From the archives:
"Kissinger, Metternich, and Realism" (June 1999)
Henry Kissinger's first book, on the Napoleonic Wars, explains Kissinger's foreign policy better than any of his memoirs, and is striking as an early display of brilliance and authority. By Robert D. Kaplan
"Were the Hawks Right About the Vietnam War?" (April 2000)
John Lewis Gaddis Reviews Michael Lind's Vietnam: The Necessary War.
"The Price of Power" (December 1982)
Kissinger, Nixon, and Chile. By Seymour M. Hersh
"The President and the Press" (April 1973)
"I was determined to tell my story directly to the people rather than to funnel it to them through a press account." --Richard Nixon, Six Crises. By David Wise
The Atlantic Monthly | May 1982
Kissinger and Nixon in the White House
Seymour M. Hersh, a former correspondent for The New York Times, won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 1970, for his revelation of the massacre at My Lai, in South Vietnam. He is the winner of virtually every major journalism award, including the George Polk Award, which he has received four timesmore than any other reporter in the history of the Polk Awards. His new book, which will be published early next year by Summit, is a history of Henry Kissinger's service as national security adviser to Richard Nixon, during Nixon's first term. The article below is drawn from that book; it deals with White House wiretapping activities and with the White House internal-security unit known as the Plumbers. A second Atlantic article by Mr. Hersh, to be published later this year, will be concerned with one aspect of the Nixon-Kissinger foreign policy during Nixon's first term.
by Seymour M. Hersh
I. The Wiretaps
oger Morris quickly won Henry A. Kissinger's trust in the early months of the Nixon presidency. Not only was he a good friend of Lawrence S. Eagleburger, who had emerged, after Colonel Alexander M. Haig, Jr., as Kissinger's closest confidant among the staff members of the National Security Council, but he was also bright, articulate, and appropriately caustic for a thirty-one-year-old Harvard Ph.D. at work in the White House. Morris's responsibility was primarily for African affairs, and his memos on the situation in Nigeriawhere the federal government was waging a bitter civil war with Biafran separatistshad impressed both Kissinger and Nixon.
It was not surprising, then, that Morris was asked by Eagleburger to sit in Kissinger's office and "cover" it one weekend day sometime in the late spring of 1969. Haig, who usually worked seven days a week, had rare time off, and Eagleburger had an appointment outside the White House and needed relief. Kissinger was spending the weekend in New York at his parents' homea trip that, in those early days, he often made.
Morris literally moved into Kissinger's office that day. At one point during the quiet morning, a courier from the Federal Bureau of Investigation came in and left a sealed envelope for Kissinger. Morris brooded about the highly classified document. The courier had explained that the letter contained "very urgent" material. Should he call Henry? Morris could imagine Kissinger's angry impatience at his caution: "Idiot! Of course open it." And so he opened it.
The envelope was from J. Edgar Hooverfor Kissinger's, "Eyes Only." "It was this long, detailed account of Martin Luther King's sex life," Morris says. "There were transcripts"obviously from wiretaps"and indications that photographs were available." Some of the women with Dr. King had apparently been FBI informants. Morris was appalled.
A few hours latersometime after lunchMorris was joined by Larry Eagleburger, and Morris quickly showed him the FBI documents. "I was speaking as an old friend and as a Foreign Service colleague and I said, 'This is absolutely scurrilous stuff.'"
"Larry just glanced at the first page or two, with the ho-hum attitude of an aide reading a telephone directory, and said, 'Oh, yeah, we get these all the time.'" Eagleburger then went to a nearby file cabinet, opened it, and pulled out Hoover files on members of the NSC staff, including Morton H. Halperin, who had worked in the Pentagon in the Johnson Administration. Files were being kept on Martin Luther King (who had been slain the previous year), Eagleburger told his distressed colleague, "to blunt the black anti-war movement." Morris was not reassured, but kept his peace.
In the beginning, morale was high among the newly recruited members of Henry Kissinger's National Security Council staff, who felt themselves to be a hand-picked elite assembled not as a result of post-election patronage but solely on the basis of their expertise. Many, such as Roger Morris, were Democrats and former members of the Johnson Administration's National Security Council who viscerally disliked Richard Nixon, but Kissinger had been persuasive in insisting that his staff would be above politics. Bureaucratic life in the last years of the Johnson Administration had been stiflingthe White House's foreign policy had been intertwined with the Vietnam War to the exclusion of nearly all other issues. This would change, Kissinger assured his staff. There would be an open system, in which all foreign-policy issues would be analyzed and reviewed and then presented to the President, with options, for his decision. There would be a fresh approach to resolving the Vietnam War andso Nixon and Kissinger assured their aidessettlement of that exhausting and divisive issue within the year. In fact, nothing would change, because Nixon and Kissinger were obsessed not with opening the system to new ideas but with seizing control of it.
enry Kissinger had entered the White House on Inauguration Day with immense power and no illusions about its source. He understood that his authority would never be disputed as long as he kept his sole clientRichard Nixonpleased. Kissinger had loyally supported and endorsed Nixon's decision in late February to begin secretly bombing Cambodia with B-52 aircraft from the Strategic Air Command. The bombs were to be reported, even inside the military chain of command, as having fallen in South Vietnam. In April, Kissinger had been among those advocating extreme measures against North Korea when a North Korean aircraft shot down an unarmed Navy electronic-intelligence plane, known as an EC-121, ninety miles off the Korean coast, killing all thirty-one crew members aboard. His loyalty and his toughness in those incidents had strengthened his position, but by the end of April, 1969, the President still seemed unwilling, or unable, to isolate Melvin R. Laird, the secretary of defense, and William P. Rogers, the secretary of state, from White House decision-making.
Sharing his foreign-policy authority with Laird and Rogers inevitably made Kissinger insecureand this insecurity never really went away while he was in the White House. Being Jewish didn't help. There is no evidence that Kissinger was an anti-Semitic Jew or was in any way ashamed of his Jewishness. But being Jewish was a chink in his armora vulnerability that could threaten his position. Nixon clearly viewed Kissinger's Jewishness as a drawback, at least during the early years of his presidency. Immediately after taking office, he assigned all responsibility for the Middle East to William Rogers. It would be the only area of such responsibility for Rogers.
There were days when Nixon would directly castigate liberal Jews in front of Kissinger. "Nixon would talk about Jewish traitors, and the eastern Jewish establishmentJews at Harvard," senior presidential aide John D. Ehrlichman recalls. "And he'd play off Kissinger. 'Isn't that right, Henry? Don't you agree?' And Henry would respond: 'Well, Mr. Presidentthere are Jews and Jews.'" When Jerome B. Wiesner, former science adviser to the Kennedy Administration, criticized Nixon's decision, in March of 1969, to deploy a limited antiballistic-missile system, Ehrlichman says, Nixon angrily denounced Wiesner in front of Kissinger as "another one of those Jews."
That spring, Morton Halperin quickly became a dominant concern in the White House. During the last years of the Johnson Administration, Halperin had been a marked man to senior military men in the Pentagonmost notably to Earle Wheeler, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Stafffor his role in turning around the government's policy on Vietnam. Wheeler was later among the first to complain to Kissinger after Halperin joined the NSC staff. Senator Barry Goldwater also complained, in a letter sent April 22, 1969, to John Mitchell, the attorney general. Goldwater described Halperin as among those who "made it so hard for the military to operate in the Pentagon by their strategic papers which were forced down the throats of the Joint Chiefs and Commanders."
Hoover, too, repeatedly expressed doubts about Halperin's loyalty; among other things, he told the White House, Halperin had once sponsored a Vietnam War teach-in at Harvard. Kissinger knew better, of course. Halperin had sponsored the teach-in as a supporter of the war. He had been among those advocating a strong military response to the North Korean attack on the Navy spy plane; he had helped set up a newly revised National Security Council system that had provided Nixon and Kissinger with immense personal control over the bureaucracy; his advice on issues ranging from strategic-disarmament talks to the Vietnam War was superb; he was a tireless worker who believed that the Nixon Administration was committed to getting out of Vietnam. Throughout the spring of 1969, Halperin repeatedly praised the Nixon-Kissinger team to his friends in Washington and Boston. He was not disloyal.
But Hoover and Mitchell and Goldwater and Nixon thought he was, and so Kissinger began to savage Halperin behind his back. John Ehrlichman later testified about taking notes, as was his custom, on conversations between Kissinger and Nixon in the Oval Office that spring. The men were discussing possible leakers of information, and Mort Halperin was prominently cited by Kissinger, Ehrlichman said, "as being singularly untrustworthy." Ehrlichman added, "I gathered from the context of the conversation that Dr. Kissinger knew him, knew him quite well." During the conversations, Kissinger depicted Halperin as "philosophically in disagreement" with the President on matters of policy. Ehrlichman said that it was his impression that Halperin did more than merely disapprove of the Nixon-Kissinger decisions: "I gather that he sabotaged them."
he White House wiretaps were intiated on May 9, a few hours after the publication, on page one of The New York Times, of a highly accurate dispatch from Washington revealing the B-52 bombing of Cambodia, by William Beecher, a military correspondent. Beecher's dispatch did not describe the excessive secrecy and fraudulent record-keeping involved in the bombing, but it did report that the missions were designed to "signal" North Vietnam that the Nixon Administration would be tougher and far more willing to take military risks for peace than previous administrations had been. Kissinger spoke with Hoover four times on May 9, asking him to find the leakers and declaring, according to a Hoover memorandum, that the White House "will destroy whoever did this if we can find him, no matter where he is."
Later, in attempting to deny responsibility for initiating the wiretaps, Kissinger told newsmen that he had met on the day of the article's publication with Mitchell, Hoover, and Nixon to discuss newspaper leaks. He subsequently changed that account and said that the meeting had taken place, according to his less-than-precise office logs, on April 25, in the Oval Office. In all of his comments and testimony about the wiretapping, Kissinger depicted himself as a passive participant in the decision, made by his superiors, to begin the surveillance. "I can say that the idea that this was not common practice or that this was in any sense illegal simply never crossed my mind," he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September of 1973. In White House Years, the first volume of his memoirs, Kissinger provided a further explanation: his motive in going along with the wiretapping "was to prevent the jeopardizing of American and South Vietnamese lives by individuals ... who disclosed military information entrusted to them in order to undermine policies decided upon after prayerful consideration ..."
In truth, the May 9 Beecher article simply provided the rationale for installing the wiretaps; it was a catalyst, not the major factor. Kissinger and Nixon were equallyif not moreconcerned about a series of leaks in late April and early May regarding some of the hard-line options that had been discussed after the downing of the Navy's EC-121 reconnaissance plane. On May 6, three days before the B-52 story, William Beecher had published a detailed and accurate account of some of the secret deliberations during the EC-121 crisis. Beecher revealed that Nixon and Kissinger had considered B-52 bombing raids against airfields in North Korea as well as the use of nuclear weapons. Amazingly, the Beecher account was not considered an important story by other newspapers or by radio and television, although it flatly contradicted the White House's public version that Nixon and Kissinger had calmly and coolly decided not to take action. Late in the afternoon on May 5, according to Hoover's office calendar, Kissinger visited the FBI Director at the Justice Department; the meeting was undoubtedly linked to Beecher's report, to be published in the next morning's Times, which would tell the nation that the men in the White House were talking war, not peace.
For Nixon and Kissinger, the May 6 Beecher account may have brought additional chills, for they could not be sure how much the Times reporter knew about one of the truly important secrets of the EC-121 crisis. Did he know that Nixon had become quite drunk early in the crisis?
Nixon's drinking had yet to be perceived as a significant problem for Kissinger and his immediate staff, and the incident was quickly hushed. Halperin, for one, was not told. Larry Eagleburger kept a standing lunch date with an old friend that first week after the EC-121 shootdown and was obviously upset. "Here's the President of the United States, ranting and ravingdrunk in the middle of the crisis," the shaken Eagleburger told his friend.
There were other secrets to protect, too. Both Nixon and Kissinger knew by early May that if the North Vietnamese did not respond to the administration's offer of mutual withdrawal, to be presented formally at the Paris peace talks and to the American public within days, the response would be escalation of the war. And Kissinger knew, too, that Halperin's support of the administration's policy in Vietnam was based on what Halperin thought that policy was, and not on what Nixon and Kissinger knew it would be. The same held for Halperin's dovish colleagues on the National Security Council staff.
Another factor in the increasing discord in the White House was Alexander Haig, who had been chosen by Kissinger as his military aide. As a certified hard-liner on Vietnam, Haig had little use for the NSC moderates' doubts and concerns about the war. Halperin was a special target, not only because of his role in the Johnson Administration but also because of his closeness to Kissinger. "Halperin was the early once-and-future menacefor everybody," Roger Morris observes. "In essence, everyone believed that Mort was doing what in fact Haig didmoving in on Henry. Nobody gave Haig any credit for moving in."
Al Haig was immensely popular with the young, bright, and ambitious Kissinger aides when he first joined the NSC staff. He was not viewed as an intellectual threathis first assignment was the routine task of preparing the President's daily intelligence summaryand the Army colonel struck most of his colleagues as open and self-effacing. He laughed easily, held his gin well, and had a lively, scatological wit. Along with handling the daily intelligence summaries, Haig had access to the vast number of private, back-channel messages from Kissinger's office to American officials throughout the world. He saw, as few other NSC staffers could, the enormity of the foreign-policy takeover that Kissinger and Nixon were trying to accomplish by side-stepping William Rogers and Melvin Laird. As an excellent bureaucrat, he knew that more power for Kissinger meant more power for him.
None of the NSC members, in scores of interviews many years later, were quite sure how Al Haig did it, but within months he managed to become indispensable to Henry Kissinger. His loyalty was astonishing: Haig seemingly worked all the timeevery day, every night, every weekendensuring that the flow of documents in and out of Kissinger's chaotic office was uninterrupted. And Haig was no minor-league courtier; he had learned from his days as an aide-de-camp and in the Pentagon the art of flattering a superior in a way that put him at ease.
Others on the staffever sensitive to the bureaucratic pecking ordersoon came to realize that Haig's aggressiveness and assertiveness were being encouraged and countenanced by his patron, Henry Kissinger. For Kissinger, Haig's very presence in his outer office served as a way of demonstrating to the senior military men in the Pentagon and to the hawks in Congress and on the President's staff that Kissinger was reliable. "Haig was the guy Henry could point to," one former NSC staff man recalls, "and say, 'If I were a Harvard liberal, a left-wing kook, would I have Al Haig working for me?' He was Henry's insurance policy. "
Haig was that, but there was much more. As Richard L. Sneider, Kissinger's aide for East Asian affairs, recalls, "Haig moved in on Henry and he moved in from the very beginning. First of all, he was Henry's butler and his chauffeur. Henry never knew the kind of perks that could be arrangedprivate planes for trips to New York for dinner, limousinesand he loved it. Haig also was very shrewd politically where Henry was naive. He was advising Henry at first on how to handle Haldeman and Ehrlichman. When Henry had to wear a white tie and tails for his first White House dinner, it was Haig who went to Henry's house and helped him dress for the first time."
Haig knew far more about wiretapping and the government procedures involved than did anyone else in the White House; he had been exposed to FBI wiretap materials while working as a special assistant in the Pentagon in the early 1960s, and had struck up a friendship then with William C. Sullivan, a senior Hoover assistant who was in charge of FBI domestic intelligence activities.
Wiretapping NSC aides was a dirty business, and everybody in the White House and the FBI knew it. Kissinger's method of handling it was simple: he put Haig in charge. It was Haig who, over the next two years, would formally transmit the names of NSC staff members and reporters to be wiretapped. It was Haig who repeatedly went to William Sullivan's office in the FBI to read the wiretap transcripts and summaries. It was Haig who, nearly two years later, transmitted the final order to curtail the surveillances.
It was Haig, too, who gave Kissinger his basic alibi for his role in the wiretapping. "I would not say that I ever said to the FBI, Please tap this individual," Kissinger told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July of 1974. "My perception is that I would not have said anything to the FBI. That was done by Haig. I would have said to Haig, We have had this leak, give the names of the people who had access to the information."
Haig seemed truly to enjoy the snooping. In subsequent years, he constantly checked up on younger staff members to ensure that they did not meet with journalists. One junior NSC official recalled being braced by Haig for not getting clearance in advance for one such lunch. The conversation was rattling and left a distinct impression that Big Brother was always watching.
Haig seemed to have no ambivalence about what he was doing. In 1973, just before the White House wiretaps became a Watergate issue, he told me: "I have absolutely no apologies to make. The wiretaps for the purposes were justified and anyone who claims otherwise is not filled in." It was as if the National Security Council were an Army boot camp, and the men working for Henry Kissinger were recruits with no right to privacy, aides-de-camp who could be subjected to a dressing-down from an officer at any time. If Henry Kissinger did not fully share that attitude, he at least condoned it.
The wiretaps did not stay secret very long. In June, Roger Morris decided to visit Larry Eagleburger, who had fallen ill with tension and overwork, at the Washington Hospital Center. "He was lying there as we talked," Morris recalls. "Tears welled up in his eyes and he said, 'Don't say anything on your phone. You're being tapped.'" Eagleburger also confided that Halperin was finished in the White House.
Morris may have been the first to know, but within weeks the word was out: Halperin was being wiretapped, and he was in trouble. So were two other liberal NSC aides, Daniel I. Davidson and Richard M. Moose. The messenger was Al Haig. Halperin's demise pleased Laurence E. Lynn, a former Pentagon analyst who had joined Kissinger's staff and immediately engaged in a running battle with Halperin over control of the NSC studies on the SALT talks; both men were constantly passing memorandums to Kissinger without informing each other. At one point, Lynn was offered another spot in the Nixon Administration andnot being an amateur in the ways of bureaucracysought to pass the word to Kissinger through Haig. Haig immediately made it clear that Halperin was on the way out, Lynn recalls. Halperin was in trouble with the President and with Senator Barry Goldwater, Haig said, and was being "monitored." Lynn, who understood what Haig meant, stayed on the job.
Early that summer, Davidson, who also was a holdover from the Johnson Administration, left the White House after a talk with Haig, and word quickly filtered through the staff that Davidson had been caught leaking on a wiretap. Larry Eagleburger added to the rumors in these weeks by confiding to Roger Morris that Halperin's name had shown up on an intercept by the National Security Agency of a Japanese Embassy transmission. The NSA reported that Halperin had been discussing sensitive negotiations over the future status of Okinawa with Japanese officials in Washington, who had cabled the conversation to their foreign office in Tokyo. Morris got the impression from Eagleburger that the White House could have made a case against Halperin for treason. (Halperin acknowledges holding private talks with the Japanese; such talks, he says, were also held during the Johnson Administration, and were always considered to be part of the normal bargaining process.) By midsummer, too, Moose, a Foreign Service officer who was known to be a dove on Vietnam, was reported to be on his way out. Moose had spent five months in 1966 on a congressional fellowship program in the office of Senator J. William Fulbright, the Arkansas Democrat who was chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committeeand Richard Nixon's instant enemy. Moose also had run afoul of Haig, who viewed Fulbrightso he told Mooseas a "traitor" to the United States.
Sometime in June, W. Anthony Lake, a young Foreign Service officer, arrived from a sabbatical at Princeton University to replace the stricken Eagleburger as Kissinger's special assistant. There was an immediate change in the office outside Kissinger's office, in the cramped White House basement quarters. Al Haig moved to Eagleburger's desk, a few feet from Kissinger's private office, and Lake slipped into the desk vacated by Haig. The significance of the shift was not lost on the NSC staff, whose members knew that Haig was getting close to the job many wantedthat of deputy. Lake later revealed to the Watergate Special Prosecution Force that within months he had become aware of the wiretapping and had also begun to suspect that wiretap transcripts were being kept in a top-secret safe in the Situation Room in the basement of the White House. The safe, designed for the storage of the nation's nuclear-targeting materials, as well as the codes to activate and arm America's nuclear weapons, was under twenty-four-hour guard.
Lake and Morris, fellow Foreign Service officers, eventually became close friends, and it wasn't long before Lake shared his suspicions about the Situation Room safe.
Over the next two years, a number of personal aides would rotate in and out of Kissinger's immediate office; all quickly learned that the White House was wiretapping some of its aides.
issinger quickly seized upon the wiretaps, not only as a way of proving anew his loyalty to Nixon but also as a means of verifying the personal loyalty of his own staff. Equally important, the wiretapping would enable Kissinger and Nixon to monitor the loyalty of Secretary of Defense Laird.
Inside the National Security Council the hatred for Laird and his military assistant, Air Force Colonel Robert Pursley, was palpable. In late April of 1969, Kissinger had been infuriated by the refusal of Laird and Pursley to go along with the White House plans for military retaliation in North Korea after the EC-121 shootdown. There were other serious disagreements on policy issuesincluding nuclear-disarmament talks and the administration's Vietnamization plans. Laird still insisted, to Kissinger's outrage, on making the decisions as to when and where American troops would be withdrawn from South Vietnam. "Cutting out Mel Laird is what we did for a living," Larry Lynn says. "Henry used to joke about Laird's horrible syntax. He'd let us listen in on their conversations and Henry would predict accurately what Laird was going to say and then make gestures and smirk at us, as they talked." Another senior NSC aide has recalled, with a laugh, "For a long time, I thought Laird's last name was crook. 'Mel Laird's a crook,' Henry would always say."
Haig's attitude was similar. Charles M. Cooke, Jr., a former Pentagon official who joined the staff of Elliot L. Richardson, then an undersecretary of state, recalled a lunch later in 1969 with Al Haig in the White House mess. It was his first meeting with Haig, who initiated the conversation by reminiscing about his relationship with Cooke's father, a four-star admiral who had briefed General Douglas MacArthur's staff in Japan before the Korean War. Haig was then a junior officer on the MacArthur staff. It began as a pleasant conversation, Cooke recalls. "I didn't know much about Haig. Then he starts telling me what a traitor Mel Laird is. Haig said, 'He's a traitor to the country and will destroy the Armed Forces.'" The appalled Cooke said nothing as Haig continued to rail. "Haig said Laird was trying to destroy our capability to destroy our enemies and our capability to hit North Vietnam," Cooke recalls. One specific complaint stood out, he says; Haig cited Laird's effort to recall the Air Force's F-105 fighter-bombers from duty over North Vietnam because of the planes' high loss rate in combat. A similar proposal had been debated hotly in the Johnson Administration.
Haig's complaint stood out because Cooke, who had been a major in the Air Force and had taught at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs for years, agreed with Laird's view. After lunch, Cooke says, "my decision was that I could not deal with Al Haigand I never did deal with him again."
It is only against this background of distrust and intrigue that the earliest group of White House wiretaps can be assessed. The first man to be wiretapped was Halperin, whose home telephone was under surveillance shortly after 6 P.M. on the evening of May 9, three days before Attorney General Mitchell formally signed the FBI authorization for the tap. Three other wiretapson Dan Davidson, Helmut Sonnenfeldt, and Bob Pursleywere installed on May 12. (Sonnenfeldt, a Soviet specialist, had known Kissinger for many years and had been among the first to be invited to join the NSC staff.) On May 20, NSC staff members Richard Sneider and Dick Moose, the former Fulbright aide, were wiretapped.
Haig, with his simplistic view that those who were against the war were enemies of the state, may indeed have believed that the taps were a necessity. But Kissinger knew better. For him, the wiretaps provided a security blanket, more proof to Nixon, Hoover, and Mitchell that he could be trusted. Kissinger was an ardent leaker himself and knew, as any senior national-security official in Washington quickly learns, what to say and what not to say on the telephone.
Halperin summed up the situation in an interview years after the wiretapping: "The notion that you can find out who's leaking and the notionwhich Henry keeps putting forwardthat you can prove that somebody was not leaking or exonerate somebody by tapping their phone is absolutely preposterous. I'm not going to come home at night and dial Bill Beecher and say, 'Hey, Bill, we're bombing Cambodia.' I'm sure the FBI knows that Beecher lives about ten minutes from me, and in that particular year we happened to have theater tickets together with our wives. We used to drive down to the Arena Stage [a Washington theater] together, and, obviously, if I was going to tell him anything, which I wasn't, I would have done so on a grassy knoll near the Arena Stage and not on the telephone. You just don't find out whether people are leaking by wiretapping, and I think they knew it, too."
The wiretap on Colonel Pursley must have been one of the most important ones to Kissinger. Kissinger and Nixon believed, and continued to believe throughout Nixon's first term, that Laird was constantly leaking stories in an effort to ingratiate himself with the press as a secret dove and to fight Kissinger's growing power. The other wiretaps served a multitude of purposes for Kissinger. To begin with, four of those tappedDavidson, Halperin, Sneider, and Sonnenfeldtwere Jewish; tapping them not only played into the anti-Semitism in the Oval Office but also demonstrated that Kissinger was able to rise above his religious background, a point Kissinger needed to prove if he was to have any influence on Middle East policy. In addition, Davidson was considered to be a protégé of W. Averell Harriman, a senior Democratic statesman, and Kissinger, by agreeing to that wiretap, would have a new window on the Democratic establishment, a group that he was privately beseeching not to criticize the Nixon policies. And finally, and perhaps most important, the wiretaps on Moose, Sneider, Davidson, and Halperin would tell much about what those menall known to favor a quickly negotiated settlement in Vietnamthought of him.
On May 20according to one of William Sullivan's memorandums to HooverKissinger and Haig came to the FBI offices in downtown Washington to read wiretap logs. The Sullivan memorandum says: "On doing this, he [Kissinger] said 'it is clear that I don't have anybody in my office that I can trust except Colonel Haig here.' He mentioned that he was under great pressures to adopt a soft line on foreign policy. But he said he is not going to do so." Kissinger later denied making the visit, and Sullivan would testify that he had no recollection of it. But the memorandum, found in the FBI files during an inquiry into the wiretaps four years later, remains.
The next stage was to begin wiretapping newsmen. By September, Kissinger and Haig had forwarded the names of threeHenry Brandon, of The London Sunday Times, Marvin Kalb, of CBS News, and Hedrick Smith, of The New York Timesto the FBI. Brandon and Kalb were close to Kissinger and were direct recipients of many briefings and leaks. National security surely was not a rationale for the wiretaps on them, since Kissinger knew that he was the source of much of their classified information. J. Edgar Hoover had long considered Brandon, who was born in Czechoslovakia, to be an agent for the Czech and British intelligence services, and Richard Nixon and a group of aides in the White House were told by, of all people, Henry Kissinger, late in 1969, that Kalb was an agent of the Rumanian government.
Kissinger knew the allegations against Kalb and Brandon were preposterous. His interest in the wiretaps had nothing to do with such beliefs but was personal: he was playing to the President's prejudices in an effort to ingratiate himself further. He also wanted to learn the identities of Brandon's and Kalb's other sources in the government and perhaps to find out as well what the two reporters were saying behind his back. There was another reason, perhaps irresistible to the White House, for the Brandon wiretap: monitoring the private life of Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Brandon's wife, Mabel, was extremely friendly with Joan Kennedy, and many of their most intimate conversations were monitored by the FBI. (Not everything got to the White House, however. The Watergate prosecutors later learned that one highly personal discussion of Mrs. Kennedy's "problems with Teddy" was typed up and delivered to Courtland J. Jones, a supervisor in the FBI's Washington field office, for transmission to higher officials. Jones told the prosecutors that he destroyed the transcript instead of sending it to the White House. "I knew what those people would do with this stuff," he explained.) Brandon, who was one of the few reporters in Washington to have some access to Nixon, was also known to be talking to Halperin. The FBI had gone beyond mere wiretaps in the case; its agents were able to supply the White House with photographs of the two meeting for lunch in downtown Washington.
In his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kissinger suggested that the wiretap on Brandon may have been aimed at him. "I must have been tapped frequently on that tap, because Brandon was the only journalist I knew socially when I came to Washington, and I spoke to him very frequently and I had no conceivable interest in tapping Brandon." There is no evidence, however, that Kissinger was a target of the FBI or of the Oval Office in those early months of the Nixon Administration. His close aides, such as Larry Eagleburger and Al Haig, were not wiretapped, although they, theoretically also had access to the most sensitive information about the EC-121 incident and the B-52 bombings. And, as Kissinger also knew, Eagleburger was among those who had been leaking to favored columnists and reporters. By the spring of 1969, for example, Eagleburger had established rapport with Robert Novak, one of the authors of the widely syndicated Evans & Novak column, and, at Kissinger's direction, had begun passing along a series of leaks. "We called it 'feeding the animals,'" says Morris.
he wiretap on Hedrick Smith provides the most evidence of Kissinger's direct role. The tap was authorized on June 4, 1969, the same day Smith reported in the Times that a summit meeting between Nixon and President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnampreviously scheduled for June 8 at Midway Islandmight result in an announcement that the number of American troops in Vietnam would be reduced. By that late date, however, the Nixon Administration's tentative decision to begin withdrawing American troops had been widely reported. Of perhaps more significance was Smith's exclusive dispatch in the Times of the day before revealing that Nixon was willing to return Okinawa to Japanese control and withdraw American nuclear weapons from the American bases there. Smith did not report, however, the essence of the bargain, which assured continued American use of the Okinawa bases. The Smith story was published six days after issuance of top-secret National Security Decision Memorandum Number 13 by the White House. "Our fallback position was thus in print before our negotiations had even begun," Kissinger complained in his memoirs. Nixon also singled out the Smith story for complaint in his memoirs.
On June 4, Kissinger had a previously scheduled meeting with Hoover at the FBI, and before it Haig, ever the alert deputy, presented his boss with a memorandum (marked "Top Secret-Sensitive") summarizing some of the issues to be discussed. Kissinger was first to express his appreciation to Hoover and William Sullivan "for their outstanding support in recent weeks in uncovering security problems within the NSC," Haig wrote. Kissinger was also to ask Hoover "for his views on how we should proceed with Halperin, who has been involved in indiscretions and who obviously has a reputation for liberal views but who has yet to be firmly linked with a security breach." Finally, Kissinger was to ask Hoover "if he has any additional information or guidance which he feels would be helpful in this very difficult situation."
There was one other problem, Haig's memorandum suggested. Nixon was seemingly having second thoughts about the wiretapping, and Haig urged Kissinger to "inquire about the requirement for prolonging the taps, making it clear that the President wishes to terminate them as soon as possible." Haig added that it was his opinion that the wiretaps on Halperin and another NSC staff member "should be kept on for at least another two weeks so that a pattern of innocence can be firmly established." In Halperin's case, the wiretaps remained on until February of 1971, a total of twenty-one months, more than enough time to prove his innocence.
After that meeting, about which no memorandums have been made public, William Sullivan authorized the Smith wiretap, specifically mentioning Kissinger as the official who made the requestthe only time Kissinger was so named in the FBI's wiretap f1les. Sullivan wrote, "Today Dr. Kissinger requested that a telephone surveillance be placed on Hedrick Smith, who has been in contact with individuals on whom we have telephone coverage in this case." In his 1974 Senate testimony, Kissinger discussed an FBI report that Smith had been overheard talking to Dan Davidson on wiretaps. But neither he nor any other government official was able to supply evidence linking those conversations to any of Smith's stories.
Smith's dispatches came at a trying time for Kissinger. There was renewed pressure from Nixon over leaks. And Mel Laird was still insisting on the implementation of his Vietnamization plan. That plan, which called for the South Vietnamese army to take over the function of American troops as they were withdrawn, was initially viewed by Kissinger as an insurmountable drawback to his Vietnam negotiating strategy. How could he negotiate a mutual withdrawal of United States and North Vietnamese forces when Laird and Nixon were beginning to withdraw troops unilaterally?
It seems clear, based on Kissinger's own statements to the press and to various inquiries, that Smith's two stories preoccupied Kissinger when he visited Hoover in his office at 9:30 A.M. on June 4. Yet, in his 1974 testimony to the Senate, Kissinger said he could not remember whether they came up. "I am confident I did not ... request a tap from Mr. Hoover," Kissinger testified, "but what else was said in this conversation would be very hard for me to reconstruct. These conversations one has to see in the context. It is the wrong idea to assume that one went to Mr. Hoover who passively listened to descriptions of security violations and then reluctantly went along with orders. Usually what happened was that the Director would give one an enormous amount of alleged security violations to which one tried to make a more or less reasonable response." Hoover had died in 1972, so Kissinger could speak without fear of contradiction.
Kissinger had no fears about what he said over the telephone: he knew that William Sullivan and the others involved in the FBI would be terrified, as would any careful bureaucrat, at the prospect of confronting a superior in the White House with evidence of possible indiscretions. During the twenty-one months that Mort Halperin's home telephone was wiretapped, the FBI sent thirty-four letters to Kissinger, Nixon, and H. R. Haldeman, Nixon's chief of staff and closest aide, summarizing the information overheard. Nothing was reported, however, about an extensive phone conversation Halperin and Kissinger had on a Saturday afternoon in early August of 1969. By then, Halperin had been wiretapped for three months and no incriminating information had been obtained. Yet Kissinger had been increasingly isolating him from classified materials inside the NSC, and Halperin was on the verge of resignation. Kissinger spoke very frankly that Saturday in urging Halperin to stay, knowing that his remarks were being overheard, because he had placed the call to Halperin at his home. Kissinger's statements would have outraged President Nixon, if made available to him, and would have threatened Kissinger's Oval Office standing. In the FBI transcript of that August conversation, Kissinger was quoted as praising Halperin's work as extraordinary and urging him not to leave the White House. Kissinger even promised to talk about Halperin's role with Nixon and Attorney General Mitchella promise that he knew he could not keepto see "if they feel we can't tailor something [for Halperin] right now."
The conversation was sheer hokum on Kissinger's part; his only concern was to ensure that Halperin kept his peace. Nonetheless, Kissinger obviously would not have held such a conversation if he thought there was any chance that the FBI would routinely forward a summary to Nixon. It is unlikely that the precise details of the arrangement between the top level of the FBI and Kissinger's office ever will be known, but Kissinger obviously felt free to talk on the telephone to those of his staffand various reporterswhom he knew to be wiretapped. His enemy in all of this was not Hoover.
Al Haig's conversations also were insulated. None of his telephone talks with Bob Pursley, many of which, Pursley recalls, dealt with classified information, were included in the FBI telephone transcripts. (Pursley did discover, upon reviewing his transcripts years later, that the FBI had been quick, however, to raise doubts about him. In mid-1970, he had taken a brief vacation, his first in years, with his wife. On the morning after his return to work, Mrs. Pursley telephoned and asked him how it felt to be back. "Miserable," said Pursley, not unnaturally "I wish I wasn't here." At this point in the transcript of the call, an FBI agent noted: "He appears to be a disgruntled employee." Similarly, Morton Halperin's wife, Ina, was constantly telling callers that her telephone was wiretapped. In one conversation with a close relative in the fall of 1969, Mrs. Halperin suddenly exclaimed, "You hear that beeping?" At this point in the FBI logs, the agent preparing the transcripts noted parenthetically: "There isn't any beeping on the line. Ina has a complex her phone is being tapped."
In a conversation in 1973, conducted at the time on a not-for-attribution basis, William Sullivan told me that none of the wiretaps produced any evidence of NSC wrongdoing. "There wasn't one member of the staff who was disloyal to the country. But they were disloyal to Kissinger, and they were giving him real problems. Some of them began to disagree with him and they weren't with him." (Sullivan was killed in a hunting accident near his home in New Hampshire in November of 1977, six years after he resigned from the FBI.)
Copyright © 1982 by Seymour Hersh. All rights reserved. This article was later included in Seymour Hersh's book, The Price of Power: Kissinger in Nixon's White House, currently published by Simon & Schuster.
The Atlantic Monthly; May 1982; The Price of Power - 05.82; Volume 249, No. 5; page 35-58.