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Posts Tagged ‘Howard Hunt’

Carl Shoffler, Robert Merritt and the Scandal That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Friday, July 22nd, 2011


Nearly 40 years after the Watergate arrests, a former police spy has published a book in which he makes extraordinary claims about the FBI’s COINTEL program and, just as sensationally, the supposed dismantling of the Nixon Administration by a Pentagon spy-ring.

Watergate Exposed is the biography of a “Confidential Informant” named Robert Merritt, as told to one of the lawyers for the Watergate burglars.  It is not a very good book, or even a very reliable one.  But it may be a mistake to ignore it.  Among other things, Merritt claims to have tipped off the police in advance of the June 17th Watergate break-in, to have participated with police and Pentagon agents in the drugging, kidnapping and blackmailing of a senior CIA lawyer, while also having a hand in the poisoning of antiwar demonstrators.


Robert Merritt

The story begins in the tradition of the bildungsroman, with the young Merritt leaving an unhappy home in West Virginia, only to wash up at a Trailways bus station in the nation’s capital.  A good-looking kid with few, if any, moral inhibitions, it was apparently only a matter of minutes before he concluded a sex-for-hospitality arrangement with an employee at the bus station.  With his domestic situation efficiently sorted, Merritt then went looking for more gainful employment, and soon found it as a post-mortem technician in a local hospital.  His job?  Removing the hearts from the cadavers of children for use in a government study.

The work seems not to have bothered him overly much.  He toiled at it for two years before he found what became his life’s calling.  In January, 1970, while cruising the city’s “artsy” Dupont Circle neighborhood, Merritt attracted the attention of an undercover police detective named Carl Shoffler.

No ordinary cop, Shoffler was a born conspirator, forever setting traps for the wicked.  Affable and very intelligent, he was a veteran of the Army Security Agency and its “listening post” at the Vint Hill Farm station in Northern Virginia.  Working closely with the National Security Agency (NSA), Vint Hill was an antennae farm whose classified mission was to intercept Soviet Bloc radio transmissions – as well as communications among antiwar organizations, radical groups and left-wing think-tanks headquartered in the capital.

To an undercover cop like Shoffler, whose official responsibilities shifted between Vice and Intelligence, Merritt was quite the prize.

Undercover police detective Carl Shoffler.

Here, it should be recalled that the times were virtually radioactive.  Two months before Merritt and Shoffler hooked up, more than half-a-million demonstrators braved tear-gas in the streets of Washington to protest the Vietnam war.  Soon afterwards, college students were gunned down by National Guardsmen on the campus of Kent State University.  The antiwar movement, already white-hot, exploded.  So did the Army Mathematics Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin, where a cabal of students and townies detonated a van-load of ammonium nitrate fertilizer, inadvertently killing a graduate student who was working late that night.  In Washington, the Weather Underground detonated their own bomb – inside the Capitol itself.  Student riots became routine throughout the country, and to many people – Left, Right and Center -  it seemed like the wheels were coming off.

All of which combined to make Robert Merritt something of a find.  A gay street kid with long hair and very little “hold-back,” he could be relied upon to help Shoffler and his colleagues “infiltrate, expose, disrupt and discredit” dissident groups and their leaders.  That was the mandate of secret government undertakings to which Shoffler and his cohort were a party – illegal operations like the COINTEL program and the CIA’s Operation CHAOS.  In Washington, the Institute for Policy Studies was subjected to surveillance, infiltration, and disruption.  So were the Red House Bookstore and underground newspapers like the The Quicksilver Times.  Even the restrooms – especially the restrooms – came under surveillance.  At least the ones at Dupont Circle did.

Some of this was business as usual.  Washington’s gay community had been of special interest to the police and the feds since the Second World War.  For more than 20 years, the Washington Police Department’s Lt. Roy Blick compiled thousands of dossiers on the city’s “perverts.”  Testifying before a Senate subcommittee in 1950, “Blick described parties raided, officials high and low arrested, and ended with a real shocker,” Newsweek reported.  “’There are some 5,000 homosexuals in the District of Columbia,’ he testified, ‘and 3,750 of them work for the government.’”

Of particular interest were people of influence – wayward lawyers and politicians, judges and businessmen – and their families.  Male and female prostitutes and their clients were  also targeted, and the results shared with both the FBI and the Security Research Staff at the CIA.  That the dossiers were sometimes put to political use is undeniable, their compilation justified on the grounds that homosexuals were a national security threat.


Shoffler became Blick’s protege during the 1960s – and soon was known within the Department as “Little Blick.”  He seems to have “inherited” many of his namesake’s files when the latter retired and, like Blick, liaised regularly with his FBI and CIA counterparts.

And not just his counterparts.  If we can believe Merritt, Shoffler was also in touch with White House counsel John Dean.

This will give Watergate aficionados pause.  There are those of us who believe that Dean unilaterally ordered the Watergate break-in.  If then, it should turn out that in the weeks and months leading up to the break-in, Dean was meeting with the police officer who would eventually make the Watergate arrests, we will have arrived at an interesting and previously unknown intersectiion in the affair.

That said, it must be noted Merritt’s recollection of the supposed Shoffler-Dean meeting(s) is not in his book.  It’s a story he recounted on a radio program while attempting to publicize that book.  As Merritt tells it, he accompanied Shoffler to a soiree at the Old Stein restaurant in April, 1972.  This was two months before the Watergate break-ins and, according to Merritt, those in attendance included John Dean and a temblor of “military brass.”  Elsewhere, Merritt claims that he first met Dean before an antiwar demonstration in the capital.  He’d met up with Shoffler who was on his way to a meeting with a man the detective would only identify as “J.D.”  An antiwar demonstration was in the offing, and J.D. – whom Merritt later recognized as John Dean -  was seated in a parked car near Dupont Circle.  Merritt says he didn’t give the introduction much thought, until recently.

Why Shoffler would have brought Merritt to a kaffee-klatch of high-ranking military officers is unclear, and seems unlikely.  Still, it is not entirely beyond the realm of possibility that Shoffler would have introduced Merritt to Dean if, in fact, Shoffler was liaising with Dean.  And perhaps he was.  Antiwar demonstrations were a part of Dean’s brief at the White House, and he is known to have kept track of them.  It is at least possible, then, that he and Shoffler met from time to time to compare notes.

But revelations like these drive Merritt’s amenuensis, Douglas Caddy, crazy.

Douglas Caddy

Merritt and Caddy were in regular contact for years about the book.  Indeed, the book is Robert Merritt’s story as told to Douglas Caddy, who also added a thoughtful and interesting Prologue and Afterward.  The problem Caddy now has with the book is that some of Merritt’s most significant and/or outrageous claims are nowhere to be found in it.  They only came out when Merritt began to publicize the book, whereupon he did what Confidential Informants almost always do: he became an unstoppable raconteur.  And in so doing, he may well have embellished the tale to make it even more interesting (though this has yet to be demonstrated).

Caddy’s interest in the affair would seem to be transparent.  He worked with Howard Hunt at the Robert R. Mullen Company, a Washington-based PR firm that served, also, as a CIA cover and looked after Howard Hughes’s interests in the capital.

So it was that immediately after the Watergate arrests, Hunt contacted Caddy, urging him to represent the burglars at their arraignment.  Because Caddy’s new clients were mystery-men with fake IDs and refused to answer questions, the curiosity of the U.S. Attorney’s office, the FBI and the cops was piqued.

And so the court brought pressure upon Caddy himself.

Subpoena’d to appear before a grand jury, Caddy at first refused to answer questions about how he had come to be involved in the case, invoking the attorney-client privilege.  Judge John Sirica promptly cited the lawyer for contempt.  Confronted with jail-time, Caddy relented, which meant that he was forced to testify as a witness against his own clients.

To Caddy’s way of thinking, this was not necessarily a bad thing.  Sirica’s order was so outrageous that if Caddy’s clients should be convicted, the case would likely be overturned on appeal.  In the event, however, this analysis was mooted when the burglars were persuaded to change their pleas to Guilty, thereby obviating any revelations about the burglary or its purpose.

Merritt’s tale brings Caddy even deeper into the Watergate story.  According to the Confidential Informant, officer Shoffler and his cohort lobbied him – hard -  to seduce the lawyer.

This was an allegation that Merritt had made years earlier, and which I had reported upon – somewhat skeptically – in Secret Agenda.  What made me skeptical was the absence of any evidence that Caddy was gay.  But I was wrong.  Caddy was, in fact, secretly gay and had gone to great lengths to conceal it.

So chalk one up for Merritt.  He is obviously telling the truth about this, and we can only wonder about the lengths to which Shoffler and his associates would go.  And had gone.  That he knew of Caddy’s homosexuality seems remarkable until we recall that Shoffler was known as “Little Blick,” and liaised with what Jack Anderson called “the CIA’s Sex Squad,” as well as basement operations at the FBI and NYPD Intelligence.

Caddy’s name no doubt appeared in one or more the “pervert files” that were available to him.

But the story doesn’t end there.  In Watergate Exposed, Merritt tells us that it wasn’t just Caddy’s seduction that was sought.  Shoffler and his cohort – a casserole of fellow cops, FBI agents and Pentagon spooks – actually wanted him to kill the lawyer, and offered him $10,000 – later raised to $100,000 – to carry out “the assignment.”  Merritt says he refused.  Apparently on…well, ethical grounds.

Let us pause.

Inasmuch as Robert Merritt’s ethical standards can only be described as “chthonic,” I find it incredible that he would turn down so much money – to do anything.  Even so, I am not sure that he’s lying in every direction.  Because what stands out about Merritt almost as much as his corruption is his naivete and immense desire to please.  It was these characteristics that made him so easily manipulated by his police handlers.  And we see it at work here, in the Caddy story, when Merritt attempts to explain the motivations of Shoffler and the Pentagon spooks.  It’s a mixed bag.  They certainly wanted to know how Caddy had come to represent the burglars.  But according to Merritt, there were other reasons, as well.  The spooks were homophobic and were happy to kill Caddy…because he was a fag.  And there were political reasons, also.  Caddy “knew too much about the CIA,” Merritt tells us.  He was “a communist…pro-Cuban and…” – wait for it – “a leader of the Young Americans for Freedom.”


As improbable story must seem, I am sure that something like it actually occurred.  What makes me think so is a further detail that Merritt provides.  “The exact description of the assignment,” he writes, is that “I was suppose to insert…(a) gelatin-like suppository into his rectum, which would have caused (Caddy’s) death within minutes.”

Yikes!  Death by suppository!  Poetic justice, no doubt, in the eyes of rightwing homophobes and yet…these are supposed to be serious people, the kinds of people who, when committing murder, place greater emphasis on efficiency than wit.  Instead, what we have is what sounds a bit like the macho b.s. that one sometimes hears in locker-rooms and bars with sticky floors.

So the question presents itself: am I overestimating the intelligence of Shoffler and his cohort, or am I underestimating the intelligence of Merritt?

There can be no certainty on this point, but some of Merritt’s other “revelations”

may help us to decide.  For instance, one of his many bombshells is the assertion that he tipped off Shoffler to what turned out to be the the final Watergate break-in.  He did this, we’re told, on June 1, 1972.

That Shoffler may have been tipped off is something I have long suspected.  I wrote about the possibility in Secret Agenda, noting that Shoffler and his buddies were waiting in an unmarked car outside the Watergate office building when the break-in took place.  I was 1:30 in the morning, and Shoffler had been off-duty for hours.  But this was by no means the only reason to suspect that the burglars walked into a trap.  Even if we leave aside the peculiar behavior of the burglary team’s leader, James McCord – about which I have written elsewhere – there is the testimony of Capt. Edmund Chung.

He was Shoffler’s commanding officer at Vint Hill Farm.  And according to Chung, who volunteered his testimony to the Senate, he had occasion to dine with Shoffler after the Watergate arrests.  The burglary was front-page news, and Chung asked Shoffler how he had made the arrests.  The police detective replied that he’d been in contact with Alfred Baldwin prior to the last break-in. (Baldwin was the former FBI agent hired by  McCord to eavesdrop on telephone conversations that McCord claimed were emanating  from the DNC.)

Shoffler’s implication, then, is that it was Baldwin who had tipped him off.  (Baldwin acknowledges having met Shoffler at an antiwar demonstration.)  If the whole story ever came out, Chung says Shoffler told him, “his life wouldn’t be worth a nickel.”

There is no mention of Chung in Merritt’s book, and the men’s stories are by no means of a piece.  While they are in agreement that Shoffler was given advance warning of the June 17 break-in, they differ on the source.  According to Merritt, it was he – and not Alfred Baldwin – who warned Shoffler.  He says he did this on June 1, after being told of the impending break-in by a switchboard operator at the nearby Columbia Plaza Apartments.  “She,” we are told, had learned of the break-in plan while eavesdropping on a telephone conversation between two men.

Merritt’s account of the incident is detailed.  The switchboard operator is said to have been “a drag-queen” named James Reed, a/k/a “Rita.”  The telephone connection apparently consisted of a so-called “reserve line” – one of three on the switchboard – that did not connect to the apartments.  Asked about this, a former supplier of bugging equipment to the FBI suggested that the line in question may have been in use by an eavesdropping operation in the basement or elsewhere in the apartment complex.

The problems with (this part of) Merritt’s tale are several, and fundamental.  For instance, the first successful burglary of the DNC occurred on the night of May 28th, 1972.   A handwritten log, summarizing telephone conversations that Baldwin overheard from his listening-post in the Howard Johnson’s Motel, was edited by McCord and given to Gordon Liddy two days later.  In other words, Liddy received the logs on June 1 – the same day Merritt says he told Shoffler about a break-in that was set for June 18th.

The problem, of course, is that there was no perceived need for a second entry at this time.

It was not until a week later – on Friday, June 9th – that the Committee to Re-Elect the President’s Jeb Magruder pronounced the eavesdropping logs “worthless.”   Coincidentally, this was the same day that a front-page story appeared in the The Washington Star, linking the White House to a “Capitol Hill call-girl ring” with ties to the Nixon White House.  John Dean reacted to the news with alacrity, if not panic.  Grabbing the phone, he summoned the Asst. U.S. Attorney who was handling the case to come to the White House – and ordered him to bring “all the evidence” with him.

The weekend intervened, and it was not until Monday, June 12th, that Dean’s subordinate, Jeb Magruder, told Liddy that there would have to be a second entry to the Watergate.

This sequence of events is a well-established part of the Watergate narrative.  On its face, it would seem to rule out a June 1 plan to re-enter the DNC more than two weeks later.

But maybe not.  When Douglas Caddy is asked about this, he acknowledges the problem and suggests a solution.  Perhaps, he says, Magruder and/or Dean were taking orders from a person or group outside the White House and the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CRP).  Like who?  Like what?  The Pentagon, Caddy suggests.  Or the CIA.

There is no evidence that this is what occurred, though it would tend to explain a second problem that is fundamental to Merritt’s account.

According to Merritt, his source (James “Rita” Reed) told him that the break-in would destroy the Nixon Administration.  Which, in a sense, it did.  But this could not have been foreseen as a consequence of the burglary itself.  The Administration was actually destroyed by a perfect storm that included the relentlessness of the liberal media; the influence of the Kennedy machine upon the Senate Judiciary Committee; the slow-motion hemorrhage of the Administration’s secrets, crimes and improprieties; the destructive duet of James McCord and John Dean; and, not least, the Administration’s clumsy attempts at a cover-up.

Until those events had come to pass, the Watergate incident was little more than a serious embarrassment – one that Nixon appeared to have overcome through his re-election.  To claim, as Merritt does, that Nixon’s downfall was foreseen in early June suggests either supernatural clairvoyance or a conspiracy of Byzantine proportions.

In the event, neither Caddy nor Merritt see this as an obstacle to the latter’s credibility.  On the contrary, they imagine the unfolding of a “Seven Days in May” scenario – in other words, they believe “Watergate” was a coup d’etat.

As evidence of the conspiracy, Merritt offers yet another revelation that is not in his book, but which he recounted (much to Caddy’s chagrin) after the book was published.

According to the police informant, Shoffler and a team of Pentagon spooks drugged and kidnapped the CIA’s special counsel, Mitch Rogovin, in 1975.  Though Nixon had resigned by then, the Church and Pike committees were investigating (respectively) CIA abuses and the Agency’s involvement in the Watergate affair.

According to Merritt, the Pentagon feared that an in-house CIA report (marked “Eyes Only,” “Secret,” and/or “Confidential”) would reveal the existence of a military spying operation targeted at the former Nixon White House.  The purpose of the Pentagon operation, we are told, was to bring down the Administration.

The 400-page CIA report was supposedly entitled Confidential Report on Intelligence of Military Secret Operations on Nixon.  By way of clarification, the report was said to be subtitled Report of Operations of Secret Surveillance and Eavesdropping.  Perhaps to facilitate discussion, the putative report was conveniently referred to by its acronym, C.R.I.M.S.O.N R.O.S.E. (though C.R.I.M.S.O.N R.O.S.S.E. would have been more accurate).

I must confess that I am not sure where to begin with this, as we seem to have arrived at a S.I.L.L.Y. P.L.A.C.E.  The most obvious point to make, I suppose, is that if Merritt is telling the truth, the CIA is in desperate need of a copy editor.  “Secret Surveillance and Eavesdropping”?  Sounds a bit like “wet water,” does it not?   As for the report’s classification, it is the first that I have ever seen to have been designated  “Secret,”  “Confidential” and “Eyes Only” – all at once.

No matter.  Shoffler and his alleged team of Pentagon spies were determined to obtain the supposed report – though it is by no means clear what they intended to do with it.  In the event, we’re told they lured CIA lawyer Mitch Rogovin to the Mayflower Hotel, spiked his drink with knock-out drops, and dragged him to the hotel’s freight elevator – which Merritt claims he was operating.  Carried to a room, the hapless and unconscious attorney was stripped to his wedding ring and placed in embarrassing postures with a whore.

The purpose of the exercise, we’re told, was to persuade Rogovin to retrieve the Crimson Rose report, which had been sequestered in a Secure Room at CIA headquarters in Langley.  There, it was chained to a table in a large binder.  Fearful that the photos might be leaked, Rogovin supposedly retrieved the Crimson Rose report and gave it – with the severed chains till dangling from the binder – to Shoffler and his team of Pentagon spooks.

Seems unlikely, does it not?  Even if Pentagon’s spies were so deranged as to mount an operation as crude and egregious as the one that Merritt describes, what did they hope to do with the report?  Would it not have occurred to them that there might be a copy?  Moreover, what was to be done about Rogovin?  The Secure Rooms that Merritt refers to are guarded by Marines and/or CIA Security staff.  A record is maintained of all who enter and leave them, and closed circuit television cameras record the comings and goings of all visitors.  Leaving aside the question of Rogovin being subject (as all CIA employees are) to regular polygraph testing, surely someone might would have noticed a dangling chain and missing binder in the Secure Room.

With the Crimson Rose story, Robert Merritt descends to opera bouffe.  The Pentagon spy-ring that he has christened “Crimson Rose” is obviously derived from the Moorer-Radford incident, in which a Navy yeoman rifled Henry Kissinger’s briefcase and burn-bags.  The secrets he obtained were dutifully conveyed to Adm. Thomas Moorer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – though it’s unlikely that any of it was news to him.    Washington Post reporter Jack Anderson, a friend and co-religionist of Yeoman Charles Radford, may also (and especially) have been a consumer of the looted materials.

The Moorer-Radford incident is, of course, anything but news.  It is discussed in Secret Agenda and other books and news articles.  The Pentagon and White House investigated the affair, which the Pentagon’s own chief investigator (Donald Stewart) compared to a “Seven Days in May” scenario.  If there was a secret report on the Moorer-Radford affair, it was therefore more likely to be held in a Secure Room at the Pentagon (and/or the White House) than at the CIA.

In this connection, it is at least ironic to note that Yeoman Radford’s espionage was, if anything, trivial compared to the CIA’s own surveillance of the Nixon White House.  It is a fact that all of the photos taken and all of the documents stolen by the Plumbers were diverted to the CIA – with the White House receiving either nothing at all, or adulterated versions of the take.


Finally, what may be said about Robert Merritt is that he is, by profession, a lifelong snitch and provocateur who admits to  having “committed so many crimes at the direction of the FBI that had I been indicted, the list of felony counts would have set a world record and, if convicted, I could have received one of the longest sentences in history.”

According to Caddy, Merritt’s activities included “lying to…two comittees of Congress and a Special Prosecutor; participating in the theft of a Top Secret…national security document obtained through kidnapping, blackmailing and extorting the General Counsel of the CIA; (and) distributing candy containing poison to anti-war demonstrators and later claiming over a hundred of these persons died as a result.”

To these sins, we may add that Merritt also admits to having whored for the police and the Feds, by going after liberal political targets such as Sen. William Proximire.

Merritt is, in other words, a “man for all seasons,” albeit a gay one.   His bottom-line is that, like all snitches, he needs a patron or a client – someone who will immunize him from own misdeeds, so long as he returns with whatever is needed (whether what’s needed is there or not).

That said, at this late date, it is doubtful that even Merritt knows what’s true or false about his past.  So desperate does he seem for validation – money or fame, infamy or redemption – he will, I think, “remember” whatever it takes to rescue himself from a clear view of his own life.

William Burroughs called it “the naked lunch,” and Merritt has been dining on it for quite awhile.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to him.  While reserving judgment on Merritt’s bona fides, journalist Phil Stanford notes that some of Merritt’s more interesting  and controversial claims would seem to be corroborated elsewhere.  Even so, to rely on Merritt as a source would be folly.  Best, then, to treat his information as leads and seek verification where it can be found.

As for Douglas Caddy, his contribution to the Merritt story is an important one.  His Prologue, Afterword and letter to FBI Director Mueller contain new revelations about Watergate and the COINTEL program, while raising any number of interesting questions.  For instance, we can only wonder why an experienced spook such as Howard Hunt would have turned to Caddy to represent the burglars at their arraignment.  Both Caddy and Hunt were employed by the Robert R. Mullen Company, which the CIA used as a cover – a cover that the Agency was desperate to protect.  Dragging Caddy into the Watergate affair could only have served to expose that cover (as, indeed, it did).  From a tradecraft point of view, this was madness and we can only wonder about Hunt’s inentions.

From a tradecraft point of view, this was madness – unless Hunt hoped that the CIA would intervene with cries of “National security!” and shut the investigation down.

Caddy is interesting, as well, for having been recruited at this time to build and run a luxury hotel in Nicaragua for the CIA.  The Agency, he was told, hoped that the hotel would attract Sandinista rebels to its gaming tables.  I emphasize “he was told” because the rebels were not exactly what Vegas would consider “a pod of whales.”  What seems more likely is that the putative hotel would have been used as a secret hospice for the CIA- (and Robert R. Mullen-) connected billionaire Howard Hughes.  In the end, the Agency’s offer to make Caddy a hotelier proved to be a non-starter.  The lawyer declined the post, knowing that a mandatory CIA polygraph would “out” him.

If nothing else comes out of Merritt’s tome, the book will have been worth it for those bits alone.



Throat: Mark Felt, Robert Bennett and the Post’s Cointelpro Problem

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

That Deep Throat should turn out to be Mark Felt is not the most welcome news at the Washington Post. The paper would have much preferred a crypto-liberal such as Leonard Garment in the role (assuming that Adam Sandler wasn’t available). Almost anyone, in other words, would have been better than the guy responsible for supervising the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO operations during the 1960s.

Mark Felt

Mark Felt (August 17, 1913 – December 18, 2008). FBI photo.

As anyone who marched in the Sixties knows, these were secret and unconstitutional counterintelligence programs targeting the Left and a handful of white supremacists. As head of the FBI’s Inspection Division, it was Felt’s responsibility to maximize the effectiveness of the program in the field. Lest there be any doubt about this, it should be emphasized that Felt’s brief was not to ensure that anyone’s civil liberties were protected, or even that the law was adhered to, but to make certain that Hoover’s attack on the anti-war movement ran smoothly.

So bestowing the mantle of Deep Throat on the Toscanini of black-bag jobs must have felt like crowning Jenna Jamison “Sweetheart of the Year.” (Yes, she’s done important work, but…no.) Watergate editor Ben Bradlee and his colleagues would no doubt like the public to see this as an irony—one of those wacky things that happen in Washington all the time. But it’s not that. It’s much more.

Historically, Deep Throat has been cast as an American hero, the Nixon Administration official who came forward, however secretively, to blow the whistle on the Administration’s improprieties and crimes. By helping the Post unravel the White House cover-up, Throat and his cub-reporter buddies almost single-handedly destroyed the Wicked Warlock of the West Wing. The rest is history.

And myth.

One of the most lasting consequences of the Watergate affair has been its corrosive effect upon investigative reporting. Through its unquestioning embrace of Deep Throat, Hollywood and the press have romanticized the anonymous source and, in so doing, legitimized him. The results are there to be seen in your daily newspaper: story after story, attributed to no one in particular. “Speaking on condition of anonymity… “ “White House sources denied…” “A Pentagon official said…”

As sources disappear, the news becomes more propagandistic. Ambitious and calculating pols drop innuendos and send up trial-balloons, without ever having to take responsibility for what they’ve said. Or not said. In the playground of anonymous sources, the public is increasingly informed by creative writers like Jason Blair (formerly of the New York Times), Stephen Glass (ex-New Republic), Jack Kelly (gone from USA Today), and, ironically, Woodward’s former protégé at the Post, Janet Cooke. Not surprisingly, the public becomes increasingly skeptical.

The problem with anonymous sources is not just that they might be “composite” characters, or that they might not exist at all, but rather that the source’s motives are beyond scrutiny. So the story is necessarily incomplete.

That said, our view of the Watergate affair may now be changed by the certain knowledge of Throat’s identity. Until recently, his motives could only be inferred. And the inference was that he was a government official so outraged by the Nixon Administration’s hubris and disregard for the law that he risked all to alert the public. A real Good Guy, in other words.

That’s what Hollywood and the Post would have us think, and it is what Mark Felt’s grandchildren believe. But inasmuch as Grandpa was himself convicted of “conspiring to injure and oppress citizens of the United States” by having authorized countless black-bags job and warrantless searches at the Bureau, it seems unlikely that Felt would be traumatized by a break-in at the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate office building.

If I am right about that, then it’s likely Throat’s concern was as much political as it was civic.

In his June 2, 2005 article in the Post, outing his source, Woodward tells us that Felt regarded the Nixon White House as “corrupt…sinister…(a) cabal.” And, as the Post reporter makes clear, this was a view that Felt held long before to the Watergate break-in. Indeed, Woodward says, “Felt thought the Nixon team were Nazis.”

As it happens, this is exactly what I thought at the time, as did nearly every other liberal that I knew. Strange, then, to learn that this same point of view was shared by Mark Felt, a professional Red-hunter so highly placed in the FBI that only the Director, J. Edgar Hoover, outranked him.

Or maybe it’s not so strange.

A similar view of the Nixon Administration was held by James McCord, the rightwing evangelist and former CIA Security chief who led the break-in team at the Watergate. In a series of bizarre “newsletters” written after he had been arrested, McCord put forward a conspiracy theory suggesting that the Rockefeller family was lunging for control of the government’s critical national security functions, using the Council on Foreign Relations and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger as its means to an end.

At the Pentagon, then-Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Elmo Zumwalt, went even further. To Zumwalt, the Nixon Administration was “inimical to the security of the United States.” [Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., On Watch (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1976), p. xiv.] Indeed, as the admiral later explained, he eventually left the Administration because “its own officials and experts reflected Henry Kissinger’s world view: that the dynamics of history are on the side of the Soviet Union; that before long the USSR will be the only superpower on earth and…that the duty of policy-makers, therefore, is at all costs to conceal from the people their probable fate…” [Ibid.]

Egad…they’ve sold us out!

But Zumwalt, Felt and McCord were by no means alone in their suspicions of the Nixon White House. Within the Pentagon, a military spy-ring was pillaging Kissinger’s secrets on behalf of Adm. Thomas Moorer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since 1970.

Within the offices of the National Security Council, and on secret missions to China, Kissinger’s briefcases were rifled and his burn-bags ransacked. In all, perhaps a thousand top-secret documents were stolen and transmitted to Moorer’s office (if not elsewhere, as well) by Yeoman Charles Radford, a young Mormon acting on orders of Adm. Robert Welander.

Here, matters become a bit incestuous.

Admiral Welander was an aide to Moorer. But he was also a mentor of Lt. Bob Woodward, whose commander Welander had been aboard the USS Fox. Reportedly, it was at the urging of Welander—who had yet to be implicated in “the Moorer-Radford affair”—that Woodward extended his tour of duty in 1969, going to the Pentagon to serve as Communications Duty Officer to then-Chief of Naval Operations, Tom Moorer.

In that capacity, Woodward presided over the CNO’s code-room, reading every communication that went in and out, while acting, also, as a briefer and a courier. This, he tells us, is how he met Deep Throat, while cooling his heels outside the Situation Room in the White House. It was 1970 and, according to Woodward, Mark Felt was sitting in the chair next to him, cooling his heels.

The Moorer-Radford affair is not usually considered a part of the Watergate story, though it deserves to be. The Nixon Administration learned of the Pentagon spy-ring in late 1971, but the affair itself did not become public until nearly three years later. By then, the Watergate story was almost played out.

While president, Nixon was determined to keep the affair secret, telling Kissinger aide David Young, “If you love your country, you’ll never mention it.” But the Pentagon’s chief investigator, W. Donald Stewart, was more forthcoming. Asked how seriously the affair should be taken, Stewart replied with a rhetorical question: “Did you see that film, ‘Seven Days in May’? That’s what we were dealing with…”

The film is about a military conspiracy to topple the president. A coup d’etat, in other words.

So it is interesting to learn that Mark Felt placed Yeoman Radford under electronic surveillance long after the White House learned of his activities, and even after Radford had been transferred to a dead-end military post 3000 miles from Washington, D.C. This suggests that Felt may have been more concerned with counterintelligence issues than he was with prosecutorial ones. (Radford was never charged with a crime.)

So why did Radford do it?

Jim Hougan’s, ‘Secret Agenda’ is available at Amazon.

According to Radford, whom I interviewed many years ago, his “superiors” believed that Kissinger’s foreign policy was “catastrophic” by design. His own espionage activities, Radford insisted, were intended to defeat a conspiracy conceived by “the Rockefeller family” and orchestrated by the Council on Foreign Relations. The purpose of this supposed conspiracy, according to Radford, was to win the Soviets’ cooperation in guaranteeing the Rockefellers’ “continued domination” over the world’s currencies. In return for this, Nixon and Kissinger were to construct a foreign policy that would ensure Soviet hegemony and a one-world government. [Jim Hougan, Secret Agenda: Watergate, Deep Throat and the CIA (Random House, New York, 1984), p. 75]

From Egad, we move to Yikes! It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for Nixon. But not quite.
It wasn’t just Donald Stewart who was worried about a Seven Days in May scenario. The CIA, was spying on the White House, as well. Enter Woodward’s second source: Robert Bennett.

Until Woodward identified Mark Felt as Deep Throat, I was of the firm opinion that the honor belonged to Bennett. This was so because it seemed to me that, at a minimum, for someone to be taken seriously as a candidate for Deep Throat, there should be some evidence that he met secretly with Woodward and fed him stories about Watergate.

Until Woodward outed Felt, the only candidate who fit the bill was Bennett.

In 1972, when Mark Felt was reading transcripts of Yeoman Radford’s conversations, Bennett was the new owner of the Robert R. Mullen Company. This was a CIA front with offices in Washington and abroad. Among Bennett’s employees was the seemingly retired CIA officer, E. Howard Hunt. Politically hyper-active during the Nixon Administration, Bennett was also the Washington representative of the Howard Hughes organization (which was just entering negotiations with the CIA over plans to recover a sunken Soviet submarine from the Pacific Ocean’s floor). It was Bennett who suggested that Hunt might want to interview ITT lobbyist Dita Beard, and it was Bennett who volunteered his own nephew to work as an infiltrator at the DNC. One might go on with Bennett’s contributions to the Watergate affair, but the point is made: Bennett was an extremely well-placed source, if not a co-conspirator.

Today, Senator Bennett is a Mormon elder and one of the richest men in Congress. That he was also a key source of Bob Woodward’s during the Watergate affair is memorialized in a Memorandum to the Record written by Martin J. Lukoskie, Bennett’s CIA case-officer in 1972 . [The memo was first published in the so-called “Nedzi Hearings” of the House Armed Services Committee’s “Inquiry into the Alleged Involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Watergate and Ellsberg Matters,” which began May 11, 1973. See, also, Secret Agenda, pages 329-31.] According to Lukoskie, Bennett “established a ‘backdoor entry’ to the Edward Bennett Williams law firm which is representing the Democratic Party (and the Washington Post )…” Bennett’s job was to “kill off any revelation” about the Mullen Company’s relationship to the CIA. A second part of his brief was to dissuade reporters from pursuing a ‘Seven Days in May’ scenario” that would have implicated the CIA in a conspiracy to “take over the country.”
Sounds like Bennett should to have had a word with Donald Stewart, as well.

The relationship between Bennett and the Post was subsequently clarified by Lukoskie’s CIA boss, Eric Eisenstadt. In a memo to the Deputy Director of Plans, Eisenstadt wrote that Bennett “has been feeding stories to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post with the understanding that there be no attribution to Bennett. Woodward is suitably grateful for the fine stories and by-lines he gets and protects Bennett (and the Mullen Company).” [The memo is dated March 1, 1973.]


It’s enough to make you wonder, though not, apparently, enough to make the press wonder. But this is what the Deep Throat mystery is all about. It’s not just a parlor game to canonize yet another celebrity. Rather, it’s a question of deciding whether or not the Post’s coverage was manipulated by a cabal of spooks who were working to destroy an unpopular president.
This is, of course, a conspiratorial point of view. Most of the press has embraced Mark Felt as the celebrity de jour and, toward that end, the only motive they impute to his behavior is a love of country. And that is what’s likely to be taught in the schools.
More objective observers, however, will point to the fact that FBI Director Hoover died a few weeks before the Watergate break-ins, and will suggest that his second-in-command, Mark Felt, went after the Nixon Administration because he was disappointed at not being named to take Hoover’s place.

That’s possible, of course, but even if Felt didn’t get to be Director, he got the next best thing. That is to say, he got the files. Within hours of Hoover’s death, Felt took charge of Hoover’s Official and Confidential files—including one that was headed “Black-Bag Jobs.” The fate of other files in Hoover’s executive suite, including the Director’s Personal and Confidential files and the so-called “Do Not File” files, remains a mystery. [For details, see Inquiry into The Destruction of Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s Files and FBI Record-keeping, Hearings before the Government Information and Individual Rights Subcommittee of the House Committee on Government Operations, 94th Congress, 1st session, Dec. 1, 1975. ]

Now that we know that Mark Felt is Deep Throat, it would be grand to ask him about the Director’s missing files, his view of Yeoman Radford’s spying, and his reasons for going to the press, rather than to the Justice Department, with his concerns about Watergate. It’s clear, however, that his family has no intention of making the old man available. He is, after all, 91-years-old and not entirely well.

My guess, however, is that if Felt were asked about these issues, he would take a more conspiratorial view of them than most. What makes me think so is Woodward’s account of a meeting he had with Throat, shortly before the Watergate hearings began in the Senate. According to Woodward, Throat Felt told him:

Everyone’s life is in danger…
(E)lectronic surveillance is going on and we had better watch it.
Who’s responsible?
C-I-A… ”[Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, All the President’s Men (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1974), p. 317.]

Now, there’s a story! But curiously, it never appeared in the Post.

Hougan, Liddy, the Post and Watergate

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011


G. Gordon Liddy

Nearly 30 years after the Watergate arrests, an astonishing editorial appeared in the Washington Post, attacking a Baltimore jury for having the temerity to think for itself.  While the Post did not urge that the guilty parties should be burned at the stake, it was clear from the newspaper’s tenor that a bonfire would not be entirely out of order.

At issue was the jury’s 7-2 decision in a defamation case brought by a woman named Ida “Maxie” Wells.  Instigated by John Dean’s attorneys in a related matter, the suit accused former White House spy G. Gordon Liddy of slandering Wells during the Q-and-A portion of a speech he’d given at James Madison University.  In the judgment of the jurors, Liddy’s revisionist view of the Watergate break-in, substantially informed by a book that I’d written, was sufficiently plausible as to deserve the protections given to free speech.  The judge agreed with the jury’s decision, dismissing the suit with the assertion that “no ‘reasonable jury’ could have found in favor of the plaintiff,” Maxie Wells.[Civil Case No. JFM-97-946, “Memorandum” by District Judge J. Frederick Motz, March 19, 2001, U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.]Aghast at the decision, the Post thundered that:

Courts are a capricious venue for arguments about history [The editorial appeared in the Post on Feb. 4, 2001.]. Sometimes, as when a British court last year resoundingly rejected the Holocaust denial of “historian” David Irving, litigation can help protect established history from those who would maliciously rewrite it.  But conspiracy theorizing generally is better addressed in the public arena by rigorous confrontation with facts.  That’s true both out of respect for freedom of speech—even wrong-headed speech—and because historical truth does not always fare so well in court.  A jury in Tennessee in 1999 embraced the looniest of conspiracy theories concerning the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  And this week, in a federal court in Baltimore, the commonly understood and well-founded history of the Watergate scandal took a hit as well.

The forum was the defamation case of G. Gordon Liddy…  Mr. Liddy has argued that the burglary was not an attempt to collect political intelligence on President Nixon’s enemies, but an effort masterminded by then-White House counsel John Dean to steal pictures of prostitutes—including Mr. Dean’s then-girlfriend and current wife—from the desk of a secretary at the Democratic headquarters.  The secretary…is now a community college teacher in Louisiana and was understandably offended by the implication that she was somehow involved in a call-girl ring.  She sued Mr. Liddy, and the battle has dragged on for four years.

The jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict, but it split overwhelmingly in favor of Mr. Liddy; the majority of jurors felt that Ms. Wells’s lawyers had failed to prove his theory wrong.  They found this in spite of the fact that Mr. Liddy relies, for his theory, on a disbarred attorney with a history of mental illness.  The call-girl theory “is possible,” one juror (said)…  “It sure makes me more curious.”  “We’ll never know” what happened, said another.

The danger of such outcomes as this one is that this sort of thinking spreads.  For whether or not Mr. Liddy’s comments legally defamed Ms. Wells, we do know what happened at Watergate—and it had nothing to do with prostitutes.

Jim Hougan's, 'Secret Agenda' is available at Amazon.

The Post‘s alarm at “this sort of thinking” was compounded more than a year later, when the verdict was overturned on appeal.  A new trial was ordered.

In Wells v. Liddy redux, Wells sought to bolster her case with the testimony of Sam Dash, chief counsel of the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities in 1973. [Headed by Sen. Sam Ervin, the committee was informally known as "the Watergate committee."] Having led the Senate’s investigation of the Watergate affair, Dash ought to have been an impressive witness.  But under cross-examination from Liddy’s attorneys, John Williams and Kerrie Hook, Dash seemed pompous and strangely unprepared—characteristics he shared with Wells’s own attorney, David Dorsen (himself a former deputy of Dash’s).  After listening to the witnesses for both sides, the jury again returned a verdict in Liddy’s behalf.  This time, it was unanimous.

There were no further appeals, and no more editorials.  The Post buried the story on an inside-page of the Metro section, and turned its attention to other matters.

But the “established history” of the Watergate affair had suffered a grievous blow.  And this, because one jury after another did what the Post prescribed, but which the Post itself has never done in 30 years: they confronted the facts in a rigorous way.

One of the more crucial facts that the jury was asked to consider was a key that one of the arresting officers, Carl Shoffler, took from Eugenio Martinez, one of the Watergate burglars.  As physical evidence obtained at the scene, it was literally “the key to the break-in.”  And, as the FBI determined, it unlocked the desk of Maxie Wells.

James McCord mug shot

The issue—why did they pick the DNC as a target?—has been debated for decades, though one might not know it by reading the Washington Post.  Most accounts of the affair suppose that the break-ins (burglars gained access to the DNC on two occasions, once at the end of May, and again on June 17th) were mounted to obtain “political intelligence.”  James McCord, the former CIA officer who led “the Cubans” into the Watergate office building, told the Senate that DNC Chairman Larry O’Brien was the target.  That’s why he, McCord installed a room-bug in O’Brien’s office.  At least, that’s what McCord said.

But Howard Hunt and his Cuban cohort offered an entirely different reason for the break-in.  According to them, they were sent into the DNC to find evidence of illegal campaign contributions from Fidel Castro.

In reality, neither explanation is supported by the evidence.  If the burglars were looking for financial data, they certainly chose some strange places to search.  DNC Treasurer Robert Strauss’s office was untouched, as were the offices of the DNC’s Comptroller.  As for the bug in Larry O’Brien’s office, none was ever found—despite repeated and rather desperate searches by the FBI and the telephone company.

Not that the bug would have worked, in any case.  O’Brien’s office was part of an interior suite at the DNC and, as such, it was shielded from McCord’s “listening post” in the motel across the street from the Watergate.  Moreover, and as Liddy himself pointed out, the supposed subject of the surveillance – Larry O’Brien – wasn’t even in Washington.  Nor was he expected to return anytime soon.  More than a month before the break-in, the DNC’s chairman had moved to Florida, where the Democratic Convention was to be held.

Richard M. Nixon 37th President of the United States

Not that anyone cared.  In 1973, the burglars’ motives weren’t of much interest to anyone.  They’d pleaded guilty, and their trial was over.  The story had moved on.  Now, the task of the Senate Watergate Committee was to establish responsibility for the break-ins, and to deconstruct the cover-up.  Or to put it another way, with the burglars convicted, it was now time to put the Administration on trial.  Accordingly, the Committee’s attention was focused on higher-ups in the Nixon White House and, in particular, the Oval Office.  Everything else – like the purpose of the break-in – was made to seem irrelevant.

Things might have been different, of course, had Maxie Wells been more candid in her executive session testimony before the Watergate committee.  Instead, she neglected to mention that the FBI had questioned her about the key to her desk, and the circumstances under which the key had been found.  According to Howard Liebengood, who served as the committee’s minority counsel, the Committee’s investigation might have taken a dramatic turn if the Committee had he learned of the key’s existence, and of Wells’s interview with the FBI.

But it did not.[The Watergate Committee lacked direct access to the FBI's investigative files, and so knew nothing about such topics as the key to Maxie Wells's desk or the Bureau's inability to find any bugging devices inside the DNC.  The exception to this was the single day that Sam Dash was permitted to look at the files.  Years after the hearings had ended, the FBI's Watergate file was made public by this author.  Using the Freedom of Information Act, I was able to obtain the release of more than 30,000 pages of investigative files, memoranda and air-tels that Senator Ervin's committee had never seen.]

The issue of the burglary’s purpose was even raised in Blind Ambition, the John Dean memoir ghost-written by the well-regarded historian, Taylor Branch.  In that book, we’re told that Dean raised the issue with Charles Colson in 1974, when both of them were doing time in federal prison.

Chuck, why do you figure Liddy bugged the DNC instead of the Democratic candidates?  It doesn’t make much sense.  I sat in (Atty. Gen. John) Mitchell’s office when Liddy gave us his show, and he only mentioned Larry O’Brien in passing as a target…’

“It looks suspicious to me,’” Dean continues.  “‘(I)t’s incredible.  Millions of dollars have been spent investigating Watergate.  A President has been forced out of office.  Dozens of lives have been ruined.  We’re sitting in the can.  And still nobody can explain why they bugged the place to begin with. [John Dean, Blind Ambition, Simon & Schuster (1976), pp. 388-91.]

Though Dean subsequently repudiated his own memoir, [Blind Ambition was written in 1975, while Gordon Liddy was in prison, refusing to talk about Watergate.  When Liddy published his own memoir, and when other books began to appear, Dean's inconsistencies and "errors" became as glaring as they were numerous.  Accordingly, Dean dismissed the book he had once embraced with pride, claiming that he hadn't actually read it before it was published, while insisting that much of the book was "made up out of whole cloth by Taylor Branch."  A Pulitzer Prize-winner, Branch calls the allegation a lie.] the anecdote makes a good point.  The Watergate affair can only remain a mystery so long as its purpose remains hidden.

Eugenio Martinez mug shot

Fortunately, we know today what the Senate Watergate Committee did not: that Detective Shoffler wrested the key from one of the burglars.  (According to Shoffler, Eugenio Martinez was so determined that the key should not be found, he attempted to get rid of it and may even have tried to swallow it.)  As much as a confession, that key is prima facie evidence of the break-in’s purpose.  Clearly, the burglars were after the contents of whatever it was that the key unlocked.

The FBI seems to have understood this because the Bureau’s agents went from office to office after the arrests, trying the key on every desk until they found the one that it fit.  This was Maxie Wells’s desk, and Shoffler, for one, wasn’t surprised.  When he took the key from Martinez, Shoffler said, photographic equipment was clamped to the top of that same desk.

But what was in it?  What did the burglars hope to find?

It was precisely this question that was so embarrassing to Wells.  In her suit against Liddy, she sought to suppress discussion of the key because, she insisted, it unfairly implicated her in allegations about a call-girl ring.

A call-girl ring?

Well, yes.  Although the Post prefers to ignore any and all evidence on the matter, links between call-girls and the DNC—and, therefore, between call-girls and the Watergate affair—have been rumored or alleged for years.  The connection first surfaced in a book by a Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times reporter, J. Anthony Lukas.  According to Lukas, secretaries at the DNC used a telephone in the office of Wells’s boss, Spencer Oliver, Jr., to make private calls.  They did this because Oliver’s office was often empty—he traveled a lot—and his telephone was thought to be among the most private in the Democrats’ headquarters.[J. Anthony Lukas, Nightmare, Viking (1976), p. 201.] (In fact, Oliver had two phones, one of which was a private line that did not go through the DNC switchboard.)

“They would say, ‘We can talk; I’m on Spencer Oliver’s phone,’” Lukas wrote.  Quoting Alfred Baldwin, who eavesdropped on these conversations at the direction of James McCord, Lukas reported that “Some of the conversations were ‘explicitly intimate.’”  Baldwin was even more specific in a deposition that he later gave.  According to the former FBI agent, many of the telephone conversations involved dinner arrangements with “sex to follow.”  And while he never heard “prices” being discussed, Baldwin testified, he guessed that “eight out of ten” people would have thought the calls involved prostitution.

But he himself did not.  As former FBI agent, Baldwin knew that for prostitution to occur, there has to be a promise of money.  But money was never discussed, he said, or at least not in his hearing.  And since McCord told him that he was eavesdropping on telephone conversations emanating from the DNC, Baldwin assumed that the women must be amateurs.  As incredible as it seems, it did not occur to him that McCord might have lied to him about the bug’s location.  To Baldwin, it was entirely plausible, or at least possible, that one secretary after another would go to a private telephone to engage her boyfriend in a conversation that was “extremely personal, intimate, and potentially embarrassing.”[Nomination of Earl J. Silbert to be United States Attorney, Hearings before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 93d Cong., 2d sess., Part I, April-May, 1974, p. 52.] The more sophisticated Anthony Lukas was skeptical of the idea.  As he reported, “So spicy were some of the conversations on the phone that they have given rise to unconfirmed reports that the telephone was being used for some sort of call-girl service catering to congressmen and other prominent Washingtonians.” [Lukas, Nightmare, p. 201.]

The same rumors were overheard by others, including the DNC’s Robert Strauss.  In a 1996 deposition, Strauss testified that he recalled stories about “some of the state chairmen (who) would come into (Oliver’s) office and use the phone to make dates…”  Strauss added that “in connection with the use of the telephones, some of the calls…could have been embarrassing to some of the people who made them.”

The DNC’s Treasurer was even more specific in an interview with Fox News correspondent, James Rosen.  As Rosen has testified, Strauss told him that “Democrats in from out of town for a night would want to be entertained…  ‘It wasn’t any organized thing, ‘but I could have made the call, that lady could have made the call’—the reference was to Maxie Wells—’and these people were willing to pay for sex.’  Those were his exact words.”[Testimony of Rosen in the first Wells v. Liddy trial.]

In an interview with Liddy’s attorneys, DNC secretary Barbara Kennedy Rhoden acknowledged that she, too, overheard such rumors.    Asked if Rhoden had said “it was likely that Spencer Oliver and Maxie Wells were running a call-girl operation,” Rhoden replied: “I might have said that…”  But, she added, “I have no knowledge that they were.”[Testimony of Barbara Kennedy Rhoden in the first Wells v. Liddy trial.]

That a relationship may have existed between a call-girl service and the DNC was dissed and dismissed by Wells and her attorneys, and by Spencer Oliver and his attorneys—just as it was by the Washington Post.  According to them, the only evidence of such a relationship was the testimony of Phillip Bailley, a disbarred lawyer with a history of mental illness.

But that wasn’t true.  One man who knew a lot about the relationship between call-girls and the DNC was a private-eye named Lou Russell.  A former FBI agent, Russell had gone on to become chief investigator for the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  That was in the early 1950s.  Fired for soliciting “loans” from witnesses, he had turned into a hard-drinking private-eye—a noirish tough-guy who knew a lot about electronic eavesdropping.  And even more about whores.

In the months leading up to the Watergate break-ins, Russell was working for James McCord, and moonlighting for the late Bud Fensterwald, a Washington lawyer who’d founded the Committee to Investigate Assassinations.  In the evenings, Russell hung out with call-girls at the Columbia Plaza Apartments, barely a block from the Watergate.  And according to Fensterwald and two of his employees, Russell told them he was tape-recording telephone conversations between the prostitutes and their clients at the DNC.  The women didn’t mind, and the taping was a source of amusement to Russell, who seems to have regaled anyone who’d listen with anecdotes about the calls.[Jim Hougan, Secret Agenda: Watergate, Deep Throat and the CIA (Random House, 1984), p. 118.]


Not that Democrats were the only ones to avail themselves of the pleasures to be taken at the Columbia Plaza.  Nixon biographer Anthony Summers quotes a longtime Nixon aide who said that Nick Ruwe, then Deputy Chief of the Office of Protocol, “was always using those call girls at the place next to the DNC.”[The Office of Protocol makes arrangements for White House social events, and for the visits of foreign dignitaries to the nation's capital.] Ron Walker, Nixon’s top advance man, was a second source.  According to Walker, he knew of the brothel next to the DNC because “I had colleagues that used call girl rings.”[Anthony Summers, The Arrogance of Power (Viking, 2000), p. 422.]

In April, 1972 the seamy side of Washington was rocked when FBI agents raided the office and home of the Phil Bailley, a Washington defense attorney whose clientele included prostitutes.  Coded address-books, photographs and sexual paraphernalia were seized, and what began as a simple violation of the Mann Act, became a grand jury investigation with ramifications throughout the capital.

Asst. U.S. Atty. John Rudy was placed in charge of the investigation.  Soon, Rudy found himself looking into the Columbia Plaza call-girl ring and its connections to the DNC—where a secretary was said to have “arranged for liaisons.”

Watergate Complex

It was at about this time that Lou Russell appeared in Rudy’s office.  According to Rudy, Russell tried to divert his attention from the Columbia Plaza to another operatioon that serviced lawyers and judges on the other side of town.

But it didn’t work.  On June 9th, Bailley was indicted on 22 felony counts, including charges of blackmail, racketeering, procuring and pandering.  That same afternoon, the Washington Star published a front-page story, headlined “Capitol Hill Call-Girl Ring.”  According to the article:

The FBI here has uncovered a high-priced call girl ring allegedly headed by a Washington attorney and staffed by secretaries and office workers from Capitol Hill and involving at least one White House secretary, sources said today.

The article did not go unnoticed on Pennsylvania Avenue.  Within an hour of its publication, Bailley’s prosecutor received a telephone call from the President’s counsel John Dean, ordering him to the White House.  “He wanted me to bring ‘all’ the evidence but, mostly, what I brought were Bailley’s address books,” Rudy recalled.  “Dean said he wanted to check the names of the people involved, to see if any of them worked for the President.”[Hougan, pp. 172-3.]

It was, after all, a presidential election year, and the names in Bailley’s address-books included the secretaries and wives of some of Washington’s most prominent men—as well as the names of the johns they serviced.

At first, Dean wanted Rudy to leave the address-books with him, but Rudy demurred, pointing out that the books were evidence.  As a compromise, Dean’s secretary was permitted to copy the books, while Rudy and Dean discussed the case.  When the secretary returned, Dean went through the copies page by page, circling names with a Parker pen. [Ibid.]

It wasn’t the first time that Dean had shown an interest in such matters.  Months before, he’d dispatched a White House investigator to New York to look into a call-girl ring run by a madame named Xaviera Hollander.[Hollander subsequently wrote a book with Robin Moore, The Happy Hooker.]Like the Bailley case, the Hollander investigation was generating headlines.  One, in the New York Times, blared:


The story began:

At least two high-ranking officials in the Nixon administration are among the people the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office intends to question about the possibility that they were blackmailed because of their association with an East Side brothel.

Dean’s meeting with John Rudy occurred on a Friday.  On the following Monday, Jeb Magruder summoned Liddy to his office, and told him that he had to break into the DNC a second time.  The bugging device that James McCord had supposedly placed on Larry O’Brien’s telephone had yet to work, and a second bug (apparently the one being monitored by Alfred Baldwin) was generating little or nothing of political value.

Magruder told Liddy that he wanted the bug in O’Brien’s office repaired, and even more importantly, he wanted to know if O’Brien was sitting on information that could damage the Nixon re-election campaign.  It wasn’t put in so many words, but that was Liddy’s understanding of the brief that he’d been given.

If the purpose of the break-in was somewhat vague, the provenance of the order was even more so.  Since Magruder was Mitchell’s deputy, Liddy assumed that he was conveying an order from Mitchell.  But Mitchell always denied that, and Magruder—himself convicted of perjury—has given conflicting accounts.  At first, young Jeb claimed that Liddy had acted on his own. [John Ehrlichman, Witness to Power, Simon & Schuster (1982), p. 380.] Later, he insisted that the order was Mitchell’s.  More recently, he told an interviewer (on tape) that it was none other than John Dean who ordered the break-in. [This was said to Len Colodny, co-author (with Robert Gettlin) of Silent Coup, St. Martin's Press (1991), p. 148.]

Whatever its purpose, the burglary took place in the early morning hours of June 17th.  McCord and four of his accomplices had not been inside the DNC for more than a few minutes, when the police arrested them.  Baldwin watched the arrests unfold from his seventh floor aerie in the motel across the street, while Hunt and Liddy packed their bags and fled from the Watergate Hotel.

In the weeks that followed, John Rudy had second thoughts.  After the Watergate arrests, his investigation of a link between the Columbia Plaza call-girl ring and the DNC might appear to be politically-motivated.  Worried about that perception, he asked his boss, U.S. Atty. Harold Titus, what he should do.  And the advice came back: Chill it (sic).

And so he did.

Bailley was remanded to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital to undergo psychiatric tests.  This was an unwelcome and surprising development, inasmuch as he had been practicing law before that same court only a few weeks earlier.  Eventually, he was certified sane, and encouraged to plead guilty to a single felony.  When he did, he was bundled off to a federal prison in Connecticut where, ironically, he served on the Inmates Committee with Howard Hunt and other Watergaters.  The case-file, thick with interviews and evidence, was sealed and, soon afterwards, it became “lost.”

Which was unfortunate because, a few doors down the hall,  others in the U.S. Attorney’s office were putting together a case in which sexual blackmail was said to be the central motive in the Watergate break-in.  Asst. U.S. Atty. Earl Silbert was convinced that “Hunt was trying to blackmail Spencer (Oliver).” [Op cit., Nomination of Earl J. Silbert to be United States Attorney, p. 52.] The same point was made by Charles Morgan, who represented Wells and Oliver at the burglars’ trial in early 1973.  Determined to block any testimony about the contents of the conversations that Baldwin overheard, Morgan said Silbert told him over lunch in December, 1972, that “Hunt was trying to blackmail Spencer, and I’m going to prove it.” ["A Report to the Special Prosecutor on Certain Aspects of the Watergate Affair, June 18, 1973 (published in Hearings before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary [concerning Earl J. Silbert's nomination to be United States Attorney], 93d Cong., 2d sess., Part I, April-May, 1974, pp. 42, 53).] Morgan was skeptical.  Taking a page (or at least a metaphor) from John Dean’s book, Morgan railed that “Mr. Silbert’s blackmail motive had been woven from whole cloth.” [Ibid., p. 42.] Accordingly, he asked the court to bar any testimony about the conversations Baldwin overheard.

The court complied.

But what of Bailley?  When I interviewed him in the early 1980s, he seemed normal enough: well-dressed, articulate and intelligent, if bitter about the events that led to his downfall.  In particular, he was curious to know what I knew about Watergate and how it related to him.  I insisted he “go first,” and so he did.

Bailley told me that he was having an affair with a call-girl at the Columbia Plaza Apartments, a woman who used the alias “Cathy Dieter.”  She prevailed upon him to establish a liaison arrangement with the DNC.  A hard-partying young Dem who knew a number of workers at the DNC, Bailley told me that one of his acquaintances was a secretary in Spencer Oliver’s office.  With the her help, he said, the liaison arrangement was established.  Here’s how it worked:

According to Bailley, if a visitor to the DNC wanted companionship for the evening, the secretary would show him a photograph or photographs that she kept in her desk.  If the man was interested, Bailley continued, he’d be sent into Spencer Oliver’s office to await a telephone call.  When the phone rang for the first time, he was not to answer it.  A minute later, it would ring again and, on this occasion, he was to answer it.  The caller would be the woman (or one of the women) whose picture the visitor had just seen.  Knowing that the woman was a call-girl, the visitor would make whatever arrangements he pleased.

As I testified in the Wells v Liddy trial, Bailley told me that the secretary was Maxie Wells.  Ms. Wells denies that,  just as she denies keeping pictures of call-girls in her desk.

But what about “Cathy Dieter”?  Who was she?  According to Gordon Liddy, Dieter’s real name was Heidi Rikan.  Liddy testified that he learned this from a seemingly authoritative source: Walter “Buster” Riggin, a sometime pimp and associate of Joe Nesline, himself an organized crime figure in the Washington area.

Formerly a stripper at a seedy Washington nightclub called the Blue Mirror, the late Erica “Heidi” Rikan was a friend of Nesline’s and, more to the point, of John Dean and his then-fiancee, later wife, Maureen.  Indeed, Rikan’s photograph appears in the memoir that “Mo” wrote about Watergate.[Maureen Dean (with Hays Gorey) Mo: A Woman's View of Watergate, Simon & Schuster (1975).]

While admitting their friendship with Rikan, the Deans deny that she ran a call-girl ring, or that she used “Cathy Dieter” as an alias.  Beyond Buster Riggin’s assertion to Liddy, evidence on the issue is slim or ambiguous.  One writer who attempted to verify the identification is Anthony Summers.  As the Irish investigative reporter wrote in his massive biography of President Nixon:

Before her death in 1990, Rikan said in a conversation with her maid that she had once been a call girl.  Explaining that a call girl was ‘a lady that meets men, and men pay them’—the maid had grown up in the country and knew nothing of big-city sins—she added, tantalizingly: ‘I was a call girl at the White House.”[Summers, p. 422.]

This would appear to confirm assertions that Rikan was a prostitute.  But Summers undercuts the confirmation by reporting in that same book—strangely, and in a footnote—that he “found no evidence” of Rikan working as a call-girl. [Summers, p. 530.]

In the litigation with John Dean and Maxie Wells, Liddy took the position that a secret agenda was at work in the break-ins, and that this agenda was unknown to him at the time that the break-ins occurred.  Here’s how the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals summarized the issue:

Liddy stated that the burglars’ objective during the Watergate break-in was to determine whether the Democrats possessed information embarrassing to John Dean.  More specifically, Liddy asserted that the burglars were seeking a compromising photograph of Dean’s fiance that was located in Wells’s desk among several photographs that were used to offer prostitution services to out-of-town guests.[Ida Maxwell Wells v. G. Gordon Liddy, No. 98-1962, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, decided July 28, 1999.]

Dean and his wife challenged Liddy’s account, which was first reported in Silent Coup—whose authors (among many others) the Deans sued.[Dean brought suit against Liddy, St. Martin's Press, Len Colodney, Robert Gettlin, myself and more than 100 others, charging a conspiracy to defame him and his wife.  In particular, the Deans accused the defendants of malice for suggesting that he was "guilty of criminal conduct in planning, aiding, abetting and directing the Watergate break-ins, and gave perjured testimony...with catastrophic consequences to alleged innocent persons, was a traitor to his nation as was Benedict Arnold, and that all...historical writings by John Dean...have been and are a self serving, ongoing historical fraud."  After years of legal wrangling, the case was settled out of court among the Deans, the authors and their publisher.  Terms of the settlement have not been disclosed.  Both sides claimed victory.  (This writer was dismissed from the case soon after it was filed.)  For his part, Liddy refused to back down, wishing to take the case to court so that he could get Dean on the witness-stand.  In that, Liddy was unsuccessful.  The case against him was dismissed.]While this writer does not find John Dean’s account of his own role in the affair to be credible, neither does he think it likely that anyone would break into the DNC to retrieve a picture of someone’s girlfriend, assuming that such a picture existed and that it was somehow “compromising.”  What would—what could—anyone do with such a photograph?

One question leads to another.  If the instigator of the break-in (whether Dean, Magruder or someone else) was not after pictures in Maxie Wells’s desk, what was he after?  The matter is necessarily speculative, but it seems useful to point out that men who make dates with call-girls seldom use their real names.  Instead, they use handles like “Candyman,” or resort to aliases like “George Washington.”  (One john at the Columbia Plaza—almost certainly a Democrat—used “Richard Nixon” as a nom de guerre.)[A copy of a trick-book from one of the call-girl operations at the Columbia Plaza was given to this writer by Detective Shoffler.] For that reason, the only person in a position to know who was dating whom was the person facilitating the liaisons.  Whether that person kept a record of such contacts is unknown.  But the instigator of the break-in may have suspected that she did.  It seems reasonable, then, to suppose that the burglars may have been looking for a kind of calendar, or log, rather than a handful of dirty pictures that would be of little use to anyone.[According to Bailley, the photographs in question were in no way obscene, but were, instead, discrete pictures of attractive women---no more and no less.]

The key to Maxie Wells’s desk, therefore, is obviously central to any “rigorous consideration” of the facts pertaining to Watergate.  But it isn’t the only important fact that the Washington Post and other media have done their best to ignore.  A second and equally fundamental one is this: The only bugging device ever recovered from the headquarters of the DNC was a broken “toy” that the FBI believed had been planted in order that it might be found.  And it was found, but not until nearly three months after the Watergate arrests, and not until Alfred Baldwin had gone public with his testimony about eavesdropping on the DNC.

But what did it all mean?  Did James McCord lie about bugging Larry O’Brien and Spencer Oliver?  And if he did, why did he?  And if Alfred Baldwin wasn’t listening to telephone conversations being broadcast by a transmitter inside the DNC, what was he listening to?

These were the questions on Earl Silbert’s lips as he prepared his case against the burglars in the Summer of 1972.  They were questions of which the public knew nothing.  In secret correspondence with the Justice Department and the FBI, Silbert railed against the Bureau’s inability to locate a listening device inside the DNC.  The Bureau replied, coolly, that while it recognized the difficulties this presented for Silbert’s case, it was a matter of fact.  The DNC was clean.

Because the burglars ultimately pleaded guilty, obviating a need for a trial at which the evidence would be presented and contested, the discrepancy never came to the public’s attention.  Indeed, Wells’s own attorney (who had also represented Dean) seemed stunned by the information when it came out on cross-examination in Liddy’s trial.  If this was true, David Dorsen asked, what did it mean?  Who, then, was bugged?

From the witness-stand, I suggested that there were only two possibilities: either the bugs were removed from the DNC prior to the break-in on June 17—or Baldwin was listening to telephone conversations emanating from a bugging device at another location.

Another location? what location? Dorsen wondered.

The most likely place, I replied, was the call-girls’ apartment in the Columbia Plaza, a block from the Watergate and in line-of-sight of Baldwin’s motel room.

This testimony was so discombobulating to Wells’s attorney that we did not get into the question of McCord’s motives.  Why would the veteran CIA agent lie about bugging Oliver and O’Brien?

It is an interesting and important question, but it was not one that the jury was obliged to answer.  Neither was it asked to decide if Liddy (or I) are correct in our belief that John Dean ordered the June 17 break-in because, we suspect, he’d learned of the relationship between the Columbia Plaza call-girl ring and the DNC.  Instead, the jury was asked to decide if these issues, and their corollaries, are sufficiently plausible that fair-minded people can disagree about them.  So, too, with Wells.  Was she involved in facilitating arrangements between visitors to the DNC and call-girls at the Columbia Plaza, as Phil Bailley claimed?  The evidence persuades me that she was but, once again, it is a matter of opinion.  In ruling for Liddy, the courts did not decide that the “alternative theory” of Watergate (as articulated by Hougan and Liddy) is correct.  Rather, they seem to be saying that the received version of the Watergate affair, as promulgated by John Dean and the Washington Post, is open to question, and that there is enough evidence in support of the alternative theory that it can (and perhaps should) be freely discussed.

The real issue, which in the end may be even more important than the who-shot-who of Watergate, concerns the arrogance of media such as the Washington Post, which pretend to an infallibility they do not have.  For decades, the Post and its cousins have refused to tolerate (much less undertake) a re-examination of the Watergate affair—or any other major story in which they may be said to have a stake.

Watergate, after all, was journalism’s finest hour.  Courageous editors and intrepid young reporters risked everything in a brave effort to save America from a White House ruled by Sauron and the hordes of Mordor.  To question the received version of the story is, therefore, a kind of heresy.  And so the Post becomes the Inquisition, labeling its critics “conspiracy theorists” while warning the public against the “danger” of such thinking.  Clearly, the Post would rather its readers let the newspaper do their thinking for them.

If there wasn’t so much blood on the floor, it would be funny.