E. Howard Hunt

Spy novelist and CIA officer who was sent to prison for his part as Nixon's 'plumber' in Watergate


Everette Howard Hunt, novelist and intelligence officer: born East Hamburg, New York 9 October 1918; married first Dorothy Wetzel (died 1972; two sons, two daughters), second 1977 Laura Martin (two sons); died Miami 23 January 2007.

'Good God." Such was the brief and horrified reaction of E. Howard Hunt - spy novelist, sometime CIA operative and now White House dirty tricks supremo - on the morning of 18 June 1972, when he received a call from the reporter Bob Woodward informing him that his name had been found in the address book of one of the burglars arrested the previous day at the Democratic party headquarters, in the Watergate building in downtown Washington, DC.

Hunt's shock was entirely justified. The presence of his name, alongside the jotted "W. House" and "WH", was the crucial link in the chain that led from what Republican spokesmen dismissed as a "third-rate burglary" directly into Richard Nixon's re-election campaign that year, and ultimately to the resignation of the President himself.

In the end, Hunt would serve 33 months in prison for his part in the crime, as his life hit rock bottom. In December 1972 his wife was killed in an air crash. He subsequently suffered a stroke, while his Watergate legal fees of $1m would later bankrupt him. "I am alone, nearly friendless, ridiculed, disgraced, and destroyed as a man," he told the judge who sentenced him. It was a fair summary of a career that had started so auspiciously a quarter of a century earlier.

Born in 1918, the son of a lawyer and a classical pianist, he enjoyed an Ivy League education at Brown University before serving as an intelligence officer in China, and as a Hollywood scriptwriter, writing some promising spy thrillers on the side before joining the CIA in 1949. A year later Hunt became chief of station in Mexico City, where he helped plot the overthrow of the Guatemalan President Arbenz Guzman in 1954.

However Hunt the intelligence officer was more bungler than master-spy. He saw himself as something of a James Bond but a colleague's view was very different. Hunt, wrote Samuel Hart, a former US diplomat who met him in Uruguay in 1950, was "totally self- absorbed, totally amoral and a danger to himself and anybody around him".

That judgement was if anything vindicated by Hunt's role in the Bay of Pigs disaster in 1961, the abortive, semi- farcical invasion of Cuba by a group of Florida exiles that he helped plan. Hunt's reputation never recovered, and in 1970 he left the CIA, muttering later that that the organisation was "just infested with Democrats".

But the Cuban fiasco would lead indirectly to Watergate itself. Four of the 1972 burglars recruited by Hunt had worked for him in the Bay of Pigs adventure. Subsequently he maintained that the reason for the break-in was the belief they would find records proving the Democrats had received illegal campaign contributions from the Castro regime.

Hunt worked briefly for a public relations agency, before Chuck Colson, another old Brown man who had become special counsel for President Nixon, called with a job offer as "security consultant" to the White House, paying the then very decent sum of $100 a day. Soon, he was running the infamous "plumbers unit", set up to seal leaks from a paranoid administration, and to carry out acts of sabotage against perceived Nixon opponents.

After returning to the CIA to kit himself out with a red wig, a voice-altering gadget and other accoutrements of the secret agent, Hunt set about his new business. His first job - in many ways a dress rehearsal for Watergate - was the burglary of the office of the psychiatrist of Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the secret "Pentagon Papers" about the Vietnam War. At the White House, Hunt could indulge his taste for fantasy: another scheme, never executed, was to bomb the august Brookings Institution in Washington, also a suspected nest of anti-Nixon intrigue.

Hunt was released from prison on his 60th birthday, and retired to live in Florida with his second wife. He briefly hit the headlines when he was awarded $650,000 in damages for an article alleging he had a part in the 1963 Kennedy assassination. But the verdict was overturned on appeal, and Hunt never received a penny.

In the end, he was a better novelist than undercover operator, writing some 80 thrillers over the course of his life (his pseudonyms including John Baxter, Gordon Davis, Robert Dietrich, P.S. Donoghue and David St John). About Watergate he was unrepentant. Having long worked for the CIA, he assumed that the President's wishes were the law of the land, he told People magazine in 1974. "I viewed this [Watergate] like any other mission. It just happened to take place inside this country."

Rupert Cornwell

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
FIFA President Sepp Blatter reacts during a news conference in Zurich June 1, 2011
news
News
people
Life and Style
food + drink
News
peopleKatie Hopkins criticises River Island's 'seize the day' bags for trying to normalise epilepsy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family
film'I survived it, but I’ll never be the same,' says Arash Amel
Life and Style
Retailers should make good any consumer goods problems that occur within two years
tech(and what to do if you receive it)
Life and Style
healthIf one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
Life and Style
tech
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Software Engineer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software Developer / Software Engineer i...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada