Bernard L. Barker, 92
Bernard L. Barker, 92, Watergate Burglar, Is Dead
Sunday, June 7, 2009
Bernard L. Barker, an unrepentant Watergate burglar whose arrest at the Democratic National Committee headquarters on June 17, 1972, helped set in motion the chain of events that led to the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in 1974, died June 5 of lung cancer at a Miami veterans hospital. He was 92.
Mr. Barker, who was born in Cuba, was a onetime undercover operative for the CIA and helped organize the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, an ill-fated attempt to overthrow Cuban leader Fidel Castro. During the planning for the Bay of Pigs, he met E. Howard Hunt, a CIA officer who later became a central figure in the Watergate conspiracy.
In 1971, Hunt hired Mr. Barker and others to break into the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst who released documents known as the Pentagon Papers, divulging secrets about U.S. involvement in Vietnam. A year later, Mr. Barker recruited three Miamians for the Watergate caper, in which they planned to place electronic eavesdropping devices in telephones at the Democratic headquarters.
Plainclothes police officers found them hiding behind a desk at 2:30 a.m. Mr. Barker was carrying $5,000 in crisp $100 bills. A fifth man arrested with them, James W. McCord Jr., was a security consultant to Nixon's campaign organization, the Committee to Re-Elect the President.
Mr. Barker served 13 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to wiretapping and theft.
"It's the only felony I was ever convicted of," he later said.
After his release, investigators learned that Mr. Barker had deposited more than $100,000 in his Miami bank account from Nixon fundraisers. He spent 33 days in a Florida jail for misusing his notary public's seal in cashing one of the checks.
At Senate hearings in 1973, Mr. Barker testified that he thought he was sent to the Democratic offices to find records of illegal contributions from foreign countries. He said Hunt, who died in 2007, led him to believe that he would ultimately receive support for efforts to free Cuba from Castro's control.
Mr. Barker, who served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, never apologized for his Watergate involvement.
"I see no difference between this and being a bombardier in World War II," he said in 1992. "I was doing my duty."
Bernard Leon Barker was born in Havana on March 17, 1917. His father was an American living in Cuba, and the younger Mr. Barker spent his teens in the United States, becoming a U.S. citizen in the 1930s.
He returned to Cuba to attend the University of Havana and was said to have been the first Cuban to volunteer for the U.S. military after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. As a member of the Army Air Forces in World War II, he flew 10 missions as a bombardier before being shot down and held captive for 17 months.