Secret Agenda: Watergate, Deep Throat and the CIA

by Jim Hougan (1984)


With excellent citations, an impressively thorough investigation and logical analysis, Hougan paints a convincing portrait of the “secret agenda” behind the Watergate break-ins, a political scandal the accepted narrative of which makes less and less sense the more one looks into it.

From the ineptitude of the burglars to the deep CIA connections running throughout the planning team’s personnel, it’s not a stretch to say that the break-in was perpetrated not by the Nixon White House but by the CIA. The immediately ensuing question, of course, is “Why?”

Personally I was hoping for a more sinister explanation than the lurid, rather banal cause that Hougan eventually reveals: the CIA was using the DNC break-in as a cover for their alternative, secret domestic spying/blackmail/prostitution operation against prominent politicians and judges. I’m still not sure I totally understand what Hougan was getting at — he tends to focus more on the trees than the forest — but the big takeaway is that the CIA’s gonna do what it wants where it wants, and it’s not gonna let no stinkin’ constitution get in its way.

There are lots and names and dates which can be complicated to keep straight, and connoisseurs of the JFK assassination will recognize guys like Howard Hunt, James McCord, Gordon Liddy and Frank Sturgis from conspiracies around JFK. That they show up again with Watergate and the CIA makes them more suspicious regarding the affair a decade before, but then again I also don’t believe a single bullet can change direction seven times in mid-flight — what do I know?

To sum up, there was a footnote that gave me a chuckle because it basically epitomizes the book in a nutshell:

Fensterwald was one of two attorneys who represented McCord during the Watergate inquiry. . . Regarded by some as a bit of a mystery figure in how own right, Fensterwald is an independently wealthy graduate of Harvard Law School and Cambridge University. He worked for the State Department in the early 1950s, and in the 1960s was chief counsel and staff director of subcommittees of the Senate Judiciary Committee under Senator Edward V. Long. The found of the Committee to Investigate Assassinations (CtIA), he has a consuming interest in uncovering the truth behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Well-connected in intelligence circles, Fensterwald was a friend of the Plumbers’ CIA liaison, the (probably) late John Paisley. His clients have included Marianne Paisley, bug-designer Martin Kaiser, James Earl Ray (Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassin), the arms-dealer Mitch WerBell and a contingent of Task Force 157 agents (who successfully sued the government for retirement benefits). 205

That “(probably)” is by far my favorite phrase in the book. If you read the above and it sounds compelling, highly suspicious and even frightening, then you you’ll like this book. If it just sounds ridiculous and nutwing-y, with all of its bizarre connections and tangents (not to mention its parenthetically fake death), you should give the book a hard pass. I happen to believe most of this stuff, but the presentation here is not the most accessible so I can’t blame those who don’t really dig it.


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