Admiral Moorer

In An Historic Interview: Moorer Admits To Receiving Stolen Documents and: Returning Them To Haig

By Len Colodny

Admiral Thomas Moorer led the Navy during the challenging period of the Vietnam War and then became the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1970, just as the military was learning what it meant to serve under President Richard Nixon. Moorer quickly realized that Nixon routinely hid critical information from his top military leaders. Troop levels in Vietnam changed without input from the Chiefs; Nixon sought plans for military action from junior officers without consulting the Pentagon's leaders. Moorer and his colleagues often felt adrift and subject to the whims of a madman.

So, not long after taking the top job at the Pentagon, Moorer signed off on what became a spy ring operating for the Joint Chiefs inside the White House. An enlisted man, Yeoman Charles Radford, began stealing secret documents from the National Security Council and sending them to the Pentagon. That worked for more than a year, until December 1971, when some of that stolen information surfaced in two columns by Jack Anderson. A quick investigation by the White House fingered Radford as the likely suspect for the leaks. Radford then surprised everyone by saying he stole the information at the behest of his commander, Rear Admiral Robert Welander, who gave the material to Moorer.

Nixon erupted when he learned about Moorer's involvement. He called the spying a "federal offense of the highest order" and wanted to prosecute. But Attorney General John Mitchell, Nixon's closest friend in government, talked him out of it. Instead, the White House decided to hold what they knew over Moorer to influence his behavior.

Moorer knew all these things when I interviewed him on October 4 1989. He knew he had gotten away with spying on Nixon and that he kept his job because the commander in chief had bigger secrets to keep. Early in the interview as I asked Moorer about his involvement he pushed back and basically denied the allegations.

As he did under oath before the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1974, Moorer downplayed the significance of any of the documents stolen by Radford.He said he already knew what was in the documents.

Later in the conversation you will hear as I laid out the evidence I had gathered, and read him Admiral Welander's statement that he had given Moorer the stolen documents, that is when he backtracked and admitted he had received the stolen documents.

That's why his comments during our interview were such a dramatic departure from his previous statements, and why they represented a significant leap in our understanding of what happened in the Nixon White House.

What stood out in my interview, however, was that Moorer said he had given the stolen documents back to Gen. Alexander Haig, who was then Nixon's deputy national security adviser to Kissinger. Why would Moorer have given the documents to Haig? He did it because Moorer knew Haig was their inside man, as reported by Admiral Welander in his interrogation by Ehrlichman and Young.

That comment, which Moorer stumbled into, is the key part of this interview, and why it's important for the historical record.

Len Colodny Interview with Thomas Moorer (excerpt)