"The Plumbers Unit" was a discreet collection of White
House staff created under President Nixon in 1971 to stop information "leaks"
to the press, which had become a nagging problem to the president and his
upper level staff. The following three documents deal with a variety
of issues pertaining to it.
The purpose of this memo is to brief you on my plan for dealing with the problem of leaks.
Since the President’s forceful direction on this problem, there have been a minimum of
major improper disclosures requiring your attention. However, the number of minor, hard to
track down, infractions has continued. In fact, a CIA study predicts that at the present rate, we
will have 4 times the number of improper disclosures of national security information this year
as we had in 1970. This study is attached at Tab A, and John Ehrlichman tells me it is the basis
for his recent comments to you on this subject.
PLAN OF ATTACK
Responsibility for dealing with this problem has been centralized with me. However, it
will be necessary to have separate approaches for national security leaks and domestic leaks.
As you know, Bud Krogh [aide to Chief Domestic Adviser John
Ehrlichman] and David Young [former National Security Council aide to Henry Kissinger],
under Ehrlichman’s direction, are already conducting a comprehensive investigation of national
security leaks. They plan to continue this, and any efforts on my part to actually investigate will
be redundant. Rather, my role will be to keep informed of their efforts, to crack down hard on
any violators who are uncovered, and to report to you on any cases needing your intervention.
Their problem to date is identifying the violators, but I feel they are on the right track.
This covers all leads not involving national security, some of which could
involve [the Department of] State or DOD [Department of Defense]. There are, of course, a
large number of minor infractions in this area, and I do not believe we at the White House
should try to locate the origins except in the most obvious cases. Rather, I plan to remain
continually alert to leaks, forcefully call them to the attention of Department Heads, insist on
actions, and follow through to ensure actions are taken. Where multiple sources are involved,
we would coordinate the follow through from here. When a violator is identified, I would
ensure a hard crackdown.
July 22, 1971
John Ehrlichman [Chief Domestic Adviser]
FROM: Charles Colson
RE: Further on Pentagon Papers
discussed earlier this week I met today with Bud Krogh and reviewed with
what he has done to date and what his immediate plans are.
agreed that the major task at hand is to pull together all of the information
is available in Justice, Defense, CIA, State and outside. We must determine whether we have a
case that can be made public with respect to Ellsberg and any conspiracy with colleagues.
moment I think Bud has a good investigative mechanism (although he thinks
will need the full time services of Jack Caulfield, a matter I would like to discuss with you).
Leddy [Counsel to the Committee to Reelect the President, G. Gordon Liddy] is an excellent
man. Hunt can be very useful. . .
we can make the case publicly is one question; a second question is where
political punch line is even if we can make the case. To paint Ellsberg black is probably a good
thing; to link him into a conspiracy which suggests treasonous conduct is also a good thing, but
the real political payoff will come only if we can establish that there is what the National
Review has called a “counter government” which is deliberately trying to undermine U.S.
foreign policy and the U.S. position in the world and that it is the President who stands against
this “counter government,” who conquers them and who rescues the nation from the subversion
of these unsavory characters. We must be certain we can direct this effort in a way that gives us
the political positions we need and ties our political opposition into the enemy camp.
There is a second objective, however, as to which I think the political payoff is even
more significant. Congressional hearings will begin this fall in both the Senate and the House on
the revelations of the Kennedy/Johnson papers. It is in this forum that we can clearly nail our
prospective Democratic opponents, thoroughly discredit the Kennedy power elite which
masterminded our foreign policy during the Kennedy Administration and which LBJ
unfortunately inherited. There is considerable research which must be done into the events and
personalities of the entire era. We need to know the vulnerable points like the Diem coup, build
our case from what is in the public record and what we can dig out ourselves and see that it is
adequately fed to the people on the Hill who will be on our side during the hearings. Bud had
not focused on the second objective. IN my opinion, it is politically more promising to us,
although I am clearly in favor of doing both.
As to the first effort
(i.e., Ellsburg) [sic] Bud and Dave Young are working in tandem.
question, however, whether Dave should be involved at this stage in the second effort.
I have assigned Howard Hunt the job of going through the Pentagon Papers, picking out
those areas where we might be able to expose the Harrimans, the Warnkes, the Cliffords, the
Vances, the McGeorge Bundys and McNamaras, etc. He will begin an independent investigation
of the facts surrounding each of these key targets as he has done with the coup episode. Each of
the prospecitve Democratic opponents next year can be vulnerable if we can tie them or their
advisers into gross misjudgments committed during this period.
There is some considerable internal delicacy to this second phase. My thought is that
Howard should do a complete evaluation both substantively and politically over the next few
weeks. When that is completed we will have to make a decision as to the points that we can and
want to make and the modus operandi.
It seems to me that
at this point you and I need to spend a few minutes to be sure that we
are tracking correctly on this and to cover one or tow administrative points that have been raised.
[from: Colson Papers, Nixon Archives, National Archives]
July 28, 1971
FROM: Howard Hunt
SUBJECT: Naturalization of Ellsberg
I am proposing a skeletal
operations plan aimed at building a file on Ellsberg that will
contain all available overt, covert and derogatory information. This basic tool is essential in
determining how to destroy his public image and credibility.
Obtain all overt press material on Ellsberg and continue its collection;
Request CIA to perform a covert psychological assessment/evaluation on Ellsberg;
Interview Ellsberg’s first wife;
Interview Ellsberg’s Saigon contact: the restaurant owner, Nicolal, and his mistress whom
Request CIA, FBI, and CIC for their full holdings on Ellsberg;
Examine Ellsberg personnel files at ISA (Pentagon) and the Rand Corporation, including
Obtain Ellsberg’s files from his psychiatric analyst;
Inventory Ellsberg’s ISA and Rand colleagues; determine where they are, and whether any might
I realize that, as
a practical matter, not all foregoing items can be accomplished; even so,
they represent desiderata.
[from: Statement of Information Impeachment Inquiry, Committee on the Judiciary, H.R., 93rd Cong., 2 session, 208]