Ehrlichman Announces Creation of ‘Plumbers’

Nixon aide John Ehrlichman reports that he has successfully created the special investigations unit ordered by the president (see Late June-July 1971). His first choice to head the unit, speechwriter Pat Buchanan, refused the position. Ehrlichman rejected fellow aide Charles Colson’s own choice, retired CIA agent E. Howard Hunt, who has recently joined the White House staff (see July 7, 1971). Ehrlichman turned to his own protege, Egil “Bud” Krogh, and David Young, a former assistant to National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, to head the unit. Young gives the unit its nickname of “Plumbers” after he hangs a sign on his office door reading, “D. YOUNG—PLUMBER.” Their first hire is former FBI agent and county prosecutor G. Gordon Liddy, a reputed “wild man” currently being pushed out of the Treasury Department for his strident opposition to the administration’s gun control policies. [Reeves, 2001, pp. 348-349].

In 1972 E. Howard Hunt considered hiring Conein for the group that bungled the 1972 Watergate burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. Conein later told the historian, Stanley Karnow: “If I’d been involved, we’d have done it right.”

When Howard Hunt told Krogh he could enlist for the office experienced CIA figures, starting with CIA veteran Lucien Conien at its head, it was a ballsy move, since the CIA had just been acutely embarrassed by the discovery that a huge proportion of the smugglers arrested in the big Justice Department Operation Eagle drug bust in 1970 were Cubans, and Bay of Pigs veterans to boot.

So in January of 1972 the White House set up the Office For Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE), according to a plan conceived by Gordon Liddy. Nixon named the soon-to-resign-in-disgrace Myles Ambrose to head of the newly created Drug Enforcement Office, which later became the Drug Enforcement Administration. Jack Caufield became head of that operation.