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Agency of Fear

Opiates and Political Power in America

By Edward Jay Epstein

Chapter 35 - Decline and Fall


John Ehrlichman, who had risen in four short years from being the tour director for Nixon's campaign to being the president's principal assistant for domestic affairs, charted the grand design for gaining power over a major investigative agency of the government-the Drug Enforcement Administration-after Nixon's reelection, in 1972. The former real estate lawyer from Seattle had, however, seriously underestimated the countervailing powers within the bureaucracy. In the wake of Watergate he could not escape the flood of leaks from those he had sought previously to control, and his decline was even more swift than his rise to power. After being dismissed by the president (along with H. R. Haldeman) in 1973, he was indicted and convicted for perjury and conspiracy in both the Watergate cover-up case and the Plumbers case. While appealing his sentence, the former chief domestic-affairs advisor to the president resided at an Indian reservation in New Mexico and wrote a racy novel entitled The Company, which depicted the power struggle that characterized the Nixon administration. The novel was bought by Paramount for a major film, and currently Ehrlichman is completing a second novel about a domestic-affairs advisor to the president.

Egil Krogh, Jr., Ehrlichman's deputy and protege from Seattle, had skillfully orchestrated the plans of the White House strategists, but he could not survive the unmasking of the special-investigations unit whose illegal activities he supervised. Although he first attempted to shield the president and Ehrlichman, he quickly saw that there was no way out except a full confession. He therefore pleaded, guilty to a charge of violating rights in the Plumbers case and served four months in prison. His complete fall from power became clear to Krogh when he found in prison that the hygienist cleaning his teeth was a former drug trafficker whom he had helped to send to prison. After being released in August, 1974, he visited President Nixon in San Clemente. The president asked him whether he had really known in advance about the break-in at Dr. Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office; Krogh assured the former president that he had not in fact known. For a few weeks Krogh considered writing a book on national security, but was unable to find a foundation to sponsor this enterprise. He did, finally, find a job as an administrative assistant to Paul N. McCloskey, the liberal California Republican in Congress. Later, in 1976, he joined the staff of Swenson's Ice Cream Company, a San Francisco chain.

Krogh's staff on the Domestic Council also disbanded. Edward L. Morgan, who had briefly replaced Rossides at the Treasury Department, was indicted and convicted for his part in backdating the president's tax return; he spent several months in prison. Jeffrey Donfeld, who had been recommended by the president to head the enforcement division of the Interior Department, was denied that position by the Civil Service Commission after Ehrlichman resigned. Discouraged by the turn of events in the American government, Donfeld visited Israel at the time of the Yom Kippur war and then returned to California to practice law at a corporate firm in Century City. Walter Minnick, who had gone from the Domestic Council to the Office of Management and Budget, resigned from the government in 1974, also disillusioned by what he saw. He moved to Boise, Idaho, where he took an executive position in a construction firm. Geoffrey Sheppard, Krogh's young assistant who supervised the law-and-order programs after G. Gordon Liddy left the Domestic Council, moved to the White House as speech writer for the embattled president and stayed there until the bitter end, when Nixon resigned. Sheppard then returned to the state of Washington and joined a law firm.

E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy, who advised Krogh on ways to use the war on heroin for other purposes, were both convicted for their part in the Watergate burglary and are still in prison. Both men are reportedly considering writing novels about the political scene in Washington.

Nelson Gross, the former political boss of Bergen County, New Jersey, who directed the international narcotics program under Krogh's tutelage, resigned from the government in 1973 when he was notified that he was about to be indicted for election fraud. He was subsequently tried and convicted for violating the campaign laws. His success in bringing Timothy Leary back from Afghanistan was all but forgotten. The Cabinet Committee on International Narcotics Control, for which in theory Gross worked, was quietly disbanded in 1972 and moved into a two-room suite of offices in the State Department never to be heard from again. 

William C. Sullivan, who cooperated with the White House to replace J. Edgar Hoover as head of the FBI and wound up instead (after being locked out of his office by Hoover) as head of the Office of National Narcotics Intelligence, was recruited by John Dean to write a "Sullivan Report" on the illegal activities of the FBI under other presidents. After Dean defected from the White House in March, 1973, Sullivan was quietly eased out of his office, which was then folded into the new Drug Enforcement Administration. Sullivan returned to New Hampshire, where he suffered a serious heart attack in an automobile accident and was therefore unable to testify before the various committees investigating the excesses of the FBI under Hoover. The White House strategists with whom Sullivan dealt, Robert Mardian and John Dean, were both indicted and convicted in the Watergate cover-up case.

Myles Ambrose, Nixon's first drug czar, opted to retire from the government after the public furor over the Collinsville raids by agents of his Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement-and several embarrassing leaks that appeared in the press about his association with a Texas rancher who later ran afoul of the law-even though there was no linkage between these incidents and his retirement from federal service. Ambrose returned to private law practice, although he still occasionally plays basketball in the gymnasium of the drug agency. Caulfield, who had originally proposed the private detective firm planned for the White House in 1971, was forced to resign from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms division of the Treasury Department. Ambrose's office was also consolidated into the Drug Enforcement Administration. 

Donald J. Santarelli, the young White House strategist who was appointed head of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration in 1972 was unable to use its billion-dollar fund to assist any of his former colleagues in the White House (except for Police Chief Jerry Wilson, of Washington, D.C., who received a grant from LEAA to write a book on police). After Santarelli made some unfavorable comments about the Nixon White House, which were duly leaked to the press by FBI agents, he was forced to resign. However, he was retained as a consultant by LEAA to produce a series of television programs about law enforcement.

The bureaucratic enemies of the White House also were forced to resign from the government. John Ingersoll, who resisted the White House strategists until they reorganized his job away, became the security director of the IBM World Trade Corporation and took two of his chief assistants, Richard Callahan and Tony Pohl, with him. Eugene Rossides, although he continued to battle the Drug Enforcement Administration long after he left office in the Treasury Department, eventually found a new cause in Cyprus and became a leading organizer of the movement to deprive Turkey of any United States military aid (he had also attempted this earlier under the aegis of the narcotics-control program). Richard Helms, who had refused to assist in the Watergate cover-up, was appointed ambassador to Iran. And Richard G. Kleindienst, who had assisted Helms in resisting the White House attempts to incorporate CIA agents in the drug program, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor involving misinformation given to a Senate committee, and then returned to private law practice in Washington.

Dr. Jerome H. Jaffe, who in 1971 had been appointed by the president to head the new Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention, resigned from the government in 1973 after he found that the in-group in the White House showed more interest in public relations than in drug abuse. He was given an appointment at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and subsequently commented in an article in Psychiatric News, a publication of the American Psychiatric Association, on the psychiatric flaws in the Nixon White House. His special-action office was then moved to an annex of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in Maryland. The White House annex on Jackson Street that he had shared with Myles Ambrose was ordered vacated in October, 1973, to "make way for the energy crisis." (The first energy czar, John Love, moved into the offices on October 15, 1973.)

John Bartels, Ingersoll's successor, resigned from the Drug Enforcement Administration under pressure in 1975, and is currently working on libel suits against his former subordinates for their leaks and testimony, as well as on a book about the drug agency. Before Bartels had assumed office in 1973, President Nixon declared, "We have turned the corner [in the war against drugs]." As Bartels should have realized at the time, the heroin crusade ended with Watergate.



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