Note: The Truth Barrier first published this in Feb. of 2012. I decided to re-publish it in light of the events in the US, Hillary Clinton, and the re-opening of the FBI’s criminal case against her.
Michael Hastings, mentioned at the end of the article, has since died in an unnatural car crash. I believe he was one of the best print journalists of his generation, if not the best.
A new book by Tim Weiner, Enemies: A History of the FBI, is a history of the FBI based on “a foundation of over 70,000 recently de-classified documents,” according to the author. This explosive book excerpt at long last clarifies the chain of events, political and personal dynamics leading to the Watergate crisis, 43 criminal convictions, and resignation of Richard Nixon in 1974. (It is “explosive” because it is clear.) Watergate was of course not the second grade school play drama we have been induced to believe in which two heroic young reporters “take down” a U.S. President.
They did and they didn’t. The work of two Washington Post two reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, in the long lost days of “shoe-leather” reporting, was thorough, dogged, unimpeachable, but it was the FBI in fact, that “took down” a sitting American President. Woodward and Bernstein were dogged reporters, but the entire thing was orchestrated. And they knew it. Does this “matter?”
I think so.
It’s a clear example of how we lack the basic sophistication of any other people living under a dictatorship or quasi-dictatorship in which it is understood and implicit that successful journalists do the bidding of the state, and there are no accidents in the press.
Weiner clarifies what the FBI was, and is, and why: A counter-terrorist and (domestic) political vendetta organization that is “America’s closest counterpart to a secret police.” (Yet failed to anticipate or thwart either the 1993 WTC bombings, or the massacre of 9/11.) Nixon they did successfully take down however.
I have always wanted these details and now they are here. I wonder if I am over-stating if I say that is book shatters the central mythical edifice of American Journalism’s fantasy of itself. I will read this book for what it reveals about the media, more than for what it reveals about the FBI.
Ostensibly: Woodward and Bernstein got tipped off about a very big scandal–got hold of a thread, pulled and pulled. Discovered just how big, vast, dark and deep the scandal was, and revealed this to the American People, in dispatches in The Washington Post that shook the nation. All correct, but still, a superficial and self-serving interpretation.
It suggests that things like this can happen in America; They can’t and they don’t.
It never made sense. Not to anybody who knows anything about American Media.
As this book reveals, the back-story, which never really entered the dialectic, was Hoover’s death, the resented appointment of L. Patrick Gray to head the FBI, Nixon’s (valid) concerns about terrorism, homegrown and international, surveillance methods, the Supreme Court’s 1972 decision to prohibit warrantless wiretapping against US citizens, and FBI’s (and Nixon’s) rogue methods of doing and end run around the Supreme Court–brought to a head by attorneys for Pun Plamondon (?)–head of the “White Panthers,” described with the obligatory adjectives applied to all anarchists (a “wild-eyed anarchist.”)
And to make matters even more mind-boggling, look who’s caught in a wire-tapping scandal now, which actually makes one yearn for Nixon; At least he was justifiably “paranoid” about very real terrorist developments, and not hacking into grieving parent’s cell phones to sell newspapers for profit. Some would make moral distinctions between “Murdoch’s empire” and the American media, and those would be valid up to a point, but the Anglo-American press machine is the Anglo-American press machine. And who shall investigate them, all the way through to the core, or send them off in a helicopter, or strip them off their badges, or just make them all go away stop destroying our civilization?
(Tim Weiner’s next book: “Bastards: A History of the Anglo-American Media.”) (If no editor has tried yet to commission this, they’re asleep at the wheel.)
Here is an at-least-know-this outtake of the actual real true back-story of Watergate, from
“Enemies: A History of The FBI” (Random House, 2012) via The Huffington Post:
“The White House and the FBI had another crisis on their hands that summer. Nixon issued orders to escalate the war on terrorists in America. But the Bureau had lost its license to use its most powerful weapon in that battle.
The Supreme Court had banned the warrantless wiretapping of Americans in a unanimous decision on June 19, 1972 — the Monday after the Watergate break-in. A wild-eyed anarchist on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list was at the center of the case. Pun Plamondon — minister of defense for the White Panthers, whose party platform rested largely on sex, drugs, and rock ’n’
roll — stood accused of planting a bomb at the CIA’s recruiting station near the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. His lawyers correctly suspected Plamondon had been wiretapped. The federal trial judge had granted a routine defense motion for the disclosure of the government’s evidence. Nixon’s Justice Department refused to comply. The president’s lawyers claimed that the commander in chief had an inherent and unassailable right to wiretap at will.
The government lost. A federal appeals court ruled that even the president had to obey the Fourth Amendment — the passage in the Bill of Rights protecting Americans from warrantless searches and seizures. The Supreme Court had never upheld warrantless wiretapping within the United States. Most of the FBI’s secret surveillance had been carried out in deﬁance of the Court — at the command of presidents and attorneys general, but sometimes on orders from Hoover and his subordinates — since 1939. The technology of electronic eavesdropping had expanded exponentially since then. Thousands of Americans were targets of government spying under Nixon.
Robert Mardian, as Nixon’s internal security chief, represented the government in oral arguments before the Supreme Court. Justice Byron White had asked him bluntly: if “the President decides it’s necessary to bug John Doe’s phone,” was there “nothing under the sun John Doe can do about it?”
Mardian had said: “The President of the United States may authorize electronic surveillance; and, in those cases, it is legal.” Justice Lewis Powell, newly appointed by President Nixon, wrote the unanimous decision rejecting that argument. “The issue before us is an important one for the people of our country and their Government,” he wrote. “It involves the delicate question of the President’s power, acting through the Attorney General, to authorize electronic surveillance in internal security matters without prior judicial approval. Successive Presidents for more than one-quarter of a century have authorized such surveillance
in varying degrees, without guidance from the Congress or a deﬁnitive decision of this Court.”
That authority was now empty.
“Although some added burden will be imposed upon the Attorney General, this inconvenience is justiﬁed in a free society to protect constitutional values,” the Court ruled. “By no means of least importance will be the reassurance of the public generally that indiscriminate wiretapping and bugging of law-abiding citizens cannot occur.”
The Court said the government was free to wiretap “foreign powers or their agents” — for instance, Soviet spies — but not American citizens. Not without a warrant.
The FBI had at least six warrantless taps running on the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers on the morning of the Supreme Court’s ruling. They had to come out at once. The Bureau responded by reviving black-bag jobs. Gray called in top agents from around the country in mid-September 1972. President Nixon had ordered the FBI — along with the Pentagon, the
State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Agency — to come up with a national counterterrorism plan.
The world had been transﬁxed ten days before by the Black September killings at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Eleven Israeli athletes (and eight Palestinian attackers) had died, most of them after a bungled rescue by the West German police. President Nixon had conferred on the counterterrorism problem with his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, and his United Nations ambassador, George H. W. Bush. His personal secretary, Rose Mary Woods, told the president about the prophecies of a popular psychic named Jeane Dixon; the syndicated clairvoyant predicted a Palestinian attack against a Jewish target, such as Yitzhak Rabin, then Israel’s ambassador to the United States.
“They will kidnap somebody. They may shoot somebody,” Nixon told Kissinger on September 21, citing “this soothsayer, Jeane Dixon” as a source of his fears. “We have got to have a plan. Suppose they kidnap Rabin, Henry, and demand that we release all blacks who are prisoners around the United States, and we didn’t and they shoot him… What the Christ do we do?” Nixon wondered. “We have got to have contingency plans for hijacking, for kidnapping, for all sorts of things.”
On September 25, Nixon issued a secret presidential directive commanding an all-out counterterrorism campaign. The result was the President’s Cabinet Committee on Terrorism — the ﬁrst full-scale effort by the American government to address the threat. The full committee met once, and only once.
“Everybody at that meeting washed their hands like Pontius Pilate and said, ‘You do it, FBI,’” Gray recounted. Nobody else wanted to take the responsibility. Gray told Mark Felt and Ed Miller, his intelligence chief, that “he had decided to reauthorize surreptitious entries,” Miller said. “Well, I thought that was really good.”
The ﬁrst targets of the break-ins were hit in October 1972. The Bureau raided Palestinian American groups across the United States. FBI agents burglarized the ﬁles of an organization called the Arab Education League in Dallas, stole a membership list from the league’s ofﬁce safe, identiﬁed the group’s leaders, knocked on their doors, and ran them out of the country. Gray wrote years later that the break-ins and burglaries were “clearly illegal.” But he believed that he was following the president’s orders.
FBI black-bag jobs against friends and families of twenty-six Weather Underground fugitives started later that month. Gray was appalled to learn that not one of the fugitives had been caught, despite a nationwide search that had gone on for nearly three years. He ordered them “hunted to exhaustion,” a submariner’s command.
“No holds barred,” he wrote to Felt. At least seven of the burglaries were carried out by Squad 47, the secret unit based in the FBI’s New York ofﬁce. Under the command of John Kearney, the squad had conducted at least eight hundred black-bag jobs since the 1950s. None of the break-ins ever produced any evidence leading to the arrest of a Weather Underground fugitive. But in time they led to federal grand jury investigations against the commanders of the FBI.”
*** [end of outtake]
Tail Wags Dog: Am I “over-reaching?” Not a Journalist? No. Yes. A journalist must understand power. And care.
It has taken me so many years to fail fully and properly, to get out.
It was so exhausting—it’s such a subtle system in its way. It asks so much more of those it blesses. They have to keep lying and lying and lying. Never lying, exactly. Seeing reality a certain way. A way that behooves all. Like a very good family.
Ruminations: Let’s Review
Somebody very well read in political literature told me many years ago that the Watergate story was not “broken” by Woodward and Bernstein, but rather, that the decision to take down Nixon came first, followed by the careful seeding of the story using selected press. The Washington Post essentially permitted two of its reporters to run and catch bones that were thrown to them in the form of classified, sourced, evidence from what we were told was a top secret source who became known as ‘Deep Throat.’
Nothing wrong with that, prima facie–sources seek journalists through whom to seed their evidence and stories all the time. But here is why the Watergate mythology was a pain in the ass forever after, for journalism, for all of us: Because it created the myth that two punk reporters can knock on a bunch of doors and ‘take down’ a sitting President, without the complete cooperation of the government itself.
No, this is done only with the complete cooperation of the government itself, in this case, the FBI’s number two, Mark Felt, revealed after thirty years as Deep Throat. Hence, the identity of Deep Throat was extremely important, and the cagey and coy secrecy surrounding the story occluded the truth for decades, and served the powers that be. The media was forever re-branded as heroic and fearless, lulling us to think if there was a big rat somewhere, they would sniff it out for us. As you may have noticed, they aint-never caught-a-rabbit since Watergate. So the irony is the press required the full cooperation of the FBI to get on top of a real story and stay there.
Do you know how many legions of young people entered the profession of journalism thinking this is what it does? That it hunts down important stories of corruption in government, races back to the office, loosens its tie knots and starts banging out the heart-shocking truth?
Imagine the real story, which they should have told us:
“Dear American People: Guess what? There is a rogue element of the FBI embittered against Nixon, partly to do with who got the top job after Hoover, and they have been meeting us in parking lots every night with these incredible envelopes. My God it’s like Christmas every day. They think the American Press can be used like their own personal wind up doll but boy did they read us wrong. What follows is the documented story of how the FBI tried to use us to do its dirty work, and how we double-crossed them by exposing the whole thing.”
I know: None of the people involved in such a story would ever work again, nor their descendants, but it would be worth it, because we would at last understand how things actually work.
Stories of corrupt and depraved entire infrastructures do not sell; Stories of Very Bad Man do sell. It has to be one man–a Phobic Object, through whom, with the help of a very obedient press, The American Public can ritually cleanse itself of all evil and reclaim its innocence as a nation.
Woodward and Bernstein did very intrepid reporting; The point is not to take anything away from those two, per se, or the sanctified Washington Post, but rather, to observe how real truth emerges slowly over decades, like a very slowly developing photo.
Did the Washington Post act honorably in protecting its source (the FBI) or did it conceal a huge facet of the story that would have been more relevant to the American People than the hyper-focus on the break-in itself, and Nixon?
Here’s how I feel:
If you, as reporter, bite on a story fed to you by a “source” from inside the government, who or which is 100% utterly invested in using you and ‘your’ story to take out an adversary, you are a passive pawn in the game of journalism, while what you really want to be is the hunter. You represent the public, not the power block. Do not play ball with the power block, ever, but if you find ways to expose them in ways they do not themselves dictate and will, then you are doing journalism.
You will know you are because when the circling stars clear from your vision after your numerous concussions, you will not find yourself on Television, being interviewed about your journalistic feats.
One who did precisely this (exposed the Shadow State) is Julian Assange, so naturally, they can’t decide if he is “really a journalist at all.” (But they never tell us what a “real journalist” is, only that they decide, and they’ll tell us when they find one.)
They weren’t sure about Assange’s methods or tactics, he may have placed troops in danger, (did he or didn’t he?) he is “arrogant” “hard to work with,” and unkempt. But Woodward and Bernstein they were sure about.
Diametrically opposing figures, with diametrically opposing outcomes.
The year now is 2012. The next big story to come is this one: What is the media?
Many questions are answered at last, the media and its relations to the Shadow State, in this stunning interview with Julian Assange in Rolling Stone. I have never read a more comprehensive or revealing assessment of media, government, the first amendment, the fourth amendment, or human nature, than this.
I read it with rapt attention and fascination, start to finish, but there was one passage, one quote, that affected me more than I can express. I wonder if this quote was lost on most people. It shouldn’t have been; It’s central and critical.
Here is the passage:
Michael Hastings: What has the low point been for you in all this? Were there any mornings you woke up saying, “What have I got myself into?”
Julian Assange: I understood that the significance of what we were doing was greater than WikiLeaks as an institution and greater than our personal lives. In November, I told our people, perhaps to their surprise, that what we were doing was more significant than the life of any one of us. To that degree, the battles that we’ve had, the severity of the battles that we’ve had, is not something I have found to be difficult to deal with. Their severity is a reflection of the quality and importance of our work.
[In other words, journalism is and must be the one thing nobody can bear to say, except this guy: It is and must be sacrificial, on some scale, if not on this scale.]
Then, in the next line, Assange says something more, a very short but very freighted punctuation: “That said, the betrayals are hard to take.”