Water Man Spouts

Monday, August 08, 2005

Destabilizing the Nixon White House

{1} "....the intelligence community is at war with the White House ..." ("Plenty to Swear About"; Joe Klein; Time; 7-5-04)Last night, a thread on DU:GD discussed the potential of the White House attempting to interfere with two federal grand jury investigations -- the Plame and the neocon spy cases. The conversation is of great interest to people who are concerned that the Bush administration has enough power to control virtually all branches of the federal government.Could someone in the Department of Justice, for example, pull some strings in order to upset or destabilize either or both of the grand jury investigations? Both of these cases are coming uncomfortably close to those inhabiting the top offices in this administration. This would seem to make it more likely that the administration would attempt anything and everything that could destabilize the efforts of the two federal prosecutors who are, in fact, destabilizing the White House.I thought it might be of interest for DUers to examine a case from three decades ago, where much like today, there was a war between the intelligence communities and the White House, and where there were investigations into the illegal activities of high-ranking administration officials.The Watergate and the Plame/neocon spy scandals have many things in common. However, they are not identical by any means. This essay will not answer all of the important questions DUers have raised in the past week. In fact, if possible, I hope it will raise more questions. And these questions may lead us in the right direction.{2} "On June 30, the Ervin Committee ended its trailblazing life and quickly issued its damning final report on the president. Senator Baker released, as his own minority opinion, a special report on the CIA's involvement in Watergate. It offered no conclusions, but documented how the CIA might have known in advance of both the fielding and Watergate break-ins." ("Watergate"; Fred Emery; page 441)Richard Nixon frequently hinted that he believed his administration was set-up by elements within the intelligence community. He was convinced that a faction in the CIA had played a more significant role in Watergate that the public would ever know. Both Bob Haldeman and Charles Colson would write and say they were convinced that the CIA played a major role; Colson eventually accused other forces.Were these men simply paranoid? Looking to blame others for their criminal behaviors? Or was Watergate a more complex scandal than the public, watching the explosive hearings on live television, really knew? A number of fascinating books, including Emery's, have hinted as much; others, such as Hougan's "Secret Agenda" and Colodny & Gettlin's "Silent Coup" deal directly with evidence the authors believe prove that certain forces at the federal level were intent upon destabilizing an administration they viewed as threatening our constitutional democracy.About a month ago, I had expressed my belief that one of the Watergate burglars had played a role in destabilizing the Nixon administration. The behaviors of James McCord deserve close attention. Another DUer rejected this theory -- and it is only a theory -- and said that sometimes "things just happen." I had asked him/her to contnue the discussion, but he/she declined to. Certainly, everyone is entitle to their own interpretation of the facts. Mine is of no more value than anyone else's, and people are encouraged to look at the facts and decide for themselves. {3} "At the time, in the 1970-71 pre-Watergate period, there was little public knowledge of the vast pushing, shoving, and acrimony between the White House and the FBI. For example, as the Watergate investigations later revealed, in 1970 a young White House aide named Tom Charles Huston came up with a plan to authorize the CIA, FBI and military intelligence units to intensify electronic surveillance of 'domestic security threats,' to authorize illegal opening of mail, and lift the restrictions on surreptitious entries or break-ins to gather intelligence. Huston warned in a Top Secret memo that the plan was 'clearly illegal.' President Nixon initially approved the plan. Hoover strenuously objected, principally because eavesdropping, opening mail and breaking into homes and offices of domestic security threats was basically the FBI bailiwick and they didn't want competition. Four days later Nixon rescinded the Huston plan."Felt later wrote that he considered Huston himself 'a kind of White House gauleiter over the intelligence community.' The four-inch thick WEbster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary defines a gauleiter as 'the leader or chief official of a political district under Nazi control.' " ("The Secret Man"; Bob Woodward; pages 33-4)The tensions between the Nixon White House and the intelligence community was not limited to differences between Tom Huston and J. Edgar Hoover. Older DUers will recall the "Moorer-Radford affair," in which the military was shown to be keeping track of those things the administration considered "top secret." And younger DUers may be surprised to find that the media played a role.On 12-14-1971, Jack Anderson reported on "top secret" administration meetings that discussed highly sensitive material on the US position on the India vs Pakistan war. Very few officials had been involved in the meetings, and the White House -- intent on stopping all "leaks" -- had a group of fellows known as "the plumbers" attempt to find the source of the leak so it could be plugged.Rear Admiral Robert Welander served as a connection between the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and Henry Kissinger's NSC. Welander pointed a finger at a young Navy officer who served as his assistant (always take special notice of Naval officers!). It turned out this young fellow had been copying NSC documents for years for the Chairman of the JCS, Admiral Thomas Moorer. Moorer had information on the things that Nixon considered the most sensitive of his secrets, including that of his administration's corresponding with China.What is fascinating is that Welander would implicate a military man named Al Haig, who would play a curious role in the Nixon administration during the Watergate years. Haig has given a number of contradictory statements about his concerns with what occured in those years, including on if his goal was to protect "the president" or "the presidency." Under oath on 12-3-73, he told Judge Sirica about what he called "a devil theory." Haig believed "some sinister force" was responsible for erasing parts of one tape. Haig made clear that he knew Rose Mary Woods did not mistakenly erase it. Sirica asked, "Has anyone ever suggested who that sinister force might be?" Haig said that it was "vital" to identify who had access to the tapes. Sirica answered, "Precisely." (Emery; page 418) For many years, these actions caused many to suspect that Al Haig might have been one of the sources that Woodward called "Deep Throat."{4) "Dorothy Hunt was suspicious of McCord, the wireman at Watergate, who she thought was a double agent." ("Watergate"; Fred Emery; page 229)The White House recognized that there was tension between them and the various intelligence groups. Thus, in order to further their own political agenda, they would form there own "secret" intelligence groups. This should remind DUers of the Bush/Cheney administration.A question worth considering is would the other forces in the intelligence community (a) be aware of what the White House was doing; and, if so, (b) attempt to infiltrate the White House operations? To do so, they would need to plant a "double agent" within the White House operation.In the early days of the Nixon scandals, a significant amount of the intelligence operations were run from the offices of the Committee to re-elect the President (CREEP). A secret services agent, Al Wong, would recommend that CREEP hire a retired CIA officer who specialized in security operations. James was soon hired as CREEP's security coordinator.McCord was a WW2 Air Force veteran. He had served as an FBI agent for three years, then was in the CIA from 1950 to 1971. He had specialized in domestic spying, and as such, was an expert at both break-ins and electronic. It is likely that he had been acquainted with E. Howard Hunt in some capacity years before being hired by CREEP.In his work for CREEP, he had contact with Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. At this time, among other things, Liddy was considering killing Jack Anderson as a "rational response" to the reporter's columns, which Liddy believed were responsible for the death of a CIA agent. (See Liddy's book, "Will.") He and Hunt were also involved in plans for several break-ins of political enemies of the White House. It has been suggested that, because CREEP was being run by politicians who were not intelligence operatives (think Rove, Cheney, Libby, etc), that they talked far too much, and agencies such as CI were well aware of their plans.McCord ran his own small "security" firm after retiring from the Agency. Hunt and Liddy approached him to participate in the bugging of the offices of the democrats at the Watergate. McCord would later testify that he was under the impression that these operations had been undertaken under the authority of Mitchell, Dean, and Nixon. (Hence, while he may have had cause to want the operations exposed, he did not anticipate being incarcerated for an extended period for his role.)At the time, McCord had been providing "security" for John Mitchell. This included checking his apartment for bugs, transporting his family, and hiring a retired FBI agent named Alfred Baldwin to protect Martha Mitchell. (I suspect older DUers are grinning when they think of the implications of that.){5} "If we didn't know better (we) would have thought it was deliberately botched." -- Richard Nixon on the Watergate break-inBy May of 1972. G.Gordon Liddy began to notice a strange pattern of behavior in his dealings with McCord. The former CIA operative, who knew exactly how to keep his activities secret, had kept precise records of all the money that CREEP was spending on electronics equipment. More, although McCord could have easily used his connections through his private company, he opted to go through the Yellow Pages to locate and buy the electronic equipment to be used in bugging the Democratic Headquarters. And strangest of all, McCord went to the Federal Communications Commission to get approval for the frequencies his hidden transmiters would use -- something Liddy compared to registering a gun you plan to use in a hold-up.In late May, in time for the Memorial Day weekend, McCord rented a room at the Howard Johnson's opposite the Watergate. He registered the room in his private firm's name, again leaving a solid trail. McCord brought in Alfred Baldwin, who would later testify that he was impressed with the electronic set-up that McCord had. In fact, McCord let him listen in on a phone conversation, which is curious, because the buglars had not planted any bugs yet. This raises the questions of who McCord had already bugged, and who was he really working for?The first break-in was successful in that the buglars got in, planted the bugs, and got out without being detected. However, McCord would reportedly convince Liddy that the bugs were not working properly, and that he was not getting the intelligence information needed. There is some confusion about this: McCord would say the re-entry was Liddy's idea; and there is reason to question if the original bugs worked well or not.Liddy would later express his concerns about McCord. In Emery's book, it is noted that many of the things McCord would claim later were simply not true, in regard to alarms and other things that an operative with his experience would be unlikely to be confused about. Emery focuses on Liddy noting McCord's habit of "always slipping away ... he hated to stay in one place very long .... sometimes he would just loited in the shadows, so to speak, trying hard not to be noticed. I wasn't sure whether this was the product of long clandestine-induced caution or a lack of nerve." (Emery; pages 120-1)In June, McCord again stationed Baldwin in the Howard Johnson's across from the Watergate. Another mysterious figure was there: Louis Russell, called the "sixth man" in James Hougan's "Secret Agenda," was also at the scene. Russell is an interesting person. He had been connected to Nixon in the 1948 investigation of Alger Hiss, but more recently was employed by McCord's private agency, and served as an informant for Jack Anderson. Russell admitted to FBI investigators that he was at the Howard Johnson's on June 16; he died the day he was summoned to testify before the Senate Watergate Committee, from a heart attack.The night of the break-in, McCord called Hunt and Liddy at 12:45 to say the offices they targeted were "dark." Both Hunt and Liddy would comment that it took McCord an unexplained long time to then meet them. He brought six walkie-talkies, two of which had dead batteries. Liddy thought this was "unprofessional."The burglars would contradict each other on who taped, re-taped, and/or untaped the doors inside the Watergate. Most evidence indicates that it was McCord, and that he was not honest when telling his partners exactly what he did. What is not in dispute is that a night watchman found the taped doors, and called the police.The nearest marked car did not respond. Instead, a TAC unite (tactical, meaning undercover car & officers) arrived was at the Watergate within 90 seconds. Alfred Baldwin, on look-out, saw what appeared to be a couple "hippies" walking through the Watergate. He was not concerned until it was too late. More, someone had convinced the other burglars to turn off their walkie-talkies, so that they could be totally silent. Thus, the undercover police were abled to easily follow the taped doors to burglars. It is worth noting that taping the doors served no practical purpose for the burglars -- it is easy to walk out of a locked door. Thus, the purpose of an experienced operative's taping those doors has never been explained.{6} "...if we are going to have that funny guy take credit ...."-- President Nixon on tape, referring to the plan to blame the CIA for the Watergate break-in by using McCord.When the TAC unit caught the burglars, the first thing any of the suspects said McCord: "Are you Metropolitian police?" When the suspects were arraigned, he would tell the judge that he was a retired CIA agent. And, while in jail, McCord would destroy the administration's efforts to tie the break-in to "national security" operations by the CIA.McCord would write an infamous anonymous letter to a White House official, making clear that the top officials were going to be exposed; he wrote numerous letters to Richard Helms at the CIA, sharingvital information; he had his wife share copies of private letters to at least one reporter; and he blew the lid off the case when he approached Judge Sirica. Later, he provided investigators with information about Robert Reisner, who testified that Magruder attended all three GEMSTONE meetings.Perhaps more than any other single figure, James McCord would destabilize the Nixon administration. Was it just a series of unlikely coincidences? A person could make that case, I suppose. I think the evidence indicates otherwise.What do you think?


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