Richard Nixon. Watergate. The CIA. Cuban burglars. Put them all together, and you have the makings of a story that still resists easy explanation.
Documentary filmmaker O’Sullivan (Who Killed Bobby?: The Unsolved Murder of Robert F. Kennedy, 2008), whose earlier work has concentrated on the assassinations of Kennedy family members, turns to the role of the intelligence community in the events now collectively known as Watergate. There are many moving parts to his story, beginning with the “October surprise” that won Richard Nixon the presidency in 1968 following “a treasonous plot engineered by key figures in the Republican Party to keep the South Vietnamese government away from the peace talks in Paris,” thus prolonging the war in Vietnam and thwarting Democratic promises to end it. The author, who consulted previously unavailable legal records and recently declassified CIA documents, adds that the go-between was the Chinese-born entrepreneur Anna Chennault, who had deep connections to American intelligence—and who lived in the prestigious Watergate complex. O’Sullivan’s story quickly tangles, and appropriately, in many threads: The U.S. ambassador in Saigon figures, as does E. Howard Hunt, the spy novelist and spook who, over the years, played a role in numerous break-ins at venues such as the Guatemalan Embassy in Mexico City and the Chilean Embassy in Washington. Among the crew was a Cuban-exile CIA operative who may or may not have been a double agent for Fidel Castro, while on the sidelines of the narrative stand players with various links to spy services. Meanwhile, Nixon staffers scamper as the tumult builds after the Watergate burglars are arrested—the police having been tipped off, perhaps, by someone inside the agency. Or was the agency itself behind the bugging of Democratic headquarters? Was it a silent coup on the part of the CIA? And what about those call girls and the ever shadowy Nixon himself? The plot thickens….
O’Sullivan’s theories aren’t exactly definitive, but he offers intriguing possibilities in this consistently surprising book.