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The Secret That Didn't Reach Washington's Lips

Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward met at The Washington Post on the day Deep Throat's identity was revealed. Woodward trusted his wife, Elsa, with the secret, but Bradlee's wife, Sally Quinn, knew better than to ask.
Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward met at The Washington Post on the day Deep Throat's identity was revealed. Woodward trusted his wife, Elsa, with the secret, but Bradlee's wife, Sally Quinn, knew better than to ask. (By Katherine Frey For The Washington Post)

But most secrets are a lot more prosaic.

I grew up here, the daughter of an Army general who had spent most of his career in intelligence. He had been the G2 (intelligence officer) in the 7th Army in Germany during World War II and afterward helped turn the Office of Strategic Services into the CIA. My father never told what he was doing and my mother knew never to ask. We weren't the only ones. Since we knew so many who were in positions of responsibility it was simply a given in our lives that everyone held some secret.

I worked in the Pentagon in G2 one summer in the office of protocol and even had a top secret clearance. Guess what was top secret? Embassy party guest lists, menus and flower arrangements. That was the beginning of my disillusionment with Washington secrets. But boy, did I get a lot of mileage out of my top secret clearance. I really loved the mystique that had been bestowed upon me. People hovered around as if they were going to find out the secrets of the Kremlin. Little did they know, the best I could do was tell them that the French Embassy was serving frog legs for dinner that night.

During Watergate, when Richard Nixon claimed that nothing could be revealed for reasons of "national security," what he really meant was "personal embarrassment." I became even more skeptical. I suspect, for instance, that the leaker of CIA agent Valerie Plame's name is being protected for reasons of personal embarrassment. That's the biggest secret in Washington today, but it doesn't have the mythical proportions of Deep Throat, and it certainly won't be a secret for 30 years.

How do I feel about Deep Throat being revealed? Well, I had always suspected it was W. Mark Felt, so I wasn't surprised. Now I feel a mixture of relief that it's out, pleasure that it ended well and sadness that it's over. For Washington, Deep Throat has been part of the myth of the city. The good guys against the bad guys. Now, Deep Throat is no longer, but even so he was only a part of the Watergate legend, and that legend will always be there.

How is it that the identity of Deep Throat remained a secret for so long? Integrity. Mark Felt didn't leak to Woodward because of money or fame. He did it because he was a good citizen.

Ben and Bob and Carl Bernstein understood the importance of protecting a source and how damaging it would have been to journalism if they had revealed his identity. It's that simple.

So all those years I never asked Ben who Deep Throat was. But when I told people that I didn't know, they never believed me anyway. They would always allude, confidently, to "pillow talk." That was fine with me. I enjoyed the aura of being a secret-keeper, even if it was unjustified.

And Elsa, well, as I said, she is the Sphinx and besides, Bob really loves her very much.


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