JFK and The Venezuelan Arms Cache
One of my father’s law enforcement text books advises that in the case of elimination murders and political assassinations the key to the crime rests not with the triggerman but with the victim – and who wanted him eliminated, and advises to check the last item he was working on which might provide a clue.
The last thing JFK left on is desk before he left the White House for Texas were the reports on the discovery of an arms cache on a Venezuelan beach that if traced to Cuba could provide enough evidence of Castro’s intention to export his revolution to all South America and convince the OAS to issue economic sanctions against Cuba.
Kennedy went to his grave knowing of the report, but unaware, as we are today, that the Venezuelan arms cache was probably planted by the CIA as part of a black propaganda operation to get the OAS to move against Cuba, which it did.
I wrote about the Venezuelan arms cache and its possible connection to the assassination of President Kennedy in a JFKCountercoup blogpost - http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com/2009/04/venezuelan-arms-cache-northwoods.html, which is more detailed and footnoted and sparked an email from someone who claims to be a relative of the CIA research analyst who documented the arms cache and wrote the reports that were presented to JFK late on the night he left for Texas. This relative said that he does not have the research report, but he was thinking on filing an FOIA request to obtain it (and maybe some interested attorney can come forward and give him assistance).
The best account of the Venezuelan arms cache is Joe Smith’s version, which mentions the contribution of the women CIA analyst who in his autobiography “Portrait of a Cold Warrior” (Ballantine, NY, 1976), in which he quotes an associate saying, "Our intelligence assistant on the Venezuelan desk got the material out again right after we found the arms and she came up with a beautiful research job,"
To put things in their proper perspective, Joseph Burkholder Smith wrote:
To put things in their proper perspective, Joseph Burkholder Smith wrote:
Between the Argentine elections in 1963 and the Chilean election of 1964, my attention was once again focused on Cuba. Gerry Droller had become branch chief of the countries of the “Cono Sur,” the southern cone of Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile. He came down to Buenos Aires to remind us Cuba was more important than any of them.
“Listen, this guy Des is a genius and he’s got the side track to the White House,” Gerry explained. “I also think J.C.’s going to retire soon and Des will run the whole division in name as well as fact. Already we got dozens of old FE hands in the division and more guys from Germany too. WH Division is now all chopstick users and umlaut speakers. And we’re all supposed to concentrate on Cuba.”
The matter we all concentrated on from December 1963, until the summer of 1964 was making the discovery of a small arms cache on the coast of Venezuela seem important enough proof of Castro’s interventionists intentions that the OAS would declare Cuba an outlaw nation and refuse to allow OAS members to have political or economic relations with her. I initially paid little attention to the news of the news of the discovery of these arms that came from Caracas just after John Kennedy’s assassination. I still hadn’t gotten over the terrible shock of the President’s death when I received a cable saying headquarters wanted maximum press coverage given to the announcement on December 3, 1963, that the OAS had agreed to investigate Venezuelan charges the arms had been secretly delivered by Castro’s forces for the use of Venezuelan leftist guerrillas.
SIDE wasn’t interested in getting such a story all out coverage. The attitude of SIDE officers was “what else is new?”….
The new chief of covert action operations for WH (Western Hemisphere) came down to Buenos Aires just before Christmas to explain how important the Venezuelan arms cache discovery was considered. Dramatically, he related how much the discovery had meant to John Kennedy. “The President had been pressuring us for months before he was killed to come up with some solid proof that Castro was exporting his revolution. He wanted to make his anti-Castro crusade a Latin American cause not just a U.S. mission. He wanted to have some really convincing evidence of Castro’s interference in the affairs of Latin countries that we could get the OAS (Organization of American States) to take collective action against Castro. This discovery is what he was looking for.”
Herb explained that the news of the discovery had come in from Caracas just the day before President Kennedy left for Texas. He and another officer rushed over to see Bobby Kennedy with the cable. Bobby called the President and he ordered them to come immediately to the oval office. “President Kennedy was extremely pleased and excited about the prospects,” Herb said. “It was very late in the evening when we left the White House. I think this was the last piece of business he took up before he left Washington. We all like to think we’re running the operation for him.”
Herb presented us the case against Cuba. The arms had been found on a remote peninsula served only by one secondary road and with no large settlements nearby. Local fishermen had discovered the cache by accident. No Venezuelan guerrillas ever had come near the spot. Herb’s story was that on such a coast a boat could land at night with little chance of being detected, the stuff stashed in the dunes, and picked up by some subsequent night by the revolutionaries receiving Castro’s assistance.
We were working very, Herb said, with the Venezuelan authorities to establish complete proof the arms had come from Castro and investigations were going on in Europe and Canada. Some of the arms had been traced to a Belgian manufacturer and Belgian security officials were helping us find the records that would show when they were purchased by the Cubans. The Canadians had already advantageously found proof that a sixteen-foot aluminum boat found hidden with the arms had been sold by a Canadian firm to the Cuban Agrarian Reform Institute just one month before the arms were discovered.
He was most excited about a story from a Venezuelan leftist in the custody of the Venezuelan security police. The prisoner confessed that maps found in his apartment showed where attacks were to be made in Caracas, using these arms, on the eve of December 1, 1963, presidential elections. Also found in his apartment were instructions on how to use the arms found in the cache. They were a type of weapon which hitherto had not been used by any Venezuelan groups.
The story of the maps sounded familiar to me. I couldn’t remember anything about arms instructions, but I remembered the maps were found in this man’s apartment way back when I had been Venezuelan desk chief.
“Aren’t these the maps we found the other year and couldn’t make any sense of?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s right,” Herb replied. “Our intelligence assistant on the Venezuelan desk got the material out again right after we found the arms and she came up with a beautiful Herb replied. “Our intelligence assistant on the Venezuelan desk got the material out again right after we found the arms and she came up with a beautiful research job we sent to Caracas for the police to use in questioning the suspects. He’s confessed.”
I was not too impressed with this evidence of the Venezuelan guerrillas” intended use of the arms. It sounded to me as though we might have manufactured it to meet President Kennedy’s requirement for an OAS case. I was especially unimpressed by the confession. There are few prisoners of security police in Latin America who refuse to confess. If they don’t confess they usually have died in the process of making up their minds, having thought too long about the matter with their heads under water or something.
“I like the touch about the boat’s being sold by Canadians to the Cuban Agrarian Reform Institute. Makes it sound as though Castro’s trying to be real spooky, using a cover like the Agrarian Reform Institute to deliver arms.” I couldn’t resist saying, “How did we actually get the arms there?”
Herb looked at me very hard. “Joe, you are too fond of black operations. Of course, we didn’t put the arms there ourselves. Come on.”
We had three things to do: first show all the evidence to SIDE (Venezuelan Secret Police) and get SIDE to push the matter up to the top of the Argentine government to gain Argentine’s support for Venezuelan’s charges in the OAS; get the pictures in the Argentine press, plus editorial and other comments supporting the Venezuelan case; try to uncover anything similar we could to show that the Cubans were giving direct support to revolutionaries in Argentina. The first two tasks were easily accomplished. My friends in Action Propaganda particularly liked the picture of the arms. We had no luck for some months in finding any Argentine guerrillas.
In early March, 1964, we got a break. The Argentine gendarmerie, the border police, found eight young people in a camp in the far northern province of Salta near the Bolivian border. Seven men and a girl were picked up. They had some weapons, copy of Che Guevara’s book on guerrilla warfare, and a stack of Communist propaganda tracts. My SIDE friends suggested we all take the Beachcraft to Salta to see whether or not this might be the evidence of Cuban support to guerrillas we were looking for.
We went to the gendarmerie post a few miles outside the provincial capital where the prisoners were being held and their confiscated arms and possessions were stored. The arms were clearly old Argentine army rifles. The Communist propaganda was similar to that which could be obtained under the counter at bookshops near the University of Buenos Aires. The public sale of such literature was prohibited, but Captain Lynch’s men were picking it up all the time and I had seen before most of what I saw in Salta. Lynch had also given me a copy of his nephew’s book, also easily, if not legally obtainable. I sat quietly in the back of the room, posing as another “European “ Argentine, while the SIDE officers talked to several prisoners. They were middle-class kids and were awaiting the arrival of a lawyer one of their fathers had arranged for them. They were polite but not communicative. The SIDE officers tried no persuasion.
A week after my visit to the camp, Des Fitzgerald came to Buenos Aires. As Gerry Droller had predicted, Des was now WH Division chief and this was his first swing around the hemisphere to visit his new station. He gave us all a short pep talk – the theme of which was the importance of the OAS sanctions operation. He also briefed us on the overall status of other operations against Cuba being run from JM/WAVE, but he sounded a bit discouraged.
“If Jack Kennedy had lived,” Des said, “I can assure you we would have gotten rid of Castro by last Christmas. Unfortunately the new President isn’t as gung-ho on fighting Castro as Kennedy was.”
“What do you mean by ‘getten rid of,’ Des?” I asked.
“Well, you know, Joe, we don’t use that language,” he replied. “Just say I mean he wouldn’t still be doing business in Havana.”
Des asked me what I thought about the guerrillas in Salta. I told him I didn’t think there was a shred of evidence that they were receiving any support from Castro. “They’re just a bunch of bored middle-class kids, Des, who maybe had a fight with their parents.”
I didn’t know that unhappy middle-class kids would soon be throwing bombs all over the world, from Montevideo to New York, Paris to Tokyo, and almost everywhere in between. These kids would help drive Lyndon Johnson from office, but not before he had ordered CIA to violate their charter and get busy trying to stop dissent in the United States. They would push Richard Nixon’s paranoia to the point where he couldn’t rest until he had expanded Johnson’s covert operations against them so that fighting kids was a top priority of Mexico City station when I got there in 1969.
“Well,” mused Des, “maybe we have enough friends in Argentina that somebody important might just say he thought Castro was helping them.”
General Julio Alsogaray, commander in chief of the gendarmerie, declared on March 26, 1964, that there were at least twenty guerrillas in Salta and adjacent Jujuy province and that some of them had fired on his troops. Two guerrillas were killed trying to cross the border into Bolivia in the encounter. “There guerrillas,” said Alsogaray, “are being aided by Fidel Castro, who is trying to export revolution to all of the continent."
The OAS convened a meeting of foreign ministers in Washington from July 21 to July 26, 1964 to decide on Venezuela’s’ charges. They concluded that Castro had sent arms to Venezuela for the purpose of disrupting the Venezuelan elections of December, 1963. Diplomats and consular relations with Cuba were severed by OAS members and economic sanctions enforced. Only Bolivia, Uruguay, Chile and Mexico opposed these measures. The rest of Latin America evidently had been convinced of the validity of the Venezuelan charges and the threat of Cuban subversion in the hemisphere.”
[Kelly Notes: Can anyone come up with a photo of the Venezuelan arms cache that is mentioned? The delivery of arms caches to rebels is the MO – modus operandi of the CIA’s JM/WAVE maritime team who were caught doing this very thing – dropping off arms caches on Cuban beaches - including the raid that made the November 1, 1963 New York Times. Also note that the Argentine Navy Captain Lynch mentioned is the uncle of Che Guevara Lynch. Can anyone identify Joe Smith’s CIA associate “Herb”? Our Canadian and Belgian friends could also check to see if those leads panned out or if there is any official government records of this investigation. Also recall that "Maurice Bishop" used a Belgian passport and was affiliated with a Belgian company. I would venture a modest bet that the inventory of this Venezuelan arms cache, that was compiled by this women CIA analyst and we should be able to obtain via FOIA, will include Manlicher-Carcano rifles and 6.5 ammo similar to that used in the Dealey Plaza Operation. Any takers?]