On Being Bugged

Joseph Kraft
Joseph Kraft; drawing by David Levine


Watergate is personal in Washington. Most of the major law firms in town have clients in the manifold hearings and suits generated by the scandal. Scores of local journalists have been bugged or placed on enemy lists or used in the hot contest of leaks and counterleaks. Families, neighbors, colleagues, gossip, and daily living are all involved. So, apart from the big constitutional issues, there is, here, a little world of Watergate.

I entered this world when it became known that our house, in which I make my office, had been the object of a wiretap operation. The precise details have so far not come out, and what I did learn emerged, like so much else in Watergate, in bits and pieces from obscure sources as parts of larger stories. News of the tap was first leaked to the New York Times, and John W. Dean later mentioned it in his testimony to the Senate Watergate Committee. John Ehrlichman during his subsequent testimony added a few details. As the story pieced itself together, the tap was placed in 1969. It yielded very little because I was in Europe with my family at the time. It was decided the tap be removed. The placing and removal were done on orders of Mr. Ehrlichman, who claimed in his testimony to have discussed it with the President. The operation was carried out by a White House security team under John Caulfield. A ladder was placed in a narrow alley alongside our house in Georgetown. Caulfield was so struck by the riskiness of the job that he mentioned it to John Dean, which is how the story happened to come out.

Since there had been widespread reports of wiretapping of journalists I should, perhaps, have been prepared for the news. In fact, precisely because of the currency of the rumors, I was caught off guard. My name had appeared in some stories, and I had checked these accounts with sources in the FBI, who assured me that the Bureau’s master index showed no wiretap on my phone. I was not, so far as I knew, connected with any of the leaks of national security material cited as reason for the wiretaps on journalists. Moreover, I had been on reasonably good terms with the Nixon Administration during its early days. I knew John Ehrlichman, and even Caulfield, as a figure connected with carrying baggage in the 1968 campaign. So I was totally unprepared for the news of the wiretap attempt. As I recounted it to my wife, my mind focused almost entirely on the small points as distinct from the general outline. Her first reaction was: “Oh, so that’s what happened to the ladder.”

Once the fact of the tap was established, I returned for more information to the FBI. The Bureau, under J. Edgar Hoover, had refused to go along with the Administration’s…

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