By mid-1963 President Kennedy was well into several initiatives that were moving covert military operations away from the CIA, and personnel in the CIA Directorate of Operations were not happy with that direction.  JFK had already transferred covert operations against North Vietnam to the Army and 1962 had seen the multi-agency Mongoose program against Cuba – with the CIA strictly in a support role. By the summer of 1963 JFK was looking at several options, including turning covert Cuban operations over to the military (if he determined to return to that tactic), exploring a totally autonomous offshore Cuban exile initiative with AMWORLD, and even pursuing the possibility of some sort of political accommodation with the Castro regime if Castro was willing to break from the Soviets.


The President had taken a number of measures to ensure oversight and control of CIA operations against Cuba, requiring sabotage projects to be proposed and reviewed in detail.  The Special Group Augmented was also tasked with increased oversight of all covert operations. However we have reason to suspect that control was not nearly as complete as intended.

We have indications that the CIA, in particular the Directorate of Plans/Operations was still capable of acting acting quite autonomously, certainly at the level of JMWAVE activities – which included infiltration, exfiltration, intelligence collection and limited support for the few on- island resistance groups still rumored to exist.  The extent of that operational autonomy can illustrated in one particular operation which came to be designated as TILT.


I’ve written about TILT before but my friends David Boylan and Bill Simpich continue to dig up documents which provide further insight – and a dramatic illustration of how JFK could indeed be isolated from extremely risky field activities. In the case of TILT, a mission which if it has come out as planned, would literally have shaken his administration to the core, very possibly shattering JFK’s chances for reelection.


Amazingly TILT did not even have its roots within the CIA, it evolved over a matter of months, based on rumors of Soviet missile technicians who had defected to a resistance group inside Cuba – individuals willing to reveal that Soviet ballistic missions and atomic warheads remained inside Cuba. Ultimately the rumor came to the attention of two powerful individuals highly critical of Kennedy’s actions on Cuba, William Pawley and James Eastland. Background on the project can be found in Chapter 1 of Someone Have Talked or at the following link:


William Pawley, had a long history with the CIA, including acting as a special advisor to President Eisenhower on the performance of the Agency.  He also had close personal connections to senior CIA officers such as J.C. King, Chief of the Western Hemisphere Division, Ted Shackley, Chief of Station at JMWAVE and Marshall Carter, CIA Deputy Director. In regard to the reports of Soviet defectors inside Cuba, Pawley approached both Shackley and Carter, offering his own resources and asking for JMWAVE support in extracting them.

Ultimately the operation evolved into a rather complex mission including multiple boats, a PBY type plane, a set of totally unvetted Cuban exile volunteers led by Eddie Bayo and the personal involvement of William Pawley, John Martino, Richard Billings of LIFE Magazine and a LIFE photo journalist.

None of the Cubans were cleared through standard CIA security protocols or given operational approval. And from a security standpoint, having two LIFE magazine employees recording the mission – as well as the implication that the information and ultimately the Russians would be passed on to Senator Eastland’s committee – is totally outside the boundaries of standard CIA practice.

Yet as the following documents reveal, it all happened and the mission was signed off on by various operations personnel including Deputy Director Marshall Carter and COS Shackley. Indeed the chief of the Cuba project, Desmond Fitzgerald was also read into the program at a certain point.

Incredibly, there is no sign that approval went above these individuals, to the Director of the CIA and certainly not to the Special Group Augmented, RFK or the President himself.  The Operations staff at JMWAVE acted totally autonomously in supporting the mission, treating it as an intelligence collections effort, risky but within their mandate. The political implications of success were studiously avoided in the written exchanges among all parties.

I’ve written about the TILT mission itself in great detail, providing both action and after action reports by Rip Robertson (Rutherford) and David Morales. The mission itself failed, with the officers in charge determining they had essentially been scammed, with Bayo using them simply to get a well-armed resistance team into Cuba.

Perhaps most amazingly, even the most basic security cleanup was not done, with the LIFE photographer simply walking off with his film.  It didn’t go into LIFE itself, but did later appear in a soldier of fortune magazine – which is why you can see it yourself in the following photos.

All of which suggests that a great deal more autonomy within CIA field operations than the President realized, or that anyone within among the JMWAVE field personnel appear to have questioned.



4 responses »

  1. Anthony M says:

    You’ve highlighted a very interesting feature of the TILT operation, namely that it was actually targeted as much against the Kennedy administration as against Cuba. People with the experience of Senator Eastman, William Pawley and General Carter would definitely have understood that, and I would suspect Shackley would have understood the political ramification of this also (he certainly should have been reasonably politically aware as a Chief of Station). Keeping the operation out of the formal procedures and systems for these sorts of operations was clearly deliberate and designed to prevent anyone in the administration becoming aware of it before (if it had succeeded) having a metaphorical bomb dropped on them. This is presumably not just about not taking this to the Special Group (Augmented), but presumably also measures such as not running normal clearance checks on the participants etc.
    It quite extraordinary to think that a group within the agency, including the DDCI, were acting to directly undermine the elected administration, but then perhaps not so extraordinary given the way Kennedy was viewed by this time, after the Bay Bigs, the Missile Crisis and developments around SE Asia.

    Clearly some people went even further as the months went by.

    Just as an aside it is an odd little feature of the Kennedy case as to how many times Richard Billings turns up. Here on TILT, then in Dallas involved in purchasing the Zapruder film, connecting to the Garrison enquiry and then with HSCA. I don’t know if he was witting or unwitting in any of this, but given his connections to Life’s management and their connections I do have a feeling that list is probably not entirely co-incidental.

    • larryjoe2 says:

      The TILT mission also illustrates the true lack of operational oversight that Washington always held over field operations – and the degree to which station chiefs could operate independently. During 1963 Shackley and Fitzgerald were both complaining that Cuban operations were being stalled by the lack of executive decision making – with JFK having to approve any sabotage operation and not actually signing off on a set of specific missions until October 24th.

      Shackley himself writes of how detailed the JMWAVE mission plans had to be for even non sabotage missions, placing arms caches, infiltration and exfiltration of intelligence assets. He even testified on how difficult it was to get approval for even the most routine missions, with such approval required to come from the Special Group Augmented.

      TILT was an extremely complex mission, with multiple boats, aircraft and even radar cover from the CIA ship LEDA. Yet there is no sign of it being documented and approved at the SGA level…certainly RFK would have immediately realized the potential consequences. TILT, involving Pawley and intended to collect information on Russian missiles in Cuba, was a national security class mission. Its consequences, positive or negative, could be compared with that of sending Gary Powers in a U-2 over Russia at a time when it was known U-2’s were being tracked and the Russians had missiles capable of downing them.

      The fact that TILT was concealed within CIA operations, and that Shackley clearly kept it compartmentalized even after it failed is significant. When you combine that behavior with what we have learned in regard to Bissell’s ongoing lies about the Cuba Project and about various Castro assassination projects we seem to be forced to accept that senior CIA officers had no qualms about lies. Given Helms behavior that should be no shock in regard to public disclosure and possibly not even in regards to Congressional oversight. The shock is that they would lie within their own chain of command and in violation of policy directives and operational orders.

      Its hard to imagine a worse sin when military and paramilitary operations are involved.

  2. David Andrews says:

    Larry, have you heard any legend of the Bayo infiltration team being machine-gunned in the water upon leaving Cuba? It seems to me that this was mentioned in a post on the Education Forum JFKA Debate years ago, but I have not been able to track that post down, or find that tale told elsewhere. THANKS

  3. larryjoe2 says:

    The best I recall is that was some totally un-sourced gossip circulating within parts of the exile community in Miami, just one of a dozen or more stories that was picked up on the street as it were….certainly Martino would have said something about that and of course he was present on the mission. Pawley himself thought they had the boat so overloaded with people and weapons that they swamped on the way in and never made it to the beach. By the summer of 63 a goodly number of the exiles did not trust the CIA at all and thought it was working against them, trying to shut down military action against Cuba – that attitude might explain that particular gossip.

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