Tad Szulc

Tad Szulc

Tad Szulc was born in Warsaw on 25th July, 1926. As a young boy he was sent to a boarding school in Switzerland. Later he studied at the University of Brazil (1943-1945).

Szulc worked for the Associated Press in Brazil before moving to the United States in 1949. He covered the United Nations for the United Press International until joining the New York Times in 1953. He worked as a foreign correspondent and reported on a series of important events. This included the overthrow of Marco Pérez Jiménez, the military dictator of Venezuela in 1958. The following year Szulc published Twilight of the Tyrants (1959).

In 1961 Szulc discovered that the Central Intelligence Agency were training Anti-Castro partisans in Florida and Guatemala with the idea of invading Cuba. Szulc's article was published in the New York Times on 7th April, 1961. However, the editor removed details of the proposed invasion and the involvement of the CIA in this operation.

Later, President John F. Kennedy, told the New York Times's managing editor, Turner Catledge: "If you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake."

Szulc joined forces with Karl E. Meyer to write The Cuban Invasion: The Chronicle of a Disaster. The CIA did not approve of the book and according to their files, Szulc was described as "anti-agency" and "under suspicion as a hostile foreign agent."

Szulc also became unpopular with the communist government in the Soviet Union for his reporting of the Prague Spring. Szulc was a supporter of Alexander Dubcek and the reform movement in Czechoslovakia. On the morning of the Red Army invasion, Szulc wrote: "Czechoslovakia was occupied early today by troops of the Soviet Union and four of its Warsaw Pact allies in a series of swift land and air movements." This resulted in him being thrown out of the country on the grounds that he was taking "an interest in secret military questions."

After leaving the New York Times in 1972 Szulc wrote several books including Compulsive Spy: The Strange Career of E. Howard Hunt (1974), a biography of E. Howard Hunt, The Energy Crisis (1978), The Illusion of Peace: Foreign Policy in the Nixon Years (1978), Fidel: A Critical Portrait (1986), The Secret Alliance (1991), Pope John Paul II (1995) and Chopin in Paris: The Life and Times of the Romantic Composer (2000).

Tad Szulc died of cancer in Washington, D.C., on 21st May, 2001.

Primary Sources

(1) Tad Szulc, New York Times (7th April, 1961)

This is a city of open secrets and rampaging rumors for the legions of exiled Cubans who plot the downfall of Premier Fidel Castro and his regime. Men come and go quietly on their secret missions of sabotage and gun-running into Cuba, while others assemble at staging points here to be flown at night to military camps in Guatemala and Louisiana... The exiles intend... to gain a beachhead in Cuba to set up a 'Government in Arms' and then request diplomatic recognition by foreign nations.

(2) Tad Szulc, Compulsive Spy: The Strange Career of E. Howard Hunt (1974)

Hunt's time in the OSS is also unclear. Some information indicates that he was attached to an OSS unit in Southeast Asia which won a Presidential citation. Hunt may have belonged to this OSS Detachment No. 101, but it is by no means certain. The 101, which fought in Burma with local guerrillas and distinguished itself in defeating superior Japanese forces, is the only OSS Detachment to have received a Presidential citation. (It was at one time commanded by William R. Peer, who later became a Lieutenant General and was in charge of investigating the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam war.) I know quite a few of the 101 Detachment veterans, but none of them remembers the face or the name of Howard Hunt.

According to Hunt's former lawyer William O. Bittman, Hunt was in an OSS unit working with bands of Chinese guerrillas. This would have been OSS Detachment No. 202. Bittman once told me about Hunt volunteering to attack a Japanese unit in order to prevent the massacre of some American prisoners by their captors. In his book on the Cuban invasion, in which he occasionally reminisces about other situations in his past, Hunt mentions being at Kunming airport, in southeastern China. Kunming was the terminal for the airlift flights "over the Hump" from Burma which provided support for anti-Japanese forces in southern China. It was at Kunming that Hunt appears to have met for the first time Tracy Barnes, a remarkable OSS and later CIA officer, under whom Hunt was later to serve in the overthrow of the Guatemalan government and at the Bay of Pigs. Actually, Barnes, who died in 1972, spent most of the war in OSS detachments in Europe, but apparently he was on a temporary mission in Asia when he met Hunt.

(3) Tad Szulc, Compulsive Spy: The Strange Career of E. Howard Hunt (1974)

For nineteen months in 1951 and 1952, Hunt had under his orders William F. Buckley, Jr., who later became the well-known syndicated conservative columnist. Buckley was in Mexico for the CIA on what he recently described as a "tangential special project." They quickly befriended each other, and Buckley is the godfather of three Hunt children. He remains to this day Hunt's best friend and was named the executor of Dorothy Hunt's estate after she was killed in a plane crash in 1972.

(4) Tad Szulc, Compulsive Spy: The Strange Career of E. Howard Hunt (1974)

Howard Hunt is not a man who believes in retirement or vacations. In the afternoon of April 30, 1970, he walked out for the last time from the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. Next morning, May 1, he was at work at his new job with the Robert R. Mullen & Company public relations firm, on Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Washington.

Hunt was fifty-one years old going on fifty-two, and he desperately wanted and needed employment. His constant need for money was something of a mystery to his friends and associates. His CIA pension was $24,000 and the Mullen company was paying him $24,000 a year. Dorothy, his wife, worked part time at the Spanish Embassy, where she wrote letters in English for the Ambassador. The family's income, therefore, had to be at least $50,000, which was not bad in Washington in 1970. Besides, Hunt received residual royalties from some of the forty-four novels he had published over the previous twenty-eight years.

To be sure, the family had high expenses and they lived well. The mortgage and upkeep for Witches' Island was rather high. Kevan, the younger daughter, was attending Smith college. Lisa, the eldest, had a history of illness, and medical bills must have been considerable. Earlier, both girls had attended Holton Arms, an expensive private girls' school in the Maryland suburbs not far from the Hunts' house. The family had two cars, a Chevrolet and a Pontiac. Kevan had a red Opel station wagon of her own.

The Hunts lived comfortably, then. On Howard's insistence, they dined every evening by candlelight. They were busy on the suburban Potomac cocktail circuit. Their house was full of animals-cats and dogs and birds and even, once, a small boa constrictor. By all accounts, Dorothy was a warm and loving mother to her children. She was interested in Howard's new activities. Now that he had left the CIA, he could talk freely about his work-at least for a while. Friends who visited the Hunts during weekends found them relaxed and at ease. Howard, puffing on his pipe, would fondle one of the kittens. Dorothy mixed the drinks. Much of the housework was done by a Uruguayan woman who had been with the Hunts since their days in Montevideo more than ten years earlier. All in all, it was a rather pleasing picture of a well-to-do American family, with the father embarked on a new career, the mother working but dedicated to the children and to her pursuit of horsemanship, and the kids doing well at school.

Yet things were not all that simple downtown for Howard Hunt. In the first place, he was frustrated in his job. In the second place, he craved more money. The frustration evidently came from the instant transition from a glamorous association with the CIA (so it was believed to be) to the brain-addling dullness of writing press releases and other publicity material for the Mullen firm. For this is what Hunt was doing at 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue, although he claimed he was a vice president of the company. As Richard Helms was to testify in the summer of 1973 at the Senate Select Committee hearings, Hunt had been given undemanding jobs at the Agency in his last two years because of his daughter's medical problems, which, Helms said, required much of his attention. Still, it was painful for Hunt to be cut off so abruptly from the CIA and from the comforting sense of belonging to an elite, even though Hunt was increasingly critical of the CIA for losing its old aplomb. Now he was an outsider in the intelligence community and a "has-been." It must have rankled. Humorously or wistfully, Hunt decorated his personal memo pad, the kind that has the owner's name at the top, with an imprinted "00?" in the right-hand corner. This play on James Bond's "007" code number, which indicated "license to kill," revealed Hunt's uncertainty over his own identity in the context of a new life.

Financially, Hunt was always "haggling" for more money, as his associates at the public-relations company reported later. When he first discussed joining the Mullen firm before his retirement from the CIA, he talked about buying into the company. Robert Rodolf Mullen, founder and chairman of the board, was in his sixties and thinking about retirement. Hunt expressed an interest in buying a share of his equity, but when the time came he seemed to have difficulties in raising the $2000 in "earnest money" which the Mullen firm required. Later, he put up an argument for an $8,000 salary increase - this would have brought up his salary to $32,000 - but the Mullen people turned him down. Hunt made noises about resigning over the money issue but never did anything about it.

Actually, the Mullen company was an interesting place for a man like Hunt to be in Washington in 1970. Robert Mullen, a veteran newspaper man, had served as director of public information for the Economic Corporation Administration between 1946 and 1948 (the latter being the year when Howard Hunt used the ECA as his CIA cover in the Paris station). It is unclear whether Mullen and Hunt met in those days, although it is possible that Mullen had some contacts with the Agency. In any event, the two references Hunt gave when he applied for the job with the Mullen company were Richard Helms and William F. Buckley. Helms was then still Director of the CIA and Buckley, an old CIA friend, was now a famous commentator. Many people around Washington believe that there is indeed such a thing as a CIA "old-boy network."

At the time of the Watergate raid and in subsequent testimony before the Senate Investigating Committee, Helms insisted that he barely knew Hunt. But there are reasons to believe that Helms was at least quite aware of Hunt's existence. For one thing, according to senior Agency officials, Helms tried hard to get Hunt the Madrid station job which Allen Dulles had promised him. For another thing, Helms kept copies of Hunt's spy novels around his office and often gave or lent them to friends and visitors.

(5) Tad Szulc, Compulsive Spy: The Strange Career of E. Howard Hunt (1974)

Watergate - the symbolic shorthand word we use to describe the great political scandals of the early 1970s - was not born in a vacuum. The men who planned, ordered, and executed the Watergate crimes were neither the product of nor a sudden aberration in American history. Both Watergate and those associated with it were, instead, 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.

Watergate foundered on June 17, 1972, almost two years later, when, through a sheer accident of carelessness on the part of the chief "dirty tricks" operator, the five men arrested after breaking into the Washington headquarters of the Democratic National Committee could be linked with the White House.

Nations are often saved or disgraced by seemingly unimportant events, barely understood at the time of their occurrence. This was the case with the 1972 Watergate raid. Looking back, we may be thankful that what the White House at first contemptuously called a "third-rate burglary" did happen on that June night, and that the raiders were caught red-handed because it exposed and, I hope, killed the great conspiracy of domestic intelligence and other secret and sinister enterprises that otherwise might have veered the United States in the direction of becoming a corrupt police state.

(6) Francis X. Archibald, The State, review of Tad Szulc's Fidel, A Critical Portrait (December, 1986)

Castro betrayed the revolution and used skilled Communists to subordinate the government of Cuba to his concept of Marxism-Leninism. He imposed other comrades over the military, and drove out of Cuba the Yankees he so ardently despised. Szulc describes all these events, including their root causes and eventual consequences, in a way which makes the reader wonder if the United States could have prevented Castro or if he was an historical inevitability.

About the time the reader thinks he has answered this question, the Duarte approach comes to the forefront. There was no room for Communist leadership in Duarte's Christian democracy. "State capitalism has failed repeatedly," he writes, "and our aim is to increase the private sector by allowing more people to participate." Duarte describes how the military turned its to allegiance to El Salvador and away from political factions. He is not opposed to foreign investment (with a social conscience) in El Salvador.

Castro's victory over the United States at the Bay of Pigs, and the 1962 missile crisis that could have started World War III, are related, perhaps for the first time in detail, in English, from Castro's perspective. Certainly, these are important chapters in this definitive study, as is the character profile of the mysterious Che Guevara, which is so much a part of the Castro story. On balance, these books are fresh, interesting and most helpful to anyone interested in the Caribbean basin, an area some Americans fear could be another Vietnam.