The mother of all unnamed sources

Remember Deep Throat, the source that helped bring down President Nixon and win a Pulitzer Prize for The Washington Post? It's now almost 30 years since Bob Woodward, by his own exciting account, held those hush-hush meetings with a shadowy figure in that underground garage. Deep Throat has become the legend that will not die, the mystery that will not be solved, the leaker whose own identity has not been leaked.

Among those connected with Watergate in any way, Deep Throat-spotting has become a cottage industry. Names are mentioned; they all deny it; and the game goes on.

Nixon's nemesis, John Dean, named Alexander Haig, Nixon's last chief of staff. He denied it. Others named a covey of CIA officials starting with former director Richard Helms, known to have been on the outs with Nixon. For a while, speculation swirled around Pat Gray, acting FBI director, who in the immortal words of John Ehrlichman (himself a Deep Throat suspect), was left "twisting slowly in the wind."

I always thought the most plausible Deep Throat, with access to the information and a motive for leaking it, was one of three top FBI officials, starting with associate director Mark Felt. The possible motive was anger at being passed over for director after the death of J. Edgar Hoover and concern the White House sabotaging of the FBI's Watergate investigation would make the bureau look bad.

My reason for bringing up the Deep Throat matter now is that Leonard Garment, who was Nixon's last White House counsel, has written a book entitled "In Search Of Deep Throat: The Greatest Political Mystery of Our Time." That search has become almost an obsession with Mr. Garment, whose name also appeared on a list of suspects.

For a long time, he believed Deep Throat was Robert Bennett, senator from Utah, then head of a public relations firm with CIA and Howard Hughes connections. But in this book, Garment has switched to another candidate, John Sears, a political operative in the Nixon White House, and later campaign manager for Ronald Reagan. Mr. Sears denies it. Mr. Woodward also denies it. So do they all, but that's what keeps the game going.

Woodward says he'll name Deep Throat when the man is dead. Then there won't be a denial to worry about.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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