Kissinger and Nixon in the White House - Page 3
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ort Halperin's wiretap not only provided valuable political information about Senator Muskie's foreign-policy planning, as relayed by Les Gelb and others, but also enabled the White House to learn more about the one former insider who truly was capable of leaking vital secretsDaniel Ellsberg.
Ellsberg, like Halperin, was a source of embarrassment for Kissinger, who had permitted himdespite his dovish reputationto draft one of the administration's first options papers on the Vietnam War. Ellsberg had spent the month of March, 1969, in Washington, working quietly on Vietnam issues for the White House. He had worked with Kissinger in South Vietnam in the middle 1960s, and the men had been impressed with each other. Kissinger would tell his colleagues that he had "learned more about Vietnam" from Ellsberg than from any other American. Ellsberg thought Kissinger understood, as he had come to, that the war was unwinnable. During the twenty-one months of the wiretap on Halperin, Ellsberg was over-heard fifteen times by the FBI. Their conversations revolved around Vietnam and what both men correctly perceived as the administration's secret plan to escalate the war. Halperin was careful, of course, on his telephone, but Ellsberg was not. He talked openly about drug use and sex. It is not known how Nixon, Haldeman, or Mitchell reacted to the connection of Ellsberg, drugs, and Morton Halperin; such revelations, however, could not have enhanced Kissinger's reputation as an employer of prudent aides. Halperin and Ellsberg knew literally hundreds of government secrets, ranging from the most specific information about America's nuclear-targeting procedures to the working of the National Security Agency's far-flung electronic eavesdropping operations. The White House's concern was not limited, however, to past secrets that Ellsberg and Halperin could expose; the men at the top were worried about what Ellsberg and Halperin thought the administration's future war policy was. Late in the summer of 1969, Ellsberg had visited with Halperin, who was still a White House consultant, to share his insights into the war policy, and it was then, Ellsberg recalls, that Halperin first informed him of the B-52 bombing of Cambodia and of a secret warning by Kissinger to the Soviets about escalation in Vietnam. Halperin also described Kissinger's repeated studies on the mining of Haiphong harbor, and speculated that Richard Nixon would not go through the 1972 election without putting his escalation plan into effect.
Both men knew that the Johnson Administration had much earlier sought to bully North Vietnam into accepting a defeat in the south. Diplomatic documents, still unpublished then, showed that Ho Chi Minh was warned in August of 1964 that unless his nation ceased its support of the Viet Cong in the south, "it can expect to continue to suffer the consequences." The warning, delivered by J. Blair Seaborn, the Canadian member of the International Control Commission, came a few days after American planes bombed the north for the first time, in retaliation for what Washington said was a North Vietnamese attack on American warships in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Ellsberg had been officially aware of the Seaborn mission, and he recalls the response to the threat: within months, one of the best North Vietnamese battalions had begun infiltrating the south. "They did it when they were staring right down the barrel at LBJ`s threats," he says. He was convinced after his talks with Halperin that Nixon and Kissinger were going to make the same threats with the same results. Ellsberg began to brood about doing what Halperin would nottalk publicly against the war.
Over the next year, he began to meet privately with influential journalists and business groups to attempt to describe what he thought was the real Nixon strategy. His message was that Nixon's coercion strategy was a contingency plan that would go into effect only if the threats made against the North Vietnamese did not work. "I wasn't saying," Ellsberg recalls, "that they had a conscious plan that on a certain date they would enlarge the war. Escalation was not in their thoughts, but they were committing themselves to threats that would fail." Ellsberg told his audiences that the administration was being honest, to a degree, in publicly claiming that it did not want to enlarge the war and did not expect to do so. But there was a missing link, one he sought futilely to provide to his listeners: "They were making explicit threats which they expected to be effective without being carried out, and it was this that they were not hinting at or telling anybody." No one paid much attentionexcept in the White House.
In September of 1970, Kissinger agreed to meet with Ellsberg at San Clemente. Why Kissinger did so is not clearneedless to say, Ellsberg was not mentioned in the first volume of Kissinger's memoirs. Whatever Kissinger's motive, there was nothing outwardly unseemly about their meeting: as of September, 1970, Ellsberg had yet to be linked to any leak of classified materials and was widely known inside the government as a leading theorist on decision-making. The appointment coincided with a burgeoning crisis over the PLO and Jordan in the Middle East. Kissinger began, Ellsberg recalls, by saying, "I'm afraid Rogers's policy is going to explode." Ellsberg responded, "Well, Henry, I'm here to talk about your Vietnam policy. I'm afraid it may explode. " For the next ten minutes or so, Ellsberg quickly summarized his view of the White House's threat strategy in Vietnam, which hinged on a series of escalations that included an invasion of Laos and the mining of Haiphong harbor. "I thought to myself," Ellsberg says, "if I'm right, he's got to be hemorrhaging inside." Kissinger said nothing, drumming his fingers on a table and staring intently as Ellsberg talked. When Ellsberg concluded, Kissinger said only, "I do not want to discuss our policy; let us turn to another subject." Ellsberg, who was not easily put off, turned the talk to the Pentagon Papers. He knew that Kissinger was aware of the history project and had been invited to be a consultant in its initial stages. Kissinger acknowledged that there was a copy in the White House safe but said that he had not looked at it. Should he? Ellsberg recalls that he urged Kissinger to read at least the summaries, the few pages condensing each volume. Kissinger said he did not want to do so. "Do we really have anything to learn from this study?" he asked. At this point, Ellsberg says, "My heart sank."
"The major lesson of the study was that each person repeated the same patterns in decision-making and pretty much the same policy as his predecessor without even knowing it. I thought, 'My God! He's in the same state of mind as all the other makers of decision in this long process, each of whom thought that history had started with his administration, and had nothing to learn from earlier ones.'" Ellsberg, who had begun illicitly photocopying the Pentagon Papers late in 1969, would soon turn to a newsman he knew from Vietnam, Neil Sheehan of The New York Times.
Kissinger and Ellsberg met face to face once more before publication of the Pentagon Papers, at a private conference on the war held at MIT on the last weekend in January of 1971. The weekend meeting was sponsored by a moderate group of student leaders, academics, journalists, businessmen, and former government officials, and Kissinger, still the administration's most effective lobbyist with such a group of establishment liberals, as Nixon viewed them, flew from Washington, to speak off the record. It was a tour de force at first, with Kissinger being charming and disarming as usual, confiding to the group that Richard Nixon had not been his first choice for the presidency and telling a questioner that he would resign his position if, as Ellsberg recalls, the "whole trend of the policy became morally reprehensible to me." Even then, he added, he would not publicly attack the President if he did resign"unless gas chambers were set up or some horrendous moral outrage." Finally Ellsberg rose. The NSC staff, he said, was known to have made estimates on the number of Americans who would be killed during the next year of the war. "What is your best estimate of the number of Vietnamese who will be killed in the next twelve months as a consequence of your policy?"
Derek Shearer, a former Yale University student who attended the conference, described in The Nation what happened next. When Kissinger responded, "his voice sounded suddenly less certain; he hesitated, then called Ellsberg's question 'cleverly worded.' 'I answer even if I don't answer,' he said. Ellsberg interrupted to say that he had no intention of being clever, that this was a basic questionwere such estimates made? Kissinger started to say that one had to consider the options. 'I know the option game, Dr. Kissinger,' said Ellsberg, 'can't you just give us an answer or tell us that you don't have such estimates?' Kissinger again evaded the question; he said the question had racist overtones. Ellsberg pressed him again. For the first time the meeting took on the air of confrontationthen the student moderator stood up and abruptly ended the questioning, saying that Dr. Kissinger was tired and thanked him for coming. The audience, save a few of us, applauded."
On June 13,1971, The New York Times began to publish the Pentagon Papers, ending Daniel Ellsberg's twenty-month attempt to get those documents on the public record. By the afternoon of June 14, the White House had decided to challenge the nation's most influential newspaper directly, and the next day filed suit in federal court seeking to halt publication of the material. Richard Nixon had chosen to defend the record of his Democratic predecessors in Vietnam. The administration's court suit turned what had been a first-rate newspaper story into a national event. The papers and the man who leaked them, Daniel Ellsberg, were the most prominent news story in the country for a monthuntil it was announced, on July 15, that Henry Kissinger had silently stolen into Peking for his astonishing meeting with Chou En-Lai, ending a diplomatic impasse between the United States and China that had begun in 1949.
II. The Plumbers
n the early evening of June 17, 1971, Henry Kissinger held forth in the Oval Office, telling his President, and John Ehrlichman and Bob Haldeman, all about Daniel Ellsberg. Kissinger's comments were recorded, of course, on the hidden White House taping system, and four years later, a portion of that tape was listened to by the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, which was then investigating the internal White House police unit known as the Plumbers.
The special prosedution force had informally agreed with the White House early in the Watergate inquiry that all of the Nixon-Kissinger meetings were prima facie concerned with national-security matters, and none of their extensive conversations was ever subpoenaed. Prosecution files made available to me show, however, that Kissinger, who took part in the fifty-minute meeting on June 17, was inadvertently overheard expressing concern not only about Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers but also about other documents and secrets he might make public. On that day, or the day before, perhaps, the White House learned that Ellsberg had also provided Senator Charles McC. Mathias, Jr., a liberal Republican, of Maryland, with a copy of one of the administration's first studies on Vietnam. Mathias had brought the top-secret document to the White House Situation Room, where it was verified as authentic.
Nixon was most anxious about the Brookings Institution, a liberal think-tank in Washington to which Mort Halperin had gone after leaving Kissinger's staff. Also at Brookings was Leslie Gelb, who, many in the White House believed, was involved in the Pentagon Papers leak to the Times. At one point during the meeting, prosecution files show, Nixon and Kissinger spoke of the possibility that other top-secret documents were stored in Halperin's or Gelb's safe at Brookings, awaiting future release. "They've got the stuff over there," Nixon said. "Stuff that we can't even get out of there from the Pentagon." Kissinger responded: "Can't we send someone over there to get it back?"
No attempt was actually made by the White House to get access, legally or by other means, to the documents believed stored by Halperin and Gelb, although many plansincluding a proposed fire-bombingwere discussed over the next few weeks. Kissinger was not a target of the Special Prosecution Force, and his taped comment had no immediate relevance. Knowledge of the June 17 tape was kept tightly sealed inside the Special Prosecution Force's files. "There was incredible ambivalence about the whole thing," one Watergate attorney recalls. "Do you want to go up against him? Kissinger was being promoted by everybody as the one guy in the administration who's solidand he's threatening to resign. I got a sense that if we found something that finished Henry, the country was going to be in bad shape."
Kissinger escaped any serious investigation during Watergate, as those attorneys who had some doubts soon found themselves immersed in various other matters. One prosecution official, discussing that White House tape recording years later, recalled a quality of Kissinger's conduct in front of Nixon, Ehrlichman, and Haldeman that made him wish he could have listened to more of Kissinger's Oval Office meetings. "He was like one of the boys, talking tough. One says, 'Let's bring knives.' Another says, 'Let's bring bats.' And Henry pipes up, 'Let's bring zip-guns.'" The prosecutor recalled his surprise at hearing Kissinger: "I thought he might have been classier."
Kissinger dominated the meeting on June 17 with his description of Ellsberg and the threat to national security he posed. Ehrlichman's notes of the meeting, as later published during the House impeachment inquiry, showed that Kissinger depicted Ellsberg as a half-crazed genius whose views on the war had turned dovish with excessive drug use and aberrant sexuality. It was a shrewd performance, which played perfectly to the prejudices and preconceptions of Nixon and his two top aides. It was also an exercise in character assassination, similar in intent, if not in degree, to Kissinger's performance in maligning Morton Halperin in front of the President. Ehrlichman's notes showed that Kissinger described Ellsberg as a "genius" who was the "brightest student" Kissinger had ever had at Harvard. (In fact, Kissinger had never taught Ellsberg.) Ellsberg was further described by Kissinger as one who "shot at peasants" while serving in Vietnam and who seemed "always a little unbalanced." (Ellsberg has emphatically denied ever shooting at civilians while in Vietnam.) Kissinger then recounted Ellsberg's alleged use of drugs, information that he could have learned only from the White House wiretaps. Kissinger said that he hadn't seen Ellsberg in one and a half years, except for the meeting at MIT at which Ellsberg "heckled" Kissingeranother lie, for the two had met the previous September at San Clemente, where Ellsberg had urged Kissinger to read the Pentagon Papers. Ehrlichman's notes at that point included the phrase "Murder in Laos," a reference, obviously made by Kissinger, to an early 1971 essay by Ellsberg in the New York Review of Books in which Ellsberg restated the theme, initially expressed at MIT, that the White House had made no estimate and took no account of civilian casualties in analyzing its Vietnam programs.
Kissinger's performance on June 17 was all the more remarkable because he had, in essence, run through the same allegations the day before in front of the President, but not in front of Haldeman and Ehrlichman. On June 16, Charles Colson had taken two young Vietnam veterans, John O'Neill and Melville L. Stephens, both of whom were supporters of the White House's war policies, to visit the President in the late afternoon. After a few moments of conversation, Colson recalls, the President summoned Kissinger to his office. Responding with enthusiasm to the President's obvious cue, Kissinger proceeded to give a twenty-minute diatribe on Ellsberg, which Colson recalls as "one of his most passionate tirades. He described Ellsberg as a sexual pervert, said he shot Vietnamese from helicopters in Vietnam, used drugs, had sexual relations with his wife in front of their children. Henry said he was the most dangerous man in America today. He said he 'must be stopped at all costs.'" Melville Stephens, who later joined the White House staff, confirms Colson's account and recalls leaving the Oval Office convinced that Ellsberg "obviously had access to lots of other sensitive documents."
Nixon's and Kissinger's concern about Ellsberg was real, but there was obviously also an element of performance in the White House hysteria that Kissinger created and Nixon encouraged in the first few days after publication of the Pentagon Papers. These must have been extremely difficult days for Kissinger. (He was, for one thing, on the eve of his secret trip to China.) He had to distance himself from Ellsberg quickly and decisively to ensure the President's continued trust. After all, he had brought Ellsberg onto the Security Council staff as a consultant and encouraged him to work on the review of Vietnam policy in early 1969 that had ended up in Senator Mathias's office. Furthermore, Kissinger himself was mentioned in the Pentagon Papers in connection with his role in the Johnson Administration in seeking diplomatic contact with the North Vietnamese. Kissinger also knew far more about the project than anyone in the White House: despite his later disavowals, he had read some of its most sensitive volumes, dealing with negotiations to end the war. Thus, the publication of the papers directly threatened Kissinger by serving as yet another example of his poor judgmentin the view of the President and his advisersin the staffing of his office. Ellsberg was a personal-security threat.
Richard Nixon understood almost immediately that the Pentagon Papers posed no threat to national security but provided a vital opportunity to score political points against the anti-war movement and the liberal Democrats. Now he could cite national security as the basis for striking at a small group of Muskie advisers, including Mort Halperin, Tony Lake, and Leslie Gelb, who had been overheard repeatedly denigrating the White House on the wiretaps.
By mid-June of 1971, the White House had already been threatened with exposure of its wiretapping by J. Edgar Hoover, who understood only too welland let the President and his advisers know he understoodthat national security had little to do with the twenty-one months of wiretapping. If there was to be a break-in at Brookings, or other clandestine activities against the Democrats, the national-security justification would have to be airtight. Kissinger, with his harangues against Ellsberg and his warnings of national calamity, was providing Nixon with the rationale and the protection he needed to initiate what Hoover had stopped in 1970the Huston plan, with its call for the FBI, with the aid of other intelligence agencies, to make aggressive use of wiretapping, illegal break-ins, and other techniques to monitor and combat the more extreme elements of the anti-war and black-liberation movements.
n late June of 1971, Kissinger was far busier than anyone else in the White House. Planning for the secret trip to China was imposing enough, but he had other travel plans as well. He was scheduled to meet with Le Duc Tho in Paris on June 26, to receive Hanoi's response to a revised American peace offer that had been made secretly in May. Kissinger arranged for a public two-day visit to London beginning on June 24, in part to disguise his mission across the English Channel. There were other pressing issues: the fall presidential elections in South Vietnam; the nearly concluded four-power talks on Berlin (which Kissinger and Nixon were trying to manipulate in the back channel, to prevent the State Department from claiming a success); and the continuing efforts by the State Department to work out a Middle East settlement.
Despite Kissinger's growing ascendancy inside the White House, Secretary of State Rogers was still a constant source of insecurity for him and one reason he saw the China trip as all-important. A successful visit to Peking would deliver a telling blow to Rogers's prestige and effectiveness, Kissinger realized. There was nothing in the Pentagon Papers that would jeopardize the China rapprochement; the far greater threat came from Ellsberg and the President's obsession with the idea that the NSC staff was not trustworthy. Over the next few months, as Nixon continued to focus on the Pentagon Papers and other leaks, Kissinger would not dare to do other than fully support his President. His heavy travel schedule posed an obvious problem, and it was Al Haig who inevitably was assigned the major liaison role for the National Security Council as the White House organized the Plumbers unit in early July.
During the 1973 Senate Foreign Relations Committee inquiry into wiretapping, Kissinger was askedalmost casuallyabout the White House attempts in mid-1971 to make political use out of the Pentagon Papers. Kissinger's response seemed plausible: "There were a number of individuals in the White House who occasionally made requests of various kinds, which, as a matter of principle, I refused.... I frankly thought there were a few Boy Scouts who were trying to win some points, and I always rejected them."
In the first volume of his memoirs, Kissinger went even further in his protestations and suggested that the political opportunism that the Pentagon Papers provoked in the Oval Office had little to do with him: "The sudden release of over 7,000 pages of secret documents came as a profound shock to the Administration. The documents, of course, were in no way damaging to the Nixon presidency. Indeed, there was some sentiment among White House political operatives to exploit them as an illustration of the machinations of our predecessors and the difficulties we inherited. But such an attitude seemed to me against the public interest: Our foreign policy could never achieve the continuity on which other nations must depend, and our system of government would surely lose all trust if each President used his control of the process of declassification to smear his predecessors."
Kissinger found it easy to take the high road in his memoirs, but the reality of the White House in 1971 did not permit such indulgence. To stand aside quietly and allow a group of political operatives to become involved in an investigation of national-security leaks involving his office, and his judgment, was unthinkable. The delicate task of defending both the National Security Council staff and Henry Kissinger inside the Oval Office fell to Al Haig, who played a pivotal role in the summer and fall of 1971 as the White House began its illegal activities against Daniel Ellsberg and others conveniently believed by John Mitchell and some of his aides in the Justice Departmentas well as by the Presidentto be involved in a political conspiracy against the White House and the Vietnam War. Haig had been faithful to Kissinger during the nearly two years of wiretapping. It was Haig who directly exposed himself by regularly consulting with FBI officials and who was responsible, in large measure, for drafting and signing the documents that relayed Kissinger's wiretap instructions to the FBI. Haig was bureaucratically sophisticated, as an ambitious Army officer had to be, and he would know how to protect Kissinger when things got rough behind his backas Kissinger knew they would. Kissinger's decision in late 1968 to bring Daniel Ellsberg into the White House as a consultant had turned out to be a mistake for which he would pay in the Oval Office; the issue was how to limit the damage.
Nixon began his attacks on the National Security Council staff within days of Kissinger's departure for Peking. On July 2, Ehrlichman was assigned full responsibility for investigating the Ellsberg case by the President, and ordered to appoint a staff aide to devote himself full-time to the "conspiracy" involving Ellsberg and his fellow Democrats. A continuing Nixon concern was Hoover and the FBI, which, the White House believed, was less than enthusiastic about the investigation of Ellsberg and his fellow conspirators. On July 6, Ehrlichman's notes quoted Nixon explicitly expressing his feeling about Kissinger's staff: "Can't assume NSC staff not participants" in the assumed conspiracy. The President suggested that Larry Lynn, the former Kissinger aide who was then an assistant secretary at HEW, be given a lie-detector test to determine his involvement. He told Ehrlichman to "put a non-legal team on the conspiracy"and thus the Plumbers unit was born.
There was also talk that day of a "Communist" link to Ellsberga connection that no government agency was ever able to demonstrate. Three days later, while Kissinger was in China, the President told Ehrlichman and Haldeman that Kissinger's "staff must be cleaned out." By that day, too, Ehrlichman had found the right man to direct the "non-legal" team sought by the PresidentDavid Young, one of Kissinger's former personal aides. Nixon approved the choice and asked Ehrlichman to bring Young in for a face-to-face meeting. One of Young's functions would be to investigate Kissinger's NSC staff. Kissinger, in China, was not to be bothered by the new "special duty" for Young, but Al Haig would be informed, Ehrlichman's notes showed.
By mid-1971, Young was one of the few remaining members of the National Security Council staff who had worked closely with Kissinger and befriended him prior to Nixon's election. Young, then thirty-four years old, had met Kissinger while working on Nelson Rockefeller's 1968 presidential campaign. His credentials seemed impeccable: he was associated with a prominent Wall Street law firm and had attended Oxford before graduating from Cornell University law school in the early 1960s. After Nixon's election, Young approached Kissinger to volunteer his services, and he was put on the NSC staff in early 1970 to help handle Kissinger's scheduling and other personal matters. By all accounts, the balding, seemingly self-assured lawyer was dutiful in his loyalty to Kissinger. Young's wife took care of Kissinger's laundry, and he, according to former NSC aides, was responsible for buying some of Kissinger's clothing. One aide recalls inadvertently finding a note from Young to Kissinger asking, in essence: "Did you like the tie? I thought it would go well with your blue suit." The Kissinger-Young relationship soured, nonetheless, as did most of Kissinger's relationships with his personal aides, and David R. Halperin, a former Navy officer, was added to Kissinger's personal staff. Young had been unable to outmanipulate Haig, and by late 1970 began to tell his friends inside the White House about his desire to assume a more substantive role in the government.
In the second volume of his memoirs, Years of Upheaval, Kissinger acknowledged that Young had run "afoul" of Haig, and claimed that he had been shifted in January of 1971 "from my immediate office to a make-work job of research in the White House Situation Room." There is evidence, however, that Younghis "make-work job" to the contrary notwithstandingcontinued to be directly involved in some of the most sensitive and closely held issues in the White House. On January 25, 1971, for example, Kissinger brought Young and no other aide to a meeting with the chairman, general counsel, and chief security officer of the Atomic Energy Commission to discuss the security clearance of the operator of a nuclear-fuel-processing plant in Pennsylvania, who was suspected of helping to divert 200 pounds of highly enriched uranium to the Israelis. Adding to the sensitivity of the meeting was the fact that agents from Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, were believed by some CIA officials to have been involved in the diversion of the uraniumenough material to make five to ten nuclear bombs. Within months, however, Young's meaningful role inside Kissinger's staff had eroded to the point where he approached John Ehrlichman and appealed for a job on the Domestic Council. "Young came to me," Ehrlichman recalls, "and literally broke down and cried. He felt he'd been badly treated by Kissinger and didn't know what to do." Young complained that Kissinger no longer "was seeing him, " Ehrlichman says, "and Haig was bedeviling him." It was against this background that Ehrlichman had proposed Young for the Plumbers job in early July of 1971, before Kissinger returned from China, in the belief that Kissinger would not object. Young later told a friend on the NSC staff that Kissinger's heated objection created a "major battle" that was settled, after Nixon's intervention, with a compromise. Young's friend, one of few in whom Young confided, further recalls: "David told me that the deal that was worked out was that David would be on loan to other people but Kissinger could call on him whenever he wanted. He did see Henry from time to time; he said Henry still had some kind of claim on him."
By July 6, there was an added element in the White House anxiety: Nixon's insistence once again that the Brookings Institution be penetrated and that Gelb's and Halperin's files be removed and returned to the White House. The catalyst in Nixon's renewed concern was Charles Colson, the President's political aide, who had obtained a 1969 Brookings brochure announcing a two-year history project on the Vietnam War by Leslie Gelb, which was to culminate with the publication of a "balanced and accurate history ..." Ellsberg, according to the brochure, was on an advisory panel for the study, along with John J. McCloy, the international lawyer, and Stanley Hoffmann, the Harvard political scientist. The timing indicated, Colson told Ehrlichman in a subsequent memorandum, that "another installment of the Pentagon Papers" would be made public in a few months. When Nixon learned of the new study, Colson recalls, he "blew up at Haldeman" and said, "God dammit, Bob, haven't we got that capability in place? How many times am I going to have to tell you? Get'em [the White House documents believed to be in Brookings] back." After the meeting, Haldeman took Colson aside and said, Colson recalls, "Well, you heard the President. Take care of it."
Over the next two months, there was repeated and serious talk inside the White House of a possible fire-bombing of Brookings in an effort to steal the classified papers believed to be stored there. The project eventually came to the attention of G. Gordon Liddy, the former FBI agent, and E. Howard Hunt, the former CIA operative, who had been hired, with Ehrlichman's eventual approval, to work in the Plumbers unit. In his memoirs, Liddy wrote that he and Hunt developed a plan in September to buy a used fire engine and firemen's uniforms for a squad of Cubans who would be trained in fire-fighting techniques "so their performance would be believable." Brookings would "be firebombed" with delayed-timing devices; the Cubans would respond, "hit the vault [where Nixon believed the documents were held], and get themselves out in the confusion...." The plan was rejected as being too expensive, Liddy wrote. (All of this scheming took place after Liddy, Hunt, and the Cubans had broken into the Beverly Hills office of Dr. Lewis J. Fielding, Ellsberg's psychoanalyst, in a futile effort to find Ellsberg's psychiatric records or other possibly detrimental information.
issinger was being protected from direct participation in all of this by Al Haig, who emerged over the summer as more indispensable than ever. There is no evidence that Haig had knowledge of the proposed firebombing of Brookings in mid-1971, but according to Haldeman's memoirs, he had joined in similar planning with Haldeman in 1969 at Nixon's request. More significant, there is evidence that Haig was involved in an effort during the summer of 1971, also triggered by the President, to conceal the fact that Ellsberg had been overheard on the White House wiretaps.
Haig's first known involvement in the White House's campaign against Daniel Ellsbergaccording to unpublished records of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force made available to mewas on July 12, 1971, at San Clemente, where Nixon and his top aides gathered to discuss the question of Ellsberg's repeated appearances on the White House wiretaps. Ellsberg had been indicted on June 28 by the Justice Department and charged with violations of the theft, espionage, and conspiracy statutes for his act in photocopying the Pentagon Papers. Within a few days, the Internal Security Division of the Justice Department, following routine practice, formally requested that the FBI check its wiretap logs to determine whether Ellsberg had been overheard. On July 9, the Internal Security Division filed a second request, asking the FBI also to check its records on potential grand-jury witnesses in the case, including Morton Halperin, Leslie Gelb, and Neil Sheehan, the New York Times reporter to whom Ellsberg had provided access to the papers.
The duplicity in all of this was immense, because the head of the Internal Security Division at the time was Robert Mardian, and he, as Watergate prosecutors later learned, knew of the White House wiretapping. On July 6, Nixon, Mitchell, Ehrlichman, and Haldeman met in the Oval Office and discussedalmost casuallythe importance of reviewing the wiretap records to see whether some detrimental information about Ellsberg and his suspected collaborators would be revealed. "In light of this," Haldeman said at one point, according to an unpublished Watergate Special Prosecution Force transcript of that meeting, "some of that stuff may be a hell of a lot more meaningful now ..." Mitchell responded: "I've had them reviewed in the Bureau [FBI]." Haldeman said that there were "a lot of conversations with Sheehan in them, to my recollection." Mitchell, after some discussion, acknowledged, "Bob is right. You never know what those taps mean ..."
The revived interest in the White House wiretaps also prompted William Sullivan, who was then in the midst of a bitter dispute with J. Edgar Hoover, to visit Mardian and warn him, as Mardian later testified, that Hoover could not be trusted and might seek to blackmail Nixon, as he had blackmailed other Presidents, because of the wiretap material. Sullivan, who suspected that he would soon be fired by Hoover, also told Mardian that he had physical possession of the FBI's set of wiretap logs and summaries. On July 11, Mardian flew to the California White House for a meetng with Nixon and his closest aides the next morning. By then, the FBI still had not responded to the Justice Department requests for wiretapping information on Ellsberg and the potential grand-jury witnesses.
John Ehrlichman's notes of the July 12 meeting, from the still-unpublished prosecution files that were made available to me, suggest that Mardian raised the issue of the Hoover threat with the President; the President and his aides also discussed the problem posed by formally admitting that Ellsberg had been overheard. To do so would obviously reveal the Kissinger wiretaps. Nixon, according to Ehrlichman's notes, ordered Haldeman to "recover documents from Haig"that is, the set of wiretap summaries and logs in Kissinger's office. The President then said: "O.K. Obtain and destroy all logs.... Tell Hoover to destroy." A few moments later, according to the notes, the President, again discussing the wiretap records, ordered Haig, who was not at the meeting, to return the White House copies of the summaries and logs to Sullivan's office in the FBI. Sullivan was then to forward all the documents to Mardian's office "for destruction," Nixon ordered. There was to be an additional role for Haig, Nixon said, according to Ehrlichman's notes: "Haig request the F.B.I. (Sullivan) to destroy all special coverage." Thus Haig, who had played a role in setting up the White House wiretaps, was ordered to help get rid of the evidence, along with Mardian, the senior Justice Department official who had signed the formal letter to the FBI requesting all wiretap information on Ellsberg and the others. The FBI eventually reported that Ellsberg had not been overheard on a wiretap and also said that Halperin and the other potential grand-jury witnesses had not been the subjects of direct wiretaps. (The failure of senior FBI officials to respond honestly to the Ellsberg requests later became the focus of an extensive criminal investigation by the Watergate prosecutors, but no charges were filed.
Haig, even more than Kissinger, was a presidential insider that summer, one who could be trusted to play "hardball"even on an issue as sensitive and potentially damaging as the destruction of Ellsberg wiretap evidence at the height of the government's prosecution of the heavily publicized Pentagon Papers case. Kissinger returned from Peking and Paris early on the morning of July 13, the day after the fateful decision on the wiretaps. Did Haig tell Kissinger what was going on? Former National Security Council staff aides, in scores of interviews, have said it is inconceivable that he did not. Kissinger's denialsoften madeof any knowledge of the White House's activities involving Daniel Ellsberg or the Plumbers unit were taken at face value by many in the public and the media throughout the Watergate inquiry in the mid-1970s, largely because so little was known about the full extent of Haig's complicity. Haig did more than merely know what was going on in the White House: he was part of it.
Later on July 13, two days before Nixon's announcement of the secret visit to Peking, Kissinger was formally told by Ehrlichman that David Young was leaving his staff to work on the Ellsberg investigation. In an interview with me, Ehrlichman recalled an extended conversation with Kissinger aboard the presidential helicopter at San Clemente in which the functions of the Plumbers operation were specifically discussed: David Young would be investigating leaks. Kissinger resisted bitterly, Ehrlichman recalled: "Henry had no objection to the activity, but he didn't want to give up Young." The President decided that Young would join forces with Egil (Bud) Krogh, Jr., one of Ehrlichman's aides on the White House Domestic Council, to set up the "non-legal" internal-investigations unit. Kissinger's concern about Young's departure was inevitable and, in part, almost reflexive: aides such as Young, who were permitted access to many of the back-channel secrets and some of Kissinger's private telephone conversations, knew far too much. Young knew, for example, about the White House wiretaps, and was provided with, or took, copies of some of the wiretap summaries and perhaps some of the original FBI logs of the Halperin-Ellsberg conversations when he went to the new Plumbers office in the basement of the Old Executive Office Building.
David Young would escape prosecution in the Ellsberg case by cooperating with the Watergate Special Prosecution Force's investigation of Ehrlichman, who was convicted in 1974 of violating Ellsberg's civil rights and lying to a grand jury; no investigator from the prosecution force or the House Judiciary Committee ever formally questioned him on the link, as co-director of the Plumbers, to Henry Kissinger.
In his public statements, Kissinger has insisted that he did not know in 1971 that Young had left his staff to set up Nixon's special investigation unit. In a private briefing for a group of Time magazine executives in early 1974, Kissinger declared: "Let me put David Young's relationship to me in perspective. He was not a big man in my life, and I was in his life." As far as he was concerned, Kissinger said, Young had been reassigned only to handle declassification matters for the President. That, of course, was the cover story used by Young to explain his new job to his friends and associates. Kissinger, despite his denials, not only knew the truth about Young's important new role but must have suspected that Young's most urgent assignment would be to investigate the NSC staff and even Kissinger's personal involvement with White House leaks.
The President and all of his senior adviserswith the exception of Kissingerwere enthusiastic about the Plumbers and the concept of the White House taking charge of "national-security" investigations. Richard V. Allen, Kissinger's former aide who had returned to the White House in 1971 to help handle foreign-trade issues, recalls hearing Haldeman describe Howard Hunt that summer as a "balls-out" CIA operative. Nixon was then moving to the right politically as part of his drive to capture the hard-hat Middle America vote, and punishing Daniel Ellsberg for releasing the Pentagon Papers fit right in. The President also began relying more on John Connally, the conservative Texan who had been named treasury secretary in late 1970, and who was emergingto Kissinger's dismayas a rival for the President's ear. Men such as Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt were viewed as exciting additions to the Plumbers unit; they were tough and experienced agents ready to operate clandestinely on behalf of the President and his re-election. Egil Krogh, Ehrlichman's aide who was assigned to direct the Plumbers, along with David Young, could also be tough when it came to the President and national security.
Charles Cooke, Elliot Richardson's longtime aide, initiated a series of casual lunches at the White House and elsewhere with Krogh shortly after moving with Richardson to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, in 1970. Although he and Krogh had many domestic issues to discuss, Cooke recalls, they invariably talked about Vietnam. Late in the year, after Nixon ordered the resumption of bombing in the north, Cooke started to summarize all of the arguments against it, beginning with the factobvious to himthat the war was in the south and could only be won on the ground there. "Krogh just blew up," Cooke recalls: "'My God, don't you people understandthe man [Richard Nixon] is going to blow them off the face of the earth unless they cave in.' That was our last lunch," Cooke says.
Krogh knew little about foreign policy in 1971. He had been brought by Ehrlichman on to the White House Domestic Council in early 1969, after having worked part-time for Ehrlichman's Seattle law firm in the late 1960s, while he was a student at the University of Washington law school. Krogh's primary responsibilities on the Domestic Council revolved around narcotics control, crime prevention, and transportation policy; he also ran the White House command post during the many anti-war rallies that convulsed Washington in the early years of the Nixon Administration. Krogh and Young knew each other casually in mid-1971, but they were not close friends; both were members of a group of White House aides who met occasionally in a Georgetown bar for drinks and freewheeling gossip (although Krogh, a Christian Scientist, does not drink).
Shortly after their assignment as co-directors of the Plumbers, Krogh recalls, Young began doing exattly what Kissinger feared: gossiping about the Kissinger-Nixon relationship. In one of their first extended conversations, Krogh says, Young "told me of the time he was on the phone [listening in] when Nixon and Kissinger were talking. Nixon was drunk and he said, 'Henry, we've got to nuke them.'" The anecdote was chilling, Krogh says, and added a sense of urgency to his mission: the Vietnam War had to be won and Dan Ellsberg had to be stopped. "We were going after an espionage ring, not just Daniel Ellsberg," Krogh explained to John Ehrlichman in 1973 during the Watergate crisis. "We had guys like [Paul] Warnke, Gelb, and Halperin ... Halperin had even been tapped when he was on the NSC staff because they didn't trust him. They thought he was a traitor. We didn't know if there were spies all over this country at that point ..."
Krogh, with his inexperience in foreign policy, may well have believed that such a conspiracy existed. David Young's beliefs are much more difficult to assess. Young knew that a success in the Plumbers job would put him in line for a senior appointment in the Nixon Administration. Did Young really suspect that Ellsberg was part of a conspiracy involving Mort Halperin and other Democrats? Young had access to the Halperin wiretaps, and knew that Ellsberg was as hostile privately about Nixon and Kissinger as he became in his public statements and writings by 1971. But the wiretaps were devoid of any disclosures of national-security information; Ellsberg may have been able correctly to predict the administration's future course of action in the Vietnam War, but he was not violating any laws in so doing. Most of the significant leaks of national-security information, as Young knew, originated in Henry Kissinger's office. Young was also aware that Ellsberg had met with Kissinger the previous September to urge an end to the war; he may have known that Kissinger requested that Ellsberg meet again with him. All of this meant, as Young clearly had to understand, that the issue of Ellsberg was far more complicated than Krogh, Ehrlichman, and the President believed. Yet Young joined with alacrity in the White House machinations against Ellsberg in the summer and fall of 1971.
Further evidence of Haig'sand hence Kissinger'sdirect involvement with the Plumbers was provided in a series of FBI documents released to the Times's William Beecher in a Freedom of Information suit. The documents show that Young and Krogh worked directly with Haig to investigate yet another Beecher revelationa July 23, 1971, dispatch outlining the administration's revised SALT negotiating position. The Times story, which publicly revealed that the administration had decided to seek controls over submarine-launched ballistic missile's (SLBMs), enraged the President and the disarmament community. Nixon summoned Egil Krogh and Ehrlichman to an Oval Office meeting on the next day, a Saturday, and ordered widespread polygraph tests and a revision of the classification system. A few hours later, Krogh called a meeting of his own to discuss the Beecher story; those in attendance included two senior FBI officials, Robert Mardian, Al Haig, Howard Hunt, and David Young, among others. According to an FBI summary of the meeting, Krogh described the President as being "up on the ceiling" about the leak and wanting the sources located within thirty-six hours. General Haig then reported, the FBI memorandum said, "the results of his coordinating and he found that over 200 persons in various agencies, excluding clerical personnel, had access to the [National Security] Decision Memorandurn relating to the U.S. proposals." Haig was thus more than merely participating in the SALT leak inquiry; healong with Krogh, Young, and the other Plumberswas one of its administrators.
Kissinger himself got directly into the internal-security business once again, shortly after his return in late July from another secret meeting in Paris with Le Duc Tho. His target was William Beecher. On July 29, Beecher had done it againreporting that the Nixon Administration had ended its long-standing spy flights over China in an obvious effort to avoid any serious incident before Richard Nixon's summit meeting in early 1972. In a memorandum for the record, W. Donald Stewart, the Pentagon official in charge of investigations, reported that Kissinger had personally telephoned William Sullivan of the FBI to relay "his great concern" about Beecher's new story and to urge a full investigation. Such a request would be perfectly appropriate for the President's national security adviser, but Kissinger, it should be stated again, repeatedly testified during the various Watergate inquiries that he chose to stop dealing in internal-security matters as of May, 1970, when the White House ordered all wiretap summaries to be sent only to Bob Haldeman's office.
n August 5, just a few days after Kissinger's complaint to William Sullivan about the Beecher story, one of the final steps in the wiretap saga took place in Kissinger's office. Robert Mardian, to whom Nixon had assigned the taskalong with Haigof getting rid of the White House wiretap records, visited the NSC offices that day to inspect Kissinger's wiretap records. Mardian had earlier discovered that some copies of the FBI summaries had disappeared in the Justice Department; the suspected culprit was none other than J. Edgar Hoover, who had made clear to the President that he would stop at nothing to protect his job. Exactly what happened to all of the wiretap documents is not known.
The prosecutors did learn, according to unpublished files, that sometime in mid-July, just after the crucial July 12 meeting at San Clemente involving the President, the White House files of Kissinger, Haldeman, and Nixon were stripped of all wiretap summary letters and logs. Those documents were returned to the FBI, Where they eventually came under Mardian's personal control, as Nixon had ordered. Mardian and his aides subsequently determined that a few of the FBI summary letters were missing, and it was that fact that prompted Mardian's visit to Kissinger and Haig. His goal, apparently, was fully to account for Kissinger's copies of the FBI documents, and to ensure that Kissinger's records were consistent with the FBI's tally. It wouldn't do to have such papers floating about the bureaucracy.
Mardian, as the FBI account of the interview reported, "specifically remembered the incident because when he came into the office, Dr. Kissinger addressed a remark which Mr. Mardian felt was in extremely poor taste under the circumstances.... Kissinger said something to the effect, 'Do you have what I said on the phone?' implying, according to Mr. Mardian, that Mardian had results of a wiretap on Dr. Kissinger ... Dr. Kissinger also said that he had been keeping logs for the time when he writes his memoirs, but laughed and said he doesn't keep them any more."
Kissinger and Haig then got down to the business at hand, and carefully went through Kissinger's copy of the wiretap records. It was not clear from Mardian's interview with the FBI whether Kissinger kept a set of the wiretap summaries and logs in his office or merely had a summary of what had been in his possession and previously returned. Mardian later personally delivered all of the collected wiretap records to Nixon, who instructed Ehrlichman to bury them in his files, where they were discovered a few days after Ehrlichman's resignation from the White House in 1973. In his August 5 meeting with Kissinger and Haig, Mardian acknowledged that the careful checking was necessary to ensure that Hoover did not have access to any of the documents, and thus was not in a position to blackmail the White House. Kissinger, in his interview with the Special Prosecution Force in late 1975, also acknowledged that he was aware of Hoover's blackmail threat, although he denied being present when Mardian and Haig went through his office wiretap records. In a report on the interview, the Special Prosecution Force further quoted Kissinger as conceding that he was aware that "the nature of this [Hoover's] blackmail threat related to the embarrassment that would be caused if it were known that newsmen had been tapped."
"Embarrassment" was hardly the word. Kissinger had to realize that such a revelation would have been devastating, not only to him personally but perhaps even to Nixon's re-election campaign. It would also have heightened the resolve of the U.S. anti-war forces. Kissinger suffered through the meeting and the distasteful comparing of wiretap documents with Mardian for the same reason that everyone else in the White House didfear of exposure.
William Sullivan of the FBI understood how far Kissinger would go to avoid embarrassment. Sometime in the spring of 1973, amid the Watergate revelations, he sent Kissinger a memorandum summarizing his understanding of the White House wiretapping, which had yet to become publicly known. The document enraged Kissinger, according to a close aide, but he knew what to do without being told. Sullivan soon became Kissinger's and Haig's choice to be named director of the FBI. It was Haig, Nixon's new chief of staff, who telephoned Elliot Richardson, the newly nominated attorney general, and strongly recommended Sullivan for the job in the first week of May. Richardson's senior aides, J. T. Smith and Jonathan Moore, moved quickly and successfully to prevent Sullivan's nomination. Moore says that he had no special knowledge in arguing against Sullivan. "He was the wrong guy with the wrong history," he says. Within two weeks, Sullivan made available to The New York Times copies of White House wiretap authorizations, which directly linked Kissinger to the requests for wiretaps on his own staff aides.
Kissinger's concern that spring was not only wiretapping. He also had to worry about David Young, who had continued to operateas only a few knewin Kissinger's sphere despite his assignment to the Plumbers.
In the fall of 1980, I obtained access to a private journal that was informally maintained by a key Kissinger aide, who served in a position of confidentiality throughout the Watergate era; it summarized many conversations between Kissinger and the President, as well as between Kissinger and Haig. The journal, made available under the condition that the name of its author not be revealed, showed that Haig was directly receiving progress reports on the Plumbers' activities from David Young. Kissinger was "worried," the journal noted in an entry dated March 15, 1973, "concerning the Plumbers' work." At that date, of course, there had yet to be any public revelation of the existence of the Plumbers unit or of its wrongdoing. As the Watergate scandal unraveled later that spring, the journal further revealed that David Young had emerged as a constant cause of concern for Kissinger. In early June, the journal noted that Kissinger was openly worried about Young and whether he was truly loyal or was just saying that he "was a Kissinger man." At one point that spring, according to the journal, Kissinger even considered reinstating Young as an aide on the NSC staff, to help ensure that he would not tell all he knew.
From the archives:
"The Price of Power" (December 1982)
Kissinger, Nixon, and Chile. By Seymour Hersh
By October of 1975, when Kissinger finally agreed to be interviewed by the Watergate prosecutors, it was safe to do so. Gerald R. Ford was President, and Watergate seemed far removed. In retrospect, Kissinger had made a wise choice in deciding to deny any knowledge whatsoever of the Plumbers operation. Al Haig and David Young kept their silence. If Kissinger had taken another tack and admitted to having some idea of what David Young and Egil Krogh were doing, he would have exposed himself to further inquiries and, inevitably, more admission of knowledge. That Kissinger had lied about his role in the wiretapping and his knowledge of the Plumbers was widely assumed in the Washington press corps, and even inside the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, but Kissinger was permitted to slide by with his half-truths and misstatements. Only Richard Nixon, Alexander Haig, some of the men around them, and a few Watergate prosecutors fortunate enough to have learned what was on the White House tapes understood the truth: Kissinger was involved.
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.