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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
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

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game