Richard Ober was born in about 1921. He studied at Harvard University with Ben Bradlee. After graduating in 1943 Ober joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) he became a liaison with the anti-Fascist underground in Nazi-occupied Europe.
After the Second World War Ober joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). For over 20 years he served under James Angleton as his chief counter-intelligence deputy. According to Angus Mackenzie, Ober was a senior figure in the special operations branch, that "carried out wiretaps, break-ins, and burglaries as authorized by their superiors". The liaison between the special operations unit and Richard Helms, director of the CIA, was Ober. Mackenzie quotes one senior CIA source as saying: “Ober had unique and very confidential access to Helms. I always assumed he was mucking about with Americans who were abroad and then would come back, people like the Black Panthers.”
In June 1970, Richard Nixon held a meeting with J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Helms and the heads of army and navy intelligence. Nixon wanted better intelligence on revolutionary activism. The result was Operation Chaos. Ober was put in charge of the operation. He was given an office in the White House and worked closely with Nixon, H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman.
Nixon was unaware that Ober was placed in the White House to spy on his administration. In her book, Katharine the Great, Deborah Davis argued that it was during this period that Ober gathered information on Nixons illegal activities. Ober discovered that Richard Nixon was trying to undermine the power of the CIA. It was therefore decided to bring him down. Ober therefore became Deep Throat and provided information to CIA assets, Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward.
In February, 1973, Richard Nixon sacked Richard Helms as director of the CIA. His deputy, Thomas H. Karamessines, resigned in protest. Nixon now appointed James Schlesinger as the new director of the CIA. Schlesinger was heard to say: The clandestine service was Helmss Praetorian Guard. It had too much influence in the Agency and was too powerful within the government. I am going to cut it down to size. This he did and over the next three months over 7 per cent of CIA officers lost their jobs.
On 9th May, 1973, James Schlesinger issued a directive to all CIA employees: I have ordered all senior operating officials of this Agency to report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or might have gone on in the past, which might be considered to be outside the legislative charter of this Agency. I hereby direct every person presently employed by CIA to report to me on any such activities of which he has knowledge. I invite all ex-employees to do the same. Anyone who has such information should call my secretary and say that he wishes to talk to me about activities outside the CIAs charter. As a result of this information Ober was transferred to the National Security Council. One source claims that Ober wasn’t fired because, he was “too embarrassing, too hot.”
Nineteen fifty-six. Ben Bradlee, recently remarried, is a European correspondent for Newsweek. He left the embassy for Newsweek in 1953, a year before CIA director Allen Duller authorized one of his most skilled and fanatical agents, former OSS operative James Angleton, to set up a counterintelligence staff. As chief of counterintelligence, Angleton has become the liaison for all Allied intelligence and has been given authority over the sensitive Israeli desk, through which the CIA is receiving 80 percent of its information on the KGB. Bradlee is in a position to help Angleton with the Israelis in Paris, and they are connected in other ways as well: Bradlee's wife, Tony Pinchot, Vassar '44, and her sister Mary Pinchot Meyer, Vassar '42, are close friends with Cicely d'Autremont, Vassar '44, who married James Angleton when she was a junior, the year he graduated from Harvard Law School and was recruited into the OSS by one of his former professors at Yale.
Also at Harvard in 1943, as undergraduates, were Bradlee and a man named Richard Ober, who will become Angleton's chief counterintelligence deputy and will work with him in Europe and Washington throughout the fifties, sixties, and early seventies. Both Bradlee and Ober were members of the class of '44 but finished early to serve in the war; both received degrees with the class of '43. Ober went into the OSS and became a liaison with the antifascist underground in Nazi-occupied countries; Bradlee joined naval intelligence, was made a combat communications officer, and handled classified and coded cables on a destroyer in the South Pacific. He then worked for six months as a clerk in the New York office of the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization that promotes various progressive causes, including conscientious objection to war. This job, so out of character for the young patriot, may or may not have been an intelligence assignment...
Angleton and Ober are counterintelligence, and run agents from Washington and Paris who do exactly the opposite: they prevent spies from penetrating American embassies, the State Department, the CIA itself.
In March 1972, a typescript of an article and a related book proposal were purloined by a CIA agent from a New York publisher and forwarded to Langley. For Richard Ober, the manuscript was right out of a bad dream. A former senior CIA official, Victor Marchetti, was planning to write a book exposing CIA deceptions. Marchetti had been the executive assistant to the deputy director of Central Intelligence and had attended regular planning and intelligence meetings attended by Richard Helms. He had also been a courier for the Agency group that approves covert operations. The most carefully guarded CIA information was called Sensitive Compartmented Information, or SCI, and was distributed to officials strictly on a need-to-know basis. But his position had allowed Marchetti an overview of the Agency purposely denied to most CIA officers.
Over time, Marchetti had become troubled by the Agency's role in the overthrow of democracies on behalf of dictators and by CIA manipulation of other nations' internal policies. He saw evidence of corruption in overseas operations. Marchetti's intellectual honesty was also offended by intrigue inside CIA headquarters that disrupted the accuracy of intelligence estimates. Furthermore, the Vietnam War had disillusioned Marchetti, whose sons would soon reach draft age. And when Eagle Scouts from a troop he served as scoutmaster began dodging the draft, Marchetti began to feel his CIA job was isolating him.
Upon quitting the Agency at age thirty-nine, after a highly successful fourteen-year career, Marchetti wrote a novel called The Rope Dancer. Prior to its publication by Grosset and Dunlap in 1971, a CIA officer read a version of the manuscript at Marchetti's home, in keeping with the rules set out in the CIA secrecy contract Marchetti had signed. The CIA officer found no security breaches, and publication went forward.
What troubled Ober and Ober's immediate supervisor, Thomas Karamessines, was one particular line in the novel. Marchetti's central character is speaking with jaundiced anger about the fictional CIA: "Somebody should publicize the Agency's mistakes." Suppose Marchetti got it in his head to write about MHCHAOS? Concerned, Helms himself ordered Marchetti placed under surveillance beginning on March 23, I972.
Within days, an article written by Marchetti appeared in the April 3 Nation under the headline "CIA: The President's Loyal Tool." Marchetti wrote that the CIA was using the news media to create myths about the Agency and was fooling such influential publications as the New York Times and Newsweek. Additionally, he claimed, the CIA had continued to control youth, labor, and cultural organizations in the United States, notwithstanding the scandals triggered by the report in Ramparts. Marchetti also castigated Helms for spending too little time engaged with the intricacies of intelligence analysis, satirically calling him a "master spy" who conducted his most important weekly meetings in less than twenty minutes. Marchetti concluded: "Secrecy, like power, tends to corrupt, and it will not be easy to persuade those who rule in the United States to change their ways."
Even while MHCHAOS was surviving the Marchetti scare, the CIA inspector general, an internal cop, was the focal point of a second emergency. Worried that the inspector general might discover MHCHAOS and expose it, Helms called in Colby, Ober, and Karamessines for a meeting on December 5, I972. Helms emphasized the importance of running a cleaner, less dubious-looking operation. There was a need to proceed cautiously, he said, to avoid a showdown with "some CIA personnel." Nonetheless, Helms was adamant that MHCHAOS not be abandoned. It will not be "stopped simply because some members of the organization do not like this activity," he insisted.
Helms cautioned Ober against attending meetings of the Justice Department Intelligence Evaluation Committee, because security was lax and its role in domestic politics might lead investigative reporters to MHCHAOS. Helms had come up with a solution to the problem of CIA officers who doubted the legality of MHCHAOS. Henceforth, it would be described within the Agency as an operation against international terrorism. "To a (sic) maximum extent possible, Ober should become identified with the subject of terrorism inside the Agency as well as in the Intelligence Community," Helms ordered. Afterward, Colby sent Karamessines a summary of the meeting: "A clear priority is to be given in this general field to the subject of terrorism. This should bring about a reduction in the intensity of attention to political dissidents in the United States not apt to be involved in terrorism." The change in label was evidently intended to improve the Agency's image and cover, on the assumption that "terrorists" were more believable as a genuine threat than "dissidents."
But there was in fact to be little change in targets. MHCHAOS continued to hold radicals in its sights, specifically radical youths, Blacks, women, and antiwar militants. The label "international terrorist" was designed to replace "political dissident" as the ongoing justification for illegal domestic operations. And in the final move to clean up Ober's act, in December Helms put an end to the operation of the five-year-old MHCHAOS by formally transforming it into the International Terrorism Group-with Ober still in charge.
According to his Who's Who entry, Alfred Friendly was a Post reporter while also serving in Air Force intelligence during World War II and as director of overseas information for the Economic Cooperation Administration from 1948-49. Joseph B. Smith (Portrait of a Cold Warrior) reports that the ECA routinely provided cover for the CIA. Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were set up by the CIA and John S. Hayes was their chairman by 1974. Years earlier when Hayes was vice-president for radio and television at the Post, he was appointed by Kennedy to a secret CIA propaganda task force. Friendly left the Post soon after Bradlee came on board, and Hayes left when Johnson appointed him ambassador to Switzerland in 1966.
But poor Bradlee claims he didn't know that Cord Meyer was a globetrotting CIA destabilizer in the fifties, just as he knew nothing about CIA links when he took time off from the Post to work as a propagandist for the U.S. embassy in Paris from 1951-53. Deborah Davis includes in her book a memo released under the FOIA that shows Bradlee responding to a request from the CIA station chief in Paris, Robert Thayer. His assignment was to place stories in the European press to discredit the Rosenbergs, who had been sentenced to death, and Bradlee followed orders.
Benjamin Bradlee: from Post reporter to embassy propagandist, then on to Newsweek and back to the Post as executive editor, without breaking stride. The point of Davis' book is that this pattern is repeated again and again in Post history; she calls it "mediapolitics" -- the use of information media for political purposes. Robert Thayer's status as CIA station chief in Paris is confirmed in Richard Harris Smith's book OSS. While in Paris, Bradlee already knew Thayer, having attended the preparatory school Thayer ran while Robert Jr. was his classmate. Bradlee categorically denies any CIA connection, but it's a toss-up as to which is more disturbing: Bradlee in bed with the CIA and lying about it, or Bradlee led around by the CIA and not knowing it.
Unlike Bradlee, Katharine does not seem as sophisticated or conniving; she was apparently completely sucked in by such charmers as Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, and even Henry Kissinger, who took her to the movies. She supported Nixon in 1968 and 1972, changed her mind about him later, but has yet to waver from the anti-Communism that kept the Post from criticizing US policy in Vietnam. Her idea of an awkward situation is asking Nixon for National Guard protection during anti-Vietnam demonstrations in Washington; Lyndon never made her ask. The demonstrators had to be duped -- after all, she had taken the time to get her facts straight with a trip to Vietnam in 1965, where she shopped for blue and white china, and had access to all the assorted power brokers and opinion makers who showed up at the 1966 masked ball that Truman Capote gave for her. Between Bradlee and Katharine, with journalism such as this it's a wonder that the Vietnamese people survived.
The elitist conservatism and intelligence connections of the Post are as important today as they ever were; Katharine and Bradlee are still in control. Davis could have remarked on the current New Right editorial line in the Post, or added the fact that former editorial page editor (1968-79) Philip Geyelin joined the CIA for a year in 1950, while on leave from the Wall Street Journal, but found the work boring and went back to the Journal. And she also doesn't mention that Walter Pincus, a Post reporter who still covers intelligence issues, took two CIA-financed trips overseas to international student conferences in 1960, and waited to write about them until 1967 when reporters everywhere were exposing CIA conduits. Informed readers of Geyelin (who stills does a column) and Pincus can learn much from they way these writers filter history. This may qualify them as good journalists among their colleagues, but for the unwitting masses it simply amounts to more disinformation.
The CIA connections that Davis does mention are dynamite. The issue is relevant today because frequently the D.C. reader has to pick up the Washington Times to get information on the CIA the Post refuses to print. For example, while almost every major newspaper in the country, as well as CBS News and ABC News, use the real name of former CIA Costa Rican station chief "Tomas Castillo," the Post, as of late June, continues to gloat over their use of the pseudonym only. This is probably Bradlee's decision, not Katharine's, because Newsweek let former Associated Press reporter Robert Parry use Castillo's real name (Joseph F. Fernandez, age 50) when Parry joined the magazine earlier this year. According to Davis, Katharine doesn't make editorial decisions these days unless they threaten the health of the company.
The question, then, becomes one of myth-management, and attempting to discern why the Post enjoys such a liberal reputation in spite of its record. Once you redefine liberalism as something slightly closer to the center than the New Right, it means that "genuine" liberalism (if such a thing was ever important) is stranded and soon becomes extinct. Add to this the fact that US liberalism since World War II, whether "genuine" or contemporary, has a record on foreign policy that would make Teddy Roosevelt proud. That leaves two media events to explain the Post puzzle: the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. Forget the first event, because the Post was merely trying to keep up with the New York Times so as not to lose face. Besides, they didn't make a movie about it.
Watergate and the Post, the stuff of great drama. Much has been written already about the probability that Nixon was set up. McCord as a double agent has been covered neatly in Carl Oglesby's Yankee and Cowboy War, Bob Woodward's previous employment with a Pentagon intelligence unit was mentioned in Jim Hougan's Secret Agenda, and the motive -- that Nixon was losing perspective and becoming a threat to those who were still able to see their long-range interests clearly -- is evident after reading Seymour Hersh's The Politics of Power.
If you put it all together and summarize it in the context of Deep Throat and the Post, along with Bradlee's CIA sympathies, you must agree with Davis that Nixon wasn't the only one set up; Deep Throat led the Post by the nose. Whether they knew it or not, whether they cared or not assuming that they knew, and whether or not a noble end can justify shabby means -- all this pales next to Davis' main point. That point is this: the Post, whose history of journalism by manipulation helped create the conditions that led to Vietnam, the demonstrations, and the psychosis of Nixon, ended up using or responding to these same manipulative methods to avoid political obsolescence, and somehow it worked.
Davis identifies Deep Throat as Richard Ober, the chief of the CIA's domestic spying program called Operation CHAOS. The evidence is circumstantial and her sources remain anonymous. According to Davis, Kissinger moved Angleton into the White House and set him up with his own Israeli intelligence desk in 1969. This sounds like vintage Kissinger as he acts swiftly to capture the foreign policy apparatus, but it's the first I've heard that Angleton, who thought the Sino-Soviet split was a ruse designed to catch the West napping, was on any sort of terms with the China-hopping, detente-talking Kissinger.
Davis writes that Angleton's deputy Ober was also given a White House office, and after the Pentagon Papers were published Ober had privileged access to Nixon and was able to observe his deterioration. Again, this is news to me. If Davis is correct, it means Angleton and Ober were running Operation CHAOS out of the White House, Nixon knew about it while Kissinger didn't, but both Kissinger and Nixon were deeply suspicious of the CIA and felt it necessary to start up the Huston Plan to cover the CIA's shortcomings in domestic intelligence. At least the book includes a photograph of Ober -- the first one I've seen. Davis makes more sense than some of the Watergate theories that have kicked around in past years, but this is still the most speculative portion of her book.
Part of the Post success story has to do with sheer wealth. As one of the world's richest women, Graham has the empire backed up with many millions, which guarantees continued access to privilege and power. Another part is an ability to play dirty. Katharine Graham, who became one of Washington's most notorious union-busters in the name of a free press, used her "soft cop" with Bradlee's "hard cop" to insure that William Jovanovich, who published the first edition of this book in 1979, was bullied into recalling 20,000 copies because of minor inaccuracies alleged by Bradlee. Jovanovich made no effort to check Bradlee's allegations. Deborah Davis filed a breach-of- contract and damage-to-reputation suit against Jovanovich, who settled out of court with her in 1983.
The entire saga of Katharine the Great is a sobering antidote to the intoxication I felt when All the President's Men first played. A myth has been more than punctured; Davis bludgeons it mercilessly -- yet in a manner that shows far more journalistic integrity than one can expect from the Post or from Jovanovich. This bludgeoning was overdue for eight years, delayed by exactly the sort of Washington hardball that Davis exposes. Indeed, there can be no more eloquent testimony to the substantive nature of Davis' material than the sound that those 20,000 copies must have made as they, at the behest of Post power, went through a shredding machine.
The minor deception in the book is that only Woodward knew who Deep Throat was. Bradlee knew him, had known him far longer than Woodward. There is a possibility that Woodward had met him while working as an intelligence liaison between the Pentagon and the White House, where Deep Throat spent a lot of time, and that he considered Woodward trustworthy, or useful, and began talking to him when the time was right. It is equally likely, though, that Bradlee, who had given Woodward other sources on other stories, put them in touch after Woodward's first day on the story, when Watergate burglar James McCord said at his arraignment hearing that he had once worked for the CIA. Whether or not Bradlee provided the source, he recognized McCord's statement to the court as highly unusual: CIA employees, when caught in an illegal act, do not admit that they work for the CIA, unless that is part of the plan. McCord had no good reasons to mention the CIA at all, except, apparently, to direct wide attention to the burglary, because he had been asked to state only his present occupation, and he had not worked for the CIA for several years.
What matters is not how the connection with Deep Throat was made, but why. Why did Bradlee allow Woodward to rely so heavily upon it, and ultimately, why did the leaders of the intelligence community, for whom Deep Throat spoke, want the president of the United States to fall?
What we have seen so far has been Nixon's attempt, after the Pentagon Papers, to bludgeon CIA director Helms and FBI director Hoover into cooperating with his campaign to use the papers against the Democrats. Actually, Watergate goes back to the early days of the Nixon administration, when Henry Kissinger, the head of the National Security Council, issued NSSM (National Security Study Memorandum) 1 (ironically, Daniel Ellsberg had helped him draft it), which required different intelligence agencies and departments to provide him with independent answers to comprehensive sets of questions about the Vietnam war. The purpose of NSSM 1 was not only to be able to run the war better, for Kissinger was running the war the way he wanted to in Vietnam and Cambodia anyway, but to play the agencies off against each other, with the power, in the confusion, going to Kissinger. He was, of course, understood to be operating for Nixon.
NSSM 1 came out on February 1, 1969, about a week after Nixon took office; in February 1970 Kissinger then formed the infamous 40 Committee, to which the CIA was to submit all plans for covert actions. In December 1970 Kissinger assigned James Schlesinger, assistant director of the budget, the task of analyzing the intelligence budget with an eye to cutting back the department of Thomas Karamessines, Helms's deputy and the director of plans.
We always did our best to be careful and responsible, especially when we were carrying the burden of the Watergate reporting. From the outset, the editors had resolved to handle the story with more than the usual scrupulous attention to fairness and detail. They laid down certain rules, which were followed by everyone. First, every bit of information attributed to an unnamed source had to be supported by at least one other, independent source. Particularly at the start of Watergate, we had to rely heavily on confidential sources, but at every step we double-checked every bit of material before printing it; where possible, we had three or even more sources for each story. Second, we ran nothing that was reported by any other newspaper, television, radio station, or other media outlet unless it was independently verified and confirmed by our own reporters. Third, every word of every story was read by at least one of the senior editors before it went into print, with a top editor vetting each story before it ran. As any journalist knows, these are rigorous tests.
Yet, despite the care I knew everyone was taking, I was still worried. No matter how careful we were, there was always the nagging possibility that we were wrong, being set up, being misled. Ben would repeatedly reassure me - possibly to a greater extent than he may have actually felt-by saying that some of our sources were Republicans, Sloan especially, and that having the story almost exclusively gave us the luxury of not having to rush into print, so that we could be obsessive about checking everything. There were many times when we delayed publishing something until the "tests" had been met. There were times when something just didn't seem to hold up and, accordingly, was not published, and there were a number of instances where we withheld something not sufficiently confirmable that turned out later to be true.
At the time, I took comfort in our "two-sources" policy. Ben further assured me that Woodward had a secret source he would go to when he wasn't sure about something-a source that had never misled us. That was the first I heard of Deep Throat, even before he was so named by Howard Simons, after the pornographic movie that was popular in certain circles at the time. It's why I remain convinced that there was such a person and that he - and it had to be a he - was neither made up nor an amalgam or a composite of a number of people, as has often been hypothesized. The identity of Deep Throat is the only secret I'm aware of that Ben has kept, and, of course, Bob and Carl have, too. I never asked to be let in on the secret, except once, facetiously, and I still don't know who he is.
Three months later he authorized John Mitchell to provide Justice Department cover for an Intelligence Evaluation Committee (IEC, for which Hoover refused to provide FBI staff), which monitored civil disturbances and coordinated and evaluated domestic intelligence. The president also began to rely heavily upon the counsel of Richard Ober, Angleton's deputy, the man in the CIA most concerned with domestic counterintelligence, and one of the few whom Nixon trusted. Ober was given a small office inside the White House, where he was known only to Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and possibly Kissinger. He had unlimited access to the president, could pass Haldeman at any time without permission and without going on the record (his name was never recorded in White House logs), and was present at many of the meetings that took place after the publication of the Pentagon Papers, when Nixon's obsession with his enemies pushed him to the limits to rational thought. The president, in his confusion, began to equate the Democrats with both the war (the Kennedy Democrats) and the antiwar movement (the McGovern Democrats); decided that a McGovern victory in the approaching presidential election would be a victory for the movement's Communists; and became more firmly convinced than he had always been that his reelection was synonymous with the best interests of the nation. He also knew, and must have complained to his personal intelligence consultant, Ober, that neither the CIA nor the FBI would help ensure that he would win.
Nixon's confidence in Ober did not come automatically; a man like Nixon must have proof of loyalty. He would have had to see, from Ober, the evidence that he did not care for bureaucratic battles, that he put the president's interests above those of the CIA. The most effective way for Ober to have proven himself was to have acted as consultant when Ehrlichman, Nixon's domestic affairs adviser, was ordered to establish (without experience in such matters) the president's personal intelligence unit, the Plumbers, in the summer of 1971. Ober would have found Ehrlichman the right men for the job (men like former CIA operative James McCord); he would have provided equipment, given detailed instructions, helped Ehrlichman to analyze their results. He would have shown Nixon that he was willing to risk his career for him by doing what the CIA would not have done-for example, overseeing the burglary of the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist-which more than anything else would have demonstrated Ober's correct state of mind and persuaded Nixon that he could finally trust him.
The essential rule of counterintelligence is to use an enemy's weaknesses against himself, to one's own advantage. Haldeman and Ehrlichman held the authority in the Nixon White House for political intelligence and sabotage, but Nixon, by his nature, needed to keep secrets even from them; he needed to think that certain plans were too sensitive to share with anybody except Ober. This operative, who was next to Angleton the most skilled counterintelligence man in the nation, understood Nixon's fear of the Democrats and did not tell him that with his thirty-point lead in the polls the fear was illogical. Instead, he played upon it; he either persuaded Nixon or agreed with him that the Plumbers ought to stop working on the fringes of the campaign, that they should be sent directly into Democratic National Committee headquarters to plant telephone bugs and steal documents, which they did for the first time on May 1, 1972, the day, coincidentally, before J. Edgar Hoover died.
Meanwhile, President Johnson had replaced Raborn as CIA director with Helms, who immediately made a crucial decision. He transferred responsibility for the Ramparts operation away from Osborn to a key CIA operative whose identity would not be known for years. Richard Ober's name is curiously absent from indexes of books about political spying of his era. Ober managed to keep in the shadows - a force behind the scenes, a man careful to say nothing that would reveal his true role. Few of his associates would even admit to knowing him. It was a breach of the code when one associate gave me a rough description of Ober as a big man with reddish skin and hair.
Ober was a counterintelligence specialist in the Directorate of Plans, sometimes known as the dirty tricks department. He had joined the Agency in 1948 and had a background that CIA directors trusted - Harvard class of 1943, army experience, graduate study in international affairs at Columbia University. At the CIA, Ober had completed two tours of duty abroad, returning to run clandestine operations from a desk and to study at the National War College before becoming the elite of the elite: a counterintelligence officer. Ober and his fellow counterintelligence agents worked in isolation from the rest of the Agency, in the most secret of the Agency's secret compartments. Counterintelligence involves destroying the effectiveness of foreign intelligence services and protecting one's own spies from exposure and subversion. During the 1950s and early 1960s counterintelligence had been widely expanded to all manner of internal police jobs, which now included stopping American publications from printing articles about questionable CIA operations.
As Ober studied the legal options for getting the courts to prevent Ramparts from printing a story about the National Student Association, he found that none existed. There simply was no legal precedent for stopping publication. Instead a decision was reached to try to achieve "damage control." A press conference was planned before Ramparts was due to break the story. Leaders of the National Student Association were to admit to their CIA relationship and were to say it had been ended at their insistence. The plan was to steal the thunder from the Ramparts story, limiting its impact by making it old news.
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has repeatedly, and illegally, spied on US citizens for years, reveals investigative journalist Seymour Hersh in a landmark report for the New York Times. Such operations are direct violations of the CIA’s charter and the law, both of which prohibit the CIA from operating inside the United States. Apparently operating under orders from Nixon officials, the CIA has conducted electronic and personal surveillance on over 10,000 US citizens, as part of an operation reporting directly to then-CIA Director Richard Helms. In an internal review in 1973, Helms’s successor, James Schlesinger, also found dozens of instances of illegal CIA surveillance operations against US citizens both past and present (see 1973). Many Washington insiders wonder if the revelation of the CIA surveillance operations tie in to the June 17, 1972 break-in of Democratic headquarters at Washington’s Watergate Hotel by five burglars with CIA ties. Those speculations were given credence by Helms’s protests during the Congressional Watergate hearings that the CIA had been “duped” into taking part in the Watergate break-in by White House officials.
One official believes that the program, a successor to the routine domestic spying operations during the 1950s and 1960s, was sparked by what he calls “Nixon’s antiwar hysteria.” Helms himself indirectly confirmed the involvement of the Nixon White House, during his August 1973 testimony before the Senate Watergate investigative committee.
The domestic spying was carried out, sources say, by one of the most secretive units in CI, the special operations branch, whose employees carry out wiretaps, break-ins, and burglaries as authorized by their superiors. “That’s really the deep-snow section,” says one high-level intelligence expert. The liaison between the special operations unit and Helms was Richard Ober, a longtime CI official. “Ober had unique and very confidential access to Helms,” says a former CIA official. “I always assumed he was mucking about with Americans who were abroad and then would come back, people like the Black Panthers.” After the program was revealed in 1973 by Schlesinger, Ober was abruptly transferred to the National Security Council. He wasn’t fired because, says one source, he was “too embarrassing, too hot.” Angleton denies any wrongdoing.