Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Kennedy Vendetta - Crile/Branch Harpers

BK NOTES: I don't usually post other's work here, and post them at JFKCountercoup2 - as sources and links to footnotes. But This is an exception as it is necessary to read this to understand who killed JFK, how and why they did it. 

I originally went looking for this original quote of Watergate burglar Eugenio Martinez, that I actually recall reading from the August 1975 issue of Harpers Magazine: 

“There was an attempt by this country to overthrow Castro, and it was not to be by elections,” he says. “It was to be by war. The papers now want to say there were plots. Well, I can tell you there were plots. I took a lot of weapons to Cuba. Some of them were very special weapons for special purposes – Springfields with bolt actions, rifles only used by snipers. They were not sent to shoot pigeons or kill rabbits. Everyone in the underground was plotting to kill Castro, and the CIA was helping  the underground. I was with the underground, as well as with the CIA, so you could say I was involved in the plots, too, but that is all so obvious.” 

I also make note of the fact that former CIA Chief of Station in Moscow - Rolf Larson - recently remarked at a major international conference that if the CIA was involved in the assassination of President Kennedy - it probably came out of the JMWAVE station. That's a heavy duty remark from a former high-level CIA official, and I concur. 

Which requires a very close look a the CIA's JMWAVE station in Florida - beginning with The Kennedy Vendetta by George Crile III and Taylor Branch 

The Kennedy Vendetta – How the CIA Waged a silent war against Cuba -
 Harpers Magazine - August 1975 

By George Crile III and Taylor Branch

NARA Record Number: 104-10310-10203

During the last days of the Eisenhower Administration the assassination of Fidel Castro presented itself as an engaging possibility to various people in Washington who had reason to mistrust a successful revolution so close to the coast of Florida. Some of those people discussed the possibility with the CIA, which had arranged sudden changes of government in Guatemala and Iran, and it has been said that a few agents left for the Caribbean with instructions to bring about a coup d’etat. Little more was heard from them until the debacle at the Bay of Pigs.

The invasion, otherwise known as “the glorious march on Havana,” had been sponsored by the Kennedy Administration, and the new President apparently perceived the defeat as an affront to his ride. Within a matter of weeks he committed the United States to a secret war against Cuba that eventually required the services of several thousand men and cost as much as $100 million a year. The war continued for four years. Kennedy entrusted its direction to the CIA, which, depending on the testimony of the witnesses telling the story, conducted an operation that could be described either as a large-scale vendetta or a small crusade. 

The Agency launched a succession of commando raids on the Cuban coast and encouraged a number of assassins to make attempts on Castro’s life. As late as 1964 the Agency was landing weapons in Cuba every week and sending up to fifty agents on missions to destroy oil refineries, railroad bridges, and sugar mills.

The secret war failed in all of its objectives. Instead of overthrowing Castro, it identified his revolution with the cause of Cuban nationalism and forced him into an alliance with the Soviet Union. The way in which the war was conducted, of necessity by means of stealth and criminal violence, established unfortunate precedents. Always in the name of a higher truth (More often than not the defense of “free and democratic societies” against an alien tyranny), a great many people in the American government were persuaded to violate their own laws, to tell convenient lies, and to admire the methods of organized crime. It is impossible to say whether these precedents had anything to do with the history of the subsequent monplace, as did the discovery of official conspiracy and concealment, and what began as another secret war in Vietnam also came to depend upon a hit man’s body count.

This article derives from the year-long investigations of two contributing editors to Harper’s. Their forthcoming book, which will contain the complete result of their investigations, and which will be published by Harper’s Magazine Press, deals with the experience of the men recruited to fight the secret war in Cuba. Two of the principal figures in the book, Bernard Barker and Rolando Martinez, were employed by the CIA in 1961 as agents. When they were arrested at Watergate in 1972, they still thought of themselves as servants of the moral law.

The following narrative begins with the embarrassment of the Kennedy Administration after the Bay of Pigs.
IN WASHINGTON, President Kennedy struggled to comprehend how so total a disaster could have been produced by so many people who were supposed to know what they were doing, who had wrecked governments other than Castro’s without mishap or detection. They had promised him a secret success but delivered a public fiasco…….

….(Ted) Shackley and his colleagues shaped a plan to exploit Castro’s weaknesses. And in February of 1962 he left for Miami to organize the secret war.


A SMALL CIA OFFICE had existed in Miami since the mid-1950s as a routine outpost where a few aging agents interviewed travelers returning from abroad. Scores of agents had descended on Miami during the preparation for the Bay of Pigs invasion, but they left soon after the debacle. With the beginning of the secret war, a new station sprang up to serve as the command post for all of the CIA’s world-wide anti-Castro operations. Shackley’s arrival amounted to a blank check from the Kennedy White House and the already large station quickly became the largest CIA station in the world.

The station, known by its CIA code name as JM WAVE,* was unique in the Agency’s history. “It was a real anomaly,” said Ray Cline. “It was run as if it were a foreign country, yet most of our agents were in the state of Florida. People just overlooked the fact that it was a domestic operation.”

The station operated with an annual budget well in excess of $50 million. It fielded a permanent staff of more than 300 American employees, mostly case officers, who, in turn employed and controlled a few thousand more Cuban agents. The average JM WAVE case officer would be responsible for between four and ten Cuban agents of intermediate statute known as “principal agents,” or  “PAs” – and each PA would be responsible for between ten and thirty regular agents. In addition to the case officer-agent network, there were hundreds of support people and American military officers under contract to the Agency. The headquarters for JM WAVE were located at the former Navy blimp center on the south campus of the University of Miami. The cover name given to the well-secured building was Zenith Technical Enterprises, ** a front corporation, or “proprietary,” organization by the CIA to conceal its operations. In addition to Zenith the Agency operated another fifty-four dummy corporations – boat shops, real-estate firms, detective agencies, travel companies, gun shops – as proprietary fronts to give cover employment for the case officers and agents outside Zenith headquarters. A former high official in the JM WAVE command described the size of the CIA presence in Florida:

“We had more than 100 vehicles under permanent lease for the case officers. The lower-level types got Chevies and Plymouths, and the higher-ups got Pontiacs. Ted Shackley, the station chief, drove a Cadillac. We had our own goddamn gas station to supply the fleet of cars. There was a tremendous logistics warehouse that included everything from machine guns to caskets. We had our own medical station, our own polygraph teams, our own psychologists.

** In later years newspaper reports alleged that Zenith was a CIA front. JM WAVE dealt with the inconvenience by changing the name to Melmar.

“Then we had a couple of little airlines, hundreds of boats, safe houses all over the area and paramilitary bases throughout the Florida Keys.”

“There were several staffs in the station. One was subsidizing just about everything in the exile community. If an anti-Castro guy started up a weekly paper, we’d give him some money and help him get the rag on the street. The end result of this was that you had the whole community monitored. We had another staff, a big one that was debriefing a couple hundred refugees a day. There was a large staff of analysts, and a technical staff to read mail or send letters in secret writing to contacts in Cuba, with instructions for them to first spill lemon juice on them or run a hot iron over a letter to get the writing to come out.”

Just as JM WAVE was the apex of a pyramid spreading out over South Florida, it was also the center for international coordination of the secret war. Every major CIA station in the world had at least one case officer assigned to Cuban operations, reporting directly or indirectly to the Miami station. In Europe, for example, all Cuban matters were routed through a regional headquarters in the Frankfurt station, which reported to JM WAVE. All Latin American stations had Cuban specialists, with standing orders to implement a three-pronged operational plan: (1) gather all possible intelligence on Castro’s intentions and capabilities in the country; (2) influence the host country to break diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba; and (3) stimulate anti-Castro propaganda in the host country.

JM WAVE wanted to know in advance about all travelers to and out of Cuba so that the travelers could be asked for information about Cuba, or so that their conversations could be bugged if the person were knowledgeable enough. And if, say, the Tokyo station reported that a high official of the Castro government was preparing to visit Tokyo to make a “recruitment pitch” to the official – i.e., try to persuade, bribe, or blackmail the official to defect and provide JM WAVE with intelligence.


THE STRATEGY OF THE SECRET WAR was based on the conviction that the masses of Cuban people didn’t believe in Castro and would revolt if life became sufficiently sour. As in all previous Cuban revolutions, the chief tactical aim of the strategy was to promote disaffection by sabotaging the Cuban economy.

In the overt aspect of the campaign, the United States placed a total embargo on all trade with Cuba; it moved to persuade and, when necessary, to blackjack allies to join the embargo. For its part, the CIA was to hasten the decline of the Cuban economy by initiating what Ray Cline described as “punitive economic sabotage operations.” Years later the former CIA deputy director for intelligence seemed to have second thoughts about those considerations: “Looking back on it, you might think all it accomplished was to make Castro beholden to the U.S.S.R.,, but the CIA actively pursued this [policy]. We were sending agents to Europe to get in touch with shippers to discourage them from going to Cuba, and there were some actions to sabotage cargoes – to contaminate them, things like that.”

One of the CIA officers who helped direct the worldwide sabotage efforts offered this description of the Agency’s efforts:

“There was a special technical staff in Langley [Virginia] working on these problems. They were economically oriented and they would come up with all kinds of grand plans for disrupting the Cuban economy – everything from preventing the Cubans from getting credit to figuring out how to disrupt sugar sales. There was lots of sugar being sent out from Cuba, and we were putting a lot of contaminants in it. We would even open up boxes and chip off a gear lock on a machine.

“There were all kinds of sabotage acts. We would have our people pour invisible, untraceable chemicals into lubricating fluids that were being shipped to Cuba. It was all planned economic retrogression. Those fluids were going to be used for diesel engines, and that meant the parts would wear out faster than they could get replacements. Before we sabotaged a product like that we would go to the manufacturer and see if we could convince him to do it: if that wouldn’t work, then we would just put the science-fiction crap in ourselves when the shipment was en route.

“We were really doing almost anything you could dream up. One of our more sophisticated operations was convincing a ball-bearing manufacturer in Frankfurt, Germany, to produce a shipment of ball bearings off center. Another was to get a manufacturer to go along with you on that kind of project because he has to rest his whole mold. And he is probably going to worry about the effect on future business. You might have to pay him several hundred thousand dollars or more.

“I know Jack Anderson wrote about us paying off a Japanese freighter captain to ram a shipload of buses in the Thames on its way to Cuba. Anderson claims it sunk them. But I’m rather skeptical about that story – I would have known about it if it were true. But it is true that we were sabotaging the Leland buses going to Cuba from England, and that was pretty sensitive business.”

SOME OF THE SABOTAGE OPERATIONS were so minor that the case officers considered them nothing more than harassment. For example, the Agency helped wealthy Cuban exiles file suit to seize Cuban property in compensation for their property in Cuba that had been confiscated by Castro. As a result, a Cuban airplane landing in Mexico City or Toronto might be attacked and tied up in legal proceedings. Such impoundments rarely worked, but they tied up some Cuban resources.

So did the commando raids. In the summer of 1961, JM WAVE began running paramilitary missions against targets inside Cuba – small ones at first, and then larger ones, such as sugar mills and oil refineries. These raids damaged the Cuban economy directly, and they also forced Castro to divert money and manpower into coastal defenses. In 1961 he had 200,000 men under arms, plus a large administrative bureaucracy and a whole industry at work on civil-defense installations. For JM WAVE, the commando raids required huge expenditures for boats, weapons, secret naval bases along the Florida Keys, logistics support, training facilities and salaries for the Cuban commandos and their commanders. The Agency had to maintain a clandestine navy – in which Rolando Martinez was one of the most efficient boat captains – as well as a paramilitary army.

It was an enormous task for JM WAVE to hide its vast apparatus for the secret war. Since most of its agents and assets were in Florida, there was no American Embassy to provide the official cover or the diplomatic immunity under which the Agency normally works. One problem with running a secret war out of a CIA station in an American city is that the very nature of the work constantly forces violations of local, state, and federal laws. All the boat missions to Cuba were technically illegal under the Neutrality Act, the maritime laws, and immigration statutes, so the station had to work out special arrangements with Customs, Immigration, and the Coast Guard.

It was illegal for agents to drive around with machine guns and plastic explosives in their cars, as they often did, and the station had to establish liaison with seventeen police jurisdictions down the Florida coast and into the Keys. The result was that any agent who was arrested for anything from drunken driving to illegal possession of firearms would be quickly released. It was often illegal for case officers and agents to file corporate papers, bank statements, and income-tax returns using cover names and false sources of income. This required the cooperation of judges, the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service, and numerous local institutions in Florida.

Perhaps only in a city like Miami could the clandestine empire of JM WAVE escape public attention. In the early years of the secret war, Miami already resembled wartime Casablanca. It swarmed with spies, counterspies, exiled dictators, Mafia executives, refugees, entertainers, countesses, smugglers, gamblers, fortune tellers, gun runners, soldiers of fortune, fugitives, and loudly dressed tourists – many pursuing possibly criminal ends against the garish backdrop of Miami Beach. Nothing seemed to stand out in the crowd, and that helped the CIA protect its cover. SO did the bewildering variety of anti-Castro movements, most of which had been transplanted south to Florida – with names like Monticristi, the 4th of November, Alpha 66, the Revolutionary Student Directorate, the Movement of Revolutionary Recovery, the 30th of May – and dozens of small groups that consisted only of a leader and a few ardent followers.

But not even in Miami could JM WAVE have survived without the full scale collaboration of virtually every significant sector of the city’s community – with newspapers, civic organizations, and political leaders. In effect, they all had to joint the conspiracy. For example, every time an agent went to get a drivers’s license or passpoart, he would perjure himself; but as one former JM WAVE official observed: “We all were perjuring ourselves at the time. All of the Cubans regularly provided erroneous information to federal agencies at the CIA’s direction. The same was true when they went to take out bank loans. We set up relations with the banks because we had to give them phony information.”

The same relations applied to the news media. As the former agent went on to explain: “We didn’t have any trouble with the Miami papers. A paper like the Miami Herald would have one or two reporters with jurisdiction for Cuba, and we would give them access to the station. So we would feed them information and give them a career out of handouts. The guys learned not to hurt you. Only occasionally do you give them a big lie, and then only for a good reason. The paper was always willing to keep things quiet for us.
“The problems keeping a cover were endless, but you have to do all of this simply to clear the way for your operation officers to be able to work without interruption.”


THE AGENCY HAD LITTLE TROUBLE recruiting Cubans to risk their lives in the secret war. For although the CIA had recently sent many of the exile community to death or imprisonment in the Bay of Pigs invasion, there were still numerous Cuban agents and new volunteers who believed that Castro could be overthrown only with the assistance of the United States. There were bankers, doctors, and businessmen among the Cuban agents of JM WAVE, as well as laborers and lifelong revolutionaries, and they all welcomed another chance to strike out at Castro. The Agency gave them the best training available, transporting them to its bases in Central America and elsewhere for lessons in explosives, weapons, survival, ambushes, logistics, and communications.
Although Rolando Martinez was in many ways typical of the Agency’s Cuban volunteers, he was more accomplished and experienced that most. When he surfaced in 1972 as one of the Cuban-Americans captured in the Watergate break-in, Martinez was still on the CIA payroll and had 354 missions recorded in Agency files. As a boat captain in the clandestine navy of JM WAVE, he completed fifty missions before the Bay of Pigs and would complete some seventy-five more during the first two years of the secret war.
The main difference in the paramilitary raids after the Bay of Pigs was that the American supervisors often accompanied their Cuban agents to Cuba. The men dressed in green fatigues, like those worn by Castro’s militia, and they carried machine guns with silencers, recoilless rifles, and C-4, the plastic explosive. Their secret bases ranged from lavish estates with indoor swimming pools and tennis courts in Coral Gables to remote compounds in the Keys. In his early missions after the Bay of Pigs, Martinez’s cargo usually consisted of weapons for the underground’s caches or agents to be infiltrated into Cuba; a modest infiltration could involve as many as sixty CIA agents.

All of these operations were carried out with extraordinary attention to detail. Briefings covered everything from analysis of the latest U2 photographs of the target area to weather reports giving the exact time the sun would rise and set on the Cuban coast. All operational plans were mapped out to account for every minute of the landings, and there were contingency plans for possible disasters. If captured, Martinez was instructed to say he was on a maritime research project and that the information he was gathering was a privileged nature. Like the other Cuban agents, he carried Cuban money and false papers.

Sometimes Martinez captained his boat all the way from Florida to Cuba, but usually a large mother ship would tow him to within fifty miles of the coast. He would then take the commando team close to the shore in his “intermediary” craft, and from a distance of a few hundred yards the agents landed in rubber lifeboats, which had special electric motors fitted with silencers. Once they had landed, Martinez communicated with them with a high-powered walkie-talkie. He carried his own recoilless rifle, and in some instances he provided fire support for the men when they met resistance on land or when a Castro gunboat pursued them. More than once, he was given personal charge of weapons drops, in which special rifles with silencers and telescopic sights were left in designated inland spots. As always, there were some special twists to CIA secrecy: some of the men being infiltrated into Cuba wore hoods on the whole trip so that the boat crews could not see their faces.

THE MISSION BECAME more ambitious in the late summer months of 1961, and in the following years Martinez found himself working in large-scale raids aimed at blowing up oil refinaries and chemical plants. Sometimes Martinez would drop of a team and come back several days later to pick them up; at other times the team would stay in Cuba for several weeks or months. The pick ups - or, in Agency parlance – “exfiltration” missions – were the most nerve-wracking assignments: there was always the chance that the agents had been captured and forced to reveal the time and place of their rendezvous, in which event a trap wold be waiting for the boat crew. The worst moments came during the long waits for the agents who never arrived. Aboard ship on their way back to Florida, the commandos would clean their weapons and talk of the targets they hit and the Castro milita men they had killed.

There were mission to Cuba almost every week, and the Cuban agents had to trust entirely to the power and good intentions of the CIA. They didn’t know the last names of their case officers; as a rule, they didn’t even know if the agent’s first names were noms de guerre. Everything about the Company was shrouded in mystery. The principle of “compartmentation,” or keeping information in strictly limited compartments, was drilled into all employees. To make sure that no one talked or listened outside his compartment, the Agency employed hundreds of Cuban agents to watch other Cuban agents, and they, in turn, were checked, as was everyone else, including the American case officers, by periodic polygraph tests.

All of these security precautions tended to leave the Cubans with little overall knowledge of what the Company was doing, although everyone knew that the JM WAVE station somehow could violate the laws of the land at will. There wold be times when an agent would get drunk and be thrown in jail. Their case officers would always get them out without any questions. Agents could get divorces without having to go into open court, and they could carry all kinds of guns around. Many times the Coast Guard would stop their boats on the way to Cuba, and the captain merely had to say a code word to be waved on. The extralegal powers of the Company added to the agents’ dependence on their case officers, which, as Martinez recalls, was a strong one:

“Let me tell you what it was really like. Your CO was for you like the priest. You had to rely on him, because he was the one who could solve your problems. You learned to tell him everything, your complete life. The important thing was that you knew they would take care of you, and you knew they would take care of your family if you were captured or killed on a mission. They supported all of the families of the Brigade members, and they did the same for the families of the men who were lost on our operations. They are still supporting them.

“Once a Castro gunboat came after my boat on a mission off the north coast of Cuba, and I radioed for help. Before we cold even decode the return message from the base, we looked up and there were two Phantom jets and a Neptune flying over us. It’s a trademark of the American forces in general. You have seen how in Vietnam if a helicopter goes down, ten other helicopters will fly in to get the pilot out. That was the same spirit that prevailed in our operations. I still believe today that the Company might be able to do something for me about the Watergate someday.”


ANOTHER KIND OF VOLUNTEER prominent in the secret war was perhaps best exemplified by the late William (Rip) Robertson. Robertson represented a special breed of CIA operative – men with names like Boy Scout, and Rudy and Mike – who led the military side of the secret war. They were not case officers – the bureaucrats and diplomats who comprise the Agency’s permanent staff. Instead, they were independent specialists under renewable contract to the CIA, known as “paramilitaries,”  “PMs,” or “cowboys.” Ray Cline explained their role in the Agency’s work: “You need to understand the national consensus of the 1950s and ‘60s, when we believed the world was a tough place filled with actual threats of subversion by other countries. The Russians had cowboys around everywhere, and that meant we had to get ourselves a lot of cowboys if we waned to play the game. You’ve got to have cowboys – the only thing is you don’t let them make policy. You keep them in the ranch house when you don’t have a specific project for them.”

At the time of his arrival in Miami in the summer of 1961, Robertson had already become a figure of romance. He had fought behind the lines in Korea for the CIA, and he had endeared himself to the CIA’s Cuban agents by his performance at the Bay of Pigs. Despite President Kennedy’s orders that no Americans land in the invasion, Robertson was the first man ashore on one of the beaches. Later, when Castro’s forces started routing the invaders, he went back in voluntarily to rescue survivors. In Washington, during the investigation into the CIA’s handling of the invasion, Robertson appeared as a witness and talked at length with Robert Kennedy. He told his Cuban-commandos that Kennedy was all right, which they took as a high compliment, since Robertson hated all politicians.

Rip Robertson was close to fifty by the time he started running paramilitary operations against Castro. He was a big man, about six foot two, with a perpetual slouch and wrinkled clothes. Everything about him was unconventional.

He wore a baseball cap and glasses tied behind his head with a string, and always had a pulp novel stuffed into his back pocket. From the military point of view, nothing looked right about his appearnece, but to the Cubans he was an idol who represented the best part of the American spirit and the hope of the secret war. Ramon Orozco, one of his commandos, remembers what the paramilitary operations were like:

“After the Bay of Pigs is when the great heroic deeds of Rip really began. I was on one of his teams, but he controlled many teams and many operations. And everything was good through 1963. Our team made more than seven big war missions. Some of them were huge: the attacks on the Texaco refinery, the Russian ships in Oriente Province, a big lumber yard, the Patrice Lumumba sulfuric acid plant at Santa Lucia, and the diesel plant at Casilda. But they never let us fight as much as we wanted to, and most of the operations were infiltraions and weapons drops.

“We would go on missions to Cuba almost every week. When we didn’t go, Rip would feel sick and get very mad. He was always blowing off his steam, but then he wold call us his boys, and he would hug us and hit us in the stomach. He was always trying to crank us up for the missions. Once he told me, “I’ll give you $50 if you bring me back an ear.’ I brought him two, and he laughed and said, ‘You’re crazy,’ but he gave me $100, and he took us to his house for a turkey dinner. Rip was a patriot, an American patriot. Really, I think he was a fanatic. He fought with the Company in Korea, in Cuba, and then he went to Vietnam. He never stopped, but he also went to church and he practiced democracy.”

At the end of December, 1961, Orozco went on a ten-day operation with a seven-man team. The commandos blew up a railroad bridge and watched a train run off the ruptured tracks. Then they burned down a sugar warehouse, and on Christmas Day, with a detachment of militia apparently in pursuit, they sought to escape in their rubber boat to an intermediary ship on which Rip and Martinez waited for them. But this time, the American officers were not supposed to be going into Cuban waters, much less to the shore, and Rip had already been reprimanded for his previous adventures. Nevertheless, when his commandos missed their first rendezvous, Rip loaded a rubber boat with rockets and recoilless rifles, ordered another commando, Nester Izquierdo, to get in with him, and then motored up and down the coast looking for signs of his men. He was back on Martinez’s ship when Orozco called him from the shore.

“We had a problem with the motor when we finally got in the boat. I had just shot some guy with an M-3 silencer, and we had to get out, so we radioed Rip with the distress signal: ‘Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh.’ Well, Rip came right into the bay. When we saw him, we said, ‘That is the old man for you.’ We called him the old man. And then he called out, ‘Come on, my boys!’ Later he told me why he had come in for us. “I couldn’t lose the crazy guy,’ he said. He always called me the crazy guy.”

Despite orders, Rip continued to go on operations with his commandos. His superiors became so angry that they resorted to ordering the Cuban boat captains not to allow him on board the intermediary ships that took the teams to the shore. One of the boat captains from those days, now a Washington lawyer, recalled the futility of this restraint:  

“Rip was not supposed to get on the intermediary boat ‘not under any conditions.’ One time, he was on my mothership, and his boys were about to go on an operation. Rip said he felt sick, very sick, and then he goes down in the ship as if he is going to lie down. The next minutes there’s Rip with his face all black with charcoal, and he is wearing the uniform of the commandos – the hat and everything – and he is all slouched down in the boat in the middle of the men pretending he is not Rip. People knew it was him, but what could we do?”

“I loved Rip, but oh, my God! He was not the kind of man you want as your enemy. If the United States had just 200 Rips, it wouldn’t have any problems in the world. He loved war, but it was very difficult for him to adjust to the kind of warfare we were making. He wanted an open war, and were waging a silent one.”

UNDER THE BEST OF CIRCUMSTANCES, the paramilitaries were a hard group to control, but the problem was particularly intense during the secret war because they came to identify so closely with their Cuban agents and with the cause of wrestling Cuba from Castro, whom they saw as a simple tool of the Russians. They were creatures of the Cold War, responding to the new call from the tough young President who was not about to tolerate a Communist menace just ninety miles from Florida. It was a time of high winds and strong feelings in politics. As the case officer who worked with Robertson remarked: “It’s almost impossible today to put your self back in those times when idealism ran so high, and we felt we were on a crusade against evil, but that was what we felt.”

“People think of the CIA’s paramilitary officers as thugs. But you would be amazed to meet them. In Miami there was every conceivalbe kind of person represented in the paramilitary units. Some had Ph.D.s, and some had gone to Ivy League schools. There were a few who had lots of money, and of course there were some adventure types. All of them were very emotional about their work. I’ve seen lots of them cry at their failures, and there were many failures because of the high casualties on these operations.”

The difficulties of control were so great that the Agency often didn’t know which missions were leaving in which directions. The various Cuban movements often wanted independent raids to build their stature and reputation among the anti-Castro Cubans. Some wanted to impress the Company with their skills in the hope of obtaining jobs and financial support, while others went on their own in order to escape CIA restrictions and control. JM WAVE gave some of these raids the green light of encouragement, some the yellow light of toleration, and others the red light of disapproval – in which even the FBI or Immigration or Coast Guard wold be alerted to enforce the law.

The confused maze of anti-Castro activity in South Florida during the secret war included everything from officially organized, elaborate CIA teams to impromptu groups of zealous students seeking to make a name for them selves. This vagueness was well suited to the purposes of JM WAVE. To the extent that an attack on Cuba was independent, it cut down on the station’s enormous budget. And the existence of the independent movements helped mask the station’s own activities; even an official commando raid could be passed off as the work of uncontrollable Cuban groups. The Cuban agents themselves would not know the status of a raid carried out by people outside their compartment, and there would be endless speculation in Miami about how much support the Company had given a commando raid here or an offshore mortar shelling there. Newspaper reports – “Alpha 66 Hits Castro Sugar Mill” – settled nothing, of course, for the agents knew they could mean anything.

Perhaps the most famous of the quasi-independent attacks took place on August 24, 1952, when six young Cubans piloted a boat to within 200 yards of the shore near Havana and shelled the Blanquita Hotel. All six of the commandos had been trained by the Company and worked for both JM WAVE and for the Revolutionary Student Directorate. The boat they used, a thirty-one-foot Bertram named the Juanin, belonged to the Directorate, as did the weapons for the attack – a recoilless rifle, two fifty-caliber machine guns, and a twenty-millimeter cannon, all purchased from Mafia gun dealers in Miami. The idea for the Blanquita Hotel attack originated shortly after one of the commandos, Carlos (“Batea”) Hernandez, returned from an official JM WAVE mission to disrupt that year’s International Socialilst Youth Conference in 

When Batea landed at Miami Airport, one of his friends in the Directorate met him with word that an underworld contact was offering a twenty-millimeter cannon for sale at a bargain price of $300. Batea bought the cannon, and planned an attack based on intelligence that Czech and Russian military advisors, then coming into Cuba in large numbers, gathered for parties every Friday night at the Blanquita.

The Juanin sailed into the harbor at Miramar, a suburb of Havana, and got so close that Batea remembers seeing the lights in the ballroom and the uniforms of the soldiers. His companions opened up with a five minute barrage at point-blank range, inflicting heavy damages on the hotel before returning to Miami at reckless speed.

Castro denounced the Blanquita attack so loudly that it was banner news in the world press. The Justice Department announced that the perpetrators of the attack had been identified, and that further acts of that nature would be prosecuted as violations of the Neutrality Act. JM WAVE announced nothing.


DURING THE EARLY YEARS of the secret war, the authorization for the overall policies and for potentially embarrasing operations emanted from the 303 Committee (now known as the 40 Committee), through which the President controlled missions related to national security. Many of the men who sat on those committees now acknowledge that the commando raids and sabotage operations were approved at the highest levels of the U.S. government, but it is hard to find anyone who remembers supporting them.
Marine Gen. Victor (“Brute”) Krulak and his assistant, Col. Jack L. Hawkins, were in charge of coordinating the Pentagon’s counterinsurgency forces. Krulak sat on the committee that authorized Cuban raids, and Hawkins represented him on a lower-level committee that met to consider other acts of sabotage against Cuban targets. Both of them say they were skeptical of the tactics….best.

“The object in Cuba was not to put down an insurgency,” said Hawkins, “but to develop one…. The….was done by the Agency. I remember them blowing up a refinery and making efforts to burn up sugar fields – things like that – but none of them was very successful. I don’t know whey they were doing it. What happens in these things is that the bureaucrats fall in love with their operations and rational thought just flies out the window.”

General Maxwell Taylor, President Kennedy’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered the staunchest defense of the paramilitary side of the secret war. “Just bear in mind,” he said recently, “that this was a period of general frustration afer the Bay of Pigs over what to do about Castro. After all, Castro was setting up training facilities and inviting Latin American Communists to comet to Cuba to learn how to spread the revolution, and there were …. A lot of those people. When you have an unpleasant neighbor who is kicking you in the shins, you ask yourself, ‘Cant’t I just retaliate a bit and remind him that we’re still around?’ They [the raids] weren’t completely rash, however. Otherwise we would have discouraged them. But in a strategic sense they weren’t anything more than just pin-pricks.”

CIA officials now admit disarmingly that the pinpricks were part of the general strategy of the secret war, but they point out that they were merely following the direction set forth by the White House. And insofar as Cuban operations were concerned, the White House tended to mean Robert F. Kennedy. Both Krulak and Hawkins saw him as the moving force behind the policy, as did Under Secretary of State George Ball. “Bobby was always for that kind of thing,” Ball said. “He always used to go to the 303 Committee; he was fascinated by all that covert stuff, counter-insurgency and all the garbage that went with it.”

THERE WAS A CERTAIN CHARM about the way in which Robert Kennedy pursued his enemies. His infectious idealism transformed the dry world of government memos into a crusade against the devil, whether it was James Hoffa, organized crime, Fidel Castro, or the Vietnam War. Like Nixon, he was ruthless. But, unlike Nixon, he was convinced that the world would be on his side. The world most bandied about inside the Kennedy Administration was tough, while outside everyone spoke of Camelot.

Kennedy and the CIA waged a secret war against Castro partly out of the combatants’ vindictiveness and partly out of a commitment to the democratic crusade. “I remember that period so vividly,” said Ray Cline. “We were so wrapped up in what the President wanted. Bobby was as emotional as he could be [about Cuba], and he always talked like he was the President, and he really was in a way. He was always bugging the Agency about the Cubans. I don’t doubt that talk of assassinating Castro was part of Bobby’s discussion with some Agency people.”

There were a number of high-level discussions about assassinating Castro, even before the Cuban missile crisis mostly arising out of frustration with Castro’s success as a Cold War adversary. It was an era when, as former national security advisor McGeorge Bundy recently remarked, “We used to sit around the White House all the time thinking how nice it would be if such and such a leader did not exist. General Lansdale says that he chaired one meeting at which an assassination proposal was made. Richard Goodwin, who chaired a White House task force on Cuba, said that at one of the meetings Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara advocated killing Castro. “I was surprised and appalled to hear McNamara propose this,” said Goodwin. “It was at the close of  a Cuba task force session, and he said that Castro’s assassination was the only productive way of dealing with Cuba.” Goodwin believes that Robert Kennedy might have stimulated such methods only indirectly, perhaps unaware of the knight’s compulsion to fulfill the king’s every wish. “To the extent that Bobby was involved in anything, it would have been like Henry II asking rhetorically, ‘Who will free me of this turbulent priest?’ and then the zealots going out and doing it.”

WHETHER OR NOT THE ZEALOTS received direct orders from the President or the Attorney General, they did receive orders to eliminate Castro from power in Cuba. The secret war was the result of that policy, and Castro’s assassination, if not specified, was a logical objective of that war.

Acting on the President’s authority, JM WAVE trained several thousand Cubans in guerrilla tactics, armed them with weapons and explosives, and sent them down to the Caribbean with hopes of glory. All of them sought to end Castro’s hold on Cuba, and many of them made their own attempts on Castro’s life, in the impromptu tradition of the attack on the Blanquita Hotel.

By the end of 1961, several men affiliated with the CIA had already been foiled in attempts to kill him, among them Luis Toroella (executied), Eloy Guitierrez Menoys (still imprisoned), William Morgan (executed), and Antonio Veciana (escaped to the United States). Had these men succeeded, their efforts would have  been tied to the U.S. only indirectly, if at all. Certainly their failures did not cause embarrassments of the Bay of Pigs, and been a successful assassination by any one of them would have ben impossible to trace to the Oval Office.

To the CIA’s Cuban agents who fought in the secret war the search for proof of officially sanctioned plots seems somewhat absurd. Martinez described it as largely a question of semantics: “There was an attempt by this country to overthrow Castro, and it was not to be by elections,” he says. “It was to be by war. The papers now want to say there were plots. Well, I can tell you there were plots. I took a lot of weapons to Cuba. Some of them were very special weapons for special purposes – Springfields with bolt actions, rifles only used by snipers. They were not sent to shoot pigeons or kill rabbits. Everyone in the underground was plotting to kill Castro, and the CIA was helping  the underground. I was with the underground, as well as with the CIA, so you could say I was involved in the plots, too, but that is all so obvious.”

Ray Cline made a similar point: “I’m almost positive that there was no serious CIA-controlled effort to assassinate anybody,” he said, “but I think the intention of some infiltration teams was to do it. It was the spriit of lots of Cubans and lots of the CIA case officers.” 


IN AUGUST OF 1961, just as the secret war was beginning to take shape. White House advisor Richard Goodwin found himself at a party in Uruguay with Ernesto (Che) Guevara. The chance encounter led to a conversation which seemed to sum up the contradictions inherent in all of the American efforts to overthrow Castro.

Guevara began by asking Goodwin to thank Kennedy for the Bay of Pigs invasion. Before then, he said, Castro held a tenuous grip on the Cuban revolution, with the economy in chaos and numerous internal factions plotting against him. But the invasion, Guevara said jovially, had assured Castro’s hold on the country. It had made him even more of a hero, as the man who had defended Cuba against the greatest power in the world, Goodwin, by his own account, acknowledged the backhanded compliment and asked Guevara to return the favor by invading the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo, Cuba. This would give Kennedy a pretext for openly using America’s overwhelming military force, releasing him from the clandestine restrictions of the secret war. Guevara smiled and said that Castro would never be so stupid.

Neither Castro nor John Kennedy was politically stupid, but they acted against each other in an atmosphere of mutual paranoia and vengeance that eventually came to the world’s attention as the Cuban missile crisis. To Fidel Castro, who was attempting to become the first Cuban leader in history with a power base independent of the United States, Kennedy was a necessary but dangerous enemy. In a sense, Castro needed both the Bay of Pigs and the secret war to help him turn Cuba’s revolutionary tradition into a war of independence against the United States, and he made constant speeches to his people about the new American threat. “Imperialism was shocked by the Bay of Pigs,” he said, “but now they are at it again. Their strategy includes forming mercenary groups, sabotage groups, fifth columnists, terrorists, and bands of counterrevolutionaries.” While Castro found U.S. hostility helpful to the task of maintaining national unity within Cuba, he was uncertain of Kennedy’s intentions, and he knew that the very survival of his regime depended upon his holding the balance between useful little wars and a fatal big one.

By the summer of 1962 the economic warfare had a real effect on Castro, more than offsetting the political gain he had achieved within Cuba. The Cuban economy was deteriorating and had become more dependent on the Soviet Union than it had been on the United States. In addition, the people were afraid that the commando raids and paramilitary missions prefigured a new invasion. Castro had triumphed at the Bay of Pigs, but, sooner or later, his luck would run out. Castro turned to the Soviet Union for military protection as well as for economic support, and he began receiving Russian missiles in the summer. For all practical purposes, it was an act tantamount to invading Guantanamo, and so Castro tried to do it secretly.

From President Kennedy’s perspective, the events of mid-1962 were as alarming and fateful as they were to Castro. Signs of the Communist advance filled the news. Castro loudly proclaimed his goal of spreading the revolution across Latin America, and at the same time the number of new refugees from Communist Cuba had remained constant at about 3,000 a week. Some came on the Pan American flights from Havana, some on commandeered yachts, and others on home made rafts. All of them brought horror stories about life under the Cuban dictatorship and only those personnel possessions they could carry in a single suitcase. When the refugees landed at Opa-Locka Air Force Base, where the CIA maintained a massive debriefing facility, at least one of them would bend down and kiss the earth. In the debriefing sessions, many of the refugees told of the growing Russian presence in Cuba, which was not difficult to see. By the fall, there were 20,000 Russian soldiers and teams of Russian laborers there, working secretly to assemble the nuclear missiles. This word filtered up through the CIA to President Kennedy, for whom the Russian presence carried the electric political meaning of the Berlin Wall.

ON OCTOBER 15, the day Kennedy was told that the U-2 photographs confirmed the existence of Russian missiles in Cuba, Martinez and his boat crew were called to their base at Summer Land Key and told that they would leave immediately on a mission. For several months, they had been preparing for one of their biggest operations – the destruction of the Matahambre copper mines in Pinar del Rio Province. The ore from the mines, which accounted for 1 percent of Cuba’s gross national product, was carried to the port of Santa Lucia  along a twelve-kilometer elevated cable-car system, supported by giant towers. CIA planners had determined that production could be halted for a  full year if the towers were knocked out.
Twice before, JM WAVE had sent teams to Cuba to blow up the mines. The first time, in late 1961, two of the American paramilitary commanders had gone along to direct the operation. In preparation for the mission, CIA technicians constructed a full-scale model of one of the cable-car towers, and the commandos practiced their demolition tactics for weeks. Everything appeared to have been taken into account. But halfway to Cuba the mother ship’s motor conked out, the radio battery went dead, and the team was left floating helplessly in the Caribbean.

The mission was typical of many CIA operations – everyhing would be planned down to the last second, and then some quirk or accident would throw the mission awry. In the summer of 1962 Martinez took the commandos back for a second try, but the team met a patrol of Castro militia and retreated to the ships.
As the agents listened to the October 15 briefing, they realized that there was a special urgency attached to the mission. “You do it,” they were told, “or don’t bother to come back alive.” The next day,  Martinez, his boat crew, and all eight commandos left base on the Agency’s 150 foot mother ship. By the time they left the mother ship for Martinez’s intermediary boat on the night of October 18, one of the largest amphibious invasion forces since World War II was beginning to assemble in Florida and neighboring states.

The Army’s 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were ordered ready for immediate deployment, and 40,000 Marines stood ready as part of an amphibious task force in the Caribbean, with another 5,000 Marines on alert at Guantanamo. In all, the Army gathered 100,000 troops in the southern United States.

WHEN THE COMMANDOS LANDED on the coast of Pinar del Rio Provinnce, they split up to set the C4 charges around the cable-car towers. Before they could do so, some of them were seen by a Cuban patrol, and Martinez saw militia search flares light up the night skies. He waited in his boat near the shore, and six of the commandos made it out to him after a brief fire fight. Martinez waited an hour for the other two to return, and then went out to sea. He returned the next nigh, and again the night after that.

On October 22, Martinez took the boat in close to shore at dusk, with an infrared light serving as a beacon for the two lost commandos The boat was within shouting range of the coast when the radio operator said that the President was about to make an address to the nation. The men turned the radio on low, expecting Kennedy to announce a new crisis in Berlin or a new stance on rising steel prices. Instead, the subject was Cuba, and the President was saying everything the Cubans wanted to hear about the Russians and the missiles and the (reasons) for the United States to act. It was all too much for the ship’s navagator, who grabbed the radio and put it on full volume. “He was so happy,” Martinez later recalled, “that he didn’t care if anyone could hear the speech from the coast. We had to make him turn it down.”

Back at the base, Martinez was approached by a high ranking JM WAVE official who said the U.S. was about to invade Cuba and asked Martinez if he would be willing to parachute into Pinar del Rio, his old province, in advanace of the American troops. Hundreds of the CIA’s other Cuban agents were ordered to stand by for landings in which they would mark the beaches and serve as guides for paratroop units.

WHEN THE CRISIS PASSED and most of the world felt relieved to have survived it, the Cuban agents were disappointed but not disparing. They believed that Kennedy, having stared “eyeball to eyeball” at Nikita Khrushchev and won, had acquired renewed confidence in his capacity to overthrow Castro. They felt the momentum swinging their way, and their spirits were buoyed still higher when they learned that Kennedy was pressing his advantage in the negotiations for the release of the 1,179 Bay of Pigs survivors still in Cuban jails. Castro’s ransom price was $53 million in drugs, medical supplies, and cash. “Both of the Kennedys felt a real sense of obligation to get those people out of jail,” said Ray Cline. “They felt guilty and ashamed in the face of the refugees still down there in Dade County; they couldn’t stay away from them, but they also couldn’t face them. Both of them, particularly Bobby, spent countless hours getting the drug manufacturers to get those guys out. There’s kind of a historical parallel here. They must have felt like the Plumbers when they counted out the Cubans were in (fallout) over Watergate. The question was how to get them out. Who’s going to do it, will John Mitchell do it? It was pure bribery, what they did with the drug manufacturers. They razed almost $60 million from them, and it was simply a matter of twisting arms.”

On December 29, 1962, exactly a week after the return of the soldiers, President Kennedy and his wife flew to Miami to welcome them back. Forty thousand Cubans – including virtually all of JM WAVE’s Cuban agents – turned out for the ceremonies in the Orange Bowl, and there was a wild celebration of tears and shouts when the President inspected the troops. The brigade members stood proudly at attention even though several were on crutches. In a gesture of gratitude, one of the commanders gave Kennedy the brigade’s flag for his safekeeping, and Kennedy unfurled the flag as he stepped up to the microphone at the fifty-yard line. “I want to express my great appreciation to the brigade for making the United States the custodian of this flag,” he said , in a voice rising with obvious emotion. “I can assure you that this flag will be returned to this brigade in a free Havana.”

Sheer bedlam reigned for a few minutes before Kennnedy could continue his speech: “Your conduct and valor are proof that although Castro and his fellow dictators may rule nations, they do not rule people; that they may imprison bodies, but they do not  imprison spirits; that they may destroy the exercise of liberty, but they cannot eliminate the determination to be free.”

The Cubans were overjoyed. The President of the United States had joined them not only with his presence and his authority but also with his feelings. Within two months the second and by far the most intense phase of the secret war against Castro had begun. Instead of calling previous Cuban policies into question, the missile crisis seemed to provide further justification for the conduct of the secret war. Hardly anybody in Washington allowed for the possibility that the secret war may have persuaded Castro to welcome Russian nuclear weapons in Cuba as a means of guaranteeing his own survival. The lesson drawn was that Communist influence must be snuffed out quickly – preferably by covert means – else dominoes fall and new threats of nuclear exchange ensue.

American policy in this era came to resemble a terrible Rube Goldberg machine fashioning ever more menacing confrontations out of the humiliation of past defeats. It is impossible to know to what extent the secret war, with its hundreds of American case officers and its thousands of Cuban agents, shaped succeeding events. But the men who directed the war and the tactics they employed were to be seen enroaching on the news of the next ten years.

Ted Shackley, the station chief of JM WAVE, packed his bags and took his aides with him to orchestrate a new war in Vietnam. Rip Robertson and his fellow paramilitary cowboys also joined in the effort and helped run the Phoenix program. 

And the CIA’s Cuban agents began the confusing trick that would change them from trusted government agents into common criminals. 

During the same period the two Kennedys would be assassinated, and President Nixon, employing both the tactics and the veterans of the secret war, would attempt a covert attack against the American system itself.

[ BK NOTES: MANY THANKS TO THE AARC for providing this article]



Anonymous said...

Many believe Kennedy was killed at least in part because he “went soft” on Cuba. However, Johnson did nothing to remove Castro and apparently stopped the training of paramilitaries seeking to do the same. Why wasn’t Johnson similarly assassinated? Similar arguments are made regarding Vietnam where Johnson did intervene but prosecuted the war so ineffectively that substantial public opposition arose.

William Kelly said...

This article was written and published in August 1975 and we have learned a lot since then.

LBJ was not the "Mastermind" of the Dealey Plaza Operation because he rejected the idea behind the original plan and cover story that Oswald and Castro were behind the conspiracy, and then decided not to play around with Castro or Cuba, shut down the JMWAVE operations in early 1964 and told the Joint Chiefs that he would give them the war they wanted - but it would be in Vietnam, not Cuba.

See: JFKCountercoup - The Tipping Point.

Anonymous said...

What I was getting at was that whatever group was behind the assassination, they clearly felt they would get better treatment from LBJ.