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Don Bohning: The Castro Obsession


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Don Bohning has agreed to discuss his new book, The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations Against Cuba, 1959-1965.

For those who do not know his work, Don was for 36 years, foreign correspondent for the Miami Herald. As well as covering Cuba in great detail he reported on the overthrow of Salvador Allende by Augusto Pinochet in Chile, the 1978 Jonestown Massacre in Guyana and the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983.

Bohning has also written extensively about the Bay of Pigs and the attempts to remove Fidel Castro from power in Cuba. This had included carrying out interviews with CIA officials, Jake Esterline and Jack Hawkins.

You can find out more about Don here:

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/JFKbohning.htm

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Welcome to the Forum. Here are the first of many questions on your book.

(1) While writing your book you interviewed Jack Hawkins. He claims that he knew that JFK’s adapted Bay of Pigs plan was “bound to fail”. I believe others involved in the Bay of Pigs operation agree with this assessment. Hawkins also said efforts to convince superiors of that were of no avail. Was that because they disagreed with Hawkins or that JFK would not listen to the CIA?

(2) You have quoted Hawkins of speculating that JFK’s lack of commitment towards the Bay of Pigs operation “may have been partially due to parallel assassination plots against Castro, utilizing the Mafia, that had been undertaken by the CIA in 1960 separately from the Bay of Pigs and accelerated by the Kennedy administration.” Can you explain that theory?

(3) My own view is that the Bay of Pigs operation had no chance of success unless accompanied with a plot to assassinate Castro. Was the original plot to assassinate Castro part of the Bay of Pigs Operation? Did JFK know about this assassination plot? If so, is this the reason why when the assassination plot failed, JFK lost confidence in the Bay of Pigs operation to overthrow Castro.

(4) You interviewed Jack Hawkins and Jake Esterline for your book. Did you manage to interview any other CIA officials or assets involved in the plots against Castro?

(5) Did anyone you interviewed for the book pass comment on the assassination of JFK. Did any of them believe there was a connection between CIA operations against Cuba and the death of JFK?

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(1) While writing your book you interviewed Jack Hawkins. He claims that he knew that JFK’s adapted Bay of Pigs plan was “bound to fail”. I believe others involved in the Bay of Pigs operation agree with this assessment. Hawkins also said efforts to convince superiors of that were of no avail. Was that because they disagreed with Hawkins or that JFK would not listen to the CIA?

Jack Hawkins, a Marine colonel, was seconded to the CIA’s Cuba Task force as its paramilitary chief for what was to become the Bay of Pigs, as it morphed from a guerrilla operation to an invasion in late 1960. Hawkins and Jake Esterline, the project’s CIA operating chief, came to the joint conclusion shortly before it was scheduled to go that the operation could not succeed.

Their reason for such a conclusion was the change in the landing site - ordered three weeks earlier by President Kennedy to make the operation it “less noisy” - from Trinidad, a populated area on Cuba’s south coast near the Escambray Mountains where anti-Castro guerrilla were operating, to the Bay of Pigs, a swampy, remote and largely uninhabited area 80 miles to the west.

That was Saturday, April 8, 1961. Esterline then called Richard Bissell, head of the CIA’s Directorate of Plans [as the covert ops section was then known], who was the overall director of the project. Esterline arranged a meeting with Bissell his home, the next morning, Sunday, April 9, eight days before the exile brigade landing, to express his and Hawkins’ concerns. In a three-hour meeting they recommended the operation be cancelled and, if it were not, they were resigning from the project.

Bissell persuaded them to stay on the project, saying it would go ahead in any event and since they were more familiar with it, it would have a better chance of success. The agreed to remain on the project after extracted an assurance from Bissell that the project would have the necessary air support they considered necessary for its success. They subsequently discovered from reading declassified documents in the mid-1990s that Bissell reneged on the promised and agreed with a request from Kennedy for a cutback in air cover without telling them. According to my rather extensive research into the matter, Bissell apparently never told anyone – including President Kennedy - of the concerns expressed by Hawkins and Esterline at their meeting with him that Sunday morning – at meeting which, to my knowledge, has only been mentioned referred to elsewhere, but confirmed to me by both Hawkins [in a letter] and Esterline [in a taped interview]. I don’t know if others involved in the Bay of Pigs with Hawkins and Esterline, but they certainly in the best positions to make such an assessment since they were basically charged with the project’s planning.

The net result was that they came to regard Bissell, along with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and President Kennedy, as among those most responsible for the Bay of Pigs failure.

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(2) You have quoted Hawkins of speculating that JFK’s lack of commitment towards the Bay of Pigs operation “may have been partially due to parallel assassination plots against Castro, utilizing the Mafia, that had been undertaken by the CIA in 1960 separately from the Bay of Pigs and accelerated by the Kennedy administration.” Can you explain that theory?

It was Esterline, not Hawkins, who expressed the view to me you cite. Hawkins was not aware of the assassination plot until told by Esterline after the Bay of Pigs. The Mafia assassination plot against Castro had its origins in late summer or early fall of 1960. It originated with Bissell, apparently as a parallel track to the Bay of Pigs.

The assassination plot was not a component in the Bay of Pigs planning – or even known by - anybody except Bissell. Esterline [the project chief for the Bay of Pigs who reported to Bissell and who was responsible for the project’s financing], was not even aware of it until he received a request from his nominal boss, Col. JC King, head of the CIA’s Western Hemisphere division, to sign a voucher for considerable cash. Esterline refused to sign the voucher unless he was told what it was for. King told him of the mafia assassination plot. [see pages 25-27 of my book.]

In later expressing his concern in an interview with me [page 27], Esterline said: “There’s no question about if. If that whole spectre of an assassination using the Mafia hadn’t been on the horizon, there would have been more preparation [for the invasion]. If Bissell and others hadn’t felt they had that magic bullet I don’t we would have had all the hair-splitting over air support’ [for the Bay of Pigs].

There is no evidence that JFK was even aware of Bissell’s Mafia assassination plotting, so I doubt very much it had anything to do with a lack of Kennedy’s commitments lack to the Bay of Pigs, as you suggest in your question. If there was, indeed, a lack of commitment to the invasion by JFK, I think it was due more to the fact it was a plan he had inherited from the Eisenhower administration and didn’t know how to get out of.

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(3) My own view is that the Bay of Pigs operation had no chance of success unless accompanied with a plot to assassinate Castro. Was the original plot to assassinate Castro part of the Bay of Pigs Operation? Did JFK know about this assassination plot? If so, is this the reason why when the assassination plot failed, JFK lost confidence in the Bay of Pigs operation to overthrow Castro.

I disagree with your assumption. I don’t think the key to the success or failure had anything to do with the assassination plot succeeding or failing [except as noted above that Bissell thought he had a backup plan]. I would agree with Esterline and Hawkins that the two determining factors for the failure of the Bay of Pigs were the belated change in landing site ordered by Kennedy [at the behest of Dean Rusk] and the last minute cancellation of the D-Day airstrikes which meant the Castro air force was not destroyed. As for JFK losing confidence in the Bay of Pigs operation after the failure of the assassination plot, there is no indication that JFK was even aware of the assassination plot.

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(4) You interviewed Jack Hawkins and Jake Esterline for your book. Did you manage to interview any other CIA officials or assets involved in the plots against Castro?

I interviewed a dozen or more. My book devotes only the first three of fourteen chapters to the Bay of Pigs and its aftermath. There is enough literature on the Bay of Pigs itself to fill a library. I tried to deal only with those factors that I thought had not been previously reported or underreported, and from the perspective of the two people most involved in it: Jake Esterline and Jack Hawkins. I had the first print interview with Hawkins in January 1997, since the Bay of Pigs. In a memo to me dated Feb. 27, 1997, he said he had “declined for 35 years to make any remarks to any writer or reporter about the Bay of Pigs – until recently when I decided to report a few facts. I have never read any quotation of me in those 35 years which has any basis in fact.” [Footnote #13, Chapter 3, page 269.] Hawkins first interview of any kind was in October 1996 with Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archive and mine was the second.

Other than the Bay of Pigs, my book with Operation Mongoose [November 1961 through the end of 1962] and the subsequent covert program that followed the Cuban Missile Crisis [no known codename] that was carried out by the CIA Station in Miami [JMWave] and two CIA-supported Cuban exile organizations headed by Manuel Artime and Manuel Ray, acting autonomously. So there were essentially three phases to the covert anti-Castro programs - Bay of Pigs, Mongoose; and post-Mongoose/missile crisis – before they were ended by President Johnson in the first half of 1965.

Among those I interviewed at length or otherwise for the book were CIA officials Tom Parrott, an aide to Allen Dulles who was transferred to the White House as an assistant to, and CIA liaison with, Maxwell Taylor, as President Kennedy’s military representative in the White House. Parrott also kept minutes for the Special Group of the National Security Council which approved covert action proposals against Cuba; Ted Shackley, the CIA station chief in Miami from early 1962 through mid-1965 [during Mongoose and the missile crisis]; Nestor Sanchez, CIA case officer for Rolando Cubela; Jim Flannery, one of Bissell’s aides during the Bay of Pigs period who also provided me with a 20-page unpublished essay on his view of the Bay of Pigs which he wrote for his grandchildren; Bob Reynolds, who Jake Esterline sent to Miami in the early stages of JMWAVE and the Bay of Pigs; Sam Halpern, the executive assistant to CIA’s Bill Harvey, during Mongoose, and Desmond Fitzgerald, in the post-Mongoose program; Justin Gleichauf, head of the overt CIA office in Miami and the first CIA official to arrive in South Florida after Castro’s Jan. 1, 1959, takeover;

Manny Chavez, an air force intelligence officer who was seconded to the overt station in Miami under Gleichauf to assist in questioning refugees; Erneido Oliva, second in commando of the Bay Pigs invasion Brigade and later involved in other covert activities supported by Bobby Kennedy; Rafael Quintero, among the first exiles to be trained for the Bay of Pigs and infiltrated into Cuba to join the underground before the invasion; Quintero also served as Manuel Artime’s deputy when the CIA was supporting Artime’s Central American camps from 1963-1965; Carlos Obregon, a member of the Cuban exile Student Revolutionary Directorate [DRE] and recruited by the CIA for the Bay of Pigs but never made it to the training camps. Obregon subsequently trained at “The Farm,” the CIA’s then secret training facility Virginia and became an infiltration team leader, gathering intelligence inside Cuba.

I also knew slightly CIA officers Dave Phillips and Henry Heckscher, but did not have a chance to formally interview them for my book, since both died before I started the reporting.

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(5) Did anyone you interviewed for the book pass comment on the assassination of JFK. Did any of them believe there was a connection between CIA operations against Cuba and the death of JFK?

The short answer is no. It is a question that I did not raise in my interviews since that was not the point of the book and one I did not want to get entangled with.

The only occasions I can recall the subject of the JFK assassination coming up were in casual conversations with Oliva and Quintero, both of whom – not surprisingly and without any evidence to support it – believed Castro had a role in the JFK assassination. Both Quintero and Oliva were also very close to Bobby Kennedy and, as I note somewhere in the book, believe that had he lived, Castro would be long gone.

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Great book, I have been reading and re-reading your's and Escalante's book The Cuba Project this summer. Have you read Escalante's book and do you concur with his research and conclusions, particularly the details of early intrigues prior and just after revolution? Do you agree with his work on BOP?

Your chapter 8 Miami: Perpetual Intrigue makes great read. One question I have from this chapter is page 133 fifth paragraph, on SOF and use of press, was Gerry the primary source for this paragraph and did you find most reporters were interested in this kind of story or only reporters who had some earlier experience in Cuba or covert operations in Latin America? My father was lost on the raid and that raid was covered by St. George for Life, Buchanan and Hendrix. Had you much contact with those reporters? Did you share info?

Do your Cuban and US military sources agree to any extent that there was an effort to support then withdraw support of Castro in latter '59? Do they feel BOP imperative came out of this event? A lot of this is covered in the USG report of 'Threat to Caribbean 1959' which sought to confirm Castro was a communist.

I wonder why you don't cover the earlier attempts to upset the Castro revolution by strafing cane, leafleting operations and the Navas Bay raid six months before BOP that resulted in executions of Americans and Cubans? The timeframe seems relevant to me. Those executed indicated beforehand that they were working with US help the calls for execution indicates that there was anti-yanqui sentiment "in the street", the US knew about it, yet went ahead with BOP shortly after.

Did you interview Menoyo, del Pino or Diaz Lanz for this book?

Thank you for your insights.

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The only occasions I can recall the subject of the JFK assassination coming up were in casual conversations with Oliva and Quintero, both of whom – not surprisingly and without any evidence to support it – believed Castro had a role in the JFK assassination. Both Quintero and Oliva were also very close to Bobby Kennedy and, as I note somewhere in the book, believe that had he lived, Castro would be long gone.

Do you think JFK knew about any of the plots to assassinate Castro?

Robert Kennedy definitely knew about these later plots. Do you think he kept this information from JFK?

It seems that JFK ordered Operation Mongoose to end after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Is it possible that RFK continued to work with the CIA on Castro’s assassination after this date?

I am intrigued by your comment “had he (Robert Kennedy) lived, Castro would be long gone.” Are you suggesting that if he won the 1968 presidential election he would have ordered the invasion of Cuba? Are you also implying that RFK thought that Castro was behind the assassination of his brother?

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sorry for wedging in here, John. I await Don's response as eagerly as you.

To harp on my earlier posts about DC/exec. level knowledge of raids, I offer up an anectdotal story, repeated frm earlier posts:

After my father and other fathers went missing, widows asked questions, hired attorneys wrote reps in DC, JEH and WH, this is during the Kenn admin. Those letters were volleyed office to office, what to do? If WH didn't know before they knew when letters crossed their desks. Benes due widows, Soc Sec, Vet pay, previously denied were suddenly reinstated. Benefits continue to be paid some aging survivors. Logic tells me that this wouldn't be the case if there wasn't some understanding at highest levels. And if blood (Yankee blue Irish Catholic family too) is thicker than water, how could one brother possibly be privy and not the other? Doesn't fit the profile IMHO. Jack knew Bobby loved the sleuthing, even said he wished he'd made him CIA director. LBJ quipped about a proverbial dumber brother, not destined for WH instead heading CIA didn't he? I concur with Bohning that had the administration survived, the actions wouldn't have ceased perhaps been turned up a notch. Have we bought the Camelot mythology hook line sinker? No disrespect to a noble presidency, but the laundry was buried deep no thanks to the family. To know history is to accept its "naughty bits" n'est pas?

Post Dallas, as it is written, Bobby was beside himself with grief and/or guilt? He turned his energies to Domestic issues like BedStuy, poverty, peace, IMHO, spiritual atonement for past sins?

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John Simkin: Do you think JFK knew about any of the plots to assassinate Castro?

Don Bohning: I don't know. There is no evidence that he did and Arthur Schlesinger keeps insisting that he did not. I am inclined to think he probably did know. Nor is there any evidence showing that Bobby Kennedy knew about the assassination plots, although I think it even more likely that he knew than did his brother JFK. Ex-CIA people I interviewed also believe Bobby was aware of assassination plots. He certainly knew after the fact of the first Bissell/CIA/Mafia assassination as evidence in a memo dated May 14, 1962, prepared at RFK'S request by the CIA'S Sheffield Edwards. [see page 27 of my book.].

John Simkin: Robert Kennedy definitely knew about these later plots. Do you think he kept this information from JFK?

Don Bohning: See the previous answer. Again, there is no clear evidence that RFK knew of the plots as they were underway but the convention wisdom - including my own - is that he probably knew. And if he did know, I doubt he kept it from his brother, the President.

John Simkin: It seems that JFK ordered Operation Mongoose to end after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Is it possible that RFK continued to work with the CIA on Castro's assassination after this date?

Don Bohning: It is not really clear that JFK "ordered" the end of Mongoose after the Cuban Missile Crisis, although that was it's effective end. I think Mongoose likely would have ended without the missile crisis. A new phase, as outlined in Chapter 9 of my book entitled "A New Beginning," was already being discussed, even before the missile crisis.

John Simkin: I am intrigued by your comment "had he [Robert Kennedy] lived, Castro would be long gone." Are you suggesting that if he won the 1968 presidential election he would have ordered the invasion of Cuba? Are you also implying that RFK thought that Castro was behind the assassination of his brother"

Don Bohning: First, a very short answer. That is NOT my comment, and I DO NOT share that view, but that is the belief of Rafael Quintero and Erneido Oliva, both trained by the CIA in advance of the Bay of Pigs and both extremely close to Bobby Kennedy and remain loyal to him today.

I DO NOT think that RFK would have ordered an invasion of Cuba had he won the 1968 presidential election. And I AM NOT implying that RFK thought Castro was behind the assassination of his brother.

Both Oliva and Quintero think it quite possible Castro was behind President Kennedy's assassination, although have no evidence to support their belief. There are clear indications that President Johnson also thought so.

Oliva was the second in command of the Brigade 2506 and Quintero was a radio operator who had been infilitrated into Cuba in advance of the Bay of Pigs to work with the undergroud.

Both Quintero [as Artime's deputy] and Oliva were active in the post Mongoose covert programs, as noted in my book. Both are convinced that had RFK lived, he would have found a way to get rid of Castro. Quintero worked on RFK's 1968 presidential bid before he was assassinated and Oliva was working with Bobby to develop a military plan using Cubans in the US Army - in conjunction with Artime's operation in Central America - when President Kennedy was assassinated. See Oliva's account in my book when Bobby Kennedy called him to the White House to meet with President Johnson who told him the program was ending.

QUESTIONS/COMMENTS FROM CHRIS COX:

Chris Cox: Great book, I have been reading and re-reading yours and Escalante's book the Cuban Project this summer. Have you read Escalante's book and do you concur with his research and conclusions, particularly the details of early intrigues prior and just after the revolution. Do you agree with his work on the Bay of Pigs?

Don Bohning: I am not familiar with a book by Escalanta entitled the Cuba Project. But I am assume it may a later edition of one by Escalante entitled The Secret War: CIA covert operations against Cuba 1959-1962, which I have read but some years ago. I also sat in on conference in Cuba on the anniversary of the Missile Crisis - at the invitation of the private National Security Archive in Washington - and hear Escalante expound on US Covert Operations against Cuba.

The problem I have with the Havana Cuban version of events is that they blame every covert action, etc., on the CIA, when, in fact, a good many of the earlier ones were Cuban exiles acting on their own from South Florida without CIA backing or encouragement. I can't comment on his work on the Bay of Pigs without going back on reading what he had to say.

Chris Cox: Your chapter 8 Miami: Perpetual Intrigue makes great read. One question I have from this chapter is page 133 fifth paragraph,l on SOF and use of press, was Gerry the primary source for this paragraph and did yo find most reporters were interested in this kind of story or only reporters who had some earlier experience in Cuba or cover operations in Latin America? My father was lost on the raid was covered by St. George for Life, Buchanan and Hendrix. Had you much contact with those reporters? Did you share info?

Don Bohning: I do know Gerry [Hemming] but he was not the source for anything that appears in my book. The letter is among declassified documents I came across. I also know Bob Brown of Soldier of Fortune, who printed an excerpt from book in the July Issue pertaining to Col. Frank Egan, the chief trainer at the Guatemala camps.

Re the other reporters, I know well Hal Hendrix [still alive in Vero Beach, Florida, and the late Jim Buchanan [of the Miami Herald and not to be confused with a couple of crackpot South Florida reporter brothers named Jerry and James Buchanan who worked for other publications.] I had worked for the Herald's Jim Buchanan at a small newspaper in South Dakota and he essentially was responsible for me going to work at The Herald. I also knew slightly Andrew St. George who was probably one of the more irresponsible and least believable of the many journalists I came across.

I am not sure which raid you are talking about that was covered by St. George, Hendrix and Buchanan. Was it the one financed by Bill Pawley in the early 1970s in which several Cuban exiles were infilitrated into Cuba and never came back? Or one of the many other raids that occurred with regularity in the 1960s. As for sharing information, while I knew those you mention, I came along about a half generation later. They were all at least ten years older and had been following Cuba much longer.

Chris Cox: Do your Cuban and US military sources agree to any exten that there was an to support then withdraw support of Castro in latter 1959. Do they feel BOP imperative came out of this event? A log of this is covered in USG report of "Threat to the Caribbean 1959" which sought to confirm Castro was a communist.

Don Bohning: I believe I indicate that the real straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, as far as Castro was concerned, was the arrest of Hubert Matos in October 1959 along with putting Raul Castro in charge of the Cuban Armed forces, etc. It is quite evident the the US government did initially try to work with Castro but by the fall of 1959 thought were being given as to how to get rid of him.

Chris Cox: I wonder why you don't cover the earlier attempts to upset the Castro revolution by stafing cane, leafleting operations and the Navas Bay raid six months before BOP that resulted in executions of Americans and Cubans? The time frame seems relevant to me. Those executed indicated before hand they were working with US help. The calls for executiion indicates that there was anti-yanqui sentiment "in the street," the US knew about it, yet went ahead with BOP shortly after.

Don Bohning: You raise a valid point about the attempts to undermine the Castro revolution in its earliest stages but, for the most part as far as I can determine, those thinks which you cite were not part of US sponsored covert activities. If you refer to the executions of William Morgan, Anderson, etc., they were certainly gathering intelligence [spying] for the CIA, but I don't have the impression they were otherwise involved in covert actions, although I may be wrong.

The one place I frankly admit I was remiss was in the area of CIA efforts to assist and buildup the underground in Cuba in advance of the Bay of Pigs.

Chris Cox: Do you inteview Menoyo, del Pino or Diaz Lanz for this book.

Don Bohning. No. I did not interview any of the three, although I did find numerous declassified documents regarding Menoyo's activities, which are referred to in the book.

Del Pino didn't defect until well after the period covered by this book. And to the best of my knowledge, the only thing Diaz Lanz ever did was defect and, along with Frank Sturgis/Fiorino, drop leaflets over Havana in July 1959 and that was not part of any US sponsored covert operation.

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John Simkin: Do you think JFK knew about any of the plots to assassinate Castro?   

Don Bohning: I don't know. There is no evidence that he did and Arthur Schlesinger keeps insisting that he did not. I am inclined to think he probably did know. Nor is there any evidence showing that Bobby Kennedy knew about the assassination plots, although I think it even more likely that he knew than did his brother JFK. Ex-CIA people I interviewed also believe Bobby was aware of assassination plots.  He certainly knew after the fact of the first Bissell/CIA/Mafia assassination as evidence in a memo dated May 14, 1962, prepared at RFK'S request by the CIA'S Sheffield Edwards. [see page 27 of my book.].

The policy of “Plausible Denial” means that we are unlikely to find any documents that prove that John Kennedy knew about the CIA plots to assassinate Fidel Castro. Personally, I find it difficult to believe that the Bay of Pigs invasion was not accompanied by a plot to kill Castro.

There are two sources that indicate that JFK was definitely considering the idea of ordering the assassination of Castro. In March 1960 JFK asked his friend George Smathers what the world would think if Castro were assassinated. (Oral history interview on 31st March, 1964, for the Kennedy Library, quoted by Richard J. Walton, Cold War and Counterrevolution, pages 47-48). According to the historian Michael Beschloss, JFK later told Smathers that he had been “given to believe” that Castro would be dead by the time the Cuban exiles hit the beaches: “Someone was supposed to have knocked him off, and there was supposed to be absolute pandemonium”. (Michael Beschloss, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khruschchev, pages 138-139).

In November, 1961, JFK asked journalist Tad Szulc: “What would you think if I ordered Castro to be assassinated?” JFK claimed that he was under “terrible pressure” from his advisers. The date of this is interesting. According to Evan Thomas it was in November, 1961 that RFK blasted Richard Bissell for not getting rid of Castro (The Very Best Men, page 271).

Samuel Halpern, executive officer of Task Force W, claimed that JFK actually asked Richard Bissell to create a capacity for political assassination. (Seymour Hersh, Dark Side of Camelot, page 192). Halpern was also interviewed by Evan Thomas. He claims the RFK put Desmond FitzGerald under considerable pressure to continue the assassination plots against Castro (page 294). This is supported by the testimony of Thomas Parrot, secretary of the SGA (page 297).

During the Frank Church Committee hearings several CIA officials claimed that they had come under pressure from RFK to “get rid” of Castro. However, he never used the word “assassination” but he made it clear that is what he meant (Alleged Assassination Plots, pages 121-123, 127, 132-33, 324, 330-31).

There are several documents that show RFK knew about these assassination plots. A memo from Sheffield Edwards to RFK in May 1962 quoted Bissell as saying that the “planning” against Castro included the “use of Giancana and the underworld”. In the same memo Edwards described how Robert Maheu had been used as a “cut-out” so that the CIA would not be directly involved with this “dirty business”. (Evan Thomas, The Very Best Men, page 397).

In an interview with the Washington Star, Edward Lansdale, admitted that at a meeting with RFK in the summer of 1962, he was told that his mission was to “get rid of Fidel Castro”. RFK made it clear that “the project for disposing of Castro envisioned the whole spectrum of plans from overthrowing the Cuban leader to assassinating him”. These orders were then passed on to William Harvey (Victor Lasky, It Didn’t Start With Watergate, pages 97-98).

A memo from J. Edgar Hoover dated 1st May, 1961 to RFK, described the CIA’s relationship with Giancana and Rosselli concerning Cuba. Hoover does not use the word “assassination” and instead refers to “dirty business”. In May 1962, Lawrence Houston, general counsel for the CIA told RFK about the planned effort to “dispose” of Castro. (Victor Lasky, It Didn’t Start With Watergate, pages 96-97). Apparently RFK was angry with the CIA about using Giancana and Rosselli. He replied: “I trust if you ever do business with organized crime again – with gangsters – you will let the attorney general know”. However, RFK did not instruct the CIA to stop killing Castro. (Evan Thomas, The Very Best Men, page 397).

It is difficult to believe that RFK did not discuss this matter with JFK. Therefore I think it is fair to assume that JFK knew about the CIA/Mafia plots to assassinate Castro.

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Thank you for the swift reply Don. I appreciate your candor that some things may be missing in your book regarding early raids or operations just prior to BOP. It is that area that I've been studying and it requires a lot of digging and locating folks involved--not much in the written record. I'm a daughter of a missing man but also an armchair historian of Cuba/US. It's an amazing story in its longevity, truly unique.

I mean't "a" raid not "the" raid. My father, a pilot, died six mos before BOP in a random raid, covered in LIFE, Miami News and a few other periodicals. He left St. Lucie county on Oct 31, 1960-his mission aptly called operation "Trick or Treat." Andy St. G and Hal Hendrix remember this.

It was one of many foolhearty attempts to foul the revolution which my father played a part in as a Captain in the revolutionary air force for the second national front of Escambray. To recap, this group following Batista's departure, held the capital days before arrival of Fidel who demanded surrender. Before Fidel arrived he sent Camilo and Che to bargain to little avail. Then things soured all fell apart, a story of betrayal shared by many of course rest is history.

The event that precluded my father's disappearance was a raid called "27-man invasion" "Masferrer invasion of Navas Bay" various monikers. The men were jailed tried and swiftly killed. Some escaped one was my father, a few weeks later having survived Navas Bay he would disappear. A good account of the Navas raid is by an Englishman, Terrence Spencer for Swank Mag.

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John, I posted once on someone's forum a letter from Robert Kennedy reinterpreting or restating his administration's take on the Neutrality Act. I count this as another factoid to back up a contention that he was abreast of what it took to deal with Cuba problem. James R, do you have this by chance? I'm not at my files presently and wonder if I sent it to you. Maybe it's from a Lancer post? Someone must have it and worth a posting here.

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As a result of this discussion I have consulted all those books that I have that deal with the CIA plots against Castro. This includes, in order of publication: Victor Marchetti & John D. Marks, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence (1974), Victor Lasky, It Didn’t Start With Watergate (1977), Thomas Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets (1979), Warren Hinckle & William Turner, Deadly Secrets (1981), John Prados, Presidents’ Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations Since World War II (1986), Wayne S. Smith: The Closest of Enemies: US-Cuban Relations Since 1957 (1987), John Ranelagh, Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA (1987), Michael R. Beschloss, Kennedy v Khrushchev, The Crisis Years, 1960-63 (1991), David Corn, Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA’s Crusades (1994), Evan Thomas, The Very Best Men (1995), Seymour Hersh, The Dark Side of Camelot (1997), Richard D. Mahoney, Sons and Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy (1999), Joseph Trento, The Secret History of the CIA (2001) and Fabian Escalante, CIA Covert Operations 1959-62 (2004).

At one time over the past five years, I have read virtually all the books, etc., that you cite, or at least the pertinent parts of them, plus a few others. That includes Evan Thomas, Haynes Johnson, Richard Helms, Dave Phillips, John Prados, Sy Hersh, David Corn, Richard Mahoney, Michael Beschloss, John Raneleagh, Joseph Trento, Wayne Smith, Thomas Powers, Joseph Trento, etc., as well as the CIA Inspector General's report, the Church Committee Report, the fully declassified Taylor Commission Report, Hinckle and Turner, Howard Hunt, and Fabian Escalante, the various FRUS volumes related to Cuba. I add to that Bissell's memoirs (for what it doesn't say), Spymasters: Ten CIA Officers in Their Own Words, and Kennedy's Wars by Lawrence Freedman.

I know - or have known - personally, Wayne Smith (a long time friend), Sy Hersh (slightly), Dave Phillips (moderately), Tad Szulc, Manuel Artime, Rafael Quintero, Henry Hoecksher, Sam Halpern, Ted Shackley, Jake Esterline, Tom Parrott and others.

Among them, and off the top of my head, I consider the best sources the books by Thomas Powers, Evan Thomas and Sy Hersh (although Sy sometimes has a tendency to push the envelope in his conclusions a bit more than I would), along with the Church Committee report, the CIA IG's report on assassinations, and Beschloss' The Crisis Years.

The problem I had with the Hinkcle/Turner book, The Fish is Red and the updated version, Deadly Secrets, is it was done before many documents were declassified. Contains several factual errors. It also accepts at face value the information from interviews with people I knew and also knew to be inveterate liars.

Neither was I particularly impressed with Richard Mahoney's book, even though he taught at Thunderbird, my old alma mater. I know enough about Howard Hunt to discount much or most of what he says without independent confirmation.

I just reread Fabian Escalante's book within the last two weeks and think it is just awful; as noted previously he has a tendency to blame everything on the CIA, whether true or not. One example, and the one thing I did considerable research of old files and in interviews on was the explosion in March 1960 of the Le Coubre in Havana harbor. There is ABSOLUTELY no evidence that was anything but an accident.

In that regard, I have just reread another really awful book entitled ZR Rifle: the plot to kill Kennedy and Castro, by Claudia Furiati, a Brazilian, with most of the information comes from Escalante.

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