Compulsive Spy

Title:                      Compulsive Spy

Author:                 Tad Szulc

Szulc, Tad (1974). Compulsive Spy: The Strange Career of E. Howard Hunt. New York: Viking Press

LCCN:    73016456

E840.8.H86 S98 1974

Subjects

Date Updated:  January 17, 2017

Reviewed by George C. Constantinides[1]

Howard Hunt became well known because of his involvement in Watergate. An OSS veteran and CIA retiree, it was he who ran the operation on behalf of the Nixon White House that ended in disaster for all those connected with it. Szulc, a former New York Times staffer and frequent writer on national security and intelligence subjects, has written what he describes as the “incomplete story” of Hunt, reconstructed “from a distance.” He attempts to show us Hunt from his OSS days to Watergate and to draw certain lessons from his life and career. Blackstock and Schaf’s bibliography[2] said the book’s first section on “national security” measures that led to Watergate was excellent and made this book more a study of counterintelligence and security of the period than a biography. Szulc managed to pull together much material that had reached the public domain, but questions have arisen about the rest of the book. These include the identity of sources (all he says is that he received help from past CIA, State Department, and other officials), their exact knowledge of Hunt, and their objectivity; there is no documentation. Certain items on CIA and its organization are quite wrong. These indicate that Szulc either misunderstood his sources or accepted information from individuals who did not have the knowledge they claimed. A CIA officer never refers to other CIA officers as “agents”; chief of station conferences are not presided over by outsiders. Szulc toys with the thesis that intelligence organizations and the work they undertake create individuals with certain similar values and a certain mentality; he also allows that not all former CIA officers end up being carbon copies of Hunt and concludes that Hunt only served himself. Had Szulc not done such a hasty job, he might have produced a more reliable portrait of his subject; he did capture portions of the man whom Richard Helms described as “a bit of a romantic” and William Colby referred to in his book Honorable Men[3] as having a penchant for unnecessary intrigue. Phillips’ The Night Watch[4] has some closeups of Hunt and corrects Szulc’s statement that Hunt was in Mexico when Lee Harvey Oswald visited there.

Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf[5]

This book by a former New York Times correspondent is much more than a biographical sketch of the principal figure in the Watergate break-in, E. Howard Hunt. The first section, “The Backdrop “ (pp. 1-44) is an excellent analysis of the “national security” measures taken by the Nixon administration; these measures led directly to Watergate. In this regard the book is more a study of counterintelligence and security under the special conditions of the period than a biography. The author’s thesis is that “both Watergate and those associated with it were . . . the result of a strange American historical process with roots in the early years of the cold war. This process culminated in a plan, first conceived in Richard M. Nixon’s White House in 1970, to apply cold war techniques of foreign intelligence operations to political surveillance, espionage, and sabotage against Americans at home. Watergate, therefore, was actually launched in July 1970, when President Nixon approved a top-secret plan for domestic intelligence operations, although the psychological climate for it had existed for a long time among the men who thought it up.”

A most interesting discussion of E. Howard Hunt is in an article by Gore Vidal. See Maelstrom (1948).[6]

[1] Constantinides, George C. (1983). Intelligence and Espionage: An Analytical Bibliography. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, pp. 442-443

[2] Blackstock, Paul W.(1978) and Schaf, Frank L. Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co.

[3] Colby, William E. (1978) and Peter Forbath. Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA. New York: Simon and Schuster

[4] Phillips, David Atlee (1977). The Night Watch: Careers in Secret Operation. New York: Atheneum

[5] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 87

[6] Hunt, E. Howard (1948). Maelstrom. New York: Farrar, Straus

rk: Atheneum

[5] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 87

 

[2] Blackstock, Paul W.(1978) and Schaf, Frank L. Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co.

[3] Colby, William E. (1978) and Peter Forbath. Honorable Men: My Life in the CIA. New York: Simon and Schuster

[4] Phillips, David Atlee (1977). The Night Watch: Careers in Secret Operation. New York: Atheneum

[5] Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 87

 

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One Response to Compulsive Spy

  1. Pingback: Maelstrom | Intelligence Fiction

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