Bill Josephson remembers Marvin Watson (PC/HQ)


Dear John,

The death of W. Marvin Watson on November 26, 2017 is an opportunity for the Peace Corps community to remember him, and, of course, President Johnson with gratitude.  The November 29, 2017 New York Times obituary describes him as President Johnson’s “Unofficial Chief of Staff.”

The 1961-66 Peace Corps specifically did not want to have an office charged with “security” issues.  So, the General Counsel’s office handled liaison with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Service, the Civil Service Commission investigators, and so forth.

J. Edgar Hoover

When I was General Counsel of the Peace Corps and Sarge was preoccupied with OEO, but still Peace Corps Director, J. Edgar Hoover, through the FBI’s liaison to the Peace Corps, requested from me access to the personal records, including medical histories, of all Peace Corps volunteers.  This was a generalized demand, not related to a particular person or incident.

I refused, citing the Peace Corps’s promise to volunteers keep those records inviolate.  Mr. Hoover went to Nicholas Katzenbach, then the Attorney General.  To my surprise, Katzenbach referred the matter to an Eisenhower holdover that RFK, as Attorney General, had kept as Assistant AG for Internal Security Affairs, J. Walter Yeagley.  The rumor was that RFK had done this to placate Representative Velde, the Chair of one of the un-American activity committees.

Bill Josephson

Yeagley, of course, sided with Hoover.  I would not back down and did not even think of involving Sarge.  Katzenbach, therefore, referred the issue to President Johnson.  Instead of referring it to Bill Moyers, as I had hoped, LBJ, shrewdly it turns out, referred it to Marvin Watson, a pretty conservative person.  I was worried.  Time passed, and then Katzenbach received a response from Watson, copy to me, saying the President has decided that the Peace Corps records should remain inviolate.  The incident is not mentioned in Watson’s 2004 memoir,Chief of Staff.

Yeagley, who lived in McLean, VA, remained AAG for Internal Security Affairs until 1969, when he was succeeded by President Nixon’s appointee, Robert Mardian, who later became one of the Watergate Seven.  His conviction was reversed on appeal.




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  • Thank you so much! Even after all these years, the very thought that the F.B.I. might have had access to my medical records, makes me sick to my stomach. I apologize for being so graphic, but there is no other way to express my reaction.

    We were so very lucky to have you, Bill Josephson, steering Peace Corps through a real “swamp” in those early years. We can add Marvin Watson to a list of PC Angels.

    May Peace Corps always be so blessed.

  • This brought me back to a piece I immersed myself in few years back and still seems true. And it had me up at 4am this morning. The government policy of our chief governmental federal magistrate’s practice of daily outrages has upset my sleep. Ed

    (from a song: We had high hopes/ we had high hopes/ we had high in the sky apple pie hopes)
    We had “high hopes” (hear it now, a song sung later than those early days. which are now slathered on the heap history becomes) —
    –the “high hoping” that emerged after WW Two through the 1950’s that should/ may/ might yet be explored, explicated, diced, cremated.
    What bright faces the now old photos from the early years show.
    When we were young, we were apprentices beginning our lives.
    I began being attracted to the idea of the APPRENTICESHIP as a description of a life journey after reading the Lincoln part of Josephine Miles’ poem “For Magistrates” that was first published in her last book, the COLLECTED POEMS 1930-1983..
    (Connected to this was the Confucius admonition not to conflate error and thus turning it into a crime.)
    “For Magistrates” is BY FAR the longest poem Jo would publish.
    Here are lines about Lincoln (though it is a poem most fully all together to complete the meaning — and perhaps she was still in process of simplifying it when she began to fail and see her end).
    ” – – – – – – – – – – – -………………………………….
    Shaving, an uncle asks,
    What is this face before me in the mirror?
    Look well, children, for you see
    A face that may grow handsomer every day.
    Not Alger, not Narcissus in the stream.

    Gazing at it, would the martyr ghost
    Returned from the grave
    Ask, Is this the face I shaved?
    As we search the photographs, bearded to full-whiskered,
    We watch a man not yet forty
    Who might be years younger
    Develop into an ageless ancient, which indeed his secretaries
    called him
    He would be considered no worldly success till late in his
    But his many failures read
    Less as mischance than as apprenticeship.
    The superiority of Abraham Lincoln over other statesmen
    Lies in the limitless dimension of a conscious self,
    Its capacities and conditions of deployment.
    In 1863 Walt Whitman watched him
    During some of the worst weeks of the war.
    I think well of the President. He has a face
    Like a Hoosier Michael Angelo, so awfully ugly
    It becomes beautiful, with its strange mouth,
    Its deep-cut crisscross lines,
    And its doughnut complexion.
    Suffering endured stoked his energy
    With penetration and foresight, often hidden from contemporaries,
    Through restored photos.” (“The Magistrates”, pages 247-253)

    Now I am thinking again about when you reach the end of your tether
    You may ask yourself about life and life extension with supposeings
    About diet and what if you’d never smoked or breathed bad air and
    Carousing and in general just taking better care of yourself generally
    All the while remembering that you, the planet, the universe will die.
    Then you say “well” maybe really the affect doesn’t begin with affect.
    We had high hopes.
    © Copyright Edward Mycue 5:14am Thursday December 7, 2017

  • Interesting story that reminds me of my time as Director of Planning for the Peace Corps in 1968. A Soviet Embassy Counselor arrived on the 5th floor and asked to talk to someone about the Peace Corps. I was summoned to receive him. We had a nice chat that ended with the Counselor making a request for information that was not readily available. He left his card. I called him back a few days later to say we didn’t have the info. Within 20 minutes the FBI was in our offices demanding to know “ what are we doing talking to the Soviets” . All was explained, no harm no foul so to speak. End of story was a written report in FBI files on me.
    My how the times have changed
    David Miron Colombia 63 to 65 PC/W 66 to 70

    • David: I doubt that the times have changed that much. Look at what happened to General Flynn, for example. Like you, he talked to a Russian official, while the FBI were tapping his phones. They asked him about his contact with the Russians. Unlike you, he lied about it, and now is a criminal. I’m no apologist for Flynn or any of Trump’s cronies, but the FBI’s spying on Americans is the one constant presence from 1968 until now. David

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