A week or so ago I enjoyed doing a couple of presentations for the DPUK annual conference held in Canterbury, England.  In response to the one focusing on new research relating to the transition and in particular Navy participation for the Cuban Brigade project, I received a question that has come up before but which caused me to rethink its implications.  The question was simply that Bissell was certainly a smart fellow so did he actually mess up the project or was it intentional, suggesting some high level CIA effort to manipulate the new President – forcing him into full scale military action.  My current thinking on that is as follows:

1) Bissell and the whole Guatemala team were treated as miracle workers over the success of the Guatemala coup project; so much so that they were personally honored by President Eisenhower.  It was that team that formed the core of the new Cuba project that Eisenhower ordered in 1960.   However in retrospect, the success in Guatemala my have had more to do with a full scale blockade which Eisenhower had ordered and the fact that a Navy landing force with Marines was off shore to support the CIA operation – it now appears that the Guatemalan leader was convinced that a full US invasion to support the meager CIA exile contingent was inevitable.

2) We know now that Eisenhower was far more supportive of the initial Trinidad plan – which did not include a beach landing but sailing the Brigade force right into the harbor – than is often taken into consideration.  One of our problems is that nothing about that plan was put in writing, all briefings were verbal and we do not have a copy of the Navy Rules of Engagement.  However based on recent oral history work and in the information in blogs I’ve made here it appears that Ike was far more willing to go overt.  He suggested to the CIA that they might stage an incident to trigger American military involvement, he appears to have approved a ROE for Trinidad that would have allowed full destroyer and combat air support for the landing itself and he even cautioned JFK that he needed to be bold and not back off being as overt as necessary.  We can’t prove it but its very likely up to Dec, 60 that Bissell thought he would have far more overt support than JFK would end up allowing him – and after all, JFK’s win in the election was a narrow one.  Bissell could very well have been taking orders from Nixon, who had been heavily involved in encouraging the whole Cuba project.  Beyond that, Ike had given verbal approval to assassination projects and it now appears that there were multiple projects in play to assassinate Castro, all the way up to the final weeks before the landing.

3) The Navy recommended and the Joint Chiefs endorsed Rules of Engagement that would have provided combat air patrols, engaging any Cuban forces approaching the Brigade ships and extending into an area only one or two miles off shore – if JFK had accepted that then Cuban aircraft would undoubtedly have been engaged and full scale American military support would have evolved quickly.  We know, and JFK may not have, that the carrier Essex – serving as the landing command ship – had secretly embarked a Navy attack air group and that the carrier was stocked with a full set of munitions, not just for air to air but air to ground attack.  JFK rejected the ROE proposal and directed that if the Brigade ships were detected or engaged they should retreat and the landing should not occur.

4) We also know that a suite of additional Navy ships had been alerted, but this appears to have been done by senior Navy command itself and was not in the plan approved by JFK.  Ostensibly it was to provide a safeguard for Guantanamo in case it was attacked but it may very well have originated in the much more extensive verbal discussions with the Navy that occurred under Eisenhower.  The real point here is that was not a force setting off shore waiting – as had been the case in Guatemala – and it would have required time to bring it into combat.  All that could happened during the landing if JFK had been talked into Navy air support were Essex air strikes and destroyer bombardment of the landing area.  That would have help cover a retreat but by that point in time the Brigade was already in dire straits and it support ships had retreated, its ammunition ship was sunk.  It is not as if a switch could be thrown and the Marines would immediately hit shore to relive them.

In summary, my conclusion is that Bissell was a bright guy but he got rolled up in a time frame and political transition that essentially trapped him.  His estimates of Soviet military support for Castro lagged significantly, there was no blockade to prevent that as there had been in Guatemala, he was encouraged by Ike and no doubt envisioned military support that JFK didn’t give him and in the end he was in a position of either throwing up his hands and calling the whole thing a bust or gambling on the assassination attempts and/or rules of engagement that the Navy proposed – as well as apparently believing in promises from his own Air Group had made him vs. the harsh critique of that he had received from the Joint Chiefs team assigned to evaluate it.  JFK would have loved to see the CIA back off, in turn it would have been a huge embarrassment for Dulles and the Agency and a career disaster for Bissell.  So, I think he was a bright guy left holding the bag without enough nerve to call off the whole thing and in the end simply taking a gamble that he should not have.  Given how much he did not tell his own military commanders or the exile commanders I suspect he knew that they would have aborted themselves if he had been honest with them.  Instead, he steadfastly blamed the whole think on JFK to the end…a perfect case of going into denial.



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.

9 responses »

  1. Jim Stubbs says:

    I wonder why anyone would have concocted such a project at a time when a presidential election was just around the corner. I realize that Nixon was hoping for a successful operation against Castro in time for the campaign. But I’d think that someone with authority would have stalled it, and explained the reasons why. If Nixon became president what was he going to do, fire everyone? I should think that they would have been more willing to face that than court the almost certain disaster of proceeding with a half-assed plan.

  2. Jim Stubbs says:

    BTW, Larry, I just read a part of an interview of Tom Alyea, one of the photographers in Dealey Plaza who also took a bunch of photos inside the TSBD and especially on the 6th floor. He said that there were no chicken bones found on the 6th floor, especially on or near the boxes in and around the “sniper’s nest.” I’m also aware of comments made by some who were present during the 6th floor search who said that the rifle allegedly used by Oswald wasn’t found on the 6th floor. Have you read any such stuff? Alyea’s interview was reportedly with Connie Kritzberg of the Dallas Times Herald.

    • I had a long talk with Tom about a lot of that, he and I and Connie Kritzberg at a Mexican place in Tulsa (I bought him lunch..grin). I also bought a set of several very limited circulation newsletters
      he had put out on those subjects…all very interesting. The funny thing is that Tom aggressively accused the DPD of tampering with the crime scene, moving all the boxes and retaining their photos
      on Saturday and then essentially lying about all that officially in their records. Yet despite that he was adamant that all the rest of their work was iron clad and there was nothing at all suspicious
      about it and Oswald was a lone nut shooter. So I’ve been through pretty much all that with Tom then and in several recurring contacts. It’s hard to reach any conclusion about it all but at this point
      I think the sack with the chicken bones was up there but a bit away from the “snipers nest”, the bag was not there and presents a real issue. Its hard to disbelieve Alyea about the hulls being
      picked up and then thrown down again so bottom line, I view everything about the evidence in the snipers nest with a good deal of skepticism. I do think Oswald’s rifle was found on that floor though,
      and that it was placed there to frame him. With that rifle on the sixth floor and his background, that was plenty to make him a Commie (or Castro supporter ) shooter from the git go.

      • Jim Stubbs says:

        I agree about the evidence. It has been so mishandled and tampered with that it would be nearly impossible to use it to support much. I do remember reading a post on JFK Lancer a long time ago (think I might still have the post). The poster was a relative of one of the cops searching the 6th floor – might have been related to Boone or Weitzman – and said that the relative would never talk about it except for one time. She (I recollect it being a girl) said that he told her, in effect, that the gun that they said that Oswald used wasn’t found on the 6th floor.

      • One of the real problems with the floor thing is the confusion over floor numbering in the building, most folks not working in the building would not be familiar with how they actually counted floors – which
        shows up on the numbers by the stairwells on the various floors. Ian Griggs brought a Dallas officer to a Lancer conference a few years back, the officer is mentioned in one of the documents as the first
        to see and report the rifle but as I recall so are four or five other officers…depends on who was writing each report. The officer said he saw the butt of the rifle and pointed it out and then he was directed
        to start removing ceiling tiles and looking in the crawlspace – which cost him a ruined suit (he was a detective). So he didn’t get to hang around as the rifle was pulled and examined. He provided lots of details
        and I’m pretty well convinced that the rifle was found on the sixth floor and beyond that it was the rifle Oswald had purchased. I know that flies in the face of a lot of conspiracy views but to me its simple, if you are
        going to frame someone you want it to stick so you use something that can be traced to them. And in the simplest of all worlds, when a gun traceable to Oswald was recovered, with his background and in Dallas, he was going to be
        the prime suspect – just as he himself said. Certainly there may have been more in play and a larger frame but just on the basics, a Russian “defector” who was a public Castro supporter was a natural to take the
        fall in Dallas.

  3. Brace Berg says:

    Hi Larry, I was wondering if you have had a chance to look at John Newmans new book on the CIA and their whole Caper on Fidel and Cuba. I have ordered it and look forward to reading it. he is trying to unmask the cryptonims (sp) of the agents involved to reveal their true names and connect them to the work names.

    • Hello Brace, unfortunately I have not had a chance to look at John’s first release in what I understand will be a series of four to six pieces. It’s my understanding that this one focuses largely on individuals and groups related to the pre and revolutionary period. In that sense its a context piece and John is documenting a lot of pseudonyms and aliases that will no doubt come up as he proceeds into the counter revolutionary period. We’ve had pretty good high level knowledge of American activities of the period including the later process by which Eisenhower was actually persuaded to kick off a Cuba project. But as usual John is digging far deeper than that, exposing individual and group activities. I certainly plan to read his work but I may wait for the second volume so that I cando it together…otherwise I would no doubt forget half of it in between…grin. We have invited John to present at the Lancer conference this November and he has tentatively accepted on the condition his teaching schedule permits it so I hope to get more information personally at that point. That will be after Surprise Attack is out and I should be able to concentrate a good bit better at that point.

      • Brace Berg says:

        That’s terrific Larry, I am looking forward to your new book. Thanks for your good works I have enjoyed all 3 books especially someone would have talked. The guy who drives me nuts is Jerry Hemming (sp)! which story that he tells is true? I thought that Colonel William Bishop was a more reliable source as he produced what looked like contemporary notes of the time frame and he also validated the presence of Nagel on the scene and being concerned about who Nagel was and who he worked for. Best wishes for your new Book!

      • Thanks Brace, much appreciated! As far as Hemming, who was extremely intelligent and quick witted as well, goes – I think he was aware that certain of the individuals he had associated with in Miami had been involved but he himself had not. However that would make him actionable since he had extended no warning nor offered information after the fact. It also made him something of a risk and his brother is on record as saying he dealt with that by telling so many stories and confabulating them so much that the real bad guys were assured he was no danger. As to Col Bishop (who was not really a Col.) I know some folks who worked with him directly and became frustrated because he consistently failed every polygraph given when they got him in front of media or folks who could do something with his story. We can prove that he was involved in Florida prior to the Bay of Pigs, primarily doing liaison work with local military units, but given his turn to smuggling and scamming after that, its hard to trust him. Fortunately we can corroborate Nagell in a number of ways other than through him. One thing is for sure, none of this is easy and a great deal of the information and assertions tossed around on line need considerable fact checking. Oh, one last word on Hemming, after hearing him in person and trading a few posts and emails with him, I came to realize that the man was far quicker on his feet than I would ever be, he would have been a far better spy and action novelist than Howard Hunt could ever have dreamed.

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