How the CIA protected a Watergate burglar

Richard Helms
Richard Helms

James McCord was the most important of the Watergate burglars, Bob Woodward once noted. As this declassified JFK file shows, McCord was the chief of the Office of Security, an experienced officer, with impressive security credentials.

He was protected by CIA director Dick Helms.

After the release of the Family Jewels documents in 2007, Woodward wrote: 

“[CIA security officer Howard] Osborn reported that James W. McCord Jr., the head of the Watergate burglary team and Osborn’s predecessor as the CIA’s chief of security, had written a letter in August 1972 to Helms. Osborn, according to his affidavit, said he “felt strongly” that it should be turned over to the FBI, which was supposedly conducting a rigorous investigation of Watergate. It was a critical moment in the Watergate probe, with Nixon seeking reelection that fall and desperate to keep the botched burglary from spoiling his chances.

“McCord’s letter to the CIA could have been important evidence; according to later testimony, he was seeking assistance from the CIA, where he had worked for decades, and was on the verge of blowing the whistle about Watergate, as he did months later in a famous March 21, 1973, letter to Judge John J. Sirica.

“But Nixon would have no preelection problem with the CIA…..

Helms buried the letter. McCord kept quiet, and the FBI never punctured the Helms’ story that the burglars acted independently of the CIA.



4 thoughts on “How the CIA protected a Watergate burglar”

  1. ” counterintelligence has a vested interest in being aware of the profiles of american political figures . . . a good intelligence service spies . . . to be able to shore up security on their behalf ”

    Who then spies on the spies ?

    Seems relevant to know what Allen Dulles was doing, say from Dec., 1961 to Nov., 1963

  2. counterintelligence has a vested interest in being aware of the profiles of american political figures, strengths and weaknesses, since foreign intelligence services at any point in time might wish to spy on them once elected. economic intelligence finds just about any arena of activity an information-rich environment. i don’t think it is about the need to be able to blackmail our elected officials when important bills come up that affect national security, as has been suggested. a good intelligence service spies on senators and congressman, state and local, in order to see who is spying on them and to be able to shore up security on their behalf.

  3. it would not be unreasonable to imagine that the CIA routinely collected information from many political parties’ headquarters for many years before and after. watergate was probably the first time that this standard procedure surfaced and it was necessary to manage public perception that it was a ‘one time event’

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