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Reply #55: The Real History of Gerald Ford, Watergate, and the CIA [View All]

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MinM Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Feb-24-08 01:43 AM
Response to Reply #36
55. The Real History of Gerald Ford, Watergate, and the CIA
AntiFascist, here's what Lisa Pease believes Nixon was after:

Real History Blog: The Real History of Gerald Ford, Watergate, and the CIA
The real story of Watergate has never been fully told, although in my opinion, Jim Hougans excellent book Secret Agenda comes closest. He opens by noting that E. Howard Hunt was, at the time of Watergate, on his third retirement from the CIA, implying, of course, that Hunt never really left the agency. (On a side note - I find great irony in E. Howard Hunt being called a plumber because, as Richard Helms once described, the first step in coup plotting was putting in the plumbing. Hunt was ostensibly brought to the White House to plug leaks, hence the overt meaning of the term plumber. But I believe he was working under Helms definition as well.)

Hougan also describes how improbable it was that James McCord, a 40-year veteran of CIAs Office of Security - the in-house police agency that taps, follows, and spies on CIA employees to ensure sure they dont spill agency secrets -- got caught). McCord was a skilled break-in artist, and a skilled placer of taps. So its inconceivable that he bungled the Watergate burglary unless he planned on getting the operatives caught. McCords secretary told the FBI McCord seemed to be saying a permanent goodbye to her when he left the office that day, thanking her for all her work over the years, a very strange thing to say if just going home for the night. McCords secretary also noted that he kept a picture of Richard Helms on his desk at the Republican National Committee, his ostensible employer that was personally inscribed by Helms to McCord.

To me, the most interesting and least discussed piece of the Watergate puzzle is the piece related to Howard Hughes. By the early sixties, the Hughes corporation was already enmeshed with the CIA. Hughes had selected Robert Maheu to run his organization. Maheu had been a CIA asset for years, and was their chosen go-to guy when the Agency decided to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Howard Hughes knew before President John Kennedy and his brother Robert Kennedy did that the CIA was trying to kill Castro. Hughes found out when Maheu had to ask for a leave of absence to run the operation.

The Kennedy brothers found out about the plots shortly after the FBI uncovered a bugging operation in Las Vegas. Sam Giancana, one of the Mafia members hired to kill Castro, had suspected his mistress Phyllis McGuire was having an affair with Dan Rowan (of the Rowan and Martin Laugh-In comedy team). Maheu, as a favor to Giancana, hired a Florida detective to bug Rowans hotel room. But the detective left his equipment in plain sight, and the maid reported the equipment to the police, who contacted the FBI. The CIA admitted to Hoover that CIA was directly involved in the bugging and convinced Hoover not to further investigate. The CIA then told Robert Kennedy about the CIAs use of Giancana in a plot to kill Castro. Given that Robert Kennedy had faced Giancana down in a courtroom (where he famously accused Giancana of giggling like a little girl), trying to prosecute him for Mafia activities, Robert was understandably furious at CIA for using the Mob, and furious at them trying to kill Castro.

In its own Inspector General Report, the CIA reported that while they told Kennedy about the plots that had already concluded, they never divulged that additional plots that were continuing. Ill do a separate post on the Castro plots at some point - but my conclusion will be the same as that in the CIAs internal study, which no proponent of the Kennedys' guilt in this matter ever cites: the Kennedys never approved any plots to kill Castro. The CIA, by its own admission, had no executive authority for these plots.

In 1968, John Meier, who worked for Howard Hughes, learned inadvertently of the CIAs relationship with Howard Hughes when Maheu told Meier that Michael Merhage was going to be working with them in South America, asking Meier to help Merhage with contacts in Ecuador. Meier did, not knowing that Merhage was not really a Hughes employee, but a CIA employee using Hughes company for cover. Merhage assumed that Meier was himself CIA, and spoke openly to Meier about the Agencys interest. (Merhage was so bumbling that one of Meiers Ecuadoran contacts told Meier they had figured Merhage for an agent right away.)

Merhages next bumble takes us right back to the primary subject of this article. Thinking Meier was a CIA man like himself, Merhage gave Meier a directive from the CIA to Hughes dated September 2, 1968, containing a list of American politicians the CIA wanted funded through the Hughes corporation. Among the names Strom Thurmond, Wallace Bennett, Paul Laxalt, James Eastland, and many others, was the name Gerald R. Ford. The CIA wanted Hughes to give money to Fords campaign. (Source: Hughes, Nixon, and the CIA: The Watergate Conspiracy Woodward and Bernstein Missed, by Larry DuBois and Laurence Gonzales, Playboy, September, 1976.) Was the agency rewarding Ford for his service on the Warren Commission?

Shortly after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, John Meier had occasion to speak with J. Edgar Hoover, whom he knew personally. Hoover told Meier that the FBI knew that Maheu had been responsible for the hit on Bobby Kennedy, but that he was powerless against the CIA. He was, of course, powerless, so long as that blackmail photo was out there. (For more on this episode, see my articles on the Robert Kennedy assassination in The Assassinations: Probe Magazine on JFK, MLK, RFK and Malcolm X. And while Meiers credibility is shaky on some issues, I believe it was more than a coincidence that Robert Maheu called John Meier out of the blue, after ten years, the very day I was en route to see Meier. And when I met Meier, it was to talk about a different topic, not the RFK case, which I had not yet written about. This came up tangentially, which made his assertion all the more credible, I felt.)

Two year later, Hoover cut off all communication between the FBI and the CIA. I know Hoover couldnt have done that without risking the exposure of that photo unless he had, by then, put together counterblackmail material. I wonder if Hoovers independence from CIA came, at least in part, from something Hoover could prove about the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968.

After Robert Kennedys assassination, the CIAs relationship with the Hughes organization became even closer. Hughes ordered Maheu to seize the moment and hire away Robert Kennedys political organization. Hughes, ever Machiavellian, knew that Larry O Brien and other top lieutenants from Bobbys campaign would be jobless. Maheu was tasked with hiring them into the Hughes organization. If the CIA was behind the assassination of Robert Kennedy, what better way to keep Kennedys closest associates dependent for their lives and careers on the CIA? In any case, this simple act paved, in many ways, the start of the road to Watergate.

When Nixon took office as President, Hughes ordered Maheu to give Nixon either $100,000 or $1,000,000, depending on whose story you believe. (The official version is $100,000. It makes no difference both were egregious sums, and both amounts were equally illegal for the President to have accepted.) So when Larry OBrien, after working for Hughes, moved over to head the Democratic National Committee, Nixon worried very much what OBrien might know about the Hughes loan.

Terry Lenzner, an investigator for the Watergate committee, told CBS on a Sixty Minutes segment last year that he wrote an entire section for the Watergate report suggesting that Nixons concern over the Hughes loan was the main motivation for the break-in at Watergate. Lenzner did not remember being given an explanation as to why this was omitted, but CBS noted speculation that the omission was due to the fact that Republicans and Democrats alike had received similar payoffs. Remember that Gerald Ford himself received money from Hughes. And undoubtedly, the CIA would not have wanted their role in the Hughes corporation to be exposed. Their connection with Hughes was not public knowledge at the time of the Watergate investigation.

In addition, R. Spencer Oliver, who worked at the DNC, was the son of an operative at the Mullen Company, the PR firm for the Hughes organization. So Nixon wanted to know what Oliver knew, as well..

"The Bay of Pigs" angle:
By giving this direction, Nixon sealed his fate on two counts. He was suggesting an obstruction of justice, and he was attempting to blackmail the CIA with some information. The latter action guaranteed that the former action would get exposed.

Haldemans account of his attempt to do as Nixon asked bears repeating:

John Ehrlichman and I were to meet the CIA officials. I went to Johns office to await their arrival. Guess what, I said to John. Its Bay of Pigs time again.

The man will never quit, Ehrlichman said.

He thought about it and added, Well, the President has a point. It will put pressure on Helms. But this time youre going to push the red button, not me. Ive had it on that route.

Haldeman pressed the red button, and told Helms what he had been asked. The famously cool and composed Helms suddenly lost it:

The President asked me to tell you this entire affair may be connected to the Bay of Pigs, and if it opens up, the Bay of Pigs may be blown." . . .

Turmoil in the room, Helms gripping the arms of his chair leaning forward and shouting, The Bay of Pigs had nothing to do with this. I have no concern about the Bay of Pigs.

Silence. I just sat there. I was absolutely shocked by Helms violent reaction. Again I wondered, what was such dynamite in the Bay of Pigs story?

Helms slowly settled, and acquiesced, to a degree. Walters later testified that Helms told him to remind Gray of the informal agreement between FBI and CIA to notify each other if their operations and investigations ran into the business of the other. And the seeds of Nixons ouster had been planted.

Haldeman came to believe that the reference to the Bay of Pigs was some sort of code for the Kennedy assassination. He read in Daniel Schorrs book Clearing the Air of the plots against Castro, and wondered, as Schorr did, if those plots might have led, indirectly, to Kennedys own assassination. Haldeman even suggested to Nixon that, now that they were in office and had the power to do so, they should get to the bottom of who really killed Kennedy. Nixon rejected this idea.

Haldeman speculated about what Nixon knew about the assassination, and how he might have found out what he knew:

In a chilling parallel to their cover-up at Watergate, the CIA literally erased any connection between Kennedys assassination and the CIA. No mention of the Castro assassination attempt was made to the Warren Commission by CIA representatives. In fact, Counterintelligence Chief James Angleton of the CIA called Bill Sullivan of the FBI and rehearsed the questions answer answers they would give to the Warren Commission investigators, such as these samples:

Q. Was Oswald an agent of the CIA?

A. No.

Q. Does the CIA have any evidence showing that a conspiracy existed to assassinate Kennedy?

A. No.

And heres what I find most interesting: Bill Sullivan, the FBI man that the CIA called at the time, was Nixons highest-ranking loyal friend at the FBI (in the Watergate crisis. He would risk J. Edgar Hoovers anger by taking the 1969 FBI wiretap transcripts ordered by Nixon and delivering them to Robert Mardian, a Mitchell crony, for safekeeping).

Its possible that Nixon learned from Sullivan something about the earlier CIA cover-up by Helms. And when Nixon said, Its likely to blow the whole Bay of Pigs he might have been reminding Helms, not so gently, of the cover-up of the CIA assassination attempts on the hero of the Bay of Pigs, Fidel Castro -- a CIA operation that may have triggered the Kennedy tragedy which Helms desperately wanted to hide.

Angleton, of all people, knew that Oswald did indeed have a relationship with the CIA. He had a very curious pre-assassination file on Oswald. Rather than keeping Oswalds file in the general Counterintelligence department where, one could conceivably argue, it could have innocently belonged, Angleton instead secreted the file to his tiny mole-hunting group, the Special Investigations Group, CI/SIG. There, only a handful of people would recognize the name Lee Oswald before the assassination. SIG was so secretive it was the part of Angletons empire designated to work with Staff D, Bill Harveys Executive Action (assassination) unit in CIA. Oswalds file shows that not only was the CIA keeping track of Oswald, they were lying about him to other agencies before Kennedy was assassinated. For these and many other reasons I detailed in my long two-part article on Angleton in the book The Assassinations, I believe Angleton knew he was lying to the Warren Commission. The fact that he felt the need to coordinate with Sullivan suggests strongly that Sullivan knew the truth as well.

Whatever the meaning of the Bay of Pigs reference, the conversations of June 23, 1972, produced the smoking gun tape, showing Nixon was attempting to stop the wheels of justice, or specifically, the Justice Departments Federal Bureau of Investigation, from pursuing the truth. Had that tape never surfaced, Watergate would have gone down in the history books the way it was first reported: as a third rate burglary...

Listen to Lisa give her synopsis of this account here.
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