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. (New York Post, February 25, 2007)
Career spy, Watergate conspirator and prolific suspense novelist Hunt (Guilty Knowledge) collaborated with journalist Aunapu (Without a Trace) on this breezy, unrepentant memoir. Hunt (who died recently at 88) recalls the highlights of a long career, from WWII service with the fabled Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—predecessor of the CIA—to a career with the agency itself and a stint as a consultant to the Nixon White House. As a White House operative, Hunt specialized in dirty tricks and break-ins—including the Democratic National Committee's headquarters—and served 33 months in federal prison for his role in the Watergate scandal. He claims to have been a magnet for women, especially models, and shamelessly drops the names of the rich and powerful. He also played a key role in the disastrous Bay of Pigs operation. As for his role in Watergate, he blames his "bulldog loyalty" and con