In this eye-opening investigation, journalist Morley (The Ghost) scrutinizes the CIA’s involvement in the Watergate scandal. Drawing on taped conversations between Richard Nixon and CIA director Richard Helms, Morley claims that “the Watergate affair originated in the clandestine collaborative relationship” between the two men. He points out that five of the seven burglars had CIA connections and notes that an agency informant helped burglar James McCord destroy documents after the break-in. The book’s most intriguing sections delve into events that occurred before Watergate, as Morley details how Helms worked with Nixon to escalate the Vietnam War and prevent Chilean president Salvador Allende from taking office after his 1970 election. Morley also documents Helms’s involvement in the downplaying of the CIA’s “pre-assassination knowledge” of Lee Harvey Oswald, the killing of Chilean general René Schneider, and the surveillance of U.S. citizens involved in the antiwar movement, and notes that Helms’s success in publicly distancing the CIA from the Watergate scandal enabled it to avoid scrutiny of the burglars’ other activities, including “intrusions at the Chilean Embassy and the offices of Chilean officials.” Packed with lucid analyses of complex geopolitical events, this is a vital reconsideration of recent American history. (June)
“In this, his third biography of a senior CIA official, Jefferson Morley’s pen is sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel, his prose honed by years of sifting through information citizens were never meant to see. He gives us hidden history.”
--Anthony Summers, author of The Arrogance of Power and Pulitzer Prize finalist for The Eleventh Day
"Just when you think you've read everything there is to read about Watergate, along comes another analysis seen through a different lens. This is particularly true of Jefferson Morley's new book Scorpions' Dance: The President, the Spymaster, and Watergate. Mr. Morley's lens is the relationship between President Nixon and Richard Helms, CIA Director through all but a few months of the Nixon presidency and it reveals a number of unexploded hand grenades previously undiscovered. The central issue is whether these two men enabled each other. No doubt, there is still more to be learned."
--Gary Hart, United States Senator (Ret.)
"No historian today understands the Cold War White House better than Jefferson Morley. His decades of research into the Kennedy assassination, the intelligence agencies, and national security policy-making in the Vietnam era make him especially well equipped to untangle the complex of narratives, overlapping and conflicting, that comprise the Watergate scandal. Plumbing archival documents and other new evidence, Morley brings sensitivity and probity to his examination of the ill-fated Nixon-Helms relationship, and thereby makes Scorpions' Dance a must read for students of those tumultuous times."
--James Rosen, Newsmax chief White House correspondent and author of The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate
“Jefferson Morley has written a fascinating account of the relationship between President Nixon and CIA Director Richard Helms. The book enriches our perspectives on Watergate while explaining how these two towering American Machiavelli’s aided each other’s corrupt ventures, to their own downfall and the disgrace of the high offices they held. It’s a warning to the governing elite in any era.”
--Larry J. Sabato, author of The Kennedy Half-Century and A More Perfect Constitution
“Jefferson Morley’s taut, descriptive prose transports us back in time to relive the momentous events of the 1960s and 1970s, entering the minds of the colorful characters who shaped history to feel what they felt and to reimagine for ourselves the decisions they made and why. His purpose is evident in his open-minded yet relentless pursuit of the truth about the corrosive impact of intelligence covert action on individuals and organizations, and on democracy itself—and to reflect on the consequences of sacrificing truth for the sake of power.”
--Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, former CIA operations officer and senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
"Jefferson Morley has captured, in all its surreal conspiratorial glory, the last sinister tango of a pair of wicked Richards. A riveting story that will make you chuckle and shiver."
-- John Aloysius Farrell, author of Richard Nixon: The Life
“A work that sheds new light on Watergate half a century after the fact."
"Eye-opening...Packed with lucid analyses of complex geopolitical events, this is a vital reconsideration of recent American history."
“Thoroughly researched…With a complex cast of characters, Cold War espionage, and tense courtroom drama, Morley’s timely book will appeal to readers seeking an in-depth understanding of both Watergate and CIA history."
“Morley (The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton, 2017) shares more of his insights into the role of the CIA in America’s recent history....The centrality of Nixon and Helms to so many pivotal moments in history makes Morley’s revelations about their sparring even more intriguing.” —Booklist
“Morley adds rich context to Helms’s half-truth, offering new and fascinating details to what he calls a decades-long ‘clandestine collaborative’ relationship between [Helms and Nixon] … Scorpions’ Dance thoughtfully explores the relationship of the presidency to the intelligence community.” --SpyTalk
Published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the break-in of Democratic National Committee headquarters at Watergate on June 17, 1972, this book by former Washington Post journalist Morley (The Ghost) chronicles the rise and fall of the scandal's two principal players: President Richard Nixon and CIA director Richard Helms. Despite their dissimilar backgrounds (Nixon couldn't afford Harvard Law School, while Helms attended a Swiss boarding school), both served in the Navy and rose to power in a post-World War II "free world" that used aggression against communism. The Bay of Pigs invasion, Kennedy's assassination, CIA plots to assassinate Fidel Castro and other world leaders, the Vietnam War, and domestic surveillance all loom large in this narrative. Morley argues that these events led "the paranoid president and the supple spymaster" into a "scorpions' dance" of secrets, power struggles, and ultimately, the Watergate affair and its cover-up. This thoroughly researched book also draws on recorded conversations between Nixon and Helms that took place between February 1971 and June 1972. VERDICT With a complex cast of characters, Cold War espionage, and tense courtroom drama, Morley's timely book will appeal to readers seeking an in-depth understanding of both Watergate and CIA history.—Denise Miller
A plot-thickening account of Watergate and the CIA’s role in it.
Former CIA director Richard Helms, writes investigative journalist Morley, was just the kind of person that Richard Nixon despised: Harvard-educated, well traveled, a master of languages, suave—all the things Nixon was not. Yet the two shared an abiding belief that the role of the U.S. was to keep the world safe from communism. This entailed activities that the CIA was enjoined from doing—e.g., spying on Americans within the nation’s borders in order to determine whether the anti-war movement was controlled by foreign powers. Forgotten heroes of the era turn up in Morley’s pages, such as moderate Republican Fred Thompson, who, in examination, “noted that Helms had testified, under oath, just ten weeks before, that the subject of Watergate never came up at the June 23 meeting. Helms’s colleague, deputy CIA director Vernon Walters, had stated, under oath, that it did.” That and a few other slips earned Helms a misdemeanor conviction for perjury, a first for a CIA head. Morley explores the ideological views that bound Nixon and Helms and the acts that resulted, including the secret overthrow of Chilean president Salvador Allende, lying about which was largely what got Helms into trouble. As for the involvement of the CIA in Watergate, Morley draws convincing connections: Burglars, plumbers, handlers, dirty-tricks specialists, Cuban assassins—all trace back to Langley. The author also shows that Nixon authorized more than one break-in of a political opponent’s office, including his own admission that he ordered that classified documents be stolen from the office of Brookings Institution fellow Leslie Gelb: “I want the break-in….You’re to break into that place, rifle the files, and bring them in,” Nixon said. It was one of many steps toward Nixon’s resignation—and, almost as collateral damage, Helms’ own fall.
A work that sheds new light on Watergate half a century after the fact.