Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Watergate Considered as a Helix of Semi-Precious Stones (Watergate Part 4)

An expanded version of this article is part of my book Watergate Considered as an Organization Chart of Semi-Precious Stones, available in paperback and ebook versions.

This is the fourth installment of my irregular series tracing the history of the Watergate scandal. Part 1, “Watergate and Me,” appeared last July. Part 2, “The Enemies List,” appeared in August. Part 3, “Hunt/Liddy Special Project 1” appeared in September. Some of the material in this installment is adapted from my book The Six Dimensions of Project Management (with Heidi Feickert)

These three installments covered some of the origins of Watergate: the founding of the Plumbers Unit, the establishment of the Enemies List, and the beginnings of covert operations. None of these had any direct bearing on the eventual Watergate break-in that began the official scandal, but because they involved many of the same cast of characters and the same resources, the unraveling of one led inexorably to the unraveling of the others.

The original “Plumbers Unit” was established to stop the leaking of classified information (most notably the Pentagon Papers) to the news media, but beginning some time after October 1971 (sources conflict on the exact date), G. Gordon Liddy was asked to move from the Plumbers operation to Nixon’s campaign organization, the Committee to Re-Elect the President (CRP, but often abbreviated by its enemies as CREEP), with responsibility for establishing an intelligence operation for the campaign. He moved to his new offices in December, and shortly thereafter was being introduced as the man in charge of “dirty tricks.”

By January, Liddy was ready to present his plan, known as Operation GEMSTONE. Budgeted at $1 million (in 1972 dollars), it was quite extensive. Each element of the operation had its own gem subtitle:

  • DIAMOND — Counterdemonstration activities
  • GARNET — Recruit unpopular groups to put on pro-Democratic demonstrations
  • RUBY — Infiltrate spies into the organizations of Democratic contenders
  • SAPPHIRE — Establish a houseboat filled with prostitutes as a “honey trap” during the Democratic convention
  • COAL — Funnel money to the campaign of African-American candidate Shirley Chisholm
  • TURQUOISE — Commando raid to destroy the air conditioning for the Democratic convention
  • QUARTZ — Microwave interception of Democratic telephone traffic
  • EMERALD — Chase plane to eavesdrop on Democratic candidate aircraft
  • CRYSTAL — Electronic surveillance of the Democratic convention
  • OPAL — Clandestine entries to plant telephone bugs in the offices of Muskie, McGovern, and the DNC
  • TOPAZ — Photograph documents during clandestine entries
  • BRICK — Funding operation

Attorney General (and CRP chairman) John Mitchell rejected the plan as excessive, and sent Liddy back to the drawing boards. Liddy burned the charts, and prepared a second plan, this one capped at $500,000. He cut EMERALD (chase plane), QUARTZ (microwave interception), and COAL (funding Shirley Chisholm — Mitchell told Liddy that Nelson Rockefeller had already taken care of that.) SAPPHIRE lost the houseboat, but kept the prostitutes.

This too was rejected for cost, and Liddy tried a third time. He kept the four OPAL break-ins, the two RUBY agents, and two of the SAPPHIRE prostitutes, along with some of the DIAMOND capabilities. Mitchell and his team approved the smaller operation just before new campaign finance rules would make it harder to fund the program.

Interestingly, the actual Watergate break-in, although eventually part of the OPAL operation, was nowhere to be seen in the original plans.

Next week: the Break In.


  1. I believe that the Watergate scandal left an indelible mark on my generation — the one that was passing through junior high and high school at the time, and had its youthful idealism and naïveté about government exploded earlier than I think the previous generation's had. As a middle school history teacher, I've endeavored to explain to my students just how disillusioning that entire period was. I put together a video summarizing the events. You can watch it at https://vimeo.com/43366697.

  2. Ron - I was in college at the time, and shortly thereafter started working for the Federal government (Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum). One of the people I knew was a very minor Watergate figure. I wasn't so much disillusioned by Watergate (I'd grown up in the segregated South, so I was long since disenchanted with conservative thinking) as I was fascinated by the complexity — and ultimately stupidity — of the operation. Many thanks for the link; I look forward to watching the video.