1973 May 16

“Anything the NSA Did is Totally Defensible” — President Nixon


In an oval office meeting with his lawyer, J. Fred Buzhardt, President Richard Nixon declared that “Anything the NSA did was totally defensible.”

Nixon made the statement as the Watergate Scandal was engulfing his presidency. His former staff person, John Dean, was apparently talking to investigators about the cover-up of the break-in at the Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate office building and hotel on June 17, 1972 by people associated with the White House and Nixon’s re-election campaign. Dean apparently had told them about the notoriously and previously secret Huston Plan, which called for illegal actions against the critics of the Nixon administration. The Huston Plan originated at a June 5, 1970 meeting where Nixon berated the heads of the various intelligence agencies for not doing enough to stop anti-war protests and radical political movements. Nixon then approved the Huston Plan on June 14, 1970 but, for reasons that are not entirely clear, withdrew the approval on July 27, 1970.

Although the Huston Plan was cancelled, the illegal actions it proposed resurfaced in the GEMSTONE plan by G. Gordon Liddy on January 27, 1972. The GEMSTONE plan, although not fully approved, led directly to the Watergate break-in on June 17, 1972 and the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon on August 9, 1974.

Two very curious aspects of Nixon’s meeting with Buzhardt on this day were (1) that he appears to have completely forgotten that he ordered the Huston Plan, approved it, and then cancelled it; and (2) that he did not seem to know what the NSA was. A transcript of the meeting records Nixon asking “What is the NSA?” (Clearly, Nixon’s mind was very consumed with the Watergate Scandal and possible criminal charges against him.)

Massive illegal spying by the NSA was exposed on June 5, 2013 by documents stolen and released by former NSA contract employee Edward Snowden. Revelations based on the documents continued for over two years.

The NSA, created by President Harry Truman on October 24, 1952, was a super-secret organization which few people knew about for many years. The first time the director of the agency ever testified in public before Congress was when Lt. Gen. Lew Allen appeared before the Senate Church Committee on October 29, 1975.

Read about meeting on this day: James Bamford, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency (pp. 431-432) (2001)

Learn more about NSA spying and the Snowden-related documents: Luke Harding, The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man (2014)

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