Howard Hunt is definitely one of the most mysterious personalities in the history of the United States. His story has been recently covered by the HBO series White House Plumbers, and through that show, we get some hints about his involvement in some of the most significant milestones in American history, from the Bay of Pigs invasion to the Watergate scandal, up to his famous deathbed confession where he revealed classified information related to the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. His true story can become a book, but in this article, we will summarize the main points of his life.
Before the White House Plumbers and Watergate: The Bay of Pigs invasion
E. Howard Hunt joined the CIA in 1949. He was immediately assigned to political action and influence, in the department that later became the CIA’s Special Activities Division. As part of that role, he actively participated in the United States’ operation in Cuba in 1961, culminating in the Bay of Pigs invasion.
That operation intended to overthrow Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba as part of the broader Cold War of those years. The Bay of Pigs invasion was supposed to be a military operation secretly supported by the United States. The plan was to land a force of Cuban exiles, trained and supported by the CIA, at the Bay of Pigs on the southern coast of Cuba. The hope was that a popular uprising would follow, leading to the downfall of Castro.
The operation was planned and approved during the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but it was carried out under President John F. Kennedy. The CIA trained and equipped around 1,400 Cuban exiles for the invasion. Howard Hunt was among those who were preparing the exiles for the government they were supposed to form after the invasion, under the direct influence of the United States. However, the Bay of Pigs invasion failed: John F. Kennedy decided to withhold air support after the international community became aware of the operation, which became the decisive factor for the failure.
That’s why the Bay of Pigs invasion is mentioned so often in the HBO series White House Plumbers: it’s considered an emblematic example of how operations fail if those who order them step back in the middle of the action. For Howard Hunt, the failure of the Cuban operation became a crucial turning point for his career: after that scandal, Kennedy’s administration publicly reacted against the CIA’s covert operations. From this point of view, Howard Hunt became one of those officers who needed to be blamed as a bad guy, although he was just executing orders. This detail of Howard Hunt’s perspective will come back soon.
The Watergate scandal
When Howard Hunt was assigned as one of the heads of the White House Plumbers, his task was (again) to execute an order: his team had to bug the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. However, on June 17, 1972, the burglars who broke into the Watergate complex were arrested, and quite soon, the connection with Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy became clear.
In the beginning, after the arrests, Nixon’s administration put its best effort into covering up the White House Plumbers operation, in an attempt to avoid a reputation problem for the U.S. President. As we know, the attempt failed: thanks to the efforts of newspapers like The Washington Post, Time, and The New York Times, with the help of the infamous deep throat in contact with the reporters, it was revealed that the White House deposited considerable sums of money in the bank accounts of the burglars, trying to cover the operation’s costs and motivate them to hide precious information during the trial.
Once again, Howard Hunt was first asked to execute the orders, then became a public problem for the United States government. As reported by the New York Times in this article, during the Watergate investigations, Howard Hunt declared in front of the Senate committee:
“I am crushed by the failure of my government to protect me and my family as in the past it has always done for its clandestine agents. I cannot escape feeling that the country I have served for my entire life and which directed me to carry out the Watergate entry is punishing me for doing the very things it trained and directed me to do.”
In December 1972, in the middle of the Watergate investigations, Howard Hunt’s wife Dorothy died in a mysterious plane crash. According to their son Saint John Hunt, who years later disclosed important information he knew from his father, the crash was orchestrated to put pressure on his dad. As reported in this article, he said: “A day after my mom died, my dad pled guilty. The day after the plane crash, Nixon appointed one of his closest advisers to head the crash investigation.”
Howard Hunt served 33 months in prison for the Watergate scandal. After he was released, he will spend the rest of his life as a book writer. But before dying, he had the chance to reveal some secret information that became famous as the “deathbed confession of Howard Hunt.”
The deathbed confession of Howard Hunt
The deathbed confession is a series of tapes recorded by Howard Hunt in 2004 and sent to his son Saint John Hunt. The content of these tapes was first revealed in 2007 on RollingStone and then became part of the book Saint John published in 2012, Bond of Secrecy: My Life with CIA Spy and Watergate Conspirator E. Howard Hunt. You can hear part of the content of that tapes in the video below, inside an interview Saint John had with Coast to Coast Live.
It’s important to note that the accusations in Howard Hunt’s deathbed confession have never been proven, and many consider them just a conspiracy theory. The content, after all, is explosive: in that tape, Hunt explains that there was a direct connection between the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy and key figures of the United States government, implying that the murder was ordered by Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, who wanted to become President (he succeeded Kennedy in 1963).
It’s the last element that gives an aura of mystery to the life of Howard Hunt. The rest can be discovered in books, movies, and TV shows, as we are seeing in HBO’s White House Plumbers.
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