Deep Throat's Other Secret
Saturday, April 22, 2006
W. Mark Felt, who for nearly 33 years denied that he was Deep Throat, also held a tragic secret from his family: It was suicide, not a heart attack, that felled his wife after years of strain from Felt's FBI career and ensuing legal troubles.
In his new book, "A G-Man's Life: The FBI, 'Deep Throat' and the Struggle for Honor in Washington," Felt reveals for the first time that Audrey Robinson Felt, his wife of 46 years, shot herself in 1984 with his .38 service revolver after a long emotional and physical decline.
Co-authored with John O'Connor, the lawyer whose Vanity Fair article last year revealed Felt as Deep Throat, the book also reveals Felt's discomfort with the famous moniker given him by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story and brought down President Richard Nixon.
And the book tells of Felt's deep anger at what he believed was Woodward's violation of their source-reporter relationship. Felt did not want to be described in any way in print, but Woodward both described him and called him "Deep Throat" in 1974 in "All the President's Men."
"Mark has never seen himself as a chatterbox who gave up secrets," writes O'Connor in a lengthy introduction.
"If this book does nothing else, let it destroy that caricature. Deep Throat was a journalistic joke; the name never described Mark Felt. After Woodward revealed that he had a senior source in the executive branch, thereby breaking his agreement with Mark Felt, and after the journalist identified his confidant as 'Deep Throat,' the retired FBI man was furious -- slamming down the phone when Woodward called for his reaction" to the 1974 book.
In "The Secret Man," Woodward's 2005 book on Felt's outing as Deep Throat, Woodward also describes Felt's anger at "All the President's Men." Felt had wanted their agreement to be "inviolate," Woodward wrote. But Woodward wrote that he thought he had "some leeway" because Felt had not previously objected to Woodward's other published references to the secret source.
Though the Felt book appears well after Woodward's, it provides the unique perspective of "Watergate in the words of the person most responsible along with Woodward for exposing these massive crimes," O'Connor said in an interview.
Felt, now 92, suffers from dementia. He was hospitalized with a fever even as his book was about to go on sale.
He had been reluctant to publish a book on his secret identity. But his daughter, Joan Felt, convinced him by saying a book could potentially make enough money to pay off some of his grandsons' school bills.
Shortly after Felt publicly revealed his identity last year, he laughingly told the press staked out at his Santa Rosa, Calif., home that he planned to "write a book or something and get all the money I can."
The book is based on his 1979 memoir, "The FBI Pyramid From the Inside," as well as a manuscript he prepared in the 1980s with his son, W. Mark Felt Jr., -- before he publicly revealed himself as Deep Throat. It also is based on FBI memos, recollections and interviews conducted by his family.
O'Connor, a former U.S. attorney in San Francisco who now is in private practice there, adds to Felt's own writings and recollections. In an introduction and epilogue, O'Connor puts into context Felt's many secrets and how he kept them, against the backdrop of Watergate and the malfeasance for which Felt himself was responsible.
"In the FBI, agents learned to keep secrets and compartmentalize, and nobody built more compartments than Mark Felt," O'Connor writes. "He isolated his family life from his Bureau life, hid aspects of his personal life and aspects of his professional life, and of course walled off his secret identity from his public identity."
Scandal engulfed him and his family when, after Watergate, he was prosecuted for ordering "black bag jobs," or secret, warrantless break-ins that in 1972 and 1973 targeted friends and relatives of Weather Underground members. His wife could not bear the trial. She attended only its first day. Even after Felt's 1980 conviction and his subsequent pardon by President Ronald Reagan, her health and stability continued to decline.
She had endured years of stress: moving the two Felt children from city to city to keep up with their father's career, being estranged from her daughter, Joan, who lived a countercultural lifestyle under the sway of a Northern California guru. Alcohol also played a role in Audrey Felt's decline, the book says.
Upon finding his wife's body in the guest bath of their Washington-area apartment, Felt phoned his son.
But as he had done for most of his life as an FBI man and a secret source on Watergate, O'Connor writes, Felt "immediately compartmentalized the family tragedy. Sitting with his son at a table for hours, the father decreed that the suicide would be kept a strict secret, even from Joan. Mark did not want to burden the family or the family history with the record of the suicide. The cover story would be that Audrey died of a sudden heart attack."
Though Felt portrays the strain his wife suffered as an FBI wife, he ultimately blamed the government, O'Connor writes, "charging it with killing his wife."