September 3, 1971, the burglary of Lewis Fielding‘s office – titled “Hunt/Liddy Special Project No. 1” in Ehrlichman’s notes—was carried out by Hunt, Liddy and CIA officers Eugenio Martinez, Felipe de Diego and Bernard Barker. The “Plumbers” failed to find Ellsberg’s file. Hunt and Liddy subsequently planned to break into Fielding’s home, but Ehrlichman did not approve the second burglary. The break-in was not known to Ellsberg or to the public until it came to light during Ellsberg and Russo’s trial in April 1973. Dubbed the White House “plumbers” unit – named for their orders to plug leaks in the administration.
According to Eugenio Martinez’ telling of the break-in:
We stayed at the Beverly Hills Hotel and met in Eduardo’s room for our only briefing. As we walked in I noticed the equipment – devices to modify the voice, wigs and fake glasses, false identification. Eduardo told us all these things belonged to the Company. Barker recognized the name on Hunt’s false identification – Edward J. Hamilton – as the same cover name Eduardo had used during the Bay of Pigs.
The briefing was not like anything I was used to in the Company. Ordinarily, before an operation, you have a briefing and then you train for the operation. You try to find a place that looks similar and you train in disguise and with the code you are going to use. You try out the plan many times so that later you have the elasticity to abort the operation if the conditions are not ideal.
Eduardo’s briefing was not like this. There wasn’t a written plan, not even any mention of what to do if something went wrong. There was just the man talking about the thing. We were to get into an office to take photographs of psychiatric records of a traitor. I was to be the photographer. The next day we went to Sears and bought some little hats and uniforms for Barker and Felipe. They were supposed to dress up as delivery men and deliver the photographic equipment inside the office. Later that night we would break in and complete the mission.
They looked kind of queerish when they put on the clothes, the Peter Lorre-type glasses, and the funny Dita Beard wigs. But that was not my responsibility, so I waited in the car while they went to the office of Dr. Fielding to deliver the package. Just before leaving Barker had whispered to me: “Hey, remember this name – Ellsberg.” Eduardo had told him the name, and he told me because he was worried he would forget it. The name meant nothing to me.
Barker and Felipe were supposed to put the bag inside the office, unlatch the back door, and come out. After the cleaning lady left, we were to go back in. Now, it happened that we had to wait for hours and hours because no one had figured out when the cleaning woman would leave. Finally, I believe, a gentleman came in a car and picked her up.
So at last we went to open the door – and what happened? The door was locked. Barker went around to see if the other door was open, and after a long wait he still did not show up. We didn’t know what to do. There had been another man in the briefing the night before in Eduardo’s room who hadn’t said anything. Later, I learned it was probably Gordon Liddy, but at the time I only knew him as George. Just at that moment, he came up to us and said, “Okay, you people go ahead and force one of the windows and go in.”
Eduardo had given us a small crowbar and a glass cutter. I tried to cut the glass, but it wouldn’t cut. It was bad, bad. It would not cut anything! So then I taped the window and I hit it with this very small crowbar, and I put my hand in and unlocked the window.
According to the police, we were using gloves and didn’t leave any fingerprints. But I’m afraid that I did because I didn’t wear my gloves when I put the tape on the window – you know, sometimes it’s hard to use gloves. I went all through the offices with my bare hands but I used my handkerchief to wipe off the prints.
Inside the doctor’s office we covered the windows and took out the equipment. Really, it was a joke. They had given us a rope to bail out from the second floor if anyone surprised us; it was so small, it couldn’t have supported any of us.
This was nothing new. It’s what the Company did in the Bay of Pigs when they gave us old ships, old planes, old weapons. They explained that if you were caught in one of those operations with commercial weapons that you could buy anywhere, you could be said to be on your own. They teach you that they are going to disavow you. The Company teaches you to accept those things as the efficient way to work. And we were grateful. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had any help at all. In this operation it seemed obvious – they didn’t want it to be traced back to the White House. Eduardo told us that if we were caught, we should say we were addicts looking for drugs.
I had just set up the photographic equipment when we heard a noise. We were afraid. Then we heard Barker’s familiar knock and we let him in. I took a Polaroid picture of the office before we started looking for the Ellsberg papers so we could put everything back just as it was before. But there was nothing of Ellsberg’s there. There was nothing about psychiatry, no one file of sick people, only bills. It looked like an import-export office more than a psychiatrist’s. The only thing with the name of Ellsberg in it was the doctor’s telephone book. I took a photo of this so that we could bring something back. Before leaving I took some pills from Dr. Fielding’s briefcase–vitamin C, I think–and spread them all over the floor to make it look like we were looking for drugs. Eduardo was waiting for us outside. He was supposed to be keeping watch on Dr. Fielding so he could let us know if the doctor was returning to his office, but Eduardo had lost Dr. Fielding and he was nervous. A police car appeared as we drove away and it trailed behind us for three or four blocks. I thought to myself that the police car was protecting us. That is the feeling you have when you are doing operations for the government. You think that every step has been taken to protect you.
Back at the hotel, Barker, Felipe, and I felt very bad. It was our first opportunity, and we had failed; we hadn’t found anything. “Yes, I know, but they don’t know it,” Eduardo said, and he congratulated us all. He said, “Well done,” and then he opened a bottle of champagne. And he told us, “This is a celebration. You deserve it.” George was also there – his real name was G. Gordon Liddy.
I told Diego and Barker that this had to have been a training mission for a very important mission to come or else it was a cover operation. I thought to myself that maybe these people already had the papers of Ellsberg. Maybe Dr. Fielding had given them out and for ethical reasons he needed to be covered. It seemed that these people already had what we were looking for because no one invites you to have champagne and is happy when you fail.
The whole thing was strange, but Eduardo was happy so we were happy. He thanked us and we left for the airport. We took the plane back to Miami and we never talked about this thing until we were all together in the District of Columbia jail. In Miami I again told my CO about Eduardo. I was certain then that the Company knew about his activities. But once again my CO did not pursue the subject.
Meanwhile, Hunt started to do more and more things that convinced us of his important position in the White House. Once he called Barker and told him the President was about to mine Haiphong Harbor. He asked us to prepare letters and a rally of support in advance. It was very impressive to us when the announcement of the mining was made several days later.
I made a point of telling my CO at our next meeting that Hunt was involved in some operations and that he was in the White House, even if they said he wasn’t. After that the CIA chief of the Western Hemisphere asked me for breakfast at Howard Johnson’s on Biscayne Boulevard, and he said he was interested in finding out about Howard Hunt’s activities. He wanted me to write a report. He said I should write it in my own hand, in Spanish, and give it to my CO in a sealed envelope. Right away I went to see my CO. We are very close, my CO and I, and he told me that his father had once given him the advice that he should never put anything in writing that might do him any harm in the future. So I just wrote a cover story for the whole thing. I said that Hunt was in the Mullen Company and the White House and things like that that weren’t important. What I really thought was that Hunt was checking to see if I could be trusted.
Little by little I watched Eduardo’s operation grow. First Barker was given $89,000 in checks from Mexican banks to cash for operational money. And then Eduardo told Barker to recruit three more men, including a key man. He signed up Frank Sturgis and Reinaldo Pico, and then Eduardo flew down to talk to our friend Virgilio Gonzales, who is a locksmith, before recruiting him. Finally orders come for us to report to Washington. The six of us arrived in Washington on May 22 and checked into the Manger Hay-Adams Hotel in time for Eduardo’s first briefing.
September 3, 1971, the burglary of Lewis Fielding’s office – titled “Hunt/Liddy Special Project No. 1” in Ehrlichman’s notes—was carried out by Hunt, Liddy and CIA officers Eugenio Martinez, Felipe de Diego and Bernard Barker. The “Plumbers” failed to find Ellsberg’s file. Hunt and Liddy subsequently planned to break into Fielding’s home, but Ehrlichman did not approve the second burglary. The break-in is made obvious by the smashing of a window. Accounts of the break-in are irreconcilably conflicting. According to Bernard Barker, E. Howard Hunt, and G. Gordon Liddy, the three Cubans—Barker, Martinez, and De Diego—had entered the office and searched thoroughly, and there was no file on Daniel Ellsberg anywhere. According to Lewis Fielding, there was a file on Ellsberg in his office, which Fielding says he found on the floor the next morning. Fielding claims it was evident that someone had gone through the file. They stay at the Beverly Hilton and drink champagne at the pool, Hunt has a bottle chilled. Simultaneously, operatives in New York go to the Pierre Hotel in New York and check in, posing as Liddy and Hunt, claiming the reservation Hunt made earlier by phone. These stand-ins “check in” and then walk right out into their waiting cab. The stand-ins come back later to “check” out on Sunday, 5 September 1971. Read more […]
Hunt and Liddy flew out to Los Angeles. The entry team traveled separately the same day. Their leader, Bernard Barker—code-named Macho—had been Hunt’s number two at the Bay of Pigs; they had renewed their acquaintance, like old college buddies, at the tenth anniversary reunion in Miami. The Cubans Barker had recruited were active, along with Barker, in the CIA’s Miami station, which had continued running propaganda and sabotage operations against Castro in Cuba—and, against the CIA’s charter, within the United States. They hadn’t been hard to convince. “E. Howard Hunt, under the name Eduardo,” Barker explained to them, “represents to the Cuban people their liberation.”
The base camp was the Beverly Hills Hilton; it had sight lines to Dr. Fielding’s office. At 9 p.m. on September 3, two Cubans in the guise of Air Express couriers delivered a trunk to that office containing camera equipment and cheap RadioShack transceivers. Upon their exit, they made sure the rear door to the building was unlocked.
From base camp Liddy placed a call to ensure the doctor was safely at home. Green light: at midnight the Cubans arrived, Liddy standing sentry in the parking lot in a rented car. But they discovered that the rear door was no longer unlocked. They located a relatively well-concealed window to break. They realized an adjacent loud air conditioner would keep them from hearing an enemy approach. So Liddy, who was supposed to remain in his car lest the operation be traced back to the White House, broke operational protocol, pulled out his retractable Browning hunting knife, and guarded the crime scene until they achieved entry.
Tinkling glass; Liddy returned to his car.
Howard Hunt pulled up, agitated: Dr. Fielding was no longer at home. Liddy broke radio silence to see how near the Cubans were to being finished.
No response. They had forgotten to turn up the volume on their radios.
Just then the Cubans providentially rustled into view, and the group reconvened at the hotel, where Hunt was chilling champagne in anticipation of a successful mission.
The Cubans reported that they had had to pry open the file cabinets with a crowbar, leaving behind physical evidence of their presence. Hunt asked what they’d found.
“Nothing, Eduardo. There’s no file with his name on it.”
“Are you sure?” Hunt asked, worriedly.
The Cubans pulled out photographs of the jimmied cabinets, explained how they’d pawed through every one, then strewn pills around to make it look as if a junkie had forced the window. A proud enough Liddy wrote in his memoirs, “At least the operation had been ‘clean’: in and out without detection. We decided to celebrate that, at least, with the champagne.” He called Krogh, who green-lighted a recon mission for a possible future hit on Fielding’s apartment.