Copyright © 1998 Gus Russo. All rights reserved.
THE STORY BEGINS
The Backstory: Cuba in the 1950's and the Emergence of Fidel Castro
"Cuba seems to have the same effect on American administrations as the full moon used to have on werewolves."
--Wayne Smith, Former U.S. State Department Officer in Havana
At the center of it all was Cuba--a small tropical island a mere 90miles off the U.S. coast. Its recent, tumultuous, and largely secret pastis the hidden key which unlocks the mysteries of the century's mostimportant mystery. Only by coming to grips with Cuba can any of us trulyunderstand that catastrophic day in Dallas, when President John F. Kennedywas assassinated, and when the trust between a nation and its citizensbegan to crumble. Nor, in an intelligent way, can U.S. foreign policy becrafted and executed without knowing what motivated U.S. leaders to wage anundeclared war against the tiny, and seemingly insignificant, country ofCuba.
In the United States of the 1950's and early 1960's, Cuba was a tickingtime bomb. During a lengthy period of Cold War hostility, the antagonismbetween Cuba and the United States became so well-established that in 1963,when John Kennedy was killed, many Americans felt that the U.S.-Cubandisputes had been going on forever. Actually, the conflict was quite young.But by making it their Alpha and Omega, the brothers Kennedy escalated thetensions beyond all reason, and thus guaranteed their own downfall. Forwhile the U.S. government preached its own brand of jingoism, it wasmatched by the feverish activities of those who believed Cuba's leader,Fidel Castro, to be a virtual Messiah. The polarities that created suchvolatile obsessions are rooted in Cuba's unique history.
For years, Cuba had been an American vassal. The U.S. had forced itselfinto the Cuban constitution with the inclusion of the notorious "PlattAmendment," which allowed for U.S. intervention whenever it felt the urge.Until Castro's 1959 revolution, Cuba was ruled by a series of dictators whoredefined the terms graft and corruption. The most corrupt of these wasPresident Fulgencio Batista, who controlled the country until the Castrotakeover. And, as pointed out by historian Michael Beschloss, Batista hadingratiated himself nicely with his neighbors to the north:
During World War II, he enlisted Cuba behind the Allies, protecting the American naval base at Guantanamo and selling Cuba's 1941 sugar crop to the United States at bargain prices. By the 1950's Americans owned 40 percent of the Cuban sugar industry, 80 percent of Cuban utilities, and 90 percent of Cuban mining.
Under Batista, Cuba's economic involvement with the U.S. exploded. By the1950's, 75 percent of Cuba's imports were from the United States, whichbenefited from the fact that its commodities enjoyed a unique exemption fromCuban import duties. By 1958, American investments on the island wereapproaching the 1 billion dollar mark. The signs of American business andculture were inescapable in Cuba. The Chase Manhattan Bank, Procter andGamble, Colgate, Texaco, Goodyear, Remington, Borden, Sears, Ford, U.S.Rubber, Standard Oil, Coke, Pepsi--all had substantial holdings on theisland.
The Kennedys themselves were among those to benefit from this tropicalnest-egg. According to some reports, Joseph Kennedy Sr. had owned stock in aprofitable Coca-Cola franchise on the island with Irish tenor and Cokespokesman Morton Downey, Sr. In addition, Robert Kennedy's father-in-law,George Skakel, had financial holdings in Cuba, represented there by Cubanattorney Dr. Carlos Johns. Skakel's company, Great Lakes Carbon, had madethe family wealthy. Great Lakes' worldwide holdings included some inBatista-era Cuba, where the firm supplied filters used in the sugarindustry. Skakel maintained close friendships with CIA officers, oftensupplying them with intelligence data he received from the island, some ofwhich would later be used to plan the Bay of Pigs invasion. When the Castroenterprise began, his daughter, Ethel, was known to fear its revolutionarytendencies, and pray for its defeat.
Castro also profited from the excesses of the Batista era and itsrelationship with the United States. His father had made money from theAmerican-owned United Fruit Company, which had a presence on the island. Theyoung Fidel even tried to cash in on the U.S.-Cuban relationship inprofessional baseball. In the 1940's, legendary American baseball scout JoeCambria twice turned down Fidel Castro, then a young, athletic baseballplayer. "Uncle Joe scouted Castro and told him he didn't have a majorleague arm," said Washington Senators' owner Clark Griffith, who employedCambria to milk Latin America for its raw baseball talent.
Fellow scout Ruben Amaro jokes, "[Cambria] could have changed history ifhe remembered that some pitchers just mature late." And Castro's pitchingdid mature. By the late 1940's, he became known for his wicked curve ball.One Pittsburgh Pirates scout recalled, "He could set 'em up with the curve,blow 'em down with the heater." By 1949, Castro was indeed offered acontract with the New York Giants and a $5,000 signing bonus. But by thenCastro's law studies and political interests had taken root. "We couldn'tbelieve he turned us down," remembered a Giants scout. "Nobody from LatinAmerica had [ever] said `no' before."
Other beneficiaries of the Batista regime included prominentrepresentatives of organized crime. Havana had become a kind of offshoreLas Vegas, and Mafia enterprises were obscenely profitable. Raw opium fromSouth America (and possibly from Asia) was processed on the island. Cubanchildren suffered from disease and malnutrition, but the casinos reapedhuge profits ($100 million profit from gambling alone, according to thebest estimates). These were supplemented by earnings from abortion servicesand prostitution. The island was a great draw for American tourists.
The corrupt Batista even hired U.S. mob boss Meyer Lansky to (in thedictator's words) "clean up" the casinos. Lansky, at the time a fugitivefrom the IRS, was happy to accept the offer. Soon, crime figures from LasVegas, Miami, Cleveland, and elsewhere were moving in on Havana, whereLansky doled out the casino franchises.
Batista's corruption was recently summarized by historian Thomas G.Paterson:
Probably 20 to 25% of government expenditures represented graft and payoffs. Batista's personal wealth stood somewhere between $60 and $300 million. In 1959 revolutionary government officials opened his safe deposit boxes and found $20 million ... When Batista and his close corruptionists fled the country as 1958 turned into 1959, they took with them--nobody knows how much for sure--some 350 million pesos of the national treasury (one peso equaled one dollar).
But the bubble was soon to burst, for Batista's greed began to fosterstrong revolutionary movements which threatened to topple the dictator. WhenCastro started his movement in the early 1950's, many key players in Cuba,weary from extortion by the Batista regime, were willing to assist. For atime, according to Cuban soldier Ramon Conte, Castro enlisted the CIA'shelp and himself became a CIA informant. CIA agent Ross Crozier, who wasassigned to work with Fidel in the mountains as he prepared his final pushagainst the Batista regime, recently corroborated this: "[CIA WesternHemisphere Chief] J.C. King had come down to talk to Fidel in 1959." Castroso wanted the Americans' support, according to Crozier, that he readilysupplied Crozier with details of his own troop movements. "Fidel gave usmuch intelligence. I went on the Manzanillo raid with him." Crozier stillpossesses a letter of introduction, written on his behalf by Fidel, inwhich the Cuban leader instructed his associates to give "Mr. Ross" all thecooperation he needed, including access to Raul Castro, his brother.
In December 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent a representative toHavana to persuade Batista to resign. However, on January 1, 1959, beforeBatista could respond, Castro marched victoriously into the streets ofHavana, declaring, "For the first time, the Republic will really beentirely free." He later declared, "The Platt Amendment is finished."
One of Castro's first acts as Cuba's leader was to close the largelyAmerican-owned casinos (together with many of the country clubs), which theemerging dictator turned into schools and hospitals. "When the barbudos(`bearded ones') from the hills marched into Havana the day after NewYear's of 1959," a historian of the period recently wrote, "the first thingthe happy street throngs did was to smash parking meters and slot machinesin the casinos, the most immediate symbols of the American presence intheir lives." Fidel next nationalized all international businesses on theisland. Huge enterprises like Coca-Cola and United Fruit, not to mentiontheir owners, suffered greatly.
Batista's departure and Castro's takeover began a huge influx ofdisenchanted and fearful Cubans to the nearby coasts of the United States,particularly Miami and New Orleans. No wonder. On his island nation, Castrowas orchestrating a political purge, dominated by trials and executions of"war criminals." The year following his takeover of Cuba, he presided overthe machinegun executions of thousands of handcuffed opponents, who werethen bulldozed into mass graves. Thousands more were left to rot, naked, insolitary cells on the Isle of Pines. The year 1961 was officially declared"The Year of the Firing Squad" by Castro lieutenant Captain Antonio Jimenez.
To emphasize their tenure in America as temporary, Cubans fleeing to thesafety of the U.S. called themselves "exiles," rather than refugees.
In the early months of the revolution, Castro hoped for American supportfor his endeavor. "I am going to the United States to gather men and money,"Castro had told his people. "I'll come back to see you and we shall planwhat we have to do for our military training." But the nationalization ofAmerican-owned property, combined with Fidel's firing squad purges, had sooutraged U.S. citizens and officials that, in April 1959, when Fidel flewto Washington to seek aid for his fledgling regime, President Eisenhowerrefused to see him. Not only did the United States refuse any assistance toCuba, but Eisenhower virtually planted the kiss of death on the revolutionby banning all Cuban sugar imports to the America Castro was surelydisappointed. The United States had been silent during the excesses of theBatista regime. But now, it seemed, Eisenhower was doing his best to driveCuba into the Soviet sphere.
What followed was an all too-familiar stroke of opportunism by theSoviets. In October 1959, the Soviets sent an envoy to Cuba--AlexanderAlexyev. When word of the U.S. sugar ban reached Soviet Premier Khrushchev,he immediately dispatched a cable to Alexyev to forward to Castro. "When Ihanded this to Fidel, it said that `we, the Soviet Union, were ready to buyall the sugar, those 700,000 tons rejected by the Americans. And not onlythat year's assignment, but also all the next year's.' That was really anevent! I was at the rally. There were one million people there. I could seefor myself the joy of the Cuban people. They were throwing their berets inthe air. They were dancing."
In the U.S., debate raged as to whether Castro's dealings with the SovietUnion represented merely financial opportunism or a political alliance.Castro himself supported the view that his alignment was transient andpragmatic. As if to drive home the point of his non-allied independence, hesaid, "I hate Soviet imperialism as much as Yankee imperialism! I'm notbreaking my neck fighting one dictatorship to fall into the hands ofanother." However, as historian Bernard Weisberger has written:
For Washington's security planners, the controversy was wastefully abstract. The brutal fact to deal with was that before 1959, Cuba had been within the American sphere of interest ... and now it was literally an enemy island in the very waters that lapped at the U.S. Gulf. An unthinkable Soviet foothold, ten minutes from Miami by jet plane.
In Castro, the U.S. seemed to have quite a potential adversary. MauriceHalperin wrote of the country's charismatic head, "Like all politicalleaders ... he has been a disciple of Machiavelli, capable of inconsistency,opportunism, and deceit but not for their own sake, and always weighinganticipated profits against costs in any political operation." Moreforebodingly, Halperin quoted Castro as often saying, "We [Cubanrevolutionaries] are not afraid of danger. As a matter of fact, we thrive onit. And besides, everyone has to die sooner or later."
The Eisenhower-Nixon Covert Model
In the American public, a vast tide of fear and hatred towards Cuba wasrising up. Yet, Dwight D. Eisenhower did not immediately react militarilytowards Cuba's new government. As a Cold War president, he had developedinnovative strategies towards burgeoning Communist governments, and hisadministration would rely on these strategies to take care of Castro.
Having seen the horrors unleashed by world war, Eisenhower believed thatanother such confrontation, now likely nuclear, had to be avoided by anymeans necessary. That meant stamping out Communist regimes early, beforethey could gain global allies.
"Ike" further worried about the built-in dangers of the expandingmilitary-industrial complex, which he believed might trigger a world war ifgiven the slightest provocation. Thus, he turned to the Central IntelligenceAgency as his personal counter-insurgency weapon, giving that agency acharge unintended by its founder (President Harry S Truman). The pie wassweetened by the fact that CIA covert operations were much cheaper thananything the U.S. military could undertake. What transpired under Ike'sdirection led Blanche Cook, author of The Declassified Eisenhower,to label him "America's most covert President." Implicit in Eisenhower'sdemand for counter-insurgency was the need for detailed planning: anyundertaking was to commence not one moment before every possiblecontingency had been addressed. In addition, Ike demanded total deniabilityfor the President, and he got what he wanted: after counter-insurgentescapades, the CIA burned the entire paper trail of its communications withthe President.
In 1953, the first year of his presidency, Eisenhower, already caught upin Communist "domino theory" fears, instructed CIA director Allen Dulles toimplement Operation Ajax: the overthrow of Iran's leader, MohammedMossadegh. The fervent nationalist Mossadegh had had the audacity tonationalize U.S. oil businesses and legalize the Communist party's right toparticipate in elections. In response, the CIA adopted a British coup planin the making for over a decade. When the CIA's Kim Roosevelt successfullydeposed Mossadegh, Eisenhower was so ecstatic that he secreted him into theWhite House and bestowed on him the National Security Medal.
The following year, when Guatemala's Jacabo Arbenz nationalized the U.S.multinational United Fruit Company, Ike had Dulles initiate an operationcoded PBSUCCESS. On this occasion, Ike told Dulles, "I want you all to bedamn good and sure you succeed. When you commit the flag, you commit towin." The coup planning, known only to Ike and the Dulles brothers (Allenof the CIA, and John Foster, Secretary of State), proceeded for over a yearbefore Eisenhower gave the go-ahead. When this coup also proved successful,the White House-CIA covert partnership became entrenched.
After the Guatemalan coup, Ike commissioned an internal report on covertactivity. In March 1954, his National Security Council passed Resolution5412/2, which was intended to give definition and direction to the CIA'scovert action capability. The directive resulted in the formation of the"5412 Committee" (later renamed "the 40 Committee," then the "303Committee," and finally, "The Special Group"). This committee set thestandard for the U.S. policy planners:
Create and exploit troublesome problems for International Communisim ... and facilitate covert and guerrilla operations ... U.S. Government responsibility for [covert operations] must not be evident ... and if uncovered the United States can plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them. Specifically, such operations shall include sabotage, anti-sabotage, demolition, subversion against hostile states ...
The following September, Ike endorsed "The Doolittle Report," whichintoned: "There are no rules in such a game--norms of human conduct do notapply. We must try to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by moreclever and more effective methods."
It was against this backdrop that Vice-President Richard Nixon, alegendary anti-Communist, convinced President Eisenhower that something hadto be done about Cuba. Nixon thus became one of the first in the Eisenhoweradministration to urge Castro's overthrow. This came as no surprise, givenNixon's role as White House Chair of the "5412 Committee." It was Nixon'sgung-ho spirit that initiated not only the idea of invading Cuba, but, quitepossibly, the use of political assassination as well.
After meeting Fidel Castro in Washington in the spring of 1960, Nixonbecame, in his own words, "the strongest and most persistent advocate forsetting up and supporting" covert action to end Fidel Castro's regime.Nixon's resolve was reinforced by the opinions of his close friend, WilliamPawley. Pawley, a World War II hero, became a highly successful capitalistin the Havana of the Batista regime. Ousted after the revolution, Pawleydeveloped a pathological hatred of Castro, and went on to work with bothNixon and the CIA to help launch sabotage raids against the island.
Nixon, as he would later write in 1962, concluded that the U.S. shouldmove "vigorously to eradicate this cancer on our hemisphere and to preventfurther Soviet penetration." According to CIA Cuba Project officer (andlater Watergate burglar) E. Howard Hunt, Nixon at this time was the "[Cuba]project's action officer within the White House." The U. S. Ambassador toCuba Philip Bonsai called Nixon "the father of the operation." "Nixon was ahard-liner," says Eisenhower's National Security Advisor, Colonel PhilipCorso. "He wanted to get rid of him [Castro]. He wanted him hit hard ...when he was Vice-President. He was a rough customer."
As his first step, Nixon drafted a secret four-page memo to Eisenhower,CIA Director Allen Dulles, and Secretary of State Christian Herter (whosucceeded John Foster Dulles following his death). "Castro is eitherincredibly naive about Communism, or is under Communist discipline," Nixonwrote. All those who received the memo, as well as Nixon himself, were wellaware that Castro was not naive. Eisenhower agreed with Nixon'sconclusions, and made him the point man for the new operation, therebyinitiating a policy that led to many years of invasion and assassinationplots against the Castro regime.
Nixon's next step was to appoint General Robert E. Cushman, Jr. as hisexecutive assistant for national security affairs. Cushman's purpose was tocoordinate communication between Nixon and the CIA's team: Allen Dulles,Richard Bissell (Director of Covert Operations), and Jake Esterline (whowas soon given the role of planning a Cuban invasion).
Cushman has gone on record as saying that Nixon was the one in the WhiteHouse applying the pressure, via him, to the CIA. The President, a sobermilitary realist, had misgivings about predictions of success fromover-enthusiastic bureaucrats. He had been there before, and demanded slowand deliberate planning before he would give the go-ahead. Ike told hisDefense Liaison Andrew Goodpaster that the invasion planning was merely a"Contingency plan," and he put little faith in it. Goodpaster warned thatthe momentum in the Cuban exile community might become unstoppable, towhich Ike replied, "That won't happen as long as I'm here." Goodpaster thentold Ike that he wouldn't be in office when the plan came to fruition inearly 1961. Ike then said (prophetically), "Well, that's going to be aproblem for my successor."
Nixon, however, proceeded full-speed ahead. Years later, mired in thewar in Southeast Asia, Nixon wrote of Eisenhower's painstakingly-slowplanning pace, "The liberals are waiting to see Nixon let Cambodia go downthe drain the way Eisenhower let Cuba go down the drain."
From 1959 on, Cuba's Fidel Castro became the chief focus of assassinationplots hatched by the United States government. Another target of theseattempts was Patrice Lumumba of the Congo. In Congressional hearings twodecades later, CIA officials, driven by their relished role ofsecret-keepers, refused to name the originator of the plots, but insistedthat the assassination plans were originally approved by someone at a highpolitical level in the Eisenhower administration. That person appears notto have been President Eisenhower. Richard Nixon may have been the originalinstigator of these plots.
Recent interviews strongly suggest that Nixon, along with his MilitaryAide, General Robert Cushman, secretly undertook an anti-Castro operationthat operated outside of Presidential and Security Council controls. Heenlisted trusted power brokers in Washington and exiles in Miami to hatchnot only of a Cuban peso counterfeiting scheme, but also to assemble anassassination squad. The goal was to invade Cuba while Castro was beingexecuted--all prior to the November 1960 election--thus aiding Nixon'spresidential bid.
Although Nixon pressed for action before the all-important Novemberpresidential election, it was not to happen then. The exile forces provedtoo difficult to coalesce in such a brief time. The plan would reachfruition sometime in the spring of 1961, and become known as the Bay ofPigs operation.
Cuba and Politics
President Kennedy's inauguration in January 1961 came on the heels of acampaign pitting one Cold War sabre-rattler against the other Though heproved the louder and the more adept, Kennedy's personal history with Cubagave little indication of the strategy that Kennedy, the campaigner, wouldlater adopt.
Kennedy first visited the Havana casinos in December 1957 during a periodof marital troubles. According to the widow of mobster/casino owner MeyerLansky, young senator Kennedy asked Lansky if he could set him up withwomen. Kennedy traveled to the island with his friend, Senator GeorgeSmathers, Democrat of Florida, who has said, "Kennedy liked Cuba. He likedthe style. He liked the people ... Once they started looking after you,which they naturally would a senator, why it was just elegant." It provedso enjoyable that the two pals returned to Cuba again in 1958. Regardingpolitics, Smathers recalls, "I don't think I ever heard Kennedy express anyfeeling about Batista or Castro either way."
By the time of his presidential campaign in 1960, John Kennedy knewinnately that the political necessities of demonization and hyperbole couldcreate international monsters where none existed. But before succumbing tothe rhetoric of the campaign trail, Kennedy authored "The Strategy ofPeace," in which he wrote sympathetically of Castro's mission. In thatpiece, Kennedy compared Castro to the "George Washington of South America,"Simon Bolivar, whose leadership freed much of South America from Spanishcolonialism. As he later remarked to a friend, "I don't know why we didn'tembrace Castro when he was in this country in 1959, pleading for help ...Instead of that, we made an enemy of him, and then we get upset because theRussians are giving them money, doing for them what we wouldn't do."Shortly before his death in 1963, in an interview with Jean Daniel of theParis Express, President Kennedy elaborated:
I believe there is no country in the world, including the African regions, including any and all the countries under colonial domination, where economic colonization, humiliation, and exploitation were worse than in Cuba, in part because of my country's policies during the Batista regime. I believe that we created, built, and manufactured the Cuban movement, without realizing it.
However, in the 1960 presidential campaign, both major party candidates,Nixon and Kennedy, recognized the votes to be gained by being tough onCastro. This shared anti-Castroism would prove to be Kennedy's fatalmistake. In his zeal to win the presidency, John Kennedy chose to vilifyCastro. He saw it as a convenient way to polarize the electorate. Kennedy'ssoon-to-be Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was startled by the intensity ofKennedy's new anti-Castro feelings and thought that Kennedy "had it in forCastro." Historian Bernard Weisberger concluded, "Future positions werefrozen. Kennedy became rooted in absolute hostility to Castro."
In late October 1960, with the election near and its outcome very much indoubt, Kennedy told advisor and speechwriter Richard Goodwin to prepare a"real blast" for Nixon. From written questions the public submitted to thecandidate at his major evening stops, Goodwin had noticed that Americansfeared Cuba and Castro more than the USSR and its leader, NikitaKhrushchev. In fact, Castro had come to personify the conflict betweencommunism and Americanism. He was public enemy number one. The idea of acommunist outpost 90 miles from Florida disturbed Kennedy's listeners morethan any other foreign policy issue. "It was almost as if the communistshad taken over southern Florida," Goodwin remembered later.
Tapping into this large reservoir of fear and anger seemed a good way tojuice up the campaign, and it was consistent with his past conduct. Duringhis terms in the House and Senate, Kennedy had been a stalwart Cold Warrior.Nothing in his background gave Kennedy's speechwriters pause beforeattacking Nixon for "losing" Cuba, much as the Republicans had attacked theDemocrats on the equally ridiculous charge of "losing" China to communismin the late 1940s.
Thus did Cuba become a "major" campaign issue in 1960, as Goodwin, whowas partly responsible for making it so, would put it:
In dozens of speeches we assailed Nixon and the Republicans for losing Cuba to our communist adversaries. ("Ike didn't lose it," Kennedy scribbled in the margin of one of his speeches, "he gave it away.") We censured the feeble Republican response to this new danger; proposed further sanctions, a step-up of propaganda, action to "quarantine" the Cuban revolution, increased support for those Cubans, in exile and elsewhere, who opposed the Castro regime.
Goodwin composed the "real blast for Nixon" one evening late in October.It attacked the Republicans for weakly opposing the perceived menace ofcommunist Cuba. But this one went further than its predecessors by decryingthe Eisenhower administration's feeble support of anti-Castro forces, bothin exile in the U.S. and underground in Cuba, offering "eventual hope ofoverthrowing Castro." Those "fighters for freedom" deserved greatersupport, Goodwin wrote.
The speech, which was released to the press before the candidate approvedit, provoked criticism for its "rash" call for government aid inoverthrowing Castro: a clear violation of international law in general andthe Inter-American treaty in particular. Nixon professed outrage atKennedy's recklessness in advocating American-sponsored revolution orinvasion. Either, he said, would greatly harm American interests bydemonstrating Washington's willingness to baldly breach its internationalresponsibilities and commitments. Unknown to the public, this was astriking display of Nixon's deviousness. The vice-president had beenlargely responsible for the training of a force of Cuban exileguerrillas--training that President Eisenhower approved in March 1960.
Kennedy's campaign strategy, according to Nixon, was no less devious thanhis own. He believed that Kennedy had been briefed by CIA chief Allen Dullesabout plans for the Bay of Pigs invasion (Dulles later denied the charge).Therefore, according to Nixon, Kennedy was aware that the Eisenhoweradministration was going after Fidel, and knew that Nixon was incapable ofresponding to Kennedy's charges because of the project's secrecy. Nixonwould later write in his memoirs:
In order to protect the secrecy of the planning and safety of thousands of men and women involved in the operation, I had no choice but to take a completely opposite stand ... the most uncomfortable and ironic duty I have had to perform in any political campaign.
Recent disclosures indicate that Nixon was correct that JFK had insideinformation about the planned invasion of Cuba. Not only was Kennedy said tohave secretly met with the leader of the invasion brigade (Manuel Artime) inJuly of 1960, as will be seen later to be the case, but it is now known thatKennedy had still another source for the sensitive intelligence.
John Patterson, then Democratic governor of Alabama, had been told of theCuban operation in October of 1960 by his friend George R. "Reid" Doster, aNational Guard instructor assigned to train the invaders. Patterson, aKennedy campaigner, immediately flew to New York and briefedKennedy--before the final TV debate with Nixon. (Patterson said preciselythis in his oral history for the Kennedy Library, only to find it censoredby library officials.)
While the campaigning continued, the Bay of Pigs invaders were hard atwork trying to coalesce a 1,500 man force in training camps in Guatemala.The invaders were assigned consecutive badge numbers, which, oddly, startedwith the number 2,500. According to one Brigade member, "We were trying toappear larger than we were." When Brigade member 2506 (Carlos Santana) fellto his death during training, CIA coordinator Barney Hidalgo suggested, "Weshould name the force after him, as a memorial." Thus was born the forceknown forever after as "Brigade 2506."
Prescriptions for Disaster
John F. Kennedy came to the White House with promises to toughenEisenhower's supposedly weak commitment to getting rid of Castro--and"when you become an advocate of a point of view," as Goodwin would put it inretrospect, "you tend to believe it. I think everybody got to feel that wayabout Castro. And Kennedy's desire to prove himself in foreign policy bygetting Cuba back was important."
But as the newly-elected president took the reins of power, the invasionplans, already beset with problems, suffered from the expected inadequaciesof a young, inexperienced Chief Executive, and the predictable degree ofchaos any changing-of-the guard brings with it. The key problem, however,may have been Kennedy's own inattention to the whole Cuban issue after itserved his electioneering purpose. Kennedy aide Harris Wofford later wrote:
Kennedy paid Cuba little heed in February . His trouble spot that month was Laos, where the Communist-led Pathet Lao continued to do well. There was, therefore, a vacuum of inattention in which the landing scheme moved into its final phase, and in that silence all parties to the operation acted out a perfect scenario of how to march, with all good will and intelligence, straight into a disaster.
Kennedy, however, was acutely concerned with the potential for negativepolitical fallout, and demanded that a new plan, providing him deniability,be prepared in only four days. Calling the proposed plan "too noisy," hewanted it substituted for a "less spectacular" one that would remove alladministration fingerprints.
One such plan involved a newly-formed exile umbrella organization calledthe Cuban Revolutionary Council (CRC). The CRC was a wing of the FrenteRevolutionario Democratico (FRD), formed in May 1960 by prominent Cubanexpatriates such as Dr. Manuel Artime and Dr. Aureliano Sanchez Arango.After its organization in Mexico, the FRD created the CRC to be itsofficial liaison to Washington. The Kennedy White House noted: "The UnitedStates regards the Revolutionary Council as the central point of contact inits dealings with the Cuban exile and underground activity." The memo addedthat the CRC would be allocated one million dollars per year, and "retaincontact with the White House." This plan also heralded both Washington'sand the Kennedys' liaisons with Cubans in New Orleans, where the CRCmaintained a key outpost.
Exile leader and former Castro supporter Nino Diaz was assigned by hisCIA controllers to lead a mission so sensitive that certain aspects werewithheld from Diaz himself. Diaz was sent to New Orleans to command arust-bucket fishing boat called the Santa Ana, which had been leased by theCIA for $7,000 a month. "They gave me this beat-up old ship. Nothing workedon it," recalls Diaz. Although he was told his mission was to "create afront in the Oriente province [of Cuba]," Diaz is now convinced "this was alie." He and his men were told to dress in Cuban Army uniforms and fly theflag of Costa Rica.
The Santa Ana mission was prepared in New Orleans, with the assistance ofthe Cuban Revolutionary Council's delegate Sergio Arcacha Smith. Thateffort, Arcacha says, was coordinated directly by Bobby Kennedy. It's nowknown that Diaz's mission was personally approved by the President. Theprovocation gambit was originally proposed to the President by his friendSenator George Smathers of Florida in the weeks prior to the attack.
Historically, Diaz' mission has been portrayed as a diversionary tactic,drawing Castro's firepower away from the Bay of Pigs landing site towardsthe Santa Ana, which would arrive at Oriente. However, the mission wascancelled at the last moment when Diaz, by U.S. accounts, got "cold feet."
Recent testimony suggests that the ploy may have had a more sinisteragenda. A CIA agent testified in 1978 that Diaz' exiles, dressed likeCastro's troops, were to appear as a "tripwire"--a fake attack against theU.S. naval forces at Guantanamo that would justify the Bay of Pigs invasion.
"We were lied to," says Diaz. "We weren't even told about the landing atthe Bay of Pigs until we were near our landing site. The CIA knew Castro'stroops were waiting for us--we were to be sacrificed."
The Invasion Plan
In its initial formulation, the invasion actually made some sense: adaylight beach landing at Trinidad, at the foot of the Escambray Mountains.Because of the cover provided by U.S. air strikes, the exiles would, at thevery least, enter Cuba, escape to the mountains, and encourage the localsto initiate guerrilla warfare, that, over time, might overthrow the Castrogovernment.
For three decades, the Marine in charge of planning the invasion hasremained silent about the Bay of Pigs operation. Recently, however, ColonelJack Hawkins described the initial thinking:
The Trinidad Plan was actually a good plan. The force could have been inserted into the mountains very easily where they could have remained for a very long time. We had agents in Trinidad who reported that the people there were very pro-guerrilla and anti-Castro. Fundamental to it all was--we were going to destroy Castro's Air Force by using 40 sorties of B-26's. We met every week for briefings at the White House. I was appalled at what I was hearing. Bissell was briefing the President, not [Joint Chiefs Chairman] Lemnitzer or the other military present. They were all afraid of [Defense Secretary] McNamara. One month before the invasion, [Secretary of State] Rusk, with Kennedy's agreement, vetoed the Trinidad landing as "too noisy." Bissell and McNamara stood silent. Bissell gave us four days to arrive at a new plan. Rusk demanded a landing near an airstrip. The only place that fit that requirement was the Bay of Pigs. We had almost no sleep for the four days. When I gave Bissell the plan, I said, "We can land there, but we can't hold it long. It's just not suitable." The final plan provided for 40 [air] sorties.
Now, after eight months of planning, and with only weeks to go, theinvasion evolved into a night-time amphibious assault landing at a swampknown as the Bay of Pigs. There were only two problems with this approach:first, there was no escape route from the Bay to the Escambray Mountains;and second, the exiles had no training in this newly-revised tactic. InFebruary 1961, the official report of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on theinvasion planning gave a strong clue as to how the events would transpire."The amphibious element of the [invasion] force," wrote Chairman Lemnitzerto Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, "has received no amphibious trainingand is not now scheduled to receive any prior to the operation ... Againstmoderate, determined resistance, this plan will fail to provide adequatelogistic support."
McNamara, however, remained silent about this memo in subsequent cabinetplanning meetings. His failure to convey "the damning analysis inLemnitzer's report," wrote Bissell, "is part of the pattern of incompleteinteraction that continued throughout the period leading up to the actualinvasion." But, as will be seen, Bissell also withheld vitalinformation--and from the President himself.
The plan further suffered from the tight internal security placed on theoperation. Knowledge of it was so tightly held that experts who should havebeen consulted were left completely out of the loop. Because he was unableto ask, Bissell never learned that his early reports of dissent in Castro'sregime were dreadfully overestimated. By February 1961, Castro hadexcoriated his political enemies, and enjoyed widespread popularity, butBissell, Dulles, and others were out of touch.
Furthermore, the internecine rivalry between the various Miami-basedexile leaders should have been enough alone to scare off the U.S. planners.As Bissell himself later came to admit:
The leaders of the Cuban exile community, centered in Miami, were in competition with one another for U.S. funds, supplies, and support.... It was disheartening to hear [radio] broadcasts by exile program managers who seemed more concerned with serving the political ambitions of Cubans in Miami than with the situation of those trapped on the island.
Kennedy Administration officials would never develop much respect for theCuban exiles, whose apparent selfishness caused considerable infighting.Desmond FitzGerald, the CIA official later tabbed by the Kennedys to bringabout Castro's downfall, wrote his daughter Frances, "I have dealt with afairly rich assortment of exiles in the past, but none can compare with theCuban group for genuine stupidity and militant childishness. At times Ifeel sorry for Castro--a sculptor in silly putty."
To make matters worse, the media, most notably the New York Timesand the New Republic, leaked word that Cubans were training for animminent invasion. When he read Tad Szulc's New York Times article,"Anti-Castro Units Trained to Fight at Florida Bases," JFK fumed, "Castrodoesn't need agents over here. All he has to do is read our papers."
In fact, Castro agents had already infiltrated every aspect of the Bay ofPigs operation. Former CIA executive assistant Lyman Kirkpatrick, Jr. wrotethat, "the leaks about the operation from its very inception werehorrendous." Philip Bonsai, former U.S. Ambassador to Cuba, recalled, "Thenature of the activities and the number of people involved made concealmentimpossible. I assume that Castro's intelligence service knew of the projectwithin weeks, perhaps days, of the operation."
Raphael "Chi Chi" Quintero, a Brigade leader at the camps, was one of thefirst to arrive at the training base. "We definitely had spies at the [Bayof Pigs] training camps [in Nicaragua]," he recently affirmed. One of thefew who was there before Quintero was later found to be a Castro spy. "Thisman actually helped construct the camps," says Quintero. "One month afterthe Bay of Pigs invasion, I secretly infiltrated to Cuba and saw this sameman working in Castro's security force."
Captain Albert "Buck" Persons was one of the American pilots who flew inthe invasion, as well as helping with the training in Nicaragua andGuatemala. He recalls:
It would have been very easy for Castro to have infiltrated our camps. We had AWOLs all the time. He knew there was an invasion coming, and he had very good intelligence. Still, I believe we could have established a beachhead, if we had stayed with the original plan and landed at Trinidad. It was a city of 20,000 people who were known to be friendly with the Castro resistance in the nearby Escambray Mountains. But Kennedy changed the landing site because he wanted to disguise our participation in the invasion. It was insanity. Everyone would know in ten seconds that the U.S. was involved, no matter where we landed.
Lyman Kirkpatrick, the CIA's Inspector General, wrote:
[Castro] obviously knew about the [U.S.-sponsored] training camp in Guatemala. He was certain that some sort of major blow against his regime was in the making ... As a result, Castro directed his security forces to round up all known or suspected members of the opposition. Nearly 100,000 were arrested and taken to detention camps all over the island. This was the first catastrophic blow to the Bay of Pigs operation, because here was the hard core of those who might have rallied to the support of the beachhead.
In 1961, Kirkpatrick conducted an internal CIA review of the operation, theonly copy of which was withheld from public scrutiny for thirty-seven years.When finally released in 1998, the report stated one of its conclusions:"Such massive preparations could only be laid to the U.S.... Plausibledenial was a pathetic illusion."
Rafael Nuñez, then serving as Castro's Diplomatic Attaché in Costa Rica,recently recalled how in early 1961 he picked up one of Raul Castro'scounter-intelligence chiefs, General Fabian Escalante, at the Costa Ricanairport. "He told me that his main objective was to gather intelligence onthe exile training camps," Nuñez recalls. "He told me they were in trainingto invade Cuba near the Zapata Peninsula. When the Bay of Pigs occurred,Castro was waiting for them."
Castro's supporters were not at all amused by what they were learning. Inlate March 1961, barely nine weeks into the Kennedy presidency (and twoweeks before the Bay of Pigs invasion); the first of an unending series ofanti-Kennedy threats emanating from Havana was apparently made. At thetime, the President's wife, Jackie, and three-year-old daughter, Caroline,were spending the Easter holiday at the Kennedy estate in Palm Beach,Florida. Secret Service surveillance teams were closely monitoring a groupof four Cubans living in Miami known to have close ties to pro-Castroactivists in Havana. One of the Cubans was heard to remark, "We ought toabduct Caroline Kennedy to force the United States to stop interfering withCuba's Castro government."
The Secret Service, taking the threat very seriously, expected the groupto attack the family while at St. Edward's Catholic Church on EasterSunday. To keep close tabs on the threatening Castroites, the agency usedthe intelligence network of the recently-formed anti-Castro group known asthe Cuban Revolutionary Council (CRC). The subjects were watched around theclock, and the threat never materialized.
This assistance, combined with the CRC's support for the Diaz mission,heralded the beginning of a long relationship between the Kennedy WhiteHouse and CRC members. According to a Congressional investigation, the CRChad been formed to coordinate anti-Castro activities with the U.S. government.The report further conceded, "The new organization had directaccess to President Kennedy and top White House aides." The CRC went on tomaintain a strong presence in New Orleans, where, in two years, thePresident's future assassin would arrive.
On April 9, 1961, eight days before the invasion, Castro appeared onHavana TV warning, "the extremely vigilant and highly-prepared Cuban peoplewould repel any invasion attempt by the counter-revolutionaries now massingin Florida and Guatemala who are sponsored and financed by the UnitedStates.
Col. Hawkins concluded the obvious:
This thing was going to be an utter disaster. During the preceding months, Castro had a massive military buildup, drafting 200,000 militia. He had fifty tanks. So I went to see Jake [Esterline, the CIA coordinator]. Jake agreed with my assessment and said, "We have got to go to Bissell and get him to stop this thing." The next day, Sunday, we went to him. He refused to call it off, and we both threatened to resign. To keep us on, Bissell promised to persuade the President to increase the airpower.
Thirty-four years later, Hawkins and Esterline would learn that thispromise was a lie told to prevent their resignations. In 1995, whenBissell's presidential briefing memos were released, it was learned thatBissell, before his confrontation with Hawkins and Esterline, had agreedwith Kennedy to cut the air support.
Not only were American coordinators wanting out of the invasion, but keyCuban leaders, such as FRD founder Aureliano Sanchez Arango, sensed imminentdisaster, and would have nothing to do with it.
But if JFK had any qualms about proceeding, he quickly dismissed themwhen he met with CIA Director Allen Dulles. The young president reveredDulles. Dulles would later painfully confess, "I confronted an inexperiencedPresident Kennedy directly with the argument, `Do you want to be perceivedas less anti-communist than the great Eisenhower?'" Dulles assumed thatKennedy would give adequate air support. When told the night of the invasionthat Kennedy had reduced the air attacks, he said, "The President must beconfused."
Before approving the invasion, Kennedy briefed Senator William Fulbright,Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. Fulbright urged him toleave Castro alone because he and his regime were a "thorn in the flesh"but not a "dagger in the heart." Fulbright considered the invasion illegaland immoral, as well as badly planned. Behind the invasion, he said, wasfundamentally the same "hypocrisy and cynicism for which the United Statesis constantly denouncing the Soviet Union." But as historian BernardWeisberger said, Kennedy's position by this time was "frozen."
Kennedy told aide Ted Sorenson, "I know everybody is grabbing their nutson this," but he wasn't going to be "chicken." Yet Kennedy's macho stand wasfatally weakened by his overriding concern for deniability. He insistedthat the invasion should in no way be traced to his White House. But withthe plan now revised to land the exiles in the suicidal, enclosed swamp,the CIA's Dick Bissell concluded, "the long-touted guerilla option was asmuch a myth as plausible deniability."
At the last moment, Robert Kennedy was warned not to proceed with theoperation by Constantine "Gus" Kangles, a Chicago-based attorney in theunique position of being a Democratic pol friendly with the brothersKennedy, as well as being a longtime friend of the brothers Castro. He thusbecame an invaluable source of Cuban intelligence for the Kennedys. "I toldBobby [that] Castro knew everything--he was waiting for them. Not only didCastro know, but he enjoyed huge popularity. As far as an uprising, I toldBobby, `It ain't gonna happen.' But Bobby didn't care. He wanted him[Castro] out."
Unknown to Kangles, Bobby may have had a secret basis for confidence ingreen-lighting the operation. In a recent interview, Kennedy's great friendSenator George Smathers recalled walking with the President on the WhiteHouse South Lawn just prior to the invasion. At one point, Kennedy disclosedto Smathers what was about to happen at the Bay of Pigs. According toSmathers, Kennedy told him, "There is a plot to murder Castro. Castro is tobe dead at the time the thousand Cuban exiles trained by the CIA hit thebeaches."
Kennedy admitted as much to CIA officer Hans Tofte. One month beforethe invasion, Tofte was briefing the President on guerrilla activity inColombia. Tofte was also aware of the upcoming invasion, and boldlysuggested to the President that Castro should be killed as a prequel, togive the operation any chance of success. Kennedy responded, "That isalready in hand. You don't have to concern yourself about that."
What happened next, regardless of who should shoulder the blame, wouldset off a chain of sinister events that would culminate in Dallas in 1963and guarantee that any investigation of the death of President John F.Kennedy would be woefully, and intentionally, incomplete.
The Bay of Pigs Invasion
The attempted invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs on April 17, 1961 quicklywon a high place among America's worst debacles in foreign affairs. Thetroops who made the landing, 100 miles southeast of Havana, were Cubanexiles formed into Brigade 2506. Quickly apparent was the conclusion thatthe White House and CIA would not repeat their 1953 success in replacingthe elected government of Iran with Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi, and inoverthrowing Guatemala's leftist government of Jacabo Arbenz the followingyear.
Within hours of the botched landing through hull-gutting coral (of whichintelligence had failed to warn), the attempts to hide America's massiveparticipation, not to say conception and direction at every stage, werecoming apart. Within days, they appeared farcical to most of the world. Thepredictions of success--two chances out of three, as Bobby Kennedy wasassured when first briefed about the venture--now seemed equally absurd.Bobby had also been promised that another kind of success would be achievedeven if Castro were not immediately overthrown. The invaders, operating asguerrillas from the mountains, would harass Castro, much as Castro hadharassed and eventually disposed of his predecessor, Fulgencio Batista.Then again, these predictions were based on the Trinidad landing scenario.
When the invasion took an instant turn towards disaster, and the Brigademembers turned into cannon fodder, the planners approached the president formore sea and air reinforcement. Over the next few days, the CIA repeatedlybegged Kennedy for it. Instead, he cut the first wave of air attacks by 80percent. "We found out about it only hours before the invasion," Hawkinsrecently recalled. The reduction was the exact opposite of what was promisedwhen Esterline and Hawkins had their showdown with Bissell weeks earlier.(When his White House launched a coup against Guatemala, Eisenhower, insharp contrast to Kennedy, had been the driving force behind providing airsupport.)
The CIA's Jake Esterline was "ashen-faced" as he broke the news toHawkins. Hawkins said, "Goddamnit, this is criminal negligence!" Esterlineadded, "This is the goddamnest thing I have ever heard of." Years later, inseparate interviews, key planners assessed the disaster. Hawkins rememberedthese "devastating orders" coming from the White House: "Military failurewas now virtually assured." When the second wave of air strikes wascanceled, the exiles, who had been promised air support, were left to fendfor themselves in the cold, dark swamp. Kennedy's own Chairman of the JointChiefs of Staff, General Lyman Lemnitzer, would later comment, "Pulling therug like that was unbelievable.... absolutely reprehensible, almostcriminal."
"I called Bissell and Rusk right away," remembers Hawkins. "Kennedy hadconveniently left town, of course. Rusk called Kennedy, and withoutexplaining why we needed the air cover, he advised that Kennedy's planshould proceed without changes. Kennedy agreed. Bissell didn't take thephone."
In the invasion, Captain Eduardo Ferrer led the exile air force--he hadtrained with them in Guatemala. He pulls no punches about where the blameshould be placed: "The failure was Kennedy's fault," he says. "Kennedy wasimmature, a little bit chicken. Today, ninety percent of the Cubans areRepublicans because of Kennedy, that motherfucker."
"Bissell and Kennedy thought they had some kind of magic bullet for theBay of Pigs--assassination," says Jake Esterline. "Of course, they weren'tgoing to support air strikes. The Kennedys were so egotistical to thinkthey could pull this off. They thought one of these assassination thingswas going to work." When none of them did, and air support was canceled,disaster was guaranteed.
"We were sending those Cubans to their deaths," concludes Hawkins:
"Everybody knew that's what they were doing. Kennedy knew that's what he
was doing. Don't think he didn't. Fifteen hundred men's lives were not as
important as his political purposes. It was one of the most disgraceful
things I ever had to be a part of. I've regretted it all my life."
In a last-ditch attempt to salvage the operation, Chief of NavalOperations Arleigh Burke begged the President for permission to use a U.S.aircraft carrier to annihilate Castro's air force, and bring amphibiouslanding craft to evacuate the troops from the swamp. The president refused.Kennedy later attempted a different spin, telling aide Dave Powers, "Theywere sure I'd give in to them and send the go-ahead order to [the aircraftcarrier] The Essex. They couldn't believe that a new president like mewouldn't panic and try to save his own face. Well, they had me figured allwrong."
Of course, saving face was precisely what the president was attempting todo. When the first American ashore, Grayston Lynch, found out about thecancelled air strikes, he said it was like "finding out that Superman is afairy."
Rushing armor and infantry to the Bay of Pigs, Castro's defenders caughtthe invaders in the swamp. Ninety of the 1,300-odd men of Brigade 2506 werekilled. Most of the others were captured, to Castro's intenselyself-satisfied glee, and the invaders were utterly crushed. The lastmessage the U.S. received from Brigade Commander José "Pepe" San Románread, dismissively, "How can you people do this to us?" Almost two yearslater, JFK confided to San Roman that the real reason he withdrew the airsupport was that after the initial (April 15) air strike, he was secretlywarned by the Soviets that they would attack West Berlin if he continued.Kennedy thus had to choose, in his own mind, between the lives of the 1,300invaders and a possible nuclear conflagration. (There is no independentcorroboration that the Soviets actually issued this threat.)
Rubbing salt into the Kennedys' wounds, the Cuban premier took to themicrophone ridiculing capitalism in general and the United States inparticular, and his listeners cheered in delight. He strutted about thebattlefield, showing foreign correspondents, with immense satisfaction, howhis forces had humiliated the invaders and their Yankee sponsors. Soon hewas delivering arm-waving, chest-thumping speeches about why theimperialists had lost: they counted on geography and weapons, whereassocialists counted on hearts and minds. Castro had a huge sign erected atthe invasion site that read: "Welcome to the Site of the First Defeat ofImperialism in the Western Hemisphere."
Perhaps the most ludicrous aspect of the Bay of Pigs venture was thepolitical judgment on which the military strategy had been based--theanalytical underpinning of the entire operation. Even before the landing,skeptics wondered how a single brigade of 1,300 exiles--never mind howwell-trained and led they were--could defeat a home army of 200,000 men,operating on their own soil, with proportionate knowledge of the terrainand a good supply of war materials. The unabashed answer was that the Cubanpeople would rise to join the exiles in overthrowing Castro, whose rulethey had come to detest. "How did I ever let it happen?" Kennedy askedlater. "I know better than to listen to experts. They always have their ownagenda. All my life I've known it, and yet I still barreled ahead."
For Kennedy, the fiasco assumed consuming proportions. Dozens ofcommentators debated the degree of his responsibility. Was it diminishedbecause he had inherited the invasion plan from President Eisenhower, whosemilitary competence Kennedy naturally refrained from questioning? That wasthe administration's claim, stated most impatiently by Bobby Kennedy: "Itwas Eisenhower's plan. Eisenhower's people all said it would succeed." Or,to the contrary, did the president's longstanding drive to demonstrate howtough he could be--an old inclination of the Kennedy family--make him evenmore guilty? The question is, of course, unanswerable, but the attitudes ofthe Kennedy family as manifested in Jack and Bobby are relevant, for theywould bear on the full course of the tragedy that lay ahead.
Furthermore, while President Eisenhower had indeed approved the trainingof the Cuban exiles for a possible invasion, he never did more than that. Henever ordered the invasion that actually took place--and if he had, it isfair to assume that, with his usual caution and military expertise, hewould have insisted on changes in the deeply flawed CIA plans. RichardGoodwin, a member of the high councils of the Kennedy administration, wasamong those who later concluded that Eisenhower would not have approved theinvasion at all. "On the basis of Eisenhower's general record [i.e., ofnonintervention], we have to give him the benefit of the doubt and assumehe would not have invaded."
In either case, the defeat was officially Kennedy's responsibility, andthe first major defeat of his life. Manolo Reboso, a member of Brigade 2506who escaped from the beach head and went on to work with Bobby Kennedy onfuture Cuban projects, agreed with domestic observers: "The passion of theKennedys over Cuba was because they had never lost anything in theirlives." The daughter of one of the five CIA pilots who lost their lives inthe invasion (officially denied for 17 years) put it more bluntly: "Lifewas a series of touch football games. The Kennedys wanted to win `thefootball game' in Cuba." In their mind, Castro had only won the first round.
In future years, many of the principal players, except the Kennedys andtheir sycophants, came to agree on the causes of the Bay of Pigs failure.Two of the most incisive statements came from former CIA Directors. AllenDulles said, "One never succeeds unless there is a determination tosucceed, a willingness to risk some unpleasant political repercussions, anda willingness to provide the basic military necessities. At the decisivemoment of the Bay of Pigs operation, all three of these were lacking." JohnMcCone, Dulles' successor, explained, "The `stand down' of the air cover... was the fatal error that caused the failure of the Bay of Pigsoperation ... The responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders ofPresident Kennedy."
The Bay of Pigs represented not merely a stunning military loss forKennedy. It was also a personal humiliation. To Richard Nixon, whom he hadso recently defeated for the presidency, the president described thedebacle several days later as "the worst experience of my life." TheCastro-hating Nixon, during this same April 20 phone conversation, advisedthe confused young President, "I would find a proper legal cover and go[back] in. There are several legal justifications that could be used, likeprotection of American citizens living in Cuba and defending our base inGuantanamo."
On the first night of the invasion itself, Robert Kennedy anticipated thedisaster, saying that "the shit has hit the fan. The thing has turned sourin a way you wouldn't believe!" By all accounts, the President was stunnedand devastated. Kenny O'Donnell, a long-time aide from Boston, rememberedhim as more distraught--"as close to crying"--as he had ever seen him. BobbyKennedy took it just as badly. "They can't do this to you," he saidprivately to Jack after other advisors had retired that evening, and Jackpaced the White House grounds alone for nearly an hour. "Thoseblack-bearded communists can't do this to you."
On April 19, just two days after the disaster, RFK let it be known thathe wanted revenge. He dictated a letter to his brother: "Our long-rangepolicy objectives in Cuba are tied to survival far more than what ishappening in Laos or in the Congo or any other place in the world ... Thetime has come for a showdown, for in a year or two years the situation willbe vastly worse." And in a phrase that would most likely haunt him, Bobbyadded, "If we don't want Russia to set up missile bases in Cuba, we hadbetter decide now what we are willing to do to stop it." What theyultimately did is now believed by many to have instigated the veryoccurrence they tried to prevent. On June 1, 1961, RFK issued a memo thatdeclared, "The Cuba matter is being allowed to slide ... mostly becausenobody really has an answer to Castro."
Robert Kennedy saw that his brother was "more upset at this time [the Bayof Pigs] than he was at any other"--so upset that it produced a physicalreaction in the President who was always fully composed in public; who tookgreat pains to conceal stress from even his closest advisors. In private, hekept shaking his head and rubbing his hands over his eyes. The Presidenttold advisor Clark Clifford that a "second Bay of Pigs" would destroy hispresidency. "It was the only thing on his mind, and we just had to let himtalk himself out," remembered friend Charles Spalding. His depressionreached such depths that he told his friend LeMoyne Billings, "Lyndon[Johnson] can have it [the presidency] in 1964," saying that the presidencywas the "most unpleasant job in the world."
One of the job's more unpleasant aspects was foisting all the blame onsomeone else's shoulders in order to protect the president's ownreputation. A week before the invasion, Presidential Special AssistantArthur Schlesinger Jr. had foreshadowed this possible necessity in a longmemo he composed for the new president. "The character and repute ofPresident Kennedy constitute one of our greatest natural resources," wroteSchlesinger, who had originally opposed the Cuban venture but later soughtto ensure its successful execution. "Nothing should be done to jeopardizethis invaluable asset." Another memo, which was entitled "Protection of ThePresident," went on to suggest a course of action that now seems to havebeen followed: "When lies must be told, they should be told by subordinateofficials." In the event of failure, Schlesinger recommended placing theblame on the CIA, painting them as "errant idealists andsoldiers-of-fortune working on their own." (In Dulles' papers is anon-published memo on the Bay of Pigs, in which he wrote of the Schlesingertactic, "I deplore the way this is being done ... If what is written goesentirely unanswered and without critical examination, it will go down asthe history of the event. It is not the true story.")
After a suitable period of time, the CIA's Allen Dulles and RichardBissell were asked to resign, which they did by the end of 1961. Dulles haddutifully offered his resignation to the President when it became obviousthat the invasion had failed. Kennedy initially refused the tender, but itsoon became apparent that he needed scapegoats. Kennedy told Allen Dullesthat he and Bissell, men he had personally liked and admired, would have toleave their posts after things quieted down. "Under a parliamentary systemof government, it is I who would be leaving office. But under our system,it is you who must go." E. Howard Hunt concluded, "Both Bissell andMr. Dulles were slated to go, scapegoats to expiate administration guilt."
The New York Times later ran a front page story, whichdocumented how Kennedy, in the wake of the failed invasion, had railed atthe CIA. He would, he threatened, "splinter the CIA in a thousand piecesand scatter it to the winds." In fact, Kennedy's actions were exactly theopposite. Over the following weeks and months, Dulles and the Presidentspoke often, and Dulles would later say of Kennedy, "There was never oneharsh or unkind word said to me by him at any time thereafter."
At a White House meeting, when Vice-President Lyndon Johnson attemptedto point the finger of blame for the invasion's failure at the CIA, Kennedyadmonished him. "Lyndon, you've got to remember [that] we're all in this,and that when I accepted responsibility for this operation, I took theentire responsibility on myself. We should have no sort of passing thebuck, or backbiting, however justified."
JFK went out of his way to defend Dulles in this trying time. Shortlyafter the Bay of Pigs invasion, one of the Kennedys' Palm Beach neighbors,Charles Wrightsman, with whom Dulles had often stayed, told the presidentthat when he (Wrightsman) next came to Washington, he would not see Dulles.Kennedy then invited Wrightsman for a drink at the White House. Unbeknownstto Wrightsman, Kennedy also invited Allen Dulles. Dulles' biographerrecounts what happened next: "When Allen walked in--Wrightsman was alreadysettled down--Kennedy stood up and, in case the rich man from Florida didnot get the message, the beleaguered president put his arm around Allen'sshoulders to lead him to a comfortable chair." Kennedy summed up hisopinion of Dulles at a luncheon held just days after the botched invasion.Speaking privately with New York Times publisher Arthur HaysSulzberger, Kennedy said, "It's not that Dulles is not a man of greatability. He is. Dulles is a legendary figure, and it's hard to operate withlegendary figures."
There were solid political reasons for Kennedy to take this "colossalmistake" so seriously. The new administration wanted dearly to protect animage of a reborn America striving for a new order based on justice andethical principles. Kennedy had entered the White House proclaiming that"the torch had passed to a new generation of Americans," and promising anew kind of leadership for the free world. He would lead it in new, saner,and more humane directions, away from anything smacking of rigidity orbehavior that could prompt memories or mistaken images of America as animperialist power. And much of the free world responded enthusiastically tothose promises. From the first, Kennedy was relatively more popular in manycountries of Europe and Latin America than at home.
Days before the invasion, when rumors about it were rampant inWashington, Kennedy made an unequivocal public announcement that "therewill not be, under any circumstances, any intervention in Cuba by the UnitedStates armed forces." After the debacle, despite administration efforts toportray the operation as the work of Cuban exiles without American support,few in the world took this patent fiction seriously. During thepre-invasion week, James Reston of the New York Times thought thatAllen Dulles was "lying like hell" when he denied CIA involvement. Afterthe Cuban Foreign Minister reported air strikes on the island--andidentified the planes as American--the United Nations scheduled anemergency session, during which Adlai Stevenson, the American Ambassador tothe UN, promised that his government would do anything possible to insurethat "no American participate in any action against Cuba." Stevenson hadnot been informed that Americans were participating for all they wereworth. When he learned the truth, the Ambassador considered his previousstatement "the most humiliating experience" of his public life.
If it was humiliating for Stevenson, it was an even greater personaldisgrace for Robert Kennedy. Earlier, he had stifled administrationdissension about, and even outright opposition to, the invasion. Now Bobbyworried that the Bay of Pigs harmed his brother's "standing as Presidentand the standing of the United States in public opinion throughout theworld." He worried that, abroad, "The United States couldn't be trusted,"for either honesty or competence.
Until the invasion's failure, Bobby Kennedy's role in the administrationhad been somewhat limited. He was to fulfill his function as AttorneyGeneral, and to advise the president on a wide range of issues whenever thepresident solicited his opinion. The April failure prompted the presidentto retrench; to reach back to the kid brother he most trusted among hisadvisors; to elevate Bobby to the President's right hand. Now Bobby wouldalso advise on foreign affairs--and not only advise, but also implementaction in some of the most sensitive matters.
He was appointed to the Cuba Study Group, which included retired GeneralMaxwell Taylor; Admiral Arleigh Burke, the Chief of Naval Operations; andAllen Dulles, the CIA Director. The committee met in a Pentagon basement,where Bobby took notes with an intense desire for action--in this case, tofind out what went wrong in order to get it right the next time. During thenext six weeks, the Cuba Study Group would interrogate 50 witnesses aboutthe failure at the Bay of Pigs, and come to the conclusion the White Housewanted to hear: that the chief cause had been the new administration'sreluctance to oppose plans proposed by President Eisenhower, America's"greatest military man." In support of that highly questionable judgment,Bobby asserted that not to have gone ahead with the project "would haveshowed that [President Kennedy] had no courage." However, the Study Groupalso concluded that the proximate cause of the failure was the directresult of the inability to destroy Castro's air force.
No matter how much Americans disliked Fidel Castro, the apparentlygreater Administration need was to demonstrate Kennedy's courage by invadinga sovereign nation. (The President himself manifested the same concern toTed Sorenson days before the invasion. The longtime aide and chiefspeechwriter concluded that Kennedy would not listen to the plan's criticsat that stage because he was not going to be cowardly.)
Even more revealing was Bobby's behavior at a meeting, less than a weekafter the debacle, of Kennedy's Cuban advisors. Undersecretary of StateChester Bowles advised that, practically speaking, nothing could be doneabout Castro, as he was now firmly entrenched. Other aides such as RichardGoodwin agreed. However, when Bowles finished his presentation, Goodwinwould write, "Bobby exploded" at the notion that nothing could be done toshake Castro from power. "That's the most meaningless, worthless thing I'veever heard," Bobby screamed. "You people are so anxious to protect your ownasses that you're afraid to do anything ... We'd be better off if you justquit and left foreign policy to someone else."
That was not the language of Cabinet room discussions. Goodwin and theothers blinked at the "harsh polemic ... the embarrassing tirade." The restof the group sat silently, "stunned by the ferocity of his [RobertKennedy's] assault." Bowles himself called the atmosphere "almost savage... The President and the U.S. government had been humiliated and somethingmust be done." Bowles also described the President at this time as being in"a dangerous mood."
Bowles was one of the earliest to sense what was happening. He pleadedwith the President to not let the situation "deteriorate into a head-to-headpersonal contest between the President of the United States and FidelCastro." The seasoned, experienced Bowles, realizing that the Kennedys werenewcomers to foreign policy matters, feared that they were easy targets for"military-CIA-paramilitary type answers."
Bowles himself had less reason than others to be stunned by Bobby'sCabinet room exchange. He had earlier felt Bobby's fury--a fury that othersdescribed as without bounds. The episode occurred when Bobby concluded,wrongly, that Bowles was the source of a leak to the press about oppositionto the invasion. Bobby was convinced that the purpose of the leak was notto save the country from a huge mistake, but to embarrass his brother.Encountering Bowles in a corridor, he lashed out at him with scathingremarks, emphasizing them with pokes to the chest with his finger. Bowleslater denied that physical contact occurred, but the denial may well havebeen diplomatic. "His teeth hurt from that finger in his chest," a Bowlesfriend later remembered.
Bobby's rage at Bowles persisted. A few months later--in the summer of1961--he would call Bowles a "gutless bastard" for obstructing a plan toland troops on the Dominican Republic in order to install a friendly regimethere. Bowles wrote that Bobby was "slamming into anyone who suggested we goslowly." But the thrust of Bobby's anger at the Undersecretary came fromBowles' opposition to the Bay of Pigs adventure--opposition greatlyjustified, it turned out--and for what he felt was insufficient anti-Castromilitancy. Unlike Jack, Bobby frequently and unrestrainedly spit out hisanimosity. He had "a tremendous capacity for love and hate," as WilliamHundley, chief of the Organized Crime division in Kennedy's JusticeDepartment, put it. "You wouldn't want to get on his wrong side." AndCastro was as far on his wrong side as possible.
General Edward Lansdale, a counter-insurgency expert who later workedintimately with the Attorney General trying to destabilize Communist rule inCuba, joined almost every observer in concluding that Bobby felt the Aprildefeat even more strongly, and even more personally, than Jack. "He wasprotective of his brother, and he felt his brother had been insulted at theBay of Pigs. He felt the insult needed to be redressed rather quickly."This is not to say that President Kennedy could not be vengeful, or thathis friends never felt the "cruel whip" of his arrogance andself-absorption. During Bobby's Cabinet room expression of fury, RichardGoodwin watched the seemingly calm, relaxed president tap the tip of apencil against his teeth. Goodwin knew this as a sign that "some innertension was being suppressed." He also knew "there was an inner hardness,often volatile anger beneath the outwardly amiable, thoughtful, carefullycontrolled demeanor of John Kennedy." He became certain that Bobby's angerrepresented the silent President's own feelings, which he had privatelycommunicated to his brother in advance.
It is also not to say that Jack, in his own way, didn't want to settlethe score with Castro as much as Bobby. A CIA Deputy Director ofIntelligence felt that both brothers were "deeply ashamed after the Bay ofPigs, and they were quite obsessed with the problem of Cuba. They were acouple of Irishmen who felt they had muffed it ... and being good fightingIrishmen, they vented their wrath in all ways that they could."
According to documents held for 35 years, Che Guevara, Castro's second incommand, met with Kennedy's Latin America advisor, Richard Goodwin, at acocktail party four months later in Uruguay. At Guevara's insistence,Goodwin was brought to the 2 a.m. session, where he was offered a Cubanolive branch. Guevara's proposal was sweepingly attractive: Cuba was readyto foreswear any political alliance to the USSR, pay for confiscated U.S.property, and consider ending its support for communist insurgents in thearea. All Castro wanted in return was a Kennedy pledge to cease hostileoperations against his regime. According to Goodwin (who, playing hardballpolitics as he had during the 1960 election, advised Kennedy against theidea), "Guevara's proposal was never pursued."
Castro rankled Kennedy more than could be explained by any real threat toAmerican interests. Of course, some threat was there, but it in no wayjustified the out-of-proportion U.S. response. Many analysts have pointedout that America shared responsibility for the mutual antagonism betweenWashington and Havana--by backing the corrupt dictator Batista for so long,by failing to see Castro in the tradition of Simon Bolivar, as anexpression of a yearning desire for liberation, and by resorting to aboycott too soon after Castro's Marxist professions. Cuba had become forKennedy what Khrushchev liked to call his "bone in the throat."Presidential historian Michael Beschloss put it this way, "What he [JFK]resented more were the costly political choices forced upon him by Castro'srise to power and his alliance with Moscow. He told friends that sooner orlater, every politician acquired an albatross: `I've got Cuba.'"
The Kennedy Dynamic
In his autobiography, published just prior to his death in 1996, the CIA'sRichard Bissell refers to fear of failure, an oft-described Kennedy familydynamic, and how it manifested itself in Jack and Bobby on the subject ofCuba:
The Kennedys wanted action and they wanted it fast. Robert Kennedy was willing to look anywhere for a solution ... From their perspective, Castro had won the first round at the Bay of Pigs. He had defeated the Kennedy team; they were bitter and they could not tolerate his getting away with it. The President and his brother were ready to avenge their personal embarrassment by overthrowing their enemy at any cost. To understand the Kennedy administration's obsession with Cuba, it is important to understand the Kennedys, especially Robert.
Joe, the Kennedy patriarch, had used questionable and unscrupulous meansin his drive to amass an immense fortune, and inculcated in his children asingular stress on the importance of winning. Joe was no ordinary father inhis ambition for his children. Even after making himself extremely rich, heremained extraordinarily compelled to assert himself, partly through them.He raised his sons under an extremely rigorous set of values. As onebiographer concluded, "Failure was not to be tolerated, passivity was adisgrace."
Kennedy family members agree on the key point of Joe's child-rearingphilosophy. "The thing he always kept telling us," remarked Joe's daughterEunice, "was that coming in second was just no good. The important thingwas to win--don't come in second or third. That doesn't count--but win,win, win."
By all accounts, Joe Kennedy's mandate as family patriarch achieved itsfullest expression in Bobby. Most agree with the views of RFK biographersLester and Irene David, who wrote, "He was just like the old man, JosephKennedy." In describing her husband, Ethel Kennedy once said of Bobby:
"For him, the world is divided into black and white hats. The white hats are `for us,' the black hats are `against us.' Bobby can only distinguish good men and bad. Good things, in his eyes, are virility, courage, movement, and anger. He has no patience with the weak and the hesitant."
A number of RFK acquaintances have volunteered that Bobby's headstrongfocus on results displayed a classic case of "short man complex."Physically, he had no reason for a Napoleonic complex -- he stood over fivefeet, nine inches tall. But he was small in comparison to hissiblings--which, of course, was the milieu in which he developed. "In afiercely competitive family," Richard Goodwin noted, "[Bobby] had to battlemore ferociously, recklessly, in order to hold his own." "Bobby grew up tobe the runt," biographer William Shannon observed, "... in a family whereall the other men were six feet or taller." Bobby's mother Rose recalled afear that he might grow up puny and girlish because he was the smallest andthinnest of the boys--but "we soon realized there was no fear of that." Infact, he went the opposite way, becoming a young man who had to distinguishhimself daily to a family of "provers." Some thought Bobby tried thehardest and accomplished the least, intellectually as well as physically.But his overriding qualities derived precisely from the attempt.
As Jack's presidential campaign manager, the younger Bobby channeled hisown thrusting ambition into becoming the elder brother's servant, protector,henchman--and, when he felt it necessary--hatchet man. As an old friend ofJack, LeMoyne Billings, once observed, Bobby had "put his brother's careerabsolutely first; and [cared] nothing about his own career whatsoever." AsAttorney General, and de facto intelligence czar, Bobby Kennedy realizedthat part of his job was to deflect criticism of his brother. "ThePresident," Bobby once said, "has to take so much responsibility thatothers should move forward to take the blame. People want someone higher toappeal to ... It is better for ire and anger to be directed somewhere else."
Bobby became the caustic, ornery executive officer who cracked down onhis shipmates in order to run a tight ship for his belovedskipper--beloved, in Jack's case, because of his personal charm. Theexecutive officer doesn't care that he is hated, because that comes withthe job. A high CIA official once said that Bobby "always talked like hewas the President, and he really was in a way." Bobby was much more thanJack's right-hand man. He would also become the prime mover--inspirer andinstigator--of some of the most secret (and dangerous) facets of thePresident's personal foreign policy.
"He's always been a lightning rod for Jack, trying to take the heat awayfrom the presidency. It's not important what happens to him. What isimportant is what happens to Jack. I would say few men have ever loved abrother more." So spoke Bobby's successor, Ramsey Clark, Attorney Generalunder Lyndon Johnson. From the standpoint of presidential deniability, thisseemed to play nicely when Bobby took charge of the Cuban initiatives.
On the difference between Jack and Bobby, Papa Joe once remarked, "Notthat Jack isn't just as courageous, but Bobby feels more strongly for oragainst people than Jack does--just as I do." Another remark by his fatherwas more direct: "Everyone in my family forgives--except Bobby." This traitwas also a chip off Papa Joe, who once said of himself, "When I hate someson of a bitch, I hate him till I die." Jack was incomparably better thanBobby at controlling his expressions of displeasure, reducing them to adismissal or cold stare. Bobby tended to get hot quickly, releasing hisfury indiscriminately
Jack, too, was competitive in his way, and could be quite aggressive. Forexample, newsman Walter Cronkite years later recalled how he felt JFK'swrath during the 1960 campaign. Cronkite had asked Kennedy about the impactof his Catholicism on the election. Cronkite later learned that a furiousJFK contacted CBS president Frank Stanton and bellowed, "When I becomepresident, I get to name the members of the FCC, which controls yourlicense [to operate]."
But Bobby's competitiveness had a rawness to it, and Jack's did not. Thisdifference reflected itself in their domestic life styles. While the WhiteHouse glowed with grace, elegance, and culture, Hickory Hill, Bobby'sestate in nearby McLean, Virginia, was a place where he challenged hisguests to physical encounters. No one ever broke a bone visiting Jack, "butchipped fingers, wrist fractures, loosened teeth, torn muscles andligaments, and even broken legs were not uncommon at Hickory Hill," as oneRFK biographer put it.
Evelyn Lincoln, the President's personal secretary, made a skillful stabat summing up the brothers' dissimilarities. "The difference between Bobbyand Jack," Lincoln offered, "was this: Jack was evolutionary, Bobby wasrevolutionary." Her observation was quite perceptive. A photographercovering Bobby once suggested to him that he was really a revolutionary.After some thought, Bobby acknowledged that the photographer, in a largesense, was right. He was a revolutionary in the way he attacked whateverissues were on his agenda at the moment. While Jack, the cool skeptic, waskeenly aware of the value of good appearances, Bobby, the firebrand, oftenappeared disheveled, just like a good revolutionary should. While Jackliked ideas, Bobby preferred action. Kennedy aide Harris Wofford observedduring his brother's administration, "[Bobby] was always saying, `Don't sitthere thinking, do something!'"
These differences between the brothers were not absolute. But in terms ofhow they expressed their antipathy to "that guy with the beard," as Bobbyoften called Castro, they were very important. They helped explain why theyounger brother was "a man driven by demons" in the secret war with Cuba."Bobby was emotional as he could be," Ray Cline, Deputy Director ofIntelligence for the CIA, would remember. "He was always bugging the Agencyabout the Cubans."
The personal differences also explained why the White House's chiefoccupant could have been pictured as a man of peace--which he was in manycritical ways not concerning Cuba--while his brother, his trusted righthand, was deep in Florida's Everglades, on secret visits to personallysupervise quasi-legal acts of war against Fidel Castro and the sovereignnation of Cuba. This was the Bobby who, with his heavy preference foraction over contemplation, was "fascinated by all that covert stuff,counter-insurgence, and all the garbage that went with it," asUndersecretary of State George Ball once put it. This was also the brotherwhom no one had to like because he wasn't running for anything, orfurthering his own ego, but merely serving Jack. And it was the brother sowidely known as ruthless by those who worked with and under him.
With his intellectual curiosity, and his knowledge of history and otherleaders' mistakes, John Kennedy grew remarkably as a statesman during his 34months as president. He took courageous steps toward peace with manyadversaries. But Cuba remained the exception. As his father opined, "Cubagave this administration a chance to be great." Tragically, it was anopportunity not seized.
The Kennedy Connections
John F. Kennedy inherited more than a family characteristic forstubbornness. He inherited his family's resources, its wealth, andconnections as high as the CIA and as low as the Chicago underworld. JosephKennedy had built a network of trustworthy men, which JFK expanded while heoccupied the highest office in the land. The men in this large networkwould protect him during his presidency (and after his death), but couldn'tprotect him from the repercussions of his brother's actions, taken eitheron his behalf or according to his orders. This network of powerful friendshas been pointed to as evidence of an anti-Kennedy conspiracy. The truth isjust the opposite.
Patriarch Joe Kennedy founded a Kennedy tradition when he entered thebootlegging business in the 1920's. His relationship with the Mafia wouldgrow, culminating when he approached the underworld for its support inJFK's 1960 presidential campaign. Joe Kennedy's contacts in that area wouldalso prove invaluable when Robert Kennedy was later looking for"unofficial" intelligence opportunities in Cuba. The Mafia had been almostentirely shut out by the Castro regime, and they very badly wanted toreturn to Cuba. RFK was not opposed to using them to get what he and hisbrother were after.
The Kennedys had informal bonds with CIA members long before John F.Kennedy was inaugurated. Robert Kennedy's wife's family, the Skakels,maintained close relationships with CIA officers. In 1966, the closeness ofthe Skakels with the CIA was noted when George Skakel, Jr. (then runningGreat Lakes) and three friends chartered a plane for a hunting trip inIdaho. When the plane crashed, killing all aboard, it was reported that15-year CIA veteran Lewis Werner was one of the victims. In charge of theSt. Louis division of the CIA at the time, Werner often traveled to Cubawith Skakel to hunt wild boar.
In addition, a variety of New England liberals such as Allen Dulles, DesFitzGerald, Richard Bissell, Richard Helms were part of asocial/intellectual clique that included Joseph P. Kennedy. CIA executiveBill Harvey referred to this group as "Fifth Avenue cowboys." As historianBurton Hersh points out, "Most of the leadership of the CIA wasenlightened, preponderantly Democratic, with emerging senior managers likeTracy Barnes and Dickie Bissell quite dedicated social reformers."Comparisons to the Kennedys are inescapable.
The Kennedy brothers had also preserved a long-lasting association withAllen Dulles, then CIA Director. Letters in both the Kennedy and Dullescollections reflect that John and Robert Kennedy maintained correspondencewith both Dulles brothers from at least 1955. Traveling in the same socialsphere, Allen Dulles and John Kennedy were "comfortable with one anotherand there was a lot of mutual respect," Richard Bissell said in aninterview. In fact, Kennedy was known to regard Dulles as a legendaryfigure. Historian Herbert Parmet wrote, "Dulles often went to the CharlesWrightsman estate near Joe Kennedy's Palm Beach House. As far back asJack's early days, they socialized down in Florida, much of the timeswimming and playing golf." Dulles himself said, "I knew Joe quite wellfrom the days when he was head of the Securities and Exchange Commission."
But Papa Joe Kennedy's relationship with Dulles extended far beyond thatof neighbor and occasional golf buddy. On January 13, 1956, when AllenDulles was CIA Director, Joseph Kennedy was appointed to PresidentEisenhower's Presidential Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB)."PFIAB is a sort of holding ground for people who couldn't obtain, ordidn't want, Congressional approval [to serve the U.S. government],"explains Colonel Alan D. Campen, who served under President Reagan asDirector of Command and Control Policy in the office of the Secretary ofDefense. Historian Michael Beschloss adds, "After exerting himself to winappointment to Eisenhower's intelligence board, he [Joe Kennedy] improvedhis acquaintance with Dulles."
Among other commonalities, Joe Kennedy and Allen Dulles were bothoutspoken isolationists at the start of World War II. Kennedy was oftencalled pro-Nazi (by, among others, Lyndon Johnson) when he publiclyinsisted that the German-English "feud" had nothing to do with U.S.interests. Likewise, Dulles, whose law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell,represented many German and U.S. investors, told businessmen who belongedto the German SS that he believed that many of their objectives werewell-founded. At one point, Dulles remarked to a German SS member that hewas "fed up with listening all the time to outdated politicians, emigres,and prejudiced Jews."
Dulles first met Jack Kennedy at the Kennedy Florida compound in 1955.They became fast friends. "Our contact was fairly continuous," Dulles latersaid. "When [JFK] was in Palm Beach, we always got together." Jack came torevere both Dulles' intellect and accomplishments.
Robert Kennedy, too, was clearly impressed with Dulles. Regarding hisperformance at the time of the Bay of Pigs, Robert Kennedy later recalled,"Allen Dulles handled himself awfully well, with a great deal of dignity,and never attempted to shift the blame. The President was very fond of him,as I was." He elaborated to historian Arthur Schlesinger, "He [JFK] likedhim [Dulles]--thought he was a real gentleman, handled himself well. Therewere obviously so many mistakes made at the time of the Bay of Pigs that itwasn't appropriate that he should stay on. And he always took the blame. Hewas a real gentleman. JFK thought very highly of him."
Dulles kept a variety of Kennedy secrets from the public. For example,when John Kennedy won the election in November 1960, the CIA under Dullesconducted a background investigation of Kennedy in anticipation of his firstintelligence briefing as President-elect on November 18. Such investigationswere designed to predict how the subject would respond when informed of thefull range of CIA operations, and to show Dulles the most effective methodof appeal. Prepared by CIA psychologists, the study included hot evidencefrom the FBI: the indiscretion of a youthful Jack Kennedy, at the height ofWorld War II, with alleged Nazi spy Inga Arvad Fejos. In 1942, whileserving in the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, Jack Kennedy hadestablished this potentially dangerous liaison. The FBI, which hadwiretapped Arvad, initially compiled the file. Historian Thomas Reeveswrote:
When Jack's relationship with the woman became known to Navy officials, the assistant director of the Office of Naval Intelligence wanted to cashier the young ensign from the Navy. A witness remembered the officer being "really frantic." Reminded of Joe Kennedy's prestige, however, the official eventually calmed down and consented merely to give Jack a speedy transfer to an ONI outpost in Charleston, South Carolina.
(FBI sources state that it was Hoover's direct pressure that broughtabout the transfer. The potential value of this kind of political dynamitewas most assuredly never lost on the FBI Director. It was just the kind offile that kept Hoover's power inviolate for so long.)
Dulles' decision, or favor, to keep this matter secret was quite possiblyrewarded later, when Kennedy, as president-elect, retained Dulles as CIADirector. It may also have played a part in Kennedy's initial refusal toaccept Dulles' resignation after the Bay of Pigs fiasco.
The CIA after the Bay of Pigs
"In the course of the past few months I have had occasion to again observe the extraordinary accomplishments of our intelligence community, and I have been singularly impressed with the overall professional excellence, selfless devotion to duty, resourcefulness and initiative manifested in the work of this group."
--President Kennedy, in a letter of commendation to new CIA Director John McCone, January 9, 1963
After thinking it over, it was clear to John Kennedy that the blame for theBay of Pigs was largely his and not the CIA's. And although Kennedy neededpublic scapegoats in his administration, he drew the line at a publicindictment of the original Eisenhower-era planners of the invasion.Kennedy's Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, later testified, "PresidentKennedy was very angry when some people around him tried to shareresponsibility with President Eisenhower because President Kennedy knewthat he and his senior advisors had a chance to look at that and made theirown judgment on that, and he did not like the idea of having to share thebuck."
Although Kennedy's threat to "splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces andcast it to the winds" has long been used to support theories that the CIAhad reason to hate JFK, just the opposite is true. Kennedy's "threat" was aknee-jerk reaction to the failed invasion. Years later, E. Howard Hunt, theCIA's liaison to the Cuban exiles, surmised, "For him [Kennedy] to have saidthat was probably a way of disguising from himself the fact that he himselfwas responsible for the fiasco, and I'm sure that's something that hauntedhim for the rest of his days."
All of John Kennedy's other statements regarding the CIA were nothingshort of glowing. On November 28, 1961 Kennedy went to Langley, Virginia todedicate the CIA's new headquarters, which came to fruition under theoutgoing Director, Allen Dulles. Addressing the large throng, Kennedy said:
I want, first of all, to express my appreciation to you all for the opportunity of this ceremony to tell you how grateful we are in the government and in the country for the services that the personnel of this Agency render to the country. It is not always easy. Your successes are unheralded--your failures are trumpeted. I sometimes have that same feeling myself. But I am sure you realize how important is your work, how essential it is--and, in the long sweep of history, how significant your efforts will be judged.
In addition to the dedication, Kennedy had planned a surprise for hisloyal friend. Dulles' biographer, Peter Grose, described the event:
Allen greeted the presidential helicopter at the landing pad hidden among the trees of the campus. Interrupting the carefully scripted ceremony that followed, with more than six hundred CIA professionals in attendance, Kennedy turned to the dais behind him. "Would you step forward, Allen." On his lapel he pinned the National Security Medal. Short of knighthood or lordship, it was the highest honor of the United States government.
Turning to address Dulles, Kennedy said, "I want to express myappreciation to you now, and I am confident that in the future you willcontinue to merit the appreciation of our country, as you have in thepast." The next day, JFK dashed off a letter expressing his greatadmiration and affection for Dulles. In closing, Kennedy wrote, "You leavebehind you, as witness to your great service, an outstanding staff of menand women trained to the nation's service in the field of intelligence." Inwhat appears to be a genuinely heartfelt letter to his old friend Dulles,the President added, "I am sure you know you carry with you the admirationand affection of all of us who have served with you. I am glad to becounted among the seven Presidents in whose administrations you haveworked, and I am also glad that we shall continue to have your help andcounsel ... Your integrity, energy, and understanding will be a lastingexample to all." Two years later, in the wake of JFK's assassination,Dulles' kinship with John Kennedy would play a role in Dulles' decision towithhold critical information from his fellow Warren Commission members.
On March 1, 1962, JFK would similarly honor Bissell with the sameNational Security medal. In ceremonies at the White House, Kennedy made itclear that he still held Bissell in high esteem. In part, Kennedy said:
During his more than twenty years of service with the United States government, he has invested a rich fund of scholarship and vision. He has brought about returns of direct and major benefit to our country. In an area demanding the creation and application of highly technical and sophisticated intelligence techniques, he has blended theory and practice in a manner unparalleled in the intelligence profession. Mr. Bissell's high purpose, unbounded energy, and unswerving devotion to duty are benchmarks in the intelligence service.
The Kennedys and the CIA
After the Bay of Pigs, as both he and his brother Robert began tounderstand the intended role of the CIA, John Kennedy would oversee one ofthe greatest budget increases for the intelligence community in U.S.history. "You have to always bear in mind how the Agency was originally setup," instructs one high-ranking Agency official. The CIA, he reminds us,was instituted as the intelligence arm of the Executive branch--thePresident and official Washington have never been confused about that fact.First conceived by President Harry S Truman, the CIA was established andorganized by the National Security Act of 1947 (Truman submitted it toCongress, which passed it on July 26, 1947).
The CIA's charter is unambiguous in stating that the Agency wouldfunction only in response to directives of the President and of thePresident's own intelligence apparatus, the National Security Council.Nowhere in the charter is there any inference that the CIA would be allowedto initiate policy. JFK, a close student of history, was undoubtedly awareof the Eisenhower-CIA partnership that had toppled regimes in both Iran andGuatemala. The Directors of the CIA, appointed by the President, take theirloyalty to the President seriously, and often have performed tasks againsttheir own better judgment at their bosses' behest.
In return for this loyalty, Kennedy often went out of his way to shieldthe CIA from unwelcome scrutiny. At a news conference in November 1963 (sixweeks before his death), Kennedy responded to a question regarding the CIA.A newsperson had asked Kennedy if the CIA was conducting unauthorizedactivity in South Vietnam. Kennedy rose to its defense, saying:
I think that while the CIA may have made mistakes, as we all do, on different occasions, and has had many successes which may go unheralded, in my opinion in this case it is unfair to charge them as they have been charged. I think they have done a good job.
Robert Kennedy also knew where the buck stopped. In 1967, when the CIAwas criticized for giving illegal financial support to the National StudentAssociation, Bobby refused to let the CIA take the rap. He went on record assaying that the CIA policies were approved at the highest levels ofpresidential administrations. "If the policy was wrong," Bobby said, "itwas not the product of the CIA but of each administration." When Kennedyfamily friend Jack Newfield tried to goad Bobby into criticizing theAgency, Bobby again rose to its defense, saying, "What you are not aware ofis the role the CIA plays within the government. During the 1950's ... manyliberals found sanctuary in the CIA. So some of the best people inWashington, and around the country, began to collect there. One result ofthat was the CIA developed a very healthy view of Communism, especiallycompared to State and some other departments. So it is not so black andwhite as you think."
The Kennedy brothers, Bobby more than Jack, soon became smitten withthe clandestine world the CIA inhabited. Author and intelligence expert JohnRanelagh most accurately summarized the relationship. According to one CIAman with whom Ranelagh spoke, "Robert Kennedy, in his shirtsleeves, delvedinto the inner workings of the agency. In the end, he did not shake it upas his brother had wanted, but fell in love with the CIA and the concept ofclandestine operation." Ranelagh added:
Jack Kennedy realized, as he told Clark Clifford--an influential and trusted Kennedy advisor and Democratic power broker--"I have to have the best possible intelligence," and soon reversed his decision to punish the CIA. Both brothers saw that alone of the agencies of government the CIA was willing to take action and had tried to do in Cuba what the President wanted. The Bay of Pigs failure meant that the agency would not resist tighter control. Rejection of the agency was not necessary: the windmill was now the Kennedys' to turn and direct. They were determined to make it work under their close direction.