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Lee Forman

Fidel Castro: Supermole

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Thanks, Lee. Curious indeed.

I noticed that Herbert Matthews gets a mention. An interesting character for sure. In 1962 he wrote the following -

"New evidence may change the picture but on the evidence available and on my personal knowledge of Fidel Castro, I have always said and I still say that he was not and is not a Communist."

James

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I noticed that Herbert Matthews gets a mention. An interesting character for sure. In 1962 he wrote the following - "New evidence may change the picture but on the evidence available and on my personal knowledge of Fidel Castro, I have always said and I still say that he was not and is not a Communist."

On New Years Day, 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, the United States’ foreign policy establishment had a wide range of options available. So why was the choice made to alienate Castro, thereby driving him into the Soviet fold? Much of the answer can be found in the U.S.’ policy in support of multinational corporations. This single-minded mentality (the business of America is business) had little tolerance for social reforms that might cut into profits and control. The absolutism of American capitalism was a very real factor, as C. Wright Mills wrote, “in forcing the Government of Cuba to align itself politically with the Soviet bloc, as against assuming a genuinely neutralist and hence peaceful world orientation.” In his first speech as the leader of the new Cuba, Castro revealed an intended independence that would have been disconcerting to those that profited most from a subservient Cuba:

"The Revolution begins now. . . . It will not be like 1898, when the North Americans came and made themselves masters of our country. . . . For the first time, the Republic will really be entirely free and the people will have what they deserve. . . . This war was won by the people!"

The shaping of Castro’s image as communistic long before he would be forced to publicly adopt that guise was a form of self-prophesy. But initially, even the CIA’s own resident expert on Latin American communism concluded after a three hour interview with Castro, that “Castro is not only not a Communist; he is a strong anti-Communist fighter.”

Castro also proved himself a crowd pleaser. During a 1960 trip to the United Nations for that year's General Assembly, after having a dispute with the management of the Shelboure Hotel in midtown, Castro’s entourage of bearded guerrillas who had recently assumed power moved to Harlem's Hotel Theresa. Thousands of Harlem residents crowded the streets to cheer them. There, Castro met with black leader Malcolm X, and met separately with then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. Gamal Abdel Nassar of the United Arab Republic also paid his respects to Castro at the hotel, which has since been torn down. It was during this trip to New York that Castro asserted, “I have said in a clear and definitive fashion that we are not Communists. . . . The doors are open to private investments that contribute to the industrial development of Cuba.

The Eisenhower administration was alarmed by Castro’s protestations about human rights and democracy at the same time that he was seizing control of the press, rigging elections, shutting down the casinos, and nationalizing industry. However, other than the issue of the casinos and the geographical and recreational immediacy to American interests, these practices had all been seen before in Latin American efforts to achieve social reform. But this was after McCarthyism had taken its toll on Western attitudes, and there was no room for shades of pink in that climate. It was the era of all or nothing in the fight against the Red Menace. Such extreme attitudes were reflected in a briefing given to CIA Director Dulles by Kenneth Crosby, a leading American businessman with interests in Havana. Crosby described Castro as “another Hitler” who had “tremendous influence over the people,” comparable to that of Rasputin.

Clearer heads, however, have questioned such a totalistic perspective. Thomas Patterson disputes the notion that Castro was always a Communist and committed to a Marxist view of the world before taking power. He notes that “even the veteran foreign service officer appointed U.S. ambassador to Cuba shortly after Castro’s triumph acknowledged that Castro's Soviet alliance solidified only after the United States tried to overthrow the bearded leader.” More than simply placing the cart before the horse, U.S. policy actually created a Soviet beachhead in the Western Hemisphere. This constituted enemy-making of the first order.

One school of thought argues that Castro’s objectives, combined with the dynamics of revolution, propelled Fidel into the Soviet orbit. On the other hand, there is the contention that, by its actions and non-actions, the United States drove Castro to seek out the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, there was consensus that if Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy had responded to Cuba as President Carter later did to Nicaragua, Castro more likely than not would have been stymied in his radical course.

Even if it were true all along that Castro was a Communist, few countries subscribed to the blanket criterion of “anything but communism” (the “ABC” of U.S. Cold War foreign policy ) in determining regime legitimacy. Only a year after Castro came to power, secret official efforts had begun to depose him when Eisenhower’s National Security Council deliberated over ways to bring “another government to power in Cuba.” E. Howard Hunt, the man the Washington Post called the “Great Gatsby of the cloak and walkie-talkie set,” had been sent to Cuba to check things out for himself and upon returning submitted an itemized list of suggestions geared toward toppling Castro:

1. Assassinate Castro before or coincident with the invasion (a task for Cuban patriots);

2. Destroy the Cuban radio and television transmitters before or coincident with the invasion;

3. Destroy the island’s microwave relay system just before the invasion begins;

4. Discard any thought of a popular uprising against Castro until the issue has already been militarily decided.

Before Hunt was to be appointed what James Reston described as “operational head of the CIA-Cuban Bay of Pigs disaster,” he was asked whether he was too conservative to handle the Cuban exiles. He responded that he was “a career officer” and that his “political views, whatever they may be, don’t enter into it.” In fact, the question would eventually prove to be well placed; given Hunt’s right wing attitudes, he would eventually require replacement over this very issue. But his extreme operational recommendations were well-received, initiating what is perhaps the shadiest period in U.S. foreign relations. At the time, however, it was old home week, with the veterans of the Guatemala overthrow reunited. Hunt recalled, “We greeted each other warmly and remarked that the old crowd was rallying to the new cause.” “The first discussion of killing Castro” according to Richard Bissell, the number two man at the CIA, occurred when “first on [Hunt’s] list was Castro’s murder.”

A meeting of the National Security Council was held after which, on March 17, President Eisenhower approved a four-point plan military plan, laid out in a top secret policy paper, “A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime.” This program had already received approval from the 5412 Committee, “the most secret operating unit of government.” Leaving out any mention of Hunt’s internal CIA memo recommending that “thorough consideration be given to the elimination of Fidel Castro,” the document called for four steps:

(1) creation of a responsible and unified Cuban government in exile;

(2) a powerful propaganda offensive;

(3) a covert intelligence and action organization in Cuba, to be responsive to the exile opposition; and

(4) a paramilitary force outside of Cuba for future guerrilla action.

Hunt was gratified to be informed that the project’s action officer at the White House was to be none other than the Vice President, Richard Nixon. He later noted his disappointment that when the time came that he needed him, Nixon “had been supplanted by a new administration.”

Michael Beschloss has observed that all of this plotting and planning was conducted at a time when Castro “had yet to seize American property or establish diplomatic relations with Moscow.” Publicly, the official American policy was still friendliness toward the new Cuban government. The planned lodgment of a government-in-exile on a Cuban beachhead was never expected to actually topple Castro; the most hopeful prospect was that by presenting a military threat of unknown proportions, and fabricating rumors and propaganda of multiple landings, dissident Cubans might be encouraged to take up arms while borderline supporters would be frightened into quiescence. The idea was that, once established, the exiles would begin “broadcasting to the world as a government-in-arms. In other words, the best the constructed legitimacy of the exile beachhead government could have offered the Cuban people was civil war, a “bitter gift.”

Of course, once the U.S. were to recognize the new government as the legitimate one, then requests for military support would have indigenous origins, giving the U.S. all the pretext needed and avoiding any appearance of imperialism. To add to the construction of legitimacy, Hunt was directed to draft a new Cuban constitution which should include “land reform clauses and the rest of it.” While some supposed that the exile force would be able to advance toward Havana, Bissell knew better: the isolation of the landing site intended to keep Castro out would just as readily keep the exiles in.

Shortly after conducting a good will tour of America, Castro introduced an agrarian reform law to his Cabinet. The measure would authorize the Cuban government to take back much of the island’s land from its owners, many of them being American-based companies. Immediately, the American press began to portray Castro as a Communist. This change was not merely a reflection of ideological sentiment. There was a very real monetary incentive behind the opposition to the agrarian reform. Chief among the companies who vehemently opposed the expropriation of land was the conglomerate, some would say oligarchy, United Fruit, a company that had already been instrumental in the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954.

The Boston-based United Fruit Company had unique connections within the U.S. government. Both John Foster Dulles, the Secretary of State, and his brother Allen Dulles, the Director of the CIA, had been partners in the law firm that represented this com-pany. John M. Cabot, Eisenhower’s Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, was the company’s major stockholder. Sinclair Weeks, the Secretary of Commerce, had been director of United Fruit’s registrar bank. Although some of these officials had divested themselves of their interests in the company, the Washington-United Fruit network was a significant one. These were the days “when the United Fruit Company’s reputation for being able to call in the Marines or the CIA to its Central American banana fiefdom was a principal company asset.”

Along with United Fruit, a major stakeholder in the control of Cuba was the American Mafia. When Castro ordered the casinos closed down he made himself a significant enemy of the Mafia. That U.S. foreign policy would represent the interests of United Fruit is not so surprising as that the government would readily climb in bed with the Mafia.

In September of 1960, a high-ranking CIA official met with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana, his West Coast associate Johnny Roselli, and Santos Trafficante, the Florida and Havana underworld chief who had been put in jail by Castro after the takeover of the casinos. The purpose of the meeting was the planning for the murder of the Cuban leader. The Deputy Director for Plans of the CIA, Richard Bissell, thought that hiring gangsters to kill Castro was the “ultimate cover,” because “there was very little chance that anything the Syndicate would try to do would be traced back” to the U.S. government. It seems reasonable, however, that this was not merely operationally expedient; it was also a reflection of a mutuality of interests between the American intelligence community and the Underworld. Nor was it the first time this partnership had been activated. The alliance had begun during World War II after a series of sabotage incidents on the East Coast culminated in the burning of an oceanliner, the Normandie.

With Operation Underworld, Roosevelt made the Mafiosi all but official masters of the U.S. East Coast docks and gave implicit protection to their activities everywhere. With his instructions to Patton in 1943, he restored the Mafia to power in Sicily. When he sent Lansky to Batista in 1944, he paved the way for the spread of Syndicate influence throughout the Caribbean and Central America.

The same month that the CIA and Mafia resumed their unholy partnership, this time planning for the assassination of a sovereign head of state, Castro publicly labeled the U.S. activities against his country as subversive and warlike. In a speech before the United Nations in September of 1960, he railed against the international criminality being practiced by the U.S.:

"The government of the United States considers it has the right to promote and encourage subversion in our country. The government of the United States is promoting the organization of subversive movements against the revolutionary government of Cuba. . . . Does this mean, by chance, that the Cuban government has the right to promote subversion in the United States?"

Castro seems to have been beset by the strange notion that what goes around comes around, turn about is fair play, and some kind of equitable treatment between nations is to be expected. His statements consistently reflect a resistance to the kind of one-sidedness presumed by the United States. Given that legitimacy in international relations involves certain standards and codes of conduct, Castro’s expectations may have been legitimate, but misplaced. It was Castro’s rejection of the U.S. military double standard in the hemisphere, which assumes Latin American weakness and North American strength, that encouraged him to form an army which could later beat off the Bay of Pigs invasion.

That same summer, Soviet Premier Khrushchev announced that “the Monroe Doctrine has outlived its time, has outlived itself, has died, so to say, a natural death.” Reflecting Nietzsche’s views on the state of stale, obsolete constructions, the Russian continued, “Now the remains of this doctrine should best be buried as every dead body is so that it should not poison the air by its decay.” Khrushchev held nothing back in describing the people most served by continued invocation of the doctrine:

". . . the imperialists of the United States of America, the colonialists, who, like vultures, snatch the last crumb out of the mouths of the dying children and old folk just to wax fat and rich. And it is through the Monroe Doctrine that they want to assure themselves the right to go on with this robbery forever."

The representation that Castro posed a Communist threat to the U.S. was demonstrably in place long before any supporting facts were to emerge. The New York Times’ reporter, Herbert L. Matthews, had come under attack for his sympathetic coverage long before Castro announced that he was a Communist who would be characterized as having “almost brought on a nuclear war.” The newspaper reported public demonstrations “protesting editorials on Cuba and editorial writings of Herbert L. Matthews in The Times, as well as information in the news columns that the protesters interpreted as favorable to Fidel Castro, and therefore to communism.”

post-3567-1143018662_thumb.jpg

Tim

Edited by Tim Carroll

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E. Howard Hunt, the man the Washington Post called the “Great Gatsby of the cloak and walkie-talkie set,” had been sent to Cuba to check things out for himself and upon returning submitted an itemized list of suggestions geared toward toppling Castro:

1. Assassinate Castro before or coincident with the invasion (a task for Cuban patriots);

2. Destroy the Cuban radio and television transmitters before or coincident with the invasion;

3. Destroy the island’s microwave relay system just before the invasion begins;

4. Discard any thought of a popular uprising against Castro until the issue has already been militarily decided.

Hi Tim-

I'm still in the early stage of getting a feel for the forum, and as yet haven't run across any speculation about why, given all he knows about so much, Hunt's still alive. So many who knew less have died, more or less prematurely and under more or less questionable circumstances. My guess is that he's put the full story in the hands of one or more unknown/unassailable custodians, "to be opened in the event of my death."

I'd be interested in your opinion, and in those of other members, concerning this or any other explanation of Hunt's charmed life...

Best

Stan

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Guest Stephen Turner

. My guess is that he's put the full story in the hands of one or more unknown/unassailable custodians, "to be opened in the event of my death."

Hi Stan, My guess, is your guess is just about on the money, There sure will be some undignified scrambling in certain quarters when the old boy does shuffle of this mortal coil. BTW welcome to the Forum.

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. My guess is that he's put the full story in the hands of one or more unknown/unassailable custodians, "to be opened in the event of my death."

Hi Stan, My guess, is your guess is just about on the money, There sure will be some undignified scrambling in certain quarters when the old boy does shuffle of this mortal coil. BTW welcome to the Forum.

Hi Stephen-

Thanks for the welcome! Just ran across this relatively recent interview of the (now) peg-legged pirate...

Best

Stan

interrogation

Scavenger Hunt

E. Howard Hunt talks about Guatemala, the Bay of Pigs, and what really happened to Che.

By A.L. Bardach

Updated Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2004, at 8:04 AM ET

MIAMI, Aug. 25, 2004—E. Howard Hunt is one of the most notorious spies of the 20th century. The son of an influential Republican leader in upstate New York, Hunt began his career as a founding member of the OSS, the precursor of the CIA in the 1940s. After beginning as an intelligence operative in China, Hunt trailblazed the path for the CIA in Latin America from 1950 to 1970, ever on the lookout for the Communist menace. By his account, he was the architect of the 1954 U.S.-backed coup ("Operation Success") in Guatemala that deposed democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz. Adept at psych ops (propaganda and subversion) and running "black flights" (covert operations), he also played a role in the Bay of Pigs: He was responsible for propaganda operations and the organization of a post-Castro government. Such exploits and excesses led to the scaling back of the CIA's prerogatives following hearings by the Church Committee in 1976.

In July 1970, Hunt went into "private practice," taking with him the tools he acquired during his 25 years in the intelligence business. His most famous black-bag jobs were breaking into Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office and, later, Watergate, where Hunt's "plumbers" cadre, recruited from among his Cuban exile comrades, rifled and bugged the offices of the Democratic Party in May and June of 1972.

Since pleading guilty to his role in Watergate and spending "33 months in 13 federal prisons," Howard Hunt has lived in Miami where he met and married his second wife of 27 years, Laura. An expert storyteller, Hunt has had a second career as a spy novelist. The couple live in a modest ranch house at the end of a cul-de-sac in north Miami. Posted around his door are warnings against trespassing, which seems somehow appropriate for a man with a history of illegal entry.

Hunt answered the door in a wheelchair. One of his legs has been amputated due to atherosclerosis, and for the past few months, he's battled lymphoma localized in his jaw (it is now in remission). He wears a hearing aid and sports rimless, bifocal glasses. While no longer the dapper spymaster, he remains salty and unremorseful.

As a general rule, Hunt said, he doesn't talk about Watergate or "the old days." But with his 86th birthday soon to occur on Oct. 9, he was feeling a bit more chatty.

Slate: You started the CIA's first bureau in Mexico in 1949. Did you first start working on Guatemala from there?

Hunt: In Mexico, I had a few agents from Washington with me, and I had recruited a few others … [including] a young Catholic priest. So the priest came to me one time, and he said, "I'm sending down several young men to Guatemala to get a view of the situation there. It's not good." He said, "My people were beaten up and put into jail, and then exiled from the country." And he sort of sat back expectantly. And I said, "That's certainly not right. I'll let Washington know what's going on in Guatemala." So I retold the story of Guatemala and the treatment of my young Catholic friend. I found that there was a lot of intense interest in what I had to say.

Slate: We're talking about the time after 1952, the year Jacobo Arbenz was elected president of Guatemala.

Hunt: He was in power then, yes. But his wife was by far the smarter of the two and sort of told him what to do. She was a convinced communist. … I waited for orders [from Washington]. A couple of [CIA and military] officers came down to join me, and it became apparent that there was going to be an effort to dislodge the communist management [laughs] of Guatemala. Which indeed happened. We set up shop and had some very bright guys working against Arbenz, and the long and short of it was that we got Arbenz defenestrated. Out the window. [Laughs]

Slate: But President Arbenz ended up in exile—not really out the window?

Hunt: Yeah. In Czechoslovakia. With his very bright and attractive wife.

Slate: So it seems you were the architect for the Guatemalan operation?

Hunt: It was mine because nobody else knew more than I did. I would say that I had more knowledge about it than anybody did. I knew all the players on both sides.

Slate: How did you run the Guatemalan operation?

Hunt: We set up the first Guatemalan operation/shop at Opa-Locka [airport in Miami, formerly an Army base]. There were three barracks, and we used the airstrip to fly in people from Guatemala and to send our people into Guatemala. These were known as "the black flights." They always occurred at night; they are a secret and officially do not exist as having happened.

Slate: Do you think the Guatemala coup went well?

Hunt: Yes—it did. And I'm glad I kept Arbenz from being executed.

Slate: How did you do that?

Hunt: By passing the word out to the people at the airport who had Arbenz to "let him go."

Slate: To whom did you give the word?

Hunt: It was a mixed band of CIA and Guatemalans at the airport and their hatred for him was palpable.

Slate: You were worried they would assassinate him right there?

Hunt: Yeah. … And we'd [the CIA and the United States] get blamed for it.

Slate: Some 200,000 civilians were killed in the civil war following the coup, which lasted for the next 40 years. Were all those deaths unforeseen?

Hunt: Deaths? What deaths?

Slate: Well, the civil war that ensued for the next 40 years after the coup.

Hunt: Well, we should have done something we never do—we should have maintained a constant presence in Guatemala after getting rid of Arbenz.

Slate: Did you ever actually meet Jacobo Arbenz?

Hunt: They [he and his wife] were neighbors of mine—years later—on the same street in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Slate: What were you doing there?

Hunt: I was the CIA chief of station.

They had come from [exile in] Czechoslovakia, and nobody in Washington had told me they were coming and so it was a big surprise to me, to my wife and me. We went to the country club for dinner one evening and lo and behold, the Arbenzes were seated a few tables away.

Slate: What did you do?

Hunt: Well, nothing. I sent a cable to Washington saying, "In the future when we have important arrivals, please let me know." It's the least they could do.

Slate: I'd like to talk about Cuba now. Did you have a lot of responsibility during Bay of Pigs?

Hunt: Leading up to it.

Slate: How so?

Hunt: I came to Miami, and of course there were [Cuban] exiles, all anxious to take weapons in hand and charge back [to Cuba]. And the CIA was given the responsibility of a twofold action against Cuba. There was the psychological warfare branch which I headed [propaganda, covert operations], and the paramilitary which oversaw the training [of Cuban exiles] that took place in Guatemala.

My [other] responsibility was to form and manage the future government of Cuba. At that point I formed the Cuban government-in-exile with Manuel Artime [bay of Pigs veteran designated by the United States to succeed Castro]. I had told them [the exile trainees] to meet me in my safe house in Coconut Grove. An FBI guy whom I knew came to me and he said your neighbor has reported you to the police saying that men are coming and going at all hours of the night. … He said he thought it was a gay brothel.

Slate: Did you go to Cuba after Castro took power in January 1959?

Hunt: I did go to Cuba. I went there under a very flimsy cover. Batista was out—it was 1959. I'd been sent to Havana to nose around and get a grass-roots feeling and talk to the proverbial taxi drivers and find out what their likely response would be to a possible U.S. invasion. And I did. And I told them don't count on it because it's not going to happen. But that is exactly what happened.

Slate: Did you help in the planning of Bay of Pigs?

Hunt: Not the military [planning]. And I couldn't find anybody who thought that it was a good plan.

Slate: What were the objections?

Hunt: There was an objection on the part of Dean Rusk, secretary of state under Kennedy. He didn't want a "go-and-see invasion"—that was the term he used. And our people [CIA planners] had planned an invasion that combined both a seaborne assault and an airlift. Dean Rusk was a great naysayer—he was not a fellow with useful ideas. When our plan was submitted to Rusk for his OK, he said, "This is too noisy, you gotta do something else." So the assault point was moved to the Bahia de Cochinos—the Bay of Pigs. Which had nothing in its favor. It was a beach that came down from the jungle. A lot of mosquitoes. Our people made that beach landing and they were scooped up pretty soon thereafter.

Slate: Did you ever think there was a way to get rid of Castro, short of a military coup?

Hunt: No. When Castro went into Cuba and took over, this was the moment—with all the chaos and disorganization—that our forces could have gone in and unseated him. But we always confronted this dreadful organization called the Department of State. Who needs it?!

Slate: What was your feeling about Batista?

Hunt: Well, I thought he ran a good government there. There was a lot of corruption, but there's always been corruption in Latin America. We can't be too purist about these things.

Slate: Let's talk about the finals days and execution of Che. Do you know what the real story was there?

Hunt: I do. El Che was becoming a popular threat to Castro. Castro was a gradualist; his view was that great changes couldn't take place immediately. But El Che had a different idea—he had wanted the entire continent of Latin America to become Communist. And Castro, sort of to get rid of him, said, "Take a band down to Bolivia. Here's money, and radio phones, and all that." So Che went down there. But Che's very first [radio] transmissions were picked up by our people at the National Security Agency. The agency was able to track him wherever he went with his little forlorn band. The Bolivians wanted to get rid of him as soon as possible, and our people kept the Bolivian army informed as to where he was.

Slate: So you knew where he was all the time?

Hunt: Yes. There was no question about where he was or what he was trying to do. The Bolivians had gone through this kind of BS before, and they wanted to put an end to it as soon as possible. Eventually they just said, "We're gonna put an end to this farce," and they rounded up this little band of Che's, and they didn't kill anybody except Che.

Slate: I thought it was Felix Rodriguez, the Bay of Pigs Cuban exile, who says he killed Che.

Hunt: No, the Bolivians did.

Slate: What did the Americans want to do with Che?

Hunt: We wanted deniability. We made it possible for him to be killed.

Slate: Do you think anybody back then was thinking this guy would become a cult figure, that he might be more trouble dead than alive?

Hunt: No, nobody had the foresight for that. … What I thought was great foresight was that the Bolivian colonel had Che's hands cut off.

Slate: Why did he do that?

Hunt: So he couldn't be identified by fingerprints. That was a pretty good idea—if you don't want somebody identified. People still shiver a little when they think about hands being cut off.

Slate: Did that idea come from the Bolivian colonel or from the CIA?

Hunt: I have no idea. But I talked with Felix about it. I said, "You were there when Che expired." He said they had taken him into this room, and they shot him there and killed him. And they had kind of a medical examination table. They put his body on that and cut off his hands. They fooled around for a day or so before they disposed of the body. And that was done in a very sloppy fashion. The colonel had a shallow grave dug and his remains were dumped in there.

Laura Hunt: [interjects] For all we know, Felix [Rodriguez] did shoot him.

Hunt: It was just important that it was done.

Slate: Maybe Rodriguez arranged for the Bolivians to do the killing and then took credit?

Hunt: What we certainly didn't want was a public monument to Che. We wanted his memory to vanish as soon as possible. But it never did. Even my son goes on about Che.

Slate: What do you think of Felix Rodriguez campaigning these days against John Kerry, who questioned him at the Iran-Contra hearings?

Hunt: I think that's great! Felix can do no wrong in my book.

Slate: What led you to leave the CIA?

Hunt: I found out the CIA was just infested with Democrats. I retired in '70. I got out as soon as I could. I wrote several books immediately thereafter.

Slate: I still don't understand how you get involved in Watergate later. Through the CIA?

Hunt: I had been a consultant to the White House. I greatly respected Nixon. When Chuck Colson [special counsel to Nixon] asked me to work for the administration, I said yes. Colson phoned one day and said, "I have a job you might be interested in." This was before Colson got religion.

Slate: How long were you in prison for the Watergate break-in?

Hunt: All told, 33 months.

Slate: That's a lot of time.

Hunt: It's a lot of time. And I've often said, what did I do?

Slate: Did you get a pardon?

Hunt: No. Never did. I'd applied for one, and there was no action taken, and I thought I'd just humiliate myself if I asked for a pardon.

Laura Hunt: He was sort of numb because all of this happened to his wife and his family, his children went into drugs while he was still in prison.

Slate: Wasn't your first wife killed in a plane crash?

Laura Hunt: She was killed when her plane crash-landed at Chicago's Midway Airport. And there was all this speculation from conspiracy buffs that the FBI blew the plane up or something … so that she would never talk, all this ridiculous stuff.

Slate: How do you feel about Chuck Colson?

Hunt: He failed to come to my assistance, which would have helped Nixon and me.

Slate: Do you hold anyone responsible for Watergate?

Hunt: No, I don't.

Slate: And you didn't apologize?

Hunt: No. It never occurred to me to apologize.

Slate: Should Nixon have resigned?

Hunt: No.

Slate: I know there is a conspiracy theory saying that David Atlee Phillips—the Miami CIA station chief—was involved with the assassination of JFK.

Hunt: [Visibly uncomfortable] I have no comment.

Slate: I know you hired him early on, to work with you in Mexico, to help with Guatemala propaganda.

Hunt: He was one of the best briefers I ever saw.

Slate: And there were even conspiracy theories about you being in Dallas the day JFK was killed.

Hunt: No comment.

Laura Hunt: Howard says he wasn't, and I believe him.

Slate: Any regrets?

Hunt: No, none. [Long pause] Well, it would have been nice to do Bay of Pigs differently.

A.L. Bardach regularly writes "Interrogations" for Slate. She is the author of Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana and the editor of Cuba: A Traveler's Literary Companion.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2107718/

Copyright 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC

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Interrogation

Scavenger Hunt

E. Howard Hunt talks about Guatemala, the Bay of Pigs, and what really happened to Che.

By A.L. Bardach

Updated Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2004, at 8:04 AM ET

MIAMI, Aug. 25, 2004—E. Howard Hunt is one of the most notorious spies of the 20th century. The son of an influential Republican leader in upstate New York, Hunt began his career as a founding member of the OSS, the precursor of the CIA in the 1940s. After beginning as an intelligence operative in China, Hunt trailblazed the path for the CIA in Latin America from 1950 to 1970, ever on the lookout for the Communist menace. By his account, he was the architect of the 1954 U.S.-backed coup ("Operation Success") in Guatemala that deposed democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz. Adept at psych ops (propaganda and subversion) and running "black flights" (covert operations), he also played a role in the Bay of Pigs: He was responsible for propaganda operations and the organization of a post-Castro government. Such exploits and excesses led to the scaling back of the CIA's prerogatives following hearings by the Church Committee in 1976.

In July 1970, Hunt went into "private practice," taking with him the tools he acquired during his 25 years in the intelligence business. His most famous black-bag jobs were breaking into Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office and, later, Watergate, where Hunt's "plumbers" cadre, recruited from among his Cuban exile comrades, rifled and bugged the offices of the Democratic Party in May and June of 1972.

Since pleading guilty to his role in Watergate and spending "33 months in 13 federal prisons," Howard Hunt has lived in Miami where he met and married his second wife of 27 years, Laura. An expert storyteller, Hunt has had a second career as a spy novelist. The couple live in a modest ranch house at the end of a cul-de-sac in north Miami. Posted around his door are warnings against trespassing, which seems somehow appropriate for a man with a history of illegal entry.

Hunt answered the door in a wheelchair. One of his legs has been amputated due to atherosclerosis, and for the past few months, he's battled lymphoma localized in his jaw (it is now in remission). He wears a hearing aid and sports rimless, bifocal glasses. While no longer the dapper spymaster, he remains salty and unremorseful.

As a general rule, Hunt said, he doesn't talk about Watergate or "the old days." But with his 86th birthday soon to occur on Oct. 9, he was feeling a bit more chatty.

Slate: You started the CIA's first bureau in Mexico in 1949. Did you first start working on Guatemala from there?

Hunt: In Mexico, I had a few agents from Washington with me, and I had recruited a few others … [including] a young Catholic priest. So the priest came to me one time, and he said, "I'm sending down several young men to Guatemala to get a view of the situation there. It's not good." He said, "My people were beaten up and put into jail, and then exiled from the country." And he sort of sat back expectantly. And I said, "That's certainly not right. I'll let Washington know what's going on in Guatemala." So I retold the story of Guatemala and the treatment of my young Catholic friend. I found that there was a lot of intense interest in what I had to say.

Slate: We're talking about the time after 1952, the year Jacobo Arbenz was elected president of Guatemala.

Hunt: He was in power then, yes. But his wife was by far the smarter of the two and sort of told him what to do. She was a convinced communist. … I waited for orders [from Washington]. A couple of [CIA and military] officers came down to join me, and it became apparent that there was going to be an effort to dislodge the communist management [laughs] of Guatemala. Which indeed happened. We set up shop and had some very bright guys working against Arbenz, and the long and short of it was that we got Arbenz defenestrated. Out the window. [Laughs]

Slate: But President Arbenz ended up in exile—not really out the window?

Hunt: Yeah. In Czechoslovakia. With his very bright and attractive wife.

Slate: So it seems you were the architect for the Guatemalan operation?

Hunt: It was mine because nobody else knew more than I did. I would say that I had more knowledge about it than anybody did. I knew all the players on both sides.

Slate: How did you run the Guatemalan operation?

Hunt: We set up the first Guatemalan operation/shop at Opa-Locka [airport in Miami, formerly an Army base]. There were three barracks, and we used the airstrip to fly in people from Guatemala and to send our people into Guatemala. These were known as "the black flights." They always occurred at night; they are a secret and officially do not exist as having happened.

Slate: Do you think the Guatemala coup went well?

Hunt: Yes—it did. And I'm glad I kept Arbenz from being executed.

Slate: How did you do that?

Hunt: By passing the word out to the people at the airport who had Arbenz to "let him go."

Slate: To whom did you give the word?

Hunt: It was a mixed band of CIA and Guatemalans at the airport and their hatred for him was palpable.

Slate: You were worried they would assassinate him right there?

Hunt: Yeah. … And we'd [the CIA and the United States] get blamed for it.

Slate: Some 200,000 civilians were killed in the civil war following the coup, which lasted for the next 40 years. Were all those deaths unforeseen?

Hunt: Deaths? What deaths?

Slate: Well, the civil war that ensued for the next 40 years after the coup.

Hunt: Well, we should have done something we never do—we should have maintained a constant presence in Guatemala after getting rid of Arbenz.

Slate: Did you ever actually meet Jacobo Arbenz?

Hunt: They [he and his wife] were neighbors of mine—years later—on the same street in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Slate: What were you doing there?

Hunt: I was the CIA chief of station.

They had come from [exile in] Czechoslovakia, and nobody in Washington had told me they were coming and so it was a big surprise to me, to my wife and me. We went to the country club for dinner one evening and lo and behold, the Arbenzes were seated a few tables away.

Slate: What did you do?

Hunt: Well, nothing. I sent a cable to Washington saying, "In the future when we have important arrivals, please let me know." It's the least they could do.

Slate: I'd like to talk about Cuba now. Did you have a lot of responsibility during Bay of Pigs?

Hunt: Leading up to it.

Slate: How so?

Hunt: I came to Miami, and of course there were [Cuban] exiles, all anxious to take weapons in hand and charge back [to Cuba]. And the CIA was given the responsibility of a twofold action against Cuba. There was the psychological warfare branch which I headed [propaganda, covert operations], and the paramilitary which oversaw the training [of Cuban exiles] that took place in Guatemala.

My [other] responsibility was to form and manage the future government of Cuba. At that point I formed the Cuban government-in-exile with Manuel Artime [bay of Pigs veteran designated by the United States to succeed Castro]. I had told them [the exile trainees] to meet me in my safe house in Coconut Grove. An FBI guy whom I knew came to me and he said your neighbor has reported you to the police saying that men are coming and going at all hours of the night. … He said he thought it was a gay brothel.

Slate: Did you go to Cuba after Castro took power in January 1959?

Hunt: I did go to Cuba. I went there under a very flimsy cover. Batista was out—it was 1959. I'd been sent to Havana to nose around and get a grass-roots feeling and talk to the proverbial taxi drivers and find out what their likely response would be to a possible U.S. invasion. And I did. And I told them don't count on it because it's not going to happen. But that is exactly what happened.

Slate: Did you help in the planning of Bay of Pigs?

Hunt: Not the military [planning]. And I couldn't find anybody who thought that it was a good plan.

Slate: What were the objections?

Hunt: There was an objection on the part of Dean Rusk, secretary of state under Kennedy. He didn't want a "go-and-see invasion"—that was the term he used. And our people [CIA planners] had planned an invasion that combined both a seaborne assault and an airlift. Dean Rusk was a great naysayer—he was not a fellow with useful ideas. When our plan was submitted to Rusk for his OK, he said, "This is too noisy, you gotta do something else." So the assault point was moved to the Bahia de Cochinos—the Bay of Pigs. Which had nothing in its favor. It was a beach that came down from the jungle. A lot of mosquitoes. Our people made that beach landing and they were scooped up pretty soon thereafter.

Slate: Did you ever think there was a way to get rid of Castro, short of a military coup?

Hunt: No. When Castro went into Cuba and took over, this was the moment—with all the chaos and disorganization—that our forces could have gone in and unseated him. But we always confronted this dreadful organization called the Department of State. Who needs it?!

Slate: What was your feeling about Batista?

Hunt: Well, I thought he ran a good government there. There was a lot of corruption, but there's always been corruption in Latin America. We can't be too purist about these things.

Slate: Let's talk about the finals days and execution of Che. Do you know what the real story was there?

Hunt: I do. El Che was becoming a popular threat to Castro. Castro was a gradualist; his view was that great changes couldn't take place immediately. But El Che had a different idea—he had wanted the entire continent of Latin America to become Communist. And Castro, sort of to get rid of him, said, "Take a band down to Bolivia. Here's money, and radio phones, and all that." So Che went down there. But Che's very first [radio] transmissions were picked up by our people at the National Security Agency. The agency was able to track him wherever he went with his little forlorn band. The Bolivians wanted to get rid of him as soon as possible, and our people kept the Bolivian army informed as to where he was.

Slate: So you knew where he was all the time?

Hunt: Yes. There was no question about where he was or what he was trying to do. The Bolivians had gone through this kind of BS before, and they wanted to put an end to it as soon as possible. Eventually they just said, "We're gonna put an end to this farce," and they rounded up this little band of Che's, and they didn't kill anybody except Che.

Slate: I thought it was Felix Rodriguez, the Bay of Pigs Cuban exile, who says he killed Che.

Hunt: No, the Bolivians did.

Slate: What did the Americans want to do with Che?

Hunt: We wanted deniability. We made it possible for him to be killed.

Slate: Do you think anybody back then was thinking this guy would become a cult figure, that he might be more trouble dead than alive?

Hunt: No, nobody had the foresight for that. … What I thought was great foresight was that the Bolivian colonel had Che's hands cut off.

Slate: Why did he do that?

Hunt: So he couldn't be identified by fingerprints. That was a pretty good idea—if you don't want somebody identified. People still shiver a little when they think about hands being cut off.

Slate: Did that idea come from the Bolivian colonel or from the CIA?

Hunt: I have no idea. But I talked with Felix about it. I said, "You were there when Che expired." He said they had taken him into this room, and they shot him there and killed him. And they had kind of a medical examination table. They put his body on that and cut off his hands. They fooled around for a day or so before they disposed of the body. And that was done in a very sloppy fashion. The colonel had a shallow grave dug and his remains were dumped in there.

Laura Hunt: [interjects] For all we know, Felix [Rodriguez] did shoot him.

Hunt: It was just important that it was done.

Slate: Maybe Rodriguez arranged for the Bolivians to do the killing and then took credit?

Hunt: What we certainly didn't want was a public monument to Che. We wanted his memory to vanish as soon as possible. But it never did. Even my son goes on about Che.

Slate: What do you think of Felix Rodriguez campaigning these days against John Kerry, who questioned him at the Iran-Contra hearings?

Hunt: I think that's great! Felix can do no wrong in my book.

Slate: What led you to leave the CIA?

Hunt: I found out the CIA was just infested with Democrats. I retired in '70. I got out as soon as I could. I wrote several books immediately thereafter.

Slate: I still don't understand how you get involved in Watergate later. Through the CIA?

Hunt: I had been a consultant to the White House. I greatly respected Nixon. When Chuck Colson [special counsel to Nixon] asked me to work for the administration, I said yes. Colson phoned one day and said, "I have a job you might be interested in." This was before Colson got religion.

Slate: How long were you in prison for the Watergate break-in?

Hunt: All told, 33 months.

Slate: That's a lot of time.

Hunt: It's a lot of time. And I've often said, what did I do?

Slate: Did you get a pardon?

Hunt: No. Never did. I'd applied for one, and there was no action taken, and I thought I'd just humiliate myself if I asked for a pardon.

Laura Hunt: He was sort of numb because all of this happened to his wife and his family, his children went into drugs while he was still in prison.

Slate: Wasn't your first wife killed in a plane crash?

Laura Hunt: She was killed when her plane crash-landed at Chicago's Midway Airport. And there was all this speculation from conspiracy buffs that the FBI blew the plane up or something … so that she would never talk, all this ridiculous stuff.

Slate: How do you feel about Chuck Colson?

Hunt: He failed to come to my assistance, which would have helped Nixon and me.

Slate: Do you hold anyone responsible for Watergate?

Hunt: No, I don't.

Slate: And you didn't apologize?

Hunt: No. It never occurred to me to apologize.

Slate: Should Nixon have resigned?

Hunt: No.

Slate: I know there is a conspiracy theory saying that David Atlee Phillips—the Miami CIA station chief—was involved with the assassination of JFK.

Hunt: [Visibly uncomfortable] I have no comment.

Slate: I know you hired him early on, to work with you in Mexico, to help with Guatemala propaganda.

Hunt: He was one of the best briefers I ever saw.

Slate: And there were even conspiracy theories about you being in Dallas the day JFK was killed.

Hunt: No comment.

Laura Hunt: Howard says he wasn't, and I believe him.

Slate: Any regrets?

Hunt: No, none. [Long pause] Well, it would have been nice to do Bay of Pigs differently.

A.L. Bardach regularly writes "Interrogations" for Slate. She is the author of Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana and the editor of Cuba: A Traveler's Literary Companion.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2107718/

Copyright 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC

Fascinating article. Why is Hunt so reluctant to talk about Watergate? Why the "no comment" to the questions about the JFK assassination?

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Fascinating article. Why is Hunt so reluctant to talk about Watergate? Why the "no comment" to the questions about the JFK assassination?

Hunt's a subscriber, it would seem, to the "no snitch" rule, possibly harking back to his OSS days. I think this old prolific scribbler's saving the best for last. The VERY last. Don't think he could resist telling the whole story in his inimitable style...

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Fascinating article. Why is Hunt so reluctant to talk about Watergate? Why the "no comment" to the questions about the JFK assassination?

Hunt's a subscriber, it would seem, to the "no snitch" rule, possibly harking back to his OSS days. I think this old prolific scribbler's saving the best for last. The VERY last. Don't think he could resist telling the whole story in his inimitable style...

Allen Dulles said that covert operations should remain secret from "inception to eternity."

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Allen Dulles said that covert operations should remain secret from "inception to eternity."

Another favorite of mine is his "Think of the CIA as the State Department for unfriendly countries." :lol:

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The representation that Castro posed a Communist threat to the U.S. was demonstrably in place long before any supporting facts were to emerge. The New York Times’ reporter, Herbert L. Matthews, had come under attack for his sympathetic coverage long before Castro announced that he was a Communist who would be characterized as having “almost brought on a nuclear war.” The newspaper reported public demonstrations “protesting editorials on Cuba and editorial writings of Herbert L. Matthews in The Times, as well as information in the news columns that the protesters interpreted as favorable to Fidel Castro, and therefore to communism.” (Tim Carroll)

Interesting thing here is that in 1957, Ambassador Arthur Gardner claimed that it was Herbert Matthews who persuaded Roy Rubottom (Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs) and William Wieland to take a pro-Castro stance and had conspired to oust Batista by getting rid of Gardner himself. Enter Earl Smith. More likely Gardner was booted because he was an embarrassment but it was clear that the jockeying for position had begun.

I think it is also reasonable to assume that the CIA were hedging their bets. Tad Szulc suggested that during this period the CIA gave around $50,000 to the Castro organization in Santiago via their man Robert Weicha, who was also wearing the Vice Consul hat.

FWIW.

Fidel Castro and Herbert Matthews below.

James

Edited by James Richards

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