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September 3, 1971, "White House Plumbers" Break Into Doctor's Office - Today In Crime History

On this day, September 3, in 1971, a team of CIA operatives under the supervision of aides to President Richard Nixon broke into Daniel Ellsberg’s doctor’s office in an effort to steal confidential information that could be used to discredit him as a activist opposed to the war in Vietnam.

Daniel Ellsberg, a former military analyst, precipitated a national political controversy in 1971 when he released the “Pentagon Papers”, a secret Pentagon study of U.S. government decision-making related to the Vietnam War, to The New York Times and other newspapers.  These secret documents demonstrated, among other things, that several presidential administrations, including the Nixon administration, had systematically lied to the American public about our government’s involvement in the Vietnam War.  The Pentagon Paper revealed that the U.S. government had knowledge, early on, that the war could most likely not be won, and that continuing the war would lead to many times more casualties than was ever admitted publicly.  Further, the papers showed the government had lied to Congress about the war and military activities in Vietnam.

On  June 13, 1971, the New York Times published the first of nine excerpts and commentaries on the documents disclosed by Ellsberg.  For 15 days, the Times was prevented from publishing its articles by court order requested by the Nixon administration.  On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled that Times was constitutionally entitled to resume freely publishing the Pentagon Papers. Although the Times did not reveal Ellsberg as their source, he went into hiding, suspecting that the evidence would point to him as the source of the unauthorized release of the secret Pentagon study.

The release of these secret documents was politically embarrassing to the Nixon administration.  As a response to the leaked document, the Nixon administration began a campaign against Ellsberg personally.   Aides Egil Krogh and David Young, under the supervision of Nixon’s legal counsel, John Ehrlichman, created the "White House Plumbers", which would later lead to the Watergate burglaries.  In August 1971, Krogh and Young met with G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt in a basement office in the Old Executive Office Building.   Hunt and Liddy recommended a "covert operation" to get confidential information about Ellsberg's mental state in order to discredit him.  Krogh and Young sent a memo to Ehrlichman seeking his approval for a "covert operation [to] be undertaken to examine all of the medical files still held by Ellsberg’s psychiatrist."  Ehrlichman approved under the condition that it be "done under your assurance that it is not traceable."

On this day, September 3, in 1971, the burglary of Dr. Lewis Fielding's office, Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, was carried out by Hunt, Liddy and CIA officers Eugenio Martinez, Felipe de Diego and Bernard Barker.  The "Plumbers" failed to find Ellsberg's file.  Hunt and Liddy subsequently planned to break into Fielding's home, but Ehrlichman did not approve the second burglary.

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