In October 1972, Dorothy Hunt attempted to speak to Charles Colson. He refused to talk to her but later admitted to the New York Times that she was “upset at the interruption of payments from Nixon’s associates to Watergate defendants.”
Controversies surrounding death
Just before Hunt boarded the aircraft she purchased $250,000 in flight insurance payable to E. Howard Hunt. In his book Undercover (1974), Hunt claims he was unaware that his wife planned to do this. In the book he also tried to explain what his wife was doing with $10,000 in her purse. According to Hunt it was money to be invested with Hal Carlstead in “two already-built Holiday Inns in the Chicago area”.
Nixon administration figure Chuck Colson told TIME magazine that “I don’t say this to my people. They’d think I’m nuts. I think they [the CIA] killed Dorothy Hunt.” Also killed in the December 1972 plane crash was CBS News Correspondent Michele Clark and Illinois Congressman George W. Collins.
Dorothy told me that upon her return from Europe she had called Douglas Caddy on several occasions and received what she considered were unsatisfactory responses. She had been unable to reach Liddy. Confronted with this situation, and not knowing where I was or what faced me, she went to CREP headquarters and demanded to see the general counsel, an attorney named Paul O’Brien. Dorothy went on to say that O’Brien had blanched when she told him of my involvement with Gordon Liddy, and he said he would look into the circumstances at once. Mr. Rivers’ call, she theorized, was in response to her enlightenment of Paul O’Brien.
Presently Bittman reported that during a conversation with CREP’s attorneys – in connection with the DNC civil suits against us – he had been assured that Mr. Rivers was an appropriate person for him or Dorothy to deal with.
On the following day Dorothy received a phone call from a man identifying himself as Mr. Rivers. He said he did not want to hold any discussions with her over our home telephone line, but if she would be at a particular phone booth in Potomac Village, he would call her half an hour later.
When my wife returned, she told me that Mr. Rivers had instructed her to obtain from the arrested men, Liddy and myself an estimate of monthly living costs and attorneys’ fees. This she was to do by the following day, when she was to be at a different phone booth to receive a call from Mr. Rivers. Accordingly, she telephoned James McCord, then Bernard Barker, asking the latter for a combined estimate covering all four Miami men. These figures she delivered to Mr. Rivers during their subsequent telephone contact, after which he said, “Well, let’s multiply that by five to cut down on the number of deliveries.”
Dorothy asked him why he was using a multiple of five – aware that five months represented the interval to the national Presidential election – and was told by Rivers that five was a convenient figure for him to multiply by.
Within a day or so Dorothy was instructed by Rivers to drive to National Airport, go to a particular wall telephone in the American Airlines section and reach under it for a locker key taped to the underside. This she did and opened a nearby locker to find in it a blue plastic airlines bag, which she brought home.
Later she told me that the contents had been considerably less than the figure agreed upon by Mr. Rivers. In fact, she told me, the monthly budget had been multiplied by three rather than five, so on that basis she set about distributing the funds. Liddy, she told me, was to receive his support funds and attorneys’ fees directly through a separate channel.
The transaction represented verification of what Liddy had told me during his dramatic appearance at Jackson’s home in Beverly Hills – that everyone would be taken care of, Company-style – and so I faced the future with renewed confidence that all obligations would be kept…
I was at Bittman’s law offices on the evening of October 20 when Bittman answered the telephone and told me a messenger was on his way – theoretically with money. In due course a package was delivered to the then vacant reception desk, and after Bittman handed it to me, I opened it and turned over its contents to him and Austin Mittler. The precise sum I have no way of recalling, but I remember that it was far less than what was owed my attorney. And of course there was nothing in the package for family support for myself or for Liddy, McCord or the Miami men.
Dorothy now expressed to me her great dissatisfaction at the role she had been asked to undertake by Mr. Rivers. It was he who had solicited budget figures from her; they had been agreed to, yet the payments had never been fully met. Now Dorothy was dealing with “a friend of Mr. Rivers,” and she felt that with the election won, the White House would be less inclined to live up to its assurances. Moreover, she had the lingering feeling that because she was a woman, her representations were given less weight than those of a man – myself, for example. For these reasons she suggested that I call Colson and attempt to explain the situation to him. On instructions of Mr. Rivers, she had given specific financial assurances to the Miami defendants, but the money had been only partially forthcoming. And their lawyer was making disquieting sounds.
So I phoned Colson’s office on November 13, speaking with his secretary, Holly Holm. After checking with her boss, she told me I could call Colson the following day from a phone booth – not my home phone. The hour was, I believe, twelve o’clock, and after salutations I congratulated Colson on the electoral victory and suggested that with the election out of the way, people in the White House ought to be able to get together and concentrate on the fate of us seven defendants. I informed him that despite all previous assurances – some of which had been met – financial support was greatly in arrears, particularly payment of legal fees for the defendants. I believed the seven of us had behaved manfully and remarked that this was “a two-way street.” I told him that, in the language of clandestine service, money was the cheapest commodity there was. By that I meant that men – the Watergate defendants – were not expendable, but money was. And money was badly needed for legal defense and the support of our families.
(5) Lalo J. Gastriani, Fair Play Magazine, The Strange Death of Dorothy Hunt (November, 1994)
Was Dorothy Wetzel Hunt, the late wife of convicted Watergate conspirator, E. Howard Hunt, murdered? Was the plane on which she was traveling – along with other key Watergate characters – sabotaged? If so, why? And by whom?
These questions have troubled researchers for more than twenty years. Along with the unanswered questions about Hunt and how he relates to the forces that brought down the Nixon presidency, also too is the question about what more the Hunts knew about Nixon; what it was that made Nixon so paranoid; that made him so willing to come up with hush money (“…a million dollars? we could get that.”).
It was at 2:29 p.m. on Friday, December 8, 1972, during the height of the Watergate scandal that United Airlines flight 553 crashed just outside of Chicago during a landing approach to Midway Airport. Initial reports indicated that the plane had some sort of engine trouble when it descended from the clouds. But the odd thing about this crash is what happened after the plane went down. Witnesses living in the working-class neighborhood in which the plane crashed said that moments after impact, a battalion of plainclothes operatives in unmarked cars parked on side streets pounced on the crash-site. These so-called ‘FBI types’ took control of the scene and immediately began sifting through the wreckage looking for something. At least one survivor recognized a “rescue worker” – clad in overalls sifting through wreckage – as an operative of the CIA.
One day after the crash, the Whitehouse head of Nixon’s “plumber’s” outfit – Egil Krogh, Jr. – was made undersecretary of transportation, a position that put him in a direct position to oversee the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Agency which are both authorized by law to investigate airline crashes. Krogh would later be convicted of complicity in the break-in of Daniel Ellsberg’s Psychiatrist’s office along with Hunt, Liddy and a small cast of CIA-trained and retained Cuban black-bag specialists…
Traveling with Mrs. Hunt on flight 553 was CBS news corespondent Michelle Clark who, rumor had it, had learned from her sources that the Hunts were about to spill the proverbial beans regarding the Nixon whitehouse and its involvement in the Watergate burglary; Clark also died in the crash.
A large sum of money (between $10,000 and $100,000) was found amid the wreckage in the possession of Mrs. Hunt. It was during this time that Dorothy Hunt was traveling around the country paying off operatives and witnesses in the Watergate operation with money her husband had extorted from Nixon via his counsel, John Dean. Hunt had threatened Nixon and Dean with exposing the nature of all the sordid deeds he had done.
After the plane carrying Hunt’s wife Dorothy crashed under mysterious circumstances in December 1973, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board told the House Government Activities Subcommittee that he had sent a letter to the FBI which stated that over fifty agents came into the crash zone. The FBI denied everything until William Ruckleshaus became temporary Director, at which time they admitted that their agents were on the scene. The independent researcher Sherman Skolnick believes that Dorothy Hunt was carrying documents that were being used to blackmail Nixon. These documents were seized by the FBI. Skolnick’s theory is corroborated by a conversation that allegedly took place between Charles Colson and Jack Caufield.
According to Caufield, Colson told him that there were many important papers the Administration needed in the Brookings Institution and that the FBI had recently adopted a policy of coming to the scene of any suspicious fires in Washington D.C. Caufield believed that Colson was subtly telling him to start a fire at Brookings and the FBI would then steal the desired documents. The X File from 1968.
Note at this point that one day after the plane crash, White House aide Egil Krogh was appointed Undersecretary of Transportation. This gave him direct control over the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration-the two agencies that would be in charge of investigating the crash. Soon Dwight Chapin, Nixon’s Appointment Secretary, became a top executive at United Airlines. Dorothy Hunt was on a United carrier when she made her ill-fated journey.
(7) The Spotlight, is a nightly radio call-in talk forum on Radio Free America. On 14th February, 1994, host Tom Valentine interviewed independent investigator Sherman Skolnick.
Tom Valentine: The Watergate plane crash is the first investigation you and I worked on together.
Sherman Skolnick: This subject is one of the great forbidden subjects of this country. You are not supposed to talk publicly about airplanes that have been sabotaged. If sabotage is ever brought up, it’s always in some foreign country where a bomb blows up the airplane.
Tom Valentine: Then the loss of the United Airlines flight 553 was not just fog or pilot error or something like that.
Sherman Skolnick: In the history of aviation there have been a number of situations where there was actual sabotage – not necessarily a bomb – and that sabotage put the plane down and killed people for political reasons.
I started writing a book about airplane sabotage right after the plane crash. I called it “The Watergate Plane Crash.” The reason why was because on this one plane were 12 people connected with the Watergate affair.
The disaster happened exactly one month after Richard Nixon had been re-elected. The Watergate affair had started, but it was not widely known at the time.
Former CIA man (and Watergate burglar) E. Howard Hunt, part of the so-called White House Plumbers, was under arrest. It later came out that Hunt was threatening to blow the lid off the White House if Nixon didn’t take care of him. Hunt wanted $2 million.
Dorothy was on flight 553, and this time she was traveling under her own name. She was so concerned about the baggage (which contained $2 million worth of cashier’s checks and money orders, which some astute people could have traced back to the Nixon White House) that she bought an extra first class seat for her baggage (and the valuables therein).
The press later said there was only $10,000 in her possession, but that was false. We know about this because of records of the National Transportation Safety Board which had the manifest of the airplane.
(8) E. Howard Hunt, interviewed for the television programme, Backyard (21st February, 1999)
When I came back (from Cuba), I wrote a top secret report, and I had five recommendations, one of which was the one that’s always been thrown at me, is that during… or… slightly antecedent to an invasion, Castro would have to be neutralized – and we all know what that meant, although I didn’t want to say so in a memorandum with my name on it. Another one was that a landing had to be made at such a point in Cuba, presumably by airborne troops, that would quarter the nation, and that was the Trinidad project; cut the communications east to west, and there would be confusion. None of that took place. Once, when I came back from Coconut Grove and said, “What about… is anybody going after Castro? Are you going to get rid of him?”, “It’s in good hands,” was the answer I got, which was a great bureaucratic answer. But the long and the short of it was that no attempt that I ever heard of was made against Castro’s life specifically. President Idigros Fuentes of Guatemala was good enough to give our Cuban exiles two training areas in his country, one in the mountains, and then at (Retardo Lejo) we had an unused airstrip that he gave over to us, which we put into first-class condition for our fighter aircraft and our supply aircraft, and we trained Cuban paratroopers there. And the brigade never numbered more than about 1,500, which was 10 times more than Castillo Armas commanded.
(9) E. Howard Hunt, interviewed for the television programme, Backyard (21st February, 1999)
Interviewer: What part did the American ambassador, Purefoy, play in this business?
E. Howard Hunt: Well, Purefoy was very, very helpful. He was sort of a prisoner (Laughs) of ours, of CIA and of the Department of State. He owed his ambassadorship to Eisenhower, and he understood that cooperation with us was part of the deal, and so he bent over backward to do everything he could. He had had one or two private conversations with Arbenz, trying to persuade… first of all, to determine to his own satisfaction that Arbenz was a communist, and secondly, to tell Arbenz that he was on a very sticky wicket and ought to change his direction. Of course, that did nothing at all, because Arbenz I don’t think had a free will in all of this, I think that his wife was giving him the directions; she was a lot smarter, and between her and Fortuny, he was the low man on the totem pole. But Purefoy was very, very helpful. I won’t say that we couldn’t have done it without him, but it would just have been a little harder, a little more difficult. And then in Honduras we had Whitey Willard as ambassador, and he’d been a Flying Tiger in China at a time when I was in China, and although I didn’t know him over there, everybody thought well of him, and he was the one who had to oversee all the black flights in and out of Honduras, the building of the radio station, all the transmission to keep…
Interviewer: Mr. Hunt, we’ll go back over just the last bit that we were talking about before we ran out of tape. We were talking about the ambassador, John Purefoy, sometimes called Jack Purefoy, and his importance in the operation. He was an ardent anti-Communist, I have read, but could you just repeat some of the things that you said, how he was involved in PB Success?
E. Howard Hunt: Well, I never thought of Jack Purefoy as being an ardent anti-Communist. He’d been director of security for the Department of State at a time when Mr. Truman denied that we had any communists in the Department of State, and Purefoy backed him up, and his payoff for that was to be made ambassador to Greece. Of course, over in Greece he’d seen a great deal of communist-anti-communist bloody struggle, so that may have made a convert of him, but he didn’t start out as an ardent anti-Communist. He was useful to us, to the Department of State, to the Eisenhower Administration and to the nation because he was expendable: if he did well for us, if he cooperated and accomplished things that we wanted done, then he had a chance to complete a career as a diplomat; and if he screwed up, he was gone, and he knew it. I suppose that somebody told him in just so many words. John Foster Dulles could easily have… told him that and gotten away with it. But Purefoy, once he got into the hang of the thing, once he got the feel of it, and the surge took place mentally and physically, then he did everything he could to cooperate with us and help bring Arbenz down.
(10) Victor Marchetti, The Spotlight (14th August, 1978)
“Eduardo (E. Howard Hunt) was a name that all of us who had participated in the Bay of Pigs knew well. He had been the maximum representative of the Kennedy administration to our people in Miami. He occupied a special place in our hearts because of a letter he had written to his chief Cuban aide and my lifelong friend, Bernard Barker. He had identified himself in his letter with the pain of the Cubans, and he blamed the Kennedy administration for not supporting us on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs.
So when Barker told me that Eduardo was coming to town and that he wanted to meet me, that was like a hope for me. He had chosen to meet us at the Bay of Pigs monument, where we commemorate our dead, on April 16, 1971, the tenth anniversary of the invasion. I always go to the monument on that day, but that year I had another purpose – to meet Eduardo, the famous Eduardo, in person.
He was different from all the other men I had met in the Company. He looked more like a politician than a man who was fighting for freedom. He was there with his pipe, relaxing in front of the memorial, and Barker introduced me. I then learned his name for the first time – Howard Hunt.
There was something strange about this man. His tan, you know, is not the tan of a man who is in the sun. His motions are very meticulous – the way he smokes his pipe, the way he looks at you and smiles. He knows how to make you happy – he’s very warm, but at the same time you can sense that he does not go all into you or you all into him. We went to a Cuban restaurant for lunch and right away Eduardo told us that he had retired from the CIA in 1971 and was working for Mullen and Company. I knew just what he was saying. I was also officially retired from the Company. Two years before, my case officer had gathered all the men in my Company unit and handed us envelopes with retirement announcements inside. But mine was a blank paper. Afterward he explained to me that I would stop making my boat missions to Cuba but I would continue my work with the Company. He said I should become an American citizen and soon I would be given a new assignment. Not even Barker knew that I was still working with the Company. But I was quite certain that day that Eduardo knew.
We talked about the liberation of Cuba, and he assured us that “the whole thing is not over.” Then he started inquiring: “What is Manolo doing?” Manolo was the leader of the Bay of Pigs operation. “What is Roman doing?” Roman was the other leader. He said he wanted to meet with the old people. It was a good sign. We did not think he had come to Miami for nothing.”
— (15) Tad Szulc, Compulsive Spy: The Strange Career of E. Howard Hunt (1974)
Howard Hunt is not a man who believes in retirement or vacations. In the afternoon of April 30, 1970, he walked out for the last time from the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. Next morning, May 1, he was at work at his new job with the Robert R. Mullen & Company public relations firm, on Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Washington.
Hunt was nearly fifty-two, and he desperately wanted and needed employment. His constant need for money was something of a mystery to his friends and associates. His CIA pension was $24,000 and the Mullen company was paying him $24,000 a year. Dorothy, his wife, worked part time at the Spanish Embassy, where she wrote letters in English for the Ambassador. The family’s income, therefore, had to be at least $50,000, which today would be nearly $300,000. Besides, Hunt received residual royalties from some of the forty-four novels he had published over the previous twenty-eight years.
To be sure, the family had high expenses and they lived well. The mortgage and upkeep for Witches’ Island, a rambling estate in Potomac, Maryland was rather high. Kevan, the younger daughter, was attending Smith college. Lisa, the eldest, had a history of illness, and medical bills must have been considerable. Earlier, both girls had attended Holton Arms, an expensive private girls’ school in the Maryland suburbs not far from the Hunts’ house. The family had two cars, a Chevrolet and a Pontiac. Kevan had a red Opel station wagon of her own. His son, Saint John was enrolled at St. James Prep.
The Hunts lived comfortably, then. On Howard’s insistence, they dined every evening by candlelight. They were busy on the suburban Potomac cocktail circuit. Their house was full of animals-cats and dogs and birds and even, once, a small boa constrictor. By all accounts, Dorothy was a warm and loving mother to her children. She was interested in Howard’s new activities. Now that he had left the CIA, he could talk freely about his work-at least for a while. Friends who visited the Hunts during weekends found them relaxed and at ease. Howard, puffing on his pipe, would fondle one of the kittens. Dorothy mixed the drinks. Much of the housework was done by a Uruguayan woman who had been with the Hunts since their days in Montevideo more than ten years earlier. All in all, it was a rather pleasing picture of a well-to-do American family, with the father embarked on a new career, the mother working but dedicated to the children and to her pursuit of horsemanship, and the kids doing well at school.
Yet things were not all that simple downtown for Howard Hunt. In the first place, he was frustrated in his job. In the second place, he craved more money. The frustration evidently came from the instant transition from a glamorous association with the CIA (so it was believed to be) to the brain-addling dullness of writing press releases and other publicity material for the Mullen firm. For this is what Hunt was doing at 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue, although he claimed he was a vice president of the company. As Richard Helms was to testify in the summer of 1973 at the Senate Select Committee hearings, Hunt had been given undemanding jobs at the Agency in his last two years because of his daughter’s medical problems, which, Helms said, required much of his attention. Still, it was painful for Hunt to be cut off so abruptly from the CIA and from the comforting sense of belonging to an elite, even though Hunt was increasingly critical of the CIA for losing its old aplomb. Now he was an outsider in the intelligence community and a “has-been.” It must have rankled. Humorously or wistfully, Hunt decorated his personal memo pad, the kind that has the owner’s name at the top, with an imprinted “00?” in the right-hand corner. This play on James Bond’s “007” code number, which indicated “license to kill,” revealed Hunt’s uncertainty over his own identity in the context of a new life.
Financially, Hunt was always “haggling” for more money, as his associates at the public-relations company reported later. When he first discussed joining the Mullen firm before his retirement from the CIA, he talked about buying into the company. Robert Rodolf Mullen, founder and chairman of the board, was in his sixties and thinking about retirement. Hunt expressed an interest in buying a share of his equity, but when the time came he seemed to have difficulties in raising the $2000 in “earnest money” which the Mullen firm required. Later, he put up an argument for an $8,000 salary increase – this would have brought up his salary to $32,000 – but the Mullen people turned him down. Hunt made noises about resigning over the money issue but never did anything about it.
Actually, the Mullen company was an interesting place for a man like Hunt to be in Washington in 1970. Robert Mullen, a veteran newspaper man, had served as director of public information for the Economic Corporation Administration between 1946 and 1948 (the latter being the year when Howard Hunt used the ECA as his CIA cover in the Paris station). It is unclear whether Mullen and Hunt met in those days, although it is possible that Mullen had some contacts with the Agency. In any event, the two references Hunt gave when he applied for the job with the Mullen company were Richard Helms and William F. Buckley. Helms was then still Director of the CIA and Buckley, an old CIA friend, was now a famous commentator. Many people around Washington believe that there is indeed such a thing as a CIA “old-boy network.”
At the time of the Watergate raid and in subsequent testimony before the Senate Investigating Committee, Helms insisted that he barely knew Hunt. But there are reasons to believe that Helms was at least quite aware of Hunt’s existence. For one thing, according to senior Agency officials, Helms tried hard to get Hunt the Madrid station job which Allen Dulles had promised him. For another thing, Helms kept copies of Hunt’s spy novels around his office and often gave or lent them to friends and visitors.
(16) A. L. Bardach, Slate Magazine (6th October, 2004)
E. Howard Hunt is one of the most notorious spies of the 20th century. The son of an influential Republican leader in upstate New York, Hunt began his career as a founding member of the OSS, the precursor of the CIA in the 1940s. After beginning as an intelligence operative in China, Hunt trailblazed the path for the CIA in Latin America from 1950 to 1970, ever on the lookout for the Communist menace. By his account, he was the architect of the 1954 U.S.-backed coup (“Operation Success”) in Guatemala that deposed democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz. Adept at psych ops (propaganda and subversion) and running “black flights” (covert operations), he also played a role in the Bay of Pigs: He was responsible for propaganda operations and the organization of a post-Castro government. Such exploits and excesses led to the scaling back of the CIA’s prerogatives following hearings by the Church Committee in 1976.
In July 1970, Hunt went into “private practice,” taking with him the tools he acquired during his 25 years in the intelligence business. His most famous black-bag jobs were breaking into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office and, later, Watergate, where Hunt’s “plumbers” cadre, recruited from among his Cuban exile comrades, rifled and bugged the offices of the Democratic Party in May and June of 1972.
Since pleading guilty to his role in Watergate and spending “33 months in 13 federal prisons,” Howard Hunt has lived in Miami where he met and married his second wife of 27 years, Laura. An expert storyteller, Hunt has had a second career as a spy novelist. The couple live in a modest ranch house at the end of a cul-de-sac in north Miami. Posted around his door are warnings against trespassing, which seems somehow appropriate for a man with a history of illegal entry.
Hunt answered the door in a wheelchair. One of his legs has been amputated due to atherosclerosis, and for the past few months, he’s battled lymphoma localized in his jaw (it is now in remission). He wears a hearing aid and sports rimless, bifocal glasses. While no longer the dapper spymaster, he remains salty and unremorseful.
As a general rule, Hunt said, he doesn’t talk about Watergate or “the old days.” But with his 86th birthday soon to occur on Oct. 9, he was feeling a bit more chatty.
Slate: You started the CIA’s first bureau in Mexico in 1949. Did you first start working on Guatemala from there?
Hunt: In Mexico, I had a few agents from Washington with me, and I had recruited a few others … [including] a young Catholic priest. So the priest came to me one time, and he said, “I’m sending down several young men to Guatemala to get a view of the situation there. It’s not good.” He said, “My people were beaten up and put into jail, and then exiled from the country.” And he sort of sat back expectantly. And I said, “That’s certainly not right. I’ll let Washington know what’s going on in Guatemala.” So I retold the story of Guatemala and the treatment of my young Catholic friend. I found that there was a lot of intense interest in what I had to say.
Slate: We’re talking about the time after 1952, the year Jacobo Arbenz was elected president of Guatemala.
Hunt: He was in power then, yes. But his wife was by far the smarter of the two and sort of told him what to do. She was a convinced communist. … I waited for orders [from Washington]. A couple of [CIA and military] officers came down to join me, and it became apparent that there was going to be an effort to dislodge the communist management [laughs] of Guatemala. Which indeed happened. We set up shop and had some very bright guys working against Arbenz, and the long and short of it was that we got Arbenz defenestrated. Out the window. [Laughs]
Slate: But President Arbenz ended up in exile—not really out the window?
Hunt: Yeah. In Czechoslovakia. With his very bright and attractive wife.
Slate: So it seems you were the architect for the Guatemalan operation?
Hunt: It was mine because nobody else knew more than I did. I would say that I had more knowledge about it than anybody did. I knew all the players on both sides.
Slate: How did you run the Guatemalan operation?
Hunt: We set up the first Guatemalan operation/shop at Opa-Locka [airport in Miami, formerly an Army base]. There were three barracks, and we used the airstrip to fly in people from Guatemala and to send our people into Guatemala. These were known as “the black flights.” They always occurred at night; they are a secret and officially do not exist as having happened.
Slate: Do you think the Guatemala coup went well?
Hunt: Yes—it did. And I’m glad I kept Arbenz from being executed.
Slate: How did you do that?
Hunt: By passing the word out to the people at the airport who had Arbenz to “let him go.”
Slate: To whom did you give the word?
Hunt: It was a mixed band of CIA and Guatemalans at the airport and their hatred for him was palpable.
Slate: You were worried they would assassinate him right there?
Hunt: Yeah. … And we’d [the CIA and the United States] get blamed for it.
Slate: Some 200,000 civilians were killed in the civil war following the coup, which lasted for the next 40 years. Were all those deaths unforeseen?
Hunt: Deaths? What deaths?
Slate: Well, the civil war that ensued for the next 40 years after the coup.
Hunt: Well, we should have done something we never do—we should have maintained a constant presence in Guatemala after getting rid of Arbenz.
Slate: Did you ever actually meet Jacobo Arbenz?
Hunt: They [he and his wife] were neighbors of mine—years later—on the same street in Montevideo, Uruguay.
Slate: What were you doing there?
Hunt: I was the CIA chief of station.
They had come from [exile in] Czechoslovakia, and nobody in Washington had told me they were coming and so it was a big surprise to me, to my wife and me. We went to the country club for dinner one evening and lo and behold, the Arbenzes were seated a few tables away.
Slate: What did you do?
Hunt: Well, nothing. I sent a cable to Washington saying, “In the future when we have important arrivals, please let me know.” It’s the least they could do.
Slate: I’d like to talk about Cuba now. Did you have a lot of responsibility during Bay of Pigs?
Hunt: Leading up to it.
Slate: How so?
Hunt: I came to Miami, and of course there were [Cuban] exiles, all anxious to take weapons in hand and charge back [to Cuba]. And the CIA was given the responsibility of a twofold action against Cuba. There was the psychological warfare branch which I headed [propaganda, covert operations], and the paramilitary which oversaw the training [of Cuban exiles] that took place in Guatemala.
My [other] responsibility was to form and manage the future government of Cuba. At that point I formed the Cuban government-in-exile with Manuel Artime [Bay of Pigs veteran designated by the United States to succeed Castro]. I had told them [the exile trainees] to meet me in my safe house in Coconut Grove. An FBI guy whom I knew came to me and he said your neighbor has reported you to the police saying that men are coming and going at all hours of the night. … He said he thought it was a gay brothel.
Slate: Did you go to Cuba after Castro took power in January 1959?
Hunt: I did go to Cuba. I went there under a very flimsy cover. Batista was out—it was 1959. I’d been sent to Havana to nose around and get a grass-roots feeling and talk to the proverbial taxi drivers and find out what their likely response would be to a possible U.S. invasion. And I did. And I told them don’t count on it because it’s not going to happen. But that is exactly what happened.
Slate: Did you help in the planning of Bay of Pigs?
Hunt: Not the military [planning]. And I couldn’t find anybody who thought that it was a good plan.
Slate: What were the objections?
Hunt: There was an objection on the part of Dean Rusk, secretary of state under Kennedy. He didn’t want a “go-and-see invasion”—that was the term he used. And our people [CIA planners] had planned an invasion that combined both a seaborne assault and an airlift. Dean Rusk was a great naysayer—he was not a fellow with useful ideas. When our plan was submitted to Rusk for his OK, he said, “This is too noisy, you gotta do something else.” So the assault point was moved to the Bahia de Cochinos—the Bay of Pigs. Which had nothing in its favor. It was a beach that came down from the jungle. A lot of mosquitoes. Our people made that beach landing and they were scooped up pretty soon thereafter.
Slate: Did you ever think there was a way to get rid of Castro, short of a military coup?
Hunt: No. When Castro went into Cuba and took over, this was the moment—with all the chaos and disorganization—that our forces could have gone in and unseated him. But we always confronted this dreadful organization called the Department of State. Who needs it?!
Slate: What was your feeling about Batista?
Hunt: Well, I thought he ran a good government there. There was a lot of corruption, but there’s always been corruption in Latin America. We can’t be too purist about these things.
Slate: Let’s talk about the finals days and execution of Che. Do you know what the real story was there?
Hunt: I do. El Che was becoming a popular threat to Castro. Castro was a gradualist; his view was that great changes couldn’t take place immediately. But El Che had a different idea—he had wanted the entire continent of Latin America to become Communist. And Castro, sort of to get rid of him, said, “Take a band down to Bolivia. Here’s money, and radio phones, and all that.” So Che went down there. But Che’s very first [radio] transmissions were picked up by our people at the National Security Agency. The agency was able to track him wherever he went with his little forlorn band. The Bolivians wanted to get rid of him as soon as possible, and our people kept the Bolivian army informed as to where he was.
Slate: So you knew where he was all the time?
Hunt: Yes. There was no question about where he was or what he was trying to do. The Bolivians had gone through this kind of BS before, and they wanted to put an end to it as soon as possible. Eventually they just said, “We’re gonna put an end to this farce,” and they rounded up this little band of Che’s, and they didn’t kill anybody except Che.
Slate: I thought it was Felix Rodriguez, the Bay of Pigs Cuban exile, who says he killed Che.
Hunt: No, the Bolivians did.
Slate: What did the Americans want to do with Che?
Hunt: We wanted deniability. We made it possible for him to be killed.
Slate: Do you think anybody back then was thinking this guy would become a cult figure, that he might be more trouble dead than alive?
Hunt: No, nobody had the foresight for that. … What I thought was great foresight was that the Bolivian colonel had Che’s hands cut off.
Slate: Why did he do that?
Hunt: So he couldn’t be identified by fingerprints. That was a pretty good idea—if you don’t want somebody identified. People still shiver a little when they think about hands being cut off.
Slate: Did that idea come from the Bolivian colonel or from the CIA?
Hunt: I have no idea. But I talked with Felix about it. I said, “You were there when Che expired.” He said they had taken him into this room, and they shot him there and killed him. And they had kind of a medical examination table. They put his body on that and cut off his hands. They fooled around for a day or so before they disposed of the body. And that was done in a very sloppy fashion. The colonel had a shallow grave dug and his remains were dumped in there.
Laura Hunt: [Interjects] For all we know, Felix [Rodriguez] did shoot him.
Hunt: It was just important that it was done.
Slate: Maybe Rodriguez arranged for the Bolivians to do the killing and then took credit?
Hunt: What we certainly didn’t want was a public monument to Che. We wanted his memory to vanish as soon as possible. But it never did. Even my son goes on about Che.
Slate: What do you think of Felix Rodriguez campaigning these days against John Kerry, who questioned him at the Iran-Contra hearings?
Hunt: I think that’s great! Felix can do no wrong in my book.
Slate: What led you to leave the CIA?
Hunt: I found out the CIA was just infested with Democrats. I retired in ’70. I got out as soon as I could. I wrote several books immediately thereafter.
Slate: I still don’t understand how you get involved in Watergate later. Through the CIA?
Hunt: I had been a consultant to the White House. I greatly respected Nixon. When Chuck Colson [special counsel to Nixon] asked me to work for the administration, I said yes. Colson phoned one day and said, “I have a job you might be interested in.” This was before Colson got religion.
Slate: How long were you in prison for the Watergate break-in?
Hunt: All told, 33 months.
Slate: That’s a lot of time.
Hunt: It’s a lot of time. And I’ve often said, what did I do?
Slate: Did you get a pardon?
Hunt: No. Never did. I’d applied for one, and there was no action taken, and I thought I’d just humiliate myself if I asked for a pardon.
Laura Hunt: He was sort of numb because all of this happened to his wife and his family, his children went into drugs while he was still in prison.
Slate: Wasn’t your first wife killed in a plane crash?
Laura Hunt: She was killed when her plane crash-landed at Chicago’s Midway Airport. And there was all this speculation from conspiracy buffs that the FBI blew the plane up or something … so that she would never talk, all this ridiculous stuff.
Slate: How do you feel about Chuck Colson?
Hunt: He failed to come to my assistance, which would have helped Nixon and me.
Slate: Do you hold anyone responsible for Watergate?
Hunt: No, I don’t.
Slate: And you didn’t apologize?
Hunt: No. It never occurred to me to apologize.
Slate: Should Nixon have resigned?
Slate: I know there is a conspiracy theory saying that David Atlee Phillips—the Miami CIA station chief—was involved with the assassination of JFK.
Hunt: [Visibly uncomfortable] I have no comment.
Slate: I know you hired him early on, to work with you in Mexico, to help with Guatemala propaganda.
Hunt: He was one of the best briefers I ever saw.
Slate: And there were even conspiracy theories about you being in Dallas the day JFK was killed.
Hunt: No comment.
Laura Hunt: Howard says he wasn’t, and I believe him.
Slate: Any regrets?
Hunt: No, none. [Long pause] Well, it would have been nice to do Bay of Pigs differently.
(17) New York Post (14th January, 2007)
“On Watergate, Hunt says he saved G. Gordon Liddy from gagging on urine-tainted booze as they got ready to break into Democratic National Committee headquarters, telling him, “I know you like your scotch, but don’t order it… Last night when we were hiding in the closet, I had to take a leak in the worst way, and when I couldn’t bear it any longer, I found a fairly empty bottle of Johnnie Walker Red – and now let’s just say it’s quite full.”
— (18) Rachel Donadio, The Triumph of The Thriller (18th February, 2007)
“It was only a couple of weeks after our meeting that Howard introduced me to his wife, Dorothy, and their first-born child, Lisa. I learned that Howard had graduated from Brown University and was exercised by left-wing activity there, by the faculty, the administration and students. This made him especially interested in what I had to say about my alma mater. My book, “God and Man at Yale,” was published in mid-October 1951, and I shook free for one week’s leave to travel to New York to figure in the promotion.
I persevered in my friendship with the Hunt family. But in early spring of 1952, when the project with Ravines was pretty well completed, I called on Howard to tell him I had decided to quit the agency. I had yielded to the temptation to go into journalism.
Our friendship was firm, and Howard came several times to Stamford, Conn., where my wife and I camped down, and visited. I never knew — he was very discreet — what he was up to, but assumed, correctly, that he was continuing his work for the CIA. I was greatly moved by Dorothy’s message to me that she and Howard were joining the Catholic communion, and they asked me to serve as godfather for their children.
Years passed without my seeing Howard. But then came the Watergate scandal — in which Howard was accused of masterminding the break-in at Democratic Party headquarters, among other things, and was ultimately convicted of burglary, conspiracy and wiretapping — and the dreadful accident over Midway Airport in Chicago that killed Dorothy in December 1972. I learned of this while watching television with my wife, and it was through television that I also learned that she had named me as personal representative of her estate in the event of her demise.
That terrible event came at a high point in the Watergate affair. Then I had a phone call from Howard, with whom I hadn’t been in touch for several years. He asked to see me.
He startled me by telling me that he intended to disclose to me everything he knew about the Watergate affair, including much that (he said) had not yet been revealed to congressional investigators.
What especially arrested me was his saying that his dedication to the project had included a hypothetical agreement to contrive the assassination of syndicated muckraker Jack Anderson, if the high command at the Nixon White House thought this necessary. I also remember his keen surprise that the White House hadn’t exercised itself to protect and free him and his collaborators arrested in connection with the Watergate enterprise. He simply could not understand this moral default.
It was left that I would take an interest, however remote, in his household of children, now that he was headed for jail. (Neither he nor Dorothy had any brothers or sisters.)
Howard served 33 months. I visited him once. I thought back on the sad contrast between Hunt, E.H., federal prisoner, and Hunt, E.H., special assistant to the U.S. ambassador in Mexico, and his going on to a number of glittering assignments but ultimately making that fateful wrong turn in the service of President Nixon, for which his suffering was prolonged and wretchedly protracted.
I prefer to remember him back in his days as a happy warrior, a productive novelist, an efficient administrator and a wonderful companion.”
— (20) Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times (20th March, 2007)
A sweating and disheveled E. Howard Hunt roused his 19-year-old son from a dead sleep to help him wipe fingerprints from the burglars’ radios and pack the surveillance equipment into a suitcase. Then, father and son raced to a remote Maryland bridge, where they heaved the evidence into the Potomac River just before dawn on June 17, 1972.
“From that point on I felt relevant in his life, that I was the one he could count on,” said Howard St. John Hunt, now 52, who is called St. John.
It also was a turning point for St. John’s brother David and two sisters. They learned that their father wasn’t just a Washington advertising executive and former diplomat. He was an ex-CIA agent and veteran of the ill-fated Cuban Bay of Pigs operation who worked for the Nixon White House as part of a secret team of “plumbers” that fixed information leaks.
The unmasking of Hunt, who was convicted in 1973, sent his family into a tailspin: His first wife, Dorothy, was killed in a plane crash in 1972 while carrying $10,000 in hush money from the White House to the burglars’ families; son David was sent to live with his militant Cuban godfather in Miami; St. John later became a drug addict and daughters Kevan and Lisa became estranged from their father.