In June I wrote here of the death of Bernard L. Barker, one of the five men whose arrest at the Watergate complex on the evening of June 17, 1972, resulted in the unfolding of the scandal that claimed the Presidency of Richard Nixon. At that time I noted that of the five, only Eugenio Rolando Martinez, of the four Cuban-Americans arrested, and James W. McCord, who led the group into the offices of the Democratic National Committee, were still living.
Today, as a result of an English-language discussion at a left-wing website, I learned of an interview with Martinez, now 86, that appeared in July in the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. This is a fairly interesting article, not least because it seems to add a startling new fact to the existing accounts of what happened that night.
Martinez states that he and his fellow Cubans thought that the object of the Watergate break-in was to obtain information establishing that the regime of Cuba’s Fidel Castro was taking an active part in the campaign of Sen. George McGovern for the White House. This much is not new; the late Frank Sturgis and the other Cubans have said this.
What is interesting is Martinez’s emphatic statement that the operation was betrayed by McCord. He mentions something that has been the source of much discussion over the decades: that McCord, a security expert so pre-eminent in the field that he once was in charge of physical security for CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, made the elementary mistake of taping the locks on the side of the doors leading into the DNC headquarters so that the tape was visible when the doors were closed, which was what tipped off Watergate security guard Frank Wills that someone was in the building without permission. (McCord, by titling his self-published book on Watergate A Piece Of Tape, subtly referred to this, though the book’s cover, showing audio tape reels, clouded the allusion.)
Martinez then goes on to say that McCord ordered his Cuban colleagues to turn off all their walkie-talkies before the arrival of the DC police, after Wills called them. This prevented Alfred Baldwin, who was monitoring the progress of the operation from the Howard Johnson’s hotel across the street, from alerting them that they were about to be apprehended. What’s significant here is that there were six walkie-talkies distributed by McCord to himself and the Cubans, while Baldwin had a radio apparatus in his HoJo’s room that could pick their transmissions up and send calls to them. Two of the six walkie-talkies had dead batteries. Bernard Barker acknowledged turning the third one off on hearing the approach of police outside the DNC offices because the apparatus was audibly crackling. Martinez’s statement, now, explains why the other three walkie-talkies were not available to pick up the call that Baldwin sent from the Ho-Jos, informing them of the arrival of the police outside the building – which might have enabled the intruders to leave before being arrested.
Though Martinez’s interview has gone unnoticed in the American press, it indicates that there’s still a lot of the Watergate story that remains unexplored.