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Secret agenda: Watergate, deep throat and the CIA.

Jim Hougan's Secret Agenda, which was published with a great deal of P.R. hocus-pocus this winter, is a Watergate conspiracy book that reads like a Kennedy assassination conspiracy book. By which I mean that it seems to have been written by a pecan or an acorn or a peanut or some other small-bore nut. American nightmares have a way of being transmuted over time into national nonsense.

I have a theory that the assassination nuts will not rest until they have pinned the Kennedy killing on the right (preferably on Nixon). And the Watergate nuts will not rest until they have pinned the fall of Nixon on the left (preferably on a Kennedy).

I called Bob Woodward to ask him what he thought of the new book.

"It's baffling," Woodward said. "It's puzzling. It's wacky. It's insane. It's one of these turds in the soup."

I will try to explain Hougan's conspiracy theory, but I warn you that making sense out of nonsense is not easy. Hougan says the Central Intelligence Agency "penetrated" the Committee to Re-elect the President. Working undercover at CREEP, these C.I.A. agents decided to spy on a certain prostitution ring that operated out of the Columbia Plaza Apartments. The Columbia Plaza whorehouse was strategically located next door to the Watergate complex that housed the Democratic National Committee. The prostitutes supposedly did a lot of business with important Democrats.

Hougan alleges that the prostitutes even arranged a kind of "marriage" between Columbia Plaza and the Watergate--they supposedly had a contact with the D.N.C. to fix them up with Democratic officials. So, according to Hougan, someone at the D.N.C. was working both to get Democrats elected and to get them laid. And this someone was better at the latter.

The C.I.A. spooks at CREEP decided to bug and otherwise monitor the whores at Columbia Plaza and their political clients. In other words, the CREEP penetrators penetrated the whorehouse where pols were penetrating prostitutes. So far so good. The problems began when the White House asked the spooks at CREEP to bug the D.N.C. Which meant they would be bugging their whores' clients. Which meant their whorehouse operation might be exposed. Which might have put the Best Little Whorehouse in the C.I.A. out of business. Horrors.

So the C.I.A. decided to sabotage the Watergate break-in. Better to sacrifice the White House than the whorehouse. Of course. And that is Hougan's conspiracy theory. He writes:

In effect, the snake had swallowed its tail: CIA agents working under cover of the CRP came to be targeted against their own operation by the very organization that unwittingly provided them with cover. All that the agents could do was to stall and, when all else failed, blow their own cover. Whereupon the White House, lacking deniability, attempted to cover up--with the result that it was soon buried.

Sure. The C.I.A. decided to protect its prostitutes instead of its President. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with the book other than not making sense. One of these problems is the lack of evidence.

"Who's his witness?" Woodward asked. "What's his piece of paper? Where's his tape?"

According to Hougan, all the tapes were erased, all the pieces of paper burned or shredded, and the prime witness is dead. It is ever so with conspiracy advocates. And yet an incredible number of papers and tapes and talkative witnesses did somehow manage to survive. But not one of them corroborates Hougan's theory.

Hougan's dead witness was a hard-luck private eye named Louis J. Russell, who was supposedly a friend of the Columbia Plaza whores as well as a friend of Watergate burglar James McCord. This is the kind of coincidence conspiracy nuts live for. It of course follows in a conspiracy nut's mind that Russell must have bugged the whorehouse for McCord. Unfortunately, Russell died a couple of years ago and so Hougan was not able to interview him, having come to the Watergate story somewhat late.

But Woodward interviewed Russell.

"I talked to him in a bar in Montgomery Country," Woodward remembers. "He wanted to make it appear he was in on something, but he didn't know anything."

At the end of his book, Hougan quotes a source who says Woodward "was in naval intelligence." And he goes on to speculate that Deep Throat was probably in naval intelligence, too.

But . . . "I wasn't in naval intelligence," Woodward says. "It just isn't so."

I am left wondering if much of the book just isn't so.

"It's the Flat Earth Society of Watergate," Woodward says. "He looks out his window and says, 'It looks flat here. It must be flat everywhere.'" It's time to put such silliness to rest before someone writes a book to the effect that Lee Harvey Oswald's accomplice was Deep throat.
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Author:Latham, Aaron
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 2, 1985
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