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Don Bohning: The Castro Obsession


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Do you have any views on the JFK assassination? Is it possibly linked to the what you have called the Castro Obsession?

The last thing I wanted to do was have my book become part of the controversy over the JFK assassination, but since it seems to have happened anyway, I have been reading some of the books on the subject, among them so far Gaeton Fonzi's "The Last Investigation," The Rockefeller Commission Report on CIA activities; "ZR Rifle: The Plot to Kill Kennedy and Castro," by Claudia Furiati. I had previously read and reviewed for The Herald some years ago, Gus Russo's book: "Live by the Sword," which is probably the best of those cited above. The Furiati book is pure fantasy. The problem I have with the Russo and Fonzi books is that I know - or know by reputation - many of the people cited as sources and find them less than credible. The same is true of what bits and pieces I have seen of Joan Mellen's new book on the Garrison Investigation.

Two reporters for major newspapers I won't name who covered the Garrison investigation, thought Garrison was looney.

I do have my views on it and, for the most part, I don't buy any of the conspiracy theories I have heard so far. I particularly don't buy what appears to be an emerging consensus among some that it was a conspiracy carried out by the mob, Cuban exiles and the CIA. If it were any of those, I would think it might have been the mob acting alone. That said, I believe the Warren Commission report was flawed, but as I said in the book, but I have seen nothing yet that would convince me otherwise. That said I don't profess to be a student of the assassination.

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I do have my views on it and, for the most part, I don't buy any of the conspiracy theories I have heard so far.  I particularly don't buy what appears to be an emerging consensus among some that it was a conspiracy carried out by the mob, Cuban exiles and the CIA. If it were any of those, I would think it might have been the mob acting alone. That said, I believe the Warren Commission report was flawed, but as I said in the book, but I have seen nothing yet that would convince me otherwise. That said I don't profess to be a student of the assassination.

Don, I'm not trying to drag you into a discussion of the evidence. But I am curious as to why you're skeptical of theories involving anti-Castro Cubans. Is it you're feeling that their hatred towards Kennedy has been exaggerated? Or do you doubt their operational capabilities?

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Don, I'm not trying to drag you into a discussion of the evidence.  But I am curious as to why you're skeptical of theories involving anti-Castro Cubans.  Is it you're feeling that their hatred towards Kennedy has been exaggerated?  Or do you doubt their operational capabilities?

I am not particularly skeptical of anti-Castro Cubans. I am skeptical, however, that any unholy coalition of cia, anti-Castro Cubans and the mob was involved as a group, which seems to be an emerging theory. I would put anti-Castro Cubans and Castro Cubans in a tie behind the mob if it came down to it.

Keep in mind, I have not been a student of the JFK assassination - until I seem to have been dragged into it with my book - so I am not aware of all the information, evidence and just plain theories that are out there regarding it.

If I were a believer in all the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination, I certainly would put anti-Castro Cubans on the list. At this point, I am not a believer.

The one thing I certainly don't believe is that the mysterious Maurice Bishop as identified by Antonio Veciana was Dave Phillips.

Also, unrelated, I have been checking and it seems that Tim Gratz may well have been right in noting that I erred on the dates of Johnny Rosselli's disappearance and discovery of his body. I am trying to reconstruct where I came up with the dates in my book because I certainly did not make them out of thin air.

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The one thing I certainly don't believe is that the mysterious Maurice Bishop as identified by Antonio Veciana was Dave Phillips.

This has me curious. Outside of Fonzi, virtually no one has looked into Veciana and explored his credibility. Is it that you suspect there was a Bishop, but that he wasn't Phillips, or that you think Veciana made up the whole story? Since Fonzi was able to match so many of Bishop's supposed travels to those of Phillips, do you suspect Veciana was deliberately implicating Phillips, for his own dark purposes?

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To expand further on my comments about anti-Castro Cuban exiles and their possible involvement in Kennedy assassination.

There were certainly plenty of militants in the Cuban community during those days capable of killing Kennedy as demonstrated by all the bombings, unsolved exile murders, etc. And I personally, and The Herald as an institution, had anonymous threats of violence from Cuban exiles - both written and telephoned - which were reported to the FBI. I recall one instance of an exile coming in and he and I getting into a heated discussion. Not long after he left, a secretary at The Herald got an anonymous call saying the exiles were going to start bombing Herald delivery trucks unless I were fired. In fact, it is one of the reasons I had, and still have, an unlisted telephone number.

As I noted in my previous email, I am not one given to believe in conspiracy theories [having worked to long in journalism to believe everything people tell me] unless I have some convincing evidence to show me otherwise. So far - and again admitting that I had not paid a lot of attention to them until recently when I seem to have become unwittingly involved.

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Don, I believe it was eleven days between Rosselli's disappearence and the discovery of the barrell but I think you have the date of the discovery of the barrell as the date of his disappearance. I think your eleven day "gap" is about correct.

Reportedly, Rosselli had told his sister thay if he ever "disappeared" she shou;d look for her car at the MIA because his killers would try to make it look like he had fled Miami. And her car which he was driving did turn up at MIA,

His murder was, however, unrelated to the JFK assassination. His mafioso golfing partners caught him cheating during the game. (My usual "tongue-in-cheek" advisory must be exercised here.)

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Have you read William Turner’s Rearview Mirror? He provides an interesting account of how the FBI and CIA mounted smear campaigns against journalists or politicians who attempted to criticize these two organizations. Were you ever fed stories by the CIA about these people who were willing to take on the intelligence community?

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Don:

What was the relationship between the CIA and the FRD/CRC after the invasion? Was the group still a "player" in anti-Castro operations?

Among other things, I am trying to sort out the activities of David Ferrie. In November 1960, Tony Varona of the FRD sent Sergio Arcacha Smith to New Orleans as delegate. A short time later, Ferrie volunteered for the group. Prior to the Bay of Pigs, he was regarded as a "gringo" Norte Americano, but after the invasion, he was quite close to Arcacha and very involved in leading that chapter of the FRD/CRC, up until shortly after his morals arests in August 1961, when he was ostracized. Arcacha was dumped shortly afterward.

IF a volunteer came to a local chapter of the FRD, would CIA know about it? Or would he be one of many hangers-on who didn't appear on CIA radar? The scant CIA record indicates that they knew almost nothing about him, but I find that hard to believe. Any ideas?

What about the Russo notion of RFK closely guiding the anti-Castro groups after the invasion?

Haven't read the book yet, but I plan to get it. Thanks.

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Have you read William Turner’s Rearview Mirror? He provides an interesting account of how the FBI and CIA mounted smear campaigns against journalists or politicians who attempted to criticize these two organizations. Were you ever fed stories by the CIA about these people who were willing to take on the intelligence community?

In answer to your question about being fed stories about those who take on the intelligence community. Never was I fed a story. I have read William Turner's book, Rearview Mirror, but it was quite some years ago.

I also have read both books by Hinckle & Turner: "The Fish is Red" and the updated version entitled "Deadly Secrets." The problem I have with them is again - much as Joan Mellen does in her upcoming book "The Failure of Justice," they frequently quote as sources people I knew - or at least was familiar with - during those days who just weren't/aren't credible.

The one thing I certainly don't believe is that the mysterious Maurice Bishop as identified by Antonio Veciana was Dave Phillips.

This has me curious. Outside of Fonzi, virtually no one has looked into Veciana and explored his credibility. Is it that you suspect there was a Bishop, but that he wasn't Phillips, or that you think Veciana made up the whole story? Since Fonzi was able to match so many of Bishop's supposed travels to those of Phillips, do you suspect Veciana was deliberately implicating Phillips, for his own dark purposes?

Regarding Dave Phillips and Antonio Veciana and Maurice Bishop, I finished reading Fonzi's book about three months ago. If you read it carefully, it seems to me, he badgers Veciana - who first denies that Phillips and Maurice Bishop are one and the same - over some period of time into agreeing that Phillips and Bishop are one and the same. I do not personally know Veciana but do know something about Alpha 66, the organization he headed, and similar exile groups, which would do anything to further their own agenda. To the best of my knowledge, Alpha 66 was never funded by the CIA.

I also knew Dave Phillips - not well - but well enough to seriously doubt he had any role in the JFK assassination. That is the same view held by other of my journalistic friends who knew him. If I am not mistaken, he won a law suit against Anthony Summers related to the same thing. I have Summers' book on my "to read" list but looking at the index he devotes several pages to Philips, Maurice Bishop and Veciana.

Perhaps the reason, apart from Fonzi, has been able to find any evidence to support the Bishop/Phillips story.

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Have you read William Turner’s Rearview Mirror? He provides an interesting account of how the FBI and CIA mounted smear campaigns against journalists or politicians who attempted to criticize these two organizations. Were you ever fed stories by the CIA about these people who were willing to take on the intelligence community?

In answer to your question about being fed stories about those who take on the intelligence community. Never was I fed a story. I have read William Turner's book, Rearview Mirror, but it was quite some years ago.

I also have read both books by Hinckle & Turner: "The Fish is Red" and the updated version entitled "Deadly Secrets." The problem I have with them is again - much as Joan Mellen does in her upcoming book "The Failure of Justice," they frequently quote as sources people I knew - or at least was familiar with - during those days who just weren't/aren't credible.

I think you are being unfair to Bill Turner concerning his use of the evidence. He is aware as much as you are that there are certain characters involved in anti-Castro politics who have been involved for many years in spreading disinformation. I have always found him a reliable guide through this material. Where you seem to differ from Bill is that he approaches the information with a critical eye, wherever it comes from.

You appear to think that the CIA have always told the truth about these issues. Bill does not share this opinion. He also backs it up in Rearview Mirror with documents released as a result of the Freedom of Information Act. One of the things he has discovered is that several journalists were acting under orders from the FBI and CIA concerning the JFK assassination. For example, see what he has to say about the CIA campaign entitled Operation Nightingale (Countering Criticism of the Warren Report). CIA document 1035-960. For a full account of this see page 299.

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What was the relationship between the CIA and the FRD/CRC after the invasion? Was the group still a "player" in anti-Castro operations?

Among other things, I am trying to sort out the activities of David Ferrie. In November 1960, Tony Varona of the FRD sent Sergio Arcacha Smith to New Orleans as delegate. A short time later, Ferrie volunteered for the group. Prior to the Bay of Pigs, he was regarded as a "gringo" Norte Americano, but after the invasion, he was quite close to Arcacha and very involved in leading that chapter of the FRD/CRC, up until shortly after his morals arests in August 1961, when he was ostracized. Arcacha was dumped shortly afterward.

IF a volunteer came to a local chapter of the FRD, would CIA know about it? Or would he be one of many hangers-on who didn't appear on CIA radar? The scant CIA record indicates that they knew almost nothing about him, but I find that hard to believe. Any ideas?

What about the Russo notion of RFK closely guiding the anti-Castro groups after the invasion?

Regarding the question about the relationship between the CIA and FRD/CRC after the Bay of Pigs, I think it was strained at best. Jose Miro Cardona resigned as head of the CUBAN REVOLUTIONARY COUNCIL in April 1963, accusing the United States of defaming him and "reneging on promises to act against Premier Fidel Castro." [NY Times April 18, 1963.]

Up until then, as I recount on page 158 of my book, the council was receiving $137,000 monthly, and another $103,000 monthly was going to "seven other exile groups, including some affiliated with the Council." The money to the Council ended with Miro Cardoza's resignation as its president. I have no knowledge of either Sergio Aracacha Smith or David Ferrie, other than when their names surfaced in the news with the Garrison Investigation. Tony Varona, of course, had a pretty bad reputation and by all accounts had links to the pre-Castro Mafia in Cuba.

Russo is quite correct that RFK was closely guiding the anti-Castro campaign after the Bay of Pigs. I think I make that quite clear in my book. RFK was, in effect, acting as the case officer for both Mongoose, and the subsequent effort that began in January 1963 and continued until President Johnson ended it. The only significant CIA funded anti-Castro groups were those headed by Manuel Artime [MRR] and Manolo Ray [JURE].

I think you are being unfair to Bill Turner concerning his use of the evidence. He is aware as much as you are that there are certain characters involved in anti-Castro politics who have been involved for many years in spreading disinformation. I have always found him a reliable guide through this material. Where you seem to differ from Bill is that he approaches the information with a critical eye, wherever it comes from.

You appear to think that the CIA have always told the truth about these issues. Bill does not share this opinion. He also backs it up in Rearview Mirror with documents released as a result of the Freedom of Information Act. One of the things he has discovered is that several journalists were acting under orders from the FBI and CIA concerning the JFK assassination. For example, see what he has to say about the CIA campaign entitled Operation Nightingale (Countering Criticism of the Warren Report). CIA document 1035-960. For a full account of this see page 299.

My comments re Turner were based more on the two books [FISH IS READ and DEADLY SECRETS] he co-authored with Warren Hinckle. It has been several years since I have read Rearview Mirror, as I began research for my book. And since nothing in it appeared to relate to my book, I did not read it carefully. I still have it and will reread it.

If you are suggeting that I might have been acting under orders or encouragement from the FBI or CIA anybody else regarding the Warren Commission Report, I can tell you with ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY that I was not acting under orders or encouragement from anybody, since never in my career have I ever written anything about the Warren Commission Report.

At the risk of being repetitive this looks like it fits in this thread as well:

An interesting document which you might order a copy of RIF 104-10072-10289 from NARA. The title is rather uninteresting e.g. "Special Activities Report on a JMWAVE Relationship" however the content has to do with a several year relationship between JMWAVE and various personnel at the Miami Harald.

The document describes relationships with AMCARBON-1, AMCARBON-2 ...and apparent multiple identities of individuals (which totally confuses me). Apparently AMCARBON-2 was approched in Sept 1962 at the same time AMCARBON-1 was given identity 4. Apparently AMCARBON-1 had gotten a significant promotion at the paper at that time and increasing confidence by Indentity-3 management. Someone with the crypt Reuteman made the introduction for AMCARBON-2 to JMWAVE, can't tell if he was a Harald employee or not., sounds like it though.

This document is probably our best insight to reveal the extent to which JMWAVE had working relationships with several personnel at the Harald and that Hendrix probably fits one of the CARBON crypts. Supposedly AMCARBON-1 originally

started to work for Identity 3 (the Harald?) in 1957 on the City Desk, then went on to Florida political stories.

You would probably be more interested in the fact that the memo gives a long list of sources for AMCARBON-1 and discusses how JMWAVE used him as a progaganda outlet e.g. "a propaganda outlet through which items of interest to KUBARK could be surfaced in the free world press"....the memo goes on to list specific incidents and their related stories.

There is also a variety of interesting dialog about the ground rules for using press assets and media tactics.

1. I have obtained the document about the JMWave relationship with the Miami Herald and references to Amcarbon2, Amcarbon1, etc., etc.

As you noted, it is very confusing but it seems quite clear to me that AMCARBON2 was probably Al Burt, my predecessor as Latin America editor at the Miami Herald. I have no idea who might have bee AMCARBON1 or Identity, 2, etc. even what they refer to.

2. I also have obtained documents that clearly state that I was AMCARBON3, something I was not previously aware of.

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David Atlee Phillips wrote an article on why the Bay of Pigs operation failed: (Miami Herald, 17th April, 1986)

Some history should be set straight. It has often been argued that the root cause for the disaster was that the CIA promised President Eisenhower and, after his inauguration, President John Kennedy, that a spontaneous uprising would be sparked in Cuba by the landing at the Bay of Pigs. That has become a durable myth; but it is a myth.

The Bay of Pigs operational plan was based on the 1954 successful covert action, in which I was also involved, that led to the overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala. No one in a responsible position ever contemplated a sudden victory in the Guatemalan endeavor. And it didn’t occur until enough Guatemalans were convinced the invading army was well entrenched the time had arrived to hop on the bandwagon. Nor, in the Cuban operation, did anyone from the lowest operator to CIA Director Allen Dulles believe that immediate uprisings would topple the charismatic Fidel Castro.

Then why did it fail? For the first few years after the Bay of Pigs my observation were too subjective to be trusted. In 1975, however, I mustered as much objectivity as I could to list four principal reasons for the failure:

First, the successful argument made to President Kennedy by his political advisers that the CIA’s original plan to land at a small town called Trinidad near Cuban mountains would make the operation unacceptably "noisy"; thus the change to the isolated, swampy landing site at the Bay of Pigs.

Next, Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson was not thoroughly informed of pre-invasion air strikes against Cuba, CIA sorties by exile pilots who claimed they were defecting from the Castro’s air force. Stevenson was understandably incensed after he denied charges by Cuba’s foreign minister that the planes were on CIA-supported missions. His protest to Kennedy, who admired him, might have been critical in the decision to truncate the operation.

Then, those of us within CIA - including Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell, the senior acting officer of the operation - should have ignored the agency’s "can-do" and "good-soldier" tradition and told the White House that an operation of the dimensions of the Bay of Pigs, if to be conducted at all, should be managed openly by the Pentagon and not by a secret army.

Finally, the decision by President Kennedy to cancel at zero hour the air cover that the 1,400 Cuban exiles in the amphibious force had been promised.

Now, after pondering the sad event for another decade, I must add a fifth element to the list of reasons the Bay of Pigs operation failed: There was a tacit assumption among those concerned with the operation in CIA - an assumption that hardened into certainty by D-Day - that John Kennedy would bail out CIA if things went awry.

Everyone, including Richard Bissell and Allen Dulles, believed deep down that Kennedy would rescue the operation with U.S. armed forces if need be. There had to be some sort of overt military option ready in the wings if defeat loomed. (Surely Eisenhower would have had one in reserve and used it.) But there was no contingency plan in fact or in Kennedy’s mindset. Those involved in the project, from top to bottom, ignored an intelligence basic: Don’t assume; know.

Do you agree with Phillips?

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David Atlee Phillips wrote an article on why the Bay of Pigs operation failed: (Miami Herald, 17th April, 1986)

Some history should be set straight. It has often been argued that the root cause for the disaster was that the CIA promised President Eisenhower and, after his inauguration, President John Kennedy, that a spontaneous uprising would be sparked in Cuba by the landing at the Bay of Pigs. That has become a durable myth; but it is a myth.

The Bay of Pigs operational plan was based on the 1954 successful covert action, in which I was also involved, that led to the overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala. No one in a responsible position ever contemplated a sudden victory in the Guatemalan endeavor. And it didn’t occur until enough Guatemalans were convinced the invading army was well entrenched the time had arrived to hop on the bandwagon. Nor, in the Cuban operation, did anyone from the lowest operator to CIA Director Allen Dulles believe that immediate uprisings would topple the charismatic Fidel Castro.

Then why did it fail? For the first few years after the Bay of Pigs my observation were too subjective to be trusted. In 1975, however, I mustered as much objectivity as I could to list four principal reasons for the failure:

First, the successful argument made to President Kennedy by his political advisers that the CIA’s original plan to land at a small town called Trinidad near Cuban mountains would make the operation unacceptably "noisy"; thus the change to the isolated, swampy landing site at the Bay of Pigs.

Next, Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson was not thoroughly informed of pre-invasion air strikes against Cuba, CIA sorties by exile pilots who claimed they were defecting from the Castro’s air force. Stevenson was understandably incensed after he denied charges by Cuba’s foreign minister that the planes were on CIA-supported missions. His protest to Kennedy, who admired him, might have been critical in the decision to truncate the operation.

Then, those of us within CIA - including Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell, the senior acting officer of the operation - should have ignored the agency’s "can-do" and "good-soldier" tradition and told the White House that an operation of the dimensions of the Bay of Pigs, if to be conducted at all, should be managed openly by the Pentagon and not by a secret army.

Finally, the decision by President Kennedy to cancel at zero hour the air cover that the 1,400 Cuban exiles in the amphibious force had been promised.

Now, after pondering the sad event for another decade, I must add a fifth element to the list of reasons the Bay of Pigs operation failed: There was a tacit assumption among those concerned with the operation in CIA - an assumption that hardened into certainty by D-Day - that John Kennedy would bail out CIA if things went awry.

Everyone, including Richard Bissell and Allen Dulles, believed deep down that Kennedy would rescue the operation with U.S. armed forces if need be. There had to be some sort of overt military option ready in the wings if defeat loomed. (Surely Eisenhower would have had one in reserve and used it.) But there was no contingency plan in fact or in Kennedy’s mindset. Those involved in the project, from top to bottom, ignored an intelligence basic: Don’t assume; know.

Do you agree with Phillips?

I have just finished reading the Philips piece and generally would agree. I would add - or at least both Esterline and Hawkins were convinced - that the change in landing site a month before the invasion was another significant factor.

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Well I would disagree with at least one statement in Phillips' article, to-wit that JFK was a great admirer of Adlai Stevenson (or of his "sponsor" Eleanor Roosevelt). As I understand it they often made derisive remarks about his masculinity (or lack thereof) and were pleasantly amazed by Stevenson's UN performance during the CMC.

I found Mr. Bohning's chapter on the reasons for the failure of the BOP quite incisive and commend it (and the book) to all Forum members.

But in one sense it comes down to this: how could anyone believe that, without US assistance, the 1500 or so members of the Brigade could defeat Castro's army of 200,000 plus? Anyone who could believe that, in the face of such numbers, the BOP would succeed without direct US intervention could write a travelogue called "Gullible's Travels"!

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