Was CIA really behind Watergate dirty tricks?


To the Editor:

The Watergate scandal began 40 years ago when the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP) began planning a series of political dirty tricks to disrupt the political activities of Nixon’s opponents. However, the record shows that very few dirty tricks were carried out and no IRS audits were done on anyone on Nixon’s enemies list. It was G. Gordon Liddy, John Dean and E. Howard Hunt who hatched the plan to break into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters located in the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C.  This became known as the Watergate Burglary and occurred on June 17, 1972.  

The specific reason for the Watergate burglary still remains a mystery. Every member of the burglary team and the team’s leader, E. Howard Hunt, were former CIA agents or Cuban patriots who were involved in the “Bay of Pigs” CIA operation that attempted to overthrow Fidel Castro in 1961. In addition, John Paisley, who became the CIA’s director of office security, was the White House liaison to the CIA and worked closely with the White House Plumbers. 

The Plumbers were a small group of White House staffers, including Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, whose main job was to stop leaks of secret White House information. The Plumbers didn’t stop any leaks, however they were involved in the Watergate burglary and the burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

The question is: Was the Watergate burglary a political dirty trick or a CIA sponsored activity? It seems very unlikely that the CRP could have put together a highly sophisticated team of former CIA agents and former FBI agents to break into, install listening devices and photograph documents in the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters. It must have been a CIA operation. However, the FBI, the congressional investigating 

committees and the press believed that the burglary was a CRP dirty trick.

On Aug. 5, 1974, the White House released the June 23, 1972 Smoking Gun tape of a conversation that Nixon had with his chief of staff, H. R. Halderman. On this tape, Nixon orders Halderman to arrange a meeting between the directors of the CIA and FBI. At this meeting, the CIA director would ask the FBI to curtail their Watergate investigation because it was interfering with an ongoing CIA operation.

The FBI, the media and the congressional committees investigating the Watergate scandal believed that Smoking Gun tape proved that Nixon was attempting to cover up the White House’s connection with the burglary. To these people, Nixon was guilty of obstruction of justice.  However, on the tape, Nixon and Halderman indicated that the burglary was a CIA operation. The president and everyone involved is required by law to keep CIA operations secret.  

By Jan. 8, 1973, every participant in the June 17, 1972 Watergate burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters was convicted and sentenced. All the participants, with three exceptions, pleaded guilty and cooperated with the prosecutor. They were sentenced to 13 months in jail. G. Gordon Liddy pleaded not guilty, did not cooperate with the prosecutor and was sentenced to 20 years in jail. James McCord, who testified that the White House staff was covering up illegal activities, received two months in jail and E. Howard Hunt, who planned the burglary, received 33 months in jail. 

By July 17, 1973, all of Nixon’s staff members involved in the scandal had resigned, a special prosecutor had been named, a senate committee had been established to investigate the scandal, the committee’s hearings had been televised live daily on the three major television networks and the fact that Nixon had a secret taping system in the White House was revealed.

By July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court had ordered Nixon to release all of his secret tapes, a new special prosecutor had been named, several Grand Juries had been convened and many high-ranking Nixon staffers had been indicted. 

By Jan. 1, 1975, everyone involved in CRP’s illegal activities was convicted of planning, implementing and covering up political dirty tricks. Nine received sentences of less than eight months in jail and three received sentences of 18 months in jail. John Dean, the White House Counsel and chief witness against Nixon, received a sentence of four months in jail.    

The poor image projected by Nixon on the tapes made it impossible for many Republican senators to support him. In addition, because he exercised his constitutional right to remain silent and contested in the courts the seizure of his White House tapes, Nixon was perceived as not cooperating in the Watergate investigation. The media portrayed Nixon in a negative light and did not consider the possibility of the CIA’s involvement in the Watergate scandal.   

Facing impeachment and conviction in the senate, Nixon resigned the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974.    

Kenneth Berwick



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