Tracy Barnes is an individual whose path I keep crossing. Most recently in the current work I’m doing on the Cuba Project and the Bay of Pigs. I first came across Barnes when I was researching NEXUS, my book on the CIA and assassinations. As it happened Tracy was the head of the CIA’s Guatemala operations (PBSUCCESS), a program which paid a great deal of attention to assassination, while not actually carrying out most of the planned murders simply due to the pace of events – which moved quicker than did the actual assassination plans (which themselves involved not only the use of threats for intimidation, but a program of regime elimination as part of the actual coup).
Barnes turned up again in the Cuba Project, that time as an aide to Richard Bissell, the project chief. The Cuba Project had an extremely bifurcated and compartmentalized organization structure – a significant factor in its failures. While Barnes is sometimes characterized as the individual responsible for the Cuba project under Bissell (yes, that’s what Wikipedia says), that was not at all true. The project’s major operations were run under WH/4, a task group of CIA Western Hemisphere led by J.C. King, with actual operations under Jake Easterline (taking direction from Bissell, possibly relayed through Barnes). In fact the deeper you dig into the organization chart the more amazingly poor the whole command and control structure of the Cuba Project becomes.
Finding Barnes in both projects where assassination was a major, if hidden element, of operations led me to do a good deal of research on Barnes and it’s amazingly hard to find solid information on him. One of the things that emerged early on is that he and Bissell had both been rumored within the Agency itself to have constituted what was called the “Health Alteration Committee”.
One instance, documented by the HSCA, involved Barnes – acting under Bissell – to either assassinate or incapacitate an Iraqi Colonel with a poisoned handkerchief. Another involved Barnes giving the order to blow up a Cuban airliner, hopefully with Fidel Castro on board…and order cancelled by Bissell. While Castro makes some sense, given the structure of the CIA it’s difficult to imagine exactly what authority Bissell and Barnes would have had in regard to Iraq, it certainly is inconsistent with the known assignments. Which leads to the speculation that the two men may simply have been known to be willing to pursue such actions and used at senior officer discretion – as an on call team for such actions. Barnes apparent involvement in the Trujillo assassination comes to mind in that regard.
It is rather hard to trace Barnes’ exact responsibilities and activities. For example after the failure of the Cuba Project he was reassigned to Domestic Operations, a rather backwater post compared to his previous career postings. But one interesting to JFK research because it would be CIA Domestic Operations which appears to have contacted Lee Oswald on his return to the United States – and through surrogates in his return to Dallas, Texas. If there was one unit of the CIA that should have been monitoring Lee Oswald in 1963 it would have been Domestic Operations, searching for reports on Oswald from Domestic Operations, or copied to it or to Barnes would be an interesting task.
As for myself, my limited posting time recently is largely due to my intense work on a new book dealing with the Cuba Project. And in research for that book, Richard Bissell becomes a primary figure – as he should as chief of the project. So do Jake Easterline, operations chief in WH/4 and Colonel Hawkins the project’s military officer (of its second phase – the landings in Cuba; its first phase failed after some six months).
But I’ve been struck by how little Barnes appears in communications and reports. He was so deeply into the project that he did attend strategic meetings, he was a player at project HQ and was clearly trusted by Bissell. But what was his real role? One of the directions I’m going now is that Bissell had compartmentalized things to the extent that the Guatemala and Nicaragua operations of the project were quite separated from the boat missions and intelligence collections going on out of the project’s Miami Base (not yet designated JMWAVE) and its Key West maritime missions base.
One of the things the IG report on the project criticized was how insular and isolated those Florida missions were from the overall project. And interestingly enough in the early months of 1961 the Florida base and in particular Key West appears to be where the sniper attacks and assassination missions against Fidel Castro were being run.
Missions apparently under the oversight of none other than Carl Jenkins. But the question arises, who was the HQ person giving orders for those missions. At present I’m speculating it was Tracy Barnes, acting very secretly under Richard Bissell – who in turn had initiated the separate efforts to kill Fidel Castro using Roselli, Trafficante et al. Even with all the work we have done to date we have never established an operational connection between the poison efforts and the Cuba Project. The same can be said for the sniper attacks and the Cuba Project headquarters.
Now I’m thinking that the connection may well have been Tracy Barnes. And when Bissell and Barnes hit the wall with the failure at the Bay of Pigs, they lost their position as the Health Alteration Committee…..which meant they needed to be replaced….Mr. Harvey, we have a new task for you.