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Operation Tilt (Bayo/Pawley Mission)

John Simkin

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I am of the opinion that Operation Tilt could be a key incident in understanding the assassination of JFK.

In the winter of 1962 Eddie Bayo (Eduardo Perez) claimed that two officers in the Red Army based in Cuba wanted to defect to the United States. Bayo added that these men wanted to pass on details about atomic warheads and missiles that were still in Cuba despite the agreement that followed the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Bayo's story was eventually taken up by several members of the anti-Castro community including Nathaniel Weyl, William Pawley, Gerry P. Hemming, John Martino, Felipe Vidal Santiago and Frank Sturgis. Pawley became convinced that it was vitally important to help get these Soviet officers out of Cuba.

William Pawley contacted Ted Shackley at JM/WAVE. Shackley decided to help Pawley organize what became known as Operation Tilt or the Bayo-Pawley Mission. He also assigned Rip Robertson, a fellow member of the CIA in Miami, to help with the operation. David Sanchez Morales, another CIA agent, also became involved in this attempt to bring out these two Soviet officers.

On 8th June, 1963, a small group, including William Pawley, Eddie Bayo, Rip Robertson, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, John Martino. Richard Billings and Terry Spencer boarded a CIA flying boat. After landing off Baracoa, Bayo and his men got into a 22-foot craft and headed for the Cuban shore. The plan was to pick them up with the Soviet officers two days later. However, Bayo and his men were never seen again. It was rumoured that he had been captured and executed. However, his death was never reported in the Cuban press.

The operation involved several people who were later to feature in the investigation of the JFK assassination. In fact, I believe that several of those mentioned above took part in the assassination. Two of these men, Morales and Martino both confessed to friends their role in the assassination.

I believe there is a chance that William Pawley paid for the assassination. We also know that Dick Billings played an important role in the cover-up. See for example the role he played in undermining the Jim Garrison and the HUAC investigations.


Nathaniel Weyl was a member of the forum until his recent death. He was reluctant to talk about this event, claiming that William Pawley and the CIA took over the operation in its early stages. This is what he said in his book, Encounters With Communism (2003):

The Bayo operation has been covered in several article and books. It has been a hunting ground for conspiracy theorists, such as Peter Dale Scott (Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, University of California Press), who suggest that the Bayo affair was linked to the Kennedy assassination.

We know now that the defecting Soviet colonels never existed, that there were no Russian missiles left in place in Cuba, that the Bayo story was a hoax.

What happened to the Cubans who were offloaded from the Flying Tiger, heavily armed with ClA-supplied weapons? We know that the Pawley yacht weighed anchor ten miles to sea from the port of Baracoa in Oriente Province on the night of June 8, 1963. Three CIA people kept machineguns trained on Bayo and his Cuban commandos as the latter piled into the speedboat that was to take them to shore (Warren Hinckle and William W. Turner, Deadly Secrets, p. 194). Weapons were aimed at the Cubans because the CIA considered the possibility that they were Castro agents and that the operation was an ambush.

The commandos vanished into the night. Pawley saw to it that a Catalina flying boat search the skies for them until a week had elapsed. The generally accepted theory is that their secret purpose had been to get modern arms with which to kill Castro, but that they had been intercepted and killed or captured in a firefight. A year or so after the tragedy, Bill Pawley told me he believed that the men never landed. When they boarded the speedboat, he warned them that it was dangerously overloaded and urged them in vain to take rubber rafts aboard. Pawley heard a large freighter pass between the Flying Tiger and the shore. He believed that the Cuban boat was swamped in the freighter's wake and that the men drowned.

Was their secret purpose to get CIA arms with which to kill Fidel Castro? This is the conclusion researchers have arrived at, but it seems to me illogical. When I was approached to find a yacht and meet the defectors at sea, there was no mention of sending armed commandos ashore. Nor did I have any access to assault weapons nor did Martino have any reason to imagine I would be willing or able to supply them.

The source of guns was the CIA and Bayo and his companions had made it abundantly clear that they distrusted the agency and wanted to have nothing to do with it.

The conclusion I draw is that Bayo's initial plan was to land two or three mysterious people in Florida, to allege that they were Soviet colonels and spread the story of missiles still in Cuba to influence the American presidential elections. The purpose would have been to defeat Kennedy since many Cubans believed he had betrayed them and their cause.

Would any such imposture have been promptly detected and exposed? Or would continuing uncertainty and suspicion have poisoned the air for the young President?

When the plan mushroomed to comprise a Cuban commando force, heavily armed by the CIA with weapons, none of which was, of course, of U.S. origin, plans may well have changed. Assassination? Mere havoc and sabotage? We will probable never know.

This is what Richard D. Mahoney, Sons and Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy (1999) had to say about the matter:

After having shilled the project around reactionary circles Florida, Martino and Bayo pitched the idea to Pawley, who in turn took it to JM/WAVE chief Ted Shackley. Pawley told Shackley that he had gotten a call from the chief counsel to the Senate Intenal Subcommittee, Jay Sourwine, promising that chairman James O. Eastland of Mississippi would launch hearings if the Soviet officers were sprung. When Shackley learned from Pawley that Martino was involved, he was not pleased. He called Martino a "lowlife." Shacklley nonetheless signed on. The operation was a long shot but, if it panned out, a career maker. It might also serve to rehabilitate Shackley's demoted mentor. Bill Harvey. CIA headquarters at first balked at the proposal, having been sufficiently embarrassed by renegade heroics by the Cuban exiles. Then Senator Eastland telephoned Ambassador Pawley to inform him, incredibly enough, that John Martino, a Mafia operative, had personally briefed him on the mission, called Operation Red Cross. The CIA gave Shackley the go-ahead.

It is possible Rosselli and Martino actually believed in the Bayo-Pawley mission. It is equally possible that they were developing an elaborate alibi for another murderous contingency. On June 4, the day before the mission was to be launched, Martino and Bayo told an astounded Pawley that they had agreed to let Life magazine cover the raid in exchange for $15,000. Loren Hall, a Trafficante associate later investigated for his contact with Oswald in Dallas, claimed that the Mafia, not Life, had in fact put up the $15,000.

On June 5, Pawley's yacht, the Flying Tiger II, towing a smaller craft, set sail for its rendezvous point off the coast of Oriente province. Three days later, Pawley himself, accompanied by the ever-ready Rip Robertson, a Life photographer, Bayo, and nine other raiders boarded a CIA flying boat. (Pawley was so suspicious about the intentions of Bayo and his raiders that he locked them in the center cabin during the flight.) Off Baracoa, Cuba, they joined up with the yacht. Robertson passed out a full complement of arms to the fighters before they piled into the 22-foot craft and headed for the Cuban shore. The plan was to meet up with the Flying Tiger II two days later with the Soviet officers in hand. But Bayo and his comrades were never heard from again. Station chief Shackley later determined that the Soviet defection story had been cover for a "free-lance strike" by Bayo and the others. A review of Cuban army documents relating to the capture or killing of anti-Castro raiders, research done in June 1997, revealed no record of Bayo.

But the Bayo-Pawley mission fit nicely with Rosselli's later claim that President Kennedy was assassinated by an anti-Castro sniper team sent in to murder Castro, captured by the Cubans, tortured, and redeployed in Dallas. Through the handiwork of Rosselli's assistant, John Martino, the CIA, Life, Pawley, and Senator Eastland were all variously implicated.

Probably the best coverage of Operation Tilt can be found in Larry Hancock's Someone Would Have Talked (2003)

Rip Robertson... was brought back into CIA operations for the Bay of Pigs commanding the supply ship Barbara J and leading exile frogmen onto the beach. Robertson later became affiliated with JM WAVE operations and was the officer who debriefed John Martino upon his release (Florence Martino identified someone she knew only as "Rip" making numerous visits to their house). Robertson died in 1970, supposedly of the aftereffects of malaria contracted during service in Vietnam.

In addition to Bayo, Pawley, Martino and Robertson, the expedition was accompanied by Dick Billings, a LIFE staff writer obtained through the Pawley-Luce connection. Billings would later head the LIFE team in Dallas which purchased the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination, as well as Marina Oswald's story rights (neither of which saw public exposure under LIFE auspices). Much later. Billings was hired by Robert Blakey, the second head of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, as editorial director for the final report of the HSCA.

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Of the many strange things about the TILT project, one of the strangest is the massive violation of CIA security procedures. The idea of sending operational personnel on a mission with unvetted participants and then consciously allowing photography for a major media outlet like LIFE should have sent security personnel into fits...even more so with no firm control over the photos or their use(just a gentleman's agreement).

However we now have documents that show this action was approved in personal correspondance between Pawley and Marshall Carter, CIA Deputy Director....soon to become head of the NSA. Carter told Pawley "his people" in D.C. and Miami had decided to go along with the idea of a LIFE photographer on the mission.

And the photos that were released do show at least one opertional CIA employees as well as a nice set of deniable weapons....gee, guess you didn't have to have American weapons to be on an American mission, how about that.

Details and RIF references upcoming in the second edition of SWHT. Larry

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  • 14 years later...
2 hours ago, B. A. Copeland said:

New Campbell audio on Bayo, Martino & the Raid:


Excellent study group material as usual.

I listened to that episode at work the other day but was busy and couldn’t pay attention as much as I would have liked.
  When talking about the boat they used did Doug say that David Morales was trying to locate it the the day of or the day after the assassination? I thought Doug theorized that the mission was faked and those guys were a part of the hit team in Dallas.
  Just from the time between the trip to Cuba and the assassination it seems like a big stretch. On the other hand faking the deaths of these guys and hiding them out with the promise of more money than they could imagine doesn’t seem out of the question. 

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I have not listened to this particular episode but the boat used on the TILT mission belonged to Pawley, he also leased a seaplane that was used on the mission.  The Pawley yacht was actually shadowed on its trip in and out by one of the large CIA mother ships, providing radar coverage for the mission. There is a separate document which has to do with Morales commenting on a boat that was being considered for maritime missions circa November, nothing to do with the Pawley mission. 

The TILT mission was certainly not faked, as a matter of fact it was photographed in extensive detail - in violation of all CIA security practices; in fact a great deal about the mission was in violation of standard practices. 

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1 hour ago, Larry Hancock said:

I have not listened to this particular episode but the boat used on the TILT mission belonged to Pawley, he also leased a seaplane that was used on the mission.  The Pawley yacht was actually shadowed on its trip in and out by one of the large CIA mother ships, providing radar coverage for the mission. There is a separate document which has to do with Morales commenting on a boat that was being considered for maritime missions circa November, nothing to do with the Pawley mission. 

The TILT mission was certainly not faked, as a matter of fact it was photographed in extensive detail - in violation of all CIA security practices; in fact a great deal about the mission was in violation of standard practices. 

Thanks Larry. Like I said I was listening while at work and haven’t had a chance to go back and listen again. What I said earlier is what I thought was said in the podcast. Thank you for clearing that up.

Edited by John Kozlowski
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I'm not sure it was not in the podcast - it is a bit confusing but its important to remember that Morales was in charge of JMWAVE operations including maritime operations in 1963 so his interest in boats is not that far off base.  As I recall the document in question he was actually responding that a boat which had been proposed or referred to WAVE for potential use was not really acceptable. When we first started digging into TILT years ago it was all ready mysterious but fortunately we now have a load of actual documents on it including Robertson's lengthy after action report.  I should point out thought it still remains very anomalous and is one of the most obvious examples of senior CIA officers knowingly supporting something that could have essentially destroyed JFK's presidency - without informing the president, the Special Group Augmented or RFK about the mission - that's a really big deal. If you want "rogue", you find it in TILT....which was approved by J.C. King, one of the most aggressive senior officers and someone who draws little attention.

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7 hours ago, Larry Hancock said:

I'm not sure it was not in the podcast - it is a bit confusing but its important to remember that Morales was in charge of JMWAVE operations including maritime operations in 1963 so his interest in boats is not that far off base. 



Do you know if Morales had much, if any, contact with Jerry Buchanan and his Alpha-66 connections out of Alabama and Miami?

Frank Sturgis seems to be heavily involved in those.


Steve Thomas

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Frank Sturgis talked with anybody and everybody in the Cuban exile and American volunteer community....he was close to both Buchanan brothers.  Of course by 63 he was acting as a source for the CIA and reporting on all them as well.  

As to Morales, no, never seen anything of that sort.  He did have access to information about Alpha 66, in fact as I pointed out elsewhere the CIA had sources deep inside Alpha 66 operations and both Morales and JMWAVE knew about their missions before they were launched. Alberto Fernandez was one of those sources and the crew of his Tejuna was well connected to the Alpha 66 missions - a couple of them became leading Alpha 66 figures.

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The TILT mission was certainly not faked, as a matter of fact it was photographed in extensive detail - in violation of all CIA security practices; in fact a great deal about the mission was in violation of standard practices. 

Larry - photographed to embarrass JFK in case it succeeded?

Life Editor [to Robert Brown of Soldier of Fortune, c. 1975]:

I made a deal not to publish
those pictures if we didn't find those guys
again, and those pictures don't belong to
[the photographer]. Therefore, he doesn't have any
right to give them to you. If he gave them
to you, he can get his ass burned. They
belong to Time, Inc., still, and somebody
may get sued, so that's all I really want
to tell you about it. I think that you're
making a mistake.

Please remind me (anybody): did the Luces run any contemporary coverage of the anti-Castro raft raiders they were sponsoring?


Edited by David Andrews
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Yes, very much so - the Luces specifically made sure that both Life and POST had guys in Miami looking for stories on exile missions; I have some great photojournalism copies in my files. They paid their way onto the boats and bought stories if they didn't get to go. Their whole point was to embarass the administration by showing what the Cuban exiles were doing and the US was not. The TILT mission carried that to exponentially higher levels with JC King allowing a photojournalist on the mission - something that violated every security reg in the book.  And the CIA didn't even obtain copies of the photos, which do show some of their people. King also knew there was an agreement to get the full story - once the Russians came out - to a Congressman who was prepared to immediately open hearings and crucify JFK over missiles in Cuba.

It really was not about the Luces personally funded people, it was about LIFE and TIME beating the drum for direct action against Cuba. 

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I listened to the podcast where it's speculated that the Bayo team were disappeared in order to play dead while being infiltrated back into the US to assassinate JFK.

There are a lot of questions possible:

  • Why mount such an expensive and photo-documented "fake" op for this purpose, when a smaller op launched from the Florida Keys would have done the job, if the Brigade guys were documented and photographed?  Why drag in a PBY Catalina and a CIA monitor ship for all this?  One could say, "It was so the men could be protected at sea and then picked up by the CIA ship or the seaplane after they 'disappeared,'" but this could have all been done on with many fewer witnesses from the Keys. 
  • As Larry points out above, the Luce press was knocking itself out to celebrate brave rebel boat raids on Cuba.  Why mount a large mission that would later have to be exposed as an expensive failure, and perhaps expose the CIA?  More than enough evidence connected with the JFKA was done on paper - why bring enough hardware for a mini-Bay of Pigs op?
  • Were all the Bayo guerillas going to show up in Dealey Plaza, or another assassination site?  Even contingency planning makes this seem overkill.
  • How well would this plan have worked if any Bayo guerillas were captured during an assassination attempt, or "shot while escaping" to ensure silence andprovide "pro-Castro" patsies?  It would be an audacious plan to put a small army of patsies at an assassination site (especially in Tampa or Miami in November 1963), but could the plan that this many guerillas had been "turned" to kill for Castro hold up?  As someone once said, "SWHT."

It's all intriguing, given reports that Eddie Bayo was sighted in Miami after his supposed disappearance in Cuba.  But who knows?  It's actually painful not to know.

I'm not sure that any "fake" Bayo raid guerillas have to be connected to the better documented Black Nine exfiltration a week after the JFKA.  that could be another bunch of conspirators, or operatives unconnected to the JFKA.

Does it support the idea that the Bayo raid was faked that Gerry Hemming never said it was, but instead seemed to support the raid's failure by saying that the serial number on Oswald's Minox camera was one associated with a camera lost on the Bayo raid?  (The camera is mentioned in Dallas Action podcast #159.)  Still, one wonders why Hemming was refused admission to the Pawley yacht crew, and why Ted Shackley almost vetoed CIA participation on account of distrust for John Martino.

Again - a set of rumors painful to sort out, impossible to verify. Other people may have better opinions and persuasive facts.

Edited by David Andrews
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Robertson and Morales reached the conclusion that Bayo had actually cooked up the thing to leverage the CIA into inserting a heavily armed group into Cuba....and Pawley concluded, after watching them launch into some heavy seas, that they had so overloaded the boat with people and weapons that it had foundered.

Two arguments support that; first if you look at the photos the guys were indeed very heavily armed and the number of them going onshore was totally out of line with meeting a resistance group and actually bringing out Russians....it just made no sense, nor did the fact that at the last minute Bayo told Robertson a couple of them were going in and staying on island.  

So in terms of the people and heavy weapons sent on shore, it made no sense for a covert exfiltration. And getting a team on island was hard....most of the exile infiltration efforts had been failing; this mission involved a radar equipped yacht, a shadow vessel doing radar coverage and the best boat team available.  A very strange way to "hide" people...how do you know  you can get them out when you want them?  Basically -  if you had assembled a special team to kill JFK...why would  you put them into Cuba?

The Black Nine exfiltration is a totally different story, different people, different scenario - and again, why ship nine guys out of the country when you already have them off the grid, being paid, with no oversight at all and simply in the bull pen waiting for the Artime AMWORLD thing to jell - not to mention the fact that several of them were DRE and could quite easily operate within the DRE circles in both New Orleans and Dallas.

Which of course is exactly what I think happened...



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Larry, I would suppose the idea of "hiding"  the Bayo-Pawley guerilla team would be to spread the news that they disappeared in Cuba or were presumed lost at sea, when really they'd be picked up by the CIA monitor ship or the PBY and then hidden in America.  But if you look at my post above, I doubt it happened on several points.  It would have been a spectacular plan, but too much expense and visibility for too little certainty.

I forgot that the podcasts (#159 and #161) speculate that the team would be said to have been turned by Castro and sent from Cuba against JFK (and not be declared "dead" but returned to the US under false pro-Cuban identities -- I have amended my post above.)  But if masquerading as a "turned" team, some of them participating in the assassination would have to be killed to silence them and provide dead "enemy" for credibility.  That's close to a suicide mission for all, so too much uncertainty among too many players.

The whole business presses credulity - starting, before any speculation, with Bayo's doubtful plan.  Unfortunately, all the players and witnesses are unreliable.

Edited by David Andrews
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Interestingly the scenario of Castro "turning" a CIA strike team against JFK is exactly what Roselli offered to Washinton DC in the winter of 67/68 just as the Garrison investigation was getting underway...it was taken to Warren, to the FBI, to the Secret Service and even to LBJ and nobody wanted to touch it....even though CIA was well aware of Roselli's very real Castro assassination efforts.

Personally I happen to think that was just a spin on what really did happen, that individuals who had indeed been sent in for attacks on Castro were turned against JFK,  just not by Castro. Roselli was presenting something close to the truth, always the best disinformation.

I did follow the logic of the fake infiltration scenario but I simply don't believe it was doable or done,  or for that matter why something so complex would be necessary.  Certainly makes for a good story though...and one I gave a lot of credence to in the earlier years when we had relatively little information about TILT, who proposed it, who authorized it, who ran it, etc.

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