Howard Hunt, CIA's Odd Man Out

By J. Quinn Brisben

The career of the late E. Howard Hunt, who died Jan. 23 in Miami at the age of 88, summarizes many good arguments for the abolition of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Long before Watergate, Hunt helped plan the 1954 overthrow of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz which led to 40 years of repressive dictatorship and systematic destruction, complete with countless murders and disappearances, of the Mayan people who form the overwhelming majority of the population of Guatemala, all in the name of fighting "communism" and the actual purpose of enriching United Fruit and a few other US companies. He abetted torturers in Uruguay who had been trained at the School of the Americas in Columbus, Georgia. Most famously, he tried to implement the orders of Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy to bring down the revolutionary government of Fidel Castro in Cuba.

This resulted in the famous defeat at the Playa Giron or Bay of Pigs in April, 1961. CIA analysts thought Castro so weak that a 1,500-strong brigade containing many ex-Batista thugs could cause a counter-revolution that would overcome Castro's army of 60,000. As things turned out the invaders were turned back mostly by local militia troops from the remote mangrove-covered area, and the US concluded that additional air assaults could not help them. The provisional government that Hunt had planned never got a chance to operate, but his contacts in the anti-Castro Miami community provided personnel for raids on Cuba and terrorist attacks on Cuban immigrants who did not adhere to the anti-Castro line. The actual Watergate burglars were also recruited from this community.

Hunt and other planners of the Bay of Pigs found their careers stalled at the CIA in the 1960s. Hunt carried out propaganda tasks at the agency, subsidizing news agencies and the publication of books and writing a series of sex-filled spy novels, a very popular genre at the time. He had served as chief of station in Mexico City in 1950, one of his underlings being a rookie CIA officer named William F. Buckley Jr., later a prominent conservative writer, publisher, and television personality, and the author of spy novels that attempted to revise Cold War history. After Hunt's wife was killed in a plane crash near Chicago's Midway airport in 1972 and Hunt had been sentenced to prison, Buckley became the guardian of Hunt's four children. Hunt's last book. American Spy, My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate, and Beyond will be published March 16 with a foreword by Buckley.

Hunt left the CIA in 1970 to work for an agency-connected public relations firm in Washington and signed on the next year as $100-per-day security consultant at the Nixon White House. Special Counsel Charles Colson &emdash; like Hunt an alumnus of Brown University &emdash; put him in charge of a clandestine department of political dirty tricks. Hunt received false identification papers, a wig and a voice-altering device from former CIA colleagues. He burglarized the office of a psychiatrist treating Daniel Ellsberg, who had leaked a copy of classified papers dealing with the Vietnam War to the New York Times. When the burglary became public knowledge two years later, leaking charges against Ellsberg of the type recently made against Vice-President Cheney's chief of staff were dropped.

On June 17, 1972, Hunt and another retired CIA officer named G. Gordon Liddy directed a group of four Bay of Pigs veterans who broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex. They were trying to remove telephone bugging devices whose previous installation had been botched. They were caught. One of the burglars had Hunt's name and a White House telephone number in his address book. Nixon's taping device records him as saying a few days later "This fellow Hunt, he knows too much."

The next year, when Hunt was facing a 35-year prison sentence of which he eventually served two years and nine months, he told Senator Sam Ervin's Watergate investigating committee, "I am crushed by the failure of my government to protect me and my family as in the past it has always done for its clandestine agents. I cannot escape the feeling that the country I have served for my entire life and which directed me to carry out the Watergate entry is punishing me for doing the very things it trained and directed me to do." Richard Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974 and was pardoned by his successor the late Gerald Ford before he could be prosecuted.

Freed from prison shortly before his 60th birthday, Hunt moved to Miami where he was very popular in the anti-Castro Cuban community. When Nixon died, he was lavishly praised by then President Clinton, former President Carter, and others. Fidel Castro has survived E. Howard Hunt.

J. Quinn Brisben is a retired Chicago high school history teacher. He was the Socialist Party USA candidate for president in 1992.

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2007

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