I’ve written about the TILT action several times so a search should give background on it. And thanks to work by my friend David Boylan, even more details are surfacing, not just on the mission but in regard to the CIA officers who approved it.
What becomes more and more interesting with additional documents is the extent to which the operation was an independent action of the CIA, specifically of its Miami Station. An action which violated a good number of standard security protocols, utilized Cuban exile personnel unknown to the station – unvetted as per standard practice – and exposed both mission craft and CIA personnel to commercial photography (a LIFE photojournalist) which was neither reviewed nor controlled in any fashion.
The mission itself had originated as a Cuban exile proposal, channeled through various Miami figures (including John Martino) and politicians to the point where it reached a prominent former ambassador and presidential security advisor (William Pawley) as well as a very anti-Kennedy Senator, Julian Sourwine of the Senate Internal Security Committee.
The operation, including Pawley, Martino, four CIA officers, Eduardo Perez (Bayo) and a number of non-operational Cuban exiles involved one of only two CIA “ghost” ships (providing radar overwatch), additonal boats and an aircraft. The mission went well into Cuban territorial waters in order to send in a boat load of heavily armed anti-Castro fighters into Cuba – purportedly to bring out Russian missile technicians with evidence missiles still hidden in Cuba. For those not familiar with TILT, full details of the mission may be found here:
It occurred at a time when all missions into Cuba were to be approved by the covert action committee – Special Group Augmented – and by the president himself. In spite of that it was apparently conducted without informing either, and arrangements were made to provide information from the mission to a Congressional committee and to LIFE magazine – in what would have been a tremendous political blow to the Kennedy administration.
The team sent ashore never communicated nor attempted to recover per the plan. Afterwards both the CIA field officer in charge (Robertson) and the JMWAVE senior operations officer (Morales) prepared memos asserting that they and the CIA itself had been duped by the Cubans. Interestingly those memos contain detailed information that should have made it rather obvious that something was wrong from the very beginning (primarily a complete lack of interest in plans to recover the group along with the Russian officers).
Equally interesting is a follow up memo from the Miami Chief of Station (Shackley) which suggests the CIA had little to no information on the Cubans being sent on the mission with Pawley and that it had been taken in a “con game” by Bayo and Martino.
Beyond that Shackley himself touts the benefits of the mission regardless of how badly he and more senior CIA officers had been taken – to the point of how much it impressed William Pawley (QDDALE), senior managers at LIFE magazine (perhaps including Henry Luce) as to the difficulties faced by CIA in carrying out Cuban missions – hence minimizing future bad press about the CIA. Shackley was also quite pleased that Senator Sourwine would be impressed by the CIA’s wiliness to take independent action and conduct high risk missions.
While Shackley himself is sometimes touted as being conservative, the TILT mission illustrates his obvious willingness to operate outside the box, for both media and political gain. Years later he would show the same lack of restraint in Los and Vietnam, authorizing extremely high risk actions with no regard at all for the personnel involved.
Perhaps most importantly, the mission, and Shackley’s rather causal response to all parties being conned, obscures the fact that officers within the Agency were actively violating presidential and special group directives, not to mention acting well outside standard oversight. Shackley’s lack of concern for higher level oversight as well as the fact that there were no repercussions for such independent action could hardly have escaped either Morales or Robertson.