A History and Analysis of the Watergate Double Agent Theory

As some readers may be aware, last week an internal draft report of a CIA Inspector General review of the Watergate affair was released. This led to a number of highly inaccurate stories being published, beginning with Fox News’ piece and quickly being republished by other outlets including IntelNews. The problem with these articles wasn’t just the inaccuracies and the things they made up (like the claim of proof that there was a Watergate double agent in the form of Eugenio Martinez or that this was the first acknowledgement of his role as an “agent” despite that being disclosed in CIA documents in the 1990s), but the absolute short-term view these articles were presented through. So far, the only article that actually adds anything new to the discussion was authored by Jefferson Morley, using information from the draft IG and the transcript of an unpublished interview conducted by a third party with Howard Hunt before his death. Unfortunately, none of those articles picked up on the history of the allegations about Martinez being a double agent, despite it being, if not the most important, the most interesting aspect of the case.

The story of these accusations about Martinez being a CIA double agent on the Watergate break-in team began in the early 1970s, but the history behind the accusations goes all the way back to 1949.

Andrew St. George

Andrew St. George AKA Andrew Scent Gyorgi first became involved in intelligence as an Army officer during World War II, his story in the Watergate affair begins sometime in 1949. This is when the Agency learned that he had been used by Soviet intelligence as an agent in Vienna, Austria in the mid-1940s. However, the Agency didn’t see this as a fatal flaw in St. George’s character. Whatever his involvement with the Soviets in the 1940s, by the 1950s and 1960s he was being used by the Agency as a source of information and occasional outlet of information. In January 1959, the Agency used him as a source of information about Castro-related rebel activities. This was when St. George met Frank Sturgis.

St Georges Background

The first week in January 1959, when the Cuban revolution ended, St. George met Sturgis and struck up a conversation with him. Eventually, Sturgis took St. George back to the rebel camp where the latter was allowed to photograph him and the camp, including the site of mass executions. As a result, Sturgis’ picture was printed in the paper. In the picture, Sturgis was standing over the gravesite of 79 Batista people who had been executed by the rebels seizing Cuba. When asked about this by Congress, Sturgis claimed to have been against the executions and against the rebel forces.

Sturgis Against Rebels

Despite claiming to be against the rebels at that time, Sturgis claimed in the same deposition that he was “closely associated” with the Castro movement at the time. St. George’s relationship with Sturgis (and Mitchell Werbell whose “activities and associates have paralleled those of Frank Sturgis“) would become a critical, and under-examined, aspect of the Watergate story. After the break-in, Sturgis became St. George’s source for the article that ignited the accusations about Martinez being a double agent for the Agency and began Congressional inquiries into the matter.

In an odd twist of fate, on the day Kennedy was assassinated St. George happened to be in Washington D.C. delivering a warning that Castro apparently intended to assassinate various ambassadors, including American ones.

St George 11-22

Tellingly, Frank Sturgis admitted some knowledge of this (while also admitting the group was CIA financed and involved in drug trafficking) but denied being able to remember any details.

 

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DRE Cuba Drugs

 

Sturgis’ Denials

Sturgis denied almost everything that St. George said Sturgis had allegedly told him. According to Sturgis, St. George was responsible for more than just what was printed under his name. Sturgis’ deposition claims that St. George was a primary source for Seymour Hersh’s articles exposing CIA activities in Chile and specifically the break-in to the Chile embassy by the Watergate burglars. While Sturgis denied telling St. George this, it was proven that the break-in did occur and the primary suspects continue to be people from the “Watergate crew.”

St George Hersh

However, the attempts to disrupt the investigation didn’t end with Sturgis’ denials. According to the Washington Post, “the prosecutors concluded the three Cubans, Frank Sturgis, Eugenio Martinez and Felipe de Diego, had probably done the job, but closed its inquiry when the FBI reported that its informer had been “murdered by an unidentified sniper” on April 12, 1974.” This informant was José Elías de la Torriente, a member of the Cuban exile community and a long-time opponent of the Castro regime. Torriente’s tactics had managed to make him enemies on all sides of the Cuban affair. The note sent by the apparent assassin(s), Zero/Cero, claimed that Torriente was killed as a traitor to his country. However, it appears that he had given up on his plan to invade Cuba several years before and his only involvement with any government affairs was as an informant to the Bureau when he was assassinated, ending the Bureau’s investigation of the involvement of the three Cubans in the embassy break-in.

Today, there is little doubt that the break-in at the Chilean embassy (and at the homes of Chilean diplomats) happened and that at least some of the individuals from the Watergate burglary were involved. Sturgis’ denial of these facts, and his laying the blame for them at the feet of St. George, is crucial context for Sturgis’ other claims (and subsequent denials about making those claims) to St. George – namely that Martinez was still on the Agency payroll and had acted as an informant for the Agency.

St. George’s Other Sources

Far from being anything new, the allegations about Martinez were first published by St. George in the November 1973 issue of Harpers. To be able to judge the accuracy of the allegations, it’s necessary to look at their original form and the Agency’s earliest responses to them as well as the identity of the sources that apparently corroborated what Sturgis told St. George. According to the earliest Harper’s article on the subject:

Both the CIA and the FBI had long known, of course, about the existence of the Hunt-Liddy team. The CIA had infiltrated it with a confidential informant, just as if Hunt and Liddy had been foreign diplomats, and the informant, an old Company operative named Eugenio Martinez, code-named “Rolando,” who had reported in advance on the Watergate project, was in fact at that moment himself under arrest for his part in the break-in.

“Ah, well,” Helms said, “They finally’ did it.” He chatted for a few moments with the young watch officer. who said it was “a pity about McCord and some of those guys.” “Well, yes.” Helms said. “A pity about the President, too, you know. They really blew it. The sad thing is, we all think ‘That’s the end of it.’ and it may he just the beginning of something worse. If the White House tries to ring me through central, don’t switch it out here, just tell them you reported McCord’s arrest already, and I was very surprised.”

There is only one minor problem with these passages, that is the statement that Eugenio Martinez’s code-name was Rolando. In fact, that was part of his proper name. His code-name is now known to have been “Musculito.” Other than this, there are no factual errors evident in the article – only unnamed sources. The claim about the watch officer conversation is highly contested by both Richard Helms and judging by CIA documents by various watch officers who were ready to swear under oath that no such conversation took place. This still leaves his conversations with Sturgis and at least one other unnamed source who was a “former high ranking officer who was in a position to know and still has contacts with [the] Agency. Sounds like Marchetti.”

Source Marchetti

Indeed, this does sound like Marchetti who was familiar with St. George. In his testimony before the Church Committee, Marchetti described St. George as a “mysterious, exotic figure” who had ties to gun running and Werbell’s activities. Marchetti,  a former special assistant to the CIA Deputy Director, had retired from the Agency in 1969 but remained a vocal critic of the Agency. It seems especially likely that the source would be Marchetti as St. George claimed that his source had also supplied information on other CIA matters including the invasion of Haiti (an event which Sturgis also spoke about publicly). Marchetti is also famous for his claim that the House Select Committee on Assassinations received a CIA memo proving that Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis were in Dallas on the day of the assassination of JFK. In the process he cites A.J. Weberman’s work and the “three tramps” theory. Proof of the existence of this memo has never surfaced and the tramps theory has been largely discredited by repeated photo analysis and the discovery of police records that document the arrest and identity of the tramps. Thus, while Marchetti was in “a position to know” he was also in a position to be incorrect or to rely on unknown and undocumented sources.

If Marchetti was the source, however, he made no mention of it in his book. In it, his only mention of Martinez and his employment by CIA was:

In some instances, contract agents are retained long after their usefulness has passed, but usually are known only to the case officers with whom they deal. One of the Watergate burglars, Eugenio Martinez, was in this category. When he was caught inside the Watergate on that day in June 1972, he still was receiving a $100-a-month stipend from the agency for work apparently unrelated to his covert assignment for the Committee to Re-Elect the President. The CIA claims to have since dropped him from the payroll. A good chunk of the agency’s annual operational funds, called “project money,” is wasted in this fashion. Payments to no-longer-productive agents are justified on several grounds: the need to maintain secrecy about their operations even though these occurred years ago; the vague hope that such agents will again prove to be useful (operators are always reluctant to give up an asset, even a useless one), and the claim that the agency has a commitment to its old allies—a phenomenon known in the CIA as “emotional attachment.” It is the last justification that carries the most weight within the agency. Thus, hundreds— perhaps thousands—of former Cuban, East European, and other minor clandestine agents are still on the CIA payroll, at an annual cost to the taxpayers of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars a year.

St. George’s Other Claims

St George Claims

St. George made a number of other claims, some of which have received press attention (such as the allegation that Alfred C. Baldwin III was a double agent) while others have been confirmed (such as the Miamians thinking of Hunt as a “CIA guy”). While these provide important background and context, they don’t provide much opportunity for fact checking. Nevertheless, a few details do provide the chance to compare allegations against known facts.

A CIA memo describes St. George’s allegations as stating that “Martinez was on the Agency payroll at the time at full salary ($8-9,000 per annum), not the $100 per month reported by Agency officials” and that “Martinez had been instructed by his CIA case officer in Miami to join the Hunt/Liddy team when asked to do so by Hunt but on the condition that Martinez systematically report to CIA on the activities of the group as if this were a regular intelligence project.” The salary amount alleged matches up with what Martinez was known to be paid when he spent the better part of a decade as a full time Agency employee.

Martinez salary

While this is hardly confirmation, the amounts presented are entirely consistent with the theory that Martinez’s CIA employment was never scaled down to merely being an informant.

CIA’s Inconsistency on Martinez

Mid 1960s

For its part, the Agency has been infuriatingly inconsistent on Martinez and his employment history. Some CIA memos allege that the program he was associated with was terminated “in the mid 1960s” other documents and Congressional testimony revealed that this actually occurred as late as 1969.
Martinez 1969

Given the projects that Martinez was associated with, as well as the impossibility of considering 1969 as part of the “mid 1960s”, it’s hard to take the Agency’s statements about his employment in good faith. The inconsistencies, however, are not limited to the date that Martinez’s employment supposedly ended. Other documents attempted to conceal Martinez’s operational relationship and full-time employment by the Agency altogether, claiming that he was nothing more than “a part-time informant to the Agency on Cuban exile community matters since 1961.”

While released Agency documents insistently refer to him as an “informant” at the time (supposedly his “agent” status was no longer active) there is disagreement among the CIA documents about what, exactly, Martinez was supposed to be informing the Agency about. The only thing that all sources agree on was that Martinez was supposed to report about the Cuban community. Some documents allege that it was to identify potential new assets, others to identify Cuban illegals that had been dispatched to the U.S. and still other documents claim that it was general reporting in the broadest and most vague sense. However, it was later revealed that his reporting to the Agency included two additional elements which are highly relevant:

  1. Maritime operation information
  2. Demonstrations at the upcoming Miami convention

The former is interesting because it could be considered an extension of his previous maritime operational work with the Agency. The latter is extremely interesting because this was the same information that Hunt and Liddy were after in their operations. Additionally, in the months leading up to the Watergate break-in, Martinez had reported to his case officer in Miami about Hunt’s activities. When the information was passed to CIA headquarters, the message came back to let it go and not pay attention to Hunt. Pay No Attention

Intriguingly, Martinez himself suggested to Jake Esterline, the Miami Chief of Station, that he might not have been appraised of all Agency activities in the Miami area. Esterline was left with an uneasy feeling about the whole matter and the Agency’s dismissal of it. The Chief of Station “was confounded as to why he was not told to terminate the Martinez relationship if the CIA headquarters suspected the involvement of Hunt in political activities.” This is especially alarming given the fact that the Agency knew Martinez was working with Hunt at a time when the Agency had Martinez assigned to almost identical issues and given Hunt technical assistance.

Who Was Martinez’s CIA Handler?

The question of the identity of Martinez’s CIA handler comes straight to the core of the issue of what his role was with the Agency at the time of the Watergate break-in. Some have speculated that he was controlled by someone from the Agency’s Counterintelligence staff, although the evidence points towards his handlers being stationed in Miami until the time of the Watergate break-in. Just a week and a half before the Watergate break-in, and after the Ellsberg break-in, Martinez was meeting with his case officer. The identity of the case officer has yet to be uncovered, but there are several clues. The most significant of which is the immediate reassigning of the individual after the Watergate break-in.

The Agency informed the Senate during the Watergate hearings that Martinez had two case officers and that the first (who handled Martinez from March 1971 – April 1972) had been out of the country on “African safari” beginning in and throughout June 1972, apparently reassigned to Indochina. This claim was contradicted by the second case officer from Miami, who testified that he had seen the first in Miami as late as June 19, 1972. Several days later, the second case officer was rushed to CIA Headquarters where he remained for some time. In addition to meeting with those two case officers, Martinez is known to have met with the Miami Chief of Station as well as the office’s head of security.

In Martinez’s Own Words

Martinez’s own words may be some of the most incriminating regarding his relationship with the Agency after his supposed retirement in 1969. From an article published in the Chicago Tribune (and possibly other outlets, including Harpers) on October 7, 1974:

We went to a Cuban restaurant for lunch and right away Eduardo told us that he had retired from the CIA in 1971 and was working for Mullen and Company. I knew just what he was saying. I was also officially retired from the Company. Two years before, my case officer had gathered all the men in my Company unit and handed us envelopes with retirement announcements inside. But mine was a blank paper. Afterward he explained to me that I would stop making my boat missions to Cuba but I would continue my work with the Company. He said I should become an American citizen and soon I would be given a new assignment. Not even Barker knew that I was still working with the Company. But I was quite certain that day that Eduardo knew.

Generally I talk to my CIA case officer at least twice a week and maybe on the phone another two times. I told him right away that Eduardo was back in town, and that I had had lunch with him. Any time anyone from the CIA was in town my CO always asked me what he was doing. But he didn’t ask me anything about Eduardo, which was strange.

That was in April. In the middle of July, Eduardo wrote to Barker to tell him he was in the White House as a counselor to the President. He sent a number of memos to us on White House stationery, and that was very impressive, you know. So I went back to my CO and said to him, “Hey, Eduardo is still in contact with us, and now he is a counselor of the President.”

A few days later my CO told me that the Company had no information on Eduardo except that he was not working in the White House. Well, imagine! I knew Eduardo was in the White House. What it meant to me was that Eduardo was above them and either they weren’t supposed to know what he was doing or they didn’t want me to talk about him anymore. Knowing how these people act, I knew I had to be careful. So I said, well, let me keep my mouth shut.

The dates Martinez provides match up perfectly with the known record about when he met with his case officer. The claim from his case officer that the Agency said Eduardo (Howard Hunt) wasn’t working in the White House should be of special concern given the fact that the Agency had assigned Martinez to work on some of the same issues that Hunt when the Agency provided him with technical assistance.

Was Martinez a Double Agent?

There’s no evidence that Martinez was acting as a double agent to entrap the White House burglars, as some have suggested. There is, however, no evidence to rule it out. In fact, the evidence suggests that the Agency has done its best to suppress the record about Martinez and his activities, including lying to the Senate and hiding their employees by reassigning them out of the country. The record also shows that the Agency lied about the dates of his time as a full-time employee, and that they lied about what Martinez was informing them about. There’s every reason to suspect that Martinez, or someone else, was a “double agent”, but there is no evidence – yet.

Aside from the Agency’s lies, the only evidence that suggests someone was acting in a “double agent” role was the forewarning that DNC was sent about the Watergate break-in and the people that were involved. As minority counsel for the Senate Watergate Committee Fred Thompson said, “Our exploration had covered many months and many witnesses… We looked into an aspect of Watergate that had not been explored before or since. [We] all came to one conclusion: several people, including some at the Democratic headquarters, had advance knowledge of the Watergate break-in. An obvious effort had been made to conceal facts…. But did we have proof – proof beyond a reasonable doubt? The answer, reluctantly, was no. Additionally, for our suspicions to amount to anything conclusive we would have to tie this advance knowledge to McCord, or someone else on the inside of the Watergate team, or at least to the plainclothesmen on duty the night of the break-in. We had no such link.”

The theory of advanced warning about Watergate is not just a conspiracy theory – it is a well-documented fact. The crucial question, however, remains – who was the ultimate source of the information and did Larry O’Brien or John Stewart respond to the warning that James McCord had bought some expensive surveillance equipment that to be used, with the help of some anti-Castro Cubans, to bug the Watergate?

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