Bernard Barker

The Cuban-born CIA agent who was a Watergate burglar

Bernard Barker


On the night of June 17, 1972, police arrested five men who had broken into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. One of them, found crouching under a desk, was a Cuban-born ex-CIA agent named Bernard Barker. The discovery of Barker, who has died of lung cancer at 92, and his four compatriots was the first step in a series of events that culminated in the historic resignation of President Richard M. Nixon about two years later.

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Nicknamed “Macho” as an infant, Barker came to the U.S. in the 1930s, said The Miami Herald. Following wartime service in the Army Air Corps, he returned to Cuba and became an intelligence officer in the Batista regime, but fled after the 1959 revolution. Soon he was recruited by E. Howard Hunt, “the CIA mastermind who planned the Bay of Pigs.” As part of that attempt to topple Fidel Castro, Barker “organized a Cuban exile force in Miami known as Brigade 2506. It landed on a beach southeast of Havana on April 17, 1961, under heavy fire, and sustained massive losses.” An uninjured Barker returned to Miami, where he sold real estate. Then, in 1971, Hunt suggested he take a new job in Washington.

Barker’s new gig was with the Plumbers, a group charged with sabotaging opponents of the Nixon administration, said The Washington Post. One of his first assignments was “to break into the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst who released the Pentagon Papers, divulging secrets about U.S. involvement in Vietnam.” After that came Watergate. The five operators—including three Miamians recruited by Barker—had planned to bug the Democratic headquarters’ phones as part of a larger campaign of White House dirty tricks; following their arrest, Barker “served 13 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to wiretapping and theft.”

Following his release, Barker worked as a Miami zoning consultant and building inspector. He was both unrepentant about Watergate and embittered by it. “I think it’s time that people forgot the whole damn thing,” he said on the 25th anniversary of the break-in. He also resented the epithet of burglar. “To me a burglar is a guy who goes into your bedroom and steals your family jewels. I could never do that.”

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