Podcast: Luke Nichter on the White House Tapes, Indo-Pakistani War, and Yeoman Radford Affair
President Nixon with India Prime Minister Indira Ghandi on 4 November 1971. (Richard Nixon Presidential Library)
Luke Nichter is Professor of History at Texas A&M Central Texas
On this edition of the Nixon Now podcast, we’re talking the Nixon Tapes again, with specific focus on President Nixon’s conversations about India’s War with Pakistan in 1971, and the international and domestic implications of U.S. policy in the conflict. Our guest again is Luke Nichter, Professor of History at Texas A&M University, Central Texas. He’s the nation’s foremost expert on the Nixon White House Tapes, and founder of NixonTapes.org.
Jonathan Movroydis: Welcome to Nixon Now Podcast. I’m Jonathan Movroydis. This is brought to you by the Nixon Foundation. We’re broadcasting from the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California. You can follow us on Twitter @nixonfoundation, or at nixonfoundation.org. Today, we’re talking the Nixon tapes again with a specific focus on President Nixon’s conversations about the Indo-Pakistani war in 1971, and the international and domestic implications of U.S. policy in that conflict. Our guest again is Luke Nichter, professor of history at Texas A&M University, Central Texas. He’s the nation’s foremost expert on the Nixon White House tapes and founder of nixontapes.org. Luke, welcome back.
Luke Nichter: Thanks, Jonathan. It’s good to be back.
Jonathan Movroydis: Just to kind of start off, on November 4th, 1971, President Nixon met in the Oval Office with the Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. What was their relationship like?
Luke Nichter: Well, in a word, difficult. You know, they were each there at a particularly difficult time for the other, I mean, the onset of possible war between India and Pakistan. You had India’s recent treaty with the Soviet Union. You had Nixon reaching out to China and planning his trip. They would have known each other a long time. Nixon would have known the father, Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, while he was Vice President under Eisenhower. So while it was, you know, a really important meeting in this time and place, they would have had a much longer association that led up to it.
Jonathan Movroydis: India has become very important to the United States in recent years. President Obama even hosted his first state dinner with India, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. During the Nixon era, what was the nature of US relations with India? This is the world’s largest democracy still, which borders Communist China and in proximity to Soviet influence in Central Asia.
Luke Nichter: Well, you know, in the Nixon era and even in the few years that led up to it, I think it’s difficult to find a place in the world that has a more complicated relationship with the United States and in both directions of the relationship. As you said, India was the world’s largest democracy. But also, you know, more importantly in the Cold War, it was, you know, officially the leader of the “Non-Aligned Movement.” Most nations during the Cold War either directly or indirectly took leadership from the US or from the Soviet Union.
India was really the one to kinda try a third way, an independent way, and this means this Non-Aligned Movement. It didn’t mean that they were actually independent. I think it’s a fair argument to say that India, especially say during the Nehru years, probably did lead less toward capitalism and more toward the Soviet system. But this was a complicated relationship. The US tried to maintain relations with both India and its rival, Pakistan, which were kind of separated at birth in the midst of war in 1947, when the area became free from Britain.
And every time the United States did something for India, it had to make sure it did something for Pakistan without the others seeming like it was we favored one side or the other. I mean, it was just a very complicated place all the more so in the backdrop of the Cold War with the other side of the Himalayan Mountains being China. It’s a very, very complicated region. And relations with the US are just as complicated.
Jonathan Movroydis: During the Cold War though, why wouldn’t they seek closer relations with the United States, given that the Soviet Union is close by and China is even closer?
Luke Nichter: Well, again, not to repeat the fact that it’s complicated again, part of the problem we have too is that, we, as Americans, don’t understand, the other side very much. This was a place that was 10,000 miles away, about as far as you could go around the other side of the world. And most of these nations, whether China, whether it be Russia, Pakistan, India, have released very few records at all to illustrate their side of the story here.
So we kind of have to study all angles at the side, all sides of the story really, just through the lens of the selected number of American records that have been declassified over the years. But fundamentally, India and China were considered rivals. They were basically at war with each other in 1962. And on the Kennedy tapes, you’ve got India in the Oval Office asking President Kennedy for missiles, and radar shields, and really thinking, “This could be a real war.”
You’ve got the India-Pakistan conflict, which is a whole another one, the Hindu-Muslim conflict of two close neighbors and family members. On the other side, you’ve got the Russians being closer to the Indians than the Pakistanis. Also a new rivalry emerging between Russia and China. You have a series of counterweights to the other that cuts across almost kind of logarithmically, longitudinally. It’s a very complicated sort of sphere of balancing all these powers.
Jonathan Movroydis: Let’s listen to the first audio of August 2, 1971. This is President Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Dr. Henry Kissinger, in the Oval Office. And this is about a few months before the Indo-Pakistani war really breaks out. But let’s play the first audio clip.
Dr. Kissinger: We’ll really, next year, have a record. Every problem we came in with will have been solved, except the Middle East. And that will have been improved.
President Nixon: Tell me about Pakistan now. I read the, I see now the Beatles are out raising money for them. You know, it’s a funny thing, the way we are in this goddamned country. We get involved in all these screwball causes.
Henry Kissinger: Well, we have $100 million, it depends, for whom are the Beatles raising money for, the refugees in India?
President Nixon: Refugees, yeah.
Henry Kissinger: Is it India or in Pakistan?
President Nixon: The goddamned Indians.
Henry Kissinger: Well, the Indian side of it is economically in good shape. We’ve given them $70 million.
President Nixon: Um-hmm.
Henry Kissinger: More is coming in, and no one knows how they’re using the goddamned money, because—
President Nixon: You’re giving it to the government?
Henry Kissinger: Yeah.
President Nixon: Well that’s a terrible mistake.
Henry Kissinger: Yeah, well, they don’t let anyone in there. They permit no foreigners—
President Nixon: The Indians don’t?
Henry Kissinger: —into the refugee area. No foreigners at all. Their record is outrageous.
President Nixon: Well then, what about Pakistan?
Henry Kissinger: Well, on the Pakistan side, we have moved in a $100 million worth of food, which is in the port. We’ve had a task force working on it, which is either in the ports or on the way to the ports. The big problem now is to get it distributed. The UN has sent in 38 experts. They’re prepared to send in 150 more.
Jonathan Movroydis: Kissinger says at the beginning of this audio that they’ll have a record by next year, 1972. Every problem China, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam, except for maybe the Middle East, will have been improved. Nixon then turns the conversation to Pakistan. Why is he so concerned with this part of the world at this time, that doesn’t get much treatment in the study, Nixon’s foreign policy?
Luke Nichter: Well, I think, you know, the special problem of an Indian subcontinent isn’t like the other problems that you mentioned, that they mentioned in the conversation, China, the Soviet Union, or Vietnam, even the Middle East to a degree. There’s a tendency, I think, an inaccurate one at times, not just during the Nixon years, but during other presidencies, during the Cold War to see every problem as a Cold War problem, meaning it’s at least two superpowers. It’s us. It’s them. And if only we get down, sit down, and talk, we can work this out.
The subcontinent is a different matter. I mean, this is a place that is 7,000 years old, has a very different past, histories, than this American sort of Eurocentric understanding of the world. It’s also a religious problem. It’s a great humanitarian and refugee problem, given the incredible population densities in the south continent, problems of famine, and economic, and social problems that it’s difficult, I think, for many Americans or even Westerns to understand. So I think that’s the first issue is I think Nixon, Kissinger, and many Americans, I think, saw many problems through this Cold War blinders that this is a much more complicated situation.
The subcontinent during the Nixon years before and since, always seems to be kind of one spark away from its next conflict. As I said, it’s a very distant part of the world for most Americans. It’s difficult to understand. And I think American leaders, not just Nixon and Kissinger, struggled with constantly finding the right balance as it evolved between giving support to India and Pakistan and being able to maintain a relationship with the region, but also with each side on its own terms in a way that didn’t cause problems with the other.
Jonathan Movroydis: Nixon and Kissinger in this clip, somewhat humorously, talk about The Beatles, at least members of The Beatles. They’re referring to Ringo Starr and collaborator Billy Preston, among others. We’ll get to that in a second. But let’s listen to the second audio from December 8, 1971. This is President Nixon talking with his Attorney General, John Mitchell, and Dr. Kissinger in the Oval Office.
President Nixon: There’s a totally immoral attitude of our critics here. First, they say, they make the point that because there’s 600 million Indians and only 60 million in West Pakistan, we’re on the wrong side. We should be with the 600 million Indians. I said since when do we determine the morality of our policy on the basis of how many people a country has? I said the second reason that they’re wrong, then they say but India is a democratic country, and Pakistan is a totalitarian country, a dictatorship, and therefore India, we shouldn’t be on the side of a dictatorship but on the side of the democratic country. I said if aggression is engaged in by any country, it’s wrong. And in a sense it’s even more wrong for a democratic country to engage in it because democratic countries are held in a higher degree of morality. And I said international morality will be finished—the United Nations will be finished—if you adopt the principle that because a country is democratic and big it can do what the hell it pleases. I really think that puts the issue to these sons of bitches.
Jonathan Movroydis: Nixon felt the American media and intellectual class disagreed with America’s tilt towards Pakistan, as evident in this in this recording. In the early audio, we heard the gripes about celebrities, which I had mentioned earlier. Is Nixon and Kissinger’s characterization correct?
Luke Nichter: Well, I mean, to a degree. You know, I tend to take a kind of middle road between, you know, say the memoir accounts written by President Nixon, Henry Kissinger on the one side and a number of other academic works, which are mostly critical of Nixon and Kissinger on the other side. I think they’re kind of two issues here.
I think the first one is about objects. India, I think, was successfully able to harness better optics and branding in terms of geopolitics at this time. I mean, when you had one nation that called itself the world’s largest democracy, who could possibly be against that idea? India was the nation, the land of Mahatma Gandhi. I mean, who could be against that? A long affiliation with the British. It’s colonial power. Indian leaders didn’t wear military uniforms like the dictators did, who ran Pakistan.
And so I think just on the optics alone, it was kind of difficult to be against India. So I think Nixon is talking about this morality issue. But I think what he’s really concerned about is that he feels people are siding with India because they think they’re siding with peace whereas what Nixon’s frustration is, is that he doesn’t feel like he’s getting credit for making peace. After all, in his view, he is the one who is trying to make the big peace with China to prevent a third world war perhaps.
And so kind of in the short term, he’s not getting credit because he’s siding with Pakistan, an ally of China, and he feels that he’s really the one making a major kind of seismic effort to make peace. And he’s not getting credit for that in part because he and the White House, so much of this is secretive, and it can’t be made public, but because the public relations on the Nixon side, I think it’s not then waged as well as that by the Indians.
Jonathan Movroydis: This is a conversation about democracy and morality. Nixon and Kissinger were considered realists in foreign policy. Do you think this sheds a light in their overall philosophy in foreign policy?
Luke Nichter: It’s an interesting question. You know, there’s not a lot of times on the tapes where you hear Nixon and Kissinger, or probably any realists, who spend much time talking about things like morality. And this is one of the times they do in a number of places on the tapes. I wonder whether their concern is really morality or whether it is on the Nixon side aggression. I mean, they’re using the word morality but it seems to me that their greater concern is aggression, which is also a term that President Nixon used in that last clip.
I think the way that Nixon and Kissinger saw it was between India and Pakistan, India is multiples as large as Pakistan. India has the support of the world community. India, despite being “neutral and unaligned” has signed a treaty with the Soviet Union just earlier in the fall in August of 1971. So in American eyes, it’s not Pakistan, it’s India who appears to share more of the guilt in terms of aggression toward the other. And in particular, and I think as Nixon and Kissinger saw it, that this aggression was being assisted by another aggressive power, the Soviet Union.
So I think what their concern was is really about aggression. And when they drew up their kinda geopolitical balance sheet while Pakistan also doesn’t have a clean record, I think, on balance, it was India who was the greater aggressor. And that is kind of the bottom line for the Nixon White House.
Jonathan Movroydis: It’s interesting that this all takes place right after Nixon announces that he’ll be going to China in 1972. July 15, Nixon makes the announcement. August, you see these celebrities raising money for India or the Pakistani refugees that are going into India. And then the war breaks out later that year. Do these critics of US help towards Pakistan have anything to do with Pakistan’s help with rapproachment toward another totalitarian state, Communist China?
Luke Nichter: Well, I think there’s a circumstantial case to be made about that. There seems to be a circumstantial case that, again, India was playing a better public affairs game here than Pakistan was. And now, without having Indian records open on this, there’s no way to make the argument that India enlisted the help of the global community, the UN, its agencies and The Beatles, and even celebrities, to show a certain degree of sophistication here in terms of their public relations efforts. And we don’t have any record set that I can point to that says, “India was doing this and doing it knowingly at this time.”
But circumstantially, that seems to be what’s happening. India is playing a very sophisticated game in terms of public relations. And Pakistan, you know, is not. And the US is slightly bound in its ability to do anything because it’s still planning the secret trip to China, which, as you point out, as soon as the Nixon announces in the middle of July that he’s gonna go to China, it’s kind of a bam, bam, bam, rapid succession of cascading events in terms of within a month, this public relations campaign is launched. You have Indira Gandhi making an earlier trip to see Nixon in an Indian summit, then the early fall, right around the time that Indians must’ve been discussing with the Russians, the steps that led to this agreement in the middle of August, this Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, which was announced.
Then you have very quickly the path to war with Pakistan. And all this was going on. After Nixon’s announcement in July, he was going to go to China and while he’s actually planning the trip. And clearly, there must be some relationship between these events. But as a historian, I can’t point you to records that can prove that.
Jonathan Movroydis: Do you think the tension with India brought the Chinese and the United States closer together and helped culminate in that trip in 1972?
Luke Nichter: If you look at the mem cons, the memorandum of conversation, which record the secret talks between Kissinger, and other Americans, and the Chinese when they were planning next trip, which is still a few months out, India comes up, here and there, not the way that Taiwan does, or Japan does, or Vietnam does, or Russia. It’s several tiers down in terms of importance. But, I mean, both sides knew that India and China were close to going to war in the early ‘60s. To this day, there’s very long, rugged, disputed borders between these two great Asian powers, India and China.
So, I mean, I think all the cards would have been on the table as far as that goes. Whether it played a real role, maybe a minor role in bringing the U.S. and China closer together, but I think at the top of that list has to be Russia, Japan, the US role in the Pacific going forward, Vietnam, those kinds of concerns. But it probably did play some kind of role.
Jonathan Movroydis: Do you think, at all, the conflict, was it managed at all from the standpoint of summits with the big communist powers, China and the Soviet Union?
Luke Nichter: Again, India does come up. You know, India is a concern for both the Chinese… So at this time period, the Soviet Union is a nuclear power. The Chinese are probably a nuclear power, and maybe not a sophisticated one, but the Soviets kind of helped that program get started in the ’50s and even early ‘60s before the Soviet scientists were kicked out by Mao and Zhou Enlai out of China. And that really accelerated the break between the Soviet Union and China.
I’m a little bit of a cynic that anytime two great powers who don’t, otherwise, have a reason to cooperate sign arms limitations agreements. that sometimes it has to do with not necessarily either one of those countries, but preventing third countries from expanding their programs. And you can see this going back to ‘63 with, all of a sudden, the Soviet willingness to sign the Test Ban Treaty during the Kennedy years. All of a sudden, they come out of nowhere. And even the Kennedy White House postulates that it’s because of the Soviet Union’s real concern is the Chinese developing their own atomic program.
And so even, you know, the U.S. making these agreements with the PRC in ‘72, with the Moscow Summit that spring in ’72, signing the SALT 1, I wouldn’t doubt at all that an agreement like SALT 1 has a heck of a lot to do with US concerns and Soviet concerns about third parties, whether it be China, whether it be India’s program, Pakistan’s program, Israel’s program. You’ve got all these countries in the region that are armed to the teeth and would have caused anybody concern when you see again, the whole region is sort of one spark away from a major conflict.
Jonathan Movroydis: Looking at India from Nixon’s long-term strategic standpoint, much like you thought about China in the long term, in October 1967, Nixon wrote his article “Asia After Viet Nam” in Foreign Affairs magazine in which he envisions a future of a dynamically changing Asia. In particular, he says that, “The United States should, one, continue with aid and support for India’s economic objectives and two, do what’s best to persuade the Indian government to shift its means and adjust its institutions.” He said, “Those objectives can be more quickly and more effectively secured, drawing the lessons not only of the United States, but also India’s more successful neighbors, including Pakistan.” He goes on in this article to call India “a staggering giant.” We talked in an earlier episode about Nixon saying that the U.S. is a Pacific power. What role does India have do you think in, in your opinion, President Nixon foreign policy vision?
Luke Nichter: It’s a big question. My quick takeaway is that,Indian relations are never detailed, that is, US relations with India, never as detailed, never as in the weeds as US relations with, say, the Soviet Union, or China, or Vietnam, or European allies. I just think India even for someone like Nixon who was unusually gifted in foreign policy, it was a kind of unknowable place.
I don’t think Nixon understood it that well. I don’t think many Americans did. You could argue the British after being there a hundred years didn’t understand it that well. It had a history that is so different from our own that I think the points that he makes in ‘67 in foreign affairs are the right ones to make. I think those points articulate the right policy, it articulates the balance in US relations that we seek to have between India and Pakistan. But I think ultimately, I don’t know how much any era, including the Nixon years, really has a relationship with India for India’s sake.
India seems to be defined by the Cold War. It seems to be defined by its neighbors. You know, I think American policy sees Central Asia, South Asia, and even East Asia as a place of counterweights that I think the best we can hope for, because it is such an unknowable place where we have, frankly, a fairly recent history of contact after the British leave, after the end of World War II, when India and South Asia is not even on the list, even the bottom of the list of our highest priorities.
I think we see India as a series…as a counterweight surrounded by counterweights, India as a counterweight to Pakistan, India as a counterweight to China. Together, they’re probably a counterweight to Japan. I think keeping the Soviets out of the region is a positive in terms of US interests. So I think India as a counterweight surrounded by counterweights is really the overarching strategy because I just don’t think we understand it well enough, it’s long history, even to this day, to really get into a lot of the details that matter to India.
Jonathan Movroydis: Getting back to the domestic political implications, we’re gonna play a clip from December 21 1971, toward the end of the year. This is in the Oval Office. This is Richard Nixon, the chief of staff Bob Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman, as well as Attorney General John Mitchell.
John Ehrlichman: They were able to pin point that there was really only one place in the whole federal government where all of those documents were available.
President Nixon: That’s here.
John Ehrlichman: And that was here in the Joint Chiefs of Staff liaison office of the National Security Council.
President Nixon: Yeah.
John Ehrlichman: And—
President Nixon: Jesus Christ!
John Ehrlichman: There are only two men in that office. One’s an Admiral [Welander] and one’s a yeoman [Radford]. So they began interviewing both of them, and they polygraphed both of them. And the yeoman, obviously, was the guy. He knew Jack Anderson. He had had dinner with Jack Anderson the previous Sunday. His wife and Jack Anderson’s wife were Mormons and friends, and were doing things together, and so on and so forth. He had been stationed in India for two years. He felt strongly about the India/Pakistan thing. So there was motive, opportunity, and access. The whole thing.
President Nixon: Can I ask how in the name of God do we have a yeoman having access to documents of that type?
John Ehrlichman: Well, he’s the key man. He is the, he’s the fellow that types all the memcons, the memoranda of conversations, who files all the—
President Nixon: Does Henry know him?
John Ehrlichman: Everybody knows him.
John Mitchell: He’s traveled with Henry [Kissinger].
John Ehrlichman: He’s traveled with Haig.
President Nixon: Did he go to China?
John Ehrlichman: No, but he went to—
President Nixon: Indonesia?
John Ehrlichman: Indonesia with, I mean Vietnam with Haig. And did all Haig’s dealings with [unclear]. So he’s been right at the krux of this thing. Now, he works for this Admiral Welander, who is the Joint Chiefs of Staff liaison man. Before him, there was a captain, a Navy captain [Rembrandt Robinson] in the office.
President Nixon: I remember him.
John Ehrlichman: This fellow, while being polygraphed, was asked, among other things, if he had ever—
President Nixon: You did that with the polygraph?
John Ehrlichman: Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. And he has refused to admit turning any documents over to Anderson. But he has admitted something else. That he’s had access, so on and so forth, all the way through.
President Nixon: Yes.
John Ehrlichman: He realizes he may be the only man in government other than the admiral [Welander] to have access to all these documents. He understands the circumstance. Says, “it’s obviously a good, tight circumstantial case. I’ll answer any questions that you have.”
Jonathan Movroydis: Ehrlichman principally mentions two figures here, Navy Yeoman Charles Radford, and journalist Jack Anderson. What are they talking about here? And who are these two men?
Luke Nichter: Well, I think this is one of the most fascinating stories. On the Nixon tapes, of the Nixon presidency, I mean, it just has all the ingredients. It has intrigue. It has gossip. It has politics. It has leaks to the press. It takes place in a major of a significant war between India and Pakistan. While Nixon is very much on edge, wants no surprises in the final weeks and months before his trip to China. And this is an issue that we’re still learning a lot more about.
Just in the last year or two, 2017, 2018, on my request, The Nixon Library has opened up new records, including Ehrlichman’s taped meetings with the people mentioned, Charles Radford, Jack Anderson. So Ehrlichman does a pretty good job of introducing these two guys and the issue to Nixon. Ehrlichman in these conversations is kind of he takes out a different tone than he doesn’t in a lot of tapes. He’s almost like Nixon’s attorney or he’s sort of investigating. And he’s kinda presenting his client with the facts so they can decide what to do. And so he’s reporting in a very matter of fact way.
So you have Navy Yeoman Charles Radford and you have a very well-known journalist, Jack Anderson, who was a kind of a protégé of Drew Pearson, kind of in the muckraking format columnist of the Washington “merry-go-round,” which is often the first thing you turn to each day in the Washington Post, and it’s syndicated elsewhere, or to get the gossip around town. So, you know, you’ve got these two figures who are cooperating, who are trying to possibly steal records from the Nixon White House, leak them, publish them to get a better understanding about US foreign policy toward India and Pakistan during this time period.
Jonathan Movroydis: Why do you think Yeoman Radford felt so strong about the Indo-Pakistani issue? What was the nature of the documents that were leaked?
Luke Nichter: This is kind of the heart of the matter is what would motivate this thing from to happen. And I don’t know any more than then what Ehrlichman reports. And there probably is in total, I would guess, about 20 hours of conversations on this subject late in ‘71. So there’s a lot of tapes on this. And Nixon himself is involved in the vast majority of these conversations in addition to the investigative work that Ehrlichman is doing on his own and then reporting back to Nixon in the Oval Office.
As far as we know, what Ehrlichman is able to discover is that Radford had done a couple of year stint at the US Embassy in India and had presumably become very pro-Indian during his time there. Ehrlichman hypothesizes that the fact he was Mormon, as was Jack Anderson, might have made them more cooperative. It’s not really sure. Radford had family in India. So I think he kinda had a natural affinity for Indian policy, not that he didn’t like Pakistan, but it was just he had spent time and had personal connections there that Anderson was able to take advantage of one way or the other.
What we find out is that what Radford had been doing is he had gained access to not just, you know, foreign policy documents in India and Pakistan, but on the other Nixon foreign policy issues. And I think here, Nixon’s mind is very concerned about especially anything to do with China being a surprise in the last couple months before his trip. And so I think it was kinda figuring out what did Radford see? What did he have possession of? What might he have leaked to Anderson? What’s been published? What might be published? And so I think they’re asking a million questions because they’re trying desperately to get information about what happened and what should we expect next?
Jonathan Movroydis: Let’s listen to another tape from the same conversation. This is Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, and the Attorney General John Mitchell, as well. And this sort of adds to the intrigue of the Yeoman Radford affair.
John Ehrlichman: It is all written up, in memo form. And he has access to everything out of State, the Pentagon, NSC, everyplace. And he just Xeroxed it and turned it over to Anderson. There’s no question. Now, as I say, we started off on Anderson.
President Nixon: Right.
John Ehrlichman: We were slowed down by the fact that this guy is obviously very hot. Then we got this Joint Chiefs angle, and so we’ve shut the whole thing down. The guy is obviously cooperative. We’ve had him standing by at home for further interrogation. We then, I think we have him tapped. Do we have him tapped?
John Mitchell: No, we do not.
John Ehrlichman: We don’t have him tapped.
H.R. Haldeman: Can’t you put him under some kind of arrest?
John Ehrlichman: Well, we could—
John Mitchell: We could, but that’s not the point.
John Ehrlichman: This is a little bit like trying to catch a skunk. And, you may get some on you if you [unclear].
President Nixon: You’re right. Exactly right about this point.
John Ehrlichman: The Joint Chiefs’ liaison office is over here in the EOB, and it’s right in the NSC complex. It’s very nice. It’s Captain Robinson, who, Dave got to know on the first day Dave came to work, and said: “Now, Dave, we’re really your eyes and ears in the Pentagon. You can trust me entirely. My job is to get you fellows information out of the Pentagon.” It turned out to be, in effect, a reverse agent. Working for the Pentagon inside here. That office, it seems to me, constitutes a clear and present danger to the, since [unclear] in the NSC. John has suggestions as to how to proceed in this that I think are very sound, and I’ll leave him to explain them.
John Mitchell: Well, Mr. President, I’d like to point out that this thing goes right into the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Undoubtedly they’d know if it has participated in this ill-gotten gains they received.
President Nixon: Sure.
John Mitchell: The first thing you’re—
Richard Nixon: Prosecuting is a possibility for the Joint Chiefs. Now, I have to think about it.
John Mitchell: I agree with you, but we have to take it from there as to what this would lead to if you pursued it by way of prosecution of Moorer, or, even a public confrontation. You would have the Joint Chiefs aligned on that side directly against you. And the, what has been done has been done. I think that the important thing is to paper this thing over.
President Nixon: Yeah.
John Mitchell: This way, first of all, get that liaison office the hell out of NSC and put it back at the Pentagon.
President Nixon: Correct.
John Mitchell: Secondly, to get a security officer into the NSC.
President Nixon: Correct. But what about Henry Kissinger?
John Mitchell: Well, I think that whoever goes in there is going to have to ride herd not only on the rest of the staff, but on Henry. It turns out that one of these most important memorandums here that Henry had was lost, and that somebody just handed him another copy. They shouldn’t have even had another copy. This came out in the papers.
Now, with respect to the Joint Chiefs, you have to get, in my opinion, this guy Admiral Welander the hell out of there, by way of a signal. That way you can transfer him to Kokomo or Indiana, or anywhere we want to have him, along, of course, with this yeoman. And I think the best thing to do is for me, and we’ll leave Laird aside for a moment, but for me to sit down with Tom Moorer, and point out what this game is that’s been going on.
President Nixon: Um-hmm.
John Mitchell: And it’s the end of the road. The liaison is going back to the Pentagon. If they want him, they can call him over here. And there’s a security quotient going into the NSC, and this ballgame’s over with.
Jonathan Movroydis: Discussed here is the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a seeming conflict between the civil and military parts of government. What is alleged here?
Luke Nichter: Well, I mean, by using these tapes, we’ve kind of backed into this issue. The principal instrument of foreign policy making up the White House is the National Security Council. And sitting on it are representatives of, well, statutory members but also input from various agencies that have to have input in foreign policy. And so what had started under, as far as I can track back, either the very early Nixon years or even the late Johnson years, LBJ years, is that in the EOB, was an office that acted as a liaison between the NSC and the White House on one side and the Joint Chiefs on the other.
And so that is the office in question that’s being discussed here. And so in this office, previously Rembrandt Robinson had ran it and then Admiral Welander ran it, but really the day to day staff person was this Yeoman Charles Radford. Someone who is a Yeoman is probably in their no later than late 20s. I mean, someone who’s very young, very junior, but has access of someone who’s extremely senior, in a sense, even more access than Tom Moorer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, then Mel Laird, the Secretary of Defense.
And so in this liaison office, you know, Radford has basically worked himself into a situation where he is a kind of bottleneck for traffic going from the Joint Chiefs, to the White House, and back kind of through his office into the NSC. And so Radford is seeing a lot of the paper that comes out of the NSC. And on top of that, because he’s cleared to see it, and he’s one of the few cleared to see it, he’s also been going on trips with Al Haig, with Kissinger, related to Vietnam. The concern is whether it’s been China. But he’s gone on a lot and he’s been a note taker, he’s been a stenographer, he’s been someone who types up documents on the plane, and he’s gone a lot. He’s had really unusual access at a high-level on a lot of subjects.
And so what is allegedly going on is that he is not only giving some of these documents, which had been purloined or to use a more raw term, stolen in some cases. He’s not only giving some of them to Jack Anderson, and they’re being published in some way, highly classified records, but that he’s also kind of cutting in the chiefs on the operation. As far as I know, at least some of these records ended up back in the office of JCS Chairman Moorer who, as far as I know, didn’t make any copies, but he did read some of them and then returned them because he didn’t want to have copies in his own safe and for that to be discovered. And so these papers, these White House papers, are going all kinds of places. And clearly, there’s a major security problem.
Jonathan Movroydis: Why would Radford want to give this sort of information to Moorer?
Luke Nichter: That, I think, multi-faceted. I mean, if one buys into the argument that Radford is sympathetic to India, then a motive could be that he doesn’t agree with the foreign policy that seems to favor Pakistan more. A second way to look at it is, and here’s I think an even bigger problem that makes this more than just another leak story. This is more than just someone giving unauthorized access to classified information that ends up in the press.
This is where the story, I think, takes on a most unique and much more complicated angle that whether the JCS, or the Pentagon, or the DOD, is actually using this access, this unauthorized access, that Radford’s given them, to in effect kind of spy on the White House, whether it be kind of learning proposals for troop movements to or from Vietnam, and Nixon had started pulling troops out of Vietnam in the summer of ‘69, and would have basically all of them out within a matter of months, or whether it would be to pick up inferences on where U.S.-China policy might be leading, you can imagine what an agency like the Pentagon could learn by picking up records of conversations, meetings that are not public. They could learn a tremendous amount through this channel and so, obviously, they would have a reason to keep it going for as long as they could. So I think there’s a multitude of motives going on here.
Jonathan Movroydis: Was the military more or less aligned with the policy that was being made in the White House? A lot I understand was secret, but were they more or less aligned with what the president wanted to do?
Luke Nichter: Well, I think that depends on the issue. I think a lot of people in the military were very, very concerned that Nixon was making French friends with communists in China. I think a number of military officials who believed and didn’t want to leave Vietnam, who believed Vietnam was worth fighting for, and a minority of them believed that Vietnam could somehow be won militarily, would have had a problem with pulling troops out and pulling troops out basically unilaterally on Nixon’s part. Getting something for them along the way, not totally unilaterally, but clearly the U.S. was gonna get out one way or the other no matter what we got in return for each withdrawal of troops.
So I think that on the whole, military officials were on board, but there were differences. And on top of that, the Pentagon is a complicated agency. It always has been. The idea of you have kind of a civilian leader over military leaders is a very complicated thing to manage. And I think a lot of White Houses struggle to get that balance right. You’ve got, you know, a longtime friend of Nixon’s, Mel Laird, as Secretary of Defense. You’ve got very strongly held views of a number of the chiefs and other senior military figures. I don’t even think it’s possible to say that there’s, like, one military view about any policies, let alone all of the different facets of Nixon foreign policy at this time.
Jonathan Movroydis: This administration, the Nixon Administration, takes a hard stance on leaks by government officials. We see today the government prosecuting leakers aggressively, Edward Snowden, Reality Winner, Chelsea Manning. Nixon talks here about prosecuting Admiral Moorer. Why didn’t they ultimately decide not to prosecute Yeoman Radford and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?
Luke Nichter: To me, there’s no smoking gun that answers that question. I think the last audio clip or the last segment we played where Attorney General John Mitchell, again, kind of like Ehrlichman, sort of is acting, is kind of taking his Attorney General’s head off and acting in a sense as kinda Nixon’s attorney. Of course, they were law partners together prior to the White House years in New York City in the 1960s.
And I think Nixon, for the most part, takes the advice he’s given that the damage has already been done. We can’t get that back. We can put Jack Anderson on notice. We can shut down this liaison office. And the memorable line for Mitchell is, “We can transfer Yeoman Radford to Kokomo, Indiana or someplace.” And anyone who’s driven through the middle of Indiana and seen the truck stops in Kokomo can imagine what it would be like to have this new assignment there after being in Washington.
And I think ultimately, Nixon’s assumption must have been that to the extent that the Chiefs were complicit…and they were certainly at least to a degree. I don’t know if we know to what full extent they were, that possibly by not starting a war or the war that would be needed to prosecute people, including prosecuting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Imagine this. This is the White House that has already been to high-level court battles once this year in ’71 over the leaks related to the Pentagon papers, and the freedom of the press issues that went all the way the Supreme Court.
I think this is a John Mitchell who’s much more cautious. And the cautious advice he’s giving to Nixon is, “If you keep these people right where they’re at, you transfer Radford out, you transfer Welander out, you leave more right where he’s at that going forward, he’ll probably be on his best behavior because now, he knows what you know. “And I think that’s ultimately the advice that Nixon took.
Jonathan Movroydis: Our guest today is Luke Nichter, professor of history at Texas A&M University, Central Texas. Our topic was the Nixon White House taping system as it pertains to President Nixon’s conversations about the Indo-Pakistani war in 1971, and the international and domestic implications of US policy in that conflict. Luke, thank you so much for joining us.
Luke Nichter: Thank you.
Jonathan Movroydis: Please check back for future podcasts at nixonfoundation.org or on iTunes, Sticher, and SoundCloud. This is Jonathan Movroydis in Yorba Linda.
Conversation Oval 553-003. 2 August 1971. 9:20am-9:50am. Nixon, Richard; Kissinger, Henry.
Conversation EOB 307-027. 8 December 1971. 4:20pm-5:01pm. Kissinger, Henry; Mitchell, John; Nixon, Richard.
Conversation Oval 639-030. 2 December 1971. 6:07pm-6:59pm. Ehrlichman, John; Haldeman, H.R.; Mitchell, John; Nixon, Richard.