30 years later, fresh dirt on Watergate

Thirty years after the Watergate break-in scandal that led to president Richard Nixon’s 1974 resignation, the tools used by the burglars to break into and wiretap the Democratic party headquarters at the Watergate hotel complex were exposed to the media on Thursday.

Among those tools are the address book that allowed the burglars to call the White House, screwdrivers, bugging devices and rubber surgical gloves. In a tiny index, written in tight handwriting, Bernard Barker, an anti-Castro activist arrested in the Watergate building, listed under HH the telephone numbers of Howard Hunt—an organiser of then president Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign.

When they called HH’s work number, marked by the initials WH, the investigators, and later Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, were amazed to find they got the White House.

They had stumbled over something that was to become a national scandal, set off by a “third rate burglary” in the words of a White House representative.

On June 17, 1972, a night watchman at the Watergate was doing his rounds at the office complex that housed the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee when he noticed that a door latch was stuck open with adhesive tape. Thinking that workers forgot to remove it, he did.
When he noticed the same thing on his next round, he called the police.

Police searched all the offices, finding five men: Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, Frank Sturgis, Eugenio Martinez and James McCord installing bugging devices in the party’s offices.

Just over two years later, on August 9, 1974, Nixon was forced to resign after the investigation that followed implicated him in the affair. As well as arresting the men, police seized a panoply of spying equipment: miniature bugging devices found in a smoke detector and in telephones, screwdrivers, tweezers and other tools.

There were also rubber surgical gloves, torches, teargas, a walkie-talkie system concealed in lip balm tubes, also a putty-coloured raincoat—all carried in a bowling bag. Police also found hairs, a diving knife found in a hire car, and a listening device allowing people in a room at a neighbouring hotel to eavesdrop on conversations taped in the Democratic Party offices.

All of that was handed over to justice officials who used it as evidence during the Watergate burglary trial, and handed in 1977 to the National Archives.

The archives, in conjunction with Freedom of Information officials, marking the 30th anniversary of the Watergate scandal, decided to bring these pieces to public light as the affair still grabs the imagination of the US public. Normally access to the evidence would only be available to researchers or upon specific request.

Steven Tilley, an official at the National Archives handling special access to information under the Freedom of Information Act said it relates to the US “fascination for major scandals, there is still a fascination for Richard Nixon.”

“It was a seminal event that led to a lot of changes in the way the press operates ... most people would agree that the presidential powers were curtailed” as a result of Watergate,

Tilley said. The National Archives also has the transcription of recordings made at the White House at the request of Richard Nixon, which have been released at intervals since the scandal. - Sapa-AFP

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