While it might seem surprising today, immediately following the assassination there was not all that much suspicion or speculation about Cuba or Castro other than as some sort of ideological  inspiration for Lee Oswald. I have a San Antonio newspaper with the next day headline – “Castro Supporter Kills President”.

That pretty well describes matters, although over the next couple of weeks there was a focused, dedicated effort by the DRE and a suite of anti-communist spokespersons including Paul Bethel, a close friend of David Phillips, to tie in Castro. Bethel promoted Pascual Gongora as a member of a Castro hit team; Gongora was found to have been in a mental hospital patient before the assassination. Bethel and other figures inside and associated with the Miami Cuban exile community all very quickly pointed the assassination towards Castro but the Castro did it scenario did not receive that much attention outside Miami and New Orleans.

The Cuban/Castro link was widely touted in the Miami area, with a number of stories being spread which promoted knowledge of secret trips by Oswald to Cuba, contact with Cuban agents – even stories positioning both Oswald and Jack Ruby in the pay of Fidel Castro or his agents. I go into that media campaign pretty extensively in chapter 15 of Someone Would Have Talked.

It’s also fair to say that within days, certain stories were being promoted which claimed to offer more concrete ties between Oswald and Castro – ranging from a series of letters from Castro agents in Cuba (the Pedro Charles letters) Cuba to voluntary sources (Gilberto Alverado) going to the CIA in Mexico City.

The interesting thing about all those efforts is that they appear to have been hastily organized, had virtually no evidence to support them and were deconstructed by the FBI relatively quickly.  Mr. Hoover had actually been very interested in some of them, including the letters from Cuba and certain remarks provided by John Martino to the FBI in Miami. He had initially requested that President Johnson at least let him note the possibility of Castro involvement in the initial FBI report on the assassination, however Johnson ignored that request and even Hoover had to admit that the stories had totally fallen apart within a few weeks.

One of the more interesting aspects of the “after the fact” implication of Castro, was how easily the FBI unwound the Gilberto Alvarez CIA story coming out of Mexico City – describing a visitor to the Cuban embassy hearing Oswald being recruited and paid off for the attack. The CIA station and especially David Phillips should have received a few demerits for that and as a matter of fact Phillips review for that year was not all that great.

All in all the effort to point towards Cuba and Castro immediately after the assassination was weak and appears to have been largely spontaneous, there is no sign that any professional work or real pre-planning had gone into preparing materials and a back story which would definitively connect Oswald to Castro. All the names floated as sources or suspects faded after investigation, frequent references to sources inside Cuba never really came to fruition. The FBI even involved the NSA in scouring telephone and radio communications for some evidence of contact between Oswald and Cuba or signs of Cuban involvement, to no result.

What makes this especially interesting is that standard operational tradecraft involved creating backstories, evidence, and essentially very solid materials for “frames”.  You find discussion of that in William Harvey’s notes about executive action, you even find it in Latin American plots by Cuban exiles against Castro – with far better incriminating evidence prepared than what we see brought up to connect Oswald to Castro.

The bottom line is that if there was a plan to frame Oswald as being tied to Castro, either it was pretty minimal or somehow the “good stuff” got lost or somehow did not fed into the legal system to implicate him. In that respect, the “Castro did it” angle looks bad after the fact not only because it was so lacking, but it suggests certain things about the conspiracy that was in play.  That will move us on to the other side of the Cuba coin, and a discussion of the Cuban exiles “afterwards”, in the next post in this series.

 

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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.

20 responses »

  1. DAVID BROWN says:

    What about Oswald and Redbird Airport and the supposed “plan” to fly Oswald out of Redbird to Cuba? All make believe?

    • I think there may well have been a plan to fly Oswald out David. I spent a lot of time on that four place commercial aircraft that essentially did a “shuttle” flight out and back from Red Bird that afternoon. One of my thoughts has always been that a more through plan to frame Oswald was in place, including additional evidence that would have sealed the deal towards Castro – but that Oswald being taken into custody aborted that plan and left the frame hanging. Martino tells us that the full plan did abort when Tippett was shot, and Oswald was arrested.

      One of the cautions I’ve always given is that we have no way of knowing the full plan or the expectations of all the participants – some of which may have been quite different. We know what happened but after 12:30 we are left guessing as to exactly what was planned after that point – what went according to plan and what didn’t, we can only speculate.

      So as to Red Bird, I still hold it as an open issue, just don’t know how to take it any further than what I wrote about it in SWHT.

      • DAVID BROWN says:

        And were planes launched towards Cuba and recalled?

      • There were no planes launched towards Cuba to my knowledge, that is one of the urban legends of the day.

        Continental Army command informed its regional Army groups, STRIKE command was informed as well but STRIKE command was largely a paper unit and had no aircraft directly responsible to it. It would have taken it some time to mobilize any real force; SAC sent no planes towards Cuba although it too went to increased readiness.
        That was all based on a Defcon bump from the SecDef at the NMCC, conveyed via the Joint Chiefs. There were a series of other minor military actions related to increased readiness, including certain Army units notified in D.C. After some years of looking into that, I summarized the full military and command and control response, pretty much hour by hour, in Surprise Attack.

      • DAVID BROWN says:

        Thank you.

  2. roadryder says:

    This is interesting stuff. It seems that there was some degree of improvisation regarding the post-assassination attempts to link Oswald to Castro. But if the Tippett shooting was the monkey wrench in the works then was that event 1) a screw up by the conspirators 2) a random event that somehow intersected with the assassination and pursuit of Oswald 3) an attempt by Oswald to throw off the chase or 4) something else entirely? I think we can rule out # 3 since the evidence (at least the evidence I’m familiar with ) does not point to Oswald as the killer of Tippett.

    Let me posit another alternative for the necessity of improvisation. What if guys like Phillips were playing catch up with something that caught them by surprise? What if the assassination were organized and pulled off by the exile groups and their handlers as a rebellion against their higher ups and the whole political/military/intelligence establishment whom they regarded as sell outs if not outright traitors? Then the intelligence establishment would be forced into an improvised cover up and blame shifting. I don’t know if this makes any sense or explains the evidence but as I learn more about the case I find it useful to try to think about things in different ways.

    • This takes us into an area where space constraints really get in the way…unfortunately…its the sort of thing where you can dig into it literally for hours in discussions at conferences or elsewhere. I’ll just offer a few random thoughts here to spur thinking on these questions.

      Two choices, a) a dead lone nut, the President dead, done, no risk or b) lots of loose ends, obvious signs of multiple shooters, goal to frame Castro, need to place substantial evidence connecting both Oswald and the other shooters to Castro sponsorship.

      Certainly alternative a) is the safest…kill the President, leave no trace of multiple shooters or a conspiracy and just make sure there is a rifle and some shells in the TSBD….but of course it still would be safest to have a dead lone nut. Yet what we find are loose ends all over the place and ample evidence of multiple shooters.

      About the best I can come up with is that somewhere in the hour or so following the shooting, Oswald made some unanticipated moves and the tactical team lost oversight over him and control over his movements. I say that becasue the evidence available to frame him would have been incredibly weak in a trial, if he were to be a viable lone nut or a pasty pointing to Castro he had best be a dead one.

      Which is why Ruby had to be activated to kill Oswald after the fact – at great risk given that Ruby and his recent associations could have at least exposed that there was a conspiracy in play. Either a) or b) is best served with Oswald dead. Which leaves me to believe that the plan was to have him dead and as Martino said, the plan failed with him arrested alive – suggesting the plan involved something more ambitious than just leaving both JFK and a lone nut dead.

      Over the years there have been a number of anecdotal stories about some effort to interdict a suspected assassination in Dallas – I’ve never felt they stood up. On the other hand there have been other stories that suggest awareness of radical exiles stalking JFK and posing some sort of undetermined threat – I think there is some indication for that and present pieces of it in SWHT.

      But that doesn’t get us to your real points. If pressed I would have to say that Oswald himself became the wild card, whatever he was expected to do, he didn’t. Where he was expected to go and the route he was supposed to take, he didn’t go that way. Which is why we have sightings of Tippett frantically looking for someone, stopping cars, making the record store call. I can’t pretend to solve the Tippett mystery but I have to fall back on Martino’s comment. The plan went bad when Oswald was taken alive.

      I would suggest deconstructing things from that point – what got Oswald taken alive by police in a public venue, with Oswald as an armed felon resisting arrest? And beyond that, why was the scene of the arrest handled so poorly that no list of the witnesses to the arrest in the theater ever entered the police files.

      • DAVID BROWN says:

        SO…WHEN OSWALD WAS ACCUSED OF SHOOTING JFK & RUBY SHOT OSWALD…
        OSWALD WAS WIDELY BROADCAST AS A COMMUNIST BY U.S. INTELLIGENCE OPERATIVES
        OSWALD WAS WIDELY BROADCAST AS A PRO-CASTRO AGENT BY U.S. INTELLIGENCE OPERATIVES
        OSWALD’S RADIO TAPE WAS BROADLY BROADCAST TO DEMEAN HIM AS A PRO-CASTRO INTELLIGENCE OPERATIVE
        CIA OPERATIVES SPREAD THE WORD THAT OSWALD SHOT JFK AS AN AGENT OF CASTRO
        CIA OPERATIVES SPREAD THE WORD THAT CASTRO TOOK REVENGE ON JFK FOR THE ATTEMPTS ON HIS LIFE
        CIA OPERATIVES SPREAD THE WORD THAT JFK WAS NEGOTIATING DÉTENTE WITH CASTRO — THE LAST STRAW FOR EXILES
        THE AIR FORCE WAS PUT ON HIGH ALERT
        THE FALSE FLAG PLAY WAS STOPPED IN ITS TRACKS BY LBJ WHO WANTED NO PART OF NUCLEAR CONFRONTATION OVER CUBA

      • At a very broad level I’d agree with that David but as you know I tighten it down a bit more, I think one caution would be when we say intelligence operatives, CIA operatives etc we are not talking about a host of people or large groups with the Agency. You can actually nail it down to no more than a handful of CIA officers and perhaps twice that many exile assets, fellow travelers etc associated with them. And on the anti-communist, anti-Castro propaganda…much of that was simply a knee jerk reaction to take advantage of the situation. For example INCA and DRE exiles in New Orleans had already prepared a record of Oswald to use for propaganda purposes. It was going to be used in other propaganda projects but was very conveniently available to throw into the mix after the fact.

        As far as LBJ was concerned, I also think it was more complex than that, it may have started that way but over the weekend there were emerging signs that CIA offers might have been involved and it might have been a domestic conspiracy – all the more reason to shut it down.

      • DAVID BROWN says:

        THANK YOU.

      • roadryder says:

        Thanks Larry. I have not studied the Tippett murder in detail but I agree. It could be that Tippett had the assignment to kill Oswald “trying to escape”, hence his waiting where Oswald’s bus would have stopped then going to the record store to make that call and maybe stopping by the rooming house. Oswald might have realized what was going on and refused to play along. I’ve never been satisfied about how Oswald became a suspect and how a tip about a guy sneaking into a movie theater could draw such a large response from a police force looking for a presidential assassin in a different part of town. Killing Tippett might well have been part of an improvisation to get the DPD to focus on Oswald (a dead cop usually sparks a big reaction). I also wonder about the connections between the DPD and military intelligence. Guess its time for me to hit the books on Tippett!

      • There have been some great articles written on Tippett’s movements and I just cannot escape the impression that he was on “overwatch” monitoring Oswald coming across the Oak Cliff bridge…and when Oswald did not cross when or how he was expected, Tippett went into panic mode, later calling from the record store to advise the tactical team that Oswald had gone rogue.

        It may well be that by the time he stopped Oswald, he did have orders to kill him. On the other hand my gut tells me that Oswald had ticked to being used, picked up his gun at his apartment and shot Tippett in pure fear.

        But I also think that happened in a way and at a time not in line with the official time line… All of which means I have no clue other than the opinion Oswald was being tracked, went off the rails and the a secondary part of the plan blew apart then and there.

        As to the connections between DPD and military intelligence, we certainly know a lot about their connection to the 112th, which was actually pretty normal. My opinion is that if you want to look for conspiracy connections inside the DPD, look for dirty cops connected to Jack Ruby.

        And its just possible that Tippett did get ambushed…if so it was most likely by Ruby’s skating partner who was off on medical leave that day, in Oak Cliff, and doing security duty at an estate (in Oak Cliff, ha) which he could not remember when grilled about his whereabouts.

      • DAVID BROWN says:

        OSWALD WAS SITTING IN THE TEXAS THEATER WITH POPCORN AT THE TIME THE WHITE SHIRTED OSWALD DOUBLE SHOT TIPPIT?

      • Well possibly sitting in the theater…not sure about the popcorn, more importantly appearing to search for a contact in the theater. On the other hand the official timing of the Tippett shooting is most likely off. Beyond that you have pushed beyond my understanding of what actually in the Tippett shooting – other than the fact that it was not as it shows up in the official story.

      • DAVID BROWN says:

        all the timing issues tend to make it earlier rather than later
        credible witnesses have Oswald in the theater looking for a contact
        and one credible witness said he sold Oswald popcorn
        coupled with the arrest of a second Oswald in the theater, and the DPD records of same, and the removal of a white shirted Oswald double via the backdoor of the theater, and the subsequent sightings of that Oswald driving about Dallas when “Oswald” was in custody…the issue is clearly drawn.

      • David, you comment about an imposter jelled some thoughts for me. It would have been good tradecraft to deploy one or more “look alikes” not exactly imposters but individuals who could be easily taken for Oswald and divert the police. Or for that matter bring them to the right place.

        The Oswald character getting into the station wagon so visibly would have been a great draw (although strangely no APB was ever issued for that station wagon and driver). That would have gone a long way to selling a conspiracy as well. A person might even wonder if a look alike and Oswald both entered the theater…one to draw police to the other. The cashier has told people that Oswald actually bought a ticket, perhaps the other guy did not. And yes there were other sightings, but primarily when Oswald was still at large and mostly in and around the Oak Cliff area…almost as if someone were drawing in the police.

        If look alikes were deployed it raises some implications about the plot – especially if the guy running down to Elm and jumping in a station wagon was one of them. Great way to sell a conspiracy with Oswald not being part of the operational plan.

  3. Anthony M says:

    Very interesting series of articles

  4. DAVID BROWN says:

    So Oswald plans to shoot the President and make his get away, unarmed, and go to his rooming house to pick up a pistol, with a defective firing pin, and then make his way to shoot a policeman and be in the Texas Theater simultaneously, where, when confronted by many police, he stands, raises his arms and announces that he is not resisting arrest (certain as he is that the police will gun him down for shooting one of theirs)?

    With no witnesses and no ballistics and no proof of possession, no proof of delivery, and even now, no proof of ordering the weapons, and clear proof that another weapon was used to shoot at Walker, and clear proof that the carcano was not the weapon of the assassination, and clear proof the magic bullet is faked and impossible, Oswald is at least innocent of being the inconsisten but amazing shooter he is accused of being.

  5. Avinash says:

    Do you feel that someone like Captain Fritz arranged for Ruby to shoot Oswald.After all Fritz left some gap between himself and Oswald in the basement.

    • No, I think Ruby was re-tasked during phone calls to and from Los Angeles that afternoon. He first attempted to get to Oswald on Saturday during the initial planned move but that transfer did not happen then. I think Ruby knew cops on the inside who were giving him information about what was going on with Oswald but they probably just thought he was curious or trying to shop tidbits to his news and radio connections…Ruby tried to know everybody and have an in with everyone. I outline this in great detail with a timeline in SWHT and you can see exactly who Ruby was interacting with and how his role changed on Friday afternoon…its very visible if you look closely enough.

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