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We still do not know what the CIA's role in Watergate was

Douglas Caddy

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Comments on Facebook about this article on Sept. 12, 2016:

Tom Huston:

“All of the CIA assistance of Hunt and the White House came during the second half of 1971, when President Richard Nixon was exerting pressure on the agency to turn over its records on the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961. The meeting between Karamessines and Hunt came a week after Helms met Nixon at the White House. Nixon intended to fire Helms for his lack of cooperation on the Bay of Pigs file, but, as I wrote in Nixon’s Gamble, Nixon caved in and vowed to protect the CIA.”

This is not the sort of reasoning that is likely to lead to a big breakthrough in our understanding of Watergate.

First, there is no evidence that the CIA assistance had anything to do with the President’s obsession with the Bay of Pigs. The evidence points to three reasons why assistance was limited to the second half of 1971: (1) the Pentagon Papers release in June triggered the formation of the Plumbers and the subsequent perceived need for CIA assistance; (2) Hunt the CIA operative was hired by Chuck Colson to work at the White House in July and assigned to work with the Plumbers unit; and (3) by December the Plumbers had been demobilized as a result of the blundered break-in of Dr. Fielding’s office.

Second, it takes far more than correlation of timing to link the Karamessines-Hunt and Nixon-Helms meetings. Unless you have evidence that the purposes of the meetings or, more significantly, the subjects discussed at the meetings bear on one another, all you really have are two meetings which involved CIA. On the basis of what is apparently known, there is no evidentiary support for a conclusion that the Karamessines-Hunt meeting involved Hunt’s work at the White House or was tied to the President’s interest in the Bay of Pigs. Perhaps more digging will turn up some credible evidence on this matter. Even journalists ought to be held to a higher evidentiary standard than surmise.

Third, tying Nixon’s obsessive desire to have access to the CIA files on the Bay of Pigs operation to the role of CIA personnel in events leading up to Watergate break-in is more likely to obscure than illuminate the institutional incentives for CIA to use Hunt and his people as assets in the advancement of its bureaucratic interests. Nixon had been after the CIA files on the Bay of Pigs and the Diem coup since at least September of 1969 when I was asked to look into both matters. Nixon thought both events were foreign policy disasters that, having occurred on John Kennedy’s watch, had not received the public scrutiny they deserved (that is, had not diminished JFK’s reputation). A review of the WH tape transcripts for the period following the publication of the Pentagon Papers demonstrates his frustration at the inability to get his hands on these records. While this is an interesting subject, I believe it has little to do with what was driving Helms and the CIA in that period. In my view, Colson’s hiring of Hunt was an unexpected windfall for CIA and one Helms was too experienced an operative not to exploit.

It is easy to let the conventional anti-Nixon narrative influence the pursuit and weighing of evidence. CIA consciously set out after the break-in to conceal its involvement in the events leading up to it, and the only way to break through that concealment is to look at the evidence with fresh eyes and an open mind.

Like · Reply · 17 hrs


Ray Locker

Ray Locker I agree. I only meant in this section to reflect that the president was pressuring the CIA at this time, and Helms didn't like it. I think Hunt was informing the agency of what he was doing and it coincided with a period when the president was trying to get them to give him more information they didn't want to give up.

Like · Reply · 16 hrs


Len Colodny

Len Colodny Tom, Here is what Colson told me on his hiring of Hunt. Colson Interview 1/10/1989: COLSON: One of the things that does support your theory is that Hunt, you

know, -- everybody thinks I picked Hunt for this job. Hunt was over

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