The Watergate whistleblower nicknamed Deep Throat played a central role in one of the biggest White House scandals ever, helping bring down President Richard Nixon and inspire one of the most famous political mysteries. Thirty years later, his identity is secret no more.
At age 91, after decades of hiding his role as The Washington Post's tipster from politicians, the public and even his family, former FBI official W. Mark Felt told his secret to a lawyer his family had consulted on whether Felt should come forward.
The attorney, John O'Connor, wrote a Vanity Fair magazine article revealing Felt's disclosure, and within hours of the story's release Tuesday, Felt's family and the Post confirmed it.
"I'm the guy they used to call Deep Throat," Vanity Fair quoted Felt, the former No. 2 man at the FBI, as saying.
"It's the last secret" of the story, said Ben Bradlee, the paper's top editor at the time the riveting political drama played out three decades ago.
Felt lives in Santa Rosa, California, and is said to be in poor mental and physical health because of a stroke. His family did not immediately make him available for comment, asking the news media horde gathered outside his home to respect his privacy "in view of his age and health."
Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein said in a statement: "W. Mark Felt was 'Deep Throat' and helped us immeasurably in our Watergate coverage. However, as the record shows, many other sources and officials assisted us and other reporters for the hundreds of stories that were written in The Washington Post about Watergate."
For many, Felt's admission answers one of the biggest questions in American politics and journalism: Who was the source so fearful he'd be found out by the Nixon White House that he insisted on secret signals rather than phone calls to arrange meetings with the Post reporters, a man portrayed as a cigarette-smoking bundle of nerves by Hal Holbrook in the 1970s movie "All the President's Men"?
"A good secret deserves a decent burial and this one is going to get a state funeral," Leonard Garment, acting special counsel to President Nixon after the Watergate story broke and author of the book "In Search of Deep Throat."
Felt "had the credentials, he had the knowledge, he had a series of motives, he probably was very unhappy with the way the investigation was going," Garment said.
For some, it raises new questions.
"I never thought he was in the loop to have the information," John Dean, counsel in Nixon's White House and the government's top informant in the Watergate investigation, told The Associated Press. "How in the world could Felt have done it alone?"
Dean said he couldn't see how Felt, then in charge of the FBI's day-to-day operations, could have had time to rendezvous with reporters in parking garages and leave clandestine messages to arrange meetings. Perhaps FBI agents helped him, Dean suggested.
The scandal that brought Nixon's resignation began with a burglary and attempted tapping of phones in Democratic Party offices at the Watergate office building in Washington during Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign. It went on to include disclosures of covert Nixon administration spying on and retaliating against a host of perceived enemies. But the most devastating disclosure was the president's own role in trying to cover-up his administration's involvement.
Nixon, facing almost-certain impeachment for helping to cover up the break-in, resigned in August 1974. Forty government officials and members of Nixon's re-election committee were convicted on felony charges.
Among other things, Deep Throat urged Woodward and Bernstein to follow the money trail _ from the financing of burglars who broke into the Democratic National Committee offices to the financing of Nixon's re-election campaign. The resulting scandal led the U.S. Congress to overhaul campaign finance rules.
Woodward, Bernstein and Bradlee had kept the identity of Deep Throat secret at his request, saying his name would be revealed upon his death. But then Felt revealed it himself, a move that startled Woodward and the Post, the newspaper reported.
Even the existence of Deep Throat, nicknamed for an X-rated movie of the early 1970s, was kept secret for a time. Woodward and Bernstein revealed their reporting had been aided by a Nixon administration source in their best-selling book "All the President's Men." Felt's name doesn't appear there. A hit movie was made of the book in 1976 starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman.
The identity of the source had sparked endless speculation over the past three decades. Dean, Nixon chief of staff Alexander Haig, White House press aide Diane Sawyer, speechwriter Pat Buchanan and Garment were among those mentioned as possibilities.
Felt also had been mentioned, but he regularly denied it. His motive for tipping off Woodward and Bernstein remains unknown, but the Post suggested in a story Tuesday night that anger over Nixon's decision to pass him over for FBI director after the death of J. Edgar Hoover could have been a factor.
Felt had expressed reservations in the past about revealing his identity, but his family members thought otherwise. His daughter, Joan, argued that he could "make enough money to pay some bills, like the debt I've run up for the children's education."
The current White House kept its distance from the debate over whether Felt was a hero or turncoat. President George W. Bush, said spokesman Scott McClellan, was interested in the story only as "a great mystery."
"There's going to be plenty of analysis on this and we'll leave it to others to do all the analysis of it," McClellan said.
Felt was convicted in 1980 for authorizing illegal break-ins in the 1970s at homes of people associated with the radical Weather Underground. He was pardoned by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
SHARON THEIMER, Associated Press Writer