New Evidence Confirms
Pentagon Stole and Leaked Top Secret Documents from Nixon White House
Consequence of Pentagon's Isolation
from Decision-Making in Vietnam, China, Detente
According to Secret Confession, Documents were
Stolen with Help of White House Insider
Washington, D.C. is a city that
runs on leaks. Information equals power, and power equals influence. The
highest levels of the American government are outraged when leaked information
appears in the press, yet many authorized leaks come from the same government
figures. Leaks both cripple and enable the policymaking process.
December 14, 1971 column by Jack Anderson, entitled "U.S. Tilts to
Pakistan", drew particular outrage from the Nixon administration. The
column detailed the Nixon administration's secret preference for Pakistan in the
then ongoing war between Pakistan and India which ultimately created the new
nation of Bangladesh. Anderson won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 as a result of his
coverage of the war. However, it was the fact that Anderson's columns were based on
leaked highly sensitive classified documents stolen with the help of a White
House insider that came as the real blow to President Nixon.
publication of Anderson's column, top White House aides sought to determine the source
of the leak. John Ehrlichman led the internal investigation, which scrutinized
the flow of information between the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and
the White House. Polygraphs were ordered for those suspected of stealing
documents or providing them to Anderson. That process convinced
Ehrlichman that the source of the leaks was the Joints Chiefs of Staff liaison
office to the National Security Council. The JCS liaison position was created
during the Eisenhower administration and had an office in the Executive Office
Building. Its function was to act as a special high-level communications channel
between the Joints Chiefs of Staff and the NSC. During the Nixon administration,
it was staffed primarily by Admiral Robert O. Welander and his assistant, Yeoman
Radford stole from Henry Kissinger's briefcase on secret trip to China
- I didn't know he screened through
the thing, but I knew he did carry 'em to me and I just returned
from San Clemente and I had been told every damn thing that was in
there...I gave the things back to [Alexander] Haig.
Thomas H. Moorer,
Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
John Ehrlichman's investigation
discovered that Anderson's column quoted directly from the typed verbatim minutes taken
at two NSC Washington Special Action Group (WSAG) meetings, held December 4 and
6, 1971. According to Ehrlichman aide David R. Young, in
a memorandum sent to President Nixon declassified on June 23, 2009,
"the only person that has access to these sources, in addition to Admiral
Welander, is his aide, Charles Radford." While this memorandum became
available only in 2009, the most sensitive records from Ehrlichman's
investigation remain closed indefinitely. However, nixontapes.org
acquired a portion of these records, and they are presented here for the first time.
investigation was swift and efficient. While Anderson continued to publish
subsequent columns based on stolen documents, Welander and Radford were
interviewed and polygraphed on December 16 and 17. Radford, who "d[id] not
fair well under the polygraph" according to his interrogator, "confesse[d]
to purloining sensitive papers from the NSC without authority and pass[ed] them
to his military superiors." Radford gave the papers to Admiral Welander and
Admiral Rembrandt Robinson (Welander's predecessor), who passed them on to Admiral Moorer,
the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Apparently, Admiral Elmo Zumalt also
saw the stolen papers. Radford was put on immediate
suspension, but never prosecuted, and he and Welander were later transferred to
another duty station.
While Welander and Moorer are now deceased, Radford remains in the U.S. military
with an active security clearance.
Ehrlichman presented the findings of his investigation to President Nixon and
Attorney General John N. Mitchell in the Oval Office on December 21, 1971, a
week after the publication of Anderson's column (see table below for complete
conversation audio and summary).
||6:07 - 6:59
||P, JNM, HRH,
Ehrlichman explained the
methodology behind his investigation. "Within an hour" of Anderson's
columns, he determined which documents Anderson had quoted from, and then
determined who had access to them. "There
was really only one place in the whole federal government where all of those
documents were available. And that was here, in the Joint Chiefs of Staff
liaison office of the National Security Council. And there were only two men in
that office, and one's an admiral, and one's a yeoman," (0:19, 301k)
Ehrlichman reported. Nixon responded, "How
in the name of God do we have a yeoman having access to documents of that
type?" (0:04, 70k) Nixon then learned that Yeoman Radford had traveled
with Haig and Kissinger, and was responsible for preparing memoranda of
conversation on those trips.
continued. "In the course of the
polygraph, he [Radford] was asked whether or not he had ever stolen any of the
documents." (0:07, 114k) That turned out to be the key question in the
investigation. "They [the
interrogator] got a big flip on the polygraph, so then they doubled back,"
(0:04. 77k) Ehrlichman revealed. "The
interrogator then doubled back, and said, 'now, you've got a bad reading on your
polygraph'...and the guy broke down and cried. And then he said, 'I came into
that question without permission of Admiral Welander. He called the admiral, and
he said, 'I'm going to talk to this fellow, and I want you to tell him
everything he knows. So the admiral got on the phone with the guy. So then it
all came out." (0:30, 480k) "He
has, under the express directions of Admiral Robinson, and under the implied approval
of his successor, the Admiral [Welander], he has systematically stolen documents
from Henry's briefcase, Haig's briefcase, people's desks, any place and every
place in the NSC apparatus that he can lay his hands on, and has duplicated
them, and turned them over to the Joint Chiefs, through his boss, and this has
been going on now for about 13 months," (0:31, 500k) Ehrlichman
investigation turned to whether any White House insiders had collaborated with
the theft. In particular, Nixon wanted to know about Haig, since he was a high
ranking military official also serving at a high level in the White House. "Is
Haig aware of this?" Nixon asked. "I don't know," (0:01, 29k)
Ehrlichman answered, but then continued. "I
suspect he may be aware of it, on a back channel basis. Because after this came
out, and it was reduced to writing by the interrogator, Young was advised by the
interrogator that he was going to be in some trouble with his superiors, and
that he was going to have to excise his report to leave that material out."
(0:22, 350k) "This sailor is a
veritable storehouse of information of all kinds. Because he reads and contains
everything that comes to him. He testified that he knew about Henry's secret
negotiations with the North Vietnamese, for instance. It came up in a response
to a question," (0:22, 358k) Ehrlichman summarized.
weighed the possible courses of action, including prosecution and court martial
proceedings. However, Attorney General John Mitchell was the voice of caution. "We
have to take it from there as to what this would lead to if you pursued it by
way of prosecution, or even a public confrontation. You would have the Joints
Chiefs allied on that side, directly against you. What has been done has been
done. I think the important thing is to paper this thing over," (0:27,
434k) Mitchell reasoned. Nixon then turned to the possibility of prosecuting
only Radford, without getting into a bigger confrontation with the Joint Chiefs.
"You wouldn't do anything about
him?" Nixon asked. "You can't, without breaking the story. Because
when the pressure gets on him, it's going go right up through the
channels," Mitchell responded. Ehrlichman agreed: "I have lost more
sleep than anything on what to do with this guy. I have finally come to the
conclusion that you can't touch him. And probably you can't touch him",
then Nixon interrupted, "because it would hurt the Joint
Chiefs." (0:23, 368k) However, Nixon left firm instructions as to the
future handling of the investigation.
Excerpt from December
21, 1971 (mp3, 1:10,
- Nixon: You can just say there is a
federal offense of the highest order here. And, you have reported it to the
president. The president says he can't discuss it. And the Attorney
General is handling it. Period. I wouldn't worry.
- Mitchell: What about further
interrogation of Welander on this thing?
- Nixon: What's that?
- Mitchell: Further interrogation
of Welander on this thing?
- Nixon: Well
- Ehrlichman: I don't
think that's indicated.
- Haldeman: What about telling
Henry that Welander has refused to cooperate on the grounds of his
personal relationship with Henry and that Henry is to call Welander
and dissolve that relationship which will free Welander to testify?
- Mitchell: That's it exactly.
- Nixon: Why don't you tell Henry
- Haldeman: I don't think
Henry seems to think that Welander
- Mitchell: Tell Henry just that
- Nixon: Now.
- Mitchell: Yeah. And then
- Haldeman: Because they know
you're investigating, so just say there's a block in the
- Nixon: I don't want Henry to
know...yet. Don't you agree? You see what I mean?
- Haldeman: Yeah, I just think he
might find out about Moorer.
- Ehrlichman: I am sure Haig has
told Henry that much.
- Nixon: Does Haig know all this?
That's my point.
- Ehrlichman: Not the polygraph.
Instead of prosecution, Mitchell
argued that the JCS liaison office be closed immediately, and that those
involved in the theft be transferred. That, Mitchell said, would be a de facto
admission of guilt on the part of the Pentagon. "The
important thing, in my way of thinking, is to stop this Joint Chiefs of Staff
operation, and the fuck-up of security over here. And if Moorer has to order
Welander off to Kokomo or wherever it iswhat
to do with Robinson I don't knowthen
they have taken recognition of this. And they, in effect, are admitting to this
operation," (0:23, 369k) Mitchell said. Nixon agreed: "Let
the poor bastards stew over Christmas, and then crack 'em." (0:03,
On the one hand,
the theft of highly classified national security records from briefcases and
was truly a "federal offense of the highest order." This was an unprecedented situation.
However, whether or not Alexander Haig was
involved changed the whole nature of the investigation. Journalist Joseph Kraft
also probed Haig's complicity in the theft in his September 17, 1974 Washington
Post column, "Questioning Haig's Role." Nixon agreed that
Ehrlichman should conduct a second interview with Welander to obtain additional
information about the theft that Welander refused to disclose during his
polygraph. "I'll get Welander in
tomorrow," Ehrlichman said. "Good," Nixon responded. (0:02,
For Nixon, the possibility
that a White House insider helped to facilitate the theft was damaging enough.
However, accusations that someone as senior in the White House as Haig was
involved meant that had Nixon decided to prosecute, it would have been a
disaster for the Nixon White House. After all, 1971 was also the same year in which the
Pentagon Papers were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg and subsequently published by The
New York Times beginning in June. Additionally, less than a year before a
presidential election, Nixon would have appeared weak and no longer in control
of his top aides.
knew that following a hypothetical prosecution, those likely replace the
prosecuted would take charge in an extremely adversarial climate, which would
only further contribute to the tension between the Pentagon and the White House.
Therefore, Nixon decided to do what he considered to be making the best of a bad
situation: he did not pursue prosecution. Instead, he ordered the immediate
closing of the JCS liaison office to the NSC. Nixon believed that those impugned
by Ehrlichman's investigation would be sufficiently weakened to the point where
they would have no choice but to be
more cooperative with the White House in the future.
could not have been told in this level of detail until June 23, 2009, upon the
declassification and release of related records from the Nixon Presidential
Library. However, the most sensitive records remain closed, in the Papers of
David R. Young, Jr., Box 18. These include an audio recording made by John
Ehrlichman of Admiral Welander's confession, records from the polygraph
interrogations, and additional details of how the thefts took
place, who received the stolen records, and whether there was a White House
insider who facilitated the theft. In the same box, there is also a heavily
annotated transcript of the recorded confession that Ehrlichman extracted from
Library confirms existence of unreleased audio recording and transcript
of Admiral Welander's confession in the Papers of David R. Young, Jr.:
box 18 we have both the transcript and the recording withdrawn for
"A" (release would violate a Federal statute or agency
policy), "D" (release would constitute a clearly unwarranted
invasion of privacy or libel of a living person") and "F"
(release would disclose investigatory information compiled for law
Nixon Presidential Library
nixontapes.org has obtained a copy of the
heavily annotated transcript of Admiral Welander's confession
from the afternoon of December 22,
which was originally
taken by John Ehrlichman from the Nixon Presidential Materials Project in 1986.
The complete, 31-page document can be accessed by clicking on the first page, to
the left. The annotations are David R. Young, Jr.'s handwriting.
in the day, on December 22, Young sent Ehrlichman a talking points memorandum,
entitled "Meeting with Admiral Welander RE Anderson Leak of December 14 and
Subsequent Investigation", to prepare him for his attempt to extract a confession from Welander. Young noted,
"We want to consider the possibility of getting a handle on Radford by
threatening him with a Court Martial arising out of these particular
actions." In other words, Young and Ehrlichman were still thinking in terms
of securing a successful prosecution, even though Nixon ended such discussion
the day before in the Oval Office. Or, Ehrlichman and Young wanted Welander to
think Nixon was still considering prosecution in order to obtain the most
detailed confession possible. Finally, Young and Ehrlichman also wanted to find out
more about Haig's role in the theft: "To what extent is General Haig aware
of Radford's activities?"
confession transcript is one of the most sensitive documents created during the
Nixon administration. It details the entire process of how the documents were stolen
from Kissinger's briefcase and burn bags, including to whom they were circulated
and how long the theft had been going on. In addition, without directly accusing
Haig of facilitating the theft, the document certainly raises additional
questions about his role. Welander states Haig "cut us in",
which obviously does not vindicate Haig in any way.
also obtained an even more sensitive document, an interview with an eyewitness
to the theft.
This is the first time the existence of this document has been made public. This
document was obtained on deep background and is too sensitive to release. All
that can be shown here, to the left, is a distorted, redacted first page of a
four page document. The document is an interview with an eyewitness to the
theft, as it was observed within the walls of the White House.
the transcript of the Welander confession, above, this interview, to the
left, and the Oval Office conversation, above, the following conclusions can be drawn, according to the documents: 1) the
theft had been going on for over a year, 2) apart from those directly involved (Moorer,
Robinson, Welander, Radford, Zumwalt), only one other person had close knowledge
of it, 3) Al Haig "cut us in", or facilitated, the theft, according to Welander, 4) Henry Kissinger was
wary of acting upon knowledge of the theft because of his uneasy relationship
with Al Haig, and 5) Nixon knew about the theft but chose not to prosecute
because he did not want to worsen White House-Pentagon relations that were
contours of this theft have been detailed by a few journalists and books, most
Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman's The Forty Years War, with
the help of these documents this story can now be told in greater detail than
ever before. When, or if, the remaining relevant records from the papers of
David R. Young, Jr. are declassified and released by the Nixon Presidential
Library, historians will know that this theft was indeed a "federal offense
of the highest order."