March 08, 2007

Bureacratic Infighting Nixon Style

On 21st December 1971, President Nixon arriving in the United States was informed that a leak inquiry into the leaking of classified information to the journalist Jack Anderson had come to a conclusion. The conclusion was that for many years, a Navy Yeoman in the National Security Council Charles Radford was leaking confidential documents from the National Security Council, personal correspendence between the President and his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig, Kissinger's military assistant and later deputy. The controversy blew up, with Admiral Weller, Radford's boss saying that he should be sent to jail, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Moorer wanted to imprison Weller and Kissinger wanted to throw the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in Jail himself. At the end of the story nobody was jailed because Nixon wisely decided that politically the consequences could be too damaging.

The story though does demonstrate one of the perpetual problems in government- it isn't merely journalists but also other government agencies that seek information. Bureacratic infighting is a disease of any large system of government and particularly one which neccessarily involves the production of secrets like a foreign policy bureacracy. Bureacratic advantage can be gained by the possession of the right piece of information, the right word for the right moment. No doubt for example in this White House similar fighting and information went on between Powell's State and Rumsfeld's Pentagon Departments, no doubt it has gone on throughout the history of government. This Radford episode is fascinating because it demonstrates to us that conflicts can happen and as in this case spin out into the realm of leaking to the media. It also demonstrates though how Nixon's paranoia was based on a culture of bureacratic infighting- in his conversation with Haldeman, recorded and now held by the Nixon archives and linked to below, he commented that

don't be too sure of anyone. Don't get too sure of anyone.

When the Pentagon is spying on the White House one can understand how the President might become paranoid about leaks- a paranoia which of course led to formation of the plumbers and eventually Watergate. (Incidentally I don't mean to say that this was the sole determiner of Nixon's attitudes but one can understand Nixon if one understands the climate he was operating in and this was part of that climate!)

I should note that much of the documents this is based upon are linked to here including extracts from H.R. Haldeman's diaries and information from the Nixon Presidential library archives is disclosed here.


james higham said...

There was another factor, Tiberius and that was that Nixon did have a predisposition for the clandestine way. It came out in his dealings with Haig and Kissinger, i.e., even when he didn't need to be secretive, he was. This developed much earlier, as you pointed out.

Gracchi said...

James yes totally agreed. There were obviously all kinds of other factors- but I do think this is a fascinating sidelight on what happened to Nixon.