Monday, June 06, 2005

Ridiculous & Menacing (Deeply Throttled Part II)

Part I of the series.

Why the hell is Gordon Liddy on national television at all? Why is his opinion valuable?

The objection is not just based on the fact that Liddy is a criminal: he's also a fascist nutbag and a mental case:

"Gordon Liddy had a very unbalanced and bizarre personality," Minnick said. "I watched him burn a hole in his forearm one day with his cigarette lighter at a birthday party for a secretary. No one could stay in the room because of the smell of scorched flesh."

And ignorance of his insanity is not an excuse (notice that Scarborough went right ahead after this Deep Throat thing to let Liddy spew the S.O.S.)

I've always thought that Kevin Kline's character, Otto, in A Fish Called Wanda, was based on G. Gordon Liddy: macho, sociopathic, given to an ignorant and cornball interpretation of Nietzsche.

As this Felt thing came out, I had visions of octogenarian E. Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy (assuming they've made up: Liddy thought about killing Hunt, too) chatting on the phone, scheming of ways to whack their phantom menace: "Gordon, you could stab Felt with a penknife and blame it on Bob Woodward." "Good idea, Howie."

Is it really so much of a stretch? Were Nixon's goons so depraved? Yes, they were. Check out this interview:

PLAYBOY: And yet your book abounds with plots to murder opponents of and defectors from the Nixon adminstration, ranging from Jack Anderson to E. Howard Hunt --

LIDDY: None of which came to fruition.

PLAYBOY: Do we detect an unspoken "alas" at the end of that statement?

LIDDY: If you're a mindreader, you tell me.

PLAYBOY: Why in God's name did you want to murder Jack Anderson in the first place?

LIDDY: I'd prefer to call it justifable homicide, since murder is a legal term for a specific type of homicide that by its very definition is unjustifiable...


Anderson is one of those mutant strains of columnist who are half legitimate, because he passes off biased interpretations and selective information as straight reporting. At one point, Anderson's systematic leaking of top-secret information rendered the effective conduct of American foriegn policy virtually impossible...

[Liddy says Anderson blew a source of technical information gathering at the Kremlin, and wrote a column which "fatally compromised a vital U. S. human intelligence asset in the Middle East."]

PLAYBOY: Casting Anderson as a villain who caused the death of a U.S. Agent is an effective rationale for silencing him, but the fact remains that his removal would have spared Nixon considerable political embarrassment. Wasn't that the real motive?

LIDDY: No, it was not, though I recall George Bernard Shaw's observing that assassination is the extreme form of censorship. [Liddy goes on to deny a political motive, saying that if the Nixon cronies had tried to whack every journalist who had it in for Nixon, the National Press Club would be full of wall-to-wall memorial plaques. Hah fucking hah.]

PLAYBOY: Anderson strenuously denies having done such a thing.

LIDDY: No, he doesn't. What he does do is say over and over... that he never "revealed or identified a CIA officer." Anderson desperately sticks to that tortured formulation, because it's not a technical lie. Just like that other secular saint of the American liberal establishment, old Maximum John Sirica, he's scared of getting his halo tarnished.

Can I just stop here to ask what Liddy thinks of Robert Novak?


PLAYBOY: Nice of you not to carry a grudge, since you only tried to murder the man.

LIDDY: No, never actually tried. It never got to that.

PLAYBOY: Why not?

LIDDY: We worked out a plan, but it was ultimately never approved by our principals. Hunt and I started the ball rolling by meeting a physician from the CIA, who was introduced euphemistically as a specialist in "the unorthodox application of chemical and medical knowledge."

PLAYBOY: Meaning an expert in killing people.

LIDDY: Crude but not inexact. Anyway, we had lunch over at the Hay-Adams across from the White House and discussed various methods of killing Anderson, including coating the steering wheel of his car with an LSD solution sufficiently potent to cause a crash, which we rejected as too chancy, and "aspirin roulette", which we also turned down.

PLAYBOY: Dare we ask?

LIDDY: Aspirin roulette is intelligence jargon for a rather common assassination technique, which entails the substitution of an ordinary aspirin or other headache-remedy tablet in the target's medicine cabinet with a look-alike that is actually a deadly poison.

If I remember correctly, the attempted assassination of Castro was done in this manner. Castro only became ill. I suspect Mr. Hunt had something to do with that one. Also, it's worth noting that former CIA officer Miles Copeland claimed that Liddy and Donald Segretti had spiked Edmund Muskie's punch with LSD before the Senator's public crack-up which ruined his chances at the Presidency.


PLAYBOY: ...What did you finally decide on?

LIDDY: A simple if un-James Bondish method... we merely decided to make it a lethal mugging.

PLAYBOY: Who would have done the job?

LIDDY: It was initially decided to assign it to some of our Cuban-exile assets, but then Hunt began to worry that our principals would deem it too sensitive a matter to be entrusted to them. So I volunteered to do it myself.


LIDDY: ...We didn't want to make it look like anything more than another Washington street-crime statistic, remember, so no sophisticated weaponry could be employed.

PLAYBOY: How would you have killed him?

LIDDY: Oh, I would have knifed him or broken his neck, probably. One of us would have died, no doubt about it. But, as I say, we never received the final green light.

PLAYBOY: Were you relieved or disappointed?

LIDDY: I was neither. I was acting on the instructions of my principal, and I was prepared to follow those instructions either way they went.

PLAYBOY: You really see nothing anomalous, much less frightening, about two aides to the President of the United States cold-bloodedly plotting to assassinate one of the country's leading reporters?

LIDDY:I know it violates the sensibilities of the innocent and tender-minded, but in the real world, you sometimes have to employ extreme and extralegal methods to preserve the very system whose laws you're violating.

PLAYBOY: Including murder?

LIDDY: Drastic problems sometimes demand drastic solutions. Look, let me give you an example. Philip Agee, the CIA defector, has effectively exposed and compromised dozens of our intelligence agents around the world, and one of his revelations led directly to the assassination of the CIA station chief in Athens, Richard Welch. This one man has done untold damage to the worldwide security interests of the United States. And what have we done about it? Nothing. Fifty years ago, Harry Stimson scuttled an effective American intelligence effort on the grounds that gentlement don;t read other gentlemen's mail. The pendulum seems to have swung all the way back to that position, and the Russians couldn't be happier. They've tried to destroy American intelligence capability for thirty-five years, and in five years we've done the job for them, with the help of demagogues like Frank Church. I just wish someone would point out to the good senator that the world is not run by the League of Women Voters.

PLAYBOY: Returning to Philip Agee for a moment, how would you deal with him? Would you, in CIA parlance, "terminate him with extreme prejudice"?

LIDDY: You're damn right I would. If I were back serving in some capacity in the American intelligence community and I found Agee living comfortably abroad, outside the reach of our law and continuing his relevations, I would strongly recommend that he be assassinated. And were I given the task, I would undertake it, and feel completely justified in so doing. But let me stress that his killing would not be retributive but preventive... same rationale I employed in the case of Mr. Anderson.

PLAYBOY: You'd be willing to kill a man you've never met solely because he was on the opposite side of the political and ideological fence?

LIDDY: No, my friend, because he's on the opposite side of the trench, in a political-military war between the United States and the Soviet Union that is crucial to our survival as a free nation...

PLAYBOY: And you'd feel no qualms, much less remorse, about liquidating someone like Agee?

LIDDY: No more than swatting a fly...

PLAYBOY: You also planned to murder one of your old buddies and fellow Waterbugger, E. Howard Hunt. Surely, Hunt was no enemy of this country.

LIDDY: At the risk of belaboring this point once again, I would personally never charcterise it as murder... Hunt had become an informer, a betrayer of his friends and associates, and to me there is nothing lower on this earth. As Nietzsche put it, there is but one sin -- cowardice. Hunt deserved to die.

PLAYBOY: Nixon and the political fortunes of his adminstration are not exactly synonymous with the national interests of the United States, are they?

LIDDY: Well, under the circumstances, and in light of what's happened to this nation since -- and because -- Nixon was forced from office, I think you could make a very good case that the two were so inextricably linked that Hunt's betrayal constituted an act of at least of regicide, if not of outright treason.

That is the single most illuminating quote in the whole interview. Obviously, in Liddy's mind, disloyalty to Nixon equals disloyalty to the country. Spoken like a true Bushie. "If you're not with us, you're against us."

PLAYBOY: Do you feel the same way about [John] Dean?

LIDDY: Yes, but even more strongly. For all of Hunt's weaknesses and failings, it would still be manifestly unfair to place him in the same category as Dean or [Jeb] Magruder. Next to them, Hunt is a giant. I wouldn't even talk of him in the same breath, much as I condemn his betrayal. The difference between Hunt and Dean is the differecne between a POW who breaks under torture and aids the enemy and Judas Iscariot.

I'll pause here to remind everyone that, recently on Hardball, Liddy blamed the Watergate burglary on John Dean: Liddy claimed it was Dean's idea, not RMN's.

PLAYBOY: You've been alone with Dean only once since he testified against the White House, and you've said that you contemplated killing him then. How close did you actually come?

LIDDY: Oh, it was just a fleeting thought, now one of those sweet memories that one loves to treasure. God knows, he would have been no loss. [In 1974, Liddy was sent to a prosecutor's office, he was told to wait in an adjacent room].. I went in and shut the door behind me and, lo and behold, there was Dean sitting behind the desk. He looked up and I could have sworn he was about to wet himself. His eyes darted all around the room, but I was between him and the door and I could see that he was absolutely terror-stricken. My first thought was that here was the ideal opportunity to kill the bastard. I saw a pencil on the desk and all it would take was a quick thrust through the underside of the jaw, up through the soft palate and deep inside the brain. And simultaneously, I wondered if this were a setup, if someone had arranged for me to be there alone with Dean, anticipating exactly such a denouement. But then, on more somber reflection, I ruled that out. Nixon had been out of office for two months, I had recieved no instructions from my old superiors and, in any case, his killing could only damage the chances of Mitchell, Mardian and others in their forthcoming trials. No, revenge might be a dish best supped cold, but this was positively stale. The whole thing had been a weird, stupid error...


PLAYBOY: It's precisely this sort of ruthlessness, which casually encompasses homicide as just another option, that has so alarmed your critics. For example, Herb Klein, who served as White House director of communications during the Nixon administration and who hardly fits the stereostype of bleeding-heart liberal, reviewed your book recently.. and charged that you had adopted "a Mafia-like attitude.." How would you answer him?

LIDDY: Well, we were fighting a war, a civic war, in those days, a far more serious one than the typical gangland squabble over who controls numbers and drugs in this or that section of town, or who had intruded on somebody else's turf. The stakes, as we saw it, were the security and very survival of this nation, and we were ready to take strong measures in its defense. If that's Mafialike, so be it.


PLAYBOY: ...throughout your trial and imprisonment, you certainly conducted yourself as a POW trapped in enemy territory. If you were a soldier, were't your only enemies fellow Americans of differing political views?

LIDDY: That's easy enough to believe if you conveniently distort the facts of recent history. Everybody today knows that in the late Sixties and early Seventies, we were involved in an exterior war in Vietnam, but they tend to forget that we were also embroiled in an undeclared civil war at home. And unless you can understand the nature of that struggle and the issues it posed for the administration in Washington, you'll never be able to understand my motives or the motives of my associates in undertaking the actions and running the risks we did. We were up against a formidable constellation of forces in those days, an alliance of influential elements of the media with a so-called counterculture that represented a Weltanschauung and lifestyle that were utterly repugnant to me. It was as unthinkable to me to let the country succumb to those values as it would have been for a Japanese officer reared on the code of Bushido to contemplate surrender in 1945.

PLAYBOY: So you became a kamikaze, and ultimately self-destructed over Watergate?

LIDDY: No, I joined people who believed as I did in a well-justified counteroffensive against the forces of civil disorder that were sweeping the country in those days. And I have absolutely no regrets about my decision to do so. Ultimately, our side won out and crushed the revolutionaries, which is one salient reason why what's left of the left has never forgotten or forgiven Richard Nixon. But our very victory has to some extent obscured the gravity of the situation as it was seen in Washington in those days.

PLAYBOY: Aren't you drastically exaggerating the true dimensions of civil unrest in order to justify your own violations of the law? Sure, there were antiwar demonstrations and civil disobedience and some incidents of terrorism by crazies like the Weathermen; but can you seriously argue that the country was teetering on the brink of a revolutionary upheaval?

LIDDY: In my opinion, you are seriously underestimating the threat. We didn't have a crystal ball at our disposal in those days that would inform us that mass student opposition to the war would peter out after the end of the draft, or that the racial cauldron in the big cities would eventually simmer down. we had to act on our best intelligence assessment of the forces arrayed against us, and that assessment was far from encouraging, particularly when you consider the revolutionaries. Remember, we knew that the same forces had caused Lyndon Johnson to abdicate his office, and we were not prepared to see a similar scenario in the case of Richard Nixon. We drew the line and chose to fight back.

PLAYBOY: You never had any doubts that the antiwar movement posed a serious threat to this country and its institutions?

LIDDY: Never for a moment. They were the shock troops of a movement and value system I despised, and as far as I was concerned, if they were going to succeed, they would have had to march over my dead body. And I always felt justified in taking any action necessary to thwart them...


PLAYBOY: The problem is that you, G. Gordon Liddy, are arrogating to yourself the right to decide what laws should and should not be broken. Isn't that in a very profound sense subversive of the constitutional principle that this is a government of laws and not of men, and no one, from the chief executive down to the humblest citizen, is above the law?

LIDDY: No. Ultimately, each of us must be accountable to his own conscience. One must consider the facts and make a prudent judgement. Remember that the Constitution is just what the Supreme Court -- a group of men -- says it is. And that court gave us, among other decisions, Dred Scott. I'll take my own conscience, thank you.

But, first, one must have a conscience.

I know that was long, but I went ahead with it because it shows what kind of nut Richard Nixon would employ. Liddy's thinking about loyalty, his ends-justify-the-means methods, his paranoia, his self-pity, his brazen conflations of political loyalty and ideological loyalty with loyalty to country: these are all useful to consider not just for comparison with the other mouthy Watergate apologists, but with the Bush Adminstration.

A few notes:

Again, what does Liddy think of Bob Novak, who outted agent Valerie Plame?

I don't know the identity of the asset whose cover Anderson allegedly blew, but for one thing, it was an asset, not a CIA agent or even an American citizen; for another, Nixon and his underlings detested Anderson for his reporting on the ITT affair, among other scoops. Frankly, I don't believe Liddy when he says that the discussed hit was not politically motivated.

With regard to Philip Agee, the man lived in Western Europe. So far as I remember, he was not a defector to the Soviets or Warsaw Pact nations. But here's what's important (again, this is from memory, but I'll try to look some stuff up soon): Robert Welch, Philip Agee, and Senator Frank Church occupy close positions in Liddy's mind for a logical reason.

Why Liddy hated the late Senator Frank Church is because his post-Watergate committee (mirrored by Otis Pike's in the House) discovered massive skullduggeries perpetrated by the CIA worldwide. One place such nasty things took place was in Greece (though Church, at Henry Kissinger's special request, did not inquire about Greek activity), which at that time was ruled by a military junta that was, baroquely, fascist. The CIA helped to prop up that government; it trained the KYP, the junta's secret police.

If Philip Agee fatally compromised a CIA officer (Robert Welch), well, that officer was working with a fascist government, which was bad enough. Moreover, it is doubtful this agent or any of his comrades were present in Greece to further the national security interests of the United States.

...because the government of the Greek colonels had been since 1968 funneling Richard Nixon craploads of money through Nixon-Agnew pal Tom Pappas -- probably some of it originating from the CIA (i.e, taxpayers' money). The Watergate Burglars were mostly CIA. It was said by more than one that they broke in not to get information on the Democrats, but to find out what information the Democrats had on Nixon. A Greek exile had told Larry O'Brien about the Pappas-Nixon-junta connection several years prior. I think you can see where this is going, and I think you can sort of see why these figures are associated in Liddy's head.