What Role Did CIA Have In Watergate?
During the famed interviews with David Frost in 1977, former President Richard Nixon muses in the first broadcast that he wondered what role the CIA had in the entire Watergate affair.
The role of the CIA is one that has long been speculated about, and is again making some headlines.
If Watergate still matters, it is because the story tells us something about the intersection of power and journalism in Washington. The ur-personalities of these veteran newsmen are important but so are new facts, and recent revelations illuminate one aspect of the story that is often overlooked: the role of the CIA.
Woodward acknowledged as much in what is perhaps the single most interesting Watergate revelation of recent years. In June 2007, the CIA released most of the so-called “Family Jewels,” a long-suppressed internal report on the agency’s abuses of power. The newly declassified documents, Woodward wrote in the Post, showed in “telling detail” how the CIA, under the leadership of director Richard Helms, served as “the perfect Watergate enabler.”
The Helms/Nixon relationship lies at the heart of the Watergate story. Nixon, of course, was a paranoid genius, a master of resentment politics at home and geopolitical maneuvering abroad. Helms, his long-serving director of Central Intelligence, was the epitome of a CIA man in the Cold War: correct, discreet and ruthless.
The CIA’s involvement in Watergate, Woodward noted, “is one of the murkiest parts of the story.” He and Bernstein didn’t write about it much in “All the President’s Men,” not because they didn’t have suspicions but because they could not pin the story down. Howard Baker, vice chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee, likened the Agency’s role to “animals crashing around in the forest — you can hear them but you can’t see them.” And Helms’ role was especially elusive. Said Baker: “Nixon and Helms had so much on each other that neither one of them could breathe.”