Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Why Watergate Happened: The Awkward Truth About the Mysterious Motive

By Levi Asher on Monday, April 1, 2013 11:16 pm

Despite the enormous impact of the Watergate scandal, the actual purpose of the break-in of the Democratic National Committee offices has never been conclusively established.
-- Wikipedia, The Watergate Scandal.

I was thinking about this long-mysterious motive after reading Thomas Mallon's subtle, well-imagined historical novel Watergate, which speculates (among other things) that the purpose of the illegal spy operation in June 1972 that eventually brought down Richard Nixon's presidency was to find evidence of a Fidel Castro/Cuban connection to the Democratic party. This is one of several common explanations for the spy operation.

Another one, suggested by Bob Haldeman and tentatively endorsed by Jeb Magruder, is that Nixon wanted to find evidence that the reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes was secretly funding the Democrats. Others have suggested that Nixon wanted dirt on Ted Kennedy, and a recent book called Watergate: The Hidden History: Nixon, The Mafia, and The CIA by Lamar Waldron tries to build a case for a Mafia connection. Still others have guessed that the whole botched operation was a trap by Nixon's opponents, intended to embarrass the President (if this was the case, the trap was an amazing success).

I don't think that any of the above answers are very good, and I have a better one to suggest. The motive for the Watergate break-in is something primal, dreadfully familiar, awkwardly obvious. The answer is there in plain sight -- and it's also certainly there in the memoirs written by the principal Watergate criminals, particularly Blind Ambition by John Dean, An American Life: One Man's Road to Watergate by Jeb Magruder, The Ends of Power by Bob Haldeman, Witness to Power: The Nixon Years by John Ehrlichman, Will by G. Gordon Liddy and Born Again by Chuck Colson, all of which I've carefully read and reread to help me reach the conclusion I'm about to explain.

I'm pretty sure my answer is the correct one, and I think you will agree with me once I explain it. I'm not going to ask you to suspend your disbelief, because my explanation involves no shrill conspiracy theories or far-fetched assumptions. Instead, I will ask you to open your mind to an answer so familiar and self-apparent that it barely seems like an answer at all (but it is an answer, and it's the only answer that matters, because it's the one that's true.)

The story begins on June 13, 1971, almost exactly a year before the break-in at the Watergate. On this day, the first excerpt of the Pentagon Papers was published in the New York Times. This was a shocking leak of confidential and politically explosive Defense Department documents about the Vietnam War. The private documents were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg as a brave act of protest against the badly managed and badly conceived war (Ellsberg remains politically active today, and has recently spoken out in support of a more recent military whistleblower, Bradley Manning.)

Though the information within the Pentagon Papers turned out to be more destructive to past Presidents (especially John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson) than to Richard Nixon, the loss of control that the leak revealed was tremendously embarrassing for the Nixon White House. The President was caught blindsided on a matter of national security. The fact that such a confidential set of documents could be leaked by an antiwar activist suggested that similar activists or secret networks might be infiltrating every department of the Nixon administration.

Thus, Nixon and his staffers John Mitchell, Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Chuck Colson began putting together a defense plan. They created a secret office within the White House, nicknamed the "Plumbers", including two gung-ho right-wing espionage "experts" named E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. Hunt and Liddy were instructed to get the dirt on Daniel Ellsberg, and when they discovered that he regularly saw a psychiatrist they carried out a strange plan to break into the psychiatrist's office and read through his medical files, hoping to find information with which to embarrass Daniel Ellsberg.

The fact that Hunt and Liddy thought this was a good idea is hard to understand. The fact that senior White House staffers close to President Nixon thought it was a good idea is absolutely dumbfounding. It was clearly illegal. The stakes were enormous, and the possible reward seemed infinitesimally small. What good would it do to embarrass Ellsberg? How would that help Nixon?

And yet the operation got okayed by Nixon's top men, and was carried out. A close study of the six White House memoirs listed above reveals many surprising and clarifying facts about many aspects of the Watergate affair, but these books all come up empty when it comes to explaining the 1971 decision to burglarize Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office. Reading these sections from these memoirs together gives an impression that a vacuum of good judgement suddenly descended over the Nixon White House immediately after the leak of the Pentagon Papers.

The Nixon White House had made bad decisions before, but never so senselessly and recklessly, and never with collaborators as brazen as E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. It seems clear that the mania that would result in the 1972 Watergate break-in was born in full force in the summer of 1971, a year before.

When we ask about the purpose of the Watergate break-in, we should begin by asking about the purpose of the first break-in by the same cast of characters that would eventually get caught at the Watergate. It makes no sense to discuss the motive of the Watergate break-in as if this were an isolated act, when in fact the only legal difference between the Ellsberg psychiatrist break-in and the Watergate break-in was that the burglars didn't get caught at the Ellsberg break-in.

The Ellsberg break-in was a remarkably impulsive and vindictive act, an act that defies logic (again, what could they possibly gain by finding out details of Ellsberg's personal problems?). The broad rationale for the Plumbers' activities, as described in many of the memoirs mentioned above, seemed to be that since Nixon's enemies were breaking the law and getting away with it (by leaking secure documents, with the complicity of the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Federal courts), Nixon's team would need to also break the law in order to keep pace with their enemies. The senselessness of the White House decision to go ahead with the Ellsberg break-in provides an important context when we look for a rational motive for the Watergate break-in. Clearly, where the White House Plumbers were concerned, the bar for coherence was not set very high. It seems plausible that no logical motive for the break-in ever actually existed, once we realize that the Plumbers had a history of conducting operations without a logical motive.

There did appear to be, however, a strong psychological motive behind the activities of the hapless Plumbers. As the Vietnam War continued to descend into chaos and massive death counts, the Nixon administration felt weak and isolated. In the mania that festered in this environment, the White House staff became convinced that their enemies had better espionage capabilities than they themselves had. The publication of the Pentagon Papers, as described in nearly all the memoirs above, became a critical catalyst for White House paranoia. Nixon and his staff felt a need to quickly develop a private espionage capability, because they were sure they were surrounded by enemies.

It was this paranoid atmosphere that made the two slippery, shadowy operatives E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy suddenly attractive to Nixon's top staff in 1971 and 1972. It wasn't information that the White House wanted. It was Hunt and Liddy that they wanted. The White House wanted to have some strong spies on their own team -- and there's not much evidence that John Mitchell or Bob Haldeman or Chuck Colson (or Richard Nixon himself, if he knew about the break-ins) really cared what the spies did with their time. It was just important that the spies were on Mitchell and Haldeman and Colson's own team.

This psychological explanation seems to me the only one that explains the Watergate break-in. Political or logical explanations are always unconvincing, because they all assume that the White House considered the risk of conducting an illegal spy operation problematic. The reverse was true. The break-in didn't occur despite the fact that it was illegal -- it occurred because it was illegal. The Watergate break-in was a practice drill. Mitchell and Haldeman and Colson (and Nixon) wanted to know that someone on their team had the cojones and the technical skills to pull off an illegal domestic spying operation. That was the real motive -- and the only motive -- for Watergate.

If there had been any desired information, Haldeman (the top guy on the Nixon staff pyramid) would have known about it, and would have been happy to have sold more books by revealing it in one of the several books he'd eventually write. The greatest evidence that there was no important information to be gained by spying on the Democrats was that Democratic candidate George McGovern was barely threatening Nixon at all in the upcoming November 1972 elections. The polls showed a nearly historic advantage for Nixon at the time of the break-in, because Nixon was still very popular with voters at this time. The awkward truth is this: if an accidental Bell Telephone party line had suddenly given Bob Haldeman access to the Democratic National Committee's private telephone calls, Haldeman probably wouldn't have cared enough to have listened for long. The break-in was a war game, an exercise.

What's the lesson we can all learn from the bizarre mistakes that led to the Watergate scandal? Mainly, that a military mindset can act as psychological poison. A government that finds itself in a troubled position in time of war may also find itself in a manic state of unreality in which things that don't make sense begin to make sense. This is a pretty scary truth, and it probably explains many moments in history, far beyond the relatively modest historical scope of the Watergate affair.

This psychological explanation for the Nixon downfall is markedly a systematic rather than an individual one. It's common to paint the Watergate scandal as a manifestation of Richard Nixon's personal character flaws. Like the explanations for the break-in above, this wider explanation is not very insightful, and misses a bigger point. If we blame the mistakes of Watergate on the character flaws of Richard Nixon, we fail to see that it's our own entire society that is more deeply at fault.

The Watergate scandal was caused by the mania that surrounded the Vietnam War. It was the Vietnam War coming home to roost.

Perhaps Mitchell and Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Colson and Nixon might have actually meant well, or might have at least meant to meant well. They should not be blamed for the scandal. If we blame them, we fail to realize that the conditions that created the scandal are still with us today.

* * * * *

Fast-forward nearly thirty years. It's Sunday, September 16, 2001. The George W. Bush White House is in turmoil, stunned and shocked and deeply saddened by the Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon five days before. The Bush administration feels weak and helpless. They have been caught blindsided. They have badly miscalculated how to carry out their national security responsibilities. Various ideas are beginning to emerge within the Bush administration about what they should do next.

It's on this day that Vice President Dick Cheney says something strange on a Sunday news show, Meet The Press, in describing the administration's planned approach for intelligence gathering: "We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective."

What Dick Cheney means, it's generally understood at the time, is that the Bush administration is about to change its policies regarding torture of suspected terrorists in order to obtain information. Other key Bush staffers and senior military officials will begin making similar public statements about the possibility of torturing political prisoners in order to combat Al Qaeda. Months before Bush's CIA would begin torturing prisoners, the Bush administration would begin talking about torturing prisoners. It almost seemed as if talking about it were more vital to national security than doing it.

At this point, on September 16, 2001, there are no Al Qaeda prisoners to torture. 9/11 just happened. The CIA has barely even begun to process the massive amount of information they already have about Al Qaeda, and all this information will take them months or years to digest. So why are they talking about torturing prisoners to get information?

There is always a psychological motive, even when there is not a rational one. We need to practice. A capability must be developed, because we feel weak and threatened. A manic state of unreality can occur, in which things that don't make sense will start to make sense.

31 Responses to "Why Watergate Happened: The Awkward Truth About the Mysterious Motive"

by Mike Covey on

The Nixon plumbers weren’t set up to get Ellsberg, they all worked together as far back as the JFK assassination. In fact they all worked together years before that. Back in the WWII as the original CIA (the office of naval intelligence). You can find all that out if you just investigate (like 48 hours without sleep) all the leads right there in the Wikipedia footnotes. Start with the JFK shooting and work backwards, or forwards. It all leads to the same place.

by Levi Asher on

Hi Mike -- not sure what you mean exactly. E. Howard Hunt of course was involved as a major player in CIA operations in Cuba during the JFK administration (this is well known) but I don't think G. Gordon Liddy was. There were several people involved with the Plumbers but these were the main two.

I'm a little disappointed, though, if you read my hopefully groundbreaking theory above and can only respond by citing a shadowy conspiracy plot. The innovation of my theory is that it requires no conspiracy at all, except for a conspiracy of human incompetence. And the Nixon team's motives were shadowy, sure, but only in the Jungian sense. Lets forget the far fetched conspiracy theories and just see what's in front of our eyes.

by Mike Covey on

from Wikipedia:
In World War II, Hunt served in the OSS, a predecessor of the CIA. He wrote several spy novels including Bimini Run (1949) with a hero named Hank Sturgis. Hunt became CIA station chief in Mexico City in 1950 and supervised William F. Buckley, Jr., who worked for the CIA. Buckley and Hunt remained lifelong friends. He retired from the CIA on May 1, 1970, and went to work for the Robert R. Mullen Company, a CIA front company. In the April 5, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone, Howard St. John Hunt detailed a number of individuals purported to be implicated by his father in the JFK assassination, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Cord Meyer, David Phillips, Frank Sturgis, David Morales, William Harvey, and Lucien Sarti.

If you follow the links on all those names, you'll see their life-long connections and involvements in foreign and domestic covert operations - murder, disinformation, political manipulations. It's a tangled web but fascinating and sickening. If you don't follow the links on all those names, you're missing a great piece of history.

by Levi Asher on

Okay, Mike, but do you have any reaction to the theory of the motive that I'm describing here?

I can understand why you find Howard Hunt's long history with the CIA interesting, but it is irrelevant to the theory I've worked hard to lay out here -- if you don't mind, I'm interested in hearing some reactions to my theory!

...war is only justified for protection. our mistake came when we let 'and our interests' become part of some noble justification for war. to protect ourselves-self defense-the retailiation should be thoughtful, quick, and deadly. without mercy. and we should always be prepared for this. however, 'and our interests' opens the floodgates of human selfishness, hatred, and greed. every individual human must fight for thier freedom. salvation is the easy part. as for nixon's team, the paranoid were likely popping pills, nixon included. this behavior leads to delusional decision making, the sweating nixon was known for, and blackmailable recounts of past evenings. remember, nixon was friends with elvis. the pill popping hound dog. the doctors have the real story of the times. mcgovern never recovered from the eagleton pick, which, thinking now, makes perfect sense with your theory. the plumbers probably had the goods after the nomination was made, dooming mcgovern for botching his first big decision. i guess once the pills were dropped and coke became the thing, disco was invented...it's really all fitting together...

by Levi Asher on

The pill-poppin' theory sounds believable to me, hypcollector. I never heard any direct evidence or testimony of this, so as far as I can tell it's just a guess, but it would be consistent with the paranoia that became evident during the Pentagon Papers/Watergate years. Come to think of it, based on the photos of the time, Haldeman did always look like he was fiending on something ...

by TKG on

I agree with you.

What's interesting is that you put it in the context of the time when the left who did hate Nixon and were his enemies, so it wasn't just paranoia, were acting lawlessly, so culpability for fomenting an entirely lawless atmosphere and environment is spread around.

And, Liddy was a DA in New York busting Tim Leary in their drug mansion in the early 60's.

No one likes to be disagreed. Psychologically our self-worth needs affirmation not rebuttal. When my opinion differs from yours, you think I’m attacking you. Not at all. I think you’re an extraordinarily good person; a man of great intellect, learning, compassion, talent, and humanity. You took time out from the AWP to travel 90 blocks of New York City traffic just to say “hi” to me and my daughter. That’s an amazingly nice thing to do.

But - “this psychological explanation seems to me the only one that explains the Watergate break-in. Perhaps Mitchell Haldeman Ehrlichman Colson Nixon might have actually meant well, or might have at least meant to mean well” - I don’t think so.

Nixon’s dirty-tricksters been doing the same things for 20 years before Ellsberg. The motive is seizing control a d’govment by any means necessary. Been going on since Pharohs, Caesars, Attilas, and Bush’s.

The US govmint through Hunt, Sturgis, Cord Meyer, and their predecessors been overthrowing foreign and domestic governments since Dole pineapple-ized Hawaii, Eisenhower shah’d Persia, Kissinger murdered Allende.

I’m sure they all meant well (or not). But don’t take my word, check out Oliver Stone’s untold history.

by Levi Asher on

Thanks for the (rare and much appreciated) agreement, TKG!

And yes, I agree with you too that the 60s/70s antiwar movement did seem to accept lawless behavior -- what was probably most frustrating of all, for the Nixon administration, was that the New York Times and Washington Post were openly complicit by publishing the Pentagon Papers, and when the administration took the case to federal court even the US Supreme Court ruled that the newspapers could not be prevented from publishing the Pentagon Papers. It's easy to see how the Nixon team could conclude that they needed to operate outside the law as well. Of course, this backfired badly on them. They seemed to have momentarily forgotten that "law and order" had been a big part of Nixon's appeal to voters.

I knew about Liddy and Leary's history -- in the 80s, when I was in college, I got a chance to see the Liddy/Leary speaking tour in person! Quite a show ...

by Levi Asher on

Thanks for this response, Mikey Covey (and, by the way, it was a pleasure to meet you and your daughter way back when).

I don't mind that you disagreed with my theory, not at all. What I minded is that you were completely ignoring my theory! I worked hard to put this blog post together and lay out my chain of evidence in a persuasive way -- and then you were like "hey, did you know Hunt was involved with JFK?" You can disagree with my theories all you want, but please don't ignore them!

And, by the way, when I say that Haldeman and Mitchell might have "meant well", I'm being a bit tongue-in-cheek. I'm trying to extend the most generous possible interpretation, as a Gandhi-esque gesture of forgiveness. Because, if my theory is right (and I'm still pretty sure it is), the Nixon White House was a victim of the maniacal Vietnam War mentality just as so many of their opponents were.

Generally your theories on Nixon are those of an apologist. You’re too young to remember Nixon getting stoned in Mexico (Bob Dylan wrote a song about it) or the checkers speech (which launched Chubby Checker’s career).

from Wikipedia:
In Congress, Nixon supported the Taft–Hartley Act which monitors the activities and power of labor unions. Nixon first gained national attention in 1948 as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1949, Nixon ran for US Senate, a "Pink Sheet" was distributed by the Nixon campaign suggesting that his opponent's voting record was similar to that of a communist. He maintained friendly relations with his fellow anti-communist, Senator Joseph McCarthy. He voted against price controls and other monetary restrictions, benefits for illegal immigrants, and public power. In September '52, the media reported that Nixon had a political fund, maintained by his backers, which reimbursed him for political expenses which exposed Nixon to allegations of conflict of interest. In 1958, Nixon embarked on a goodwill tour of South America. In Lima, Peru, he was met by a volley of thrown objects. At his hotel, Nixon faced another mob, and one demonstrator spat on him. In Caracas, Nixon was spat on by anti-American demonstrators and their limousine was attacked by a pipe-wielding mob.

Why do you suppose that was? the war in 'Nam?

by Levi Asher on

Well, Mikey, I have done a ton of reading about Nixon (most recently, Rick Perlstein's excellent "Nixonland") so I do know a lot about his legacy. When he was Vice-President and was greeted by hostile crowds in South America, do you really think they were addressing him directly, or him as a surrogate for Eisenhower? I don't think that was about 'Nam, but I also don't think it was about Nixon -- it was about USA policy in South America during the Eisenhower era.

Speaking of which, I don't think I'm an apologist for Nixon (or for Eisenhower) but I do want to stand firm on my main point: if we blame Watergate on Nixon's character flaws (which were easy to spot) we miss the bigger lesson. And I think people do commonly blame Watergate on Nixon's character flaws, and do miss the bigger lessons of the whole mess. We can't keep making the same mistakes over and over again, so it's important to identify the deepest source of the problem that led to Watergate. The deepest source wasn't Richard Nixon -- it was the disastrous Vietnam War.

no it wadn't. btw, if you click on my name it'll link to an expose of the real Bill Ectric who used to run with Hunt & Liddy at the Frank Sturgis bike rally. And just imagine, Anthony Hopkins portraying Nixon. Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Margaret Thatcher. Odd...but effective, I guess.

PS - the only reason I dispute your thesis is bcuz you speak to millions. What you say matters. And the truth about Nixon Hunt Liddy Sturgis Meyer - is critically important for everyone to know. Plz, check the links on those names. It matters.

by Levi Asher on

Okay, Mikey, let's leave it at that! I am satisfied with your summary statement.

I've always had an aversion to conspiracy theories. They just never seem very plausible to me. Conspiracy theories rest on the assumption that groups of human beings are capable of effective goal-oriented behavior, and are capable of keeping secrets. I have observed that groups of human beings are generally capable of neither.

But, I'm happy you are mentioning this link for others who want to follow the threads linking Hunt to JFK or Oliver Stone to Anthony Hopkins or whatever. By the way, I thought Anthony Hopkins was awful as Nixon -- can we at least agree on that?

Hopkins is always great. "Conspiracy theory" is what Fox News uses to keep people stupid. Maybe you never worked for the CIA. They don't go on Oprah & brag about overthrowing Latin American governments. They do it secretly & nobody ever talks. Maybe you never worked for the Mafia. They're a pretty quiet bunch too.

But the gist of your argument is - I’ve spent a lot of time reading about Nixon. Are time & water so meaningless we can waste them. The history of the Eagles - band fell apart cuz Don Felder didn’t care who Senator Allen Cranston was. But got back together 15 year later when Don Henley doing benefit to save Thoreau’s Walden Pond. I suppose they coulda been reading about Nixon. But I’ve written books, Tony O’Neill, Joe Ridgwell, John & Dan Fante have. Why read about Nixon. Seems like an insult, or waste of time.

by Deena Martinez on

I am always in awe of the intellectual minds that meet on this blog. Everyone always makes a most interesting point to converse on. It's such a relaxing spot for me on the internet which is constantly filled with oft repeated memes, the ubiquitous selfie, and vague status updates.

Carry on :)

It's my understanding that Nixon drank quite a bit, and usually those guys in power who drink are also hopped up on amphetamines. This was probably true for Kennedy as well, running around with Peter Lawford. Not sure about Johnson. I heard Winston Churchill often stayed up all night drinking, telling stories, plotting the course of the war, changing his mind, etc. Anyway, after WWII, when America felt "on top of the world," it was only a matter of time before we got caught doing one of our many brazen, needless acts. I agree with your theory, Levi.

And to Mikael Covey: No comment on the advice of my lawyer.

by mtmynd1 on

I've given your essay some serious consideration and what I have come up with is the following:

The first part of the piece centered on Watergate and a total of 1836 words were used with the most important I came away with were seven (7) words. i.e. "The Watergate break-in was a practice drill."

The second part dealing with Al Qaeda and the Bush response using 398 words which I came away with four (4) words, "We need to practice" as the most important conclusion out of all the other 394 words.

Why do I say that? Whatever we do as hu'mans, as parents, as family, as associates, citizens of Nations worldwide, everyone one of us practice at being better individuals of our chosen caliber to live life and get the most out of it as we can before we fucking die. Nothing new here but another practice exercise in stoking the imagination to hopefully connect some dots that haven't fit it as well as you, the writer, has wished it to be.

The ultimate question, and there are many in between this essay and the finality of questions, what in the hell are we, the collective 'we". practicing for? Surely we aren't practicing simply for the joy of discussion... or are we? Would the world be a far better place knowing the answers to Watergate or 9/11? Or are those questions going to make America a far better place to live in and raise our families? Will historians write the right answers to these questions you have proposed? Or will history continue as it always has... making sense enough that their readership will nod their heads in agreement and be reasonably satisfied with the long studied opinions of others that have also contributed to the written history so life can move forward and ready itself with more practices in the upcoming times ahead..?

Other than you own (7) replies, Mikey Covey offered (6) replies with hypcollector and TKG each offering (1) reply, there seems to be no consensus amongst them (or myself) as to the 'truth' in what you have offered the reader, as you wrote, "my hopefully groundbreaking theory." Perhaps a bit more practice..?

by Levi Asher on

Thank you, Deena, that is nice to hear!

Mtmynd, thanks for the word analysis. I agree that those are the two key sentences. As for what Dick Nixon and Dick Cheney (I will forgo the obvious joke) think we're practicing for: all I can say is, the world will be happier when we can all do less practicing and more living.

by mtmynd1 on

Re: "...all I can say is, the world will be happier when we can all do less practicing and more living."

I am in full agreement with you on this, Levi.

by Mike Covey on

I've haven't thanked Mr. Asher recently for the great work he does by providing the wonderful educational thoughtful magazine Litkicks. Bill & I remember when it was endless lines of chat on an otherwise blank screen. And you know, that was pretty awesome too. The chance to share ideas & learn stuff with & from folk all over the littte rock we on. But anyway, I greatly appreciate what Mr. Asher does (his name aint Asher Lev, btw) and when I disagree, is only bcuz he is a powerful influential man who speaks to millions for...I guess what will be eternity now (on Al Gore's internet).

I'll check out the article on Scientology inna bit. Btw, didja know Ron Hubbard's from a little village in Nebraski south a where i grew up. Wierd, huh.

by Steve Plonk on

I think perhaps, Levi, one could use an analogy as to why FDR interned Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War Two?

The times were equally desperate, to make a strong statement, & the government, especially under Dubya, was paranoid. They had to look like they were tough & doing something constructive to catch the terrorists. Cheney, stuck his foot way in his mouth that day & actually told it like it really was.

During times of total war, our country becomes much like a police state. We were at war with thugs, like Bin Laden, & had to take off the "kid gloves".

There is really no real excuse for it, but that is what happened.

Nixon, to use another analogy, felt as though his back was to the wall to get a second term. J. Edgar Hoover, the cross dressing FBI director, was ailing & soon died. This situation left the door open for more dirty tricks. Liddy is still unrepentant after all these years...Oh, what a strange can of worms was opened ...

by Levi Asher on

Well said, Steve -- I agree that the internment of the Japanese was another example.

But I want to clarify one difference -- I think the evidence shows that Nixon didn't feel his back was to the wall to get a second term. Dirty politics was in the air, but it wasn't dirty electoral politics. American voters were in a very conservative mood in 1972, and nobody in either the Republican or Democratic party thought McGovern had a real chance to beat Nixon by the time the Watergate break-in happened. Nixon and his team were already looking past the election to the challenges that really worried them -- how to handle the war in Vietnam, how to handle an impudent liberal press, and how to establish some control over a federal bureaucracy that resisted all their efforts for change. It was in these areas, not the election, that they felt they had to "toughen up" and start playing dirty to keep up with their enemies.

As for Liddy, not only is he unrepentant -- he's been dining out on his Watergate fame since he got out of jail!

by Mike Covey on

from Wikipedia: In 1960, Fabian Escalante was in the Department of State Security in Cuba. At the time of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Escalante was head of a counter-intelligence unit, and was part of a team investigating a CIA operation called Sentinels of Liberty, an attempt to recruit Cubans willing to work against Castro. His information about Bush comes from a counterintelligence operation against Tracy Barnes of the CIA:

"Tracy Barnes functioned as head of the Cuban Task Force. He called a meeting on January 18, 1960. Those who gathered there included Howard Hunt, Frank Bender, Jack Esterline, who directed a CIA group in Venezuela; psychological warfare expert David A. Phillips, and others. The team responsible for the plans to overthrow the government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 was reconstituted, and in the minds of all its members this would be a rerun of the same plan.

Barnes talked at length of the goals to be achieved. He explained that Vice-President Richard Nixon was the Cuban case officer, and had assembled an important group of businessmen headed by George Bush and Jack Crichton, both Texas oilmen, to gather the necessary funds for Operation 40. Nixon was a protege of Bush's father Prescott, who in 1946 had supported Nixon's bid for congress. In fact, Prescott Bush was the campaign strategist who brought Eisenhower and Nixon to the presidency of the United States."

Before becoming CIA director, George H Bush had the only oil rigs in the Carribean which were used as staging bases for the Bay of Pigs invasion. An invasion that plumber Bernard Barker participated in. Plumber Frank Sturgis trained and equipped both sides.

John Sherwood, who led the CIA's anti-Castro operations in the early 1960s, said that Zapata Offshore was used as a conduit to fund these operations in the guise of oil contracts

According to a CIA internal memo Zapata Petroleum’s (Bush Oil) involvement with the CIA began in 1953 through Bush's joint efforts with Thomas J. Devine, a CIA staffer who had resigned his agency position that same year to go into private business, but who continued to work for the CIA under commercial cover. Devine would later accompany Bush to Vietnam in late 1967 as a cleared and witting commercial asset of the agency, acted as his informal foreign affairs advisor, and had a close relationship with him through 1975.

Amidst the Watergate scandal, Nixon asked Bush to become chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1973. Nixon had appointed his buddy UN ambassador in 1971.

Frank Sturgis: US intelligence operative since late 1940’s. Soldier of fortune who trained Castro’s army, taught Che Guevera guerilla warfare, ran guns for both sides, and was a contract CIA agent.

“I was a spy. I was involved in assassination plots and conspiracies to overthrow several foreign governments including Cuba, Panama, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. I smuggled arms and men into Cuba for Castro and against Castro. I broke into intelligence files. I stole and photographed secret documents. That’s what spies do.”

Bernard Baker: after WWII returned to Cuba and joined the secret police under Fulgencio Batista. Later recruited by the FBI and worked for them as an undercover agent. Also did work for the CIA. He joined the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

by Levi Asher on

Mike, I don't understand the point you're trying to make. My blog post is presenting a new theory about the motive for the Watergate break-in. You have laid out some facts about the past CIA activities of some of the burglars. These facts are already well known. So are you saying that you think this explains the motive in some new way, other than what has already been documented by generations of journalists and investigators? I don't see anything new here.

I think my theory is a whole lot more promising, and certainly more original, but maybe I'm not understanding the point you're trying to make.

by Mike Covey on

You suggest Nixon up & found Hunt Sturgis Barker etc all of a sudden. Apparently Nixon Bush Hunt Sturgis knew each other, worked together on covert ops like over-throwing foreign & domestic governments for 20 years before Watergate.

Here's a real simple theory - only way Nixon could ever become president - 2 Kennedy's had to die. Only way Nixon could fail to get re-elected - somebody spills beans about why 2 Kennedy's died.

I lived through that era, so I remember what it was like. "Nixon couldn't get elected dog catcher" was a popular joke in the 60's. But you insist that Nixon was a kinder gentler man than the guy who ordered Allende murdered, and the democratic government of Iran overthrown:

"The 1953 Iranian coup d'état was the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran, and its head of government Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, orchestrated by the United Kingdom and the United States.

Hastening the CIA's fall from grace were the burglary of the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic Party by ex-CIA agents, and President Richard Nixon's subsequent attempt to use the CIA to impede the FBI's investigation of the burglary.

In the famous "smoking gun" recording that led to President Nixon's resignation, Nixon ordered his chief of staff, HR Haldeman, to tell the CIA that further investigation of Watergate would "open the whole can of worms" about the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba."

by Levi Asher on

Mike, I can't buy into the "Nixon killed Kennedy" theory. I've studied the history closely too, and this doesn't seem like an even remotely plausible theory to me. But I guess you're not the only one who believes this.

This doesn't mean that I see a kinder, gentler Nixon. These are not words I would ever use. Nixon was far from kind or gentle, and it's horrifying that he was ever elected President or Vice President. But I think he was not the origin of the evil of the era. He was infected by this evil, but he was not its cause, nor it's prime mover. To posit a big hidden conspiracy theory behind Watergate is to miss the real lesson I think we all need to learn, which is that an immoral war will rot the morals of the government that pursues it. I really want to emphasize this point, and that's why I'm so disappointed to see you reducing the big lesson to something smaller.

by Mike Covey on

My disappointment is Vietnam had nothing to do with Nixon. I think you read what you want to. Read the Warren Commission report, managed by future President Gerald Ford and future Senator Arlen Spector. Read JFK on Wikipedia, and follow every single link. Read MacBeth and figure out how he gets to be king; or history of earth and figure out how most kings got to be king. Coups happen everywhere - but not in America. After the Kennedy killing there was a fine book & movie called Seven Days in May, eerily similar to real life.

Let’s be logical. A coup can’t happen in America cuz we’re not Latin America. Makes perfect sense. We’re not Germany, post great philosophers & composers. We’re not Russia, post great writers and composers. We’re not a tiny country like China. Unlike Germany, our citizens are educated & sophisticated. Unlike Australia and UK, our media isn’t controlled by the likes of Rupert Murdock.

So, you’re right. A coup could happen anywhere on earth…but here. LBJ actually liked JFK; Hoover secretly admired the Kennedy’s. Just becuz JFK wanted to eliminate the CIA is no reason why CIA operatives would want to kill him over the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Just because JFK wanted to pull our 6000 advisors outta Vietnam is no reason why a multi-billion dollar defense industry wouldn’t love the man. Shoot, we coulda used all them helicopters, B-52’s, F-4’s, A-9’s, Thuds, Slufs & Bufs in our national forests.

Kellogg Brown Root and Haliburton are actually cereal and fish companies. Nobody landed on the moon, and the South never really seceded from the union.

But somebody got rid of Prince Sihanouk; and Pol Pot kilt cupla million Cambodians. You remember? I do. Remember Stokely being arrested in Atlanta? I do. And Lester Maddox refusing to serve people with darker skin than his, in my home town of Athens. Lester got to be governor after that. Somebuddy shot MLK JFK RFK George Wallace Malcolm X Medgar Evers Jimmy Hoffa and Sal Giancanna. Whole lotta shootin’ goin on.

Whole lotta coincidenceses. Next your gonna tell me Dade County democrats voted for the governor’s brother for president. Ah, c’mon. That would NEVER happen in America.

by mountain man on

after studying for 40 years, your theory is valid. thanks

by joseph williard on

Mike and Levi,
I am a first time visitor to this. I'm not a political person by all means. But if I have to give my two sense. I would say it's called a conspiracy for a reason. I think any of us could do all the research hearts desire, but this was left unsaid for a reason, Just like the Kennedy assassination. If I have my thought of theory, I would say whoever knows is dead or
paid well with full gov't benefits.

by douglas on

Read G.Gordon's book, "Will". Great insights into his thinking and reason's for the break-in. Truth? Probably more than he'd admit if you know what I mean.
Just look into the L.A. Times and what they were revealing about covert operations in news stories. Where did their info come from? Who was giving the Times a heads up on foreign intel. Who was getting who killed? Reason enough to try and find out who the mole was in the Democratic Party? Go find it yourself.
Who killed JFK? Dunno, Lee Harvey? : )

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