IS AMERICA’S FAVORITE INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER A GOVERNMENT OPERATIVE? POLITICAL COMMENTATOR RUSS BAKER OFFERS INTRIGUING EVIDENCE!
By Russ Baker
From HUSTLER MAGAZINE July 2011
In June 2009,Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward traveled to Afghanistan with General Jim Jones, then President Obama’s National Security Advisor, to meet with General Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of forces there. Why did Jones allow this journalist to accompany him? Because he knew that Woodward could be counted on to deliver the company line—the military line. In fact, Jones was essentially Woodward’s patron.
The New Republic’s Gabriel Sherman pointed out that when Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee hosted a 50th-birthday party for Woodward’s wife, reporter Elsa Walsh,“Jones was a guest of Woodward. ”According to Sherman, one attendee told him, “Woodward and Elsa were glued to Jones at the cocktail party before the dinner started.”
In September 2009, McChrystal (or someone close to him) leaked a document to Woodward that essentially forced Obama’s hand. The President wanted time to consider all options on what to do about Afghanistan. But the leak, publicizing the military’s “confidential” assertion that a troop increase was essential, cast the die, and Obama had to go along. Nobody was happier than the Pentagon—and, it should be said, its allies in the vast military-contracting establishment.
FireDogLake.com chronicled the developments in a pungent essay: “Apparently General McChrystal and the Petraeus cabal aren’t willing to wait for their Commander in Chief to set the strategy. Prior to the President’s interviews, McChrystal’s people were already telling journalists that they were ‘impatient with Obama,’ as Nancy Youssef reported. This ‘Power Play’… included a veiled threat that McChrystal would resign if he didn’t get his way.
“And, sure enough, just hours after the Commander in Chief was on the airwaves, somehow McChrystal’s classified report hit the Washington Post…compliments of Bob Woodward, no less. Wow, what a coincidence!”
This episode highlights a crucial aspect of Woodward’s career that has been ignored by most of the media. Simply put, Woodward is the military’s man and always has been.
For almost four decades, under cover of his supposedly “objective” reporting, Woodward has represented the viewpoints of the military and intelligence establishments. Often he has done so in the context of complex inside maneuvering of which his readers have little clue.
Typically, Woodward uses information he obtains from his main sources (much of it self serving) to gain access to others. He then gets more “secrets” from them, and so on down the line. Woodward’s unique persona as the main repository of this inside dope has been key to the relentless success machine that his media colleagues have perpetuated.
The New York Times’ review of his recent book on President Obama laid out the formula: “In Obama’s Wars, Mr. Woodward, as usual, eschews analysis and commentary. Instead, he hews to his I Am a Tape Recorder technique, using his insider access to give readers interested in inside-the-Beltway politics lots of granular detail…. As he’s done in his earlier books, Mr. Woodward acknowledges that attributions of ‘thoughts, conclusions or feelings to a person’ were in some cases not obtained directly from that person, but from ‘notes or from a colleague whom the person told’—a questionable but increasingly popular method, which means the reader should take the reconstructed scenes with a grain of salt.”
And then, thanks to all this attention and even with that grain of salt, Obama’s Wars went to number one.
Bob Woodward’s stature as the world’s most acclaimed investigative journalist is almost entirely based on his helping to end the Presidency of the reviled Richard Nixon. As the saying goes, the past is prologue, and that long-ago affair turns out to have direct relevance to events besieging another President, Barack Obama. For a sense of how, we go back to the beginnings of Woodward’s journalistic career.
The young Woodward did not fit the profile of the stereotypical daily print reporter with a deep suspicion of the establishment, particularly in the turbulent late ’60s and early ’70s. Midwestern and Republican, Woodward attended Yale University on an NROTC scholarship and then spent five years in the Navy. He had begun with a top-secret security clearance onboard the USS Wright, specializing in communications. Some of his duties involved communication with the White House.
Woodward’s commanding officer was Rear Admiral Robert O. Welander, who would later be implicated in a well-documented military spy ring in the Nixon White House. That subterfuge, generally referred to as the Moorer Radford affair, is a segment of American history that is known to serious researchers and documented in numerous books but still somehow almost completely missing from the narrative typically offered to the public.
It involves a behind-the-scenes power struggle pitting Nixon against his former allies in the military, intelligence and corporate worlds. It is this struggle that begins to reveal the outlines of a larger battle over the Presidency and democracy itself. It leads to truths so deeply disturbing that the general reaction has been—and continues to be—denial by those who decide what books and interpretations get heavy publicity and the stamp of establishment approval.
According to the 1991 book Silent Coup, Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin’s exhaustive study of the aforementioned military espionage scandal, Woodward left his ship in 1969 and arrived in Washington, D.C. There he worked on the staff of Admiral Thomas Moorer, chief of Naval operations, again as a communications officer, this time one who provided briefings and documents on national security matters to top brass in the White House. Colodny and Gettlin wrote that Woodward frequently walked through the basement offices of the West Wing with documents from Admiral Moorer to General Alexander Haig, who served under Henry Kissinger—then Nixon’s National Security Advisor.
In a 2008 interview with me, Woodward categorically denied having any intelligence connections. He also denied having worked in the White House or having provided briefings there. “It’s a matter of record in the Navy what I did, what I didn’t do,” Woodward said. “And this Navy intelligence, Haig and so forth, you know, I’d be more than happy to acknowledge it if it’s true. It just isn’t. Can you accept that?”
Journalist Len Colodny, however, has produced audiotapes of interviews by his Silent Coup coauthor Robert Gettlin with Admiral Moorer, former Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, Pentagon spokesman Jerry Friedheim and even with Woodward’s own father, Al, discussing Bob’s White House service.
At a minimum, Woodward’s entry into journalism received a valuable outside assist, according to an account provided by Harry Rosenfeld, a retired Washington Post editor, to the Saratogian newspaper in 2004: “Bob had come to us on very high recommendations from someone in the White House. He had been an intelligence officer in the Navy and had served in the Pentagon. He had not been exposed to any [major] newspaper.”
In 2008, after I spoke to Woodward, I reached Rosenfeld. He remembered that Woodward had been recommended by Paul Ignatius, the Post’s president, who previously had served as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s secretary of the Navy.
In a subsequent interview, Ignatius told me: “It’s possible that somebody asked me about him, and it’s possible that I gave him a recommendation. I don’t remember initiating anything, but I can’t say I didn’t. ”When I asked Ignatius how a top Pentagon administrator such as himself would even have known of a lowly lieutenant—Woodward’s rank back in those days—he said he did not recall.
Yet even with this apparent high-level pressure to hire Woodward, the editors couldn’t justify putting in a complete novice. So Woodward was packed off to a Maryland-based weekly— the Montgomery County Sentinel—for a spell, then hired at the Post in September 1971. The eminent paper itself is steeped in intelligence connections. The Post’s owners, the Graham family, were aficionados of the apparatus and good friends of top spies such as longtime CIA Director Allen Dulles. Both the late publisher Philip Graham and Woodward’s boss and confidant, editor Ben Bradlee, had served in military intelligence during World War II.
As for Woodward’s initial introduction to the newspaper, nobody seems to have questioned whether a recommendation from someone in the White House would be an appropriate reason for the Post to hire a reporter. Nor does anyone from the Post appear to have put a rather obvious two and two together by noting that Woodward made quick work of bringing down the President of the United States, a feat that might have led to speculation about who at the White House had recommended Woodward in the first place—and with what motivation.
There was this, however: After Nixon aide Charles Colson met with Senator Howard Baker (the ranking Republican on the Senate Watergate Committee) and his staff—including legal counsel (and future senator) Fred Thompson—he recounted the session in a previously unpublished memo: “The CIA has been unable to determine whether Bob Woodward was employed by the Agency. The Agency claims to be having difficulty checking personnel files. Thompson says he believes the delay merely means that they don’t want to admit Woodward was in the Agency.
Thompson wrote a lengthy memo to Baker…complaining about the CIA’s noncooperation, the fact that they were supplying material piecemeal and had been very uncooperative.”
Senator Baker sent this 1974 memo directly to CIA Director William Colby with a cover note, and within a matter of a few hours an incensed Woodward called Baker. The memo had been immediately leaked to the Post reporter. Woodward’s good connections helped generate a series of exclusive-access interviews that would result in rapidly produced bestsellers. One was Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA,1981-1987,a controversial book that relied in part, Woodward claimed, on a deathbed interview—not recorded—with former Director of Central Intelligence William Casey. (Casey’s widow and former CIA guards said the interview never took place.)
The 543-page book, which came out as George H.W. Bush was seeking the Presidency in 1988,contained no substantive mentions of any role on the part of Poppy Bush in these “secret wars,” although Bush was both Vice President with a portfolio for covert ops and a former CIA director. Bush, like Woodward, had served in top-secret Naval operations in his younger days. Veil relied on Navy Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, a rival of Casey’s, as its key source. (Inman,a Texan, was closely identified with the Bush clan.)
Asked how it was possible to leave George H.W. Bush out of such a detailed account of covert operations during his Vice Presidency, Woodward replied, “Bush was, well, I don’t think he was—what was it he said at the time? ‘I was out of the loop’?”
Woodward went on to be blessed with unique access to another Bush, Poppy’s son George W. Bush—a President who did not grant a single interview to America’s top newspaper, the New York Times, for nearly half his administration. This favoritism and the resulting exclusivity guaranteed a series of automatic smash bestsellers. Woodward would also draw attention to himself for knowing about the administration’s role in leaking the identity of CIA undercover officer Valerie Plame but not writing or saying anything about it despite an ongoing investigation and media tempest. When this was revealed, Woodward issued an apology to the Post.
To its credit, in the ’60s the Washington Post had staffers doing some of the best reporting on the intelligence establishment. Perhaps the most revealing work came prior to Nixon’s tenure, while Woodward was still a Naval officer. In a multipart, front-page series by Richard Harwood in early 1967, the Post began reporting the extent to which the CIA had penetrated civil institutions not just abroad, but at home as well. As Harwood wrote, “Intellectuals, students, educators, trade unionists, journalists and professional men had to be reached directly through their private concerns [organizations].”
“Journalists” too. Woodward’s Watergate reporting partner, Bernstein, later wrote about the remarkable extent of the CIA’s penetration of newsrooms, detailing numerous examples in a 1977 Rolling Stone article. As for the Post itself, Bernstein wrote: “When Newsweek was purchased by the Washington Post Company, publisher Philip L. Graham was informed by Agency officials that the CIA occasionally used the magazine for cover purposes, according to CIA sources. ‘It was widely known that Phil Graham was somebody you could get help from,’ said a former deputy director of the Agency. Some Newsweek correspondents and stringers continued to maintain covert ties with the Agency into the 1970s,CIA sources said.
“Information about Agency dealings with the Washington Post newspaper is extremely sketchy. According to CIA officials, some Post stringers have been CIA employees, but these officials say they do not know if anyone in the Post management was aware of the arrangements.”
When the Watergate burglary story broke in 1972, Bob Woodward got the assignment, in part, his editor Barry Sussman recalled, because he never seemed to leave the building. “I worked the police beat all night,” Woodward said in an interview with authors Tom Rosenstiel and Amy S. Mitchell, “and then I’d go home—I had an apartment five blocks from the Post—and sleep for a while. I’d show up in the newsroom around ten or 11 and work all day too. People complained I was working too hard.”
So when the bulletin came in, Woodward was there. The result was a front-page account revealing that E. Howard Hunt’s name appeared in the address book of one of the burglars and that a check signed by Hunt had been found in the pocket of another burglar, who was Cuban. It went further: Hunt, Woodward reported, worked as a consultant to White House counsel Charles Colson.
Yes, Woodward played a key role in tying the Watergate burglars to Nixon. Woodward would later explain in All the President’s Men (coauthored with Bernstein) that to find out more about Hunt he had “called an old friend and sometimes source who worked for the federal government.” His friend did not like to be contacted at his office and “said hurriedly that the break-in case was going to ‘heat up,’ but he couldn’t explain and hung up.”
Thus began Woodward’s relationship with “Deep Throat,” that mysterious source who, Woodward would later report, served in the executive branch of government and had access to information in the White House and Nixon’s reelection campaign committee.
Based on tips from Deep Throat, Woodward and Bernstein began to “follow the money,” writing stories in September and October 1972 on a political “slush fund” linked to Nixon’s reelection committee. One story reported that the fund had financed the bugging of the Democratic Party’s Watergate headquarters as well as other intelligence-gathering activities.
Eventually, of course, this reporting played a key role in Nixon’s forced departure from the White House in 1974. His successor, Gerald Ford, then took a hard turn to the right on foreign policy and elevated to prominent roles three individuals who would later become household names: George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.
Amazingly, despite the overwhelming public sense that Nixon was somehow “behind” the scandals collectively referred to as Watergate, virtually no evidence ever emerged of Nixon’s involvement or prior knowledge, besides agreeing to bad advice on how to handle the affair once it became public through leaks via Woodward and others. Meanwhile, the collection of individuals whose “inside” testimony helped sink Nixon had, like Woodward, a history with military or civilian intelligence operations.
So let’s summarize: Young Bob Woodward, Naval intelligence officer, gets sent to work in the Nixon White House while still on military duty. Then, with no journalistic credentials to speak of and with a boost from White House staffers, he lands a job at the Washington Post. Not long thereafter he starts to take down Richard Nixon. Meanwhile, inside the White House, Woodward’s military bosses are running a spy ring that is monitoring Nixon and Kissinger’s secret negotiations with America’s enemies (China, the Soviet Union, etc.), stealing documents and funneling them back to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They are then leaked to columnist Jack Anderson and others in the press.
That portrait clashes, of course, with the iconic Woodward of legend—so it takes a while for this notion to settle in the mind. But there’s more. Did you know there was really no “Deep Throat,” that the W. Mark Felt story was conjured up as yet another layer of cover in what became a daisy chain of disinformation? Did you know that Richard Nixon was loathed and feared by the military brass, that they and their allies were desperate to get him out and halt his rapprochement with the Communists? Or that a bunch of operatives with direct or indirect CIA/military connections—from E. Howard Hunt to Alexander Butterfield to John Dean—wormed their way into key White House posts and started up the Keystone Kops operations that would be laid at Nixon’s Oval Office door? Or that it was the CIA-connected Butterfield, for example, who revealed the secret Oval Office audio taping system whose carefully selected and artfully presented excerpts cooked Nixon’s goose?
If you want to learn more, Family of Secrets has several chapters on the real Watergate story. Other sources that have put pieces of this puzzle together include the previously mentioned Colodny and Gettlin, as well as James Rosen (The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate) and Jim Hougan (Secret Agenda: Watergate, Deep Throat and the CIA).
Russ Baker is an award-winning investigative reporter and founder and editor of the news site WhoWhatWhy.com. He has written for the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the Nation, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Village Voice and Esquire. Some of this material is excerpted from Baker’s book Family of Secrets. For more on Baker’s work, visit FamilyOfSecrets.com and RussBaker.com.