James W. McCord was born in Waurika, Oklahoma, on 26th January, 1924. After graduating from George Washington University he joined the Federal Bureau of Investigation . It is believed that during this period he worked in a special intelligence operation against German spies in the United States (1942-43). This was followed by a period in the US Army Air Corps (1943-45).
In 1948 McCord returned to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and worked as a special agent in San Diego and San Francisco. He was also a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
McCord became a member of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1951. He worked for the Physical Security Division. In 1962 McCord became a CIA senior security officer in Europe. This included working closely with MI5 in England. Later he was given responsibility for security at Langley CIA headquarters. McCord retired from the CIA in August, 1970.
After leaving the CIA McCord taught a security course at Montgomery Junior College. Later he established his own security consulting firm, McCord Associates, in Rockville, Maryland. He also founded Security International, a company that provided security systems and services.
In 1972 McCord was appointed as security director for the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP). Later that year Gordon Liddy presented Nixon's attorney general, John N. Mitchell, with an action plan called Operation Gemstone. Liddy wanted a $1 million budget to carry out a series of black ops activities against Nixon's political enemies. Mitchell decided that the budget for Operation Gemstone was too large. Instead he gave him $250,000 to launch a scaled-down version of the plan.
One of Liddy's first tasks was to place electronic devices in the Democratic Party campaign offices in an apartment block called Watergate. Liddy wanted to wiretap the conversations of Larry O'Brien, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Liddy recruited McCord to help him with this. On 28th May, 1972, McCord and his team broke into the DNC's offices and placed bugs on the telephones of O'Brien and R. Spencer Oliver, executive director of the Association of State Democratic Chairmen.
It became the job of Alfred Baldwin to eavesdrop the phone conversations. Over the next 20 days Baldwin listened to over 200 phone calls. These were not recorded. Baldwin made notes and typed up summaries. Nor did Baldwin listen to all phone calls coming in. For example, he took his meals outside his room. Any phone calls taking place at this time would have been missed.
It soon became clear that the bug on one of the phones installed by McCord was not working. As a result of the defective bug, McCord decided that they would have to break-in to the Watergate office again. He also heard that a representative of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War had a desk at the DNC. McCord argued that it was worth going in to see what they could discover about the anti-war activists. Gordon Liddy later claimed that the real reason for the second break-in was to find out what OBrien had of a derogatory nature about us, not for us to get something on him.
The original operation was unsuccessful and on 17th June, 1972, McCord, Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez and Bernard L. Barker returned to the Watergate offices. However, this time they were caught by the police. McCord employed Bernard Fensterwald as his lawyer.
The phone number of E. Howard Hunt was found in address books of the burglars. Reporters were now able to link the break-in to the White House. Bob Woodward, a reporter working for the Washington Post was told by a friend who was employed by the government, that senior aides of President Richard Nixon, had paid the burglars to obtain information about its political opponents.
Frederick LaRue now decided that it would be necessary to pay the large sums of money to secure their silence. LaRue raised $300,000 in hush money. Tony Ulasewicz, a former New York policeman, was given the task of arranging the payments.
On 21st December, 1972, McCord wrote a letter to Jack Caulfield: " Sorry to have to write you this letter but felt you had to know. if Helms goes, and if the WG (Watergate) operation is laid at the CIA's feet, where it does not belong, every tree in the forest will fall. It will be a scorched desert. The whole matter is at the precipice right now. Just pass the message that if they want it to blow, they are on exactly the right course. I'm sorry that you will get hurt in the fallout.”
Caulfield was unable to persuade Richard Nixon to leave the CIA alone. On 30th January, 1973, McCord, Gordon Liddy, Frank Sturgis, E. Howard Hunt, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, and Bernard L. Barker were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping.
In February, 1973, Richard Helms was sacked by Nixon. The following month McCord carried out his threat. On 19th March, 1973, McCord wrote a letter to Judge John J. Sirica claiming that the defendants had pleaded guilty under pressure (from John Dean and John N. Mitchell) and that perjury had been committed.
McCord also gave more details about Operation Gemstone. In a statement given to Sam Ervin on 20th May he claimed that there was a plot to steal certain documents from the safe of Hank Greenspun, the editor of the Las Vegas Sun. According to McCord, the plot was organized by John N. Mitchell, Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt were to carry out the break-in and that people connected to Howard Hughes were to supply them with a getaway plane. Hunt later told the Ervin Committee that the documents concerned the expected Democratic Party presidential candidate, Ed Muskie. However, the author Carl Oglesby (The Yankee and Cowboy War) claims that this material really referred to Richard Nixon and not Muskie.
In 1974 James McCord published a book on his involvement in Watergate, A Piece of Tape - The Watergate Story: Fact and Fiction. McCord claimed that Dorothy Hunt told him that her husband, E. Howard Hunt, had "information which would impeach the President (Nixon)". McCord also wrote: "The Watergate operation was not a CIA operation. The Cubans may have been misled by others into believing that it was a CIA operation. I know for a fact that it was not."
Carl Oglesby (The Yankee and Cowboy War) argues that McCord was part of a CIA plot against Richard Nixon. Oglesby has gained support for this theory from former CIA officer, Miles Copeland, who claimed that McCord had led the Watergate burglars into a trap. The journalist, Andrew St. George, suggested that CIA Director, Richard Helms, had prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in. This was supported by Martha Mitchell, the wife of John Mitchell. She told the journalist, Helen Thomas, that she thought McCord had "been a double-agent" during the Watergate operation.
Former CIA officer, Miles Copeland, claimed that McCord had led the Watergate burglars into a trap. The journalist, Andrew St. George, suggested that CIA Director, Richard Helms, had prior knowledge of the Watergate break-in.
After leaving prison McCord became a booster for the University of Michigan athletic department. He got the University of Michigan in trouble by giving money from his illegal gambling ring to players.