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Context of 'May 2, 1970: Haig Orders Four More Wiretaps'

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Map showing the 115,273 targets bombed by US airstrikes between October 1965 and August 1973.Map showing the 115,273 targets bombed by US airstrikes between October 1965 and August 1973. [Source: Taylor Owen / History News Network]President Nixon and his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, discuss North Vietnamese sanctuaries and supply routes in the neutral border country of Cambodia. General Creighton Abrams, the US military commander in South Vietnam, wants those sites bombed, regardless of the fact that military strikes against locations in a neutral country would be flagrant violations of international laws and treaties. Abrams has assured the White House that no Cambodian civilians live in those areas—a false assertion. Nixon orders Kissinger to come up with a plan for bombing Cambodia. Kissinger, his military aide Alexander Haig, and Nixon’s chief of staff H. R. Haldeman develop the basic plan in two days. The first wave of bombings will begin three weeks later (see March 15-17, 1969). Nixon’s secret bombings of Cambodia—dubbed “Operation Menu”—will trigger a wave of global denunciations, further energize the antiwar movement, and help precipitate the leak of the “Pentagon Papers” (see March 1971). [Reeves, 2001, pp. 48-49]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Henry A. Kissinger, ’Operation Menu’, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., H.R. Haldeman, Creighton Abrams

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

President Nixon makes the final decision to launch “Operation Menu”—secret air strikes against Cambodia (see February 23-24, 1969). He meets with Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Secretary of State William Rogers, ostensibly to discuss the decision of whether “to bomb or not,” but unbeknownst to the two officials, Nixon has already issued the order and begun a system of phony telephone records put in place to disguise the bombings. Congress is not informed of the bombings. The first stage of the bombing, “Operation Breakfast,” is productive enough to lead Nixon to predict the war in Vietnam will be over by 1970. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 58-59]

Entity Tags: ’Operation Menu’, Melvin Laird, William P. Rogers, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Former New York Police Department detective Jack Caulfield begins his new job as a White House aide. Caulfield was added to the White House by Nixon aide John Ehrlichman after President Nixon’s decision to use private, secretly held funds for political intelligence operations (see January 30, 1969). Caulfield is to conduct various political intelligence operations without being noticed by the CIA, the FBI, or the Republican National Committee. Originally, the idea was to pay Caulfield out of unspent campaign funds from the 1968 elections (see November 5, 1968), but Caufield insisted on being given a White House position. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 67]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard M. Nixon, John Ehrlichman, John J. ‘Jack’ Caulfield

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The New York Times reveals the secret bombings of Cambodia, dubbed “Operation Menu” (see February 23-24, 1969 and March 15-17, 1969). National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger is apoplectic in his anger: shouting to President Nixon, “We must do something! We must crush those people! We must destroy them!” Kissinger is not only referring to the Times, but Defense Secretary Melvin Laird and Secretary of State William Rogers, whom he believes leaked the information to the Times in order to discredit him. (Nixon has an unproductive phone conversation with Laird before his meeting with Kissinger; Nixon opened the phone call by calling Laird a “son of a b_tch,” and Laird hung up on the president.) Nixon suggests Kissinger’s own staff may be the source of the leaks. He is most suspicious of Kissinger’s aide Morton Halperin. By lunch, Kissinger has talked to the FBI about wiretapping suspected leakers. By dinner, Halperin’s phone is tapped. The next day, Kissinger’s military aide Alexander Haig has the FBI tap three more men “just for a few days,” warning the FBI not to keep any records of the wiretaps. The three targets are Kissinger’s aides Helmut Sonnenfeldt and Daniel Davidson, and Laird’s military assistant, Robert Pursley (who will again be wiretapped several months later—see May 2, 1970). At the same time, White House aide Jack Caulfield (see April 2, 1969) arranges for a wiretap on a private citizen, syndicated columnist Joseph Kraft. While the FBI wiretaps are legally questionable, Caulfield’s tap is unquestionably illegal. Caulfield has the director of security for the Republican National Committee, former FBI agent John Ragan, personally install the wiretap in Kraft’s home. The tap on Kraft produces nothing except the conversations of housekeepers, as Kraft and his wife are in Paris. Nixon has the French authorities wiretap Kraft’s Paris hotel room. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 75-76]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, William P. Rogers, Robert Pursley, Republican National Committee, Morton H. Halperin, Melvin Laird, Daniel Davidson, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., ’Operation Menu’, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Henry A. Kissinger, John J. ‘Jack’ Caulfield, John Ragan, Joseph Kraft, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

On April 24, President Nixon orders US and South Vietnamese troops to secretly invade the “Parrot’s Beak” region of Cambodia, thought to be a Viet Cong stronghold. The decision is controversial. Nixon knows that many senior military officials, as well as his Secretary of Defense, Melvin Laird, will oppose the operation, so he carefully keeps Laird ignorant of the invasion plans. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger privately alerts Laird to some of the less controversial elements of the operation (but not the use of US forces in the invasion), and Laird recommends advising Congress of the imminent military action. Kissinger says Nixon will handle that himself. (Nixon only tells one Congressman, Senator John Stennis (D-MS), the hawkish chairman of the Armed Services Committee.) As the evening wears on, Nixon repeatedly calls Kissinger’s office, barking out contradictory orders and hanging up, as he flip-flops on whether to actually go through with the plan. “Our peerless leader has flipped out,” Kissinger tells his staff. Nixon calls Kissinger with further orders and tells him, in a slurred, perhaps inebriated voice, “Wait a minute, Bebe has something to say to you.” Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, Nixon’s longtime friend and millionaire political and personal financier (who has been thoroughly informed of the operation when many senior government and officials have not), takes the phone and says, “The president wants you to know that if this doesn’t work, Henry, it’s your ass.”
Staffers Resign - Kissinger, who has himself kept his staff ignorant of the invasion, tells one staffer, William Watts, to coordinate the National Security Council’s work on the invasion. But Watts, outraged at the secret invasion of a neutral nation, refuses. “Your views represent the cowardice of the Eastern establishment,” Kissinger snaps. Watts comes towards Kissinger as if to strike him, then turns and walks out of the office. Watts resigns his position minutes later. Kissinger’s military aide, Alexander Haig: tells Watts: “You can’t resign.… You’ve just had an order from your commander in chief.” Watts retorts, “F_ck you, Al, I just did.” Two other Kissinger staffers, Anthony Lake and Roger Morris, also resign over the invasion.
Others Informed - The plans are finalized by Nixon and Kissinger, with Rebozo sitting in on the discussion. Only on the evening of April 26 do Laird, Secretary of State William Rogers, and other Cabinet officials learn of the plans to invade Cambodia. Rogers is horrified; Laird is ambivalent, but furious that he was left out of the decision-making process. The invasion takes place on April 28. Congress and the press learn of the invasion on April 30. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 199-206]

Entity Tags: Melvin Laird, Anthony Lake, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Charles ‘Bebe’ Rebozo, John Stennis, Roger Morris, William Watts, National Security Council, Richard M. Nixon, Henry A. Kissinger, William P. Rogers

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

US and South Vietnamese troops invade Cambodia, attacking North Vietnamese and Viet Cong bases and supply lines. Angered by the move, four men from Henry Kissinger’s National Security Council staff resign (see April 24-30, 1970). [Blum, 1995; Hitchins, 2001; Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., 2005] By the end of May, scores of villages have been destroyed. [Blum, 1995] Though US ground forces are withdrawn by June 30, the South Vietnamese troops will remain, occupying heavily populated areas and supported by continued heavy US air bombings. During this time, popular support for the Khmer Rouge broadens, its ranks swelling from 3,000 in March 1970 to a peak of about 30,000. [Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., 2005]

Entity Tags: Henry A. Kissinger

Timeline Tags: US-Cambodia (1955-1993), Nixon and Watergate

May 2, 1970: Haig Orders Four More Wiretaps

When the press reports the secret US-led invasion of Cambodia (see April 24-30, 1970) and the subsequent massive air strikes in that country, Alexander Haig, the military aide to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, notes that New York Times reporter William Beecher has been asking some suspiciously well-informed questions about the operation. Beecher’s latest story also alerts Defense Secretary Melvin Laird to the bombings (Laird, whom Kissinger considers a hated rival, has been kept out of the loop on the bombings). Haig tells the FBI he suspects a “serious security violation” has taken place, and receives four new wiretaps: on Beecher; Laird’s assistant Robert Pursley; Secretary of State William Rogers’s assistant Richard Pederson; and Rogers’s deputy, William Sullivan. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 212]

Entity Tags: Melvin Laird, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Federal Bureau of Investigation, Henry A. Kissinger, William Sullivan, Richard Pederson, William P. Rogers, William Beecher, Robert Pursley

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a slain student during the Kent State shootings.Pulitzer Prize-winning photo of a slain student during the Kent State shootings. [Source: John Paul Filo]At 3 p.m. on May 4, 1970, White House chief of staff H. R. Haldeman informs President Nixon of the shootings of four unarmed college students by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio. After a night of rioting and the torching of a campus ROTC building, prompted by outrage over the secret Cambodia bombings (see April 24-30, 1970), about 2,000 students faced off against squads of National Guardsmen in full riot gear. After tear gas failed to break up the demonstrators, and some of the protesters started throwing rocks at the Guardsmen, the Guard was ordered to open fire. Thirteen seconds and 67 shots later, four students were dead and 11 were wounded. Nixon is initially aghast at the news. “Is this because of me, because of Cambodia?” he asks. “How do we turn this stuff off?… I hope they provoked it.” Later his response to the increasingly confrontational antiwar protesters will become far more harsh and derisive. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 213]

Entity Tags: Richard M. Nixon, Kent State University, H.R. Haldeman

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Bo Burlingame, a former member of the radical antiwar group the Weather Underground, interviews former Nixon White House aide Tom Charles Huston, the author of the notorious, unconstitutional “Huston Plan” (see July 14, 1970). Huston is just coming off a speech to a conservative audience in which he said that his plan, and Nixon’s attempt to seize executive power at the expense of Congress and the Constitution, was excessive and mistaken (see Late 1973). Huston, a lawyer, a former Army intelligence officer, and an early leader of the Indiana chapter of the conservative extremist group Young Americans for Freedom, tells Burlingame that he found an interesting parallel between his group of right-wing extremists and Burlingame’s left-wing extremists: “I was interested to learn that you people were frustrated because nobody was listening to you. You know, we felt the same thing at the White House. It seemed as if a momentous crisis was at hand, and nobody was aware of it or cared.”
Coup d'Etat Begins with Creation of Fear in Populace - Huston is contemptuous and dismissive of many of his former White House colleagues, particularly Richard Nixon. “Frankly, I wouldn’t put anything past him and those damn technocrats,” he says of Nixon and his senior aides. “[Y]ou can’t begin to compete with the professional Nixonites when it comes to deception.… If Nixon told them to nationalize the railroads, they’d have nationalized the railroads. If he’d told them to exterminate the Jews, they’d have exterminated the Jews.” He took a position with the White House in January 1969 “believing that things were finally going to be set straight.”
Disillusioned - Huston became increasingly disillusioned with the lack of idealism in the Nixon White House, and left after deciding that Nixon and his top officials were less interested in implementing true conservative reforms and more interested in merely accumulating power. The Nixon team was an apolitical, power-hungry bunch “whose intellectual tradition is rooted in the philosophy of [marketing and advertising guru] J. Walter Thompson.… This administration has done more to debauch conservative values than anything else in recent history.”
Fear and Repression - Considering his plan to abrogate the fundamental rights of hundreds of thousands of Americans, Huston seems quite supportive of those rights even in the face of national danger. “The real threat to national security is repression,” he had told a New York Times interviewer not long before the Burlingame interview. “A handful of people can’t frontally overthrow the government. But if they can engender enough fear, they can generate an atmosphere that will bring out every repressive demagogue in the country.”
Explaining the Huston Plan - Huston explains the rationale behind his radically repressive plan, telling Burlingame that the country was on the brink of mass insurrection and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was not doing nearly enough to combat the civil rights and antiwar protesters, particularly groups like the Black Panthers and Burlingame’s Weather Underground. By early 1970, many in the White House were ready to ease Hoover out of power; when, shortly thereafter, the mass protests against the Cambodia bombings (see February 23-24, 1969 and April 24-30, 1970) and the Jackson State and Kent State shootings (see May 4-5, 1970) occurred, Huston and others at the White House thought there was a far more organized and systematic underground, left-wing revolution going on than they had evidence to document. “We just didn’t believe we were getting the whole story,” he says.
Removing Hoover - Getting rid of Hoover and replacing him with someone more amenable to the White House’s agenda was the first goal, Huston says. The June 1970 “Interagency Committee on Intelligence” (see June 5, 1970) was designed to maneuver around Hoover and have him implicitly authorize counter-insurrection methods that he had always opposed, including “surreptitious entry” and “covert mail coverage.” The committee was the genesis of the Huston Plan. But Hoover stops the plan in its tracks by going through Attorney General John Mitchell. Whatever he said to Mitchell is not known, but Mitchell chewed out Huston and saw to it that the plan was terminated. Huston says that the unit of illegal campaign operatives later known as the “Plumbers” (see July 20, 1971) stems in part from the White House’s inability to force Hoover from power. Had Hoover made the FBI available to conduct the illegal burglaries and surveillances that Nixon wanted done—had Nixon supported the Huston Plan—the Plumbers would have never come into existence. “I find that totally indefensible,” Huston observes.
Ethical Confusion - Burlingame is bemused by Huston’s apparent ethical schizophrenia—on the one hand, Huston has come out strongly for constitutional freedoms, and on the other hand is now saying that his plan, which he himself has long admitted was blatantly illegal, would have avoided the entire Watergate contretemps and would have worked to bring the country into line. In fact, Huston asserts, he believed at the time that the Watergate conspiracy was completely legal. “I took the view that in internal security matters the president had the right to infringe on what would, in other circumstances, be constitutional rights, but that decision encompassed a decision that you forfeit the right to prosecute.” This view is why he left the Justice Department entirely out of the loop on his plan, he says.
Deliberately Keeping outside the Framework of the Law - The entire Huston plan would have never been used for anything except intelligence-gathering, he says. It was necessary for the plan to be exercised outside the structure of US law, he says. “[Y]ou don’t want a constitutional or legal mandate,” he says. “You don’t want to institutionalize the excesses required to meet extraordinary threats. The law just can’t anticipate all the contingencies.” He now thinks that he went too far with pushing for extraordinary powers; that if Hoover could have been eased out of power, the FBI could have done what needed doing without breaking the law. Burlingame writes that he cannot help but think that Huston is employing “tortured legalisms” to “cover his flank,” and questions Huston’s portrait of himself as an increasingly marginalized conservative idealist who became so disillusioned with the amoral power-mad bureaucrats of the Nixon administration that he walked out rather than further jeopardize his own principles. [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: John Mitchell, Bo Burlingame, Black Panthers, ’Plumbers’, Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Walter Thompson, Young Americans for Freedom, J. Edgar Hoover, Tom Charles Huston, US Department of Justice, Weather Underground, Nixon administration, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The US has been conducting airstrikes against suspected terrorists in Yemen, but denying responsibility for them, according to cables provided by the whistleblower organization Wikileaks to the British daily The Guardian. The bombings are being attributed to local forces rather than the US in an attempt not to rile Arab public opinion. The Guardian breaks the story based on a number of cables provided by Wikileaks, which contain damning quotes. In a September 2009 cable Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh told US President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, John Brennan, “I have given you an open door on terrorism, so I am not responsible.” Following a strike that killed multiple civilians carried out by the US, but attributed to Yemenis in December 2009, US Ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche cabled Washington to say: “Yemen insisted it must ‘maintain the status quo’ regarding the official denial of US involvement. Saleh wanted operations to continue ‘non-stop until we eradicate this disease.’” Just over a week later, Saleh told General David Petraeus, then head of US Central Command, “We’ll continue saying the bombs are ours, not yours.” This prompted the deputy prime minister, Rashad al-Alimi, who was also at the meeting, to joke that he had just “lied” by telling parliament the bombs in Arhab, Abyan, and Shebwa (the alleged al-Qaeda strongholds) were American-made but deployed by Yemen. In addition to the secret bombings, the Yemen-related cables published by The Guardian on this day deal with Yemeni reluctance to meet some US demands, the inaccuracy of some US weapons, large payments to be made by the US to Yemen, the Saudi Arabian reaction to the strikes, poor counterterrorism training for staff at Yemeni airports, Yemen’s unwillingness to share information about Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, alleged to be an al-Qaeda bomb-maker, and poor counterterrorist infrastructure in Yemen. [Guardian, 12/3/2010] Before the “war on terror,” the last time the US bombed a country in secret was during the Vietnam War, when the US bombed Cambodia (see March 15-17, 1969). It was a New York Times report on the bombing that was one of the spurs behind President Richard Nixon’s formation of the later-infamous “plumbers” unit (see May 9-10, 1969).

Entity Tags: WikiLeaks, John O. Brennan, Rashad al-Alimi, Ali Abdallah Saleh, David Petraeus, The Guardian, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, Stephen Seche

Timeline Tags: US International Relations, Misc Entries, Domestic Propaganda

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