Why Watergate Happened: The Awkward Truth About the Mysterious Motive

Despite the enormous impact of the Watergate scandal, the actual purpose of the break-in of the Democratic National Committee offices has never been conclusively established.
— Wikipedia, The Watergate Scandal.

I was thinking about this long-mysterious motive after reading Thomas Mallon’s subtle, well-imagined historical novel Watergate, which speculates (among other things) that the purpose of the illegal spy operation in June 1972 that eventually brought down Richard Nixon’s presidency was to find evidence of a Fidel Castro/Cuban connection to the Democratic party. This is one of several common explanations for the spy operation.

Another one, suggested by Bob Haldeman and tentatively endorsed by Jeb Magruder, is that Nixon wanted to find evidence that the reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes was secretly funding the Democrats. Others have suggested that Nixon wanted dirt on Ted Kennedy, and a recent book called Watergate: The Hidden History: Nixon, The Mafia, and The CIA by Lamar Waldron tries to build a case for a Mafia connection. Still others have guessed that the whole botched operation was a trap by Nixon’s opponents, intended to embarrass the President (if this was the case, the trap was an amazing success).

I don’t think that any of the above answers are very good, and I have a better one to suggest. The motive for the Watergate break-in is something primal, dreadfully familiar, awkwardly obvious. The answer is there in plain sight — and it’s also certainly there in the memoirs written by the principal Watergate criminals, particularly Blind Ambition by John Dean, An American Life: One Man’s Road to Watergate by Jeb Magruder, The Ends of Power by Bob Haldeman, Witness to Power: The Nixon Years by John Ehrlichman, Will by G. Gordon Liddy and Born Again by Chuck Colson, all of which I’ve carefully read and reread to help me reach the conclusion I’m about to explain.

I’m pretty sure my answer is the correct one, and I think you will agree with me once I explain it. I’m not going to ask you to suspend your disbelief, because my explanation involves no shrill conspiracy theories or far-fetched assumptions. Instead, I will ask you to open your mind to an answer so familiar and self-apparent that it barely seems like an answer at all (but it is an answer, and it’s the only answer that matters, because it’s the one that’s true.)

The story begins on June 13, 1971, almost exactly a year before the break-in at the Watergate. On this day, the first excerpt of the Pentagon Papers was published in the New York Times. This was a shocking leak of confidential and politically explosive Defense Department documents about the Vietnam War. The private documents were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg as a brave act of protest against the badly managed and badly conceived war (Ellsberg remains politically active today, and has recently spoken out in support of a more recent military whistleblower, Bradley Manning.)

Though the information within the Pentagon Papers turned out to be more destructive to past Presidents (especially John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson) than to Richard Nixon, the loss of control that the leak revealed was tremendously embarrassing for the Nixon White House. The President was caught blindsided on a matter of national security. The fact that such a confidential set of documents could be leaked by an antiwar activist suggested that similar activists or secret networks might be infiltrating every department of the Nixon administration.

Thus, Nixon and his staffers John Mitchell, Bob Haldeman, John Ehrlichman and Chuck Colson began putting together a defense plan. They created a secret office within the White House, nicknamed the “Plumbers”, including two gung-ho right-wing espionage “experts” named E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. Hunt and Liddy were instructed to get the dirt on Daniel Ellsberg, and when they discovered that he regularly saw a psychiatrist they carried out a strange plan to break into the psychiatrist’s office and read through his medical files, hoping to find information with which to embarrass Daniel Ellsberg.

The fact that Hunt and Liddy thought this was a good idea is hard to understand. The fact that senior White House staffers close to President Nixon thought it was a good idea is absolutely dumbfounding. It was clearly illegal. The stakes were enormous, and the possible reward seemed infinitesimally small. What good would it do to embarrass Ellsberg? How would that help Nixon?

And yet the operation got okayed by Nixon’s top men, and was carried out. A close study of the six White House memoirs listed above reveals many surprising and clarifying facts about many aspects of the Watergate affair, but these books all come up empty when it comes to explaining the 1971 decision to burglarize Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. Reading these sections from these memoirs together gives an impression that a vacuum of good judgement suddenly descended over the Nixon White House immediately after the leak of the Pentagon Papers.

The Nixon White House had made bad decisions before, but never so senselessly and recklessly, and never with collaborators as brazen as E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. It seems clear that the mania that would result in the 1972 Watergate break-in was born in full force in the summer of 1971, a year before.

When we ask about the purpose of the Watergate break-in, we should begin by asking about the purpose of the first break-in by the same cast of characters that would eventually get caught at the Watergate. It makes no sense to discuss the motive of the Watergate break-in as if this were an isolated act, when in fact the only legal difference between the Ellsberg psychiatrist break-in and the Watergate break-in was that the burglars didn’t get caught at the Ellsberg break-in.

The Ellsberg break-in was a remarkably impulsive and vindictive act, an act that defies logic (again, what could they possibly gain by finding out details of Ellsberg’s personal problems?). The broad rationale for the Plumbers’ activities, as described in many of the memoirs mentioned above, seemed to be that since Nixon’s enemies were breaking the law and getting away with it (by leaking secure documents, with the complicity of the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Federal courts), Nixon’s team would need to also break the law in order to keep pace with their enemies. The senselessness of the White House decision to go ahead with the Ellsberg break-in provides an important context when we look for a rational motive for the Watergate break-in. Clearly, where the White House Plumbers were concerned, the bar for coherence was not set very high. It seems plausible that no practical motive for the break-in ever actually existed, once we realize that the Plumbers had a history of conducting operations without a practical motive.

There did appear to be, however, a strong psychological motive behind the activities of the hapless Plumbers. As the Vietnam War continued to descend into chaos and massive death counts, the Nixon administration felt weak and isolated. In the mania that festered in this environment, the White House staff became convinced that their enemies had better espionage capabilities than they themselves had. The publication of the Pentagon Papers, as described in nearly all the memoirs above, became a critical catalyst for White House paranoia. Nixon and his staff felt a need to quickly develop a private espionage capability, because they were sure they were surrounded by enemies.

It was this paranoid atmosphere that made the two slippery, shadowy operatives E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy suddenly attractive to Nixon’s top staff in 1971 and 1972. It wasn’t information that the White House wanted. What they wanted was Hunt and Liddy. The White House needed to have some strong spies on its own team. There’s not much evidence that John Mitchell or Bob Haldeman or Chuck Colson (or Richard Nixon himself, if he knew about the break-ins) really cared what the spies did with their time. It was just important that the spies were on Mitchell and Haldeman and Colson’s own team.

This psychological explanation seems to me the only one that explains the Watergate break-in. Political or logical explanations are always unconvincing, because they all assume that the White House considered the risk of conducting an illegal spy operation problematic. The reverse was true. The break-in didn’t occur despite the fact that it was illegal — it occurred because it was illegal. The Watergate break-in, like the Ellsberg operation before it, was a practice drill. Mitchell and Haldeman and Colson (and Nixon) wanted to know that someone on their team had the cojones and the technical skills to pull off an illegal domestic spying operation. That was the real motive — and the only motive — for Watergate.

If there had been any desired information, Haldeman (the top guy on the Nixon staff pyramid) would have known about it, and would have been happy to have sold more books by revealing it in one of the several books he’d eventually write. The greatest evidence that there was no important information to be gained by spying on the Democrats was that Democratic candidate George McGovern was barely threatening Nixon at all in the upcoming November 1972 elections. The polls showed a nearly historic advantage for Nixon at the time of the break-in, because Nixon was still very popular with voters at this time. The awkward truth is this: if an accidental Bell Telephone party line had suddenly given Bob Haldeman access to the Democratic National Committee’s private telephone calls, Haldeman probably wouldn’t have cared enough to have listened for long. The break-in was a war game, an exercise.

What’s the lesson we can all learn from the bizarre mistakes that led to the Watergate scandal? Mainly, that a military mindset can act as psychological poison. A government that finds itself in a troubled position in time of war may also find itself in a manic state of unreality in which things that don’t make sense begin to make sense. This is a pretty scary truth, and it probably explains many moments in history, far beyond the relatively modest historical scope of the Watergate affair.

This psychological explanation for the Nixon downfall is markedly a systematic rather than an individual one. It’s common to paint the Watergate scandal as a manifestation of Richard Nixon’s personal character flaws. Like the explanations for the break-in above, this wider explanation is not very insightful, and misses a bigger point. If we blame the mistakes of Watergate on the character flaws of Richard Nixon, we fail to see that it’s our own entire society that is more deeply at fault.

The Watergate scandal was caused by the mania that surrounded the Vietnam War. It was the Vietnam War coming home to roost.

Perhaps Mitchell and Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Colson and Nixon might have actually meant well, or might have at least meant to meant well. They should not be blamed for the scandal. If we blame them, we fail to realize that the conditions that created the scandal are still with us today.

* * * * *

And the moral of the story is …

Fast-forward nearly thirty years. It’s Sunday, September 16, 2001. The George W. Bush White House is in turmoil, stunned and shocked and deeply saddened by the Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon five days before. The Bush administration feels weak and helpless. They have been caught blindsided. They have badly miscalculated how to carry out their national security responsibilities. Various ideas are beginning to emerge within the Bush administration about what they should do next.

It’s on this day that Vice President Dick Cheney says something strange on a Sunday news show, Meet The Press, in describing the administration’s planned approach for intelligence gathering: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”

What Dick Cheney means, it’s generally understood at the time, is that the Bush administration is about to change its policies regarding torture of suspected terrorists in order to obtain information. Other key Bush staffers and senior military officials will begin making similar public statements about the possibility of torturing political prisoners in order to combat Al Qaeda. Months before Bush’s CIA would begin torturing prisoners, the Bush administration would begin talking about torturing prisoners. It almost seemed as if talking about it were more vital to national security than doing it.

At this point, on September 16, 2001, there are no Al Qaeda prisoners to torture. 9/11 just happened. The CIA has barely even begun to process the massive amount of information they already have about Al Qaeda, and all this information will take them months or years to digest. So why are they talking about torturing prisoners to get information?

There is always a psychological motive, even when there is not a rational one. We need to practice. A capability must be developed, because we feel weak and threatened. A manic state of unreality can occur, in which things that don’t make sense will start to make sense.

43 Responses

  1. The Nixon plumbers weren’t
    The Nixon plumbers weren’t set up to get Ellsberg, they all worked together as far back as the JFK assassination. In fact they all worked together years before that. Back in the WWII as the original CIA (the office of naval intelligence). You can find all that out if you just investigate (like 48 hours without sleep) all the leads right there in the Wikipedia footnotes. Start with the JFK shooting and work backwards, or forwards. It all leads to the same place.

  2. Hi Mike — not sure what you
    Hi Mike — not sure what you mean exactly. E. Howard Hunt of course was involved as a major player in CIA operations in Cuba during the JFK administration (this is well known) but I don’t think G. Gordon Liddy was. There were several people involved with the Plumbers but these were the main two.

    I’m a little disappointed, though, if you read my hopefully groundbreaking theory above and can only respond by citing a shadowy conspiracy plot. The innovation of my theory is that it requires no conspiracy at all, except for a conspiracy of human incompetence. And the Nixon team’s motives were shadowy, sure, but only in the Jungian sense. Lets forget the far fetched conspiracy theories and just see what’s in front of our eyes.

  3. from Wikipedia:
    from Wikipedia:
    In World War II, Hunt served in the OSS, a predecessor of the CIA. He wrote several spy novels including Bimini Run (1949) with a hero named Hank Sturgis. Hunt became CIA station chief in Mexico City in 1950 and supervised William F. Buckley, Jr., who worked for the CIA. Buckley and Hunt remained lifelong friends. He retired from the CIA on May 1, 1970, and went to work for the Robert R. Mullen Company, a CIA front company. In the April 5, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone, Howard St. John Hunt detailed a number of individuals purported to be implicated by his father in the JFK assassination, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Cord Meyer, David Phillips, Frank Sturgis, David Morales, William Harvey, and Lucien Sarti.

    If you follow the links on all those names, you’ll see their life-long connections and involvements in foreign and domestic covert operations – murder, disinformation, political manipulations. It’s a tangled web but fascinating and sickening. If you don’t follow the links on all those names, you’re missing a great piece of history.

  4. Okay, Mike, but do you have
    Okay, Mike, but do you have any reaction to the theory of the motive that I’m describing here?

    I can understand why you find Howard Hunt’s long history with the CIA interesting, but it is irrelevant to the theory I’ve worked hard to lay out here — if you don’t mind, I’m interested in hearing some reactions to my theory!

  5. …war is only justified for
    …war is only justified for protection. our mistake came when we let ‘and our interests’ become part of some noble justification for war. to protect ourselves-self defense-the retailiation should be thoughtful, quick, and deadly. without mercy. and we should always be prepared for this. however, ‘and our interests’ opens the floodgates of human selfishness, hatred, and greed. every individual human must fight for thier freedom. salvation is the easy part. as for nixon’s team, the paranoid were likely popping pills, nixon included. this behavior leads to delusional decision making, the sweating nixon was known for, and blackmailable recounts of past evenings. remember, nixon was friends with elvis. the pill popping hound dog. the doctors have the real story of the times. mcgovern never recovered from the eagleton pick, which, thinking now, makes perfect sense with your theory. the plumbers probably had the goods after the nomination was made, dooming mcgovern for botching his first big decision. i guess once the pills were dropped and coke became the thing, disco was invented…it’s really all fitting together…

  6. The pill-poppin’ theory
    The pill-poppin’ theory sounds believable to me, hypcollector. I never heard any direct evidence or testimony of this, so as far as I can tell it’s just a guess, but it would be consistent with the paranoia that became evident during the Pentagon Papers/Watergate years. Come to think of it, based on the photos of the time, Haldeman did always look like he was fiending on something …

  7. I agree with you.
    I agree with you.

    What’s interesting is that you put it in the context of the time when the left who did hate Nixon and were his enemies, so it wasn’t just paranoia, were acting lawlessly, so culpability for fomenting an entirely lawless atmosphere and environment is spread around.

    And, Liddy was a DA in New York busting Tim Leary in their drug mansion in the early 60’s.

  8. Thanks for the (rare and much
    Thanks for the (rare and much appreciated) agreement, TKG!

    And yes, I agree with you too that the 60s/70s antiwar movement did seem to accept lawless behavior — what was probably most frustrating of all, for the Nixon administration, was that the New York Times and Washington Post were openly complicit by publishing the Pentagon Papers, and when the administration took the case to federal court even the US Supreme Court ruled that the newspapers could not be prevented from publishing the Pentagon Papers. It’s easy to see how the Nixon team could conclude that they needed to operate outside the law as well. Of course, this backfired badly on them. They seemed to have momentarily forgotten that “law and order” had been a big part of Nixon’s appeal to voters.

    I knew about Liddy and Leary’s history — in the 80s, when I was in college, I got a chance to see the Liddy/Leary speaking tour in person! Quite a show …

  9. No one likes to be disagreed.
    No one likes to be disagreed. Psychologically our self-worth needs affirmation not rebuttal. When my opinion differs from yours, you think I’m attacking you. Not at all. I think you’re an extraordinarily good person; a man of great intellect, learning, compassion, talent, and humanity. You took time out from the AWP to travel 90 blocks of New York City traffic just to say “hi” to me and my daughter. That’s an amazingly nice thing to do.

    But – “this psychological explanation seems to me the only one that explains the Watergate break-in. Perhaps Mitchell Haldeman Ehrlichman Colson Nixon might have actually meant well, or might have at least meant to mean well” – I don’t think so.

    Nixon’s dirty-tricksters been doing the same things for 20 years before Ellsberg. The motive is seizing control a d’govment by any means necessary. Been going on since Pharohs, Caesars, Attilas, and Bush’s.

    The US govmint through Hunt, Sturgis, Cord Meyer, and their predecessors been overthrowing foreign and domestic governments since Dole pineapple-ized Hawaii, Eisenhower shah’d Persia, Kissinger murdered Allende.

    I’m sure they all meant well (or not). But don’t take my word, check out Oliver Stone’s untold history.

  10. Thanks for this response,
    Thanks for this response, Mikey Covey (and, by the way, it was a pleasure to meet you and your daughter way back when).

    I don’t mind that you disagreed with my theory, not at all. What I minded is that you were completely ignoring my theory! I worked hard to put this blog post together and lay out my chain of evidence in a persuasive way — and then you were like “hey, did you know Hunt was involved with JFK?” You can disagree with my theories all you want, but please don’t ignore them!

    And, by the way, when I say that Haldeman and Mitchell might have “meant well”, I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek. I’m trying to extend the most generous possible interpretation, as a Gandhi-esque gesture of forgiveness. Because, if my theory is right (and I’m still pretty sure it is), the Nixon White House was a victim of the maniacal Vietnam War mentality just as so many of their opponents were.

  11. Generally your theories on
    Generally your theories on Nixon are those of an apologist. You’re too young to remember Nixon getting stoned in Mexico (Bob Dylan wrote a song about it) or the checkers speech (which launched Chubby Checker’s career).

    from Wikipedia:
    In Congress, Nixon supported the Taft–Hartley Act which monitors the activities and power of labor unions. Nixon first gained national attention in 1948 as a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1949, Nixon ran for US Senate, a “Pink Sheet” was distributed by the Nixon campaign suggesting that his opponent’s voting record was similar to that of a communist. He maintained friendly relations with his fellow anti-communist, Senator Joseph McCarthy. He voted against price controls and other monetary restrictions, benefits for illegal immigrants, and public power. In September ’52, the media reported that Nixon had a political fund, maintained by his backers, which reimbursed him for political expenses which exposed Nixon to allegations of conflict of interest. In 1958, Nixon embarked on a goodwill tour of South America. In Lima, Peru, he was met by a volley of thrown objects. At his hotel, Nixon faced another mob, and one demonstrator spat on him. In Caracas, Nixon was spat on by anti-American demonstrators and their limousine was attacked by a pipe-wielding mob.

    Why do you suppose that was? the war in ‘Nam?

  12. Well, Mikey, I have done a
    Well, Mikey, I have done a ton of reading about Nixon (most recently, Rick Perlstein’s excellent “Nixonland”) so I do know a lot about his legacy. When he was Vice-President and was greeted by hostile crowds in South America, do you really think they were addressing him directly, or him as a surrogate for Eisenhower? I don’t think that was about ‘Nam, but I also don’t think it was about Nixon — it was about USA policy in South America during the Eisenhower era.

    Speaking of which, I don’t think I’m an apologist for Nixon (or for Eisenhower) but I do want to stand firm on my main point: if we blame Watergate on Nixon’s character flaws (which were easy to spot) we miss the bigger lesson. And I think people do commonly blame Watergate on Nixon’s character flaws, and do miss the bigger lessons of the whole mess. We can’t keep making the same mistakes over and over again, so it’s important to identify the deepest source of the problem that led to Watergate. The deepest source wasn’t Richard Nixon — it was the disastrous Vietnam War.

  13. no it wadn’t. btw, if you
    no it wadn’t. btw, if you click on my name it’ll link to an expose of the real Bill Ectric who used to run with Hunt & Liddy at the Frank Sturgis bike rally. And just imagine, Anthony Hopkins portraying Nixon. Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Margaret Thatcher. Odd…but effective, I guess.

    PS – the only reason I dispute your thesis is bcuz you speak to millions. What you say matters. And the truth about Nixon Hunt Liddy Sturgis Meyer – is critically important for everyone to know. Plz, check the links on those names. It matters.

  14. Okay, Mikey, let’s leave it
    Okay, Mikey, let’s leave it at that! I am satisfied with your summary statement.

    I’ve always had an aversion to conspiracy theories. They just never seem very plausible to me. Conspiracy theories rest on the assumption that groups of human beings are capable of effective goal-oriented behavior, and are capable of keeping secrets. I have observed that groups of human beings are generally capable of neither.

    But, I’m happy you are mentioning this link for others who want to follow the threads linking Hunt to JFK or Oliver Stone to Anthony Hopkins or whatever. By the way, I thought Anthony Hopkins was awful as Nixon — can we at least agree on that?

  15. Hopkins is always great.
    Hopkins is always great. “Conspiracy theory” is what Fox News uses to keep people stupid. Maybe you never worked for the CIA. They don’t go on Oprah & brag about overthrowing Latin American governments. They do it secretly & nobody ever talks. Maybe you never worked for the Mafia. They’re a pretty quiet bunch too.

    But the gist of your argument is – I’ve spent a lot of time reading about Nixon. Are time & water so meaningless we can waste them. The history of the Eagles – band fell apart cuz Don Felder didn’t care who Senator Allen Cranston was. But got back together 15 year later when Don Henley doing benefit to save Thoreau’s Walden Pond. I suppose they coulda been reading about Nixon. But I’ve written books, Tony O’Neill, Joe Ridgwell, John & Dan Fante have. Why read about Nixon. Seems like an insult, or waste of time.

  16. I am always in awe of the
    I am always in awe of the intellectual minds that meet on this blog. Everyone always makes a most interesting point to converse on. It’s such a relaxing spot for me on the internet which is constantly filled with oft repeated memes, the ubiquitous selfie, and vague status updates.

    Carry on 🙂

  17. It’s my understanding that
    It’s my understanding that Nixon drank quite a bit, and usually those guys in power who drink are also hopped up on amphetamines. This was probably true for Kennedy as well, running around with Peter Lawford. Not sure about Johnson. I heard Winston Churchill often stayed up all night drinking, telling stories, plotting the course of the war, changing his mind, etc. Anyway, after WWII, when America felt “on top of the world,” it was only a matter of time before we got caught doing one of our many brazen, needless acts. I agree with your theory, Levi.

    And to Mikael Covey: No comment on the advice of my lawyer.

  18. I’ve given your essay some
    I’ve given your essay some serious consideration and what I have come up with is the following:

    The first part of the piece centered on Watergate and a total of 1836 words were used with the most important I came away with were seven (7) words. i.e. “The Watergate break-in was a practice drill.”

    The second part dealing with Al Qaeda and the Bush response using 398 words which I came away with four (4) words, “We need to practice” as the most important conclusion out of all the other 394 words.

    Why do I say that? Whatever we do as hu’mans, as parents, as family, as associates, citizens of Nations worldwide, everyone one of us practice at being better individuals of our chosen caliber to live life and get the most out of it as we can before we fucking die. Nothing new here but another practice exercise in stoking the imagination to hopefully connect some dots that haven’t fit it as well as you, the writer, has wished it to be.

    The ultimate question, and there are many in between this essay and the finality of questions, what in the hell are we, the collective ‘we”. practicing for? Surely we aren’t practicing simply for the joy of discussion… or are we? Would the world be a far better place knowing the answers to Watergate or 9/11? Or are those questions going to make America a far better place to live in and raise our families? Will historians write the right answers to these questions you have proposed? Or will history continue as it always has… making sense enough that their readership will nod their heads in agreement and be reasonably satisfied with the long studied opinions of others that have also contributed to the written history so life can move forward and ready itself with more practices in the upcoming times ahead..?

    Other than you own (7) replies, Mikey Covey offered (6) replies with hypcollector and TKG each offering (1) reply, there seems to be no consensus amongst them (or myself) as to the ‘truth’ in what you have offered the reader, as you wrote, “my hopefully groundbreaking theory.” Perhaps a bit more practice..?

  19. Thank you, Deena, that is
    Thank you, Deena, that is nice to hear!

    Mtmynd, thanks for the word analysis. I agree that those are the two key sentences. As for what Dick Nixon and Dick Cheney (I will forgo the obvious joke) think we’re practicing for: all I can say is, the world will be happier when we can all do less practicing and more living.

  20. Re: “…all I can say is, the
    Re: “…all I can say is, the world will be happier when we can all do less practicing and more living.”

    I am in full agreement with you on this, Levi.

  21. I’ve haven’t thanked Mr.
    I’ve haven’t thanked Mr. Asher recently for the great work he does by providing the wonderful educational thoughtful magazine Litkicks. Bill & I remember when it was endless lines of chat on an otherwise blank screen. And you know, that was pretty awesome too. The chance to share ideas & learn stuff with & from folk all over the littte rock we on. But anyway, I greatly appreciate what Mr. Asher does (his name aint Asher Lev, btw) and when I disagree, is only bcuz he is a powerful influential man who speaks to millions for…I guess what will be eternity now (on Al Gore’s internet).

    I’ll check out the article on Scientology inna bit. Btw, didja know Ron Hubbard’s from a little village in Nebraski south a where i grew up. Wierd, huh.

  22. I think perhaps, Levi, one
    I think perhaps, Levi, one could use an analogy as to why FDR interned Japanese Americans in concentration camps during World War Two?

    The times were equally desperate, to make a strong statement, & the government, especially under Dubya, was paranoid. They had to look like they were tough & doing something constructive to catch the terrorists. Cheney, stuck his foot way in his mouth that day & actually told it like it really was.

    During times of total war, our country becomes much like a police state. We were at war with thugs, like Bin Laden, & had to take off the “kid gloves”.

    There is really no real excuse for it, but that is what happened.

    Nixon, to use another analogy, felt as though his back was to the wall to get a second term. J. Edgar Hoover, the cross dressing FBI director, was ailing & soon died. This situation left the door open for more dirty tricks. Liddy is still unrepentant after all these years…Oh, what a strange can of worms was opened …

  23. Well said, Steve — I agree
    Well said, Steve — I agree that the internment of the Japanese was another example.

    But I want to clarify one difference — I think the evidence shows that Nixon didn’t feel his back was to the wall to get a second term. Dirty politics was in the air, but it wasn’t dirty electoral politics. American voters were in a very conservative mood in 1972, and nobody in either the Republican or Democratic party thought McGovern had a real chance to beat Nixon by the time the Watergate break-in happened. Nixon and his team were already looking past the election to the challenges that really worried them — how to handle the war in Vietnam, how to handle an impudent liberal press, and how to establish some control over a federal bureaucracy that resisted all their efforts for change. It was in these areas, not the election, that they felt they had to “toughen up” and start playing dirty to keep up with their enemies.

    As for Liddy, not only is he unrepentant — he’s been dining out on his Watergate fame since he got out of jail!

  24. from Wikipedia: In 1960,
    from Wikipedia: In 1960, Fabian Escalante was in the Department of State Security in Cuba. At the time of the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Escalante was head of a counter-intelligence unit, and was part of a team investigating a CIA operation called Sentinels of Liberty, an attempt to recruit Cubans willing to work against Castro. His information about Bush comes from a counterintelligence operation against Tracy Barnes of the CIA:

    “Tracy Barnes functioned as head of the Cuban Task Force. He called a meeting on January 18, 1960. Those who gathered there included Howard Hunt, Frank Bender, Jack Esterline, who directed a CIA group in Venezuela; psychological warfare expert David A. Phillips, and others. The team responsible for the plans to overthrow the government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 was reconstituted, and in the minds of all its members this would be a rerun of the same plan.

    Barnes talked at length of the goals to be achieved. He explained that Vice-President Richard Nixon was the Cuban case officer, and had assembled an important group of businessmen headed by George Bush and Jack Crichton, both Texas oilmen, to gather the necessary funds for Operation 40. Nixon was a protege of Bush’s father Prescott, who in 1946 had supported Nixon’s bid for congress. In fact, Prescott Bush was the campaign strategist who brought Eisenhower and Nixon to the presidency of the United States.”

    Before becoming CIA director, George H Bush had the only oil rigs in the Carribean which were used as staging bases for the Bay of Pigs invasion. An invasion that plumber Bernard Barker participated in. Plumber Frank Sturgis trained and equipped both sides.

    John Sherwood, who led the CIA’s anti-Castro operations in the early 1960s, said that Zapata Offshore was used as a conduit to fund these operations in the guise of oil contracts

    According to a CIA internal memo Zapata Petroleum’s (Bush Oil) involvement with the CIA began in 1953 through Bush’s joint efforts with Thomas J. Devine, a CIA staffer who had resigned his agency position that same year to go into private business, but who continued to work for the CIA under commercial cover. Devine would later accompany Bush to Vietnam in late 1967 as a cleared and witting commercial asset of the agency, acted as his informal foreign affairs advisor, and had a close relationship with him through 1975.

    Amidst the Watergate scandal, Nixon asked Bush to become chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1973. Nixon had appointed his buddy UN ambassador in 1971.

    Frank Sturgis: US intelligence operative since late 1940’s. Soldier of fortune who trained Castro’s army, taught Che Guevera guerilla warfare, ran guns for both sides, and was a contract CIA agent.

    “I was a spy. I was involved in assassination plots and conspiracies to overthrow several foreign governments including Cuba, Panama, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. I smuggled arms and men into Cuba for Castro and against Castro. I broke into intelligence files. I stole and photographed secret documents. That’s what spies do.”

    Bernard Baker: after WWII returned to Cuba and joined the secret police under Fulgencio Batista. Later recruited by the FBI and worked for them as an undercover agent. Also did work for the CIA. He joined the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.

  25. Mike, I don’t understand the
    Mike, I don’t understand the point you’re trying to make. My blog post is presenting a new theory about the motive for the Watergate break-in. You have laid out some facts about the past CIA activities of some of the burglars. These facts are already well known. So are you saying that you think this explains the motive in some new way, other than what has already been documented by generations of journalists and investigators? I don’t see anything new here.

    I think my theory is a whole lot more promising, and certainly more original, but maybe I’m not understanding the point you’re trying to make.

  26. Just that you suggest Nixon
    You suggest Nixon up & found Hunt Sturgis Barker etc all of a sudden. Apparently Nixon Bush Hunt Sturgis knew each other, worked together on covert ops like over-throwing foreign & domestic governments for 20 years before Watergate.

    Here’s a real simple theory – only way Nixon could ever become president – 2 Kennedy’s had to die. Only way Nixon could fail to get re-elected – somebody spills beans about why 2 Kennedy’s died.

    I lived through that era, so I remember what it was like. “Nixon couldn’t get elected dog catcher” was a popular joke in the 60’s. But you insist that Nixon was a kinder gentler man than the guy who ordered Allende murdered, and the democratic government of Iran overthrown:

    “The 1953 Iranian coup d’état was the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran, and its head of government Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh, orchestrated by the United Kingdom and the United States.

    Hastening the CIA’s fall from grace were the burglary of the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic Party by ex-CIA agents, and President Richard Nixon’s subsequent attempt to use the CIA to impede the FBI’s investigation of the burglary.

    In the famous “smoking gun” recording that led to President Nixon’s resignation, Nixon ordered his chief of staff, HR Haldeman, to tell the CIA that further investigation of Watergate would “open the whole can of worms” about the Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba.”

  27. Mike, I can’t buy into the
    Mike, I can’t buy into the “Nixon killed Kennedy” theory. I’ve studied the history closely too, and this doesn’t seem like an even remotely plausible theory to me. But I guess you’re not the only one who believes this.

    This doesn’t mean that I see a kinder, gentler Nixon. These are not words I would ever use. Nixon was far from kind or gentle, and it’s horrifying that he was ever elected President or Vice President. But I think he was not the origin of the evil of the era. He was infected by this evil, but he was not its cause, nor it’s prime mover. To posit a big hidden conspiracy theory behind Watergate is to miss the real lesson I think we all need to learn, which is that an immoral war will rot the morals of the government that pursues it. I really want to emphasize this point, and that’s why I’m so disappointed to see you reducing the big lesson to something smaller.

  28. My disappointment is knowing
    My disappointment is Vietnam had nothing to do with Nixon. I think you read what you want to. Read the Warren Commission report, managed by future President Gerald Ford and future Senator Arlen Spector. Read JFK on Wikipedia, and follow every single link. Read MacBeth and figure out how he gets to be king; or history of earth and figure out how most kings got to be king. Coups happen everywhere – but not in America. After the Kennedy killing there was a fine book & movie called Seven Days in May, eerily similar to real life.

    Let’s be logical. A coup can’t happen in America cuz we’re not Latin America. Makes perfect sense. We’re not Germany, post great philosophers & composers. We’re not Russia, post great writers and composers. We’re not a tiny country like China. Unlike Germany, our citizens are educated & sophisticated. Unlike Australia and UK, our media isn’t controlled by the likes of Rupert Murdock.

    So, you’re right. A coup could happen anywhere on earth…but here. LBJ actually liked JFK; Hoover secretly admired the Kennedy’s. Just becuz JFK wanted to eliminate the CIA is no reason why CIA operatives would want to kill him over the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Just because JFK wanted to pull our 6000 advisors outta Vietnam is no reason why a multi-billion dollar defense industry wouldn’t love the man. Shoot, we coulda used all them helicopters, B-52’s, F-4’s, A-9’s, Thuds, Slufs & Bufs in our national forests.

    Kellogg Brown Root and Haliburton are actually cereal and fish companies. Nobody landed on the moon, and the South never really seceded from the union.

    But somebody got rid of Prince Sihanouk; and Pol Pot kilt cupla million Cambodians. You remember? I do. Remember Stokely being arrested in Atlanta? I do. And Lester Maddox refusing to serve people with darker skin than his, in my home town of Athens. Lester got to be governor after that. Somebuddy shot MLK JFK RFK George Wallace Malcolm X Medgar Evers Jimmy Hoffa and Sal Giancanna. Whole lotta shootin’ goin on.

    Whole lotta coincidenceses. Next your gonna tell me Dade County democrats voted for the governor’s brother for president. Ah, c’mon. That would NEVER happen in America.

  29. aftering study for 40 years,
    after studying for 40 years, your theory is valid. thanks

  30. Mike and Levi,
    Mike and Levi,
    I am a first time visitor to this. I’m not a political person by all means. But if I have to give my two sense. I would say it’s called a conspiracy for a reason. I think any of us could do all the research hearts desire, but this was left unsaid for a reason, Just like the Kennedy assassination. If I have my thought of theory, I would say whoever knows is dead or
    paid well with full gov’t benefits.

  31. Read G.Gordon’s book, “Will”.
    Read G.Gordon’s book, “Will”. Great insights into his thinking and reason’s for the break-in. Truth? Probably more than he’d admit if you know what I mean.
    Just look into the L.A. Times and what they were revealing about covert operations in news stories. Where did their info come from? Who was giving the Times a heads up on foreign intel. Who was getting who killed? Reason enough to try and find out who the mole was in the Democratic Party? Go find it yourself.
    Who killed JFK? Dunno, Lee Harvey? : )

  32. From what I have read, and
    From what I have read, and from the shortage of info available to do further research on the subject, the Watergate Break-in was ostensibly committed to stealing the Democratic election strategy. It ACTUALLY was performed to find out what secret info the left had about Oswald and the bizarre genetic and psychological experiments and treatments performed in select US hospitals by imported Nazi doctors brought in during Operation Paperclip just after WWII. Oswald was involved with the CIA because he was romantically involved with Judith Baker who was doing research for a Nazi doctor in New Orleans. Yes, LHO was being handled, and possibly Baker was, too. But the horrific tests and experiments done by these Paperclip doctors in New Orleans were known by a few and thought by Erlichman, Haldeman, and the CIA to be leaked somehow to some Democrats, and were going to be exposed during the campaign. All this was suspected to be in the files sought by Liddy and Hunt, et al. in the Watergate break in. Baker was doing cancer research and was recruited to do crazy stuff, all in the name of science, for a Dr. Oschner. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLFNpc8IOgo

  33. Fathertime, did you read this
    Fathertime, did you read this article, or did you just read the headline and type in your own answer?

    I am presenting an original theory in this blog post. If you reply to this blog post, I wish you would respond either positively or negatively to my theory. This is not meant to be a poll. I believe my explanation makes much more sense than the various other familiar ones, including yours, for reasons that will be clear if you read what I wrote. Thanks.

  34. Nixon’s “ckeckers” speech had
    Nixon’s “ckeckers” speech had nothing to do with Chubby Checker. A Chubby Checker is an obvious play to a Fat Domino. Chubby idolized Fats, and that is where the Chubby Checker came from. While we’re at it, it was the “Twist” that launched Chubby’s career, if you’re old enough to remember it.

  35. . . . [you] can only respond
    . . . [you] can only respond by citing a shadowy conspiracy plot. . .” according to the legsl definition below, it would seem to me that the act was an attempted burglary subsequent to a conspiracy of perpetrators. I fail to see how you can not call the act itself a conspiracy. “Conspiracy: An agreement between two or more people to commit an illegal act, along with an intent to achieve the agreement’s goal. Most U.S. jurisdictions also require an overt act toward furthering the agreement. An overt act is a statutory requirement, not a constitutional one. See Whitfield v. United States, 453 U.S. 209 (2005). The illegal act is the conspiracy’s “target offense.”

  36. Hi BedleySmutler … well, of
    Hi BedleySmutler … well, of course it was a conspiracy. But I am trying very hard to present an original theory here. The purpose of this article is not to provide an overview of the Watergate affair. There are many other sources for that. I am presenting an original perspective which I believe is relevant and accurate and yet is not often heard anywhere else. So, when I object to comments here that rehash all the familiar conspiracy theories regarding Watergate, I am not really objecting to the substance of those theories. I am objecting to the fact that we have heard those theories before. If you comment on an article that presents an original new theory, it would be proper to address that original new theory, not rehash all the familiar ones.

  37. Mr. Asher,
    Mr. Asher,

    I think your theory is compelling. I am in the process of completing a MA thesis about Watergate, and I came by your article while looking around for some interesting new interpretations. I think that, on a fundamental level, you’re probably correct. The concept of the “plumbers” was a psychological response by the Nixon White House to what they perceived as an establishment conspiracy to undermine them. Obviously, that was the root cause of Watergate. However, I disagree that there was no specific motive for breaking into the DNC. Someone wanted info on Larry O’Brien, whether it was Mitchell, Colson, Dean, Haldeman, Nixon, etc… I don’t know. But Liddy writes in his memoir that Magruder specifically told him to go into the DNC and bug O’Brien, even though Liddy already had plans to bug the Democrats’ hotel in Miami. If, as you say, there was no specific agenda, only an exercise, would not Liddy’s principals have been content to let him carry on with his own itinerary? Also, during the second break-in, the burglars (Martinez) were caught with a key to Maxie Wells’ desk (secretary for Spencer Oliver), which indicates that someone was looking for something specific. Finally, after having made one successful entry, why would they have been ordered back in? Ostensibly, it was because the wiretap on O’Brien’s phone wasn’t functioning, but the desk key in the burglars’ possession clearly indicates that there was another reason. Liddy claims he did not know about this key, which means that, as Jim Hougan wrote, there was a “secret agenda” involved at some level.


  38. Thanks, Chris. It is
    Thanks, Chris. It is gratifying to hear that you are writing an MA thesis about Watergate and that you consider my theory worthwhile, even if you think it only tells part of the story. I’d love to see your Master’s thesis when it’s done!

    I have no trouble agreeing with you that there must have also been some specific interest in the conversations Larry O’Brien was having. With an incident as richly peopled as the Watergate break-in, obviously there are many facets to the story. All your speculations seem believable, though I would also insist that if you consider it important to understand the Plumbers’s specific goal for the Watergate break-in, you should also consider it important to understand the Plumbers’s specific goal for the Ellsberg psychiatrist break-in. I find that one even harder to explain, except in the terms I’m laying out here.

  39. My reaction would be to
    My reaction would be to listen to the limited release of the white house recordings that Nixon made in his delusional stupor during the downfall of his presidency. That whole “bay of pigs thing” being the largest elephant in the room. One extremely relevant quote “This fellow Hunt, he knows too damn much. It’s very bad, to have this fellow Hunt, ah, you know, ah, it’s, he, he knows too damn much and he was involved, we happen to know that. And if it gets out that the whole, this is all involved in the Cuban thing, that it’s a fiasco, and it’s going to make the FB, ah CIA look bad, it’s going to make Hunt look bad, and it’s likely to blow the whole Bay of Pigs thing which we think would be very unfortunate for the CIA and for the country at this time, and for American foreign policy, and he just better tough it and lay it on them.” Add this to the fact that Nixon stated that the Warren Commission pulled off “the greatest hoax that has ever been perpetuated” and to the fact that 18.5 minutes of those heated recordings were accidentally erased and I think you’re getting closer to the truth. If you’re looking for reactions to your theory then mine would be that you should continue your research before postulating shallow meaningless theories. The truth hurts, that’s exactly why they didn’t want it to get out. It’s an absolute miracle that we received the limited patchwork of truth that we did over the past 50 years!!

  40. RE: “pill popping”
    RE: “pill popping”
    I saw an interview years ago on C-Span with Leonard Garment one of Nixon’s lawyers. He casually remarked about aides handing Nixon some kind of hard liquor drink “and a couple of Seconals” to turn him off and get him to sleep…the interviewer did not press the point and no other source seems to have pursued it. Disturbing if true–but then H.W. Bush is supposed to have used Halcyon for jet lag.

  41. Levi:
    Sorry but I found the theory of the two break-ins being nothing more than an exercise a bit hollow. Do you think they just wanted Hunt and Liddy on the team for some future “real” mission that was never mentioned. True we don’t know exactly what they were looking for but there is no doubt they were looking for something. You are certainly right about one thing. Nixon and his men were very paranoid and delusional. I don’t think it was dirt on Elsberg they were looking for. Maybe if they found some it would be an added benefit but you said yourself, what good would that really do them. The obvious answer is that they wanted to know what he had told his psych in confidence that might tell them what other surprises may be coming. They broke into the DNC office trying to find out what the dems were up to, what they might have on Nixon that could bring him down, like maybe something, true or not, that might tie him to the bay of pigs or Kennedy assassinations. Paranoia strikes deep. So I guess where I disagree with your thesis is that these guys were so paranoid and (and you’d have to throw stupid in there) that they would risk everything for no good reason, just as an exercise for some future real mission. I’m not saying that their logic was rational and well thought out. But your theory just sounds like a cop-out.

  42. Hi Roland – I wouldn’t
    Hi Roland – I wouldn’t exactly say the White House wanted Hunt and Liddy for some “future real mission”. What I’m saying is that they wanted to develop a better espionage capability for any possible future missions that might occur, because they were afraid that their enemies (newspaper reporters, antiwar activists, foreign influences) had better capabilities than they had. They felt weak and vulnerable after the shocking release of the Pentagon Papers and wanted to strengthen their capabilities. It’s like a person whose house is robbed and buys a gun. They don’t buy the gun because they plan to shoot any specific person. They buy the gun to increase their sense of confidence in their own capabilities to defend against enemies. Does that help explain?

  43. To think this string
    To think this string continues for all these years…more power to you LitKickers!

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!