Kissinger and Nixon in the White House - Page 2
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Richard Nixon, according to a transcript of a White House tape recording that was made public during the 1974 impeachment hearings, strongly suggested that it was Kissinger who urged the wiretapping. Discussing the wiretaps on Halperin and Tony Lake (who was not wiretapped until 1970), Nixon said, "I know that he [Kissinger] asked that it be done. And I assumed that it was. Lake and Halperin. They're both bad. But the taps were, too. They never helped us. Just gobs and gobs of material: gossip and bullshittingthe tapping was a very, very unproductive thing....."
In his various public statements, Nixon has consistently said that his approval of the wiretaps was based on grounds of national security. Kissinger has also cited national security in defense of his involvement. During his 1974 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kissinger was asked whether any of his aides were fired because of indiscretions. His full answer, not included by the committee in its published hearings, amounted to innuendo. "As a result of this program, there were two violations that I remember," Kissinger testified. "In the case of one person, he was separated from the staff over a period of months in such a way that it did not appear that he'd been fired for a security violation. I thought it was an indiscretion. I did not want to blight his whole career, so first I had him transferred out of the National Security Council to another government position and suggested to him as a friend that he resign after a decent interval.... It was clearly an indiscretion, but I did not want to have him blighted."
Kissinger was referring to Dan Davidson, a fact privately conveyed to me years later by Al Haig. But Davidson was never accused of any leaks, nor was he transferred to another job, nor, he says, did he have a conversation with Kissinger in which he was advised to "resign after a decent interval." In fact, Davidson recalls being intensely loyal to Kissinger then. "At that early stage, most of us liked him very much," Davidson says. "He was a hypnotic guy." Davidson was told by Al Haig in mid-1969 that his resignation was desired, and he was offered his choice of a new post. He left government instead to begin practicing law in Washington.
In his classified testimony to the Senate, Kissinger also told of the second alleged security violation, which was Halperin's. "In the case of another person, we suddenly separated him from classified documents to a point he felt he wanted to resign, but that was an attempt on my part to minimize the damage to the individuals themselves," Kissinger said. "If they had been overwhelming security violations, we would have thrown them out. They were borderline cases, where you erred on the side of protecting the security but did not feel justified in blighting the whole career of the man."
In 1976, in testimony in connection with a suit filed by Halperin that year, Kissinger significantly altered his account. He testified that as of August, 1969, when he had the extended discussion with Halperin and urged him to stay on at the NSC, "I had no information that would make meon security groundsmake me change my mind about keeping him." It was "my judgment" that Halperin was not a security risk, Kissinger said.
y the fall of 1969, Kissinger had stripped his staff of many of those who were deemed to be offensive to the man in the Oval Office. Halperin formally resigned in September, Sneider and Davidson were long gone. All left quietly. Coping with Nixon, pleasing him, and trying to find out what he really wanted were always the most important priorities for Kissinger. If his staff was too Jewish and too liberal for Nixon and his chief aides, Kissinger made the necessary adjustments.
More and more subservient, even fawning, to his patron, Kissinger was increasingly vicious and outspoken outside the Oval Office. The backbiting grew intense by the end of the year. Secretary of State Rogers was a "fag" who had some strange hold over the President; Mel Laird was a megalomaniac who constantly leaked anti-Kissinger stories to the press; and Richard Nixon was a secret drunk of dubious intelligence.
There was a steady stream of private invective from Kissinger, and his personal aides heard it all. One of his major obsessions in the first year was Bill Rogers. At one time Kissinger told his staff that a prominent Georgetown columnist had confided to him that Rogers was keeping a house in Georgetown with a young male paramour in it. (The aides knew that such stories were absurd but also felt that Kissinger to some degree wanted to believe them.) Morris and others who were trusted by Kissinger eventually ended up working on Kissinger's private diary, which was transcribed and edited daily. On some days, Morris says, the Kissinger entries filled fifteen pages not with high-level diplomatic strategy but with low-level gossip.
"We caught glimpses of Nixon, Laird, Rogers, and Kissinger in action," Morris says. "Nixon drank exceptionally at night and there were many nights when you couldn't reach him at Camp David." The diary was treated as if it were the most sensitive document in the governmentwhich it may have been. Morris recalls that it was stored in an electronically protected safe in Kissinger's office along with materials from the secret Paris negotiations with North Vietnam.
"It was a goldmine of bureaucratic duplicity and maneuver," Morris says. "When Henry went home at night, he didn't discuss policy; he discussed the nature of people. He is really interested in personalities and their weaknesses; he analyzed issues and people the way a good boxer analyzes his opponent's boxing style." The diary was replete with evidence that Kissinger privately held many of his colleagues in contempt, Morris says.
Morris often listened in on Kissinger's conversations with an obviously drunk Nixon. "There were many times when a cable would come in late and Henry would say, 'There's no sense waking him uphe'd be incoherent,'" Morris recalls. The young aide was frightened by the idea of a President who was not fully competent after sundown. He often wondered what would happen if the Soviet Union attacked at night.
Morris said nothing to his outside friends about such goings-on. "It's hard to explain," he said later. "It's a constant barrage. You go around taking it for granted that Nixon's nuts. Henry and others go around wringing their hands for the President and saying Rogers is a fag. After a while, you lose your perspective. You don't feel a sense of outrage. All of the things that you think about laterthe drunkenness, the wiretappingyou've become inured to while in the White House. It isn't a matter of constant moral torment when you're there."
Kissinger on more than one occasion told his personal staff about his first formal White House reception and his first meeting with Mrs. Nixon. He naturally began to praise the President lavishly, but Mrs. Nixon leaned over and interrupted him by saying, "Haven't you seen through him yet?" Morris recalls that Kissinger would tell the anecdote to the staff and joke about it, "as if to say, 'This man is not stable.'"
"It's a curious paradox about Henry," Morris says. "Nobody schemed or planned more than Kissinger about his enemiesand yet nobody was as careless. He didn't really conceal his contempt for all of these people, except in face-to-face dealings."
Colonel Bob Pursley similarly recalls that Kissinger and Haig would seek his support, and the support of Laird, for a White House stratagem "by telling me, 'We've got a madman on our hands.' They'd always say that to me; it was a continual thing."
Just how serious was Nixon's drinking problem? Many of his former associates and aides, such as Charles W. Colson, dismiss its significance by saying that the President had a notoriously low capacity for alcohol, and would slur his words and appear to be somewhat drunk after one or two highballs. Yet John Ehrlichman recalls that he had refused to work on Nixon's presidential campaign in 1968 unless Nixon promised to stop drinking. "Nixon promised to lay off during the campaign and he did," Ehrlichman says. "There were times when he got drunkno question about it. But it wasn't that frequent, and he had a sense of when he was on and when he was off."
Another close aide to Kissinger recalls, however, that Nixon always seemed to be "off" during his many weekends at the Florida White House in Key Biscayne. On those weekends, Nixon spent an inordinate amount of time drinking martinis with two old cronies, Charles G. (Bebe) Rebozo and Robert Abplanalp. "To the extent there was a problem," the aide recalls, "it was very real in Key Biscayne." Kissinger's main concern during those Florida weekend trips, which were working weekends for the National Security Adviser and his staff, was avoiding social encounters with the Nixon entourage. "We always played hard to get for Nixon," the aide says; his job was to find a way to say no without saying no. On occasion, Nixon himself would telephone with a request, and Kissinger would go. One night in Miami, Nixon stopped an attractive woman as he left a restaurantafter having had a few drinks too manyand offered her a job in the White House. "She looks like she's built for you, Henry," the President said. The Kissinger aide learned of the encounter from a Secret Service man. "Hearing this kind of a thing made my veins hurt," the aide says. "The President of the United States, drunk in a restaurant, making crude remarks and engaging in familiarity with a strange woman in a public placeall clearly attributable to martinis ... " Nonetheless, the aide says, "I didn't think of his drinking as a real problemalthough you sort of wondered what would happen if there was ever a nuclear threat." Most of the time, he says, "it was one of the things you knew about in terms of handling papers'Oh, no, this is not the time to get him to sign these.'"
Whatever the truth, Kissinger's personal aideswho rarely saw Nixonwere convinced that they were dealing with a defective President, and Kissinger did little to reassure them.
Keeping certain people cut off from the flow of information was a way of life in the Kissinger White House. Most of Kissinger's staff in the Old Executive Office Building simply did not know what he was doing. Mort Halperin recalls that the process began early. "The President's trip to Asia [in July and August] was planned and conceived without the guy in charge of Asia knowing about it. The guy working on Vietnam did not know about the President's letter to Ho Chi Minh [in July]. The Kissinger operation right from the beginning was a one-man operation with a couple of staff guys."
At a much more trusted level were Kissinger's personal staff aides, who included at varying times in 1969 Eagleburger, Haig, and Tony Lake. In August, William Watts, one of Kissinger's former colleagues from the 1968 Rockefeller presidential campaign, arrived to replace Dick Moose as staff secretary. He, too, was given a position of trust, and spent much of his time in the West Wing basement offices when Kissinger was traveling. These men not only saw all of the highly classified documents that streamed into Kissinger's office but were also very much aware of his effort to isolate other staff members and the bureaucracy from the decision-making process. These men further saw many of the FBI documents that were sent by Hoover to Kissinger, including the wiretap summaries. The office secretary, and occasionally one of the personal aides, monitored Kissinger's telephone conversations with the President and other officials in and out of the White House. Kissinger's personal staff was also responsible for drafting and monitoring the flow of memorandums from Kissinger to Nixon.
Many of the NSC staff members got a chance to see Nixon in action in the first few months, usually at the National Security Council meetings. Nixon was impressive. Staff members recalled that he seemed to have done his homework and understood the intricacies of the foreign-policy issues under discussion.
Within a few months, however, as Nixon and Kissinger tightened their hold on the bureaucracy, the formal meetings were recast as caricaturesritualistic devices by which the President could be exposed to his Cabinet and his senior advisers under tightly controlled conditions. By mid-1969, Kissinger was ordering his staff to include the admonishment that "no decisions will be made here" in presidential briefing papers submitted prior to the NSC meetings.
By then, too, Nixon seemed to be giving far less attention to the formal meetings, and far less attention to his homeworkthe many studies and documents prepared by the NSC staff. The talking papers prepared for Nixon prior to formal Security Council meetings soon began to include word-for-word dialogue. One staff aide vividly recalls the first of many such papers he wrote for Nixon: "It was like a first-grade primer'Run, Spot, Run' kind of thing," the aide says. In his script, Nixon began the meeting by saying, "Gentlemen: Today we are dealing with etc., etc. There are four issues: first, we have etc., etc." After stating the issues, Nixon was to call on Kissinger and ask him to summarize the available options. When Kissinger had done so, the script called for Nixon to say, "Thank you, Dr. Kissinger." Then Nixon was to say, "Now it's Mr. So-and-so's turn," the aide says, and bring in a Cabinet member for discussion. The astonishing thing, the aide recalls, was that Nixon followed the script exactly.
Kissinger's NSC staff mushroomed to 114 members and secretaries by fall. One addition was particularly vital to the National Security Adviserthat of Peter W. Rodman, his former student from Harvard University. From the moment of Rodman's arrival, some of Kissinger's close aides understood that his mission was to assemble and prepare the documents for Kissinger's memoirs. "He indexed everything that came in," Roger Morris recalls. Morris later became convinced that another Rodman mission was to be ready to "evacuate the personal files" within hours if Kissinger ever felt that he was on the verge of being forced out by Haldeman and Ehrlichman. Even as early as 1970, Morris says, Rodman was routinely shipping the most sensitive Kissinger files to Nelson Rockefeller's estate at Pocantico Hills, New York.
By then, the bureaucratic intrigue and personal betrayal in the National Security Council were taking their toll. "There was a dawning recognition that this was a frightening place," Larry Lynn recalls. "It was like walking into a room with a bad odor. After a while you get inured. You realized that this is not the way the government should work. I had to do a lot of things out of loyalty to Henry that I preferred not to dothe secrecy, the confinement of activities to certain agencies, the confinement of communications to certain people, the centralization of power. Henry used to kid me a lot. He used to say, 'You've got too much integrity.'"
Many of the young NSC staff members had joined Kissinger in the hope that, somehow, he and Nixon would do what Lyndon Johnson could not: reverse America's policy in Southeast Asia, as Nixon had promised in the 1968 campaign. Instead, to the dismay of the aides, the White House came perilously close in the fall of 1969 to a drastic escalation of the war. Nixon and Kissinger planned an operationcode-named Duck Hookthat would have led to the mining of Haiphong harbor and the B-52 bombing of major cities, including Hanoi and Haiphong. The offensive was canceled at the last moment by Nixon, after a huge anti-war demonstration in Washington on October 15. The young aides clung to hope even as such planning continued. Kissinger began his secret peace talks in Paris with Le Duc Tho, a member of North Vietnam's ruling politburo, and there were renewed contacts with the People's Republic of China. In late April of 1970, Nixon and Kissinger decided to invade Cambodia. Tony Lake, Roger Morris, and Bill Watts immediately resigned. Larry Lynn's resignation came later. The aides were convinced that the White House's policy of threats and escalation in Cambodia and elsewhere would not work; the war was still in the south, and had to be resolved there. Inside the White House that spring there was talk not of negotiation but of victory. Nixon and Kissinger were determined to show Hanoi's leadersand the Soviet Unionthat they were willing to risk all to bring North Vietnam to its knees.
he White House was stunned by the intensity of the outcry over the President's decision to extend the war to Cambodia. The nation was suddenly alive, once again, with protests against the war and against the men running it. The pressure grew on May 3, when Bill Beecher of the Times reported that Nixon had renewed the bombing of North Vietnam; the President had ordered the most intensive raids since the bombing-halt agreement that was negotiated by the Johnson Administration shortly before the 1968 elections. Kissinger had unsuccessfully sought to prevent the article's publication with a personal plea to Max Frankel, Washington bureau chief of the Times, and when that failed, he and Nixon turned again to wiretaps.
On the evening of May 2, shortly after Kissinger first learned of the Beecher story, Beecher's article was cited as a "serious security violation" by Al Haig in a formal request to the FBI for four more wiretaps. This time Kissinger and Nixon were going for broke, seeking to learn who inside the administration was loyal and who was not. Bob Pursley was to be wiretapped again at home and in his office, the real target clearly being Mel Laird. Richard Pedersen, a State Department counselor who was known to be close to Bill Rogers, was also to be wiretapped at home and at work; he shared two private lines on his desk with the Secretary of State. William H. Sullivan (no kin to the FBI deputy), the former ambassador to Laos who was then a deputy assistant secretary of state, was on the list. And finally, Bill Beecher, whose articles since early 1969 had been a source of grief for the White House, was to be wiretapped, Haig told the FBI, at home and at the New York Times offices. However, taps through the large switchboard at a newspaper or a government agency were not feasible, and were not installed. The FBI wiretaps on the four men stayed on until February 10, 1971.
Kissinger explained in his 1974 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that all four men were wiretapped because they had access "to the information, to sensitive information that had leaked," and thus could logically be considered suspects. In fact, as Kissinger had to know, none of the fournot even Beecherwas aware of the real secret involved in the May 3 story: Laird had not authorized the bombing but had been bypassed.
On May 9, the White House wiretaps produced a conversation between Mort Halperin and Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon official and Vietnam analyst for the Rand Corporation who had worked briefly for Kissinger early in 1969. Ellsberg was renowned inside the government as a former hawk who had turned against the war, and who now was telling all who would listen that the war could not be won. Halperin told Ellsberg, so the wiretap revealed, that he had decided after the invasion of Cambodia to sever all ties to the National Security Council. At the time, Halperin still was a consultant to the White House. Halperin also told Ellsberg, according to an FBI transcript of their talk, that "the major and most certain consequence" of the Cambodian invasion "is that a large number of Cambodian civilians will be killed and labeled Viet Cong." Two days later, J. Edgar Hoover rushed Nixon and Kissinger "Eyes Only" letters reporting Halperin's views. Earlier, Halperin had been overheard informing a caller that Mel Laird and Bill Rogers had disagreed with Nixon's decision on Cambodia. Halperin also said, as Hoover reported to the White House, that "in his opinion the President had never had the intention of getting out of Vietnam." He added, "The only effective way to oppose the present policy is to elect a Congress which will stop the war by cutting off funds."
Nixon, Kissinger, and Haig have given conflicting accounts of what happened next, but it is known that the Halperin intercepts led to a frenzy of high-level action. On May 12, the FBI was requested by Haig, who cited Kissinger's name, to wiretap two more members of the NSC staffTony Lake, who had announced his forthcoming resignation, and Winston Lord, a Halperin protégé who had proved his mettle in Kissinger's and Haig's eyes by not joining the others in resigning over Cambodia. Lake and Lord were wiretapped for the next nine months.
On May 13, Hoover attended a White House meeting with Nixon and Haldeman, and perhaps others, at which he was told to deal only with Haldeman on the White House wiretaps from then on. Kissinger and his office were no longer to be included on the mailing list for wiretap summaries. On that day, too, Hoover provided the White House with some of the FBI's verbatim logs of the Halperin wiretaps upon which the summaries had been made.
At this point, Kissinger had reached a new height of power and authority inside the Nixon White House, and it was inconceivable that Nixon would punish him by stripping him of direct access to the wiretap information. One obvious factor in the procedural change was Tony Lake, who was going to remain on the NSC staff for the next few months, and thus might learn of FBI reports on his own wiretapjust as he had learned of the wiretaps on others. Similarly, Winston Lord was going to be playing a far greater role in Kissinger's immediate office, something that Kissinger surely knew, and would also be exposed to the FBI records. Lake was wiretapped not for any indiscretion but because of what he knew and the White House's fear that he would begin talkingwhich he did not. Lord had been brought into the National Security Council by Halperin, for whom he had worked in the Pentagon, and was thus a prima facie suspect in the hysteria over Mort Halperin that persisted in the Oval Office.
What is baffling about the history of the White House bureaucratic maneuvering on May 13 is how all the principals lied about it in subsequent investigations and managed to get away with the lies. President Nixon told J. Edgar Hoover, as reported in an FBI memorandum, that Haldeman was to be the sole recipient of the wiretap summaries "inasmuch as the President is anxious to cut down leaks that are occurring at the present time." In his deposition in the Halperin wiretap lawsuit, however, Nixon volunteered a different reason for making the change: "General Haig came in to see me. He expressed great concern about Dr. Kissinger's very emotional and very concerned reactions to the Cambodian action, not that he was opposing it ... He said we have simply got to get some of the load off ... He wanted it transferred to someone else and suggested that it might be Mr. Haldeman." But Haig, in his deposition, said that he had learned of the switch in policy only when Kissinger told him about it. Kissinger "said the decision has been made that we are out of it and there was a decision that I welcomed," Haig testified. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a few months earlier, however, Haig acknowledged, "I had urged Henry to disassociate the National Security Council staff, meaning me or anybody else, from what was essentially an internal-security matter... I know he either took that matter up with the President or Mr. Haldeman or somebody outside of our office, and he informed me that we would in fact be out of it." Kissinger, in his Senate testimony, explained that the transfer to Haldeman's office "was no climactic event. During the course of the spring it had become clear to me that while I was getting occasional reports, I was in no position to do anything with these reports and I would just look at them and throw them into my out basket. I, therefore, pointed out on a number of occasions to the President that my office would serve best if it concentrated on foreign-policy matters and if internal-security matters were shifted somewhere else." After Cambodia, Kissinger said, "when I had mass resignations from my staff ... I believed then that it was probably decided that the combination of my preference and some of the difficulties that had existed on my staff made it desirable to accede to my recommendation and shift it to another office. I was informed of this as a routine matter several days later ... The President never spoke to me about it."
Kissinger did not testify about a communication between his office and John Mitchell that may have explained why he was anxious to get out of the wiretap business. In an interview with the FBI after the Watergate scandal broke out, Mitchell recalled discussing the White House wiretaps with either Haig or Kissinger or both. The FBI quoted Mitchell as agreeing with Haig and/or Kissinger that "the wiretaps could become 'explosive'" and that the whole wiretap operation was "a dangerous game we were playing." Mitchell later told me that, in his opinion, Kissinger simply "wanted to get out" of the wiretap operations that spring. "He was just duckingrunning for cover," Mitchell said.
Exactly what provoked the procedural change remains a mystery. The change did remove Kissinger from direct control of the wiretap operation. By then, his NSC staff had been purged: those who were malcontents or disaffected had already left his office or were in the process of resigning. Morris, Lake, Watts, and Lynn would be replaced over the next few months by aides who were far less mercurial, independent, and brilliantbut far more trustworthy, from Kissinger's point of view. The new NSC aides would learn to follow orders without question. Cambodia was a watershed for Kissinger; no longer would he permit himself to become personally fond of those on his staff as he had of Lake and Morris. Kissinger also began to delegate to Al Haig much more of the work in handling the NSC staff members and their papers.
y June, Haig, now a Brigadier General, had finally been appointed as Kissinger's deputy and was firmly in charge of the day-to-day work of the National Security Council staff. Kissinger continued to operate his office on the same principle: ruthless exclusion of staff members from any contact with Richard Nixon. He was able to do so in mid-1970 with one exception: Alexander Haig. Haig's relationship with Nixon had become close after Cambodia, a period in which Haig was outspoken inside the White House in defense of the invasion. Haig's militarism and his hard-line approach to foreign-policy problems, which Kissinger had seized upon as a shield, were attractive and reassuring to Nixon. Haig began appearing more frequently on Nixon's appointments calendar, as maintained by the Secret Service, in early April of 1970. One of Kissinger's personal aides recalls, with a visible shudder, the first time the President telephoned Haig directly: "There was more tension than I can ever recall in that office," he says. Kissinger was in his outer office, conferring with his secretary, Julie Pineau, when Nixon's direct line rang. "Julie picked it up," the aide says, "and Henry started walking back to his office. [Kissinger always took the President's calls in privacy.] Julie said, 'It's for you, General Haig.' Haig went to his office and Henry stood by the door [of Haig's office] as Haig and Nixon talked." After a moment or two, the aide says, Kissinger resignedly "walked into his office and shut the door. He stayed in there for hours." Haig, meanwhile, was "drenched in sweat" by the time he concluded the presidential call. The aide was convinced that neither Haig nor Kissinger discussed the call that day. "From Henry's point of view, someone else now had access to the President," the aide saysand thus Kissinger had suffered a loss of his personal power.
Kissinger's concern about Haig's rise in influence must have created doubts, but he could not afford to turn on Haig openly, for the same reason that Nixon eventually was unable to turn on Kissinger: each knew too much about the other. Kissinger knew that Haig was a double-dealer who had ingratiated himself with Nixon and Haldeman and other senior aides by savaging Kissinger behind his back and spying on him. But Kissinger also knew that Haig's expertise on the Pentagon was invaluable if he and Nixon were going to maintain their ability to circumvent Laird and Pursley and directly order military action in the Middle East or in Southeast Asia. Haig could also be trusted to execute orders conscientiously and discreetly in the back channel. Haig, on his part, was aware of the complications in the Nixon-Kissinger relationship in a way no one else in the White House could be: he was constantly hearing each man's complaints about the other. Nixon did enjoy the savaging of Kissinger that repeatedly went on in his office, Haig knew, but the President also realized that among his aides only Kissinger had the intellectual stamina and the deviousness to be successful at conducting simultaneous back-channel negotiations with the Soviets and the Chinese. Haig also understood in early 1971 that future promotions lay with Kissinger as much as with the President.
Kissinger and Haig also shared knowledge about the White House wiretapping that, they knew, would cause seriousand perhaps fatalproblems for themselves and the Nixon presidency if made public. The wiretapping must have been particularly sensitive for Kissinger in early 1971, for the main target of the White House programMorton Halperinwas a constant reminder to Nixon, Mitchell, and Haldeman of Kissinger's poor judgment in initially filling his office with liberals and Democrats who were not loyal to Nixon and his policies. Kissinger was saying little by early 1971, at least to the NSC staff, about Halperin and the three close aides who had resigned over CambodiaRoger Morris, Tony Lake, and Bill Watts. But Haig could be irrational about them. The three were "traitors" to Kissinger and the NSC staff, Haig told one NSC newcomer in a rage, and Halperin was a "Communist." Haig had a special reason for being exceedingly angry with Halperin: he knew what the former Kissinger aide was saying about him on the telephone. In one conversation with a former colleague, for example, Halperin depicted Haig as a "blabbermouth who hears everything.... all phone conversations to the President and everything."
The wiretapping remained an important program for Kissinger and Haig through early 1971. Kissinger no longer received direct "Eyes Only" letters from J. Edgar Hoover summarizing important conversations, but he was still very much in the flow. The conduit was Haig, who continued to maintain the NSC's wiretap files and continued to visit FBI headquarters to read verbatim transcripts of conversations. William Sullivan, the FBI assistant director, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Haig had visited his office "about twelve to eighteen times between May, 1969, and February, 1971," when the wiretaps were turned off at Hoover's request. Sullivan, whose memory seemed to grow more vague every time he was ordered to testify, also told the committee that his estimate of the number of Haig's visits was "a guess." Asked specifically whether Haig continued to visit his office to read transcripts after May of 1970the time by which Haig and Kissinger, according to their repeated testimony, had ended their active roleSullivan said: "Yes, he did come to my office after May, 1970.'"
Just why Haig and Kissinger were so adamant in denying involvement with the wiretap program after that date is not clear. Whatever stigmamoral, legal, or otherthey felt for having participated in the program would not be erased by their having stopped midway.
he wiretap on Mort Halperin's home telephone was by far the most significant. Halperin, no liberal when he joined Kissinger's staff, was increasingly outspoken in his opposition to Nixon's and Kissinger's Vietnam policies after he left the White House. By mid-1970, he was a member of the foreign-policy group advising Senator Edmund S. Muskie, of Maine, the Democrat who was considered to be Nixon's strongest challenger for the presidency in 1972. FBI summaries sent to Bob Haldeman in the fall and early winter of 1970 consistently reported on Halperin's wiretap, and showed the former Kissinger aide to be heavily involved in Democratic and anti-Nixon politicking. On October 14, for example, Haldeman was told by Hoover that Halperin had discussed publishing an article on the workings of the National Security Council with a reporter for a German newsmagazinea prospect that must have filled Kissinger with dread. A few weeks later, Halperin published a trenchant analysis of Vietnam policy in The New York Times. Nixon was refusing to force a political settlement on Saigon, Halperin wrote, and his Vietnamization policy "will at best lead to an indefinite presence in Vietnam of thousands of American troops. It could well drive the President to massive escalation, the mining of Haiphong Harbor and saturation bombing of North Vietnam." Such escalation was still a subject of constant debate among Nixon, Kissinger, and key aides. The men at the top in the White House had to conclude that Halperin had somehow learned of the planning. Halperin's essay in the Times undoubtedly helped ensure that the wiretap on Winston Lord, who had become one of Kissinger's personal aides after Cambodia, would remain active until the very end. Six days after publication of the Halperin assessment, Hoover reported to Haldeman that Halperin had been in contact with Leslie Gelb, a former Pentagon aide to Clark M. Clifford, Lyndon Johnson's secretary of defense, and Paul C. Wamke, a Clifford deputy, and the three had discussed a Muskie advisory-group meeting on "China policy."
In early December came another FBI report on Halperin, this one dealing with a planned trip to Moscow by Senator Muskie. The trip had been recommendedso Halperin told Gelb in a conversation monitored by the FBIby Averell Harriman, an outspoken critic of Nixon's policies. Harriman so alarmed the White House that the FBI had been instructed to report verbatim every conversation he held with Tony Lake. On December 30, Haldeman received another FBI report on Halperin and Gelb revealing that Bob Pursley, who was also being wiretapped at his home, had sent some papers to Clark Clifford's office. Gelb told Halperin that Clifford had asked that he come to his office to look over "about twenty pieces of paper that Pursley sent over." Gelb, Halperin, and Pursley had worked closely together in the Pentagon during the last years of the Johnson Administration, and also shared detailed knowledge of the conclusions of the Pentagon Papers. The papers, a 7,000-page top-secret study of the history of America's involvement in Vietnam, had been undertaken in 1967 at the request of Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, and assigned to Gelb, then deputy director of the Defense Department policy-planning staff.
The Halperin wiretap reports were extremely useful not only to Haldeman, who maintained strong control over all of the White House political operations, but also to Kissinger, who was obviously informed of Muskie's foreign-policy planning and of the fact that Halperin was still in touch with current NSC staff members. In early November, the FBI reported that Winston Lord had made uncomplimentary remarks about Kissinger and Nixon on his home telephone. A summary of that conversation, as published by the House Judiciary Committee, did not give further details, but Lord was still in touch with Mort Halperin and, according to Halperin's wiretap logs, would occasionally share some gossip with him. One of Kissinger's personal aides depicts this period as one of, "general paranoia" inside Kissinger's office.
The stream of secrets was intense. There were the bad secrets, dealing with the continuing White House wiretaps. There were the good secrets, such as the backchannel negotiations with China and with the Soviet Union that would lead to breakthroughswithout any State Department involvementbefore the year was out. And there were the routine secrets, the enormous flow of documents and cables that were handled by Kissinger and his staff as he continuously expanded his influence. As the flow of secrets intensified, so did Kissinger's concern about the security of his immediate office. His telephones were still being repeatedly swept for signs of wiretapping, but Kissinger insisted that such surveillance not be placed on a routine basis with any single agency. Special teams from the Secret Service, CIA, FBI, or National Security Agency would be summoned to his office at random and on short notice to inspect the telephones, raising the inevitable question among Kissinger's staff: Who was the enemy? One aide, asked why Kissinger did not simply permanently assign the FBI to monitor his phones, responded: "Who trusted Hoover?"
In 1974 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kissinger repeatedly sought to minimize his interest at this period in the White House wiretap program. "After May of 1970," he said, "I had no basis for knowing whether a tap had been initiated or was continuing.... I construed my instructions from Mr. Haldeman to mean that my tangential connection with the program was being terminated." Kissinger testified that in mid-October of 1970, when a second wiretap was authorized for Hal Sonnenfeldt, who was then Kissinger's closest personal friend on the NSC staff, his role was even more tangential. " ... it is hard to imagine the flood of material that goes across my desk. I am apt to look at something and say this is for somebody else and throw it into my out basket. Most of these documents are not noted for extraordinary precision." The less-than-precise document in question in Sonnenfeldt's case, however, was an FBI summary of a wiretap on the Israeli Embassy in which Richard N. Perle, an aide to Senator Henry Jackson, was overheard discussing classified information that had been supplied to him by someone on the National Security Council staff. Hoover, following normal practice with sensitive materials from embassy wiretaps, had sent the document to Kissinger. Kissinger hesitated a few days. Then, despite his insistence that he was out of the internal-security business after May of 1970, he forwarded the material to Haldeman, who immediately telephoned Hoover, according to FBI documents, and ordered that the FBI be assigned to determine which NSC staffer was in contact with Richard Perle.
Haldeman and Nixon must have hit the roof. In a telephone call on October 15, 1970, to Hoover, Haldeman invoked the name of Henry Kissinger in asking for another wiretap on Sonnenfeldt. Kissinger had to realize that Haldeman and Hoover would suspect Sonnenfeldt, who was known from previous wiretaps to have close ties to the Israelis as well as to Perle. Sonnenfeldt, a former State Department intelligence official, had been repeatedly investigated by the FBI for other suspected leaks early in his career, and Kissinger, as he told the Senate committee, was aware that Sonnenfeldt had "been the subject of a malicious campaign by a group of individuals who had been out to get him for a long time." But Al Haig was now part of that groupanother fact Kissinger surely knew. Sonnenfeldt had been among Haig's early rivals in 1969 for the job as assistant to Kissinger; that, plus Sonnenfeldt's continued closeness to Kissingerdespite the mistreatment Kissinger handed outwas enough for Haig to mark him permanently as the enemy. It was inconceivable that Kissinger would not realize the consequences of his act in turning over the Israeli Embassy wiretap to Haldeman, who would inevitably link Sonnenfeldt, a Jew, to the intercepted conversation. Kissinger was, in essence, turning in his closest remaining friend on his staff. It had to be, at best, a painful moment. Kissinger handled questions about the Sonnenfeldt wiretap from the Senate committee in his usual fashion: he dissembled. "I have no recollection of this at all," he testified. "All that could have happened is that the FBI sent over something off a tap on the Israeli Embassy which I did not think was relevant to my concern and on which I wrote, 'Give this to Haldeman.'" The committee members apparently accepted that explanation.
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; Kissinger and Nixon in the White House - 05.82; Volume 249, No. 5; page 35-58.