A Navy stenographer assigned to the National Security Council during the Nixon administration “stole documents from just about every individual that he came into contact with on the NSC,” according to newly declassified White House documents.
The two-dozen pages of memoranda, transcripts and notes — once among the most sensitive and privileged documents in the Executive Branch — shed important new details on a unique crisis in American history: when investigators working for President Richard Nixon discovered that the Joint Chiefs of Staff, using the stenographer as their agent, actively spied on the civilian command during the Vietnam War.
As Radford later described his work — in polygraph tests, sworn testimony, and interviews with historians and journalists — he spent 13 months illegally obtaining NSC documents and turning them over to his superiors, with the understanding that the two admirals were, in turn, funneling the materials to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and other top uniformed commanders. Radford’s espionage took many forms: making extra photocopies of documents entrusted to him as courier; retrieving crumpled drafts from “burn bags”; even brazenly rifling through Kissinger’s briefcase while the national security adviser slept on an overseas flight.
Radford’s stunning admission presented President Nixon with an unprecedented challenge to his wartime authority by the military’s top uniformed commanders — and with a delicate political situation. According to White House tapes released by the National Archives in 2000, and first published by this author in the Atlantic Monthly magazine in April 2002, Nixon wanted to prosecute Moorer for espionage but was convinced by Attorney General John N. Mitchell that the ensuing controversy would imperil Nixon’s secret foreign policy initiatives and do grave damage to the armed forces. Instead, Mitchell was sent to confront Moorer and tell him, as Mitchell put it, that “this ball game’s over with”; Radford’s home was wiretapped; and he and his immediate supervisor were eventually transferred to remote posts. But the president and his men had no doubt about the ultimate consumers of Radford’s espionage fruits.
Nixon and his men eventually concluded that Haig had been complicit in the Pentagon spying, but opted not to take any action against him.