White House Plumbers

From Academic Kids

The White House Plumbers or simply The Plumbers is the popular name given to the covert Nixon White House Special Investigations Unit established July 24, 1971. Its job was to stop the leaking of confidential information (hense the "Plumbers" title) to the media during the Nixon administration. Its members branched into more nefarious projects working for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP, or the more derogatory CREEP) including the Watergate break-ins.

The group was formed in an almost direct response to the release of The Pentagon Papers in the New York Times beginning June 13, 1971. The papers contained documents detailing America's involvement in Vietnam. Initially White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman downplayed the event to Nixon, stating the information mainly made the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations look bad. However, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and special counsel Charles Colson advocated a severe response to the act1 in the form of publicly discrediting the leak of the papers, former State Department and Defense Department employee Daniel Ellsberg.

On July 1, David Young joined the White House and together with Egil Krogh penned a memorandum to Nixon advisors Haldeman and John Ehrlichman advocating the formation of a White House Special Investigations Unit.2 Haldeman and Ehrlichman agreed to the plan and obtained the approval of Nixon. Young was put in charge of the unit and reported to Krogh. The nickname the "Plumbers" came to being when Young posted his name on his office door which read "David R. Young/Plumber".3

The Plumbers came to include several Watergate figures. E. Howard Hunt was recommended by Colson and G. Gordon Liddy was recommended by Krogh. Liddy coined his own sensitivity indicator for the group in the form of "ODESSA" for "Organization Directed to Eliminate the Subversion of the Secrets of the Administration".4 The name reflects Liddy's admiration for German-style intelligence operations as ODESSA was also the name of a Nazi fugitive network.

Another member of the group was its liaison to the CIA, John Paisley. In recent years Paisley's involvement has led to speculation the CIA had a far greater hand in the operations of the Plumbers than originally thought at the time. What is known is Paisley was assigned to the CIA's Office of Security (OS), of which Hunt was once a member. An August 9, 1971, David Young memo indicates he met with Paisley and OS Director Howard Osborn in which Paisley provided a list of objectives for the Special Investigations Unit 5-- a clear indication the CIA had a heavy role in identifying objectives and providing assistance to the Plumbers.

The Plumbers first task was the burglary of the office of Ellsberg's Los Angeles psychiatrist, Lewis J. Fielding, in an effort to uncover evidence to discredit Ellsberg. The operation was reportedly unsuccessful in finding Ellsberg's file and was so reported to the White House. However, Fielding himself stated the file was in his office, he found it on the floor on the morning after the burglary and quite clearly someone had gone through it.6 In a September 1971 conversation, Ehrlichman advised Nixon, We had one little operation. Its been aborted out in Los Angeles which, I think, is better that you dont know about." Eventually the case against Ellsberg was dismissed due to government misconduct.

Aside from the Fielding burglary there are scarce few other activities the Plumbers were engaged in. Hunt reportedly looked into Teddy Kennedy's Chappaquiddick affair and Liddy investigated reported Kennedy administration involvement in the assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem.7

After the California break-in Liddy was recruited by White House Counsel John Dean to perform an intelligence gathering operation for CRP. Liddy was transfered to CRP and involved Hunt in the operations which would later include the Watergate burglary.


Additional Sources

  • Template:Web reference
  • G. Gordon Liddy deposition on December 6, 1996 in Maureen K. Dean and John W. Dean v. St. Martin's Press et al United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Case No. 92 1807 (HHG) [1] (http://www.nixonera.com/media/video/liddy/liddyhi1.ram)

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