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Agency of Fear

Opiates and Political Power in America

By Edward Jay Epstein

Chapter 3 - G. Gordon Liddy: The Will to Power 


Until the late 1960s, the "drug menace," despite the apocalyptic metaphors associated with it, served mainly as a rhetorical theme in New York State politics. The addicts arrested in occasional police sweeps were almost always booked, for the statistical record, then released in what became known as "revolving door" arrests. G. Gordon Liddy, however, foresaw a more durable purpose in the drug menace: the public's fear of an uncontrollable army of addicts, if properly organized, could be forged into a new instrument for social control. 

George Gordon Battle Liddy, named after a New York political leader, was born on November 30, 1929, in Brooklyn, New York. Brought up a staunch Catholic, Liddy was educated at St. Benedict's Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey, and at Fordham University, where he made a reputation for himself as a fervent antiCommunist. Upon graduation in 1952, Liddy immediately enlisted in the Army, with the aim of becoming a paratrooper. An appendicitis attack, however, disqualified him from airborne training, and instead he fought a more prosaic war in Korea as a lieutenant in the artillery. Discharged in 1954, he returned to Fordham Law School, where he distinguished himself on Fordham Law Review and graduated in 1957.  

For the next five years Liddy realized a childhood ambition by serving in the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover. After the gunpoint capture of one of the ten most wanted fugitives in 1959, Liddy became the youngest supervisor in the entire FBI and was attached to J. Edgar Hoover's personal staff at FBI national headquarters, in Washington. Combining a skill with words and a zeal for anticommunism, Liddy served as Hoover's personal ghostwriter, writing law-and-order articles for various magazines and preparing speeches for the director to give at public functions. He quickly became well versed in the use of dramatic metaphors and symbolic code words in the rhetoric of law and order. From his vantage point on the director's personal staff he also became familiar with the extralegal operations of the FBI, such as break-ins and wiretaps. Despite his admiration for Hoover, he realized during these years of service that the FBI was an inefficient and bureaucratic agency and was somewhat less than an effective national police force. In a memorandum to President Nixon ten years later he analyzed the deficiencies of the FBI and concluded that because it conformed too closely to rules and to congressional measures of performance, it could not be counted on as a potent instrument of the presidency. Disappointed in the FBI, Liddy resigned from Hoover's staff in 1962 and went into private law practice with his father, Sylvester L. Liddy, in New York City. (The exact nature of his private practice during these years has never been ascertained.)

Since his wife, Frances Purcell Liddy, came from a lawyer's family in Poughkeepsie, New York, he decided to move there in 1966 and apply for a job as an assistant district attorney in Dutchess County.

Raymond Baratta, then district attorney of Dutchess County, interviewed Liddy and found him "militant but soft-spoken." Liddy carried with him sealed recommendations from the FBI, and Baratta, impressed with his energy, decided to give him the position he sought. Liddy quickly became famous, if not notorious, in Poughkeepsie as a gun-toting prosecutor. During one criminal trial he even fired off a gun in the courtroom to dramatize a minor point in the case. He also proved himself a local crusader against drugs. Joining forces with the chief of police in Wappingers Falls, he traveled from high school to high school in the county, lecturing on the dangers of narcotics and employing the rich rhetoric of Captain Hobson. The police chief, Robert Berberich, recalled in 1975 that Liddy carried with him samples of "everything but heroin" for his lectures. In speeches before church groups and fraternal orders in 1966, Liddy also warned, in a variation of Hobson's yellow-peril theme, that the addicts of New York City would eventually make their way up the Hudson Valley and contaminate Poughkeepsie with their vice and crime. As the "legal advisor" in 1966 to the Poughkeepsie police department he also went along on every marijuana and narcotics raid that he could find or inspire, and his colleagues in the district attorney's office found him brilliant in presenting what otherwise would be routine arrests to the local newspapers. Despite his constant efforts to alarm the citizens of Dutchess County, Liddy found that "the menace ... was still thought of as principally a threat to others."

On a cold midnight in March, 1966, Liddy finally found a way to shatter the illusions of Dutchess County and gain national publicity for himself. The coup began with a raid on the home of Timothy Leary, a former psychologist at Harvard who had gained some prominence (and notoriety) from his experiments with the hallucinogenic drug LSD. After being dismissed from Harvard for distributing LSD to students, he made the mistake of renting a large mansion in Liddy's bailiwick a, Millbrook, New York. LSD was neither an addictive drug nor one associated with crime, but Leary's presence in Dutchess County provided Liddy with a golden opportunity. "For some time, the major media had been covering the activities of Dr. Timothy Leary," Liddy subsequently explained in Trite magazine. "Leary's ability to influence the young made him feared by parents everywhere. His message ran directly contrary to everything they believed in and sought to teach their children: 'tune in' (to my values; reject those of your parents), 'turn on' (drug yourself); 'drop out' (deal with your problems and those of society by running away from them)." In other words, Liddy realized that Leary could be portrayed as a Pied Piper, using mysterious drugs to turn the young against their parents. He also noted, "Local boys and girls have been seen entering and leaving the estate ... fleeting glimpses were reported of persons strolling the grounds in the nude." He thus suggested that drugs were eroding the morality (and virginity) of Dutchess County youths, or, as he put It, "to fears of drug induced dementia were added pot induced pregnancy." He even foresaw that if citizens' fears about drugs were properly stimulated, "there would be reenacted at Millbrook the classic motion picture scene in which enraged Transylvanian town folks storm Dr. Frankenstein's castle." Even though Liddy was mixing his myths up a bit (Transylvania was the haunting place of the vampire Dracula, not of Frankenstein's monster). He correctly perceived the connection in the public imagination between the drug addict and the medieval legend of the living dead. And it was this connection of fears that Liddy set out to exploit with his midnight raid.

In planning the night operation, Liddy explained, "We hoped to find not only a central supply of LSD belonging to Leary, but also his guests' personal supplies of marijuana and hashish... it was necessary to strike quickly, with benefit of surprise, if the inhabitants were to be caught in their rooms and any contraband found in the rooms established as possessed by the tenants." To avoid the necessity of having to depend on testimony of witnesses, Liddy planned to wait until Leary and his friends were all asleep in their rooms, then, to catch them red-handed, "We would perform a classic 'no knock' entry-that is, kick in the front door." After that, Liddy himself was to lead "a quick charge upstairs by the bulk of the force of deputies, who were then to fan out and hold the inhabitants in their rooms pending a systematic search."

All, however, did not go as Liddy planned. Instead of retiring at about eleven P.M., as Liddy presumed, the residents of the estate gathered at about that time in the living room and began showing a film. Liddy recounted in True magazine in 1974: "The deputies assumed that the movies were pornographic, and there was some competition for the assignment to move into binocular range to obtain further information ... [but] presently the lucky man returned to report in a tone of complete disgust, 'it ain't no dirty movie; You'll never guess what them hippies are watching. A waterfall.' "

The film did not finish until nearly one A.M., by which time most of the deputies were extremely cold and exhausted. Finally, the raiding party moved in on the sleeping foe. Liddy introduced himself to Dr. Leary, who meekly surrendered. And some incriminating marijuana and LSD were indeed found on the premises. However, because Liddy had not fully advised Leary of his rights, as they were defined by the United States Supreme Court in the Miranda decision that year, the judge dismissed the charges against Leary and his followers. Though Liddy viewed the Supreme Court as an "unelected elite" that had usurped power in the United States, he acquiesced in the decision. After all, he had successfully "exposed" Leary in the newspapers of Dutchess County (and Leary subsequently left the county), and he had established his own reputation as a drug fighter. 

By successfully waging his crusade against drugs (albeit in a county which had few, if any, criminal addicts), Liddy established a formidable reputation for himself in the county. The next logical step was gaining power. Liddy saw life itself as a contest for power. He said, on a national television broadcast some years later, "Power exists to be used ... the first obligation of ... someone seeking power is to get himself elected...... In this contest for power Liddy posited that the man with the strongest will for power would win. He wrote his wife, philosophically, "if any one component of man ought to be exercised, cultivated, and strengthened above all others, it is the will; and that will must have but one objective-to win." In June, 1968, Liddy first attempted to win the race for office by running against the incumbent, Albert Rosenblatt, for the Republican nomination for district attorney of Dutchess County. He had little support from Republican politicians and was defeated in a party caucus by a vote of 25 to 4. 

Liddy next turned the focus of his attention to the Republican nomination for Congress from the Poughkeepsie district. Openly challenging Hamilton Fish, Jr., who held the Republican seat, he mounted a bitter primary campaign in the summer of 1968, which the Democratic opponent, John S. Dyson, described as "hyperadrenaloid and bitterly anti-communist." He traveled from fraternal lodge to fraternal lodge in Dutchess County, relentlessly pursuing the theme of vampire-addicts jeopardizing the life and safety of Dutchess County citizens. Law and order became his battle cry; his campaign advertisements contained such slogans as "Gordon Liddy doesn't bail them out-he puts them in" and "He knows the answer is law and order, not weak-kneed sociology." Despite the vigor of his campaign, he was defeated in the primary by the incumbent, Hamilton Fish, by only a few thousand votes.

Liddy had lost a few battles in 1968, but not the war. Victory, he realized, proceeded from a superior mind-set, and not from any temporary configuration of voters: "The master who instructed me in the deadliest of the Oriental martial arts taught me that the outcome of a battle is decided in the minds of the opponents before the first blow is struck." Liddy, in a letter to his wife published in Harper's magazine in October. 1974, credited the "mind-set of the ... SS division Leibenstandarte" for the Nazi victories, and contrasted this with "the ill-disciplined, often drugged dropouts that make up a significant portion of the nation's armed forces today. He entered the congressional fray again in 1968, this time as a candidate for the nomination of the New York State Conservative party. And as the strongest law-and-order candidate of Dutchess County, he easily won this nomination.

Liddy now presented Hamilton Fish with a serious problem in his bid for reelection to Congress. The public-opinion polls showed in September, 1968, that it was going to be an exceedingly close race between Fish and Dyson. As the Conservative candidate and the locally celebrated prosecutor who had "captured Timothy Leary," Liddy threatened to win enough votes among conservative Republicans to ensure Fish's defeat and a Democratic victory. Though Liddy himself could not win the election, he had cleverly maneuvered himself into a position to make a deal. Gerald Ford, then the Republican leader in the House of Representatives and a friend of Hamilton Fish's, went that fall to Poughkeepsie and personally arranged for Liddy to endorse the candidacy of Hamilton Fish. In return for abandoning his Conservative campaign Liddy was promised a high position in the Nixon administration, if Nixon was elected. Liddy also agreed to head Nixon's campaign effort in Dutchess County.

After Nixon's victory in 1968 Hamilton Fish returned to Congress, and Gordon Liddy also went to Washington. In 1969 Liddy was appointed special assistant to the secretary of the treasury. He served directly under Eugene T. Rossides, who had direct responsibility for all the law-enforcement activities of the Treasury Department, including the Customs Bureau, the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms unit, the Internal Revenue Service enforcement division, and the Secret Service. Rossides, a shrewd and enterprising Greek American who had been an all-American football player at Columbia University and had managed a number of Governor Rockefeller's campaigns in New York City, now planned to expand the role of the Treasury Department in law enforcement. He found that Gordon Liddy's high energy level and determination were 'ust what he needed in the impending struggle for power within the administration. Liddy thus became Rossides's "spear carrier." One of his first assignments was to work on Task Force Number One, a joint task force being set up by the Justice Department and the Treasury Department to combat narcotics smugglers. Rossides was concerned that John Mitchell would use this task force to expand his own Justice Department domain to the detriment of the Treasury Department's customs bureau, and Liddy was given the task of protecting and promoting Treasury interests on the task force. Though most of the energy of the presidential task force was consumed in bureaucratic wrangles, Liddy foresaw the 'full potential of the drug issue as an instrument for reorganizing agencies of the government. It contained an undisputed moral vantage point-since no one in the Nixon administration could be expected to sympathize with addicts, or even with drug users-and could therefore be used to support extraordinarily hard-line positions. Moreover, since the drug problem implied a new and mysterious threat (no one in the Nixon administration had very much knowledge about the effects or the epidemiology of narcotics), one could argue that existing agencies and methods were inadequate to meet this new menace. Because they were dealing with an unprecedented "epidemic," any innovative measure, no matter how unorthodox, could be considered and discussed. Liddy's experience in the FBI had taught him that government agencies tend to expend their potential power on routine activities in their established areas of competency, and that a new area of competency, such as the drug menace, could lead to a new potential for power. 

Rossides also assigned Liddy to work as his representative on the working group of the ad hoc committee established by the president to deal with international narcotics traffic. Rossides was especially interested in suppressing the opium grown in Turkey. On the working group Liddy met with executives from the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Although the CIA was prohibited by its charter from domestic activities, drug traffic was international in scope; therefore, Liddy realized, it provided a unique liaison between the intelligence community and the government. 

In drafting various pieces of legislation for the Treasury Department (including sections of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 and the Explosives Control Act of 1970) Liddy also had considerable contact with congressional subcommittees. Here again he found the drug issue a great potential for power: though few individual congressmen fully understood the medical issues involved in drug abuse, most understood the potential political consequences for failing to support measures directed against drug abuse. More important, congressmen tended to see drug abuse as an issue that didn't fall within the traditional lines of authority of any single agency, and were therefore more willing to consider "reorganization" measures to deal with it. 

Liddy's expertise in drug abuse brought him into direct contact with the inner circle of the White House. He especially impressed Egil Krogh with his knowledge of the Leary case and his subsequent plans for legally or illegally extraditing Leary from Afghanistan, where he was then a fugitive. By 1971, when Liddy was enforcement legislative counsel of the Treasury Department, the White House had become progressively interested in ways of bypassing the bureaucrats in the various investigative agencies of the government, such as the FBI, Customs Bureau, and CIA. G. Gordon Liddy had developed a plan for using the war against heroin as a cover for reorganizing various agencies of the government, or at least for making them more effective. Thus, with his "will to power," Liddy began drawing up memoranda for the White House staff for the creation of a unique special police unit attached, in all but name, to the White House, with uncommon powers to deal with drug abuse.



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