Bringing in-depth reporting of crime and corruption in high places



By David Guyatt


History has witnessed the removal from power of a variety of Pope's, Prince's and Potentates, sometimes for the oddest motives.  The ultimate reason for their fall is often no more than the straw that broke the camel's back - following a period of infighting and misrule.  That being the case, the disgrace and subsequent resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974, was perhaps the most curious reason of all - a piece of tape stuck around a door.  The 13-month imbroglio that ensued has become known as Watergate, the first of many "gates" that have subsequently rocked America.

 For five months prior to Nixon's landslide re-election campaign in November 1972, two reporters - Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post - had dogged President Nixon by reporting a series of "Dirty tricks" that underpinned his re-election campaign.  Their reportage had begun in June of that year, following a bungled burglary at the Democratic headquarters located in the opulent Watergate complex in downtown Washington.  A security guard discovering the lock of a door artfully taped back to allow covert access, had phoned the police.  Five men dressed in conservative business suits and wearing Platex rubber surgical gloves had been arrested.  They were carrying two 35-millimeter cameras, 40 rolls of unexposed film, a walkie-talkie, lock-picks, tear gas guns and electronic surveillance equipment designed to tap telephones and bug room conversations.

 More intriguing still, each carried a small stash of $100 bills issued in sequence.  The following morning, the five men appeared in court and were refused bail.  Having previously given the police phoney names, they were all soon identified.  Four of them hailed from Miami, Florida, and claimed they were professional "anti-communists."  The fifth man identified himself as James W. McCord, Jr., adding under questioning by the Judge that he was a former CIA field officer.  Additional digging by Post reporters, Woodward and Bernstein, revealed that the other four burglars were also "former CIA types" and heavily involved in the anti-Castro activities that flourished in Miami.

 Within 24 hours, the reporters learned that James McCord was employed by the Committee for the Re-election of the President  (CREP).  Known as "CREEP" the Re-election Committee was then headed by John Mitchell.  A close friend of President Nixon and, more significantly, a former Attorney General of the United States, Mitchell had ranked as the most senior law enforcement officer in America.  The connection between McCord and CREEP - and the prospect of White House involvement in the affair - would soon begin to occupy Woodward and Bernstein's waking hours.  Their diligence would later earn both reporters a coveted Pulitzer Prize - the ultimate accolade from fellow professionals.

 As their investigation continued, the two reporters were increasingly confronted with serious obstacles and cleverly organised stone-walling tactics, designed to stall their progress.  It soon became clear that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), charged with investigating the Watergate burglary, were engaged in what was later learned to be a cover-up.  This caused the reporters numerous difficulties in advancing their story.  There was additionally the concealed presence of the Central Intelligence Agency, that were concerned with limiting the scope of reporter's investigations.  Although the journalists remained unaware at the time, the Watergate burglary was merely the tip of a National Security iceberg dedicated to perverting the course of democracy in America.

 Fortunately, Woodward had access to one highly placed source in the Executive Branch known only as "Deep Throat."  This source's input, usually gleaned directly from the White House, was vital but was never directly used in print.  The agreement was that he would provide leads and other "deep background," enabling the Post team to develop other sources whose knowledge and involvement could be published - even if remaining unattributed.  Twenty five years later, the true identity of "Deep Throat" is still a closely guarded secret, though numerous guesses have been made to identify him.

 Meetings with Deep Throat were held in the dead of night - often around 2 a.m. - in a public garage, following a pre-arranged signal.  Woodward was instructed to constantly watch out for being followed and never to use less than two different taxi's to take him within walking distance of the final destination.  Their meeting often covered several hours. 

 Information provided by Deep Throat led the Washington Post duo to investigate the money-trail that led from Watergate.  The sequential $100 bills found in the wallets of the five burglars was part of an enormous slush-fund illegally collected and laundered by CREEP officials, through Mexico.  Eventually, the slush-fund would lead to Herbert Kalmbach, President Nixon's personal lawyer, who was engaged in providing political favours in return for illegal donations to Nixon's re-election war chest.  Tracking the money would also reveal the existence of a secret White House unit known as the "Plumbers."  Said to be solely engaged in plugging administration "leaks," the Plumbers unit, it would turn out were responsible for a whole range of illegal activities.

 One prominent covert operation conducted by this unit was the burglary of Daniel Ellberg's personal psychiatrist in 1971.  Ellsberg, formerly with the Department of Defense and the Rand Corporation, had leaked the now infamous Pentagon Papers to The New York Times.  These classified documents painted a dubious picture of the US rationale for the Vietnam War.  President Nixon despised Ellsberg and wanted dirt that would discredit him. 

 Heading up the White House Plumbers, was E. Howard Hunt, a career CIA operative turned political "dirty tricks" specialist for Nixon's re-election effort.  According to Deep Throat, Hunt was the "really heavy operations team" that engaged itself in all manner of illegal activities.  By tracking Hunt's involvement, and continuing to pursue to dirty money trail, Woodward and Bernstein gradually inched their way closer to White House complicity in Watergate and other illegalities.

 The breakthrough came when the two journalists managed to trail illegal contributions to Nixon's Relection Committee.  Some of this had subsequently been used to bribe Howard Hunt and his team of Cubans to remain silent, after their arrest and imprisonment.  Orders for this diversion of funds came from the White House.  Inexorably, the trail of wrongdoing came ever closer to senior Administration officials.

 By now morale in the White House had slumped to an all time low.  The formerly unified front of those who were close to Nixon began to unravel and with old loyalties shattered, "open warfare" ensued as numerous individuals fled the sinking ship.  John W Dean 111, the Counsel to the President, who was heavily involved in the cover-up and "hush money" payments to the Plumbers was an early escapee.  Fearing he was about to be thrown to the wolves, Dean defiantly announced that he would not become the "scapegoat."  Breaking ranks, he agreed to become a star witness for the Senate's "Watergate Committee," - a panel of Senators charged with investigating the various allegations on behalf of Congress.

 As stunning as this was, even worse was the revelation that Acting FBI Director, Patrick Gray, had destroyed sensitive documents that had been removed from Howard Hunt's White House safe.  Included in these was a bogus State Department cable, fabricated by Hunt, that implicated President John Kennedy in the assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963.  Nixon's detestation of Kennedy and his family was well known.  A second folder contained a variety of apparently damning information on Senator Edward Kennedy.  Details of Gray's stunning actions was provided by John Dean to Assistant Attorney General Henry Petersen.  Dean revealed he had attended a meeting with Gray and John Erlichman, the Assistant to the President on Domestic Affairs, and the third most powerful man in the White House.  During the meeting, Gray was told the files were "political dynamite," that should "never see the light of day."  The news that America's most senior law enforcement officer had destroyed evidence was a bombshell that rocked Washington to its foundations.

 It was not long before President Nixon announced the resignation of John Erlichman.  With him also went H. R. Haldeman, the White House Chief of Staff, and Nixon's most trusted lieutenant.  Significantly, General Alexander Haig, a long-time Nixon favourite, replaced Haldeman as Chief of Staff.  Meanwhile, more suprising revelations followed.  According to Alexander P. Butterfield, a close aide to Hank Haldeman, the President had "bugged himself."  Intended by Nixon to be used to write his memoirs for posterity, he had secretly ordered that all conversations in the Oval office be taped.  An extended legal battle between the Senate and Nixon followed, but despite the President's protestations, he was ordered to turn over the tapes to the Senate Watergate Committee.  Once key tapes were proven to have been erased by Nixon the end came quickly and Nixon resigned in disgrace rather than face impeachment and imprisonment.

 So far as history is concerned, the foregoing is the Watergate story.  It would take a further 16 years before anyone was able to revise history and show what had really taken place during those dark Watergate days, was a conspiracy to dethrone a President.  In their acclaimed book "Silent Coup", Len Colodny & Robert Gettlin, reveal that a military spy ring working for the Pentagon had penetrated the White House.  Opposed to Nixon's foreign policy goals, the spy-ring was engaged in stealing highly sensitive material that could be used to "spoil" emerging policy decisions.

 Not least the authors turn history on its head by revealing that Bob Woodward was a former Pentagon Briefing Officer, with high security clearance, who they strongly suspect was involved in the Pentagon spy apparatus.  As a young Navy lieutenant Woodward had briefed General Alexander Haig on numerous occasions, while Haig was working as military liaison to Nixon's National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger.  While Woodward continues to deny this, Admiral Thomas Moorer, a former Joint Chief of Staff at the Pentagon has publicly confirmed it.  Significantly, after Woodward left the Navy, he became a junior reporter at the Washington Post.  Here, he was be catapulted into journalistic fame by his many stories on Watergate.  He is now editor of the Washington Post. 

 The single most important key to Woodward's marked journalistic success was his primary source on Watergate, "Deep Throat."  This individual, who was close to the reins of power, only spoke to Woodward - who zealously protected his identity from other senior members of the Washington Post, including his editor and publisher.  Not even his close colleague, Carl Bernstein, knew who "Deep Throat" really was.

 Who then was "Deep Throat?"  According to the authors of "Silent Coup," this individual was none other than Alexander Haig, a one time Army Colonel attached to Nixon's White House and later a roving assistant for Nixon and Kissinger..  Haig was heavily immersed in Nixon's Foreign Policy strategy and participated in Nixon's most secret negotiations to reach rapprochement with China - a policy that immensely distressed the Pentagon. 

 More White House Spies? 

Not least, some questions have been raised about the loyalty of Alexander Butterfield, the man who revealed that Nixon had bugged the Oval Office.   It was this revelation that eventually brought Nixon to his knees.  A former career Air Force officer and CIA liaison, Butterfield had chased a White House job and got it.  According to Rose Mary Woods, Nixon's private secretary, Butterfield had been a "plant" placed inside the White House by another agency - probably the CIA.  This view was later shared by H.R. Hank Haldeman.  In any event, Butterfield was on extremely close terms to Alexander Haig.


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