Everette Howard Hunt, Jr. (October 9, 1918 – January 23, 2007), better known as E. Howard Hunt, was an American intelligence officer and writer. From 1949 to 1970, Hunt served as an officer in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Along with G. Gordon Liddy and others, Hunt was one of the Nixon administration "plumbers", a secret team of operatives charged with fixing "leaks" — real or perceived causes of confidential administration information being leaked to outside parties. Hunt and Liddy plotted the Watergate burglaries and other undercover operations for the Nixon administration. In the ensuing Watergate scandal, Hunt was convicted of burglary, conspiracy, and wiretapping, eventually serving 33 months in prison.
Hunt was born in Hamburg, New York, United States, the son of Ethel Jean (Totterdale) and Everette Howard Hunt, Sr., an attorney and Republican Party official. Hunt graduated from Hamburg High School in 1936, and Brown University in 1940. During World War II Hunt served in the U.S. Navy on the destroyer USS Mayo, the United States Army Air Forces, and finally, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in China.
Hunt was a prolific author. During and after the war, he wrote several novels under his own name, including East of Farewell (1942), Limit of Darkness (1944), Stranger in Town (1947), Bimini Run (1949), and The Violent Ones (1950) . He also wrote, more famously, several spy and hardboiled novels under an array of pseudonyms, including Robert Dietrich, Gordon Davis and David St. John. Hunt won a Guggenheim Fellowship for his writing in 1946. Some of his writings found parallels in his Watergate experiences.
Warner Bros. had just bought rights to Hunt's novel Bimini Run when he joined the CIA in October 1949 as a political action specialist, in what came to be called their Special Activities Division. The CIA was the successor organization of the OSS. Hunt became station chief in Mexico City in 1950, and supervised William F. Buckley, Jr., who worked for the CIA in Mexico during the period 1951–1952. Buckley and Hunt remained lifelong friends.
In Mexico, Hunt helped devise Operation PBSUCCESS, the successful covert plan to overthrow Jacobo Árbenz, the elected president of Guatemala. Following assignments in Japan and as station chief in Uruguay, Hunt was given the assignment of forging Cuban exile leaders in the United States into a broadly representative government-in-exile that would, after the Bay of Pigs Invasion, form a provisional government to take over Cuba. The failure of the invasion damaged his career.
After the Bay of Pigs, Hunt became a personal assistant to Allen Dulles. Tad Szulc states that Hunt was asked to assist Dulles in writing a book, The Craft of Intelligence, that Dulles wrote after he lost his job as CIA head in 1961. The book was published in 1963.
Hunt told the United States Senate Watergate Committee in 1973 that he had served as the first Chief of Covert Action for the CIA's Domestic Operations Division. He told The New York Times in 1974 that he spent about four years working for the division, beginning shortly after it was set up by the Kennedy administration in 1962, over the "strenuous opposition" of Richard Helms and Thomas H. Karamessines. He said that the division was assembled shortly after the Bay of Pigs operation, and that "many men connected with that failure were shunted into the new domestic unit." He said that some of his projects from 1962 to 1966, which dealt largely with the subsidizing and manipulation of news and publishing organizations in the US, "did seem to violate the intent of the agency's charter."
Hunt was undeniably bitter about what he perceived as President John F. Kennedy's lack of commitment in overthrowing the communist government of Cuba. In his semi-fictional autobiography, Give Us This Day, he wrote: "The Kennedy administration yielded Castro all the excuse he needed to gain a tighter grip on the island of José Martí, then moved shamefacedly into the shadows and hoped the Cuban issue would simply melt away." Disillusioned, he retired from the CIA on May 1, 1970.
He went to work for the Robert R. Mullen Company, which cooperated with the CIA; H. R. "Bob" Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff to President Nixon, wrote in 1978 that the Mullen Company was in fact a CIA front company, a fact that was apparently unknown to Haldeman while he worked in the White House. Through CIA's project QKENCHANT, Hunt obtained a Covert Security Approval to handle the firm's affairs during Mullen's absence from Washington. The following year, he was hired by Charles Colson, special counsel to President Richard Nixon, and joined the President's Special Investigations Unit (alias White House Plumbers).
Hunt's first assignment for the White House was a covert operation to break into the Los Angeles office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist, Lewis J. Fielding. In July 1971, Fielding had refused a request from the Federal Bureau of Investigation for psychiatric data on Ellsberg. Hunt and Liddy cased the building in late August. The burglary, on September 3, 1971, was not detected, but no Ellsberg files were found.
Also in the summer of 1971, Colson authorized Hunt to travel to New England to seek potentially scandalous information on Senator Edward Kennedy, specifically pertaining to the Chappaquiddick incident and to Kennedy's possible extramarital affairs. Hunt sought and used CIA disguises and other equipment for the project. This mission eventually proved unsuccessful, with little if any useful information uncovered by Hunt.
Hunt's White House duties included assassinations-related disinformation. In September 1971, Hunt forged and offered to a Life magazine reporter two top-secret U.S. State Department cables designed to prove that President Kennedy had personally and specifically ordered the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother, Ngô Đình Nhu. Hunt told the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973 that he had fabricated the cables to show a link between President Kennedy and the assassination of Diem, a Catholic, to estrange Catholic voters from the Democratic Party, after Colson suggested he "might be able to improve upon the record."
According to Seymour Hersh, writing in The New Yorker, Nixon White House tapes show that after presidential candidate George Wallace was shot on May 15, 1972, Nixon and Colson agreed to send Hunt to the Milwaukee home of the gunman, Arthur Bremer, to place McGovern presidential campaign material there. The intention was to link Bremer with the Democrats. Hersh writes that, in a taped conversation, "Nixon is energized and excited by what seems to be the ultimate political dirty trick: the FBI and the Milwaukee police will be convinced, and will tell the world, that the attempted assassination of Wallace had its roots in left-wing Democratic politics." Hunt did not make the trip, however, because the FBI had moved too quickly to seal Bremer's apartment and place it under police guard.
A few days after the break-in, Nixon was recorded saying, to H. R. Haldeman, "This fellow Hunt, he knows too damn much."
[V]ery bad, to have this fellow Hunt, ah, you know, ah, it's, he, he knows too damn much and he was involved, we happen to know that. And that it gets out that the whole, this is all involved in the Cuban thing, that it's a fiasco, and it's going to make the FBI, ah CIA look bad, it's going to make Hunt look bad, and it's likely to blow the whole, uh, Bay of Pigs thing which we think would be very unfortunate for CIA and for the country at this time, and for American foreign policy, and he just better tough it and lay it on them.
Hunt and fellow operative G. Gordon Liddy, along with the five burglars arrested at the Watergate, were indicted on federal charges three months later.
Hunt put pressure on the White House and the Committee to Re-Elect the President for cash payments to cover legal fees, family support, and expenses, for himself and his fellow burglars. Key Nixon figures, including Haldeman, Charles Colson, Herbert W. Kalmbach, John Mitchell, Fred LaRue, and John Dean eventually became entangled in the payoff schemes, and large amounts of money were passed to Hunt and his accomplices, to try to ensure their silence at the trial, by pleading guilty to avoid prosecutors' questions, and afterwards. Tenacious media, including The Washington Post and The New York Times, eventually used investigative journalism to break open the payoff scheme, and published many articles that proved to be the beginning of the end for the cover-up. Prosecutors had to follow up once the media reported. Hunt also pressured Colson, Dean, and John Ehrlichman to ask Nixon for clemency in sentencing, and eventual presidential pardons for himself and his cronies; this eventually helped to implicate and snare those higher up.
Hunt's wife, Dorothy, was killed in the December 8, 1972 plane crash of United Airlines Flight 553 in Chicago. Congress, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the crash, and found it to be an accident caused by crew error. Over $10,000 in cash was found in Dorothy Hunt's handbag in the wreckage.
Hunt eventually spent 33 months in prison at the low-security Federal Prison Camp at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, on a conspiracy charge, arriving there on April 25, 1975. Hunt said he was bitter that he was sent to jail while Nixon was allowed to resign while avoiding prosecution for any crimes he may have committed, and later Nixon was fully pardoned in September 1974, by incoming President Gerald Ford. Hunt applied for a presidential pardon, but was turned down by Ronald Reagan in 1983.
The Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram photographed three transients under police escort near the Texas School Book Depository shortly after the assassination of Kennedy. The men later became known as the "three tramps". According to Vincent Bugliosi, allegations that these men were involved in a conspiracy originated from theorist Richard E. Sprague who compiled the photographs in 1966 and 1967, and subsequently turned them over to Jim Garrison during his investigation of Clay Shaw. Appearing before a nationwide audience on the December 31, 1968, episode of The Tonight Show, Garrison held up a photo of the three and suggested they were involved in the assassination. Later, in 1974, assassination researchers Alan J. Weberman and Michael Canfield compared photographs of the men to people they believed to be suspects involved in a conspiracy and said that two of the men were Watergate burglars E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis. Comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory helped bring national media attention to the allegations against Hunt and Sturgis in 1975 after obtaining the comparison photographs from Weberman and Canfield. Immediately after obtaining the photographs, Gregory held a press conference that received considerable coverage and his charges were reported in Rolling Stone and Newsweek.
The Rockefeller Commission reported in 1975 that they investigated the allegation that Hunt and Sturgis, on behalf of the CIA, participated in the assassination of Kennedy. The final report of that commission stated that witnesses who testified that the "derelicts" bore a resemblance to Hunt or Sturgis "were not shown to have any qualifications in photo identification beyond that possessed by an average layman". Their report also stated that FBI Agent Lyndal L. Shaneyfelt, "a nationally-recognized expert in photoidentification and photoanalysis" with the FBI photographic laboratory, had concluded from photo comparison that none of the men was Hunt or Sturgis. In 1979, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that forensic anthropologists had again analyzed and compared the photographs of the "tramps" with those of Hunt and Sturgis, as well as with photographs of Thomas Vallee, Daniel Carswell, and Fred Lee Chrisman. According to the Committee, only Chrisman resembled any of the tramps, but determined that he was not to be in Dealey Plaza on the day of the assassination. In 1992, journalist Mary La Fontaine discovered the November 22, 1963 arrest records that the Dallas Police Department had released in 1989, which named the three men as Gus W. Abrams, Harold Doyle, and John F. Gedney. According to the arrest reports, the three men were "taken off a boxcar in the railroad yards right after President Kennedy was shot", detained as "investigative prisoners", described as unemployed and passing through Dallas, then released four days later.
In 1973, Viking Press published Tad Szulc's book about Hunt's career titled Compulsive Spy. Szulc, a former correspondent for The New York Times, claimed unnamed CIA sources told him that Hunt, working with Rolando Cubela Secades, had a role in coordinating the assassination of Castro for an aborted second invasion of Cuba. In one passage, he also stated that Hunt was the acting chief of the CIA station in Mexico City in 1963 while Lee Harvey Oswald was there.[nb 1]
The Rockefeller Commission's June 1975 report stated that they investigated allegations that the CIA, including Hunt, may have had contact with Oswald or Jack Ruby. According to the Commission, one "witness testified that E. Howard Hunt was Acting Chief of a CIA Station in Mexico City in 1963, implying that he could have had contact with Oswald when Oswald visited Mexico City in September 1963." Their report stated that there was "no credible evidence" of CIA involvement in the assassination and noted: "At no time was [Hunt] ever the Chief, or Acting Chief, of a CIA Station in Mexico City.
Released in the Fall of 1975 after the Rockefeller Commission's report, Weberman and Canfield's book Coup d'Etat in America reiterated Szulc's allegation.[nb 2] In July 1976, Hunt filed a $2.5 million libel suit against the authors, as well as the book's publishers and editor. According to Ellis Rubin, Hunt's attorney who filed the suit in a Miami federal court, the book said that Hunt took part in the assassination of Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
As part of his suit, Hunt filed a legal action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in September 1978 requesting that Szulc be cited for contempt if he refused to divulge his sources. Three months earlier, Szulc stated in a deposition that he refused to name his sources due to "the professional confidentiality of sources" and "journalistic privilege". Rubin stated that knowing the source of the allegation that Hunt was in Mexico City in 1963 was important because Szulc's passage "is what everybody uses as an authority... he's cited in everything written on E. Howard Hunt". He added that rumors that Hunt was involved in the Kennedy assassination might be put to end if Szulc's source was revealed. Stating that Hunt had not provided a sufficient reason to override Szulc's First Amendment rights to protect the confidentiality of his sources, United States District Judge Albert Vickers Bryan Jr. ruled in favor of Szulc.
On November 3, 1978, Hunt gave a security-classified deposition for the House Select Committee on Assassinations. He denied knowledge of any conspiracy to kill Kennedy. (The Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) released the deposition in February 1996.) Two newspaper articles published a few months before the deposition stated that a 1966 CIA memo linking Hunt to the assassination of President Kennedy had recently been provided to the HSCA. The first article, by Victor Marchetti — author of the book The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence (1974) — appeared in the Liberty Lobby newspaper The Spotlight on August 14, 1978. According to Marchetti, the memo said in essence, "Some day we will have to explain Hunt's presence in Dallas on November 22, 1963." He also wrote that Hunt, Frank Sturgis, and Gerry Patrick Hemming would soon be implicated in a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy.
The second article, by Joseph J. Trento and Jacquie Powers, appeared six days later in the Sunday edition of The News Journal, Wilmington, Delaware. It alleged that the purported memo was initialed by Richard Helms and James Angleton and showed that, shortly after Helms and Angleton were elevated to their highest positions in the CIA, they discussed the fact that Hunt had been in Dallas on the day of the assassination and that his presence there had to be kept secret. However, nobody has been able to produce this supposed memo, and the United States President's Commission on CIA Activities within the United States determined that Hunt had been in Washington, D.C. on the day of the assassination.
Hunt sued Liberty Lobby — but not the Sunday News Journal — for libel. Liberty Lobby stipulated, in this first trial, that the question of Hunt's alleged involvement in the assassination would not be contested. Hunt prevailed and was awarded $650,000 damages. In 1983, however, the case was overturned on appeal because of error in jury instructions. In a second trial, held in 1985, Mark Lane made an issue of Hunt's location on the day of the Kennedy assassination. Lane successfully defended Liberty Lobby by producing evidence suggesting that Hunt had been in Dallas. He used depositions from David Atlee Phillips, Richard Helms, G. Gordon Liddy, Stansfield Turner, and Marita Lorenz, plus a cross-examination of Hunt. On retrial, the jury rendered a verdict for Liberty Lobby. Lane claimed he convinced the jury that Hunt was a JFK assassination conspirator, but some of the jurors who were interviewed by the media said they disregarded the conspiracy theory and judged the case (according to the judge's jury instructions) on whether the article was published with "reckless disregard for the truth." Lane outlined his theory about Hunt's and the CIA's role in Kennedy's murder in a 1991 book, Plausible Denial.
Former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin indicated in 1999 that Hunt was made part of a fabricated conspiracy theory disseminated by a Soviet "active measures" program designed to discredit the CIA and the United States. According to Mitrokhin, the KGB created a forged letter from Oswald to Hunt implying that the two were linked as conspirators, then forwarded copies of it to "three of the most active conspiracy buffs" in 1975. Mitrokhin indicated that the photocopies were accompanied by a fake cover letter from an anonymous source alleging that the original had been given to FBI Director Clarence M. Kelley and was apparently being suppressed.
After Hunt's death, Saint John Hunt and David Hunt stated that their father had recorded several claims about himself and others being involved in a conspiracy to assassinate President John F. Kennedy. Notes and audio recordings were made. In the April 5, 2007, issue of Rolling Stone, Saint John Hunt detailed a number of individuals purported to be implicated by his father, including Lyndon B. Johnson, Cord Meyer, David Phillips, Frank Sturgis, David Morales, Antonio Veciana, William Harvey, and an assassin he termed "French gunman grassy knoll" who many presume was Lucien Sarti. The two sons alleged that their father cut the information from his memoirs to avoid possible perjury charges. According to Hunt's widow and other children, the two sons took advantage of Hunt's loss of lucidity by coaching and exploiting him for financial gain. The Los Angeles Times said they examined the materials offered by the sons to support the story and found them to be "inconclusive".
Hunt's memoir, American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate, and Beyond, was co-written by Greg Aunapu and published by John Wiley & Sons in March 2007. According to St. John Hunt, it was he who suggested to his father the idea of a memoir to reveal what he knew about the Kennedy assassination. Scott Waxman was Hunt's literary agent on the book.
The foreword to American Spy was written by William F. Buckley, Jr. According to Buckley, he was asked through an intermediary to write the introduction but declined after he found that the manuscript contained material "that suggested transgressions of the highest order, including a hint that LBJ might have had a hand in the plot to assassinate President Kennedy." He stated that the work "was clearly ghostwritten", and eventually agreed to write an introduction focusing on his early friendship with Hunt after he received a revised manuscript "with the loony grassy-knoll bits chiseled out".
Publishers Weekly called American Spy a "breezy, unrepentant memoir" and described it as a "nostalgic memoir [that] breaks scant new ground in an already crowded field". Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times said it was "a bitter and self-pitying memoir" and "offers a rather standard account of how men of his generation became involved in intelligence work". Referencing the book's title, Tim Weiner of The New York Times wrote: "American Spy is presented as a 'secret history,' a double-barreled misrepresentation. There are no real secrets in this book. As history it is bunk." Weiner said that the author's examination of the Kennedy assassination was the low-point of the book, indicating that Hunt pretended to take various conspiracy theories, including the involvement of former President Johnson, seriously. He concluded his review describing it as a work "in a long tradition of errant nonsense" and "a book to shun". Joseph C. Goulden of The Washington Times described it as a "true mess of a book" and dismissed Hunt's allegations against Johnson as "fantasy". Goulden summarized his review: "I wish now that I had not read this pathetic book. Avoid it."
Writing for The Christian Science Monitor, Daniel Schorr said "Hunt tells most of his Watergate venture fairly straight". Contrasting this opinion, Politico's James Rosen described the chapters regarding Watergate as the "[m]ost problematic" and wrote: "There are numerous factual errors — misspelled names, wrong dates, phantom participants in meetings, fictitious orders given — and the authors never substantively address, only pause occasionally to demean, the vast scholarly literature that has arisen in the last two decades to explain the central mystery of Watergate." Rosen's review was not entirely negative and he indicated that the book "succeeds in taking readers beyond the caricatures and conspiracy theories to preserve the valuable memory of Hunt as he really was: passionate patriot; committed Cold Warrior; a lover of fine food, wine and women; incurable intriguer, wicked wit and superb storyteller." Dennis Lythgoe of Deseret News said "[t]he writing style is awkward and often embarrassing", but that "the book as a whole is a fascinating look into the mind of one of the major Watergate figures". In National Review, Mark Riebling praised American Spy as "the only autobiography I know of that convincingly conveys what it was like to be an American spy." The Boston Globe writer Martin Nolan called it "admirable and important" and said that Hunt "presents a livelier, tabloid version of the 1970s". According to Nolan: "It is the best moment-by-moment depiction of the June 17, 1972, burglary of Democratic National Committee headquarters I have ever read."
A fictionalized account of Hunt's role in the Bay of Pigs operation appears in Norman Mailer's 1991 novel Harlot's Ghost. He was portrayed by Ed Harris in the 1995 biopic Nixon. Canadian journalist David Giammarco interviewed Hunt for the December 2000 issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine. He later wrote the foreword to Giammarco's book For Your Eyes Only: Behind the Scenes of the James Bond Films (ECW Press, 2002).
Novels published as Howard Hunt or E. Howard Hunt:
As Robert Dietrich:
As P. S. Donoghue:
As David St. John
As Gordon Davis:
As John Baxter:
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