It’s once again the anniversary of one of the most abject failures of American covert action – and yes I did state that correctly, under President Kennedy’s directives the insertion of an anti-Castro force into Cuba was to be extraordinarily covert. His orders were that the fighters be landed, but that if the initial effort at the Bay of Pigs met military opposition the the force was to be inserted elsewhere. His overall guideline was the same as that of the initial sponsor of the Cuba project – President Eisenhower – had demanded, the hand of the United States was not to be seen in the effort. JFK also ordered that the leaders of the force be specifically briefed that there would be no direct American military action in support of the landing or their moved to topple the Castro regime.
Kennedy met with the senior Cuba Project officers as well as personally with the Navy Admiral in charge of providing security for the Cuban Brigades transport across the Carribbian. He made the rules of engagement quite clear, defined the Navy security role, stressed absolute “deniablity”, and ordered that back up plans were prepared in the event the insertion was opposed.
The sad thing is that you likely will not read any of that in the routine anniversary stories of the landings. To a large part that is true because the full story of the entire Cuba Project and the disaster at the Bay of Pigs has really only emerged during the past two decades and the new documents and the real history of the full Cuba Project has not made its way into either the mainstream history books or the mainstream press.
Which means the general public – or at least the section of it interested in history – has little idea of the initial regime change effort pursued by the Eisenhower Administration, its total failure or its conversion to something entirely different in the first months of the Kennedy Administration. Shockingly, even the CIA field commanders involved in the Bay of Pigs had no idea how badly they and the President were misled by the actual project chief, Richard Bissell during that period.
The CIA Inspector who evaluated and wrote a devastating critique of the effort certainly did, however his report was suppressed and Bissell was allowed to substitute is own rebuttal, ensuring the depth of his mistakes became thoroughly obfuscated – even from his subordinates. Decades later, when shown the actual documents and records relating to the landings they could only register shock and disdain, openly calling project chief Bissell a liar -clearly misleading both them and the President.
But the real history goes much further than that tragedy of leadership, the records and oral histories we have now suggest that Bissell and the senior Navy officer on the project were talking a number of actions not communicated to the President. Actions which placed a squadron of armed ground strike aircraft on the carrier Essex, the command ship intended only to escort the transports and landing craft to Cuba. Nothing in JFK’s plan called for that type of American air strike capability. Nor did it call for the super-carrier group the Admiral also dispatched off the Cuba shores – a force with the capability of sufficient direct military action to destroy Cuban armed forces across the island.
In addition JFK was not briefed on a number of things we now know about, but which still don’t make it into the official histories – such as a number of efforts to insert rifle teams to assassinate Fidel Castro during the weeks before the landing. Or the effort run out of the Navy base at Guantanamo which placed a key group of exile fighters directly outside that facility, with a huge store of explosives and no obvious target or mission other than a false flag attack on the base itself. Something which could have triggered a massive Navy retaliation strike from the carrier groups off Cuba.
Its taken decades of work by very good historians to reveal the sort of information you will not find in the anniversary articles on the Bay of Pigs. Fortunately I was able to take advantage of their work, and of some of my own new research, to tell a much fuller story of both the Cuba Project and the Bay of Pigs – its part of my book In Denial / Secret Wars with Air Strikes and Tanks.
If you are interested, my publisher has even gone so far as to extend a special offer during the anniversary of the Bay of Pigs landings. You can find the book and the offer on Amazon at: