Friday, September 18, 2020

Desmond FitzGerald and Rolando Cubela (AMLASH)


Desmond FitzGerald, the CIA officer who briefed the Chiefs on CIA covert operations against Cuba, was personally involved in the case of Dr. Rolando Cubela (AMLASH), a founder of the anti-Castro DRE – Student Directorate, who the CIA considered their best bet to fit the disgruntled Cuban military officer who would lead an assassination attempt and coup.

We first learn about Cubela when he was a co-founder and leader of the Cuban Student Directorate (DRE) that was founded at the University of Havana to oppose Batista. On New Year’s Eve 1959, after Batista fled Cuba, the DRE took over Batista’s official government offices, Cubela sat in his chair, put his boots up on Batista’s desk and smoked his cigars.

When Che arrived in Havana and went to Batista’s offices, he found the DRE already there and they refused entry to Che. Shortlly thereafter when Fidel himsef arrived, and learned of the situation, he took up the offer of the head of the new Havana Hilton to use the penthouse suits as his headquarters. Colonel Frank “Brandy” Brandstetter was a Dallas native and officially part of Col. Jack Crichton’s 488th Intelligence unit, but reported directly to the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (ACSI) at the Pentagon.

When Castro assumed power he gave Cubela an officer’s rank in the Cuban army and made him head of the Cuban International Federation of Students, which permitted him to travel outside the country frequently.

In March, 1961 Cubela approached the CIA about defecting but instead was told to remain as an agent in place, and did so, despite CIA officer Joseph Langosch’s suspicion Cubela was a “dangle” and working as a double-agent.

In September 1963 Cubela, given the code AMLASH,  met with CIA case officer Nestor Sanchez in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where Sanchez suggested Cubela should assassinate Fidel Castro. Cubela asked for a meeting with RFK, “for assurances of U.S. moral support for any activity Cubela under took in Cuba.”

The very next day Castro visited a reception at the Brazilian embassy where he gave an extended interview with Associated Press Reporter Daniel Harker in which he denounced the Cuban commando raids against Cuba and the threats to his own life saying, “United States leaders wold be indanger if they helped in any attempt to do away with leaders of Cuba.”


Of course the selection of the Brazilian embassy to make these statements supported the idea that Cubela was a double-agent and reporting his CIA contacts directly to Castro, but FitzGerad and Sanchez continued their courtship of Cubela.

On October 29, Sanchez and FitzGerald himself met with Cubela in Paris, with FitzGerad falsely stating that he was a personal representative of Robert Kennedy, who knew all about these activities. FitsGerald was a charismatic character who looked like a Kennedy and some wrongly thought he was a cousin; and FitzGerald was a neighbor of and did play tennis with RFK on occasion. But FitzGerald later admitted he never told RFK the details of these plans to kill Castro.

FitzGerald’s assistant Sam Halpern has said:  “Des was really more interested in starting a coup, and he hoped that Cubela could organize other army officers. But in coups, he understood, people die. The way to start a coup is to knock off the top man. Des felt it was a long shot, but it might work. We were desperate. Des was willing to try anything.” 

Because Cubela owned or used a resort apartment near Veradero that overlooked a road frequently used by Castro to travel in an open jeep to the duPont’s former Xandau estate, the CIA considered using that apartment as a staging area for the Pathfinder plan to kill Castro with a high powered rifle as he rode by in an open jeep.

When Cubela requested a high powered rife he could use to shoot Castro, FitzGerald balked, and instead suggesed poison.

And just as a bet on the Preakness Stakes was used as a code for the Seven Days in May movie plot, FitzGerald made a bet on Castro.

According to Evan Thomas (“The Very Best Men”): “FitzGerald did not think it was such a long shot that he was unwilling to make a small bet, giving reasonable odds. Just six days before he formally signed off on a high-powered rifle for AMLASH (Cubela), he accepted a little wager from Michael Forrestal, an official on the National Security Council staff who was a member of the Georgetown crowd (his father, James V. Forrestal, had been the first secretary of defense). A memo in FitzGerald’s personal files records a $50 bet with Forrestal on ‘the fate of Fidel Castro during the period 1 August 1964 and 1 October 1964. (Apparently, Fitzgerald saw a window of vulnerability for the Cuban leader that was roughly coincidental with the 1964 U.S. presidential election campaign.)”

“Mr. Forrestal offers two-to-one odds ($100 to $50) against Fidel’s falling (or being pushed) between the dates 1 August and 1 October 1964. In the event that such a thing should occur prior to 1 August 1964 the wager herein cancelled. Mr. FitzGerald accepts the wager on the above terms.” This memo is dated November 13, 1963, a day after FitzGerald briefed Kennedy on the progress of the Cuban operation and one day before the Special Group approved his plan of continued covert operations against the Castro Regime.

According to Thomas,“On November 22, 1963, Des FitzGerald had just finished hosting a lunch for an old friend of the CIA, a foreign diplomat, at the City Tavern Club in Georgetown, when he was summoned from the private dining room by the maître d’. FitzGerald returned ‘as white as a host,’ recalled Sam Halpern. Normally erect and purposeful, FitzGerald was walking slowly, with his head down. ‘The President has been shot,’ he said.”

“The lunch immediately broke up. On the way out the door Halpern anxiously said, ‘I hope this has nothing to do with Cubans.’ FitzGerald mumbled, ‘Yea, well, we’ll see.’ In the fifteen minute car ride back to Langley, FitzGerald just stared straight ahead. He was well aware that in Paris, at almost the moment Kennedy was shot in Dallas, one of his case officers had been handing a poison pen to a Cuban agent to kill Castro. It was at the very least a grim coincidence.”

Back in Paris on November 22, 1963 Sanchez met with Cubela and gave him a special pen-syringe, developed by the CIA Technology division that was sharp and would not be felt, and used Black Leaf 40 – a deadly poison. As they left the meeting they were informed that President Kennedy had been killed.

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