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Kissinger Drew Up Plans to Attack Cuba, Records Show

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Kissinger Drew Up Plans to Attack Cuba, Records Show


The New York Times


MIAMI — Nearly 40 years ago, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger mapped out secret contingency plans to launch airstrikes against Havana and “smash Cuba,” newly disclosed government documents show.

Mr. Kissinger was so irked by Cuba’s military incursion into Angola that in 1976 he convened a top-secret group of senior officials to work out possible retaliatory measures in case Cuba deployed forces to other African nations, according to documents declassified by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library at the request of the National Security Archive, a research group.

The officials outlined plans to strike ports and military installations in Cuba and to send Marine battalions to the United States Navy base at Guantánamo Bay to “clobber” the Cubans, as Mr. Kissinger put it, according to the records. Mr. Kissinger, the documents show, worried that the

“I think sooner or later we are going to have to crack the Cubans,” Mr. Kissinger told President Ford at a meeting in the Oval Office in 1976, according to a transcript.

The documents are being posted online and published in “Back Channel to Cuba,” a new book written by the longtime Cuba experts William M. LeoGrande, a professor of government at American University, and Peter Kornbluh, the director of the archive’s Cuba Documentation Project.

The previously undisclosed blueprint to strike Cuba highlights the tumultuous nature of American-Cuban relations, which soured badly after the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.

Mr. Kissinger, who was secretary of state from 1973 to 1977, had previously planned an underground effort to improve relations with Havana. But in late 1975, Mr. Castro sent troops to Angola to help the newly independent nation fend off attacks from South Africa and right-wing guerrillas.

That move infuriated Mr. Kissinger, who was incensed that Mr. Castro had passed up a chance to normalize relations with the United States in favor of pursuing his own foreign policy agenda, Mr. Kornbluh said.

“Nobody has known that at the very end of a really remarkable effort to normalize relations, Kissinger, the global chessboard player, was insulted that a small country would ruin his plans for Africa and was essentially prepared to bring the imperial force of the United States on Fidel Castro’s head,” Mr. Kornbluh said.

“You can see in the conversation with Gerald Ford that he is extremely apoplectic,” Mr. Kornbluh said, adding that Mr. Kissinger used “language about doing harm to Cuba that is pretty quintessentially aggressive.”

The plans suggest that Mr. Kissinger was prepared after the 1976 presidential election to recommend an attack on Cuba, but the idea went nowhere because Jimmy Carter won the election, Mr. LeoGrande said.

“These were not plans to put up on a shelf,” Mr. LeoGrande said. “Kissinger is so angry at Castro sending troops to Angola at a moment when he was holding out his hand for normalization that he really wants to, as he said, ‘clobber the pipsqueak.' ”

The plan suggested that it would take scores of aircraft to mine Cuban ports. It also warned that the United States could seriously risk losing its Navy base in Cuba, which was vulnerable to counterattack, and estimated that it would cost $120 million to reopen the Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico and reposition destroyer squadrons.

The plan also drafted proposals for a military blockade of Cuba’s shores. The proposal warned that such moves would most likely lead to a conflict with the Soviet Union, which was a top Cuba ally at the time.

“If we decide to use military power, it must succeed,” Mr. Kissinger said in one meeting, in which advisers warned against leaks. “There should be no halfway measures — we would get no award for using military power in moderation. If we decide on a blockade, it must be ruthless and rapid and efficient.”

Mr. Kissinger, now 91, declined a request to comment.

The memos show that Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was secretary of defense from 1975 to 1977 under President Ford, and again under President George W. Bush, was also present at the meeting when Mr. Kissinger ordered up the contingency plan. Mr. Rumsfeld, 82, also declined a request to comment.

Some Cuba historians said the revelations were startling, particularly because they took place just as the United States was coming out of the Vietnam War.

“The military piece dumbfounds me a little bit,” said Frank O. Mora, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense who now directs the Latin American and Caribbean Center at Florida International University. “For Kissinger to be talking the way they were talking, you would think Cuba had invaded the whole continent.”

Edited by Douglas Caddy
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Kornbluh spoke at the AARC conference. I wonder if he talked about this. I say I wonder because he was in the main room while I was speaking on a different floor.

Edited by Pat Speer
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It's pretty cyclical, Reagan's Secretary of State lobbied for the same sort of thing... We spend a lot of time on Angola and Mr. Kissenger in Shadow Warfare and noted that many of the documents pertaining to he and activities in both Africa and Latin America remained redacted and some had been released and pulled back. Looks like there might be some really interesting stuff on Mr. K.

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THURSDAY: "Back Channel to Cuba" Exposes the Hidden History of Washington-Havana Negotiations


Tune in Thursday when we will interview Peter Kornbluh of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, and William LeoGrande, professor of government at American University, about their new book, Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana. Read the introduction to the book below. See all of our Cuba coverage.


Excerpted from BACK CHANNEL TO CUBA: THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN WASHINGTON AND HAVANA by William M. LeoGrande & Peter Kornbluh. Copyright © 2014 The University of North Carolina Press. Published by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. www.uncpress.unc.edu



Rebuilding Bridges

Our relations are like a bridge in war-time. I’m not going to talk about who blew it up—I think it was you who blew it up. The war has ended and now we are reconstructing the bridge, brick by brick, 90 miles from Key West to Varadero beach. It is not a bridge that can be reconstructed easily, as fast as it was de- stroyed. It takes a long time. If both parties reconstruct their part of the bridge, we can shake hands without winners or losers.

—Raúl Castro to Senators George McGovern and James Abourezk, April 8, 1977

In early April of 1963, during talks in Havana over the release of Americans being held in Cuban jails as spies, Fidel Castro first broached his interest in improving relations with the United States. “If any relations were to com- mence between the U.S. and Cuba,” Castro asked U.S. negotiator James Don- ovan, “how would it come about and what would be involved?”1

Sent to Cuba in the fall of 1962 by President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert to undertake the first real negotiations with Cuba’s revolu- tionary regime, Donovan had secured the freedom of more than one thou- sand members of the CIA-led exile brigade that Castro’s forces had defeated at the Bay of Pigs. In addition to the prisoners, Donovan also secured Cas- tro’s confidence. Through trips in January, March, and April 1963, he built on that confidence to negotiate the freedom of several dozen U.S. citizens detained after the revolution. In the respectful nature of their talks, Castro found the first trusted U.S. representative with whom he could seriously dis- cuss how Havana and Washington might move toward restoring civility and normalcy in the dark wake of the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban missile crisis. “In view of the past history on both sides here, the problem of how to inaugurate any relations was a very difficult one,” Castro observed.

“So I said, ‘now do you know how porcupines make love?’ ” Donovan re- membered responding. “And he said no. And I said well, the answer is ‘very carefully,’ and that is how you and the U.S. would have to get into this.”2

As Donovan pursued his shuttle diplomacy during the spring of 1963, some Kennedy administration officials sought to use his special relationship

with Castro to begin a dialogue toward ending hostilities with Cuba. Within the CIA, however, others saw a different opportunity—an opportunity to use the negotiations, and the negotiator, to assassinate Fidel Castro. Knowing that Donovan planned to bring a scuba diving suit as a confidence-building gift for the Cuban leader, members of the covert “executive action” unit de- veloped a plot to contaminate the snorkel with tubercle bacillus, and poison the wetsuit with a fungus. “They tried to use him as the instrument . . . the lawyer who was negotiating the liberation of the Playa Girón prisoners!” Castro exclaimed years later.3 Only the intervention of Donovan’s CIA han- dlers, Milan Miskovsky and Frank DeRosa, prevented him from becoming an unwitting, would-be assassin.4

The CIA’s infamous assassination plots—exploding conch shells, poison pens, poison pills, sniper rifles, toxic cigars—are the stuff of legend in the his- tory of U.S. policy toward the Cuban revolution. Washington’s efforts to roll back the revolution, through exile paramilitary attacks, covert action, overt economic embargo, and contemporary “democracy promotion” programs, have dominated and defined more than a half century of U.S.-Cuban rela- tions. What Henry Kissinger characterized as the “perpetual antagonism” between Washington and Havana remains among the most entrenched and enduring conflicts in the history of U.S. foreign policy.

The Untold Story

There is, however, another side to the history of U.S.-Cuban relations, far less known but more relevant today: the bilateral efforts at dialogue, rap- prochement, and reconciliation. Every president since Eisenhower has en- gaged in some form of dialogue with Castro and his representatives. Some talks have been tightly circumscribed, dealing only with specific, narrow is- sues of mutual interest, such as immigration, air piracy, and drug interdic- tion. Others have been wide-ranging, engaging the full panoply of issues at stake between the two sides. Some episodes of dialogue produced tangible agreements, formal and informal; others sputtered to a halt with no dis- cernible result. But every U.S. president, Democrat and Republican alike, has seen some advantage in talking to Cuba.

Indeed, both Democratic and Republican administrations have engaged in little-known efforts to arrive at a modus vivendi with the Cuban revolu- tion. After authorizing a paramilitary invasion to overthrow Castro by force and implementing a full trade embargo to cripple the Cuban economy, John F. Kennedy ordered his aides to “start thinking along more flexible lines” in negotiating a state of peaceful coexistence with Castro. During Gerald Ford’s presidency, Henry Kissinger directed his aides to “deal straight with Castro” and negotiate improved relations like “a big guy, not like a shyster.” Jimmy Carter actually signed a presidential decision directive to “achieve normal- ization of our relations with Cuba” through “direct and confidential talks.”5

Given the domestic political sensitivity surrounding any hint of better re- lations with Havana, these talks, and many other contacts with Cuba, have often been conducted through secret, back-channel diplomacy. To maintain plausible deniability, U.S. presidents have turned to third countries, among them Mexico, Spain, Britain, and Brazil, as hosts and facilitators. To limit the political risk of direct contact, Washington and Havana have developed creative clandestine methods of communication—deploying famous literary figures, journalists, politicians, businessmen, and even a former president of the United States as interlocutors. When face-to-face talks have been neces- sary, Cuban and U.S. officials have met furtively, in foreign cities such as Paris, Cuernavaca, and Toronto, or in private homes, crowded cafeterias, promi- nent hotels, and even on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. On several occasions, White House and State Department officials have secretly traveled to Havana to negotiate face-to-face with Fidel Castro.

Not surprisingly, this rich history of U.S. back-channel diplomacy with Cuba has been shrouded in secrecy, buried in thousands of classified files that record the internal debates, meetings, agendas, negotiations, argu- ments, and agreements that have transpired over more than half a century. In the absence of an accessible historical record, scholarship and analysis on U.S.-Cuban relations has largely focused on the more prominent and visible history of antagonism, skewing the historical debate over whether better ties were possible—or even desirable. The dearth of evidence on the many efforts to find common ground has empowered the “anti-dialogueros,” as one U.S. official called them, to cast serious diplomacy with Cuba as an oxymoron at best, a heresy at worst. Long after the end of the Cold War, talking with Cuba remained a delicate and controversial political proposition—even as the benefits have become increasingly obvious to both countries.

Back Channel to Cuba

This book presents a comprehensive chronicle of the history of dialogue between the United States and Cuba since 1959. The pages that follow are an attempt to assess this historical record of negotiations—both secret and open—at a time when that record is especially pertinent to the political discourse over U.S. relations with Cuba. Both Barack Obama and Raúl Cas- tro publicly declared their desire to move beyond the past half-century’s legacy of hostility. Both Washington and Havana appeared to realize that international, national, and mutual interests would be advanced by a suc- cessful negotiation of normal bilateral ties. But as the history of dialogue shows, having the intention to improve relations and actually accomplishing it are two different things. Between intention and realization lies a long road of negotiation on complex problems.

But the past holds lessons for contemporary policy makers on how to navigate that road. How have previous talks evolved between Washington and Havana? Why have some succeeded and others failed? What does this history tell policy makers, scholars, and concerned citizens about the po- tential for rapprochement between two nations that have been “intimate enemies” for more than half a century?6 These are among the key questions explored in this volume.

To reconstruct this history, we have spent more than a decade unearth- ing the classified files—through the Freedom of Information Act, manda- tory declassification review, and archival research—on multiple episodes of dialogue between Washington and Havana. These include the State Depart- ment’s file, “Efforts at Negotiation with Cuba,” from the Eisenhower admin- istration; “Contacts with Cuban Leaders” records compiled during the Ken- nedy and Johnson administrations; the “Special Activities” file kept by Henry Kissinger’s office on his top secret attempt to negotiate normal relations; the Carter administration’s road map to normalization and memoranda of conversations with Fidel Castro himself; and internal papers from the Clin- ton White House on engagement with Havana. These records, along with hundreds of others, shed new light on the policies, strategies, and interplay of both governments in their pursuit of better relations.

With the documents in hand, we interviewed a broad array of the sur- viving policy makers and negotiators who drafted the documents and par- ticipated in talks—Fidel Castro and former president Jimmy Carter among them—along with the intermediaries who carried messages back and forth between Washington and Havana. Their firsthand accounts bring the docu- mentary record to life, adding a critical human dimension to the story. In- deed, in many ways, this book chronicles the tenacious efforts of key official and nonofficial policy actors who, for more than fifty years, challenged the national security managers in successive administrations to consider the options of dialogue and engagement over the dominant U.S. approach of antagonism and estrangement.

The perennial conflict between U.S. officials who advocated punishing Cuba to force its compliance and those who argued for diplomacy is a re- current theme of this history. Every administration has had its “hawks” and “doves” on Cuba. How they interacted depended, to some degree, on the domestic and international circumstances of the time. At every juncture, efforts at dialogue—and their success or failure—were a product not only of the state of relations between Washington and Havana but also of the bal- ance of domestic political forces in the two capitals. To the extent possible given space limitations, this book provides and analyzes the political circum- stances and context within which bilateral talks took place.

Although Fidel Castro’s preeminence and dominance meant that policy making in Havana was less fractious than it was in Washington, the pages that follow reveal that there were debates on the Cuban side as well. Cuban policy was hardly static; Fidel’s attitude toward the United States evolved over time. Raúl Castro’s succession introduced yet another factor—his deter- mination to resolve the revolution’s critical outstanding problems, among them relations with the United States, before passing the baton to the next generation of Cuban leaders.

For more than half a century, the history of talks has been inextricably intertwined with, and overshadowed by, the more infamous history of ac- rimony and distrust in U.S.-Cuban relations. Back Channel to Cuba aspires to give the history of dialogue its due. This history provides strong evidence that, despite proceeding “very carefully,” both the United States and Cuba have long recognized that negotiation and cooperation offer potential ben- efits over a perpetual state of antagonism and aggression. “Our interest is in getting the Cuban issue behind us, not in prolonging it indefinitely,” one secret memo written almost thirty years ago to Henry Kissinger stated clearly.7 (GEE INVADE AND THE ISSUE IS OVER,GAAL)

“Our relations are like a bridge in war-time,” Raúl Castro observed shortly thereafter, describing the damage done by years of hostility. “It is not a bridge that can be reconstructed easily, as fast as it was destroyed. It takes a long time. If both parties reconstruct their part of the bridge, we can shake hands without winners or losers.”8


Notes to the Introduction
1. Transcript of Donovan’s oral report to Miskovsky, reel 4, pp. 13–14, NSA Cuba
2. Ibid.
3. Castro and Ramonet, Fidel Castro: My Life, 262.
4. Bigger, Negotiator, 154, 155.
5. Kornbluh and LeoGrande, “Talking with Castro.”
6. The characterization is from Pérez-Stable, Cuba and the United States: Intimate Enemies.
7. Memorandum, Shlaudeman to Kissinger, “Normalizing Relations with Cuba”, March
27, 1975, NSA Cuba Collection.
8. “Raul Castro Says U.S. Team’s Visit Is Step Forward,” NYT, April 9, 1977.

Edited by Steven Gaal
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Kornbluh spoke at the AARC conference. I wonder if he talked about this. I say I wonder because he was in the main room while I was speaking on a different floor.

I don't have a lot of faith in Kornbluh since he got so much wrong about the Bay of Pigs, including his continuing to promote the myth that Kennedy cancelled the pre-dawn airstrikes. The record clearly shows that--even according to the statements by both General Charles Cabell and Richard Bissell, neither of whom were JFK "fans"--the first time JFK was brought into the loop during the operation was after the pre-dawn strikes had already been cancelled by McGeorge Bundy under the direction of Secretary of State Rusk. Both Cabell and Bissell confirmed that after Rusk explained to them the reasons why STATE disapproved of the airstrikes they themselves turned down the opportunity to speak to the President when Rusk offered them the chance. There is not now nor has there ever been any documentation indicating that Rusk had JFK on the phone during those critical hours when these decisions were being made. The first time the record indicates Rusk had JFK on the phone so that Cabell could make the case for direct US military air cover was the next morning after the B-26's had all been shot down by Castro's air force. I consider him to be a part of the problem especially because this misinformation is cited by Wikipedia and others.

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  • Several damaged invasion airplanes made emergency landings on the Grand Cayman Islands, and were seized by local authorities. The situation created an awkward diplomatic situation with Great Britain; details of the negotiations between the U.S. and England are redacted but the CIA did suggest making the argument that if the planes were not released, Castro would think the Caymans were being used as a launch site for the invasion and respond aggressively.
  • Top Secret CIA 'Official History' of the Bay of Pigs: Revelations
  • In other words -- why would Alan Dulles back the Cuban Exiles to murder JFK, but then support the Lone Nut theory that Oswald acted alone -- knowing that this depoliticized Oswald and the JFK murder itself? It seems like a mismatch

    Best regards,

    --Paul Trejo

  • ===

  • GAAL

    "Alan Dulles back the Cuban Exiles to murder JFK, but then support the Lone Nut theory that Oswald acted alone" ///// TREJO = Dulles dosent care who he motivates to kill JFK. If you read the material I presented you understand that DULLES family represented ,at times, British interests who wanted the survival of a Communist Cuba. The existence of Cuba is like the sand and the oyster, it's a creative irritant,creating (did help create) a militant interventionist globalist USA. If at one time Dulles wanted communist Cuba gone he changed his mind as his Anglo betters directed. (see above thread post - # 49 - John Dulles creates CFR). As to anti-Castro rhetoric post assassination by Dulles ,thats all in the play/manipulation of elites to the masses.In the same fashion JFK did the same thing (though for better, IMHO, reasons). JFK researchers have shown JFK pro-Vietnam War rhetoric was designuous and that he was planing a withdrawal. see http://www.history-m...vietnam1963.htm and http://www.thenation...not-speculation

    BRITIAN NOT RELEASE THE PLANES ??? ALMOST AS IF THEY WISHED INVASION FAILURE ?? SKULL & BONES IS BRITISH ORIENTED,BUNDY was SKULL & BONES. THE PILGRAM SOCIETY (more secretive and elite than CFR) is BRITISH ORIENTED......yes RUSK was Pilgram Society member. Im not saying that JFK wouldnt have not stop air attack. Im saying his staff were ANGLO/American in viewpoint and leaned more towards ANGLO than American view.
Edited by Steven Gaal
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