Bud Krogh Has Left The Building

The Godfather of American drug testing has died. I knew no one would notice. I knew years ago when I studied his career that Bud Krogh’s subsequent infamy would outshine his earliest shenanigans. When Krogh passed away of heart failure two weeks ago at age 80,  the New York Times fulfilled my prediction:

Egil Krogh, 80, Nixon Aide, Dies; Authorized an Infamous Break-In

The Times wrote, “Egil Krogh, who as part of President Richard M. Nixon’s staff was one of the leaders of the secret “Plumbers” unit that broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, a prelude to the Watergate burglary that brought down the Nixon presidency…”

His pioneer role in American drug testing was not mentioned.

* * *

In 1969 a young, Harvard-educated psychiatrist named Dr. Robert DuPont was working for the Washington, D.C. Department of Corrections when he decided to drug test 129 prisoners to demonstrate a connection between drugs and crime. Requiring prisoners to provide a little piss-on-demand seemed like no great shakes. Certainly, no one complained. 

DuPont claimed that 44% of the prisoners tested positive for heroin, a figure that was almost certainly wrong given the flaws of early urinalysis. Imprecision notwithstanding, the larger points held true:  the research showed a strong correlation between hard drugs and crime, and the small group of prisoners under DuPont’s microscope seemed to do well with an experimental methadone maintenance program. His work caught the attention of Egil Krogh.

Yes, his given name was Egil which probably guaranteed he would be called Bud. A popular Nordic name, it came down from the greatest of all Viking poets, Egil the Mean; but Bud didn’t have a mean bone in his body. He was always a boy scout. Carl Woodward and Bob Bernstein called him “the White House Mr. Clean.” 

Krogh had recently come to Washington by way of an old family friend, President Nixon’s Domestic Policy Advisor John Ehrlichman. The boy scout was just six months out of law school when he was tapped to become deputy assistant for domestic affairs to the President of the United States – Ehrlichman’s aide, really – and he was given the Sisyphean task to make good on Nixon’s campaign promise to clean up crime in the District of Columbia. After trying a few gadfly reforms that didn’t much work (more cops, more streetlights) Krogh lit upon DuPont’s impressive results and, precisely 50 years ago this month, approved a pilot program to bring methadone maintenance to the D.C. city streets. Over the next three years, under DuPont’s direction and the boy scout’s watchful eye, the D.C. Narcotics Treatment Administration maintained more than 15,000 heroin users at twenty NTA centers located throughout the city. A year after the clinics opened, burglaries in the District dropped 41 percent. By turning bad junkies into good junkies DuPont and Krogh laid the twin foundations for drug rehab and drug testing, a pair of highly profitable industries that would soon be kick-started by future multi-millionaire, Robert DuPont. Urinalysis came along for the ride. 

Krogh wrote a secret memo for the Domestic Council delineating a national two-pronged plan of increased law enforcement and rehabilitation. For the former, Krogh commended a plan that came from a special assistant at the Treasury Department, a former assistant D.A. from Duchess County, New York, who wanted establish a small secret police unit reporting directly to  the White House with extraordinary powers of search and surveillance to combat the scourge of hard drugs and heroin. For the latter, the deputy assistant endorsed a rehab approach authored by Dr. Jerome Jaffe of the Illinois Drug Abuse Program (IDAP). Jaffe’s regimen certainly included counseling and detoxification, but it was really anchored to a national methadone maintenance program. When these plans were first suggested by Krogh, the toxic symbolism of white people distributing an addictive opiate to black people throughout American ghettos was rejected at the highest levels of the Nixon Administration and the call for an extralegal secret police force just seemed like a really bad idea. But when two Congressmen returned from Vietnam and released a devastating (and inaccurate) report that claimed up to 15% percent of soldiers returning from the war were addicted to hard drugs, Krogh urged the President to take up Jaffe’s plan, clean up the military by funding a major public offensive against drug abuse and coordinate these efforts through a single office in the White Hose . The President agreed and on June 17, 1971 Dr. Jerome Jaffe became the nation’s first de facto drug czar. The first modern drug war – the only U.S. anti-drug initiative to favor rehab over incarceration – had officially begun. 

That same week the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers – the Defense Department’s Secret History of the Vietnam War leaked by former U.S. military analyst Daniel Ellsberg  – and Bud Krogh got a new assignment. Immediately following the Jaffe announcement, Krogh co-authored another secret memo suggesting that the original idea for a White House secret police squad could be repurposed for political intrigue. Krogh recommended that a clandestine White House Special Investigations Unit could be deployed in the field by that same zealous special assistant over at Treasury who came up with the idea in the first place, the Duchess County assistant D.A. who busted Tim Leary at Millbrook, the midlevel wiretap tech who thought he might be the real James Bond: G. Gordon Liddy. He called his team of  “The Plumbers” as in “We stop leaks,” and Krogh personally authorized the Plumbers’ first illegal break-in.  Two and a half years later, a much-more worldly, thirty-two year old boy scout pled guilty to federal charges of conspiring to violate civil rights and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. From the White House to the Big House, Bud Krogh was sentenced to two-to-six years in prison and served four-and-a-half months for his crimes against Ellsberg’s shrink. In a related note, G. Gordon Liddy served 52 months and Krogh’s mentor, John Ehrlichman, served a year and half for their election year shenanigans at the Watergate Hotel. 

Bud Krogh played no part in the Watergate break-in, but he got the ball rolling. 

“The (Pentagon Papers) burglary set a precedent that two members of the Plumbers could rely on when planning and executing the Watergate break-in of 1972,” he wrote in 2007. “They knew that under certain circumstances the White House staff would tolerate an illegal act to obtain information.”

He was disbarred in 1975 but was readmitted to the bar in 1980. After his release from prison the boy scout slowly recovered his reputation by writing and lecturing on political ethics. At the time of his death two weeks ago he was was Senior Fellow on Ethics and Leadership at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress and Counselor to the Director at the School for Ethics and Global Leadership. 

Before the boy scout came to Washington the idea of the government compelling any American citizen to take a random suspicionless drug test was unthinkable. When he died, tens of millions of Americans were being drug tested each year in both the public and private sector. That is Bud Krogh’s real legacy, one that will endure long after the lessons of Watergate grow cold. 

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