Five Men are Arrested for Trying to Bug the Watergate Complex
On June 17, 1972, Frank Wills, a security guard at the Watergate Complex, noticed tape covering the latch on locks on several doors in the complex (leaving the doors unlocked). He took the tape off, and thought nothing of it.
An hour later, he discovered that someone had retaped the locks. Willis called the police and five men were arrested inside the Democratic National Committee's (DNC) office. The five men were Virgilio González, Bernard Barker, James W. McCord, Jr., Eugenio Martínez, and Frank Sturgis. The five were charged with attempted burglary and attempted interception of telephone and other communications. On September 15, a grand jury indicted them and two other men (E. Howard Hunt, Jr. and G. Gordon Liddy) for conspiracy, burglary, and violation of federal wiretapping laws.
The men who broke into the office were tried and convicted on January 30, 1973. After much investigation, all five men were directly or indirectly tied to the 1972 Committee to Re-elect the President (CRP, or sometimes pejoratively referred to as CREEP) and the trial judge, John J. Sirica, suspected a conspiracy involving higher-echelon government officials. In March 1973, James McCord wrote a letter to Sirica, claiming that he was under political pressure to plead guilty and he implicated high-ranking government officials, including former Attorney General John Mitchell. His letter helped to elevate the affair into a more prominent political scandal.
Five men, one of whom said he is a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, were arrested at 2:30 a.m. yesterday in what authorities described as an elaborate plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee here.
Three of the men were native-born Cubans and another was said to have trained Cuban exiles for guerrilla activity after the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
They were surprised at gunpoint by three plain-clothes officers of the metropolitan police department in a sixth floor office at the plush Watergate, 2600 Virginia Ave., NW, where the Democratic National Committee occupies the entire floor.
There was no immediate explanation as to why the five suspects would want to bug the Democratic National Committee offices or whether or not they were working for any other individuals or organizations.
A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee said records kept in those offices are "not of a sensitive variety" although there are "financial records and other such information."
Police said two ceiling panels in the office of Dorothy V. Bush, secretary of the Democratic Party, had been removed.
Her office is adjacent to the office of Democratic National Chairman Lawrence F. O'Brien. Presumably, it would have been possible to slide a bugging device through the panels in that office to a place above the ceiling panels in O'Brien's office.
All wearing rubber surgical gloves, the five suspects were captured inside a small office within the committee's headquarters suite.
Police said the men had with them at least two sophisticated devices capable of picking up and transmitting all talk, including telephone conversations. In addition, police found lock-picks and door jimmies, almost $2,300 in cash, most of it in $100 bills with the serial numbers in sequence.
The men also had with them one walkie-talkie, a short wave receiver that could pick up police calls, 40 rolls of unexposed film, two 35 millimeter cameras and three pen-sized tear gas guns.
Near where they were captured were two open file drawers, and one national committee source conjectured that the men were preparing to photograph the contents.
In Court yesterday, one suspect said the men were "anti-Communists" and the others nodded agreement. The operation was described in court by prosecutor Earl J. Silbert as "professional" and "clandestine." One of the Cuban natives, The Washington Post learned, is now a Miami locksmith.
The June 17, 1972 arrest of five men who broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Washington D.C. Watergate complex led to a series of political scandals culminating in the resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974.2
Investigations into the break-in eventually revealed the secretive surveillance activities of the Nixon administration. After the release of the Pentagon Papers, detailing governmental strategies and cover-ups concerning the War in Vietnam, Nixon became concerned with preventing leaks of classified information to the press. In response, he set up a unit of so-called "plumbers," working out of The White House, and paid through a campaign slush fund. A number of these plumbers would eventually be convicted for participating in political sabotage, and some served jail time.
The Watergate Tapes
Much of the Congressional investigation into Watergate concerned a series of secret tapes made by Nixon of White House conversations. The most incriminating tape, known as the "smoking gun" tape, features Nixon asking aides to suggest that the CIA Director halt the FBI's investigation into the Watergate break-in on national security grounds. Another tape famously features an 18 1/2 minute gap of unknown purpose or origin.
After resigning from the Presidency, Nixon himself was pardoned by his successor, Gerald Ford.2 Though he conceded to making errors of judgment that led to his downfall, Nixon never admitted to any genuine wrong-doing or illegal activities on his own part.