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Context of 'Mid-1990s: Only Fraction of 1 Percent of FBI Agents Work on Counterterrorism'

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The Justice Department’s Office of Planning and Evaluation (OPE) submits a report on the role and actions of the FBI in the Watergate investigations. The report finds that, even with the attempts of former Attorneys General John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst, White House aides John Dean and Jeb Magruder, and others to “mislead and thwart the Bureau’s legitimate line of inquiry,” and the “contrived covers” used to direct attention away from the White House, the FBI investigation was “the ultimate key to the solution of not only the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) but the cover itself.” The report continues: “There can be no question that the actions of former Attorneys General Mitchell and Kleindienst served to thwart and/or impede the Bureau’s investigative effort. The actions of John W. Dean at the White House and Jeb S. Magruder at the Committee to Re-elect the President were purposefully designed to mislead and thwart the Bureau’s legitimate line of inquiry. At every stage of the investigation there were contrived covers placed in order to mislead the investigators.” The OPE notes the following problems in the investigation, and provides explanations of some:
bullet Providing information concerning ongoing investigations to the White House, and allowing Dean to actually sit in on interviews of White House personnel (see June 22, 1972).
bullet Failing to interview key members of CREEP, the Nixon re-election campaign organization, as well as allowing CREEP attorneys to sit in on interviews of CREEP employees and allowing those attorneys access to FBI investigative materials. The report says that the investigation initially focused on James McCord and E. Howard Hunt, and interviewed CREEP officials tied directly to them. The net was widened later on. However, the report acknowledges that many CREEP employees undoubtedly lied to FBI investigators, “most notably John Mitchell, Jeb Magruder, Bart Porter, Sally Harmony, and Maurice Stans.” Porter and Magruder in particular “lied most convincingly.” Another CREEP employee, Robert Reisner (Magruder’s assistant), was not interviewed because Reisner successfully hid from FBI investigators. The FBI believes it was Reisner who cleaned out the “Operation Gemstone” files from Magruder’s office (see January 29, 1972 and September 29, 1972). Numerous other financial and other files were also destroyed after being requested by the FBI, most notably Alfred Baldwin’s surveillance tapes and logs from the Democratic offices in the Watergate (see May 29, 1972). Many of these files were destroyed by G. Gordon Liddy. “It is apparent that most [CREEP] people in the summer of 1972 were quite willing to lie and/or tell us considerably less than the full truth,” the report notes.
bullet An untenable delay in searching and securing Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s desk in the White House, putting the contents of that desk at risk of being removed, and the “[a]lleged activities by former Acting Director [L. Patrick] Gray to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI investigation of Watergate” (see June 22, 1972). Gray is known to have destroyed materials from Hunt’s desk given to him by Dean, and is known to have extensively interfered with the FBI’s investigation (see June 28-29, 1972 and Late December 1972). The report notes that while it cannot find specific evidence that Gray broke any laws in his attempts to impede the FBI’s investigation into the Watergate conspiracy, it is clear that Gray cooperated with the White House, specifically through Dean, to ensure that the White House was always aware of what avenues of investigation were being pursued. The OPE says that Gray’s destruction of files from Hunt’s safe did not necessarily impede the FBI’s investigation, because it has no way of knowing what was in those files. The report says that it is unfortunate that “many people make no distinction between the FBI’s actions and Mr. Gray’s actions.”
bullet Failure to interview key individuals with knowledge of the suspicious monies found in the burglars’ bank accounts.
bullet Failing to secure and execute search warrants for the burglars’ homes, automobiles, and offices. The OPE says that many of those issuing this criticism “should know better,” and claims that the FBI agents involved did their level best to obtain search warrants within the bounds of the law. The report notes that after the burglary, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, Earl Silbert, did not believe there was probable cause to search burglar James McCord’s home or office until after July 10, 1972, when Baldwin told the FBI that he had taken surveillance equipment to McCord’s home (see June 17, 1972). Even then, Silbert decided that because of the amount of time—23 days—that had expired, a search warrant would have been pointless.
bullet Failing to identify and interview a number of people listed in the burglars’ address books. The OPE report notes that the decision to interview far less than half of the names in the books was made by FBI agents in the Miami field office, and due to the “fast moving extensive investigation which was then being conducted,” the decision to only track down a selected few from the books was right and proper. The report notes that subsequent interviews by reporters of some of the people in the address books elicited no new information. The report also notes that Gray refused to countenance interviews of the remaining subjects in the address book while the trial of the seven burglars (see January 8-11, 1973) was underway.
bullet Failing to find and remove a surveillance device from the Democratic National Committee headquarters (see September 13, 1972). The OPE calls this failure “inexplicable.”
bullet Failure to thoroughly investigate CREEP agent Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) and other CREEP operatives. The OPE finds that because Segretti was initially uncooperative with FBI investigators, and because an “extensive investigation” turned up nothing to connect Segretti with the Watergate conspiracy, the agents chose not to continue looking into Segretti’s actions. Only after press reports named Segretti as part of a massive, White House-directed attempt to subvert the elections process (see October 7, 1972) did the FBI discuss reopening its investigation into Segretti. After reviewing its information, the FBI decided again not to bother with Segretti. The OPE finds that the decision was valid, because Segretti had not apparently broken any federal laws, and the FBI does not conduct violations of election laws unless specifically requested to do so by the Justice Department. The report also says that politics were a concern: by opening a large, extensive investigation into the Nixon campaign’s “dirty tricks,” that investigation might have impacted the upcoming presidential elections.
bullet Media leaks from within the FBI concerning key details about the investigation (see May 31, 2005). The report finds no evidence to pin the blame for the leaks on any particular individual. The report notes that New York Times reporter John Crewdson seemed to have unwarranted access to FBI documents and files, but says it has turned that matter over to another agency inside the bureau.
bullet Failing to interview, or adequately interview, key White House officials such as H. R. Haldeman, Charles Colson, Dwight Chapin, and others. The report justifies the decision not to interview Haldeman because the FBI had no information that Haldeman had any knowledge of, or involvement in, the burglary itself.
bullet “Alleged attempt on part of Department of Justice officials to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI investigation.” The report is particularly critical of Kleindienst’s concealment of his contact with Liddy about the burglary (see June 17, 1972).
bullet “Alleged attempt by CIA officials to interfere, contain, or impede FBI Watergate investigation.” The report notes that during the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, Republican co-chairman Howard Baker (R-TN) tried repeatedly to assert that the CIA was behind the burglary. The report calls Baker’s theory “intriguing” but says no evidence of CIA involvement on any operational level was ever found. The report notes that there is still no explanation for the discussions regarding the CIA paying the burglars (see June 26-29, 1972), or the CIA’s involvement with Hunt before the burglary—loaning him cameras, providing him with materials for a disguise, and helping Hunt get film from the first burglary developed. According to the report, Gray stopped the FBI from pursuing these leads. The FBI report says that the CIA involvement apparently had nothing to do with the Watergate burglary, but was more in support of Hunt’s activities with the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971).
bullet “Alleged activities on part of White House officials to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI Watergate investigation (Dean, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Colson, et cetera).” The report notes, “There is absolutely no question but that the president’s most senior associates at the White House conspired with great success for nine months to obstruct our investigation.” The report says it was “common knowledge” throughout the investigation that the White House was paying only “lip service” to investigators’ requests for honest, complete answers; the report cites Dean as a specific offender. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

The FBI has around 12,500 agents, but only about 50 of them work in counterterrorism. The FBI also has 56 field offices. This is according to John MacGaffin, a CIA officer tasked with improving interagency communication with the FBI in the mid-1990s. MacGaffin will later recall that the attitude of many in the FBI at the time is, “We don’t do intelligence.” Instead the FBI is focused on domestic law enforcement and the pursuit of criminal cases. A common joke within government is that the FBI catches bank robbers and the CIA robs banks. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: John MacGaffin, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI says it is doubling the number of investigators it has assigned to the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Originally the investigation had about six investigators operating under the guidance of veteran FBI prosecutor and counterespionage chief John Dion (see September 26, 2003), but the bureau now says it will assign about 12 agents and other personnel to it. Because of the volume of records that may have to be reviewed, “it just made sense to increase our numbers,” says a senior FBI official. “Six people can’t do this alone.” [New York Times Magazine, 10/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Valerie Plame Wilson, John Dion

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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