March 26, but was not announced to the public until April 15. (The delay was partly because Reagan was shot on March 30).

Vanity Fair magazine revealed Felt was Deep Throat on May 31, 2005 when it published an article (eventually appearing in the July issue of the magazine) on its website by John D. O’Connor, an attorney acting on Felt’s behalf, in which Felt said, “I’m the guy they used to call Deep Throat.”

Speculation about Felt’s motives at the time of the scandal has varied widely…Some suggested it was revenge for Nixon choosing Gray to replace Hoover as FBI Director. Others suggest Felt acted out of institutional loyalty to the FBI. Political scientist George Friedman argued that, “The Washington Post created a morality play about an out-of-control government brought to heel by two young, enterprising journalists and a courageous newspaper. That simply wasn’t what happened. Instead, it was the FBI using The Washington Post to leak information to destroy the president, and The Washington Post willingly serving as the conduit for that information while withholding an essential dimension of the story by concealing Deep Throat’s identity.”

[End of excerpts from Wikipedia]


As previously disclosed in prior posts on the Watergate Topic of the Education Forum,Robert Merritt first learned from a highly unlikely source on June 1, 1972, of the Watergate break-in planned for Sunday, June 18, 1972.

Merritt told Carl Shoffler that evening of June 1 around 6 P.M. when the latter returned to the apartment that they shared about what the highly unlikely source had related to him. Shoffler promptly ordered Merritt not to inform anyone else about the matter. Shoffler’s edict troubled Merritt, but he was adamant. He intoned, “Butch, leave it alone. Stay out of it. This is my police assignment.”

Two days after Merritt told Shoffler of what he had learned, FBI Agents Bill Tucker and Terry

O’Connor on June 3, 1972, appeared at the door of his apartment. They told him that they had picked up a

rumor of a meeting that had been held in his apartment during which Merritt disclosed information about

a planned break-in. They wanted more information. Merritt remembered Shoffler’s edict and refused to

answer their questions. He was still mad at the agents for forbidding him to attend his mother’s funeral

two months earlier and for their physical threats against him in Rock Creek Park.

The same day of the FBI agents’ visit Shoffler moved out of their apartment and never stayed

there again. He was now in the public limelight. After two years their intimate relationship was over.

About two weeks later, two days after the arrests at Watergate on June 17, 1972, Agents

Tucker and O’Connor again appeared at Merritt’s front door and this time vociferously demanded that

he tell them anything I knew about the break-in. When he refused to cooperate, Agent Tucker warned

Merritt that he “should remember what happened to someone who I knew,” and that “we’d hate to find

you in the Potomac with cement over-shoes.” Merritt immediately interpreted this as an overt threat,

especially in light of the recent disappearance from the face of the earth of the highly unlikely source who

had told him of the planned break-in. From having worked in the past with Tucker he had reason to be

deathly afraid of him. This was not true of O’Connor and had he shown up at the apartment alone or with

a different agent Merritt would have told him everything he knew about the origins of Watergate.

Who sent FBI agents Tucker and O’Connor to see Merritt about the planned break-in, the first visit

being on June 3, 1972 (14 days before Watergate broke) and on June 19, 1972 (two days after the case


From comments made to Merritt by Shoffler, he determined that it was Mark Felt. Shoffler and Felt

shared common qualities. Merritt remembered that the day after Hoover died, Shoffler remarked to him

that “Hoover was felled by Felt.” On a later occasion he told him that Felt was “the most evil, powerful

person I have ever met.” He also described Felt as being “an extremely angry man,” referring to Felt’s

being upset for not being named as FBI Director by President Nixon after Hoover’s death.

So did Mark Felt know in advance of the planned break-in at Watergate? Let’s examine the evidence.

Shoffler enlisted Merritt as a Confidential Informant in early 1970. In 1971, impressed with Merritt’s performance, the FBI enrolled him as one of its Confidential Informants. As described in a Watergate Special Prosecution Force memorandum of November 20, 1973: “Later in September [1971], Special Agents of the FBI Terry O’Conner or Bill Tucker came to Merritt’s apartment with Officer Shoffler. At this time they were trying to locate the residence of [redacted.] At this time Merritt mentioned his financial problem and O’Connor suggested that he come to work for the FBI. Shortly thereafter, Merritt was informed by Dixon Gildon that he had been terminated due to lack of funds [from the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police] and the next day he received a call from O’Connor asking Merritt to work for the FBI. Merritt’s assignment was to be the Institute for Policy Studies[iPS].”

In another Watergate Special Prosecution Force memorandum dated November 27, 1973, a burglary at the IPS is described as follows, “After startling the girl at IPS, Merritt picked up one of the bags of mail and left with it…Merritt then called the Washington Field Office of the FBI to attempt to contact Tucker to see what he wanted to do with the mail. Tucker was not there and finally called Merritt back and asked Merritt to describe the mail and to open an envelope with a plane ticket in it. Merritt did this and xeroxed the ticket and envelope. Later Tucker picked up the mail and returned it to Merritt approximately two days later, telling him to return it to IPS…Merritt stated that from his examination of the material when it was returned to him by Tucker, he knew that at least the following material had been opened: the airline ticket of Arthur Waskow, the manuscript that had been delivered to Waskow had been unstapled and apparently xeroxed and restapled, there was a personal letter from Mexico to Waskow which Merritt later learned from Tucker the contents of the letter since Waskow was referred to as ‘comrad” in the letter…”

Subsequently Merritt’s work for the FBI was expanded beyond IPS. In a FBI memorandum dated 11/1/71 released to Merritt under the Freedom of Information Act, it is stated: “On 10/29/71, [redacted, referring to Merritt] telephonically contacted the writer. Source stated that a friend [redacted] has offered to sell him some incendiary devices…The source described the devices as tubular in shape and about 21/2 inches to 3 inches in length. [Redacted] told the source that he could obtain dynamite, dynamite caps, fragmentation and smoke grenades, stink bombs, and another small type of incendiary device…The source was told by [redacted] that the incendiary devices and explosives are obtained from a [redacted] (LNU), who works with [redacted] at [redacted.] According to [redacted] obtained these items from [redacted] former member of NSWPP, who operates [redacted] in WDC. [Redacted] has told the source that [redacted] is a former member of NSWPP who quit the party because he believed that its members were not true Nazis.”

Merritt a short time later purchased the incendiary devices and delivered them to the FBI. About a month later O’Connor and Tucker made a special visit to Merritt, stating that they carried a commendation to Merritt directly from FBI Director Hoover for his work in obtaining the explosives.

Not long thereafter the FBI expanded Merritt’s CI work to include attempting to infiltrate the Weather Underground.

Mark Felt directed the campaign against the Weather Underground, whose leaders were fugitives. He was later indicted for authorizing warrantless break-ins at the home of relatives of the fugitives. Jennifer Dohrn, appearing on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now on June 2, 2005, related that, “I remember when I was pregnant with my first born feeling extremely vulnerable because I was followed a great deal of the time, and then it was revealed when I received my Freedom of Information Act papers, over 200,000 documents, that there actually had been developed by Felt a plan to kidnap my son after I birthed in hopes of getting my sister to surrender…I was not asked to testify [at Felt’s trial in 1980], and it’s interesting that the concrete thing that he could be convicted of were burglaries against me and several other people, break-ins, which were documented and recorded. “

Merritt began to become disenchanted with the FBI in April 1972. The occasion that triggered his disillusionment was when O’Connor and Tucker forbade him to attend his mother’s funeral in West Virginia that month. They told him that his work in monitoring the Weather Underground superseded everything. Merritt finally was able to scrape enough funds together to defy the FBI ban and arrived just as his mother’s casket was about to be lowered into the ground. Thereafter, his resentment against the Bureau grew and festered.

On May 2, 1972, Hoover died. At the moment of his death Merritt was sitting in a vehicle with O’Connor and Tucker at the bottom of the hill on which Hoover’s residence sat. When it came over the FBI radio that Hoover had died, the agents hurriedly gave Merritt some money to catch a taxi home. Then they raced up to Hoover’s home.

After Hoover died, Nixon appointed Patrick Gray as the Acting Director of the FBI with Felt next in command. In reality, Felt actually ran the FBI. He continued to direct COINTELPRO against the Weather Underground. He employed Agents O’Connor and Tucker and Merritt in this cause. As previously recounted, O’Connor and Tucker visited Merritt on June 3, 1972, two days after he had told Shoffler about the Watergate break-in planned scheduled for June 18, 1972. O’Connor and Tucker wanted Merritt to tell them what he knew about the planned break-in. Felt sent O’Connor and Tucker to visit Merritt. So Felt knew of the planned break-in two weeks before it occurred. After it took place, he hypocritically directed the FBI investigation into the scandal.

As Gordon Liddy once observed regarding Felt, “He’s certainly not a hero, because the law enforcement official who obtains knowledge of the commission of a crime and has evidence of it, and who did it and so forth, is ethically obliged to go to the grand jury and bring his evidence in there so an indictment can be obtained and justice can be done. He didn’t do that. Instead, he selectively leaked it to a single news source.”

William F. Buckley, Jr. in his column of June 3, 2005, after Felt disclosed that he was Deep Throat, wrote, “Now Mr. Felt steps forward and says that it was he who in effect staged the end of the Nixon Administration. What he did, over a period of months, was to report to two industrious journalists at the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, everything that came to his attention through the fish-eye lens. Mr. Felt wanted to know everything about the traffic of dollars to and from the Committee to Reelect the President, and everything about the background and the activities of everyone associated with the White House, from the Attorney General down to the plumbers.

“As evidence accumulated of wrongdoing and crime, he reported not to the director of the FBI (his immediate superior), not to the Justice Department, but to two journalists. Bob Woodward was thoughtful enough to have recorded, the day after he news about Felt broke, his first meeting with Deep Throat back in 1970, two years before the Watergate break-in. There they both were, waiting, in the West Wing of the White House, Woodward to deliver a message from the Chief of Naval Operations, the Assistant Director of the FBI on a mission of his own. ‘I could tell he was watching the situation very carefully. There was nothing overbearing about his attentiveness, but his eyes were darting about in a kind of gentlemanly surveillance. After a few minutes I introduced myself. ‘Lieutenant Bob Woodward,’ I said, carefully appending a deferential ‘sir.’

‘Mark Felt,’ he said.

“Mark Antony, meeting Brutus, deserved no greater headline in history.”

Ironically, it may well be that Merritt's testimony in 1973 before the Senate Watergate Committee and the Watergate Special Prosecution Force about his illegal CI activities, including those against the Weather Underground, carried out under the direction of the FBI had the effect of opening up the criminal case that subsequently led to the indictment of Felt and Miller in 1978, five years later.

[The above is an abbreviated version of a chapter in the forthcoming book “Watergate Exposed.]

Edited by Douglas Caddy
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