One morning in early March 1971, Army counterintelligence agent Dave Mann was going through the overnight files when his eyes landed on something unexpected: a report that a routine, nighttime sweep for bugs along the Pentagon’s power-packed E-Ring had found unexplained – and unencrypted — signals emanating from offices in the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Someone, it seemed, was eavesdropping on the top brass.
Mann was no stranger to bugs. It was a busy time for eavesdroppers and bug-finders, starting with the constant Spy vs. Spy games with Russian spies. But the Nixon years, he and everyone else would soon discover, had extended such clandestine ops into new territory: bugging not just the Democrats, but people within its own ranks. Eventually, most of the Watergate-era eavesdropping schemes were revealed to the public, including the bombshell that Nixon was bugging himself. But the bugs Dave Mann discovered in the E-Ring in March 1971 — and another batch like it — have remained buried all these years. Until now.
To understand how crazed this era really was, it helps to remember that the Nixon White House was obsessed with not just secrecy, but skullduggery. Only months into the new administration, in 1969, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was so freaked out by the back-alley dealings of Henry Kissinger that he put a spy in the White House to steal documents from his briefcase. Kissinger in turn was bugging his own staff and other officials, including one in the office of the Secretary of Defense.
What a maniac Nixon was. And Kissinger was just as bad:
Only later, after the Watergate scandal exploded, did the world learn that the FBI was, in fact, bugging at least 17 people on behalf of Kissinger. They included Air Force Col. Robert Pursley, an aide to Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, four journalists, and 13 of Kissinger’s own aides or State Department officials. Ostensibly, the goal was to plug leaks of internal deliberations about the secret bombing of Cambodia and other subjects.