This is an update on the ongoing work I’m doing, an extension of the Task Force Alpha post I made a couple of weeks ago. It’s proved to be quite challenging. I did obtain the oral history of Admiral Dennison, as CINC Atlantic, he had the primary command role in Navy support for the CIA landing operation designated Bumpy Road. It’s clear that I’m going to have to work all the research into a monograph, it’s far too lengthy a subject for a blog post. But for the moment, I’ll touch on a few things that jump out at me.
First, it is unclear whether the CIA actually prepared a written plan for the original Trinidad landing; if they did it and the critical Navy rules of engagement for it are missing. That means there is limited documentation available from the Eisenhower Administration and exactly what Ike might have verbally committed to is unclear. Given what remarks we do have from him there is reason to suspect that he would have much more readily bought into public Navy and Naval Air support for the landing; regardless of the B-26 operations being prepared by the CIA Air staff. As of December Ike had even made a remark about “provoking” Castro and using an event to trigger the landings – it’s quite possible he would have allowed the Navy to perform standard convoy duty and combat air patrols right into the landing area at Trinidad. That would almost certainly have led to Cuban attacks and full scale engagement by American forces.
It also has to be noted that despite the efforts of CIA apologists, the JCS staff did give some very solid warnings against the change from Trinidad to Zapata, the air consultants also advised that there was an 85% chance that the planned surprise air strike would not successfully take out the entire Cuban air force and warned that if a single armed Cuban air craft appeared over the landing that it would be able to successfully attack and very likely destroy or significantly jeopardize the entire landing. That warning seems never to have registered with the CIA and most certainly was not passed up to JFK.
The Navy CIA liaison for Bumpy Road was adamant that the initial Trinidad plan would have succeeded; unfortunately we don’t have any detailed comments on why he felt so strongly or what might have really changed in the transition between administrations. There certainly is some evidence that the official chain of communications from via the JCS and Admiral Dennison might have been supplemented by another chain going from Bissell to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Burke. I find it more than a little interesting that Admiral Burke apparently issued the order to the Navy command ship (the aircraft carrier Essex) at the Bay of Pigs (Zapata) for all ships records to be incinerated…before the Essex departed from the scene.
However, having said all that, the other thing that becomes more and more clear is that the Brigade Air Operations were far short of what would have been required to enable and sustain a successful landing and that Bissell and Cabell repeatedly failed to make the point clear to JFK…who was still under the impression that the Brigade could fade into the mountains and turn guerilla, a course of action virtually impossible from the Bay of Pigs and never part of the Brigade’s training or equipping. Even as the Brigade ships were coming under attack, Bissell and Cabell never explained the distinction to JFK.
I intend to continue this study as I have time and to prepare a study of it, for the time being it will have to remain an open issue and I will move on to other blog topics.

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About Larry Hancock

Larry Hancock is a leading historian-researcher in the JFK assassination. Co-author with Connie Kritzberg of November Patriots and author of the 2003 research analysis publication titled also Someone Would Have Talked. In addition, Hancock has published several document collections addressing the 112th Army Intelligence Group, John Martino, and Richard Case Nagell. In 2000, Hancock received the prestigious Mary Ferrell New Frontier Award for the contribution of new evidence in the Kennedy assassination case. In 2001, he was also awarded the Mary Ferrell Legacy Award for his contributions of documents released under the JFK Act.

6 responses »

  1. Jim Stubbs says:

    It seems to me that the Castro regime was supposed to be decapitated concurrent with the invasion. That’s as I recollect some of what I’ve read. That makes sense. It also makes sense that, in whatever form and however communicated, there would have been an understanding that we would intervene. I can’t see how anyone could have thought that a 1400 man invasion force was going to defeat Castro’s army, even if they could knock out his air force, and even if he and his honchos were assassinated. The assassination might have kicked a planned for coup into gear (evidence?), but I think that active, physical support would have been necessary in any event. Possibly the idea was that JFK would go along with it as events culminated in the necessity for intervention.

    • Jim, we do know that Bissell, JC King and a handful of others knew that the assassination project against Castro was in play. But by the time the landing craft moved into position it was pretty clear that was not happening. As to intervention, you can clearly see in the original Eisenhower/Trinidad plan that the goal was to seize the docks, seize the town, put an exile govt into play and respond to a request for intervention. However once JFK became involvde in reviewing the plans, time after time there are communications to the CIA, the JCS, the Navy, etc that there will be no American military involvement in any shape or form and the rules of engagement changed dramatically. As to your last point, that has sort of been the conventional wisdom but for that to work Bissell, Cabell and more likely Dulles would have had to be on top of it and proactively telling Kennedy that the thing was doomed without intervention – and they did not do that, even when offered the chance. With the level of detail we can see now that just does not fly….I’ve been posting links and its all there for review (tons of it).

      Dennison’s oral history also makes his view clear and that was basically that the CIA did not really have the skills to command and control that sort of military operation but with Eisenhower pushing them might have felt they would get American military involvement that would make it happen. But once JFK got involved, Bissell and company really didn’t step up and admit the full risks to JFK, at any point. Worse yet they kept ignoring their basic planning assumptions. Initially the plan specifically stated that it would succeed only defections and major on island support. Yet by April they are reporting that is unlikely…but moving ahead anyway.

      Admiral Dennison clearly feels that JFK trusted them and trusted them to tell them if they were in over their heads and would not face up to it….maybe Bissell was gambling on the assassination thing, hard to say. But the one thing that gets crystal clear is that at numerous points in the last week, up to the point of actually deploying landing craft, Bissell had the information he needed to either abort the landing himself or lay it out to JFK – and he did not. I should also note that the Taylor inquiry took testimony from Dulles and his remarks made it clear that he had a very poor understanding of the operation and several of his comments were factually incorrect.

      • Jim says:

        Larry,

        I’m reading (on and off) Trumbull Higgins’ book about the Bay Of Pigs called THE PERFECT FAILURE. His summary (from the flyleaf of the book cover – I cheated) says: “What Kennedy needed in the morning glow of his new administration was some honest, well-balanced advice. He did not get it from a deceptive CIA, the acquiescent but poorly informed joint chiefs of staff, and a weak secretary of state. Amid a general attitude of hysteria to do something about Cuba soon, he let the ill-fated invasion proceed.” Does that sound about right to you?

      • That sounds pretty close to me, although in reading all the memos and letters from Rusk I would not describe him as “weak”, he was repetitively adamant that it was a bad idea overall and kept
        pointing out issues (including operational ones the CIA never really responded to…in the same fashion they failed to respond do over a hundred questions from Admiral Dennison). Rusk and
        JFK kept raising issues and concerns and the CIA kept reassuring them that they could make it work, even with all the directives to tone it down and make it more covert. Of course what
        he didn’t do was throw a fit, slam down his fist and say this is stupid and if you go ahead I’ll just inherit cleaning up the mess that is going to result.

        The JCS were poorly informed but if anything they were equally weak, given their staff assessments they should simply have stood up and given a definitive “no”. It also looks like to me they kept sending staff studies to the CIA rather than raising them directly with JFK and the CIA largely ignored them…I mean when the Air Force tells you your air plan has an 85% chance of failing and if it does your landing is most likely doomed, maybe you should listen?

        But bottom line, JFK did not get the firm advice he needed and in perspective, he was inheriting an amphibious operation from the Administration of a five star general who had overseen
        the D Day invasion and Ike personally told him he should go ahead and be bold about it, doing whatever was necessary. Its pretty hard to totally pitch such advice when none of your advisers
        are giving you solid reasons to do so. If the Joint Chiefs or even Dulles had stood up in a meeting and said the plan idea was good when we started but we just got behind the curve and
        nothing short of over American military action is going to make this work – then JFK would have called it off. He might have fallen back to some plan to help those exiles who wanted to
        infiltrate the island and even supply them but the large scale landing would not have happened.

  2. Carter Dary says:

    Larry, you know me and know that this is NOT criticism meant for you. It seems to me that lost in all the debate at the time and since, what is lost is that officials in this nation felt it was alright and internationally legal to invade a sovereign nation without provocation. Amazing! This kind of hubris is part of the reason why many nations of the world despise the U.S. And who pays that price?! Why the average citizen of course! We nearly lost our grandson to an illegal war in Iraq and he nearly committed suicide since—PTSD. “We the people” have a right to refuse these wars. It is past time to protest these illegal, immoral and unjustified wars much like the protests in the 70’s.

    • Carter, point well taken but in this I focused on the operational side, not the decision itself. Of course that ethical and philosophical issues are something we deal with extensively in Shadow Warfare and hopefully we do a through job exposing the problems, especially the political ones which often have little to do with ethics and much to do with hubris.

      I will say that if you dig into the links I have posted, you find the State Department and even some Congressmen making argument against the landings; its not like everybody was accepting such decisions. There was much protracted argument against it. Unfortunately for JFK he was caught in an extremely difficult position, with the decision his predecessor had made, an operation which was legally authorized and in progress. I think actually he was looking for someone to give him a practical reason to abort the whole thing. Which is the one thing they did not do, even though it would have been quite feasible to do so even outside the ethics question. Events in Cuba had simply outpaced the plan…but no one was willing to stand up and say that.

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