The Lansdale Memo 16 March 1962 Re-evaluated
The recent PBS documentary series on Ernest Hemingway reminded me of The Nation article The Old Man and the CIA.
After re-reading David Corn and Gus Russo’s article in The Nation – The Old Man and the CIA – in which they imply a single paragraph of an important memo is proof that President Kennedy and RFK wanted to kill Fidel Castro, I decided to read the entire memo and Larry Haapanen, who supplied it to Corn and Russo, was kind enough to give me a copy.
The purpose of the meeting the memo concerns was to review the revised “Guidelines for Operation Mongoose,” – an operation that General Lansdale was in charge of. The purpose of Mongoose was the overthrow of the Castro regime in Cuba.
Present: The President, General Taylor, the Attorney General, McGeorge Bundy, Mr. Gilpatrick, General Lemnitzer, Mr. McCone, Alexis Johnson, myself. At the White House 1600 hours, 16 March, 1962. ]
This memo is significant for more than what they write about in The Nation.
It’s timing 16 March 1962 is a year after the Bay of Pigs and seven months before the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.
But Corn and Russo only quote from one paragraph from the memo, and don’t bother to provide a link or the full memo for you to read. I for one don’t trust Gus Russo, whose book Brothers at Arms falsely portrays JFK and RFK and pushes the blatantly false cover-story that Fidel Castro was behind the assassination of the President.
The memo, written by Lansdale, begins with him asking CIA director John McCone if Richard Helms and William Harvey, the top two CIA operational officers, could join the meeting as they were waiting outside the Oval Office in the hall of the White House.
McCone asked Lansdale if he had any differences of opinion with them, and Lansdale replied, “we were in agreement on operational procedures, as far as the guidelines would permit operations. McCone then said they should stay outside.
McCone asked Lansdale if he was in agreement with the concept contained in the “Guidelines,” and he replied that the guidelines “…didn’t fit the conditions inside Cuba that were becoming more apparent to the operational people, including operatives for whom I had respect; the chances of fracturing te regime and creating a valid revolution is becoming more feasible. I felt that we needed much more freedom to work on the revolutionary possiblities than is possible under the guidelines.”
So Lansdale thinks the Mongoose Guidelines are too strict, and he wants more freedom of action.
The President then came in.
JFK had read the revised Mongoose Guidelines the night before, so when he was handed a copy he put it down on a table. There is also a mention of a meeting the previous November. I will get copies of both the November meeting minutes and the revised Mongoose Guidelines.
The President then listened to General Taylor give a brief report on developments, and asked Lansdale what was being done.
Lansdale said, “I gave him a quick summary of the intelligence-collection plan through July, telling him that this was the Special Group’s plan, and describing the work so far of CIA and Defense. I told him that we finally were starting to get a really good team together for the operation, after much effort to get the U.S. pointed in the right direction. I noted that agents were to be trained or experienced in guerrilla warfare, that we needed U.S. military participation for support, including air-resupply and maritime actions.”
He asked for details. Both General Lemnitzer and I told him about “sheep-dipping” U.S. military personnel, “sanitizing” equipment, and use of U.S. bases.
Please see a definition of “sheep-dipping” U.S. military personnel. - According to the Urban Dictionary - Sheep dipping is "commonly used in intelligence circles is a way of saying someone has been given an alternate identity. The best known example being Air America, but also in many other covert ops applications....Stripping a soldier of is military uniform and identification so he can pose as a civilian during a covert mission."
The example given is "Lee Harvey Oswald was 'sheep dipped' in order to carry on his involvement in the CIA's clandestine activities."
Another example from the JFK Assassination records is Ralph Meyers, a relation to Jack Ruby's Chicago friend Larry Meyers, who visited Dallas on the weekend of the assassination. Ralph served in the Army and was assigned to a NSA position at a U2 and nuke missile base in Turkey. He was then relieved of his military service, worked as a bus driver in Chicago before working as a journalist in Mexico when Oswald was there.
Lansdale continues: “I pointed out that PT boat silhouettes required a Navy base as a cover, even if we called it “R & E,” that air re-supply would be done at night from about 800-feet which entailed some risk which the Air Force was now assessing. He asked about maritime runs of the PT-boats; I explained our problems of “mother” ships, the LSD’s and 200-300 man crews, which we are trying to lick.”
“I remarked that the thesis of creating a revolution inside Cuba looked just as valid as ever, and that CIA professionals were now agreeing more and more that both resistance and the possibility of fracturing the regime pointed to some real opportunities. I noted that we were checking out a number of leads, including relatives of Fidel Castro, to assess the practical opportunities for splitting away some of the regime. If we could get some of the top Cuban leaders, and some units of the Cuban security forces to take to the hills, we would have conditions which would need quick exploitation – and we would have to be ready for this. I noted that we would have to supply arms and equipment; it is possible that this could be done without U.S. military intervention, but we must be ready to intervene with U.S. forces, if necessary.”
The President asked if U.S. military intervention was an issue which the Special Group was posing to him now. Taylor and the Special Group promptly said, “no.”
“General Lemnitzer commented that the military had contingency plans for U.S. intervention. Also, it had plans for creating plausible pretexts to use force, with the pretexts either attacks on U.S. aircraft or a Cuban action in Latin America for which we would retaliate."
So Lemnitzer pitches his Northwoods Plan for staging a fake attack on US base or ship - ala Remember the Maine, in order to establish a pretext to attack Cuba, for which he was later fired for.
"The President said bluntly that we were not discussing the use of U.S. military force, that General Lemnitzer might find the U.S. so engaged in Berlin or elsewhere that he couldn’t use the contemplated 4 divisions in Cuba. So, we cannot say that we are able not to make a decision on the use of U.S. military force.”
As they discuss during the meeting, one of the problems with formenting a revolt in Cuba and getting disenchanted Cuban government administratiors and military officers to revolt and form a coup d’etat was the fact that most of those disenchanted with Castro had left or were leaving Cuba for the United States.
“The President was then asked about immigration. Wouldn’t it be better to shut our doors to the people trying to get out, so they would be forced to stay and take action against the regime? I pointed out that we were still giving them only two choices: either to escape to the U.S. and freedom, or to stay as slaves. Once we are committed to helping them stage a revolt, provide arms, and are willing to go all the way in being sure that they win, ten we might consider closing out doors – because we then will be helping them gain teir freedom at home. Now with 2,000 people fleeing every week, we would be foolish to remove this symbol of our sympathy and cut off the source of intelligence information and recruits. We must give the Cubans the chance and the help to free themselves.”
Then there’s the key paragraph that Corn and Russo say is proof of JFK and RFK desire to have Castro killed.
“The Attorney General then mentioned Mary Hemingway, something on reports that Castro was drinking heavily in disgruntlement over the way things were going, and the opportunities offered by the ‘shrine’ to Hemingway.”
Now that’s the end of the Kennedy’s statements about this – Mary Hemingway mentioned that Castro was drinking heavily in disgruntlement over the way things were going, and we only have Lansdale’s interpetation of “the opportunities offered by the “shrine” to Hemingway.
What opportunities could there be? To kill him there? I don’t think Mary Hemingway, a friend of Castro, would apprecitate that, and there are no other documents in the CIA records that reflect on this or their making plans for any opportunities the shrine presented.
But to Corn and Russo – this begs the question: “Did John and Robert Kennedy plot murder? For decades, a clear answer to that dicey question has evaded historians, while Kennedy loyalists have fought hard to prevent such a stain from befouling the memory of the brothers.”
“But a thirty-nine-year-old Pentagon memorandum–found three years ago by a college professor…” – A College professor who disagrees with their intepretation that to them “….–suggests that Jack and Bobby discussed and apparently sanctioned the development of a possible assassination attempt against Fidel Castro during a 1962 meeting in the Oval Office. And–in a weirder-than-fiction twist–the scheme they considered involved Ernest Hemingway’s farm outside Havana.”
What? Where is that “suggestion”? Nowhere. And where is the “apparently sanctioned the development of a possible assassination attempt against Fidel Castro”?
Now we know that the CIA had a number of plans to kill Castro with a high powered rifle as he drove in an open jeep by areas he was known to frequent – two are mentioned in the Pathfinder Plan – Castro’s frequeting the Bay of Pigs, where he apparently kept a boat – and the duPont’s Xandau estate where he was known to frequent. But both of those plans called for the NPIC National Photo Interpeteration Center technicians contribute to the plans with U2 and ground photos of the area, and blueprints of the buildings in the area. No such thing was done with Hemingway’s farm or shrine.
Lansdale continues: “I commented that this was a conversation Ed Morrow had with Mary Hemingway, that we had similar reports from other sources, and that this was worth assessing firmly and pursing vigorouslly. If there are grounds for action, CIA had some invaluable assets which might well be committed for such an effort.”
First off, the event at Hemingway’s farm, where Mary met Castro, was eight months previous, and there were no indications Castro would ever return there, and apparently didn’t. What other opportunities were there? None.
“McCone asked if his operational people were aware of this:
Now his two top “operational people” – Helms and Harvey, were right outside the door, but McCone wouldn’t allow them in, and according to Lansdale, later told the president this.
Lansdale said, “I told him that we had discussed this, that they agreed the subject was worth vigorous development, and that we were in agreement that the matter was so delicate and sensitive that it shouldn’t be surfaced…
Lansdale’s description of the Hemingway plan as “so delicate and sensitive” that its specifics should be hidden from the Special Group is another tip-off that the operation involved assassination.
But that’s Lansdale’s description of the Hemingway plan – a plan that doesn’t exist on paper, not JFK’s plan or RFK’s plan.
Corn and Russo write, “It is not clear what specific operation Robert Kennedy was referring to at the March 16 meeting.” Robert Kennedy never referred to a specific operation – he brought up the subject of Morrow and Mary Hemingway, it is Lansdale who mentions operations.
And they agree, “Neither Halpern nor Shackley recalls receiving orders for a mission involving the Hemingway farm. Those Mongoose records that have been declassified do not refer to an assassination attempt at the Hemingway home,” ….and “Assassinating Castro at the Hemingway site does seem far-fetched. But in the secret war against Castro, the US government entertained many bizarre ideas, including dusting his shoes with a chemical that would cause his beard to fall out.”
“That’s the giveaway,” says Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive and a specialist on US documents regarding Cuba.
“This is the closest thing to a smoking gun that has been declassified. Only assassination would be taboo for open discussion at the Special Group, which routinely planned sabotage, violence and chaos to undermine Castro.”
If this is the “closest thing to a smoking gun that has been declassified, indicating that JFK approved a plan to kill Fidel Castro, then there is no smoking gun.
Samuel Halpern, who was the number-two to the officer who ran the CIA end of Operation Mongoose, calls the document “as close as we’re likely to get” to conclusive proof. And a former CIA director says, “The language of the memo speaks for itself. The only thing Robert Kennedy can be referring to is the assassination of Castro. This paragraph should never have been written.”
Well Samuel Halpern was an assistant to CIA official Desmond FitzGerald, who was encouraging AMLASH to kill Castro – with a high powered rifle. Halpern and FitzGerald were having lunch together in Geogetown when they learned of the assassination, and as they were leaving FitzGerald remarked that he wondered wheather “his Cubans” – the Pathfinder Cubans trained at JMWAVE, were invlved, as they were the ones paid and trained to kill Castro.
And I think we should be wondering the same thing.