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How much we still don’t know about Watergate and the Nixon Administration (jstor.org)
104 points by lermontov on Aug 11, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 77 comments

Anyone who would argue that restrictions on government power aren't important, that surveillance isn't an issue, and you don't have to worry if you have nothing to hide should review the events described here.

Even if someone isn't abusing a particular right now, odds are very good that someone will come along who will. It's much better that the power doesn't exist in the first place.

Lupe Fiasco had a great comment on this when he was on the Colbert Report

> I always criticize power… Even if you agree with it, you should always criticize power.

Unfortunately, people buy into team politics and split up against each other rather than understanding the system in play.

[1] http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/d8bi6b/lupe-fiasco

This is literally the founding principle of the United States, it's infuriating how much people have lost touch with these important ideas. Power can easily be abused, the only reliable way to prevent the worst abuses is to keep that power in check. Because otherwise it's just a matter of time and bad luck until someone willing to abuse that power gets hold of it.

If Watergate happened now (the parts of it that are public), I think the majority of Americans would not be upset. I think the president could literally say "when the president does it, it's not illegal" and the majority of Americans (okay, maybe only the majority of Americans of the same party as the president) wouldn't bat an eye.

Case in point: Hillary. The emails, the servers, it's all proven, but thanks to some voodoo along with a splash of "Well, she may be a crook but she's OUR crook" and she's a viable candidate.

She scraped and hosted her own email. It may be a terrible security practice, and plausibly done to avoid archival and auditing requirements. It hardly rises to the level of "crook" though.

I mean, the Nixon White House was literally breaking and entering into the offices of their political enemies. You really don't see a moral distinction here?

One wonders why she deleted emails that under US law for someone in her position weren't allowed to be deleted, around the time she was asked to hand over her records.

There is no technical requirement to do so. The only reason I can think of that makes sense is that there was information there that she didn't want to share with others. And given these included professional emails that were part of an ongoing investigation, I'm frankly surprised that it isn't seen as a deal-breaking issue for even her candidacy.

Obviously it's not the same as Watergate actions of breaking into offices. The point is that people are hinting at Clinton deleting emails to cover something up.

I mean 'plausibly done to avoid auditing'... what does that even mean? What does that imply to you?

BrandonMarc above was quite clearly comparing Clinton and Nixon directly, even as far as using the "[I am not a] crook" appelative. That's what I was responding to. If you want to assert a (sigh...) "cover-up" that's a rather different argument.

But in general, if you want to do that you need to start from some kind of hypothesis about what is being covered up (ex: "Some guys were arrested at the Watergate Towers, did the president order the break-in?") and not something that looks like clumsy scandal-proofing to the non-partisan.

The "I am not a crook" phrase (however it was stated) actually wasn't on my mind.

There are a large number of Hillary supporters that, even if they are shown proof of criminal activity, simply won't care. Not a bit. Thus their thought process is, "Sure, she's a crook ... but all politicians are crooks, and she's on OUR team, so she gets our support."

A moral distinction between two lying, deceitful crooks? I really don't see a difference, no.

Well, I suppose Hillary is a lot smarter about avoiding getting caught ... except even that doesn't fit. She's been caught numerous times, like her husband (the nickname "Slick Willie" came about for a reason, after all). But when she gets caught, various powers that be somehow make it a non-issue.

> to avoid archival and auditing requirements

In other words, to avoid accountability as an official of government for actions she took representing the public.

Pretty much. Just like fighting a FOIA request via more effective means, really. And that's equivalent to felony robbery in your mind?

> And that's equivalent to felony robbery in your mind

It's far worse. Without accountability structures, the rule of law simply vanishes. Her attempt to avoid accountability/transparency was simply an attempt to avoid the rule of law and replace it with her own prerogatives.

If our leaders do not themselves respect the rule of law, how can we hope for any kind of just society? There are lots of societies run by warlords who simply take and hold power with no accountability. Our system is fundamentally different by design, or at least, it should be, even though some warlords are well-respected by the people they rule.

What specifically about the emails should disqualify her in your opinion? That is to say, what law did she break?

18 U.S. Code § 1924 - Unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material

> (a) Whoever, being an officer, employee, contractor, or consultant of the United States, and, by virtue of his office, employment, position, or contract, becomes possessed of documents or materials containing classified information of the United States, knowingly removes such documents or materials without authority and with the intent to retain such documents or materials at an unauthorized location shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

> (b) For purposes of this section, the provision of documents and materials to the Congress shall not constitute an offense under subsection (a).

> (c) In this section, the term “classified information of the United States” means information originated, owned, or possessed by the United States Government concerning the national defense or foreign relations of the United States that has been determined pursuant to law or Executive order to require protection against unauthorized disclosure in the interests of national security.

I'm not aware of whether she had stuff that was classified, but as Secretary of State I'd say most of her communications would be somewhat confidential.

If not black-letter illegal, it's still extremely dodgy, and dangerous. Remember when Palin got hacked?

If almost any federal employee (even ones with low-level clearance) was caught doing this, they'd likely have security assist them out of the premises immediately. Yes, some people do bend the rules, and get away with it, but only if there's nothing they handled that would cause any issues if it were posted on the internet.

There's certainly plenty of wiggle room when it comes to "unauthorized removal" considering her position. It'll be interesting to see how any investigation plays out, but I would bet nothing comes of it.

>If almost any federal employee (even ones with low-level clearance) was caught doing this, they'd likely have security assist them out of the premises immediately.

Of course, but then they're not Secretary of State. It's not a stretch to imagine her position should come with some latitude on how they execute their job function.

> Of course, but then they're not Secretary of State. It's not a stretch to imagine her position should come with some latitude on how they execute their job function.

Sounds like the Nixon defense. Though at least Clinton wasn't (apparently) acting out of malice. She might have just been a bit paranoid about security, incompetent (at IT security - and allowed yes-men to get her set up), or somehow needed a level of convenience that she couldn't get from the official system.

It's even possible the official system was suspected of being compromised (if it was, we might not know), and she could get a safer system.

It's nothing like the Nixon defense. The law clearly states the criteria of "unauthorized removal". But who authorizes the fucking Secretary of State on her need to use classified information externally? The president? You don't think he would back her in this?

> Remember when Palin got hacked?

I remember people of a certain bent celebrating the fact that she got hacked, completely oblivious to the concept that something malicious / illegal had taken place.

At the very least, Title 18, Section 1924 of the U.S. Code: "Unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material"



Other possible violations here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/03/16/hilary-clin...

And who does the authorizing? Because if it isn't the Secretary of State, it's going to be the President, and he is not going to stick a dagger in Clinton's back at this point, not after her being a most loyal and effective lieutenant.

The statute may seem like it's drafted that way, but it's not up to her (or her boss, i.e., the Pres) discretion. There are rules and regulations that determine what is and is not authorized "unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or material." See, for example, Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual (http://www.law.com/sites/jamesching/2015/03/09/hdr22clintone...).

Breaking and entering would be viewed as "okay" by the majority of Americans? I seriously doubt that would be the case. The reason: it's something that normal people are put into jail for. Now, going to war on false pretenses? They get away with that, for sure, because it's not something in the experience of anyone but a POTUS. People can't relate. B&E people relate.

People here are currently ok with summarily executing suspected foreign persons and innocent civilians with remote controlled airplanes that launch "hellfire" missiles...

What exactly do you mean by your question?

It's called a "sneak and peek" warrant. TheY are used all of the time, including federal misdemeanors. (Say inappropriate use of a "Smokey the Bear" picture)

I'm sure that the president would never push for an investigation based on politics...

Well, I'm sure everyone would approve of prosecuting the people who actually broke into the building. I just don't think the politicians ordering or supporting the break-in would find much resistance.

I disagree with this. See: The War on Drugs. "Justice" is so often meted out unequally based on class and race, and that's between different members of "normal" people. People of Clinton's position are so far removed from "normal" that it's hard to imagine justice being applied at all (also see: bankers, Paulsen.)

Further evidence against the disinformation that the government can't keep secrets or any horrible stuff happening right now would be leaked. I've written counter-points to that in the past. I referenced MKULTRA's, others the stay-behind armies (eg Gladio), and most recently programs with at least a few hundred people where only around four (esp Snowden) talked. Others have the information get out through third parties (esp reporters) while getting no coverage in or smeared by media. Recently, we've seen that whistleblowing on executive is itself treated like a crime.

So, it's clear that the more dangerous and professional of the military/intelligence/LEO community can effectively keep secrets or do damage control. They have plenty successes for every screwup. Dare I say that all the people with clearances vs number of damaging leaks show their method works well enough if only because of good people participating.

So, transparency, whistleblower protection, and strong accountability (esp w/ GAO) are absolutely essential. Further, anyone hiding information in one of these investigations should be, if this is proven, hit with life in a harsh prison immediately. Further, a plan of action to split the media from CIA, etc influence needs to be formed and implemented. It will take such a strong combo to discourage the corruption we've seen for decades.

But first Americans have to give a shit enough to act. I've seen very little of that. The 2008 situation was a good example where Americans pay the crooks off w/ immunity and Icelanders took back their system with prison time on top. I'd like my country to act like a real democracy, too, which confronted with provable abuses we've seen over past 14 years. :)

Heck, Crypto AG is still in business. You can get thoroughly outed in the mainstream press and keep selling the same stuff. Amazing.

Great point lol. You might find the link below interesting, esp difference between redactions. Crypto AG's willingness to subvert equipment isn't debatable at this point. Courtesy of my fellow high-security engineer and friend Clive Robinson.


As somebody who is interested in history, the Nixon administration has always fascinated me. The man was probably one of the most complex and dark people to become president. Because of Watergate, his administration is also probably the one that is most opened-up to the public (and to the historic record)

But before folks pile on to the guy (and he was widely hated), some things to keep in mind:

1) As far as taping conversations go, Nixon did nothing new. It's known that he simply carried on the tradition that LBJ, JFK, and Eisenhower before him did. Whatever happened to all of those tapes?

2) Before we go praising the Pentagon, I've read reports (I apologize for not being able to source them) that the Pentagon bugged civilian leadership. They almost certainly keep extensive dossiers on Congressional members and anybody in their civilian chain of command. Good luck getting eyes on any of that.

3) Nixon's problem was that he got caught doing something bad enough that crossed a political line. Lots of folks felt that he did nothing that others didn't do or try to do. Things like using the IRS for political hit jobs are perennials in DC. Using spies on reporters? Please. I can go back as far as Jefferson and show presidents using and attacking the press as they saw fit.

As the author points out, what concerns me a tremendous amount is the amount of information we don't know about all these other administrations -- up to and including our current one. With wholesale data collection underway against the American public, I would be astonished if 100 years from now it isn't widely known how many folks suffered invisibly from things far worse than Nixon ever did. The fall of Nixon was a harbinger of leaving an age of corrupt, small, overtly powerful presidents and entering an age of pervasive, huge, subtly powerful presidents. (Or rather, the system itself, which controls or is controlled by various presidents depending on their skills and staff capabilities)

If I'm still learning what Nixon did, 40 years later, what chance in hell do I have as a voter to make decisions about the value of any current or recent president? The office is so controlled by the political/governmental system and what we can know or not is so constrained, he might as well be anonymous.

If I'm still learning what Nixon did, 40 years later, what chance in hell do I have as a voter to make decisions about the value of any current or recent president?

Your final point should be emphasized. Classification and secrecy make information so asymmetric that voting becomes of only symbolic importance - you just can't know.

> As far as taping conversations go, Nixon did nothing new. It's known that he simply carried on the tradition that LBJ, JFK, and Eisenhower before him did. Whatever happened to all of those tapes?




> he might as well be anonymous.

I already thought about a real leader that nobody knows about, would be the perfect leader since nobody can really attack him because he hides behind corporations. It would be people very effective at predicting public opinion and the political system. The problem is, as ever, accountability.

It would be the best of fictions. Politicians so good at their job they just lead an entire country of people towards their comfort zone, using democracy and consent as tools while making real decisions without the president even really knowing.

It's how a hivemind works, it's really possible to direct it towards something, just like you would move the majority of tens of kittens only with a laser pointer. Problem is that it would be very difficult, and would require a lot of knowledge about public opinion and how people's perceptions of the media is gullible. Hell you could even imagine that all the food additives would be some sort of population control tool or just to inhibit critical thinking or the intellect in general.

It's really great how conspiracy can be a source of imaginations for fictions.

Likely the reason this stuff is still classified at all is because it casts doubt on the legitimacy or appropriate conduct of the US Government.

This seems to me to be an entirely inappropriate reason for something to remain classified decades after it occurred.

This is a form of corruption. It's power being used solely for the benefit of the one who held power, and it (minimally) damages the rest of us.

Well what you call appropriate conduct is just a mean to make the government look more legitimate, the net result being the government will find much more discrete ways to be corrupted.

It's a good thing to make corruption more difficult, in the end it's some sort of quality control. At the very least it reduces corruption or makes it more adequate, a little like Machiavelli would describe it.

In my sense if corruption can be detected, it is not worth it, and is bad corruption. The best situation is when the due process and power separation are tight, but in no sense it will prevent corruption entirely.

Nixon was one of the worst US presidents of the modern era but is a pipsqueak compared to some of the gnarly, currently still in power, world leaders. America has to live up to a higher standard but the level of corruption ongoing in many countries make his offenses look quaint.

>Nixon was one of the worst US presidents of the modern era

see, I disagree. I mean, I don't want to diminish his crimes, but he did a lot of good things. Nixon was responsible for Détente, I think, in ways that Reagan wasn't. Really, to the extent that Reagan deserves credit for the wall falling, he deserves credit for not screwing it up. Nixon had a lot more to do with actively turning China from being our enemy to being our workshop.

Compare that, say, to JFK, who almost started world war three. It's astonishing to me that JFK gets credit for not screwing up the Cuban missile crisis, when the Cuban missile crisis was the inevitable result of the bay of pigs, an operation he approved.

JFK was kind of insane, and if he had gone up against a soviet ruler with his level of crazy, rather than a comparatively sane Khrushchev, the east coast of the US would have been irradiated. (I mean, the CCCP would have been fucked up even more, sure; and I'm sure that's why Khrushchev backed down; we would have "lost less" as it were, but that's still losing.)

The thing to remember is that we know far more about Nixon's presidency than about any other presidency since. Now, again, this doesn't excuse Nixon's crimes, but he did voluntarily record a lot of what he did. If he acted as all modern presidents have acted, which is to say, in secret, we wouldn't have known about most of this.

I mean, I really think it is important to punish crimes when you see them happen, which is why I keep going on about how none of this excuses his crimes... but I really think he looks a lot worse than most presidents because he recorded all this stuff for posterity. For all we know, everyone since has done worse; they've just been more careful to cover their tracks.

now this is the comment I like, not sliding on the nixon-hate wave like most others (I am no expert on neither of US presidents). to me it seems both had balls when it was needed, unlike current guy. and like it or not, assholes like Putin sometimes need a gentle reminding slap in their face to show who really runs the show (sorta...)

I would say though we shouldn't attribute all political wins/loses during one's era only to one guy. I don't think how the show is run, not now and neither back then. Kissinger might have helped out with Chinese for example. You need these huge personas to neogtiate with all-powerful dictators (something my EU lacks so badly it's not fun anymore)

> make his offenses look quaint.

How do we know his offenses if the information is still mostly classified? Perhaps they do not make others seem quaint in comparison.

Well, Nixon doesn't appear to have been running a multi-decade pedophile sex ring, for example.

Admittedly, that's a pretty low bar.

It is absurd to take extreme practices done by others and use them as evidence of our own character.

Maybe he poisoned people with Polonium and stole billions but it seems unlikely.

That's actually pretty tame compared to a lot of world leaders...

It is absurd to take extreme practices done by others and use them as evidence of our own character. Much of the pro-US propaganda points out bad things about other nations or their leaders (note the recent "Why are China's cities flooding?" headline in the Economist) as a way of making Americans not question their own way of life.

Obviously, but the OP was doing exactly this with:

> "Perhaps they do not make others seem quaint in comparison."

All I was saying is that there's a pretty high bar for awful behavior by world leaders.

If you are up to it and want to go from Watergate day 0 to the end, in a completely linear fashion and with excruciatingly detailed day by day coverage of events, get a copy of "Watergate: Chronology of a Crisis". It's an anthology of the daily reporting by Congressional Quarterly, which was a sort of daily newspaper about the goings on about Congress.

It is a fascinating read. Watergate is one of those things that you think you understand and then, after reading in depth about it, you realize how complex the whole thing was. From the amount of people involved to the campaign finance part to the lengths Nixon's administration went in trying to combat what they perceived as threats to the nation. It's something that is often forgotten, but many of the limits regarding campaign finance and executive power we have (had) today stem from the aftermath of Watergate.

An interesting outcome I experienced after reading the aforementioned anthology was the feel I got for Nixon as a person. I found myself almost admiring him. Say what you will about his methods, and they were dubious at best, the guy was dedicated to his principles.

> Say what you will about his methods, and they were dubious at best, the guy was dedicated to his principles.

Yeah, at least it's an ethos.

Why did they perceive it as a threat to the nation? because it gave opportunities to the USSR ?

Nixon said once[1] in all seriousness: "If the president does it, that means it's not illegal." Reminiscent of Louis XIV: "I am the state."

Anything that was a threat to the Nixon administration in their view was ipso facto a threat to the nation.

1. http://www.streetlaw.org/en/Page/722/Nixons_Views_on_Preside...

Nixon advisor John Ehrlichman told a journalist that the main purpose of the War on Drugs was to attack Nixon's "enemies" and that they knew the WOD was based on lies about drugs:

> "You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar Left, and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black. But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."


That quote doesn't appear in the linked article. Did you intend to link to a different source?

It appears it was published offline, and the original source is The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-changing Stories. Edited by Larry Smith, Harper Perennial, 2012.

See http://waliberals.org/the-ugly-origin-of-the-war-on-drugs/20...

There doesn't appear to be a copy of this online anywhere I can verify it.

I couldn't find that quote in that article. Was it from elsewhere?

> Anything that was a threat to the Nixon administration in their view was ipso facto a threat to the nation.

Isn't that now still (or perhaps more so) a well-accepted view in American politics? I have certainly heard arguments that classified evidence of government wrongdoing shouldn't be leaked, because it could strengthen or embolden our enemies. The Abu Ghraib abuse photos were a notable example. That's basically the explicit purpose of most appeals to "national security."

The "unitary executive" concept amounts to the same thing should a president choose to simply order all elements of the DoJ to refrain from investigating something. Except it's got a fancy name and some future John Yoo will no doubt lawyer it to suit any task.

Well when you're the elected leader of an entire country, it will be a little difficult to prevent him from giving orders.

Limited terms, congress and the free press will reduce that effect, but it will still exist. A leader is being obeyed to. That's how things work at their human nature basis.

I've been greatly enjoying Rick Perlstein's Nixonland [http://www.amazon.com/Nixonland-Rise-President-Fracturing-Am...], which traces the rise of modern Republicanism and is full of interesting anecdotes about this deeply weird man. I'd recommend it to anyone who isn't old enough to have survived Nixon firsthand.

I'm disappointed this wasn't about Dick Tuck.

Wow; just wow. Thank you for filling that gaping hole in my education with Dick Tuck [1] [2]! My new short duration personal savior [2].

Speaking of favorite ShorDurPerSavs: John Gage [4], who was Sun Microsystem's "Science Officer" and turned the Sun logo 45 degrees on its corner, had the honor of serving his country on Nixon's enemies list [5] -- a distinguished achievement that L. Ron Hubbard falsely claimed about himself!

"I didn't hide what I did. I never tried to be malicious. It's just the difference between altering fortune cookies to make a candidate look funny and altering State Department cables to make it look as if a former President were a murderer." --Dick Tuck on the difference between himself and Nixon's Watergate operatives.

"The people have spoken, the bastards." --Dick Tuck's concession speech following his loss in the 1966 California State Senate election.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Tuck

[2] http://hoaxes.org/tuck.html

[3] http://www.subgenius.com/bigfist/goods/shordurpersavs/X0012_...

[4] http://www.zdnet.com/article/suns-gage-looks-ahead/

[5] http://www.enemieslist.info/enemy.php?ID=463

I'm too young to know Nixon and I've read Nixonland at the suggestion of someone who is old enough to remember him. Very interesting read, not just about Nixon but about the Republican party as you mentioned. Not nearly as dry as I had feared.

Along this vein, for anyone interested in the conspiracy theories pertaining Nixon (as well as Kennedy and Bush Senior), I found Dark Legacy[1] really interesting. I don't know if any of it is true, and I've never taken the time to research any of the facts therein (far too many), so I cannot recommend it as information, per se, but if some of what's in there is true, then Nixon, et al, were engaged in something much worse than just politically inspired crimes like breaking and entering and stealing. I'd love to hear what somebody else thinks about the movie after watching it.

1. http://thedarklegacy.com is the official website, but I watched it on Netflix

How secure was that deletion of the tape? Has anyone taken 21st century technology and tried to recover what was on it?

I remember reading about a concerted effort several years ago to try to recover the lost tape:


But the last I heard, they were not able to get anything useful.

They were not able to actually obtain enough access to the tape to do anything useful.

That's a fantastic question.

If we can use electron microscopes to recover trace data from hard drive platters, how much harder could magnetic tape be?

I have not heard of a documented case of erased/overwritten data recovered from a hard drive. I have read articles, like this one, debunking the idea: http://www.nber.org/sys-admin/overwritten-data-guttman.html

This is not to say it's the same as recovering audio from analog tape.

Good to know. Didn't realize I believed in a myth :)

A good question but keep in mind that in addition to the deletion it is a tape that is about 42 years old as well and has further degraded.

We're talking about recording equipment used by the President, not an average Dictaphone tape. It was likely erased VERY thoroughly.

We're talking about 40-year-old technology, though. Modern forensic tools are extremely powerful.

According to the Official Story, it was just a normal erasure accidentally done by a secretary who was transcribing it.

I don't necessarily buy that story, but a thorough analysis could shed some evidence on that, too.

I was intrigued the editor of the Washington post was a drinking buddy of Mother aka James Angelton and had been expelled from France

De rigueur mention: recall Aaron Schwartz was charged by feds under CFAA for spidering journals via JSTOR.

R.I.P. @aaronsw

PS: I received a stern warning as an ugrad at a UC uni for `wget -m ...` Oracle DBMS documentation (ugh, closed payware) using an http proxy back to the dorms, even though it still was on frick'n campus. Anyone that foists payware on students in a university when decent open-source alternatives exist should be hanged in the quad and left to rot.

Who cares?

Still don't know anything about Benghazi either.

Point is, you can find out a lot about a person by whether or not they are angered by Watergate or Benghazi. But in reality, it's the jobs, stupid. Taxes. The American Dream. Get over it.

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