Reviews of American Spy
The Boston Globe
By Martin F. Nolan | May 6, 2007
American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate and Beyond
By E. Howard Hunt with Greg Aunapu Wiley , 340 pp., illustrated, $25.95 …..Fully footnoted, "Nixon and Kissinger" is admirable and important. So is E. Howard Hunt's "American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate and Beyond." Hunt, who died in January at 88, presents a livelier, tabloid version of the 1970s. "The White House was becoming more paranoid by the day," Hunt writes. Nixon's "paranoid delusions" about political enemies ignited "the charged atmosphere that I entered at the White House, halls so deep in paranoiac sludge that we had to wade through it with boots." For aficionados of the scandal that ended Nixon's presidency, Hunt offers a compelling scenario, a "CSI: Watergate." It is the best moment-by-moment depiction of the June 17, 1972, burglary of Democratic National Committee headquarters I have ever read. Hunt's candid tale carries a touch of professional pride, rather like the Dickens narrative in "Oliver Twist" featuring the Artful Dodger's boasts of his criminal exploits. Hunt has little to say about Kissinger, but Kissinger's overreaction to the 1971 publication of the Pentagon Papers actually led to the notion of White House burglars on 24-hour call, "the plumbers unit." The president's political advisers thought the publication of Vietnam documents was harmless, even beneficial, to Nixon because it documented Democratic mistakes in Vietnam. Laird called them "the McNamara Papers" after Robert McNamara, defense secretary for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Kissinger prevailed, persuading Nixon that preserving secrecy was more important than law and order. So Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy deployed their burglar tools on Nixon's behalf, were caught and sent to prison. Unlike Nixon and Kissinger, they complained little. Hunt and Liddy retained, during and after that paranoid era, a sense of humor and a sense of honor. Martin Dolan covered the White House for the Boston Globe.
HOWARD HUNT’S LIFE: NO APOLOGIES
By PETER PAVIA
SPY TIMES: Chief White House “plumber” Howard Hunt before the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973. Hunt in late 2003, I expected to find a grizzled Cold Warrior, and the man who invited me into his Miami home for a weekend of interviews did not disappoint. Yet even though I had spent months exchanging correspondence with him, I was surprised by his keen mind, disarmed by his wit and charm, and entertained by his erudition. Hunt died last month at 88, and his autobiography, “American Spy,” has been rushed into print. He had resigned himself to the idea that the first two words of his obituary would be “Watergate conspirator,” but in telling his own story, he reveals a life filled with more acts than F. Scott Fitzgerald could ever have imagined. During World War II, Hunt did stints in both the Navy and Army Air Force, and ultimately wound up attached to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which morphed into what would become the CIA, manned by a group of veterans with impeccable WASP credentials. With his Ivy League background and OSS record, Hunt fit right in among the Wall Street lawyers and investment bankers who were recruited for America’s fledgling intelligence service. The old CIA hand is candid about his role – political, not military – in the 1954 coup against democratically elected Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz. The CIA was determined to thwart Soviet influence in Central America and considered the operation a ringing success, “defenestrating” (Hunt’s word) Arbenz in short order. Unfortunately, the ease with which Arbenz was toppled further swelled the CIA’s enlarging head, and laid the groundwork for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion seven years later. While Hunt generally adopts a tone of cynical bluster, his writing is shot through with rueful threads of reconsideration. While never apologizing for his actions, he does recognize their ramifications. Unlike many of the other principals in the Cuba Project – the agency’s working name for the covert action against Castro – Hunt didn’t lose his job, but he “never recovered psychologically from the Bay of Pigs tragedy.” If Hunt’s look back on his life harbors any lingering bitterness, it stems from the 33 months he spent in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal, of which he writes about in great detail, offering new clarity on how the operation unfolded from the perspective of those who planned it. He had intended to plead guilty, to fall on his sword like a good soldier, but those who were equally guilty received leniency. With four children to support (his wife died in a 1972 plane crash), Hunt had no choice but to testify through several proceedings to cut his time short. It killed him that Nixon, whom he considered responsible for the whole affair, skipped away with a presidential pardon. The fifth act of Hunt’s life was spent in 30 years of relative peace as the adored husband and father of a second family. American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate & Beyond E. Howard Hunt with Greg Aunapu 3 1/2 STARS Wiley, $25.95