William Birely

William Birely was a Washington stockbroker who became friends with Richard Nixon and Rose Mary Woods in 1947. He was also a supporter of right-wing causes such as the Sons of the American Revolution. It was in this organization that Birley met Lee R. Pennington. Birley also worked with Pennington on the Cross of Languedoc, the official publication of the Huguenot Society of Washington.

In March, 1972, Lou Russell purchased $3,000 in electronic eavesdropping equipment from John Leon. Russell's friend, Charles F. Knight, was told that this equipment had been purchased for James W. McCord. This equipment was used to tape the telephone conversations between politicians based at the Democratic Party National Committee and a small group of prostitutes run by Phillip Mackin Bailley that worked their trade in the Columbia Plaza.

On 16th June, 1972, Lou Russell told his daughter he had to return to Washington to do "some work for McCord" that night. It was estimated that he arrived back at the Howard Johnson's Motel at around 12.45 a.m. At 1.30 a.m. Russell had a meeting with McCord. It is not clear what role Russell played in the Watergate break-in. Jim Hougan (Secret Agenda) has suggested that he was helping McCord to "sabotage the break-in".

Later that night Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, Bernard L. Barker and James W. McCord were arrested while in the Democratic Party headquarters in Watergate.

Lou Russell was interviewed by the FBI soon afterwards. He claimed that during the break-in he was in his rooming house. The FBI agents did not believe him but none of the burglars claimed he had been involved in the conspiracy and he was released.

According to Jerris Leonard, John Leon told Carmine Bellino, an investigator who worked for Edward Kennedy and the Senate Administrative Practices Committee, about Russell's problems. Bellino phoned Russell. It is not known was was said but as a result of this conversation but it was followed by Bellino asking Birley, his close friend and longtime stockbroker, if Russell could stay with him on the top floor of the Twin Towers complex in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Birley later explained why he helped Lou Russell. "I pitied him. There was nothing more to it than that. Lou had just picked himself up. He'd stopped drinking. He had great hopes for his work with McCord and then, all of a sudden, he was out of a job. The Watergate business just devastated him." This is not true. James W. McCord continued to employ Russell via another company, Security International, that he owned with former CIA officer, William Shea.

As well as accommodation, Birley supplied Russell with "walking around money". In return Russell performed a number of tasks for Birely while living at the Twin Towers. This including some highly profitable transactions involving bank shares. Russell also traveled to Rhode Island and Connecticut on behalf of Birely.

John Leon later claimed that Russell had been a spy for the Democratic Party within CREEP and that he had tipped off Carmine Bellino and the police about the Watergate break-in. At the time Leon was working on a counter-investigation for the Republican Party. Leon claimed that Watergate was a set up and the operation had been sabotaged from within.

On 2nd July, 1973, Lou Russell died of a heart attack. John Leon now began contacting others who had worked with him for Carmine Bellino during the presidential campaign. This included former CIA officer John Frank, congressional investigator Edward M. Jones and Joseph Shimon, a former inspector for the Washington Police Department. Leon and the others provided affidavits claiming that the John F. Kennedy had ordered the bugging of Richard Nixon during the 1960 presidential election. Leon now passed this information to Jerris Leonard, an attorney working for the Republican National Committee (RNC).

George Bush, the chairman of the RNC announced there would be press conference on 13th July, 1973. John Leon was to be the star witness. However, Leon suffered a heart-attack and died before he could provide evidence against the Democratic Party.

Primary Sources

(1) Anthony Summers, The Arrogance of Power (2000)

A year into the presidency, having requested an appointment with Nixon himself, Russell had visited with Rose Woods at the White House. He wanted a job, and Woods wrote to the White House personnel department on his behalf. A report on Russell was later sent to Attorney General Mitchell, and the former agent lunched with William Birely, a Washington stockbroker who had long been friendly with Nixon and his secretary.

Russell worked on the continuing White House probe of Chappaquiddick and, according to his daughter, was used as a courier to carry large sums of cash. Then, in 1972, he began working for CREEP. His known responsibilities included running staff security checks, researching leftist newspapers, and the latest stage of what had now become a White House preoccupation investigating the columnist Jack Anderson.

This operative with a personal connection to the president, however, had a special qualification. It can hardly be a coincidence that before joining CREEP, Russell had worked for the security service that protected the Watergate building...

Russell had initially been hospitalized on May 18, 1973, shortly after writing to the Senate Watergate Committee to deny having any information that would help the investigation and three hours before James McCord began testifying. Russell was released from the hospital in June, but died on July 2 of what the death certificate described as "acute coronary occlusion." There was no autopsy. Russell's claim that he had been poisoned was made to his daughter shortly before his death. More intriguing than the manner of his death, for this author, is the fact that in the months between the Watergate arrests and his death Russell had far more money than usual. He made two bank deposits during that period, one for $4,750 and a second for $20,895. William Birely, Nixon's stockbroker friend had lent him a pleasant apartment and a car after Watergate and helped him invest his recent financial windfalls. Birely and McCord, who had continued to employ Russell, both attended his funeral.

(2) Jim Hougan, Secret Agenda: Watergate, Deep Throat and the CIA (1984)

It was at about this time that Russell received a telephone call from a prominent man - Carmine Bellino, an "investigative accountant," whose life had been spent in close association with the Kennedy family. He had known Lou Russell when the latter had been chief investigator for the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and he was telephoning Russell at the suggestion of a mutual friend, John Leon.

Leon later said that Bellino had wanted to learn everything he could about the attack on the DNC. Knowing of Russell's employment by McCord and suspecting his involvement in the break-in, Leon urged Bellino to contact the private detective. At the time, Bellino was the de facto point man of the congressional investigation then impending. Under the authority of Senator Edward Kennedy, the then chairman of the Senate's Administrative Practices Committee, Bellino was laying the groundwork for the day when he would be appointed chief investigator for the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities (the Ervin committee).

We do not know what Bellino said to Russell or what Russell said to Bellino. Soon after the call, however, a Good Samaritan came to Russell, offering sanctuary. The Samaritan was William Birely, Bellino's close friend and longtime stockbroker. Asked if there was any connection between his friendship with Bellino and his subsequent generosity to Russell, Birely insists that there was not. Similarly, Birely says, his friendship with Lee Pennington was also a coincidence: both he and Pennington had long served together as executive officers in various patriotic societies based in Washington.

It was "out of the goodness of my heart," Birely recalls, that he offered to rescue Russell from his squalid quarters in the capital. Russell accepted the offer, and was soon resident in an apartment on the top floor of the Twin Towers complex in Silver Spring, Maryland, just across the District line. Provided with "walking around money" and a better car than he had been driving until then, Russell found that his situation had improved dramatically.

"I pitied him," Birely told me. "There was nothing more to it than that. Lou had just picked himself up. He'd stopped drinking. He had great hopes for his work with McCord and then, all of a sudden, he was out of a job. The Watergate business just devastated


In fact Russell was not "out of a job." Despite McCord's arrest, and the apparent dissolution of McCord Associates, Inc., Russell remained in the employ of the Watergate burglar, albeit under different auspices. On June 9th McCord had rented office space at the Arlington Towers complex in Rosslyn on the Virginia side of the Potomac. There McCord established a new firm, Security International, Inc., headed by a former CIA officer named William Shea (whose wife, Theresa, had previously worked as McCord's secretary). The new firm was to achieve remarkable success; whereas McCord Associates had won only two clients (the CRP and the RNC) after two years of trying, Security International signed twenty-five to thirty (never identified) new clients in its first nine months of existence. Moreover, even while the Arlington Towers were unusually secure, so also was the suite of offices that McCord had rented for his new firm. The doors of that firm were kept locked around the clock (even while its employees worked inside), and no outsiders were permitted to enter. Salesmen and others who called in person were told that all business had to be transacted over the telephone. It was while living at the Twin Towers in Silver Spring as a guest of William Birely's that Russell continued to work for McCord under the auspices of Security International. According to Russell's daughter, Jean Hooper, "Mr. McCord was a pallbearer at my dad's funeral (in July i973). And when it was over, Mr. McCord came to me with my dad's last paycheck. I think it was for $285-something like that."

Which raises the question: Why did - how could - McCord keep Russell on the payroll for more than a year after the Watergate arrests and, indeed, even after the detective was incapacitated by a heart attack (in April 1973)? If we are to believe the impression given at the time, McCord was in desperate financial straits. Raising bail was said to be a serious problem, his family was allegedly hard put to make ends meet and so forth. And yet, despite these difficulties, McCord was able to pay Russell a good salary and, what is more, to reject a $105,000 publishing advance for what appear to have been artistic reasons.