Thursday, October 23, 2008

Reportercide

Long before Ann Coulter expressed the wish that al-Qaeda had flown jet airplanes into the New York Times building, Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt actually planned, themselves, on murdering an American journalist, Jack Anderson. Why? I've previously posted excepts of an interview in which Liddy disingenuously explained his motives while candidly explaining his methods; now I'll excerpt the relevant passages from Will. However, since I believe that it too is less than truthful as to Liddy's and Hunt's true motives, I'll try to fill in the blanks.

First, context. Liddy's presentation of his grand scheme "GEMSTONE" (see previous post) has just been laughed out of John Mitchell's office; the Attorney General told Liddy to come up with something more realistic. So Liddy broods. He also notices how some parts of his GEMSTONE scheme -- or something very much like them -- have been or are being put into action.

Something comes up with one of Bob Haldeman's operatives, a guy hired through Dwight Chapin. This kid is playing some dirty tricks on the Democrats and Liddy is not amused to hear about it. For one thing, he's in charge of the dirty tricks, goddamnit. For another, he regards this young man's actions as nothing but "glorified Halloween pranks," the kind of chickenfeed trickery that would accomplish little but possibly put the hated Democrats on alert status, which would in turn endanger Liddy's more drastic (by which I mean, illegal, insane, and potentially murderous) schemes. The young man is Donald "Ratfucking" Segretti. Liddy and Hunt fly to Miami to meet him; Liddy ecstatically relates how he tells Segretti to cut it out or else Howie might kill him. Segretti, scared shitless, agrees.

Then Liddy sees a chance to restart his grand scheme. The inspiration, as it so often did, came from Howard Hunt:

When Howard Hunt was told by Robert Bennett, his employer, that Hank Greenspun, a Las Vegas newspaper publisher, was believed to have documents in his office safe that would "blow Muskie out of the water" and I passed that information on to Magruder, the reaction was swift. Hunt and I were authorized to check on the feasibility of cracking the safe and retrieving the documents.


Vegas. Dirty politics. Money. In the early 70s, the next link in the chain would be either the mob, or Howard Hughes. In this case, it's Hughes, with whom, by the way, Nixon went back a long way.

...Hunt and I decided that in the absence of a go-ahead on the creation and funding of GEMSTONE, we ought to make an alliance of convenience with Howard Hughes, known to be an enemy of Greenspun. Hunt had excellent connection with Hughes Tool and the Summa Corporations through his employer, Robert Bennett, whose Mullen Company represented Hughes and who was embroiled in the campaign to prove the purported authorized biography of Hughes by Clifford Irving to be a fraud. According to Hunt, Greenspun probably had documents in his safe that Hughes would like to retrieve. By prearrangement, Hunt and I flew to Los Angeles and stayed in a suite obtained for us by Hughes at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. It is in the old section, very 1940-ish and huge, appropriate to anyone doing business with Howard Hughes. Each of us had his own bedroom, bathroom, dressing room, and we shared a spacious living room.


Right. What Liddy doesn't mention, but had to know, is that Hunt and Robert Maheu, Hughes's majordomo until he was sacked in 1970, were both involved in the CIA-mafia attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro.

There we conferred with Bob Winte, a Hughes security man. I suggested that we mount a joint operation. I believed Hughes would go along with it because Winte had already obtained for us the floor-plan of Greenspun's office, with the position of the safe marked clearly. It was a safe I believed easy to crack and I proposed that Hunt and I do so with a Cuban team while Hughes provided transportation and cover for us in Las Vegas. Key to the plan was a Hughes jet transport to be on standby in the desert. We would crack the safe and take everything in it without examination, head straight to the waiting jet, and fly to a Hughes-controlled Caribbean destination of his choice. There we would examine our findings jointly with Hughes' representatives and divide the materials on the basis of our separate interests. Winte said he would seek approval and seemed to think the matter a mere formality. When, a short time later, Hunt told me that Hughes had declined on the basis of the cost of the jet, I didn't believe it and concluded that the real reason was that Hughes figured there was something in the Greenspun safe that he didn't want us to see. From Hughes's point of view, we represented the government.


Although Howard Hughes was in his own way a bumbling fuck-up, I think even he knew better than to get into such shenanigans as Hunt and Liddy's. But on the other hand, Liddy's not entirely wrong here in RE: Hughes's paranoia. At the time, Hughes was desperately trying to bribe Richard Nixon -- and any other politician who might be helpful, including Ronald Reagan's friend, Senator Paul Laxalt -- into discontinuing nuclear weapons tests in Nevada. Just as Hughes had his reasons for bribing politicians of both parties, he had reason to be afraid of any particular politician possessing too much dirt on him.

Liddy goes on to list other schemes and dirty tricks of various Nixon administration officials in progress at the time. The tone here is a mix of amazed pride and bitter resentment: the former inspired by the fact that so many of Liddy's comrades had the same creative (if often wacky) sort of ruthlessness as he, the latter because of the mere fact that other Nixon cronies had their own (black) operations in action meant that he wasn't really in charge like he thought he'd be. Poor Gordon feels a little neglected.

...Magruder sent me to see Hugh Sloan, treasurer of the finance committee. Sloan gave me an envelope with about a thousand dollars in it, and on Magruder's instructions I gave it to Howard Hunt. What it was for was none of my business so I didn't ask, but I learned later it was to finance Hunt's trip to the bedside of Dita Beard where, using our CIA-provided physical disguise, he interviewed her for Colson about the authenticity of her controversial memorandum concerning the ITT contribution to the convention.


I just love the affected passivity -- indeed, the innocence and ignorance -- of this passage. Actually, Hunt went to Dita Beard's bedside in hope that she would retract or disavow the memorandum, for it exposed Nixonian corruption at its most basic level. The business conglomerate ITT, already with close ties to the Nixon administration (both had, shall we say, a mutual interest in destroying Salvador Allende), decided to take advantage of the president's not-so-secret desire to make San Diego the site of the 1972 Republican National Convention. It offered the RNC $400,000 dollars to make it happen. Quid pro quo, ITT's price for its largesse was that the Nixon administration force the Justice Department to stop blocking ITT's acquisition of... Hartford Insurance, I think it was, on anti-trust grounds. Things looked bad but Nixon had plausible deniability until Beard's memo became public, hence Colson's interest in making the memo go away by getting Beard to deny its authenticity -- er, I'm sorry, [air quotations] "question her about its authenticity" [air quotation].

Incidentally, Hunt's disguise provided by the CIA? Well, it wasn't James Bond stuff: it consisted of a red wig and a voice modulator. Not exactly a Zartan caliber disguise. More like, part Carrot Top and part Dennis Leary. But then I've told you repeatedly that Hunt and Liddy were and are fascist clowns.

Now for where this whole post is going. Guess who broke the story of Beard's memorandum? Jack Anderson, the reporter who also broke the story of Howard Hughes's six-figure "loan" to Donald Nixon, brother of Richard (and Anthony Summers persuades me that Dick Nixon himself actually received most of the loan money). And sure enough, just a few paragraphs later, here's Liddy (after some snotty yet hopeful remarks about the "wimp" Jeb Magruder, who supposedly wanted a few of Liddy's GEMSTONE hookers for his own pleasure, which in turn might -- Liddy hoped -- mean that the SAPPHIRE aspect of GEMSTONE might yet be greenlighted):

On a brisk February day shortly thereafter, Howard Hunt and I had lunch with a man he introduced to me as Dr. Edward Gunn, a physician retired from the CIA and an expert on "the unorthodox application of medical and chemical knowledge." I took "retired" to be in quotes since that is standard technique and Hunt introduced me under my operational alias, "George Leonard."...

The purpose of the luncheon, Hunt explained to me previously, was to take advantage of the expertise of Dr. Gunn in preparing, for the approval of Hunt's "principal," a plan to stop columnist Jack Anderson. Even with each other, Hunt and I often, when discussing the most sensitive of matters, used the term my principal rather than identify our superiors. I, at least, had several. Hunt, to my knowledge, had only one: Chuck Colson.

Anderson, Hunt reported, had now gone too far. As the direct result of an Anderson story, a top U.S. intelligence source abroad had been so compromised that, if not already dead, he would be in a matter of days. That was too much. Something had to be done.

The conversation at lunch was in the hypothetical terms usually employed in such circumstances. We did not mention Anderson's name explicitly. Hunt urged the use of LSD on the steering wheel of the "target's" automobile to cause him to hallucinate at a public function and thus be discredited. Dr. Gunn shot down that idea on the ground that CIA experience with the drug had demonstrated the unpredictability of individual reaction.

I took the position that, in a hypothetical case in which the target had been the direct cause of the identification and execution of one of our agents abroad, halfway measures were not appropriate. How many of our people should we let him kill before we stop him, I asked rhetorically, still not using Anderson's name. I urged as the logical and just solution that the target be killed. Quickly.

My suggestion was received with immediate acceptance, almost relief, as if they were just waiting for someone else to say for them what was really on their minds. There followed a lengthy discussion of the ways and means to accomplish the task best. Hunt, still enamored of the LSD approach, asked Dr. Gunn whether a massive dose might not cause such disruption of motor function that the driver would lose control of it and crash. Dr. Gunn repeated his earlier negative advice on the use of LSD. Besides, though LSD can be absorbed through the skin, our hypothetical target might be wearing gloves against the winter cold, or be chauffeur-driven. The use of LSD was, finally, dismissed.

Hunt's suggestion called to Dr. Gunn's mind a technique used successfully abroad. It involved catching the target's moving automobile in a turn or sharp curve and hitting it with another car on the outside rear quarter. According to Dr. Gunn, if the angle of the blow and the relative speed of the two vehicle were correct, the target vehicle would flip over, crash, and, usually, burn. By this time I was sure Gunn had guessed the identity of the hypothetical target, since he asked whether he was local and suggested, if he was, that we use the method he had just described at Chevy Chase Circle, a route Anderson did travel. Chevy Chase Circle, he pointed out, is notorious as the scene of fatal auto accidents and its configuration ideal for use of the technique.

I argued that Dr. Gunn's method would require the services of an expert to ensure success, and one might not be available to us. Dr. Gunn looked surprised, as if it had not occurred to him that we would not have available all the resources of the CIA.

Other methods were discussed and discarded. "Aspirin Roulette," for example: the placing of a poisoned replica of the appropriate brand of headache tablet into the bottle usually found in the target's medicine cabinet. That method was rejected because it would gratuitously endanger innocent members of his family and might take months before it worked.

I came up with the suggestion we finally agreed upon as the one to be recommended. It was a lethal adaptation of a technique long in use by the FBI during surreptitious entries. When an embassy safe, for example, is to be penetrated so that crypto material for use by NSA, everyone who might have access to the office is followed while the penetration is in progress. It is not begun unless a wiretap or other positive means has been established that the embassy personnel will be away for a sufficient period. Should someone return unexpectedly, however, he would never get into the embassy door. He would be assaulted, his wallet and watch removed, and, while he was unconscious as the latest victim of the outrageously high rate of street crime in Washington (which is not within the jurisdiction of, and therefore not the fault of, the FBI), the entry team would make good its escape.


I'll just break in here to note how interesting it is that Liddy, a law and order guy who came to Washington full of typically rightwing impatience with bureaucratic laxity (and excuses for that laxity), has just gleefully recommended perpetration of street crime, and neatly shifted the blame for it on a rival government entity, the Capitol Police. Thus the would-be murderer is also a bureaucratic weasel of the shiftiest sort.

I submitted that the target should just become a fatal victim of the notorious Washington street-crime rate. No one argued against that recommendation and, at Hunt's suggestion, I gave Dr. Gunn a hundred-dollar bill, from Committee to Re-elect the President intelligence funds, as a fee for his services. I took this to be to protect Dr. Gunn's image as "retired."

Afterward Hunt and I discussed the recommendation further. It was decided to include the suggestion that the assassination of Jack Anderson be carried out by Cubans already recruited for the intelligence arm of the Committee to Re-elect the President.

"Suppose," said Hunt, "my principal doesn't think it wise to entrust so sensitive a matter to them?"

I am asked frequently whether I believe in "blind obedience" to orders from legitimate authority, the code that permitted many Germans to carry out genocide. I do not. While there is a presumption of regularity that must obtain in any orders from legitimate superiors without which no government could function, I believe in individual responsibility, free will, and the rule of reason. There is a point beyond which I will not go, and that is anything my conscience tells me is malum in se (evil in and of itself) or my judgment tells me is irrational. I have no problem with doing something that is malum prohibitum (wrong only because of the existence of a law prohibiting it).

An example of malum in se would be the sexual assault of a child. In every society such a thing would be recognized as wrong. It would require no act of the legislature forbidding it to inform people that it was wrong." An example of malum prohibitum, on the other hand, would be the statute prohibiting driving through a stop sign without coming to a complete halt. Absent such a law, to do so would be a morally indifferent act.

Common sense tells us that minor problems require and justify but minor responses, and only extreme problems require and justify extreme solutions. In the case of killing it is well to remember that the Ten Commandments, translated correctly from the original Aramaic [sic -- I think he means Hebrew; Aramaic would be correct for some of the New Testament], do not contain the injunction "Thou shalt not kill." It reads, "Thou shalt not do murder." Quite another thing. There are circumstances that not only justify killing but require it (when one is charged with the safekeeping of a child, for example, and the only way to prevent its death from another's attack is to kill that other person). These are all situations that require informed and responsible judgments.

There are other ethical doctrines that may be applied. In World War II some bomber pilots were concerned when they knew that, for example, the ball bearing factory that was their target was across the street from an orphanage and their bombing altitude meant that it was very likely the orphanage would also be hit. In such a situation the principle of double effect comes into play; the unintended secondary effect of the destruction of the orphanage is permissible. The classical example is that of the driver of a loaded schoolbus [sic] going down the one-lane mountain road with a sheer thousand-foot drop one either side rounding a turn to see a three-year-old girl on a tricycle in the middle of the road. He is going too fast to stop. The choices are go off the road and take thirty-five children and himself to certain death to spare the three-year-old, or run over the three-year-old and save the thirty-five. I'd run over the three-year-old. I also fail to see any distinction between killing an enemy soldier in a time of declared war and killing an enemy espionage agent in a "cold" war, or even killing certain U.S. citizens. For example, were I back in my ODESSA position and were given the instruction from an appropriate officer of the government, I would kill Philip Agee if it were demonstrated (as it has often been argued) that his revelations have led directly to the death of at least one of his fellow CIA officers, that he intended to continue the revelations, and that they would lead to more deaths. Notice that this would not be retributive but preventative. It is the same rationale by which I was willing to obey an order to kill Jack Anderson. But I would do so only after satisfying myself that it was: a)an order from legitimate authority; b)a question of malum prohibitum; and c)a rational response to the problem.

I thought about the damage Anderson was doing to our country's ability to conduct foreign policy. Most of all, I thought of that U.S. agent abroad, dead or about to die after what I was sure would be interrogation by torture. If Hunt's principal was worried, I had the answer.

"Tell him," I said, "if necessary, I'll do it."


Christ, the lies and sophistry here are just incredible. But that's typical Liddy, true to his character. What's jarring, what's out of character, is that he is for the first and only time I know of, using Nazis in a negative analogy. As far as I'm concerned, this tells me -- even if I didn't know anything else about his argument -- that it is based in bad faith.

Actually, the plot to murder Jack Anderson was nothing but "retributive:" in this passage as well as in the passage from the Playboy interview, the link in Liddy's mind from Anderson's politically damaging (to the Nixon administration) scoops to the need for his assassination is apparent. It's only when Liddy defensively feels the need to rationalize his atrocious willingness -- even cheerfulness - to murder that he comes up with the "national security" excuses.

And I just love how Liddy counts on the reader's naivete of CIA lingo, hoping that the reader doesn't catch Gordo's very deliberate conflation of agent and contact. One is an American citizen in the pay of the American government, acting -- or supposed to be acting -- in his country's interests; the other, usually a foreign national and often a citizen of a belligerent country, is a source of information to the former, and this is exactly the type that was 'outed' by Anderson. As such, Anderson was doing exactly what... many CIA agents, in fact, do: burn sources. Come on, anyone who's watched Spy Game knows how this works. Anyway, another giveway to the bad faith in the "national security" rationale is the sudden ambiguity of it. Notice how Liddy, just a minute before being so detailed in his examples (sharing the school bus parable with obvious relish), suddenly falls back on Anderson's damage to the ability of the Nixon Administration to make foreign policy. See? Any dissenter could be guilty of that; the elasticity of the rule can stretch to the size of Limbaugh's waistband, allowing a great many of Liddy's (and Nixon's, which is the real point) political enemies to qualify for liquidation at the hands of Liddyan thugs.

Regardless, the psychological point here is that Liddy is truly a fascist ready to kill on command. There's a reason why he's often asked "whether [he] believe[s] in 'blind obedience' to orders:" because it's obvious that he does, and it's normal for rational people to be curious about the ultimate servility of fascist people who are otherwise so paradoxically aggressive and... well, willful.

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