164. Editorial Note

At 6:07 p.m. on December 21, 1971, 10 minutes after arriving at the White House by helicopter, President Nixon met in the Oval Office with Attorney General John Mitchell and Presidential Assistants H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, President’s Daily Diary) Mitchell and Ehrlichman insisted on the meeting, Haldeman noted in his diary, because in their investigation of leaks in recent Jack Anderson columns in The Washington Post, “they had uncovered the fact that a yeoman in the NSC shop, assigned to liaison with the Joint Chiefs, was the almost certain source of not only the leaks, but also the absconding of information from Henry’s and Haig’s and other people’s briefcases, which were turned over to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The P was quite shocked, naturally, by the whole situation and agreed that very strong action had to be taken, but very carefully, since we don’t want to blow up the whole relationship with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” (The Haldeman Diaries: Multimedia Edition) Mitchell warned the President during the meeting “as to what this would lead to if you pursued it by way of prosecution or even a public confrontation. You would have the Joint Chiefs allied on that side directly against you. What has been done has been done and I think the important thing is to paper this thing over. First of all, get that liaison office the hell out of the NSC and put it back in the Pentagon.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Recording of conversation among Nixon, Mitchell, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman, Oval Office, Conversation No. 639–30)

Investigations of the episode revealed that Navy yeoman Charles Radford, assigned since September 1970 to the JCS liaison office at the [Page 335] National Security Council, had purloined a huge quantity of documents which were passed on to the Joint Chiefs of Staff through the liaison office heads: Rear Admirals Rembrant Robinson and his successor, Robert O. Welander. Radford illicitly duplicated documents at the NSC and stole them while accompanying Kissinger and Haig on trips. During one trip, Kissinger noted in his memoir, Radford “used the occasion to make himself generally useful, in the process—as he later testified—going through my briefcase, reading or duplicating whatever papers he could get his hands on, and sometimes retaining discarded carbon copies of sensitive documents that were intended to be disposed of in the ‘burn bag.’” (Years of Upheaval, pages 806–807)

The textual files in the Nixon Presidential Materials at the National Archives contain very little material on the JCS spy operation and the White House handling of it. Included in the White House tapes, however, are audio recordings of the series of Presidential meetings commencing on December 21 at which the President and his aides discussed the accumulating evidence and deliberated how they should deal with the problem—in particular with the JCS officials directly involved and with JCS Chairman Moorer. At a December 23 meeting with Nixon, for instance, Haldeman recounted an earlier meeting at which Haldeman and Ehrlichman told Henry Kissinger about the spying. According to Haldeman, Kissinger asked “what do you do, what do you do on that, and John [Ehrlichman] said, well, that’s most of the question now. It’s in the hands of the Attorney General and he’s got to determine what we do obviously. He said Admiral Welander thinks we should put the yeoman in jail. Admiral Moorer thinks we should put Welander in jail.” Kissinger “said I think Moorer should be in jail. John and I both laughed; he said as you go up the ladder everybody’s going to crucify the guy under him and nobody will take the blame himself.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation between Nixon and Haldeman, Executive Office, Conversation No. 310–19) At a meeting the next day, December 24, Ehrlichman told Nixon that Alexander Haig and Kissinger “both agree in very strong terms that Moorer should go. They’re both now satisfied that Moorer is heavily implicated. They’re doubly concerned because they’ve been using Moorer’s back-channels for all kinds of communications and they’re afraid that they’ve been compromised.” Nixon commented that “Moorer’s too good a man” and “I don’t feel that way at all.” (Ibid., Conversation 309–1) The President’s telephone conversation with Haig later that day is Document 166.

The Radford episode is treated briefly in Nixon’s and Kissinger’s memoirs (Nixon, RN, pages 531–532; Kissinger, Years of Upheaval, pages 806–809) and at greater length by Ehrlichman in Witness to Power, pages [Page 336] 302–310. Discussions in secondary works include Walter Isaacson, Kissinger, pages 380–385; Seymour Hersh, The Price of Power, pages 465–479; and John Prados, Keepers of the Keys: A History of the National Security Council from Truman to Bush (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1991), pages 315–317.