CIA raider ship the Rex, leased to Collins Radio for "electronic and oceanographic research," was used to deposit anti-Castro Cuban commandos in Cuba, a botched raid that made news on the front page of the November 1, 1963 New York Times, blowing the CIA cover of Collins Radio company of Richardson, Texas.
Zenith Tech was the cover for the CIA JMWAVE company that employed the Cuban commandos. The book Zenith Secret was written by Bradley Ayres, the US Army Ranger who trained the Cuban commandos for their missions into Cuba.
CIA's Collins Radio Cover Blown
The use of Collins Radio as a cover company for covert CIA activities was effectively blown by the New York Times November 1, 1963 page one cover story that featured a photo of the CIA Cuban raider ship Rex, which docked near the President’s Florida home at Palm Beach. The accompanying news article noted that the Rex was registered out of Bluefields, Nicaragua, was previously owned by the Somoza family and was leased to the International Division of the Collins Radio Company, which was based in Richardson, Texas.
In their book Deadly Secrets (Thunders Mouth Press, NY 1992) William Turner and Warren Hinckle go into details about the CIA’s supposed to be secret Caribbean fleet and interviewed some of the crew members engaged their missions. They note that Gordon Campbell was in charge of the CIA’s maritime operations in the Caribbean, working under cover of Marine Engineering and Training (MET) corporation in Homestead, Florida, which was incorporated in 1962 to conduct “offshore surveys.”
Gordon Campbell’s role as chief of the CIA’s maritime operations out of Florida was confirmed by Bradley E. Ayers, a U.S. Army Ranger trainer who was assigned to the CIA’s JM/WAVE station to train anti-Castro Cuban commandos. It is reported that Gordon Campbell brought the sailing and operational orders to Captain Alejandro Brooks, the skipper of the Rex, the flagship of the CIA’s Caribbean fleet.
The problem here, as later determined by Jeff Morley and David Talbot, is that Gordon Campbell officially died in 1962, and therefore could not have delivered the orders to the Rex for their October 1963 mission. Nor could he have been known to Ayers at the time of the assassination.
“In addition to being an operational cover, MET was used for recruitment and training of CIA seagoing commandos. Cuban frogmen used in CIA infiltrations were signed up by the company and sent north for advanced underwater demolition training at a secret base called Isolation Tropic, located at an old Navy seaplane port on the Pasquolank River near Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
The Rex was berthed within walking distance of the Kennedy family home, a fact that, in September 1963, “made the president furious” when he learned the Rex was docked in West Palm Beach while he was there.
With a crew of forty Cuban exiles, the Rex flew the blue and white Nicaraguan flag. An ex-US Navy patrol craft of 1940 vintage, the former sub chaser was taken out of mothballs at Glen Cove and painted dark blue. Reconditioned with oversized searchlights, elaborate electronic gear and a crane aft deck for lowering 20-foot speedboats, the Rex’s twin 3,600 horsepower diesel engines gave her a respectable speed of 20 knots. They said it cost the CIA $500,000 a year to keep the Rex running, along with her sister ship Leda, another of four similar ships and dozens of smaller vessels that made up the CIA fleet, ostensibly overseen by Gordon Campbell.
The Rex was officially owned by the Belcher Oil Company, which was primarily in the business of refueling cruise ships. Turner and Hinckle wrote that, “Belcher’s books showed it acquired the ship from the Somza-owned Paragon Company, a poor relation to the Paragon Air Service, Inc., a CIA dummy corporation. Belcher, in turn, leased the Rex to Collins Radio International of Dallas for ‘electronic and oceanographic research.’ Collins was a division of Collins Radio of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a major defense contractor that more than once provided cover for CIA operations. The Rex’s dockage fees were paid by neither Belcher Oil nor Collins, but by a third outfit called Sea Key Shipping Company, which operated out of a post office box. When she left port, the Rex gave as a destination the Caicos Island in the outer Bahamas; she returned to port only ‘from the high seas.’ Normal customs and immigrations inspections were waived for the Rex. She came and went mysteriously from West Palm Beach, only a ship that passed in the night.”
“The Cuban seamen of the Rex were paid $300 a month,” Turner and Hinckle report. “Their checks were written on the account of a commercial fisheries company. Most of the crew had experience in the Cuban navy or merchant marine. They had been recruited by a team of former Batista naval men working for the CIA. Political trustworthiness was as much a job requirement as seamanship, and the crew were subjected to polygraph tests designed to ferret out any creeping Castro sentiments….At sea between West Palm Beach and Miami, the Cuban crew brought up the guns from below decks and secured the Rex’s heavy artillery – two 40 mm naval cannon, a .57 recoilless rifle, two 20 mm cannon, and two .50 caliber machine guns – in their topside mounts. The oceanographic research vessel was now a man-of-war.”
On October 21, 1963, “the Rex had a special mission which would bring it a dangerous half-mile from the Cuban shore, well within the red zone of Castro’s coastal defense.”
Off Elliot Key, they met two black rubber rafts, with twelve men dressed in black who boarded the Rex. “They were members of the Commandos Mambises, the elite of the CIA’s anti-Castro commandos. They took their name from the determined guerillas who had fought Cuba’s war of independence against Spain. Their emblem was the Lone Star of Cuba. They were the Green Berets of the Secret War. The Commandos Mambises numbered fewer than fifty, mostly men without families to miss them. Their leader was Major Manuel Villafana, a Cuban General Patton known for his spit and polish sternness, who had commanded the Bay of Pigs air force. Major Villafana insisted that the CIA pay his men little; he wanted them motivated by hate, not money.”
The orders they received for the mission on the night of October 22, 1963 their target was in Pinar del Rio Provenance at the west end of the island, near the Cape Corrientes lighthouse. The Cape Corrientes lighthouse was inexplicitly dark that night.
Two 20-foot fiberglass speedboats with 100 horsepower inboard, muffled motors, and double bottom hulls for near shore amphibious operations had rear mounted steering columns. Called “Moppies,” they each had two .30 caliber Browning machine guns and a radio. For this mission, high powered rifles and C-4 explosives were transferred from the Rex to the speed boats, which set off towards the Cuban shore in the dark.
“They moved in to the mouth of a high banked river where they were to rendezvous with two Mambises who had been infiltrated a week earlier. Once near the shore, they inflated black rubber rafts with silent running outboard motors and signaled with an infrared blinker. The wrong code came back however, they recognized a trap and opened fire at the riverbank with M-3 grease guns. “The shore instantly lit up red and blue as machine guns on both banks opened up on the fleeing rafts. One raft was torn apart by tracer bullets, spilling the dead and dying into the water. Before the other raft could reach the sea, the Moppies were speeding back towards the Rx with Cuban patrol boats in pursuit. The abandoned commandos turned toward shore where Castro’s militia awaited them.”
“In the lead Moppie, the steering wheel had been shot away. Quatermaster Luis Montero Carrazana held the steering column in a death grip. He was suddenly framed in the searchlight of a Russian P-6 patrol boat, and for him the Secret War was over. The other Moppie headed for deep sea and the spot in the night where the Rex had been. The Moppie pilot keep speeding until he reached international waters, where he stopped a merchant ship by firing his machine gun across its bow and was rescued. The Rex itself had vanished.”
“Captain Brooks made for the open sea, then doubled back to the shoreline, running with lights out. Two Cuban helicopters dropped cluster flares to illuminate the sea where the Rex had been headed out to sea. Pepe: ‘As we cleared the head I saw the running lights of the freighter, and I knew right away what was going to happen. The freighter ran right into the light of the flares. The Cubans thought it was us. They opened up on her.’”
The ship was the J. Louis, a 32,500 ton American owned (Daniel Ludwig) freighter flying the Liberian flag. It held a cargo of bauxite from Jamaica, and was heading for Corpus Christi, Texas. At 12:40 a.m. five Cuban MiG-21s strafed her, although no one was injured. The Captain radioed an OSS, “Unarmed freighter under MiG attack off coast of Cuba.” U.S. Navy F-4 Phantom jets from Key West, Fla. Responded, but were called back before reaching Cuba.
The Rex was followed by two Cuban gunboats, and broke radio silence to request advice. Zenith Tech. responded, “Do what you have to do.”
The Rex's Captain Brooks made a run for Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula off Cozumel Island, played a cat-and-mouse game with the Cubans for two days, then headed for Key West, taking in tow a Catalina amphibian with engine trouble, on another CIA mission.
“It was business as usual in the secret war,” Turner and Hinckle concluded, as the Rex limped back into the safe confines of West Palm Beach.
While the U.S officially protested the MiG attack on the unarmed freighter, Castro spoke in Havana over radio and television on October 30th. He announced the capture of five more infiltrators and saboteurs – “agents of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.”
One of the captured Cubans confessed that he had landed from the Rex with a boatload of arms, including high powered rifles that were to be used to kill Cuban leaders. “The CIA,” he said, “organized all arms shipments.”
According to Carlos Bringuier, who Oswald was arrested with in New Orleans, wrote in his book Red Friday (Hallberg & Co. Chicago, 1969), “Castro also announced that two Canadian pilots were apprehended on October 24, when a search of their plane found large amounts of grenades and explosives. On October 31, Havana radio announced the execution of three more Cubans at the eastern city of Camaguey. They were: Guillermo Padron Hernandez, Fermin Gonzalez Mena and Rolando Cabrisas Sousa. Another ‘CIA Agent’ Armando Borroto, 15 years old, was sentenced to a life prison term.”
In his October 30th broadcast, Castro claimed to have captured two motor launches from the Rex, and the New York Times confirmed that indeed, two motor launches were in fact missing from their divots. J. Sonny Jaudon, port operations director said of the Rex, “It comes and goes at various intervals. We don’t ask any questions, and they don’t volunteer any information.” J.A. Belcher, when questioned, said, “I don’t know if it had any connection with the CIA, but I don’t see how it could.”
The sister ship of the Rex, the Leda, out of Greytown, Nicaragua, was registered to Lake Cay Company, Inc., which was supposed to be engaged in ‘oceanographic surveys.’ Her captain, Gasper Brooks, a brother of the Rex skipper. Another CIA ship, Explorer II, was owned by Explorations, Inc. of Miami Shores. Smaller motorcraft with inboard engines, called Swift boats, were registered to Ace Marine Survey, “the president of which was a New Orleans public relations man who did work for such CIA sponsored groups there as the Friends for a Democratic Cuba. Anyone checking Ace Marine Survey’s Miami address found it to be smack in the middle of the Miami river.”
On November 1, 1963, the New York Times ran the front page story that included a picture of the Rex, and the fact that the boat was leased to the Collins Radio Company, “for electronic and oceanographic research.”
Peter Dale Scott (In The Death of Kennedy and the Vietnam War, Government By Gunplay, Signet, 1979) wrote: “The description of ELINT or electronic intelligence activities (familiar to all who have read about the Pueblo incident off North Korea) suggests that one intelligence activity – ELINT – provocative but undoubtedly authorized – had been used as a front for another (gunrunning from the United States)¸ which had recently been prohibited by President Kennedy.”
Professor Scott also calls attention to the letter to the editor of the New York Times from Harold W. Thatcher, of Forty Fort, Pa., dated November 7, 1963 and published on November 20th, that “argued once more, as did some Congressmen of the period, that: “One of the very first steps ... should be to strip the CIA immediately of all operational and policymaking powers and confine it to its original function – namely the gathering of information.”
The October 22-30, 1963 mission of the Rex was botched. It appears that the commando team had been penetrated by Castro Cubans, the scout group had been captured, and the Cubans were waiting at the drop off point to capture those being sent in. Five men were caught, some confessed and some were executed, two boats were taken by the Cubans, and the Collins Radio corporate cover for the CIA had been blown. In addition, the mission called into question the legality of such domestic covert operations being run from the U.S. shores.
There have been reports that the commando Mambises used in the raid were trained in part at the Lake Ponchartraine camp that Oswald had tried to infiltrate and was shut down by the FBI in the summer of 1963.
Individuals associated with this mission also floated the story that President Kennedy was killed by a team of assassins who were sent to Cuba to kill Castro, but were captured and turned by Castro to kill Kennedy.
These commandos, the Mambises, were at war, not only with Castro, but with Kennedy, who closed down their camp, complained about their boat, and was blamed for warning Castro about the details of their mission, leading to the capture and execution of their comrades. They most certainly had the means, motive and opportunity to kill Kennedy, and it appears that they succeeded in doing so.
It would later be revealed that the Collins Radio company not only leased the Rex and supplied the electronic equipment used in the raids on Cuba, but they also provided the radios used by the US Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC), Air Force One and the presidential fleet of planes (Special Air Missions - SAM), but also employed Carl Mather, the good friend of slain Dallas policeman J.D. Tippit, whose car was seen at the site of Tippit's murder with Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of the President, behind the wheel.
Although the use of Collins Radio as a cover for intelligence activities was blown by the New York Times on November 1, 1963, and should have been discontinued, Collins was still being used as a cover for the National Recon Office (NRO) in the early 1990s when the new NRO HQ was being built in Virginia and its true use kept hidden from those within the government itself, including the director of the budget, Leon Pinetta, current Secretary of Defense.
THE NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE - November 1, 1963
CASTRO SAYS C.I.A. USES RAIDER SHIP
He Asserts Cuba Captured Small Boats From Vessel –
Miami Owner Denies It
By The Associated Press
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Oct. 31 – Premier Fidel Castro charged last night that the Central Intelligence Agency was operating a raider ship called the Rex, and that shehad been used in a sabotage mission against Cuba. He said two small boats from the Rex and several C.I.A. agents had been captured.
Primer Castro described the Rex as a 150-foot diesel vessel flying the Nicaraguan flag. He said she was based in West Palm Beach.
A vessel called the Rex, 174 feet long, returned to Palm Beach Monday and was tied up today at the Port of Palm Beach. She flies the Nicaraguan flag and carries large search lights, radar and a crane on the stern. Two motor launches were missing from their davits.
The port director, Joel Wilcox, said, “The dockage is paid by the Sea Shipping Company from a post office box. I know nothing of the Rex’s activities.”
Oil Man Claims Ship
J. A. Belcher, a Miami oil company executive, told The Miami Herald that the Rex belonged to him, but denied that it had participated in raids against Cuba.
He said he bought the vessel from the Paragon Company, identified by the Miami Herald as a Nicaraguan firm formerly owned by the family of Luis Somoza, an ex-President of Nicaragua.
Mr. Belcher told the Herald that for most of the year he had leased the Rex for electronic research to the international division of the Collins Radio Company of Dallas. He said the ship’s captain, identified as Alexander Brooks, had told him the Rex had never been in Cuba’s waters.
Premier Castro, in a radio and television broadcast, said that the captured agents might face death sentences.
In his three-hour speech, the Premier accused the C.I.A. of “stepping up its activities against Cuba in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Flora.”
He accused the Central Intelligence Agency of murdering workers, landing weapons and infiltrators in Cuba, hiring saboteurs and using postal packages to send explosives into Cuba.
“This was the kind of aid the United States sent to Cuba after the hurricane,” he said.
“They thought they had their opportunity after the hurricane. This explains and justifies Cuba’s rejections of the United States offer of aid.”
There are two other mysterious vessels of Nicaraguan registry operating out of ports of Florida’s southeast coast. One sometimes changes color.
The Leda is tied up at Port Everglades and the Port of Fort Lauderdale, 45 miles south of Palm Beach. She is registered from Greytown, Nicaragua, which is now known as San Juan del Norte.
A Miami man who knew a crewman on the Villaro said today, “She was a funny ship. She changed colors all the time. Sometimes the hull would be blue with a green deck. Other times it was gray with an orange deck. My friend said she was working in oil exploration.”
Coast Guard headquarters in Miami said it had no listing for any of the ships or their companies.
Carries Crew of 5
WEST PALM BEACH. Oct. 31. (UPI) – The port operations director of the Port of Palm Beach, J. Sonny Jaudon, said today that the Rex was registered out of Bluefields, Nicaragua, and carried a Spanish-speaking crew of at least five.
Asked if the Rex belonged to the C.I.A., Mr. Jaudon would say no more than, “It could be.”
“The Rex comes and goes at various intervals and uses the port here,” Mr. Jaudon said. “We don’t ask any questions. And they don’t volunteer any information.”