Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence, and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.
Frank Wills, a 24-year-old native of Savannah, Georgia, had never had much luck in life, but that was not unusual for a black American growing up in the Deep South in the 1950s.
When he was just an infant, his father left the family, leaving his mother, Margie, to raise their son. Frank did poorly at school, leaving without qualifications. For the rest of his life, he remained barely literate, making spelling mistakes on the most basic of notes. Frank moved to Michigan and studied heavy machine operation, before joining Detroit’s Ford assembly-line. Sadly, the job didn’t last, as Frank found that the factory work exacerbated his asthma.
He next moved to Washington D.C and by 1972, Frank’s prospects started to improve when he was employed at $80 per week as a security guard at the recently completed Watergate Complex on the banks of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
Built between 1963 and 1971, Watergate was considered one of the capital’s most prestigious developments of office and luxury apartments. The list of Watergate residents read like a Who’s Who of the American political elite.
At 00.30 hrs on Saturday 17th June 1972, Frank was on the night shift from midnight to 7am and was undertaking one of his regular patrols. As he walked through one of the underground car parks, he noticed a piece of masking tape was covering the locks on a stairwell door. He didn’t initially think anything of it, as the daytime maintenance team often taped the doors to prevent them from locking. Frank removed the tape, completed his round and then headed across the street to buy a takeaway hamburger.
Just over an hour later, Frank was making his second patrol when he noticed that the tape had been replaced on the same lock. Now suspicious, at 01.47 hrs he called Police and reported a burglary in progress. Police then radioed their closest patrolling vehicle: squad car 80. Unbeknownst to his superiors, the uniformed driver of the car 80 had knocked off work early and was enjoying a series of Bloody Mary in PW’s Saloon.
When the call came through on his walkie-talkie, the slightly inebriated patrolman exclaimed to the bartender “How the hell am I going to investigate a burglary? I can’t even stand.” The officer quickly made an excuse of running out of petrol and the matter was passed onto two plain-clothed officers travelling in an unmarked vehicle. Consequently, the “spotter” for the burglars, stationed in a building opposite, failed to radio the gang when two casually dressed, long-haired, males entered the Watergate.
Shortly after 02.00 hrs, the two policemen entered the offices of the Democratic National Committee on the sixth floor and found five men in suits and ties, wearing surgical gloves, hiding in the dark. Scattered around the office was a wealth of electronic surveillance equipment, from radios to bugs, plus 40 rolls of film and two cameras. Finally, a total of $2,300 was discovered in rolls of fresh, sequentially numbered, $100 notes.
The men were identified as Frank Sturgis, a former CIA undercover operative, Virgilio González and Eugenio Martinez, two Anti-Castro Cuban exiles, Bernard Barker, another former CIA undercover agent, and James W. McCord, Head of Security for the Committee to Re-elect the President (C.R.E.E.P.). The last was a direct employee of President Nixon’s campaign staff.
Investigations led to rooms 419 and 723 of the Howard Johnson Hotel opposite Watergate. It became clear from evidence left behind, including address books listing White House contacts, that the burglary had been coordinated from these rooms, and the occupants had left quickly.
A few weeks later two further men were charged: E. Howard Hunt, former CIA agent turned novelist, and G. Gordon Liddy, senior White House employee, Counsel to the Finance Committee of C.R.E.E.P. and one of the most extraordinary people ever to operate on the fringes of American power. Fred Emery, the journalist, described Liddy as “an exceptionally articulate man with rambunctious Right-wing views.”
G. Gordon Liddy resembled a character out of a novel. By 1972, he had served as both as an F.B.I. Agent and a Prosecuting Attorney. He then transferred over to the Nixon administration and established the White House Plumber’s Unit (with the aim to plug leaks of sensitive government papers) in the wake of the publication of the hitherto secret Pentagon Papers in June 1971.
Liddy had a psychopathic personality. His virulent detestation of the Left and loyalty to Nixon resulted in his willingness (some would say eagerness) to break the law. “I knew exactly what had to be done and why, and I was under no illusion about its legality”, Liddy wrote in his autobiography. Liddy frequently demonstrated his unwavering allegiance to the Republican cause by thrusting his hand into a candle flame and to holding it there until the skin turned black. He once described to White House secretaries how to kill an opponent using a pencil.
On 3rd September 1971, Liddy led a team that burgled the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, academic and leaker of the Pentagon Papers. The aim was to find confidential papers on Ellsberg’s mental state and thus to discredit him. Despite breaking into several filing cabinets, the mission failed.
Later, Liddy was involved in discussions regarding the proposed assassination of Jack Anderson, a widely syndicated Left-wing journalist. Shortly after, he was appointed to the Nixon re-election campaign and set about recruiting a dirty-tricks team. By Christmas, he had devised a covert plan and had been assigned a budget of up to a million dollars.
On 27th January 1972, Liddy made a presentation of his ideas to the newly appointed Chairman of Nixon’s re-election campaign, John Mitchell. Mitchell was then serving as US Attorney General and the venue chosen for the meeting was the Justice Department.
Liddy called his plan “Operation Gemstone”, and the different component parts were each given the name of a precious stone
“Diamond” referred to a proposal to prevent the student Left from disrupting the forthcoming Republican National Convention. Liddy suggested that they kidnap, drug, and hold the leaders of anti-war movement in Mexico until proceedings ended.
“Crystal” proposed leasing a luxury yacht, filling it with highly attractive prostitutes and packing it with electronic surveillance equipment. “Sapphire” envisaged enticing leading Democrats to visit the ladies on this yacht during Democratic convention in Miami.
“Opal” was a plan for a series of break-ins that would target the offices of aspiring Democratic presidential candidates.
“Turquoise” would send a team of anti-Castro Cubans to sabotage the air-conditioning at the Democratic convention. The list went on and on. Amazingly, Mitchell, US chief law officer, sat through this bizarre presentation calmly smoking his pipe. At the end, he said that his main concern was the expense of such an elaborate campaign.
Although the proposals were scaled down, the madness of that day led directly to the attempts to bug the Democrat’s Watergate office.
Why did they do it? Apart from the illegality, it seems illogical given the margin of victory predicted for Nixon in the polls. The personal insecurity of Nixon is usually cited as the main reason. However, the psychology of the Republican Party should also be considered. It is arguable that since 1932, the Democrats have represented the true establishment of America. In a society where academia, the press, the judiciary and Hollywood are perceived as being solidly liberal, America’s conservatives often feel like outsiders and fear permanent exclusion from power.