Warrior: Frank Sturgis—The CIA’s #1 Assassin-Spy, Who Nearly Killed Castro But Was Ambushed by Watergate, by Jim Hunt and Bob Risch
Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Like many people, I have at least a mild fondness for adventure novels  as well as adventuresome true-life stories , and this is definitely an adventuresome real-life story. It is, however, for all of its panache and adventure a story that is somewhat troubling as well, both on strictly personal as well as societal grounds. This is not the fault of the authors, who engage in their task with the rigor of historians and with the honesty of friends and family members seeking to honor a brave man after his death with the truth, at least so far as it can be understood. Nor is it the fault of Frank Sturgis himself, a man known by many names, as would befit someone who lived in the shadowy realm of spies and intrigue that would be all too familiar to fictional heroes from James Bond to the spy who came in from the cold. The tale is a Cold War tale of considerable skill, and despite the book’s 300 or so pages, it is clear that there is more that could have been told had the evidence been available. The book is certainly a “true lies” story, and has more than a few elements of a conspiracy tale, but although the authors make considerable efforts to nail down the truth, they make no pretense to an absence of bias.
The contents of this book are at least as straightforward as they can be given the cloak-and-dagger subject matter, at least when taken on a chapter by chapter basis, but the book as a whole is organized in a very puzzling way. After a prologue that introduces Frank Strugis in jail over the Watergate break-in, which, as the authors helpfully note, was his least dangerous mission operationally, but the only reason he is known if he is known at all , the book begins in a chronological fashion for the first six chapters, which cover the first third of the book, starting from his childhood ambitions at being a priest to his experience as a marine raider during World War II, to his experience in spycraft in postwar Berlin, his early efforts to support Fidel Castro against the Batista regime, which led the brave man, who had endangered his citizenship to help Castro as a populist military leader, to violently oppose Castro as the regime went more and more Communist, to the point where he was a key operative in the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs invasion, which appears to have soured him on Kennedy as well. The book then looks at his official missions in the 1960’s and early 1970’s as well as containing two lengthy chapters that take up about a third of the book about the operation and aftermath of Watergate, where Sturgis was played for a patsy thanks to some turncoats among the CIA-led group. The last third of the book goes back to give two possible views of Sturgis’ role in the assassination of JFK, his efforts at aiding anti-Communism in Angola, and his obsession with Cuba until the end of his life, and contains Jim Hunt’s personal look at his beloved uncle.
There are at least two ways in which this book is troubling. For one, Frank Sturgis himself shows up as having suffered greatly from PTSD as a result of his experience behind the lines in desperate guerrilla combat on the Pacific front of World War II. Later in life, he appears to have been seen as a success story, but only out of a radical compartmentalization of his mind between a loving husband and father and a man who never could entirely settle down and continually went abroad in search of dangerous missions where he could kill bad guys with impunity, a veritable license to kill. Given that this man is viewed as a success story from PTSD, one does not want to see what failure looks like. The other troubling aspect of this book is the way that it shows a dark and unseemly underbelly of American political culture. Strugis blended easily with the mob bosses of Tampa, Pittsburgh, and other cities, was a vocal supporter of the anti-Communist anti-Castro cause in Miami, and was willing to engage in numerous and criminal efforts at gunrunning and private warfare, often with the slightest cloak of legality because of his role as a CIA highly skilled operative who somehow managed to be honorably discharged from three branches of the military in the decade after World War II.
Readers of this book, if they are not caught up in the real-life grit and glamor of Sturgis’ life, may find themselves able to empathize with the wreckage of his parents’ marriage when he was a child, with his casual involvement in all kinds of assassinations and guerrilla efforts, with the authors’ obvious ax to grind against Judge Maximum Sirica for depriving Sturgis and his co-defendents of their civil rights in search of political grandstanding, or with the authors’ gentlemanly disagreement about the full extent of Sturgis’ involvement in the JFK assassination and its similarities with the political assassination of Nixon. In reading this book, one feels strangely unsafe at the extreme level of treachery engaged in by those who consider themselves patriots. Even the book’s homey touches of beloved pet cocker spaniels and the uxorious claimed loyalty of Sturgis to his patient and long-suffering wife cannot rid the reader of this book of a great sense of unease about the state of the moral and political order of the nation we live in.
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