An article in the Atlantic Monthly published yesterday provides new details on how Henry Kissinger and Alexander M. Haig Jr., while serving in the Nixon White House a decade ago, participated in a two-year effort to conceal a secret program of wiretapping aides and reporters.
The article, by Seymour M. Hersh, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his story on the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, is based on unpublished files from the Watergate prosecutor's office and statements from former Kissinger aides that describe in new detail an intensive effort by the White House to hide the files and logs on the 17 wiretaps from government investigators and the public.
Hersh does not prove that Kissinger or Haig did anything illegal, but he claims that Kissinger and Haig lied or distorted their involvement in the wiretap program authorized by Nixon from 1969 to 1971.
Hersh notes that the Watergate prosecutor's office brought no charges against anyone in the wiretap matter after an extensive investigation.
The 22,000-word article is strong on atmospherics, giving a detailed portrait of one of the most extraordinary periods in American foreign policy. Kissinger, then Nixon's national security adviser, and Haig, who as number two on the National Security Council staff managed the Vietnam war, elbowed colleagues and each other for power, according to Hersh. Their small White House quarters are shown to have been a hothouse of jealousy, an accusatory, belittling environment with Kissinger and Haig spying and reading wiretap logs, and releasing an endless flow of unkind and often savage words about Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird, Secretary of State William P. Rogers and Nixon.
It is Hersh's thesis that both Kissinger and Haig were heavily involved with and informed about the efforts to stop news leaks. These efforts included the 17 national security wiretaps and the White House plumbers' unit that investigated the leak of the Pentagon Papers.
Hersh writes, "Haig did more than merely know what was going on in the White House: he was part of it." Hersh also asserts that in the various Watergate investigations "Kissinger was permitted to slide by with his half-truths and misstatements. Only Richard Nixon, Alexander Haig, some men around them, and a few Watergate prosecutors . . . understood the truth: Kissinger was involved."
A spokesman for Kissinger said that the former secretary of state would have no comment on the article because he had not yet read it. But one former Kissinger aide who has read it and remains close to Kissinger said, "Hersh does have a strong bias against Henry and it comes through in the article, but he doesn't really add any damaging new information and I think Henry's approach will be to scorn and ignore it."
A spokesman in the State Department said that Haig had no initial comment because he, too, had not read the article.
One new piece of information is former Nixon aide John D. Ehrlichman's notes of a July 12, 1971, meeting in San Clemente, Calif. According to these notes, Nixon directed others to "recover documents from Haig . . . obtain and destroy all logs. . . Haig request the FBI to destroy all special coverage," the term used for the secret wiretapping program.
Hersh does not claim to know what Haig specifically did but writes: "The prosecutors did learn, according to unpublished files, that sometime in mid-July after the crucial July 12 meeting at San Clemente involving the president, the White House files of Kissinger . . . and Nixon were stripped of all wiretap summary letters and logs."
The significance of these wiretap records revolves around the government's legal responsibility to disclose that then-Pentagon Papers defendant Daniel Ellsberg had been overheard on one of the wiretaps. This was not done for nearly two years after Ellsberg was indicted. The federal judge in the case dropped the charges in May, 1973, after the wiretap was discovered in the middle of the Watergate disclosures.
In addition, the article alleges that in May, 1973, just after he became White House chief of staff, Haig attempted to get former senior FBI official William C. Sullivan appointed director of the FBI. Sullivan was the FBI official whom Haig had met with many times from 1969 to 1971 on the wiretaps.
The article continues: "William Sullivan of the FBI understood how far Kissinger would go to avoid embarrassment. Sometime in the spring of 1973, amid the Watergate revelations, he sent Kissinger a memorandum summarizing his understanding of the White House wiretapping, which had yet to become publicly known.
"The document enraged Kissinger, according to a close aide, but he knew what to do without being told. Sullivan soon became Kissinger's and Haig's choice to be named director of the FBI."
Hersh does not cite the basis for this conclusion or specify any details about the memo he says Sullivan sent to Kissinger. No such memo directed to Kissinger, or suggestion of one, could be found this week in the public Watergate record.
Hersh continues: "It was Haig, Nixon's new chief of staff, who telephoned Elliot Richardson, the newly nominated attorney general, and strongly recommended Sullivan for the job in the first week of May. Richardson's senior aides, J. T. Smith and Jonathan Moore, moved quickly and successfully to prevent Sullivan's nomination."
In an interview this week, Smith confirmed this, saying: "Sometime after becoming White House chief of staff, Al Haig did call Elliot Richardson to recommend consideration of William Sullivan to be director of the FBI. This appointment never was given serious consideration by Richardson."
Sullivan was later killed in a hunting accident, and these matters are not mentioned in his autobiography, "The Bureau, My Thirty Years In Hoover's FBI," published in 1979.
The new material on the wiretaps and life in the National Security Council during the period 1969 to 1971 includes:
* The FBI did not forward all transcripts of the wiretapped conversations to the White House. As has been previously known, one of the taps was on Henry Brandon, the London Sunday Times correspondent in Washington. Brandon's wife, Mabel (Muffie) Brandon (now social secretary in the Reagan White House), was extremely friendly with Joan Kennedy, wife of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
"Many of their most intimate conversations were monitored by the FBI," the article says. "One highly personal discussion of Mrs. Kennedy's 'problems with Teddy' was typed up and delivered to Courtland J. Jones, a supervisor in the FBI's Washington field office.
"Jones told the prosecutors that he destroyed the transcript instead of sending it to the White House. 'I knew what those people would do with this stuff,' he explained."
* Kissinger several times told aides that at his first formal White House reception he met Mrs. Nixon and began praising the president. "But Mrs. Nixon leaned over and interrupted him by say, 'Haven't you seen through him yet?' " Former Kissinger aide Roger Morris is quoted as saying Kissinger would tell this anecdote to the staff and laugh about it, "as if to say, 'This man is not stable.' "
* Another person whose phone was tapped, Col. Bob Pursley, the military aide to then-Secretary of Defense Laird, is quoted as saying that Kissinger would seek support from Laird by saying of Nixon, "We've got a madman on our hands."
* Hersh also quotes Charles M. Cooke Jr., a former Pentagon official, as saying that in 1969 Haig told him that Laird was "a traitor to the country and will destroy the armed forces."
* Other aides are quoted as saying that President Nixon made several anti-Semitic comments, once calling a former Kennedy aide "another one of those Jews."
* Quotations from Morris and others support earlier published accounts that Nixon at times was drunk while giving orders over the phone at night. Egil (Bud) Krogh, who was co-director of the White House plumbers in 1971, told Hersh that the other director, David Young, "told me of the time he was on the phone [listening in] when Nixon and Kissinger were talking. Nixon was drunk and he said, 'Henry, we've got to nuke them.' "
* A private journal maintained by an unnamed Kissinger aide also claims that "Haig was directly receiving progress reports on the plumbers' activities from David Young. Kissinger was 'worried,' the journal noted in an entry dated March 15, 1973, 'concerning the plumbers' work."
Kissinger has generally denied that he was familiar with the work of this special investigations unit, which included Watergate conspirators E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy.
In his new book, "Years of Upheaval," Kissinger apologizes for his role in the wiretapping program, saying, "The wiretapping of one's associates presents an especially painful human problem. I was never at ease about it; it is the part of my public service about which I am the most ambivalent . . . I want to express my regret at the anguish that may have been caused to any individual . . . ."