Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Did Henry Kissinger Really Plan ‘An Accident’ for Bud Zumwalt?

By Nicholas Thompson
Wired Danger Room
September 14, 2009

Tomorrow, I’ll publish a new book, The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War. And on Saturday, the New York Times ran a very nice story about some of the most interesting scoops and pieces of news in the book. I’ve been getting questions about one passage that stuck out for readers:

Mr. Thompson also turned up evidence that suggested that Henry A. Kissinger had an agent follow the daughter of a political rival, Admiral Elmo Zumwalt Jr., known as Bud, and had told the Soviet ambassador that he would like to see Zumwalt have “an accident. Mr. Kissinger described the accusations, Mr. Thompson writes, as paranoid bunk.

The story dates to a memo that I found in the papers of my grandfather, Paul Nitze. He was very close friends with Zumwalt when the latter man served as Chief of Naval Operations under Richard Nixon.

Zumwalt clashed with Kissinger from the very beginning of his tenure and, in November 1970, the two men had a long talk on a train during which Zumwalt noted down several statements that infuriated him. “K. feels that U.S. has passed its historic high point like so many earlier civilizations. He believes U.S. is on the downhill … the American people have only themselves to blame because they lack stamina to stay the course against the Russians who are ‘Sparta to our Athens.’”

Relations between the two men continued to deteriorate. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Zumwalt became convinced that Kissinger was withholding supplies from Israel because he believed that a little bleeding would soften it up for his planned post-war diplomacy. After leaving the Navy, Zumwalt decided to run for the Senate in Virginia on, essentially, a platform of more weapons and less Kissinger. In the spring of 1976, with the Senate race in full swing, he published memoirs that had his notes of Kissinger’s harangue about Athens and Sparta blaring on the back cover. Kissinger, in turn, denounced Zumwalt’s “contemptible falsehoods.”

Then in early December 1975, a few months before the book was published, the phone rang in Zumwalt’s home. An unfamiliar voice gave a brief, hurried message: Henry Kissinger was soon going to hold a press conference to attack him. A few days later, the secretary of state did indeed hold a blistering 90-minute session in which he lambasted Zumwalt’s recent accusations before Congress that Kissinger was allowing the Soviets to violate the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks.

Then, on March 26th, 1976, about the same time that news of the Kissinger-bashing memoir came out, Zumwalt’s phone rang again and the voice of what sounded like the same man came on the line. “You should know that on at least two occasions recently Kissinger has said to [Soviet Ambassador Anatoly] Dobrynin ‘an accident should happen to Admiral Zumwalt.’” The caller then hung up.

Zumwalt made a memo of the call and passed it to Nitze. Here it is. I found it in Box 43, Folder 14, of Nitze’s papers.

I’m 100 percent confident that someone called Zumwalt and said these words. I’ve spoken with several people whom Zumwalt told about the call directly after it happened.

I don’t, however, have direct evidence that Kissinger said those words to Dobrynin or that the call came from Kissinger’s office. And even if it did, it’s not clear what exactly is meant by “an accident.” I spoke with a number of people who worked with Kissinger at the time. Some said that the threat seemed plausible: Kissinger was quite angry at the time. Others said it was ridiculous. When reporting in Moscow, I tried to reach Dobrynin, but he was too sick to be able to arrange an interview. One of his deputies, Alexander Bessmertnykh, said he didn’t think the memo was accurate. I had a very pleasant interview with Kissinger in which he spoke openly and positively about his relationship with Nitze, which moved to one of mutual admiration by their later years. But when I later asked him about the above memo he, as the Times wrote, called it paranoid bunk.

I did however learn one other interesting fact while trying to report out the details of the call. Right about the time that it happened, another curious incident occurred. ... Zumwalt’s youngest daughter, Mouza, a junior in high school, was spending the night at a friend’s house, about 45 minutes away. Driving back, the next day, she noticed a car following her. She stepped on the accelerator, but could not lose the tail. She made it home safely and ran inside screaming, “There’s someone following me!” Zumwalt grabbed the keys to his car, raced outside, and pinned the tailing car as it turned around in a neighbor’s driveway. What the hell is going on? demanded the tall, muscular admiral.

The driver mumbled that he worked for a security company and had noticed Mouza speeding. Zumwalt got the man’s name and driver’s license and called up a friend of his, Jack Lawn, who ranked high in FBI Headquarters. Lawn learned that the man was a government employee, though of what agency he was not sure. Eventually, Zumwalt and Mouza came to believe that Kissinger had ordered the man to follow Zumwalt’s ethnically Russian wife, also named Mouza—possibly to find information with which to blackmail the admiral. The man, Mouza presumed, must have made a mistake and followed the wrong person.

Was Kissinger behind this? He says absolutely not. But the family became absolutely certain and the incident had an effect on Zumwalt. He became convinced that Kissinger was taping his calls, and perhaps bugging his house as well. At night, one friend of his told me, Zumwalt used to crawl into bed, smile, and say, “goodnight Henry.”

Read the Washington Post review of The Hawk and the Dove.