Chapter Twenty-Five: The Secret of Room 16

On June 13, 1971, the meticulously planned scenario promulgating a national emergency over the putative heroin epidemic was rudely interrupted by the New York Times's publishing an archive of national defense documents which became known as the Pentagon Papers. In-the weeks that followed, the controversy over the publication of these classified documents dominated the covers of the national newsmagazines and the choice time on network television. Meanwhile, the disclosures from the White House about the drug menace, the recalling of ambassadors from France, Turkey, and other countries, the cabinet-level meetings to deal with narcotics, the agreement to suppress opium, -production in Turkey, and other highlights of the heroin crusade were relegated to the back pages of newspapers and newsmagazines and given only minor coverage on television. While the timetable for creating a White House-controlled office with unprecedented investigative powers moved slowly ahead under the direction of G. Gordon Liddy and Egil Krogh, the president demanded immediate action to remedy the massive leaking ofthe Pentagon Papers. When Krogh returned from an inspection of the drug problem in Vietnam in late June, he was summoned to the Western White House, at San Clemente, California, and told by Ehrlichman that the president wanted him to work on a special project. The president's assistant for domestic affairs explained more fully the next day that this project involved investigating the background of Daniel Ellsberg, a former Rand Corporation employee who had provided the New York Times with the Pentagon Papers. Ehrlichman stressed that this was a joint undertaking of his Domestic Council and Henry Kissinger's National Security Council, and that Kissinger, then a national security advisor to the president, was supplying a top investigator on his staff named David Young, who along with Krogh would direct this new investigative unit.

Krogh and Young established their Special Investigations Unit, which Young nicknamed "the Plumbers," in room 16 of the Executive Office Building, conveniently located on the ground floor near the narrow underground passageway leading directly to the White House. Since Krogh had little experience in spy work, he brought his more experienced assistant on the Domestic Council, Gordon Liddy, into room 16 as his deputy. Liddy, then working to develop a more permanent investigative capacity in the White House under the cover of a narcotics office, seemed to Krogh "a natural choice" for the Plumbers, who would engage in "all sorts of national-security work." Since the White House assumed that the FBI would not cooperate fully in investigating what was then thought to be a possible conspiracy of "establishment Democrats" involved with Ellsberg in the distribution of the Pentagon Papers, the Plumbers assumed that they would need the special services of the Central Intelligence Agency. The deputy director of the CIA, General Robert Cushman, whom Krogh had worked with in developing international narcotics programs, agreed to provide Krogh with financing for "narcotics work," but held that the CIA could not get involved in a domestic investigation of this sort. Krogh did manage, however, to obtain the services of E. Howard Hunt, a former CIA official who reportedly had helped Allen Dulles. the most illustrious of the CIA directors, to write his book The Craft of Intelligence, and who officially had been detached from the CIA several months before going to work for Robert R. Mullen and Company, a public-relations firm at times serving as a front for CIA operatives. At the time, Hunt seemed to Krogh to be a logical candidate for the Plumbers and a possible member of the more permanent organization then being planned: Hunt had been in the CIA more than twenty years and had specialized in the distribution of "black," or misleading, information. He also had headed the CIA station in Uruguay and was involved at a high level with the successful CIA coup d'etat in Guatemala and the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, he therefore could be expected to have wide-ranging contacts with other CIA agents, executives, and independent contractors for various services. Furthermore, he came with the strong recommendation of Charles Colson, the special counsel to the president who specialized in dealing with political "enemies." Hunt saw the possibility of using black information in, the Ellsberg case, to denigrate as traitors a whole class of Democratic opponents to the war in Vietnam. While retaining his $25,000-a-year public-relations job at Mullen and Company, and still receiving his $24,000-a-year CIA pension, Hunt was put on the White House payroll as a $130-a-day consultant for special projects.

By the end of July, Hunt proposed a covert psychological assessment/evaluation on Ellsberg which would "destroy his public image and credibility," according to a memorandum which surfaced in the Senate investigation of Watergate. This required special assistance from employees, or former employees, of the CIA. Hunt therefore contacted a number of Cuban exiles who had been involved with him in CIA operations against Castro's Cuba, including Manuel Artimes, a former captain in Castro's army whom the CIA had helped defect from Cuba and had used to train Its exile army in Guatemala. Bernard "Macho" Barker, a former CIA infiltrator into the Cuban intelligence apparatus who had been subsequently "exfiltrated" into the United States by the CIA, was also contacted. Hunt explained to Captain Artimes that he had been authorized by the White House to recruit Cuban exiles into "hit teams" which would be used ostensibly to assassinate narcotics dealers. He asked his former comrade in clandestine work to recommend Cubans for these teams. Since Barker had arranged the escape of Artimes from Cuba on the CIA's behalf, he was apparently highly recommended. Hunt already knew Barker from the Bay of Pigs operation, in 1961, and after explaining to him that he was now working for a "higher level structure than either the FBI or CIA,- Hunt asked him to assemble a team of Cuban exiles who were burglars and lock-picks.*

 * Hunt also apparently recruited Frank Sturgis, a self-proclaimed soldier of fortune who was arrested with four others in the burglary of the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate complex, for this new office. Sturgis claims that he undertook several missions for Hunt involving tracking narcotics, and he assumed that this was the nucleus of a new supranational police force that would be expanded after Nixon's reelection.

 Meanwhile, Liddy wrote the president a long memorandum analyzing the deficiencies of the FBI and argued that because of these flaws in its organization, it could not be counted on by the White House. The president was impressed with this analysis and remarked to Krogh that it was "the most brilliant memorandum he had received in a long time." Liddy also arranged to funnel money from the dairy cooperatives, which were clients of Hunt's public-relations firm, into the Special Investigative Unit, to pay for the break-ins, wiretaps, and other clandestine activities. By mid-August. Liddy had obtained permission from Krogh and Ehrlichrrian for a covert operation in which the Plumbers would -et access to Ellsherg's psychiatric records. which his psychiatrist- Dr. Lewis Fielding, had steadfastly refused to show to the FBI.

Over that Labor Dav weekend Dr. Fieldino was not expected to be in his Beverly Hills office. Thus. Liddy, Hunt. Barker, and the two Cuban exiles he recruited for the mission, Eugenio R. Martinez and Felipe de Diego-both of whom claimed to have taken part in CIA clandestine operations against Cuba-flew to Los Angeles to execute what was known in White House circles as Liddy-Hunt Project Number One. According to the plan worked out by Liddy. Martinez and Diego went to Dr. Fielding's office wearing the uniforms of a local delivery service and left a green suitcase addressed to the psychiatrist, containing Photographic equipment which the CIA had made available to Hunt. The housekeeper accommodatingly placed the suitcase in Dr. Fielding's office. Later that evening, while Liddy drove a rented car around the office building to be in a position to warn the burglars against any police who might be on the scene, Barker, Martinez, and Diego forced open the door of Dr. Fielding's office, opened the green suitcase they had left there that afternoon, and began photographing Dr. Fielding's confidential files. During the entire operation, Hunt watched Dr. Fielding's home and kept in contact with the other conspirators by walkie-talkie radio. There were, however, no interruptions. and the White House unit returned to Washington, D.C. (When the burglary was discovered the following Monday, a narcotics addict, conveniently arrested for the crime, readily "confessed" to it in return for a Suspended sentence: as in other White House crusades, narcotics addicts served as covers for the subterranean activities of White House "investigators.") Liddy-Hunt Project Number One was not a complete success, however, because the records of Ellsberg were not in Dr. Fielding's office and thus could not be photographed. Nevertheless, while Liddy and Krogh worked on plans for a permanent Investigative unit which ostensibly would operate against narcotics traffickers, the Plumbers kept busy in room 16, investigating, among other things, the possible leaking of national security documents to Jack Anderson by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (presumably to undermine Kissinger's detente policies). Finally, in December, 1971, the president ordered Ehrllchman and Krogh to create the permanent White House-controlled Investigative unit envisioned in the option paper drawn up by Liddy. The new unit was to be known as the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement.