Fact, Fiction and the CIA: Peter Davis' Paperback Vigilante
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 10, Number 2, May 1980
- pp. 12-14
- Additional Information
FACT, FICTION AND THE CIA: PETER DAVIS' PAPERBACK VIGILANTE By Al Lee Al Lee teaches English and Humanities at New Jersey Institute ofTechnology "I know Howard Hunt, and I want to give you some advice," the Guatemala project chieftold his director ofpropaganda in 1954.* "Listen to the music when he sings, but don't pay any attention to his lyrics." Peter Davis' Paperback Vigilante catches all the melodies of Hunt's sad and romantic career but unfortunately doesn't escape his lyrics. As a sustained and revealing interview—intercut with newsreels, stills, and complementary interviews—this portrait of E. Howard Hunt, Jr., is inevitably a glimpse into CIA history. That there is any ClA history at all is attributable in part to Hunt, whose arrest as chief of the Watergate burglary squad drew attention to his clandestine past. Paperback Vigilante opens with Hunt's recital ofhis skills before the Senate Watergate Committee: "surreptitious entry, theft of documents, electronic eavesdropping...In short, I am a professional spy." As it investigated White House "dirty tricks" and crimes, the Committee followed Hunt's trail through a series of illegal (White House) missions to the brink of a taboo: Hunt's previous employer, The Company, which had supplied him with operational support. "There are elephants crashing around in the forest," Sen. Howard Baker remarked, and after *The CIA Guatemala project succeeded in overthrowing the leftist government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, and several project veterans reunited in the effort leading to the Bay ofPins. President Nixon's resignation, the Senate Intelligence Committee began a far-reaching investigation of all morally questionable projects ofCIA. Much ofwhat is known about the Agency's internal procedures, methods, and past activities was made public in the Intelligence Committee's reports and in certain follow-up reports by the House Assassinations Committee. For the very real reason ofnational security, the Agency yields up its secrets grudgingly and often incompletely. To this day, the identity ofa Cuban agent known as AMLASH/1 remains an official secret, unspoken even by the Senate Intelligence Committee, despite the fact that numerous authors have identified him as Rolando Cúbela, who was arrested in Cuba in 1966 and pardoned in 1979. The ritualistic protection ofthe AMLASH file serves to notify the world that no CIA agent—under any circumstances—will ever be exposed by the Agency. Howard Hunt was not an agent; he was an officer. He did not participate in burglaries and theft while he was an officer, though he might have recruited agents for the work. Officers are gentlemen with budget and pension lines; agents take the risks. 12 Hunt's employment contract with The Company requires him even now-a decade after his retirement and for life—to submit all writing for official review prior to publication. The Agency reviewed and approved his account ofthe Bay of Pigs project, Give Us This Day (1973), which resurfaces in Paperback Vigilante with the assistance of a voiceover lending authority to a story designed to conceal history. In a close-up, Hunt seems to be staring off at the shoes ofhis interviewer as he describes his memory of an incident in Havana involving his father. The tone is conversational. "The moral is, I suppose, that an operation conducted with surgical efficiency and maximum speed leaves minimum scars on those involved." Hunt is in fact reading from the text of Give Us This Day, and the film's version of the 1961 invasion is similarly taken from the CIA text. Hunt credits himselfwith a May 1960 proposal to assassinate Castro as a way of "cutting offthe chicken's head and letting the body flop around." The voiceover, while noting that CIA later plotted with the Mafia to assassinate Castro, explains that "Hunt's recommendation was not acted upon at that time." And so Hunt is portrayed as more ruthless, and certainly more blood-thirsty, than The Company. In fact, we now know that Allen Dulles had recommended assassination to the White House in December 1959. By March 1960, CIA had taken the position that the regime could be removed only if Castro's assassination were accompanied by an armed invasion. In May, Hunt visited Havana on...