An article by Lee Edwards on the Heritage Foundation website claims so with quite some level of detail, e.g.

In the fall of 1964, the White House turned to the CIA to get advance inside information about the Goldwater campaign, although the senator could hardly be described as a "domestic enemy" (the only valid excuse for agency action). E. Howard Hunt, later convicted for his part in the Watergate break-in, told a congressional committee a decade later that he was ordered to spy on Goldwater's headquarters. He said that President Johnson "had ordered this activity" and that White House aide Chester L. Cooper "would be the recipient of the information."

CIA Director William Colby admitted that Cooper prepared campaign material for Johnson and obtained advance texts of Goldwater speeches through a "woman secretary," clearly suggesting that the agency planted someone inside the Goldwater campaign organization.


Most disturbing of all was the FBI's bugging of the Goldwater campaign plane where the senator and his inner circle often made their most confidential decisions. The bureau's illegal surveillance was confirmed by Robert Mardian, when he was an assistant attorney general in Nixon's first term.

During a two-hour conversation with J. Edgar Hoover in early 1971, Mardian asked about the procedures of electronic surveillance. To Mardian's amazement, Hoover revealed that in 1964 the FBI, on orders from the Oval Office, had bugged the Goldwater plane. Asked to explain the blatantly illegal action, Hoover said, "You do what the president of the United States orders you to do." William C. Sullivan, the bureau's number two man, confirmed to Mardian the spying operation against the Goldwater campaign.

Interesting enough Wikipedia seems to make no mention of any of this, neither in the articles on the 1964 campaign, nor in the biographies of Colby, Johnson or Goldwater, or even in the (somewhat shorter) biography of Mardian. In the Wikipedia biography of Hunt it is mentioned that Hunt even accused Johnson of having a hand in the Kennedy assassination in a [possibly ghostwritten] book, but the issue of spying on Goldwater isn't mentioned there either.

So, do historians (besides some of those on the US right wing) agree that Johnson spied on Goldwater, using CIA and FBI assets?

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    Though the Heritage Foundation is well-known as a distributor of BS, it is not implausible that there is some basis for the contention. However, having lived through this time period (and being a Goldwater supporter at the time), I'm not recalling anything about the accusation. Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 18:11
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    As an interesting aside, we seem to know with certainty that Johnson spied on Nixon's campaign, but apparently he had plausible national security reasons to do this... bbc.com/news/magazine-21768668 Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 18:28
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    Well, to be more precise on the latter, Johnson had the South Vietnamese under surveillance and this intercepted conversations with the Nixon campaign... Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 18:39
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    @SZCZERZOKŁY - thanks. A pity that despite eyewitness-grade claims it doesn't have any easily verified contents, such as naming this influential "master spy". Since the newsletter's publisher and likely author was a man of extreme and sometimes notably false views NYT obit I don't think this is evidence of much more than rumours of foul play. Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 9:34
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    Just as a note, the Wikipedia article on the 1964 election does briefly mention the spying, but the citation from Politico notes that the spying was inconsequential, as Goldwater never really had a chance in the first place.
    – DenisS
    Commented Mar 16, 2021 at 20:43


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