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The Kennedys' Secret War


Tim Carroll
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THE KENNEDYS' SECRET WAR

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THE KENNEDYS' SECRET WAR

"A military answer is the failure of counterinsurgency. . . . Insurgency aims not at the conquest of territory but at the allegiance of man.... That allegiance can be won only by positive programs: by land reform, by schools, by honest administration, by roads and clinics and labor unions and even-handed justice, and a share for all men in the decisions that shape their lives. Counterinsurgency might best be described as social reform under pressure. Any effort that disregards the base of social reform, and becomes preoccupied with gadgets and techniques and force, is doomed to failure and should not be supported by the United States."[1]

-Robert F. Kennedy

The complete failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion had an ironic outcome: it gave the Cuban revolution precisely the legitimation the United States had sought to undermine, both internally and internationally. The need to at least address this legitimation, and to construct an adequate response to it, was reflected in a remark made by Nixon to Kennedy:

"I would find a proper legal cover and I would go in. . . . There are several justifications that could be used, like the protection of American citizens living in Cuba and defending our base at Guantánamo. The most important thing at this point is that we do whatever is necessary to get Castro and Communism out."

Kennedy responded that his primary strategic concern was the "good chance that if we move on Cuba, Khrushchev will move on Berlin." More philosophically, he presciently noted: "The way things are going and with all the problems we have, if I do the right kind of job, I don't know whether I'm going to be here in 1964."[2]

 

Countering the militarist advice given by Nixon and so many others, Senator Mike Mansfield advised the President that "if we yield to the temptation to give vent to our anger at our own failure, we will, ironically, strengthen Castro's position." Mansfield recommended:

"gradual disengagement of the U.S. government from anti-Castro revolutionary groups, . . . a taciturn resistance to the political blandishments or provocations from those at home who would urge that we act directly in Cuba, . . . a cessation of violent verbal attacks on Castro by officials of the government, and full steam ahead on the Alliance for Progress because without economic progress, Castroism is likely to spread elsewhere in Latin America whether or not Castro remains in power in Cuba."[3]

It was clearly recognized among official leaders that neither the Alliance for Progress nor the diplomatic and economic isolation of Cuba would provide sufficiently immediate results with the Castro problem. Thus, a covert action program was adopted on a more official and grandiose level than ever before. Bobby Kennedy presented his version of the action program's purpose: "My idea is to stir things up on the island with espionage, sabotage, and general disorder, in an operation run essentially by the Cubans themselves."[4]  In the declaration of this new secret war, the President parsed his words carefully in ordering the full use of "our available assets ... to help Cuba overthrow the Communist regime."[5]

The Bay of Pigs defeat led the President to bring Bobby into an unprecedented level of involvement in virtually all of the major episodes and issues of the administration. McNamara thought that Bobby's role "really reflected his understanding of what the President needed, and his equal understanding of the lack of organization within the government to handle such an assignment."[6]  To some, the story of the Kennedy administration was one of a co-presidency. "When you had JFK," noted one woman, "you had two Presidents: JFK and RFK."[7]  This partnership was nowhere more prevalent than in their personal animosity toward Castro. Bobby descended into the darkest recesses of the government in his pursuit of his and his brother's nemesis.

The solution embraced by the Kennedy administration came to be known as Operation Mongoose, a program of sabotage and harassment run by the CIA using anti-Castro Cubans as operatives. One Mongoose trainee would recall, "The CIA taught us everything. . . . They taught us explosives, how to kill, bomb, trained us in acts of sabotage." These "acciones de sabotaje" qualified the Cubans for the sobriquet "patriots." It was a dizzying time of conspiracies and plots, some harebrained, some deadly serious. The agency's station in Miami became its largest, and its officers industriously enticed anti-Castro Cubans to sign on with "the Company." Miami's organized crime figures, who had taken in bountiful profits under the Batista government, were also involved in helping to bankroll the Cuban opposition, often using the Cubans for their own ends.[8]  This "double-dipping," given the already established partnership between the CIA and the Mafia, most likely met with approval by government handlers.

In the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, the worst defeat of his presidency, John F. Kennedy held what was for him an unusual animosity toward Castro. Dean Rusk was astonished that "this man with ice water in his veins" was so "emotional" about Castro. McNamara recalled that they were all "hysterical" on the subject of Castro.[9]  Garry Wills has noted the feelings of the President and his brother, Bobby:

"After the Bay of Pigs, Fidel Castro became a personal obsession of [bobby] Kennedy's-the man who had defied his brother, made him look ridiculous. The CIA plotted to humiliate Castro, to "unman" him with drugs or depilatories; at last, to kill him. Castro brought out every combative instinct of the Kennedys. He was a hero to the young and a charismatic leader in both the superficial and the profound sense. John Kennedy was attempting a "charismatic" but very limited raid on certain aspects of America's bureaucratic legal order. Castro was charismatic in the fullest, most authentic way-he overthrew the old regime entirely and instituted a revolutionary order based on his personal authority. His "little brother" Ché was a rebel himself, off in other countries fomenting revolution. They had an all-out dash and vigor the Kennedys could only imitate in covert or surreptitious ways."[10]

"The Cuban problem carries top priority in the U.S. government," said Bobby. "No time, money, effort or manpower is to be spared."[11]  His enthusiasm for his new role as the driving force behind the efforts to bring Castro down was apparent to all who had dealings with him then. His unrelenting insistence on results made him the "most feared, and despised, official in the government-especially at the Central Intelligence Agency. The President's brother would not be denied the results he sought, often contacting CIA agents directly involved in operations he deemed significant. When one officer questioned CIA Counsel Larry Houston about the legality of these Miami-based undertakings, noting that the Bay of Pigs force had been assembled outside the United States partly to avoid the Neutrality Acts, he was told that "if the President says it's okay, and if the Attorney General says it's okay, then it's okay."[12]  The officer later related that the Kennedy brothers were constantly haranguing CIA personnel to create more trouble for the Cuban leader: "They were just absolutely obsessed with getting rid of Castro. . . . We felt we were doing things in Cuba because of a family vendetta and not because of the good of the United States.   . . . It wasn't national security."[13]  Richard Helms told Larry Houston more than once, "My God, these Kennedys keep the pressure on about Castro."[14]

The new Mongoose chief of operations was Edwin Lansdale, a legendary figure in the world of counterinsurgency who was already portrayed in popular literature such as Graham Greene's The Quiet American and  The Ugly American by William J. Lederer and Eugene Burdick. Lansdale himself had written that "there must be a heartfelt cause to which the legitimate government adheres, a cause which makes a stronger appeal than the Communist cause." He noted that "when the right cause is identified and used correctly, the anti-Communist fight becomes a pro-people fight."[15]  Lansdale creatively forwarded a multitude of plans and proposals. Included among them were the use of nonlethal chemicals for the purpose of incapacitating sugar workers; "gangster elements" to attack police officials; defections "from the top echelon of the Communist gang"; even spreading the idea that Castro was the anti-Christ and that the Second Coming was imminent-an event to be produced by sending star shells up from an American submarine off the Cuban coast ("elimination by illumination").[16]  Lansdale presented a six-phase plan designed to culminate the next October in an "open revolt and overthrow of the Communist regime." A budget of between fifty and one hundred million dollars provided for such activities as contaminating Cuban sugar exports, counterfeiting Cuban money and ration books, sabotage, paramilitary raids, propaganda, espionage, and guerrilla warfare. CIA agents ran some three thousand Cuban agents out of false business fronts with "fleets of airplanes, ships, and speedboats. Former owners of Cuban factories, refineries, and mines gave the CIA blueprints on how to wreck their own confiscated installations."[17] 

An extension of American hemispheric machinations was manifested in a far-reaching training program conducted by the United States throughout Latin America. Kennedy's concern that Castro was "undermining other countries that are trying to get on their feet" led him to order Secretary of Defense McNamara to set up the first of what would become many secret police academies. This project to train Central and South American police forces in riot control, intelligence gathering and interrogation techniques was code-named '1290-D.' Bobby Kennedy, who was the real mover and shaker behind the academies, said, "We're going to get control of the streets away from the Communists down there."[18]  This program was essentially a hemispheric extension of the arms sales to Batista in the 1950s designed to shut down internal rebellion.

Two weeks after the Bay of Pigs failure, McNamara told Kennedy aide Richard Goodwin, "The only thing to do is eliminate Castro."[19]  Clearly the administration was desperate to get rid of Castro by virtually any means. Continuing assassination plans that had begun during the Eisenhower administration, although supposedly without the participation of the Mafia, Kennedy authorized a renewal of the Eisenhower-initiated Executive Action program. NSAM-100 was a "contingency plan in connection with the possible removal of Castro from the Cuban scene." Richard Reeves notes that it was Bobby Kennedy "running these operations day to day, and it was bureaucratically assumed that his orders came from his brother." Bissell commented that "Bobby is a wild man on this"[20]  It should be noted that most historians, like the bureaucrats who received assassination orders from Bobby Kennedy, have built their assumptions about the President's true disposition and behavior on the idea that Bobby was only providing a mechanism for plausible deniability, and that his actions were the truest reflection of the President's own attitudes. While that assumption is most likely well-grounded during the Mongoose phase, it deserves serious questioning about the period that followed the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Despite his approval of NSAM-100, President Kennedy tried to publicly distance himself from the assassination talk that was then common, not only in the White House but in newspapers and at Georgetown dinner parties. Kennedy's private and public selves were clearly conflicted over this issue. He told journalist Tad Szulc that he was under "terrific pressure . . . to okay a Castro murder."[21]  Later, discussing the Szulc meeting with Richard Goodwin, he remarked, "If we get into that kind of thing, we'll all be targets!"[22]  Only six weeks after signing NSAM-100, Kennedy gave a speech at the University of Washington in Seattle, saying, "We cannot, as a free nation, compete with our adversaries in tactics of terror, assassination, false promises, counterfeit mobs and crises." But moments later in the speech, he repeated the frustration that regularly moved him to secretly promote some of those tactics: "We possess weapons of tremendous power-but they are least effective in combating the weapons most often used by freedom's foes: subversion, infiltration, guerrilla warfare, civil disorder."[23]

The newly appointed head of Executive Action, (code-named ZR/RIFLE) was William King Harvey, a legendary figure within the Agency. When the President once noted to Lansdale that he seemed to be a model for James Bond, Lansdale asserted that the observation was incorrect-that he would introduce Kennedy to the United States' version of James Bond, who turned out to be Harvey. This was high praise, given Allen Dulles' recollection that "President Kennedy and I often talked about James Bond."[24]  When they first met, the President greeted Harvey by saying, "So you're our James Bond."[25]  A bellicose, corpulent man, he was placed in charge of the mammoth CIA-Cuba project based in Miami, known as Task Force W. A heavy drinker with a penchant for waving his gun around during meetings, Harvey insisted upon the kind of autonomy rarely granted in any governmental practice. "To permit requisite flexibility and professionalism for a maximum operational effort against Cuba," he wrote in a memo to the director of the CIA, "the present time-consuming coordination and briefing procedures should, if at all possible, be made less restrictive and stultifying." On one occasion, Bobby Kennedy had a nasty confrontation with Harvey at the Miami station. After tearing a long teletype off the machine to read, Bobby began to head for the door with the paper in hand. After calling out, "Hey! Where are you going with that?" Harvey proceeded to walk over and physically grab the document out of the Attorney General's hand. This was not the kind of behavior that would have endeared him to the Kennedy brothers.

Bobby Kennedy's intense involvement and promotion of this secret war at times concerned even the operatives themselves. The daughter of Desmond FitzGerald, a dashing CIA officer who became head of the CIA Special Affairs Staff, "remembered her father entering into a towering rage upon learning that Robert had been meeting privately with Cuban exiles."

RFK was entertaining Cuban exiles at his house, Hickory Hill, and calling them at their apartments at the Ebbitt Hotel in downtown Washington, where they were housed by the CIA. FitzGerald was very wary of the Cuban exiles. "I have dealt with a very rich assortment of exiles in the past, . . . but none can compare with the Cuban group for genuine stupidity and militant childishness. At times I feel sorry for Castro-a sculptor in silly putty." Having the attorney general freelance with the Cuban exile community was, FitzGerald felt, an invitation to disaster.[26]

Harvey had been given the assignment only after it was offered to E. Howard Hunt, who declined the appointment because he resented Kennedy's betrayal of the Bay of Pigs operatives and because he didn't believe the effort would be carried through with full intent. Hunt was extremely close to the Cuban exile underground, which had already begun to find other sources of funding and logistical support. Certain key exiles, working unofficially with their disaffected CIA handlers and Mafia sponsors, had even developed their own hit team. They were members of a renegade group self-designated as "Operation 40." Not given to even the minimum level of discipline required by one such as Harvey, this group was the outgrowth of the CIA-Mafia pact originated under the right-wingers so in favor in Eisenhower's day.

During this period the CIA demonstrated a highly-developed sensitivity to overt discussion about assassination of foreign leaders. At one meeting in the Secretary of State's office in which McNamara suggested that Castro be killed, he was caustically upbraided by Harvey, who asserted that talk of murder was "inappropriate" in such a "form" and at such a "forum." Edward R. Murrow, the director of the United States Information Agency, had also protested the discussion as improper. The Executive Action chief was surprised then, when two days later, Lansdale sent him an official memo requesting that he prepare papers on various programs, "including liquidation of leaders." The CIA agent, known for his gravely voice and abrasive manner, told Lansdale in no uncertain terms what he thought of the "stupidity of putting this type of comment in writing in such a document."[27]  The professionals at the CIA were clearly offended by the amateurishness of the officials with whom they were dealing.

The murkiness of the record of authorization left gaping holes in subsequent investigations of whether Eisenhower and/or Kennedy had intentionally ordered the assassination of a foreign leader, which was denied by their official associates, or if the CIA had undertaken the murder of Castro on its own or by extension of the original Eisenhower authorization. If so, the CIA qualified for Senator Frank Church's later description as "a rogue elephant rampaging out of control."[28]

 

Not only is the record of any written authorization devoid of any conclusive proof of complicity by the President or his brother, but as the years have passed, highly personal and questionable narrative renditions have acquired a level of acceptance that is unjustified. An example would be a story contained in a 1998 book by C. David Heymann, RFK. Heymann claims to have interviewed White House Chief of Staff Ken O'Donnell, a college friend of Bobby's, and to have sat on the story for over twenty years. Before O'Donnell's death in 1977, he supposedly told Heymann that Bobby,

became quite nutty at times when talking about Castro. He once told me about this idea he had to blow up an American civilian airliner and then blame the dirty deed on Castro. "We'll say the Cubans did it." "Come on, Bobby. Get real," I told him. "You're going to kill innocent American civilians and then blame it on Castro? You've got to be nuts. Does your brother know about this?" "Of course not," he said. "He'd never approve."[29]

Bobby certainly would have been "nuts" to have entertained such a notion. It is also very difficult to believe that O'Donnell, a friend with whom Bobby shared his last phone conversation before going down to the hotel ballroom, and then to his death, would have shared such a story with a sensationalist like Heymann. What is possible is that Bobby would have shared a story about the kind of scheming that went on within the exile community, including the contents of Operaton Northwoods, with which Bobby was very familiar. Just such a downing of an airliner was later executed by Operation 40 member Orlando Bosch in the 1970s.

To say that the schemes generated by the CIA's Technical Services Division were far-fetched would be a colossal understatement. One agent protested that many of the ideas contained the possibility, if not likelihood, of inadvertently killing someone else instead. Planting an exploding seashell at Castro's favorite scuba diving spot which might be picked up by someone else, or giving him a box of poisoned cigars which could be handed out to any number of innocents were two such plans. It was recognized that the method would have to be something that would kill Castro, and no one else.

A high-ranking CIA agent passed poison pills to the Mafia for use against the Cuban leader. The marriage, if not merger, between the CIA and the Mafia represents the height of illegitimate policy. It certainly could not be revealed to the public, not for fear that operational elements would be compromised, as is so often claimed with regard to national security secrets, but because the true nature of the interests being served would become so transparent.

Johnny Rosselli, the mafioso first contacted by the CIA to kill Castro, later offered one of his compatriots an intriguing explanation for why none of the Castro assassination plots had succeeded:

"I'm going to tell you something you won't believe. This whole thing has been a scam. Santo [Trafficante] never did nothing but bullxxxx everybody. All these xxxxing wild schemes the CIA dreamed up never got further than Santo. He just sat on it, conned everybody into thinking that guys were risking their lives sneaking into Cuba, having boats shot out from under them, all bullxxxx. . . . All for nothing. What a terrible waste of a lifetime opportunity. Imagine . . . if we'd knocked off Castro. Think of the power-"[30]

Castro saw all of these elements, the OAS expulsion, the economic blockade, Operation Mongoose, and American military maneuvers directed against a fictional dictator named "Ortsac" ("Castro" spelled backward), not as a substitute for an invasion, but as its prelude. It was in this political climate that Castro publicly declared his affiliation with communism. For months he had been accepting increasing amounts of aid from the Soviet Union, aligning himself more and more closely with the Soviet bloc. Now, he appeared on Havana television and declared that for many years, even during his university days, he had been a Marxist-Leninist, and had concealed his views for the sake of gaining power. Henceforth, according to Castro's declaration, Cuba's government would be by "collective leadership."[31]  He prescribed a Marxist-Leninist program for Cuba, but in classic Castro style, noted that it would be "adjusted to the precise objective conditions of [his] country."[32]

Was Castro finally revealing a long-concealed truth? Had he really considered himself to be Communist since his days at university? It is certainly possible that this is so. If that is the case, it says something about his own need to construct a certain kind of legitimacy to further his rise to power that he had felt the need to cover-up his true sympathies for so long. If he had not particularly subscribed to Communist precepts as early as he claimed, it raises the question of whether he was now positioning himself to maximize the potential benefits of that proclamation. There was no denying that the United States sought his elimination at virtually any price. His only hope for survival was entry into the Moscow-led Warsaw Pact, an alliance that promised security and mutual defense for its members. Castro knew that the United States would try another invasion, and could reasonably infer that any inhibition of force that was present at the time of the Bay of Pigs could not be counted on the next time. Furthermore, he had intelligence data showing the target date for the next attempt to be October 1962.

Not surprisingly, Eisenhower had seized upon the speech as a justification for taking action against Cuba. Reflecting the attitude of many anti-Communists waiting to pounce on some final, technical pretext for going forward with a full military invasion of Cuba, he wrote a friend that Castro had given the U.S. "a definite opportunity to intervene. . . . That statement of Castro's definitely linked him with the Kremlin; to my mind it was his acknowledgment that Khrushchev was his overlord. . . . It seemed to me rather strange that it caused no reaction from us."[33]  Of course Eisenhower wasn't privy to the lengths the Kennedy administration was going in conducting the Secret War.

The Soviet Union recognized the corner into which it was being driven. The flagrant usurping of Cuba's sovereignty by the U.S. placed a burden on the Soviets that wasn't entirely desired. If they failed to assist in the defense of the island nation, they would be viewed by the Chinese and others as the proverbial "Paper Tiger." Acknowledging the dangers presented by the American commitment to oust Castro, the Soviet newspaper Pravda issued a statement by the government:

"By what right and by what law does the U.S. government organize and direct aggression against another country accusing it of having established a social system and a state different from what the Unites States wanted? If the U.S. government arrogates this right to itself, it is standing on very shaky ground, because it does not ... possess the military might that would permit it to dictate conditions to other countries. The U.S. political leaders should take into account that there are other countries possessing no less terrible weapons, standing guard over peace, and prepared to vent the unloosing of a new war."[34]

Anticipating the need for a legal pretext to invade Cuba in the event of the deployment of Soviet missiles to Cuba, Bobby Kennedy ordered Norbert A Schlei, an assistant attorney general, to prepare the legal argument. Schlei's brief lent significant weight to the Monroe Doctrine as a "regional variation in the international law of self-defense." The President, however, did not appreciate the point. Schlei reported that the President "snapped" at him: "The Monroe Doctrine-what the hell is that?" Kennedy considered the doctrine to have become a club with which his political enemies were beating him. Furthermore, he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with such rigid myths and doctrines, viewing them as obstacles more than aids to clear thinking.[35]  Kennedy was supported in this view by Eleanor Roosevelt, who said the doctrine was "out of date," and Walter Lippmann, who wrote that the doctrine "did not give the United States any right to perpetual dominance over Latin America."[36]

Notes

1. Robert F. Kennedy, To Seek a Newer World. (New York: Bantam Books, 1968).

2. Richard M. Nixon, RN: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon, (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1978), 234-235

3. John F. Kennedy, Presidential Papers. (Boston: John F. Kennedy Library, May 1, 1961).

4. Robert F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Papers, (Boston: John F. Kennedy Library, November 7, 1961).

5. Church Committee, 139.

6. James W. Hilty, Robert Kennedy: Brother Protector, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997), 408.

7. Ibid., 405.

8. Ann Louise Bardach and Larry Rother, "Life in the Shadows, Trying to Bring Down Castro" The New York Times, (Monday, July 13, 1998).

9. Beschloss, The Crisis Years, 375.

10. Garry Wills, The Kennedy Imprisonment, (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1982), 211.

11. Church Committee, 141.

12. Powers, 136.

13. Hersh, 268-269.

14. Powers, 113.

15. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1978), 461-462.

16. Benjamin C. Bradlee, Conversations with Kennedy, (New York: Norton, 1975), 243.

17. David C. Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors, (New York: Harper & Row, 1980), 126-144.

18. Richard Reeves, 268.

19. Richard N. Goodwin, Remembering America: A Voice from the Sixties, (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1988), 189.

20. Richard Reeves, 269.

21. Tad Szulc, "Cuba on Our Minds,"  Esquire, (February, 1974).

22. George Lardner, Jr., "Fear of Retaliation Curbed Anti-Castro Plots," Washington Post, July 21, 1975.

23. John F. Kennedy, Presidential Papers, (November 16, 1961).

24. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK, (Baltimore: Bancroft Press, 1998), 45.

25. Mark Riebling, The Wedge: The Secret War Between the FBI and the CIA, (New York: Knopf, 1994), 165.

26. Evan Thomas, 24.

27. Powers, 129-143.

28. Church Committee, 158.

29. Heymann, Needs the full Heymann cite here, 268.

30. Ovid Demaris, The Last Mafioso, (New York: Bantam Books, 1981), 235-246.

31. Thompson, 136.

32. Beschloss, The Crisis Years, 374.

33. Ibid., 374.

34. Pravda, February 19, 1962.

35. Gaddis Smith, 105-106.

36. Ibid., 107.

Tim, a really excellent article!!

Sometime I'll make a few comments but I really enjoyed it and want to take the time to study it.

One immediate thought:

Clearly the US was running a secret war against Castro and it certainly had its origins while Eisenhower was in office.

It raises the question whether these actions, many of which, I am sure we agree, were ill-advised, were unconstitutional since the Constitution reserves to Congress the right to initiate a war. I do not recall seeing this issue being discussed in the literature.

Edited by Tim Gratz
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Tim, a really excellent article!!

Sometime I'll make a few comments but I really enjoyed it and want to take the time to study it.

One immediate thought:

Clearly the US was running a secret war against Castro and it certainly had its origins while Eisenhower was in office.

It raises the question whether these actions, many of which, I am sure we agree, were ill-advised, were unconstitutional since the Constitution reserves to Congress the right to initiate a war.  I do not recall seeing this issue being discussed in the literature.

Tim Gratz:

Thanks for the thoughtful readthrough and compliment. No need to address the Eisenhower administration on this thread, as I didn't say anything about it, as I am an equal opportunity historical critic. The Kennedys undeniably went a bit nuts after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

I believe in a strict interpretation of the constitution, especially when it comes to declaration of war, which I believe happened the last time on December 8, 1941.

Tim Carroll

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Tim, a really excellent article!!

Sometime I'll make a few comments but I really enjoyed it and want to take the time to study it.

One immediate thought:

Clearly the US was running a secret war against Castro and it certainly had its origins while Eisenhower was in office.

It raises the question whether these actions, many of which, I am sure we agree, were ill-advised, were unconstitutional since the Constitution reserves to Congress the right to initiate a war.  I do not recall seeing this issue being discussed in the literature.

Yim Gratz:

Thanks for the thoughtful readthrough and compliment. No need to address the Eisenhower administration on this thread, as I didn't say anything about it, as I am an equal opportunity historical critic. The Kennedys undeniably went a bit nuts after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

I believe in a strict interpretation of the constitution, especially when it comes to declaration of war, which I believe happened the last time on December 8, 1941.

Tim Carroll

Tim, the compliment was well-deserved. I appreciate your humor "equal opportunity historical critic". Re "the Kennedys went a bit nuts [about Castro] after the Bay of Pigs fiasco" --no one answered my query whether Castro appropriated any property belonging to the Kennedy family. He did (details later); but that probably did not explain the zeal with which the Kennedys went after the bearded one.

Query why no one else (of whom I am aware anyway) has questioned the legality of the "secret war". I am also a strict constructionist and I believe our founding fathers were wise men indeed and the reasons for the "checks and balances" they set up still exist.

You know why I know the CIA did not set up an elaborate plan to kill Kennedy? They could not even figure out how to disguise the planes to make them look like the Cuban air force. You know that story. How anyone could believe the invasion could be disguised as a spontaneous uprising of Cuban exiles without US assistance seems beyond belief. And most of these guys had Ivy League educations! My point is this nonsense would not have occured had the Constitution been followed.

On the subject of founding fathers, have you seen National Treasure? Most critics panned it but everyone I know who saw it loved it. The theory of secret writings in the Declaration of Independence and all that requires a suspension of disbelief, to be sure, but it covers a lot of out history accurately, e.g., the signing of the Declaration of Independence; Independence Hall; the Old North Church; the midnight ride of Paul Revere; the Liberty Bell,. etc. My seven year old daughter first learned of the Liberty Bell from that movie. (She's very bright; at three and a half years old she knew that Kennedy was shot in a car--but she does not know by whom (neither do I!).

But see the movie if you get a chance.

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Re "the Kennedys went a bit nuts [about Castro] after the Bay of Pigs fiasco" --no one answered my query whether Castro appropriated any property belonging to the Kennedy family.  He did (details later); but that probably did not explain the zeal with which the Kennedys went after the bearded one.

Query why no one else (of whom I am aware anyway) has questioned the legality of the "secret war".   

I never heard of Kennedy property appropriation before; do tell. I believe my seminar does address the issue of the administration's argument about the international legality, but it is a ridiculous rationale:

"When one officer questioned CIA Counsel Larry Houston about the legality of these Miami-based undertakings, noting that the Bay of Pigs force had been assembled outside the United States partly to avoid the Neutrality Acts, he was told that 'if the President says it's okay, and if the Attorney General says it's okay, then it's okay.'"[1]

While the Kennedys' Secret War was an atrocity and not to be lightly dismissed, I would assert that Kennedy was generally mindful of international law, at least publicly, which was first demonstrated most clearly by his refusal to send in U.S. air cover to salvage the Bay of Pigs indigenous operation. Again, admittedly, that was a transparent rationale, but is indicative of his awareness of international standing and law.

1. Powers, 136.

Tim Carroll

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Re "the Kennedys went a bit nuts [about Castro] after the Bay of Pigs fiasco" --no one answered my query whether Castro appropriated any property belonging to the Kennedy family.  He did (details later); but that probably did not explain the zeal with which the Kennedys went after the bearded one.

Query why no one else (of whom I am aware anyway) has questioned the legality of the "secret war".   

I never heard of Kennedy property appropriation before; do tell. I believe my seminar does many the issue of legal, but it is a ridiculous rationale.

"When one officer questioned CIA Counsel Larry Houston about the legality of these Miami-based undertakings, noting that the Bay of Pigs force had been assembled outside the United States partly to avoid the Neutrality Acts, he was told that 'if the President says it's okay, and if the Attorney General says it's okay, then it's okay.'"[1]

1. Powers, 136.

Tim Carroll

Tim, of course the Nixon administration used the same rationale that anything the president said was legal. And the Supreme Court rightly emphasized that no man was above the law.

The reference is to assets of the Great Lakes Carbon Corporation which was owned by George Skalel, Sr., Robert Kennedy's father-in-law. In "Sons and Brothers", Richard Mahoney says that the Kennedys were less than pleased when some Castroites tried to seize Skakel's 55 foot yacht which was anchored in Cuba.

The incident ocurred in in 1959, and Mahoney states that it steeled the attitude of the Kennedy family toward Castro.

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Tim Gratz wrote:

" --no one answered my query whether Castro appropriated any property belonging to the Kennedy family.... The reference is to assets of the Great Lakes Carbon Corporation which was owned by George Skalel, Sr., Robert Kennedy's father-in-law. In "Sons and Brothers", Richard Mahoney says that the Kennedys were less than pleased when some Castroites tried to seize Skakel's 55 foot yacht which was anchored in Cuba. The incident ocurred in in 1959, and Mahoney states that it steeled the attitude of the Kennedy family toward Castro."

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Tim Gratz:

Mahoney's assertion that the seizure of the Skakel's yacht displeased the Kennedys is one thing, but that it constituted the appropriation of "property belonging to the Kennedy family," as you said, is quite another thing. I do not consider Michael Skakel, for instance, to be a "Kennedy." I assure you that my in-laws' property is in no way my own, nor should their behavior be attributed to my family. It appears that your trick question had a trick answer. I mean this in a light way, by the way. I'm worrying that my sense of humor is getting lost in the shuffle of these matters.

Tim Carroll

Edited by Tim Carroll
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Tim Gratz wrote:

" --no one answered my query whether Castro appropriated any property belonging to the Kennedy family....  The reference is to assets of the Great Lakes Carbon Corporation which was owned by George Skalel, Sr., Robert Kennedy's father-in-law.  In "Sons and Brothers", Richard Mahoney says that the Kennedys were less than pleased when some Castroites tried to seize Skakel's 55 foot yacht which was anchored in Cuba.  The incident ocurred in in 1959, and Mahoney states that it steeled the attitude of the Kennedy family toward Castro."

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Tim Gratz:

Mahoney's assertion that the seizure of the Skakel's yacht displeased the Kennedys is one thing, but that it constituted the appropriation of "property belonging to the Kennedy family," as you said, is quite another thing.  I do not consider Michael Skakel, for instance, to be a "Kennedy."  I assure you that my in-laws' property is in no way my own, nor should their behavior be attributed to my family.  It appears that your trick question had a trick answer.  I mean this in a light way, by the way.  I'm worrying that my sense of humor is getting lost in the shuffle of these matters.

Tim Carroll

I'm not trying to qublble, Tim, but I suspect that RFK was indeed upset at what had happened to his father-in-law. Of course, some people are closing to their in-laws than others, but to say that in early 1959 Castroites tried to confiscate a yacht belonging to Ethel Kennedy's father shows how close it was to the Kennedy family. This incident could very well have influenced RFK's attitude toward Castro as early as 1959, at least Mahoney seems to indicate it did. As you know, Mahoney's father was very close to the Kennedys.

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Tim Carroll wrote:

"Mahoney's assertion that the seizure of the Skakel's yacht displeased the Kennedys is one thing, but that it constituted the appropriation of "property belonging to the Kennedy family," as you said, is quite another thing."

Tim Gratz wrote:

"I'm not trying to qublble, Tim, but I suspect that RFK was indeed upset at what had happened to his father-in-law.... This incident could very well have influenced RFK's attitude toward Castro as early as 1959, at least Mahoney seems to indicate it did."

"I'm not trying to quibble, Tim," either. I don't consider this distinction to be insignificantly semantical. You asked "whether Castro appropriated any property belonging to the Kennedy family." To now say that it was the Skakels is a very different meaning, although I don't at all dispute that Bobby may have been upset about his father-in-law's yacht.

Tim Carroll

Edited by Tim Carroll
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