“Little Green Planes”

Recent news confirms that the Russian Federation, at its president’s direction, is further escalating the “privatization” of military action in support of its efforts to establish a new  Russian “sphere of influence” – something that its leadership has been talking about for some six years now.  But before discussing that, I need to attribute the “little green planes” reference as a creation of Taylor Rogoway, contributor and editor of The War Zone, one of the best military blogs on the internet.

The term “little green men” first came into play in the Crimea, when Putin deployed his military to seize that Ukrainian territory. He first denied those forces, only to much later admit that they were a combination of regular Russian military and volunteers.  The volunteers went on to help trigger fighting in what became break away segments of Eastern Ukraine – over the years their initial efforts were supported both by deployment of regular Russian combat units and by private Russian military contractors.

I’ve covered that strategy in both Creating Chaos and In Denial and noted Russian involvement in Africa as a significant new Russian activity, significantly improving its economic reach based on the activities of private Russian “security contractors” .

The current escalation of its intervention in Libya involves the deployment of a considerable number of Russian fighter and fighter bomber aircraft to Libya, to support a strong man who is attempting to take over the Libyan government.  Those aircraft will support a considerable number of Russian “contract” military personnel already in combat within Libya.  Details can be found at these links:



Beyond access to Libyan energy, the question arises as to why Russia would involve itself in combat against a legitimate government, especially when it could pit its forces directly against Turkish units which are supporting the legal government.

The answer is simply “sphere of influence”.  Putin has made it clear that he seeks to restore the geopolitical sphere of economic and security influence that the Soviet Union (and the Russian Empire) exercised well beyond current Russian borders – in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East and at times around the Mediterranean.  His strategy of supporting strong men has given Russia key military bases in Syria (used to stage the new aircraft deployment to Libya) and access to airfields in Libya. 

If he is successful in Libya he will be able to project Russian geopolitical influence across the entire Mediterranean, backed by military force – as shown with the shadowing of American surveillance and intelligence collections aircraft.


As I’ve mentioned before, Putin is highly focused and tactically brilliant – his privatization strategy is an example of that and he is simply advancing that step by step.  In turn the American political leadership has turned inwards to the extent that while our military is clearly aware of what Russia is doing. it is receiving little or no strategic support in confronting it.

It is hard not to conclude that “little green men” and “little green jets” are literally taking advantage of a lack of any American counter geopolitical strategy. Whether this is a temporary anomaly or a new “America First” reality remains to be seen.  

Private Armies

There have always been mercenaries, and even mercenary forces. During the Cold War various types of deniable, surrogate military units were created for covert operations, primarily by the United States. The transition to more professional, heavily equipped private armies (more comfortingly described as “security forces”) began to occur during the American involvement in Iran and then Afghanistan.

As events proved, there were some negative consequences associated with such units, especially in Iran. In fact “Blackwater” accumulated sufficient baggage that the whole concept of such security forces came into disrepute. As an example Libya refused to accept American associated private security forces. That became a contributing factor in the fiasco at the American embassy in Benghazi. While the CIA employed private contractors in Benghazi, they had to be kept low profile since the Libyan government refused to accept them. Even when deployed under diplomatic cover as security for the CIA station (physically distant from the embassy), they could not be stationed directly at the embassy for its own security facility security.

Despite a questionable history, private armies (security forces) have grown substantially and I suspect most readers will be surprised by both their size and military capabilities – described in these links (if the links don’t load for you a search for “private security contractors” will give you current information:

One of the newer trends is the growth of private military contractors is with private air forces. These days some of the largest, most technically advanced, and capable modern forces are actually privately owned.  Any single one of them could defeat many nations in aerial action – and it remains to be seen (as it does with private security contractors) what legal constraints if any affect them?:



For that matter, I suspect that most would be surprised at the scale of “private” military combat still going on by Russian surrogate forces against the government of the Ukraine. While that conflict as a whole is more in the nature of the surrogate force efforts of the United States during the Cold War, the use of private Russian military contractors is much more line with what is evolving in terms of private armies in the 21st Century. :


That trend is something I elaborate on at some length in my new book “In Denial: Secret Wars with Air Strikes and Tanks”. 

Deniable warfare circa 2020 is taking a variety of forms, China and Iran are approaching it in a much different fashion than Russia and President Putin.

However given the scope of what Russian is doing with its private military contractors, it’s pretty amazing how little media coverage it receives in the United States.  Of course given the combination of how America has turned inwards combined with the pandemic perhaps that is understandable.  These days our major media outlets have very little left of the foreign correspondent news force they used to field, and do virtually no international news reporting of any depth presently.

For those who have not been following what Russia and Russian oligarchs are doing with private armies I would offer the following news links:




While Russian security contractors are well organized and clearly directed as part of Putin’s global influence strategy, it would be hard to say the same thing for their American counterparts. In that regard it’s also pretty amazing that a security contractor that services President Trump’s political events could have stepped into the following mess in Venezuela in the fashion described in this article.


About the only thing that weighs in against this being part of some American strategy is the utter dysfunction of the operation. On the other hand it provides an interesting contrast between the private armies integrated into Russian strategies and the activities of American security contractors.

The Wheaton Lead

A few days ago, my friend David Boylan and I posted a lengthy research paper at the Mary Ferrell Foundation.  It is the culmination of at several years’ work on a JFK assassination lead which was confidentially taken to the Assassinations Records Review Board (ARRB) back in 1994.

At the time the ARRB chose not to pursue it, possibly because it did not relate to documents, but rather to a source who was felt to hold special information about the assassination. However, even if the ARRB had been interested, it would have been quite difficult to vet the individuals disclosed in the lead or to understand their significance.

Over the last decade, new CIA records releases and particularl ground breaking work on translating CIA crypts and pseudonyms have allowed us to establish the context for the names offered in the Wheaton lead – and to interpret the contextual information Wheaton provided at a level never before possible.

The timing of this research is especially relevant in that it actually deals with many of the same names and Cuba Project activities that appear in my new book, In Denial / Secret Wars with Air Strikes and Tanks?

Of you are reading or plan to read that book, be sure to take a look at our Wheaton Lead Exploration paper, available for a free read at the Mary Ferrell Foundation.


And if you have questions, as always feel free to post them here or email me directly.

Exploring “In Denial”

In Denial is essentially three books in one.  At its broadest level it is an examination of the conduct and the effectiveness of secret warfare both historically by the United States during the Cold War, and in the 21st Century by the Russian Federation, China and Iran.

In order to fully explore the temptation and issues of secret warfare – and why it so often fails – a good part of the book digs deeply into the Cuba Project under both the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. It then proceeds into the disastrous effort to insert the Cuban Expeditionary Brigade on the beaches at the Bay of Pigs. That portion of the book deconstructs several popular history themes regarding the Bay of Pigs landings – exposing the most fundamental mistakes in planning, logistics and command and control. It also reveals several critical last minute, highly secret measures which were put into play – and their failures. Those actions were known to the CIA project leadership and senior navy offices, but not briefed to or approved by President Kennedy.

Going beyond the Bay of Pigs, the book explores the official investigations of that disaster and the well documented lessons that were learned, lessons that were implemented by President Kennedy over the next two years.  But lessons which were almost immediately abandoned by his successors.

For a fuller introduction to In Denial, you may wish to listen to these two recent interviews.  The first – which is the shorter – introduces the full scope of the book:

The second interview, over some two hours in length, digs into the Cuba Project and the Bay of Pigs and even then only scratches the surface from an operational standpoint. An examination of the two landing plans – Trinidad and Zapata –  the Navy’s actual role in the effort, and the events of the three days and nights on the beaches that will be addressed in a follow up interview.

“In Denial” now Available

In Denial joins Shadow Warfare (with Stu Wexler) and Creating Chaoso complete a three part study of covert warfare in both the 20th and 21st Centuries. 

Shadow Warfare dug deeply into why and how the United States carried out covert action – the tactics, tools, covers, practices and oversight (or lack thereof).  It also exposed the personal and legal risks involved for the personnel involved as well as the consequences for everyone, from collateral damage to the impact on American governance – especially in regard to relationship between the Commander in Chief and Congress. 

Creating Chaos is a study of political warfare, from the basics of political action through propaganda and disinformation and into full blown efforts to fragment and undermine targeted regimes. It examines the historical practices and then extends them through American and Soviet political warfare during the Cold War and into more contemporary political warfare of the Russian Federation, in Europe and against the United States. In doing so it details how age old practices have become dramatically more effective in an age of global interconnection, and in particular with global access to advanced targeting capabilities against social networks.

I approached In Denial as a similar study of covert action, comparing its practices in both the 20th and 21st Century.  In one sense it is an exploration of a simple question – why do regimes and political leaders consistently turn to secret warfare when it can be shown to almost always fruitless in the long run, with extremely negative political consequences and collateral damages.

However in doing that study, it quickly became apparent that the most highly visible and well documented example of secret warfare gone wrong was the Cuba Project / Bay of Pigs effort as conducted under the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations. And in examining the huge amount of detail, including from a number of new sources, that story emerged into what can only be considered a rebuttal of much of the popular history of that effort – in particular as regards to the Bay of Pigs. As it turns out much of the popular history and media coverage is based in both outright lies and intentionally planted misinformation.

As one reader commented, In Denial is the most heavily cited book I’ve ever written.  And that’s true, when you decide to joust with popular history  you need to be ready for the engagement – and both engagement and detail are what readers will find in the book.  Hopefully they will think it worth the read.

Political Warfare

True political warfare is a good deal deeper and far nastier than what you see in campaigns, debates or contemporary White House briefings – hard to believe, but true.  It’s not about a single seat, a party or platform or a single election. It is takes place between nations and regimes and is intended to create dysfunction at a level which either compromises a nation’s ability to compete with its adversary (economically or militarily) or reinforces the targets own internal economic or social problems.  At its dirtiest it actually breeds and exacerbates those same internal conflicts.

I write about true political warfare in Creating Chaos and I’ll be discussing it at length on Chuck Ochelli’s internet show this coming Thursday. Knowing Chuck it’s bound to be lively, and I’ll be stressing the point that political warfare between regimes and nations involves covert disinformation campaigns more than simple propaganda.  Contrary to popular opinion, because propaganda is more public and more obvious it is primarily used not again an adversary but internally or with neutrals.  

We have a couple of very good examples of very effective propaganda being used by Russian and China in respect to the current global pandemic. Their aid campaigns to American are being aggressively promoted to their own public and to the global community in an example of strategic geopolitical messaging. Those efforts can be found in the following links:


Both Russia and China promoted the American aid extensively within their own media as well as to their respective target markets in Europe and Latin America. Russia is vitally interested in undermining American influence in Europe in an effort to recover its own position in energy sales while China is on a major mission to open markets and ensure resources, including those in Latin America. Both efforts that are well supported in this sort of propaganda.

In contrast, much more subtle and covert political warfare goes far deeper than such open media efforts, employing well crafted and destructive disinformation (which has some factual context) messages placed within the target nation’s own media – often using very convoluted routes.  In last week’s show with Chuck we discussed to such historical campaigns, both Russian, in which well-designed disinformation was first planted in a neutral nation’s press (India), then picked up by western press outlets (British) and finally appeared in the American press.  Planting information in the foreign press has been a constant for decades, reaching new levels of sophistication during the Cold War.

Unfortunately in more recent years the internet and social media have provided a venue for disinformation warfare that could hardly have been imagined.  I addressed that sea change in Creating Chaos so there is no need to belabor it here. , Chuck and I will be discussing that on Thursday, as well as one on newest tactics being used so effectively – the retweeting of disinformation and fake news by senior political figures in American politics. Sadly it continues to be a wonderful time to be pursuing a career in information warfare.

Crimson Contagion

Crimson Contagion

Effective national defense rests to a great extent on threat analysis and planning. That effort involves not only contingency planning, but an ongoing commitment to constant threat response exercises and “war gaming” against the threats.  In the better exercises a good deal of effort is given to simulations and testing of command and control during the crisis. Game theory and other exercise tools expose weaknesses and highlight the changes required to realistically deal with the threats. The tools and practices for this are well understood and readily available. Such exercises have been standard practices for decades.

The American problem is that the process repeatedly experiences a systemic failure. It fails not because the threats are not identified, not because the exercises are not conducted, not because the necessary responses are unclear or not documented and communicated. It fails because the last step in process – execution – is not taken. Just how often, and just how badly it fails, is something I explore in Surprise Attack.

Again and again our response to threats and crises has failed due to a failure to prioritize and execute the identified measures before the threat becomes reality. And once again, with the current pandemic, we are suffering from that same failure.

Perhaps the saddest part is that we have significantly expanded the scope and sophistication of our threat response exercises, and we have sound routines and practices in place to communicate the measures the exercise dictate. Those improvements began during the 1990s when terror attacks were elevated to the level of national threat exercises – following the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics, the abortive Twin Towers bombing, the Bojinka airliner terror bombing plot and the aborted Millennium terror attacks on the United States. As of 1999/2000 an expanded variety of threat exercises had become routine.  

Of course one of the fundamental challenges is prioritizing new and evolving threats over those that become “embedded” in the worldviews of national leaders. In democratic nations senior leadership tends to focus on the “threats” that were part of their own political campaigns. Staying behind the curve on prioritizing national threats can be extremely dangerous.

We have a contemporary example of that in the current pandemic:


Unfortunately this is not a new problem, the same types of executive priority failures have occurred on multiple occasions, errors in both 1941 and 2001 illustrate how presidential priorities and related resource allocations can have disastrous consequences.

One of the most dramatic illustrations of the overall systemic problem – which in reality is a matter of simply “closing the loop” – can be found in the recent history of American threat exercises.  

As early as the Atlanta Olympics of 1996, planning exposed the serious threat of aircraft being used as weapons against civilian targets. One of the problems which immediately emerged was that with the end of the Cold War very few air defense aircraft were available should such a threat become real. Even more concerning, air defense radar networks had been closed down, and it was pointed out that if a large commercial aircraft simply turned off its transponder it would literally become invisible to the FAA air control network.

In the following years the North American Defense Command began to exercise against the threat of commercial hijacked airliners, even with scenarios that involved crashing the aircraft into major metropolitan buildings. Yet in all the exercises ready response interceptors were assumed to be close to the scene and the hijacked airliners continued to broadcast their locations with their transponders left on. This failure to integrate known weaknesses, to close the reality loop, became terribly evident within the first minutes of the attacks on America in 9/11.

As a whole, American threat exercising became broader and far more realistic following the events of 2001. Those exercises addressed another fundamental problem which had become clear on 9/11 – if senior officials are not part of the exercises, the lessons learned do not get implemented in policy or in budgets. With that lesson in mind a new series of senior level exercises were created, designated as TOPOFF (Top Officials).

In 2009 the TOPOFF defense exercises were integrated with a series of FEMA exercises and designated as Tier 1 National Level Exercises. Every effort was made to involve the highest level officials; in 2009 President Obama led one such exercise from the White House Situation Room. In 2011 he was involved with an expanded exercise, one which went beyond simply response to restoration – simulating a massive earthquake on the New Madrid Fault Line along with a huge foreign cyber-attack. Such exercises are critical because they assume that the first response fails and all the measures in place “break”, the challenge is to cover from a totally broken system.

Which is what we face in 2020, with a pandemic which literally overwhelmed and broke the system. But a pandemic which (contrary to what you may hear from the White House) was  forecast by professional threat analysts, was identified early by the intelligence community, and which had actually been exercised as a threat – producing detailed recommendations on the necessary measures to deal with it.

The exercise was named Crimson Contagion. Its predictions were accurate and shocking. And once again the loop was not closed operationally – in terms of priorities, funding and national security directives. At least that’s my take on it.

If you take the time to read the articles at these two links I’d like to hear yours:



Without resorting to another post, anyone interested in this subject should read the following article. I may expand on it later but the failure to respond to an identified pandemic threat – a failure at the level of the national security council, with the national security advisor, and with presidential priorities is terribly similar to the failure in the months before the 9/11 attacks on America.


Without resorting to another post I suggest anyone interested in this subject should read the following article. I may expand on it later but the failure to respond to an identified pandemic threat – a failure at the level of the national security council, with the national security advisor, and with presidential priorities is terribly similar to the failure in the months before the 9/11 attacks on America.


I’ve decided to go ahead and further update this post with ongoing information that relates to command and control during a crisis. Reality gives us harsh lessons but they need to be learned. For the sake of focus, the following lessons from pandemic response within the military are good examples of doing things right – or not:

The following is a good example of proactive response:


This one appears to be not so good:


And this one is a perfect example of what not to do – not that inter-government and inter-service coordination is easy but it appears somebody took their eyes off the ball on this one:


Crisis Response

Anyone looking at the cover of Surprise Attack would likely feel that it is all about military action – and to a large extent that is true. The idea behind the book was to explore an extended series of crises in an exploration of how American national command authority prepares and responds to real time emergencies. 

The first instance of a truly national crisis response is seen in the influenza epidemic of 1918. The management of that crisis was largely made possible due to the fact that it occurred near the end of World War I, with the American public already conditioned to national needs, having accepted both rationing and a military draft. The major advances in sanitation and medical treatment during the war had also created a public appreciation and acceptance of scientific medical practices – professional advice on prevention, diagnostics and treatment was a major factor in controlling the pandemic to the extent that was possible.


Of course national command authority itself has dramatically evolved in the following decades, most dramatically after the attacks at Pearl Harbor and the Philippines (the latter of which deserves a great more attention than it normally gets in these matters) of World War II, the first major emergency in which technology and particularly improved communications allowed quickly organizing the nation’s total resources to respond to a crisis.

Centralized command and response dramatically changed following the war, with the threat of nuclear attack. Atomic warfare demanded a totally new speed in response, either the threat was detected within half an hour and effectively met within 15 minutes of decision time or a preemptive attack could end a war before the public was even aware it had begun.

A complex and highly integrated system was developed to do just that, unfortunately such systems tend to be “tuned” for one very specific type of crisis and one specific type of threat. Which explains why in November, 2001 the system proved ineffectual against a totally different type of threat. That same lesson was learned once again in 2005, when the disaster of Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that the nation remained vulnerable to other types of crises.

Still, lessons can be learned, and one of the major lessons of Katrina was that effective environmental response requires the same type of preparation, training and practice as do military threats (which with the resurgence of biochemical terrorism become not unlike major epidemics).

 It all becomes a matter of readiness – and readiness requires practice, communications and to a large extent “continuity”.  In Surprise Attack Chapter 20 details those elements and illustrates one of the real risks, the loss of continuity and the failure of national level officials to participate in exercises. As with military response, if the president and the nation’s most senior officers to not involve themselves in such exercises, if they do not go through the tension and education learned during realistic simulations – they fail to perform in real crises.  That should be no surprise, emergency responders know that, so do the personnel of any operational military unit.

During most of the decade of 2000 and into the following decade, this lesson stayed fresh and the exercises were frequent, with national command level participation.  At this point in time it is somewhat unclear whether that has tapered off in recent years; I suspect it has.  One way to check is to explore the agencies which conduct such exercises and see what’s going on.  I recommend that for everyone’s own education and these are some links that may help:

Click to access NEP_2019-2020_Cycle_Overview_Sheet.pdf

Click to access NEP_Principals_Strategic_Priority_5_Summary_Sheet.pdf



Putin’s Cold War

As much as it troubles me I continue to be amazed at the effectiveness of Putin’s political warfare strategies – and appalled by the fact that the current Administration is in a state of denial in regard to one track and apparently blind to the second.  Of course (tongue in cheek) I’ve done my part. My book Creating Chaos received a reasonably good university library penetration and even made it into both the State Department and White House (gasp) libraries.  

I think Creating Chaos makes it clear that the major threat of Putin’s political warfare is fragmentation and destabilization.  While some level of actual election meddling is necessary as part of that effort, you don’t need to steal elections via total vote tampering, you simply need to establish the fear and the discord that associated with the possibility. You simply need a demonstration of the ways you can interfere. The current fragmentation efforts being launched against the Democratic party show how easily such a demonstration that can be carried out


Beyond that, what Putin’s campaign is accomplishing is something only dreamed of during the earlier Cold War – that of neutering the opponents entire intelligence community.  Over decades both the CIA and the KGB jumped through hoops planting poison pills and creating paranoia (James Angleton’s within the CIA being a prime example) that would undermine the opponents intelligence collections infrastructure. 

However Putin has accomplished something far different, he has created a context in which both President Trump and the Senate are not only pushing back against American intelligence on Russian actions (evaluations in which all elements of the community concur, something not at all common), but actively de-funding and obstructing efforts to cope with Russian political action – all out of fear for their own personal political concerns. It is all truly amazing and immensely dangerous. What the neocons managed to do to the intelligence community under the Bush Administrations pales by comparison.


All that is bad enough, but there is a second track in Putin’s strategy that is getting no attention at all.   It’s something I speculated about in an early book – Shadow Warfare – wondering if something so obvious and so “retro” could possibly work. As it turns out the answer is “yes” and Putin is playing that track far better than the U.S. did when it drove the Soviet Union bankrupt.  Basically the strategy is to spend so much on advanced weapons systems that the opponent extends themselves financially – with the Soviet Union it led to system collapse. Of course it was tremendously expensive for America in the earlier Cold War.

Putin saw that as a KGB officer and he understands the drill.  Worse, he knows how to do it more efficiently.  The thing to do is to a) focus your propaganda on the most expensive and terrifying part of your military – nuclear weapons, b) announce sensational new weapons and spend some to develop them but not the huge amounts to bring them operational and c) project your threat into new venues with as little expense as possible.

At present Putin and his military are four years into touting nuclear exchanges as a standard tactical option, they have announced and are working on doomsday weapons which make no sense at all, and they have one of their anti-satellite weapons maneuvering in the vicinity of one of our largest and most capable intelligence collection satellites – clearly we need a brand new service with all its administrative overheads, go Space Command. Note: Russia operates all its air, missile and space activities under one unified command.

The result is that we are starting on a massive and horrendously upgrade of our entire strategic nuclear capability (why we still need 4,000 megaton class weapons is another question, only answered by the response that Russians have that many…sigh).  The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the first 10 years of the modernization plan will cost nearly $500 billion – over a 30-year span the total would hit $1.2 trillion, including the cost of sustaining the current and future force. Add that to the now trillion dollar budget deficit and you have some real numbers.

The program includes a new missile to replace the current Minuteman 3 ICBM, a new-generation Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine fleet, and a new long-range bomber (the B-21 Raider) to replace the B-2 stealth bomber while retaining the older B-52 bomber as a bulk weapons carrier. The B-52, which entered service in the 1960s, is getting new engines and other major upgrades. In his 2021 defense budget proposal to Congress, Trump requested $2.8 billion for the Raider bomber and $1.5 billion for the new-generation ICBM.

In all, the administration’s proposed nuclear weapons budget for 2021 would approach $46 billion, divided between the Defense Department, which is responsible for operating the weapons, and the Energy Department, which maintains the warhead stockpile. You will find more information on all this at the links below:





Bottom line, Putin wages a two track political warfare program, fragmenting and destabilizing the American public while multiplying the trauma with intense economic pain.

The Cold Warriors of the 20th Century would be in awe.

JMWAVE Independent Action

I’ve written recently about the extremely unusual July 1963 TILT mission conducted by JMWAVE in support of William Pawley’s effort (organized in conjunction with Senator Eastland’s Senate subcommittee) to obtain information out of Cuba which would have proved a huge embarrassment to the Kennedy administration , very likely undermining the president’s path to reelection. As it turns out, the summer of that same year saw other independent actions by the senior officers at the CIA’s Miami Station.

Based on remarks by William Shackley in interviews with journalist Don Bohning, it appears that Shackley and the Miami station’s chief operations officer got together (around Shackley’s pool) to come up with a plan for renewing covert missions against Cuba and Castro. Normally such plans would have come out of CIA headquarters or at least Desmond Fitzterald’s new Special Affairs Staff – tasked with reinvigorating the anti-Castro effort. Ideally they would actually have originated within the new Cuba Coordinating Committee, a much higher level interdepartmental group which included Robert Kennedy.

At the point in time the committee had just been informed that the Army was conducting its own planning for programs of covert action conducted under Commander in Chief Atlantic (which would have been in line with JFK’s intention to switch major covert action from the CIA to the military, as was already happening in Vietnam).  As it was, JMWAVE appears to have stolen the initiative from both the military and the Cuba Coordinating Committee.

The new JMWAVE effort began with Morales handpicking a very select group of the station’s Cuban paramilitary assets to go into special training for extremely compartmentalized missions – the personnel likely included familiar names from David Boylan and my Wheaton name research, we do know that Tony Izquirerdo was the highly select group. Special high performance boats were obtained, including two “ghost” mother ships which would operate out of Florida ports.

In what would appear to be a direct contradiction to Kennedy administration goal of physically moving mission’s against Cuba offshore, the two ships, Rex and Leda, were based out of Port Everglades and West Palm Beach, flagged as Nicaraguan and captained / crewed by Cuban volunteers. The ships carried radar, electronics and a variety of weapons – stored in port and only mounted at sea. The also carried special high speed boats to be used in the actual sabotage missions. The Rex and Leda were also used to support routine infiltration and caching missions, which continued to average some dozen a month.[i]

Going beyond the missions themselves, Morales utilized his own social network, including contacts in Guatemala, to create a cover for the new sabotage missions – which were conducted by a group designated as Commandoes Mambises. The group was entirely a creation of Morales, using Rafael Martinez Pupo, a wealthy Cuban businessman living in Guatemala, as the public relations front for a group which nobody had ever heard of previously. Pupo became the spokesman for the group, going to the media with reports of their attacks on a metal processing plant and an air raid on a refinery.  Special Group documents do reflect that the covert oversight group was briefed two early raids by Commando Mambisis but it appears a third may also have been conducted using both sea and air assets – the source of the aircraft used is totally undocumented.[ii]

Pupo continued to carry on a media campaign for Commando Mambises, speaking of secret bases in the Caribbean and cells inside Cuba. The September 23 report on two raids to the Special Group was well received, although some security issues were mentioned.

Of course the raids gained a great deal of discussion within the Cuban community, especially given that none of its many leaders or groups had any idea of a group led by Pupo, of anyone who might be fighting with it or of any new bases. Following Special Group security reviews, new missions were authorized for October and November, the first which actually matched a list of raids actually approved by President Kennedy did not occur until October.

The JMWAVE Commando Mambisis missions, operating from Florida, continued through 1963 and on into 1964, even after being exposed to the media in a trap by Castro forces during a mission on October 21. During that mission, infiltration personnel previously inserted into Cuba were identified and monitored by Cuban forces, which then attacked during a pick up effort by the Rex. Two paramilitary personnel were killed, one wounded and four captured. The Rex managed to flee but was tracked back to Florida and as part of the Cuban response, its aircraft mistakenly strafed a U.S. flag bauxite freighter transiting the same coastal waters.

Within days Castro had called out the U.S. involvement, identified the CIA ships and even broadcast the locations of the Florida ports from which they operated.[iii] Reporters flocked to those locations and broadcast extended interviews about the comings and goings of the “ghost ships”.[iv] In something of a fruitless effort, JMWAVE then “sold” the ships through cut outs, repainted and relocated them, while continuing with their missions and giving Castro the opportunity to call out the United States on their follow-on missions which continued under President Johnson.   

In just one more illustration of disconnects within the overall anti-Castro efforts, the Commando Mambisis missions were conducted at the same time that millions of dollars were being poured into the entirely separate and extremely deniable Artime/AMWORLD project, being established at bases around the Caribbean, an effort which did not launch its own boat missions until late spring 1963. While both were ultimately exposed, JMWAVE’s initiative was far more successful in actual raids and damage to Cuban assets.

[i] Cable, JMWAVE to Director, “Infiltrees”,

[ii] Don Bohning, The Castro Obsession, 161-163

[iii] Ibid, 164

[iv] “Castro Says USA used Raider Ship”,  AP Wire Service, October 31, 1963