By Bob Harris
THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY of the Watergate break-in has passed, full of predictable recitations of a modern David and Goliath fable: Richard Nixon vs. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who had only their courage--and an anonymous do-gooder named "Deep Throat"--to rely on.
That's nice as far as it goes.
What's missing is an understanding of Deep Throat, Woodward's garage-lurking source who guided the reporters to some of their biggest leads. If he was just a concerned citizen, great. But if Deep Throat had his own agenda, then he used the Washington Post to shape the story for his own purposes and got away clean.
"I have told Woodward everything I know about the Watergate case, except the Mullen Company's tie to the CIA."--Robert F. Bennett, testifying before House Special Committee on Intelligence, July 2, 1974.
Robert Bennett was the head of Robert R. Mullen and Co., a CIA front headquartered in the very same building as the CIA's Domestic Operations Division. The Mullen Co. did legitimate PR work; it also did PR for other CIA fronts and provided cover abroad for CIA operations. Bennett's most notable employee was Howard Hunt, a former chief of covert actions for the Domestic Operations Division of the CIA.
In 1970, Hunt retired from the CIA and accepted a job with the Mullen Co. the very next day. CIA Director Richard Helms had personally requested the company to hire Hunt. Shortly thereafter, Hunt landed a second gig, working with former FBI man G. Gordon Liddy's secret Special Investigative Unit at the White House.
He also kept the Mullen job.
Hunt and Liddy then spent late 1971 and early 1972 engaging in various kinds of criminal mischief, using several of Hunt's Bay of Pigs veterans as loyal foot soldiers. The CIA gave Hunt technical assistance, including false IDs, disguises, spy cameras, etc. -- everything but a telephone in his shoe.
Bennett had direct input on several of these operations and personally assisted Liddy in the creation of phony organizations to launder campaign contributions to Nixon. A young friend of Bennett's nephew, Tom Gregory, was even hired to infiltrate the Muskie and McGovern campaigns.
Strangely, just before the fateful Watergate break-in, Gregory suddenly resigned, placing his signed resignation on Hunt's desk at Mullen the very night before the Watergate arrests.
After Hunt and six others were arrested in connection with the Watergate break-in, the FBI initially assumed the break-in was a CIA job, and Woodward's own Washington Post stories began with that implication. However, investigators eventually began chasing down the money trail to the White House. And rightly so.
However, a thorough inquiry might have also actively pursued the following:
All five of the Watergate burglars had done CIA work with Hunt in the past. Hunt, who had staged phony CIA "retirements" twice before, was again "retired," working this time for Bennett as a CIA front. The front company's biggest client was Howard Hughes, who had provided the agency with information and support for over a decade --during which time Hughes had been represented by Larry O'Brien, whose office was the apparent target of the break-in.
There were a lot of other leads that weren't pursued, too, and maybe parts of the above were just coincidence. But at first glance, the Mullen Co., Bennett, and the CIA would certainly have been prime suspects for serious investigation regarding the break-in.
Given the above, plus Tom Gregory's sudden resignation the night before the operation--if he disapproved or wanted to cover his keester, he might make an excellent witness--it's not hard to see how Bennett might have been given much closer scrutiny.
What gives? Was Robert F. Bennett the famous Deep Throat?
Most serious students of the case now consider Deep Throat a composite of several sources. Some of the cloak-and-dagger stuff is just goofy: for example, Woodward's signal to meet was given from his apartment balcony--which in reality faced an interior courtyard. Bennett was simply a Watergate figure who spun the case for himself successfully. Beyond the Post, CIA memos indicate Bennett also actively reframed the Watergate story away from the Mullen Co.'s CIA purposes for the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Star, Time, and Newsweek.
So whatever happened to this Robert Bennett guy? Did he disappear, wind up in jail, or die creatively, like so many CIA operatives? Nope. Today, he's a U.S. senator, just like his father.
According to Roll Call, Bob Bennett, R-Utah, is now the eighth richest of the 535 members of Congress, with a personal fortune exceeding $30 million.
Public Citizen's 1996 rating of Bennett's willingness to serve the public, as opposed to large corporate donors, was zero out of 100. On environmental issues, the League of Conservation Voters give him another zero. On issues like increased military spending, limiting corporate liability, and dismantling welfare, the American Conservative Union gave him a 96.
As to his past affiliation with the CIA and place in the Watergate saga, Bennett's official bio is silent. Then again, Bennett is a politician these days. He was probably more likely to tell the whole truth when he worked for the CIA.
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From the July 2-9, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.