Nixon: the CIA Loses Access

Nixon’s Watergate extravaganza was, without a doubt, the defining moment of hiswhitehouseconnection presidency.  Journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein took their lives and careers in their hands to break the story.[1]  Watergate was bigger and better than the Bobby Baker[2] exposés that almost undid President Johnson and turned ‘investigative journalist’ into a storied title that reporters lusted after. In the intervening years, hundreds of fine analysts have spent untold hours and millions of words exploring the Watergate break-in and what it signifies.  The Watergate is the hole in the dam that emptied the reservoir.  Nixon built the dam, his relationship with the CIA, layer upon layer, beginning as Eisenhower’s Vice-President.

Culminating a political career that began in the House of Representatives in 1947, Richard Milhous Nixon served as the 37th President of the United States between January 20, 1969 and August 9, 1974.  Although he cut his political

William Safire joined Richard Nixon as a speechwriter for his campaign for president in 1968. (The New York Times/File 1968)

William Safire joined Richard Nixon as a speechwriter for his campaign for president in 1968. (The New York Times/File 1968)

teeth on the Alger Hiss[3] case, Nixon won the presidency on the foreign policy credentials earned during his eight years as Eisenhower’s VP.  William Safire, a Nixon speechwriter, came up with election-winning phrase “end the war and win the peace”,[4] which is exactly what the voters wanted to hear about the Vietnam War.

President Eisenhower’s approach to foreign policy differed significantly from President Truman in two areas; the role of the National Security Council and how Vice President Nixon fit into the foreign policy picture.

Under President Eisenhower, the National Security Council system evolved into the principal arm of the President in formulating and executing policy on military, international, and internal security affairs. Where Truman was uncomfortable with the NSC system and only made regular use of it under the pressure of the Korean war, Eisenhower embraced the NSC concept and created a structured system of integrated policy review. With his military background, Eisenhower had a penchant for careful staff work, and believed that effective planning involved a creative process of discussion and debate among advisers compelled to work toward agreed recommendations.[5] Continue reading

Johnson and the CIA

Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States, was not an easy man.  Bill, a

Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President of the United States (November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969)

Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President of the United States (November 22, 1963 – January 20, 1969)

colleague with whom I worked on Johnston Atoll in the 1980s, was on the Johnsons’ security detail during their Texas visits.  He spoke of loud, embarrassing, drunken fights between the Johnsons and crude behavior like throwing dishes of jelly beans and popcorn and expecting the security detail to pick it all up immediately.  Ronald Kessler’s book, In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect, confirms much of what Bill told me then.  Regardless of his personal behavior, Johnson was a political sophisticate who understood power at a fundamental level.  By all accounts, Johnson’s rise to power was steady and ruthless.

The dichotomy among historians becomes apparent once Johnson assumes the presidency following President Kennedy’s assassination.  The gulf widens through the nine years of the Johnson presidency.  Was Johnson a model for business executives and a great progressive leader as portrayed by historian Robert A. Caro, who has studied Johnson for the better part of three decades?[1]  Or, at the other end of the spectrum, was Johnson a dangerous, paranoid individual?  According to former Kennedy speech writer and author Richard N. Goodwin in his 1988 book Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties, Johnson’s behavior drove two presidential assistants to separately seek opinions on Johnson’s mental stability from psychiatrists.[2]

Dominican Republic 1965. U.S. troops patrolling the streets of Santo Domingo

Dominican Republic 1965. U.S. troops patrolling the streets of Santo Domingo

What can be said with certainty is that, as president, Johnson drove social engineering to new heights with his ‘War on Poverty’ and ‘Great Society’, which included legislation for public broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, and aid to education.  Johnson did not confine his activity to just the home front, though.  He was busy with the CIA, too; the U.S. Dominican Republic intervention in 1965, the Vietnam War, the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War in 1967, and efforts to reduce tension with the Soviet Union.

It took three tries to land a Director of Central Intelligence, DCI, he wanted, but Johnson finally got the job done.  Johnson inherited DCI John A. McCone from Kennedy.  Kennedy asked McCone to head up the CIA following Kennedy’s termination of Allen W. Dulles, a remnant of Wild Bill Donovan’s OSS, after the Bay of Pigs disaster.  McCone was reputed to be an excellent manager and returned balance to an agency enamored of covert activities and nation-building.  Under McCone, the CIA redistributed its organizational energy between analysis and science and technology in addition to its well-known covert actions.  Not everyone in the CIA was a happy camper with this intelligence outsider, but McCone earned his spurs during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Johnson and DCI McCone parted ways in 1965 over disagreements about the Vietnam build-up. Continue reading