AMERICAN SPY: MY SECRET HISTORY IN THE CIA, WATERGATE, AND BEYOND
By E. Howard Hunt with Greg Aunapu
Wiley, $25.95, 340 pages, illus.
REVIEWED BY JOSEPH C. GOULDEN
At the outset, let us give E. Howard Hunt his literary due. During and after a solid career as
an operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, Mr. Hunt wrote more than 70 spy and adventure novels under a medley of pen names, many of them well received critically and commercially.
Now comes a posthumous memoir, “American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate, and Beyond.”
So, now the question: Who is responsible for this — well, I can’t say it nicely — true mess of a book? For starters, there are howling historical glitches about intelligence I am confident Mr. Hunt would not have committed on his own, given his service in the wartime Office of Strategic Services before joining CIA. Given that Mr. Hunt died January 23, at age 88, my suspicion focuses on what seems to bea singularly inept ghost, Greg Aunapu, identified as a “nationally respected journalist, who worked as a freelancer for Time and People magazine for ten years.”
Item One: “American Spy” suggests that OSS was disbanded in 1945 because of a “scathing internal battle” in the Roosevelt Administration over OSS’ planned post-war use of German Gen. Reinhard Gehlen, an expert on Soviet intelligence. We read that “Stalin was outraged that OSS had made a decision to support and fund a former Nazi general.”
Nonsense. The first American contact with Gehlen came in June 1945, two months after Roosevelt died, and it was via military intelligence officers, not OSS. And Gehlen at the time was considered rather small potatoes. A CIA officer familiar with him wrote in an internal agency publication in 1972:
“When Gehlen was brought [to Washington] in 1945 to help G-2 write a handbook on the Soviet Army, he was not a very important person. He was a rather shabby POW in civilian clothes, and he was kept very much under wraps. German brigadier generals did not rate very highly in 1945, and as far we know the highest ranking American he met was a colonel.” In due course, long after OSS had disbanded, CIA did take control of the “Gehlen Organization” and used its assets for years.
As numerous historians have pointed out, notably Thomas F. Troy in “Donovan and The CIA,” OSS fell victim to opposition by the military and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI. Post-war cooperation with former Nazis was not a factor.
Item Two: “American Spy” tries to breathe new life into a long-running canard that CIA moved to topple the communist-leaning government of Guatemala in 1954 because of ties between Allen Dulles, the director of central intelligence, and United Fruit Company. The company supposedly exerted its influence through the Washington lawyer/lobbyist Tommy “The Cork” Corcoran.
Nonsense again. Contemporary CIA documents on PBSUCCESS declassified in 2003 show that the Agency — and especially Colonel J.C. King, head of the Western Hemisphere Division, which oversaw the Guatemalan operation — considered Corcoran a pest rather than an ally, and it took almost juvenile delight in fending him off.
Notes of a high-level meeting on June 9, 1954, shortly before the coup was carried out, spoke of “the latest Corcoran attacks against the Agency and his efforts to penetrate PBSUCCESS and to bring pressures to bear, using only slightly veiled threats of stirring up trouble for CIA on the Hill.” Orders were given that no one was to speak with Corcoran without express permission of Dulles.
Another memo notes the “shock” that Corcoran expressed to King and others when the Eisenhower Administration filed a multimillion dollar antitrust suit against United Fruit the day after PBSUCCESS succeeded.
Item Three: Lyndon Johnson as the key mover in the assassination of President Kennedy, acting through CIA officer William Harvey? Given the sparsity of “supporting evidence,” the less said about this fantasy, the better.
The first part of the book relates, rather swiftly, Hunt’s wartime service in the Navy and in the OSS, and an Agency career that began in Mexico City in 1950. People who worked with Hunt remember him as a competent but not overly distinguished officer.
Hunt adds nothing substantially new to the Watergate story, in which he was a key player along with former FBI agent G. Gordon Liddy. What raised my hackles is Hunt’s long whine about the refusal of Nixon and friends to pay his expenses when he faced trial and jail.
Indeed! Had Hunt displayed even the slightest of burglary skills, perhaps he had a case. Yet as he writes, the team’s first entry into the Watergate complex failed because a security guard detected that they had taped a door to disengage the lock. Even a rookie D.C. street burglar would have realized at that point a Plan Two was in order. But not Hunt/Liddy: Their team returned the next evening with the same plan, and you might recall the rest of the story.
Hunt makes a long — and thoroughly unconvincing — case that whatever he did during Watergate was intended to protect Richard M. Nixon and his presidency. I agree with William F. Buckley, Jr., that Hunt was “more responsible than any single other human being for bringing about Nixon’s resignation.” (Buckley became a friend of Hunt when both served CIA’s Mexico City station during the 1950s; although he wrote a foreword to this book, their Watergate estrangement was so deep that he confined his remarks to their shared Mexico service.)
The few times I met Hunt personally, I put aside my disgust for his Watergate stunts and found him somewhat of a charming rogue, a good man with a glass and a story. (A writer learns early on how to hold his nose and take notes at the same time.) I wish now that I had not read this pathetic book. Avoid it.
Joseph C. Goulden is writing a book on Cold War intelligence. His e-mail is JosephG894@aol.com.