In my last post I outlined the history of two tracks for political assassination within the CIA during the Cold War. The first track was essentially “tops down”, in some instances beginning with remarks from the president and put into action by orders from the Director of the Agency.  Examples cited included Eisenhower’s elimination remark in regard to Patrice Lumumba, and Clinton’s kill order on Osama Bin Laden. In other instances the initiative came from within “senior levels” of the Agency – as when the head of Western Hemisphere operations proposed the “elimination” of Fidel Castro.

In practice assassinations efforts were actually overseen by senior officers in the Plans/Operations Directorate.  While best known for his success in technology projects related to the U-2 and satellite reconnaissance, Richard Bissell’s move into covert operations led him to play a key role in assassination activities. His activities included launching two separate efforts to eliminate Lumumba (one using Staff D external assets) and again turning to Staff D (and external assets) in a poison effort against Fidel Castro. For a time Bissell seems to have been at the center of CIA political assassinations activities – all of which involved the use of assets from outside the CIA (often criminal assets) or the use of CIA surrogates (as with the shipping of rifles to the Dominican Republic which were ultimately used in the assassination of Rafael Trujillo).

Bissell, acting though his aide Tracy Barnes, appears to have also exercised a decision making role in regard to assassination proposals coming up from inside the CIA (Track 2) , including those forwarded up though case officers. . In one instance Barnes had proceeded with with a plan (proposed by a Cuban contact) to kill Castro by downing a Cuban airliner – only to have the project stopped by Bissell.

Yet following the disaster at the Bay of Pigs, by early 1962 Bissell had left the CIA, replaced by Richard Helms. And Helms, in a repetition of practices, ssigned the head of Staff D, William Harvey, to the task of political assassination. Harvey, having also been assigned to head the CIA portion of the ongoing effort to over throw the Castro regime, reactivated the earlier effort against Castro.

The point of reiterating this history is literally that it is history. The activities described above were discovered by the Church committee in its work on CIA political assassination. While there were limited paper trials for certain of them, CIA funds had been approved, and the efforts which came from the top down (Director level or Deputy Director level) are visible as sanctioned projects. Humorously enough some of the records come from within operations, with supervisors requiring formal authority to spend budgeted money or assign personnel without someone telling them what was going on (as with the Castro assassination plot or the problems getting someone inside Staff D to accept the directive to target Lumumba).

Where matters get much less clear, are those assassination activities that appear to have been enabled by CIA case and field officers, most often responding to proposals from their surrogates. Examples include a series of rifle attack plans against Castro which appear to have been suggested by paramilitary assets including Felix Rodriquez in early 1961.

As I’ve written about in multiple books, there appears considerable evidence that field officers working on anti-Castro projects had become very much involved in enabling surrogates simply by allowing them to operate inside sanctioned activities, using monies, weapons and even sanctioned missions for secondary purposes. Individuals such as Rip Robertson carried piggybacked attacks in that manner, and Tony Sforza can be shown to have enabled surrogates in assassination efforts not only inside Cuba but on to the Allende coup in Chile in the early 1970s.

Which leads to the subject of my next post. In that I’ll take a look at what was happening within the CIA in regard to JFK in 1963, and the activities which provide some insight as to whether we see a Track 1 tops down vs. a Track 2 conspiracy leading to the attack on the President in Dallas. .


5 responses »

  1. John F. Davies says:

    From what I read here of the highly decentralized nature of CIA assassination programs, there is a haunting similarity to how the CIA’s infamous “Operation Phoenix” operated during the Vietnam war. The same methodology of having Field Officers and other surrogates decide on operations without any confirmation on whether the targeted individual was VC or not was the standard procedure. And as mentioned, surrogates were also allowed to operate within sanctioned activities, as well as settling certain political scores.
    It appears that in many ways, the Modus Oporendai of CIA assassination programs continued throughout the rest of Cold War, although after the Church Committee the CIA turned to asking other Foreign Intel agencies such as Mossad and the KCIA for carrying out assassination projects.
    The above was told to me during my time working with Military Intel forty years ago.

  2. larryjoe2 says:

    Unfortunately there is no doubt that CIA operations personnel, not to mention some of the anti-Castro Cubans operating from JMWAVE, carried their independent practices on to SE Asia and specifically applied them in support of the Phoenix program – I track some of them like Morales, and Robertson as well as Felix Rodriquez in Shadow Warfare. The three of them were associated with some of the most aggressive Phoenix operations areas and Robertson in particular was involved in the training center that put out the Vietnamese security personnel who were commonly associated with torture and murder. Basically the system controls that were in place earlier simply dissolved as things got more and more desperate in S. Vietnam.

    As to the second assertion, there certainly are plenty of rumors along those lines and it would not be inconsistent with Angleton’s attempt to assist Harvey in bringing MI6 into the Castro assassination. Given Angleton’s deep connections to Israeli intelligence it would be no shock to find him brokering them into operations if offered the chance but I’d be pressed for anything specific. One of the problems is that after the Church Committee and after the scandals of the seventies people started seeing the CIA as behind any and all political assassinations.

    Given their record in the decades I’ve studied them, that strikes me as overestimating their abilities. For example when one president directly asked the CIA to kill Bin Laden in Africa after he had essentially relocated from Saudi Arabia, their response was that they had no assets in place for that type of work – later an assassination effort was carried out and failed but Egypt was the main force behind it.

  3. John F. Davies says:

    Your last paragraph confirms why my schoolteacher Mother always called it the “Clumsy Intelligence Agency”. She described it as an inefficient, uncoordinated, over reaching, arrogant Federal bureaucracy, so over compartmentalized that it can’t do its job efficiently. And the only time they can ever work together is when the Agency itself and its interests are under threat.

  4. larryjoe2 says:

    I’m afraid that pretty well describes the Cold War, pre-2001 Agency….primarily because it had come to be “all things” when Plans/Operations began to consume so much of its time and mind share. In terms of collections and analysis it did extremely good work, generally being right when the military intelligence groups were wrong, especially in Soviet estimates.

    But whenever plans took the lead in paramilitary operations it overran its abilities and often the operations guys ignored the inel side (the Bay of Pigs is a classic example) due to hubris and a will to succeed which consistently betrayed good sense. JFK was right on the money in moving to take covert and deniable military operations away from them but unfortunately SE Asia allowed a resurgence. Having Shackley largely in charge of military operations in Laos is just as bad as things can get.

    In contrast, their contemporary role – which is primarily a support function for JSOC has them in a much more viable position. There are problems with that but its still far more efficient than the literal mess that your post accurately captures.

  5. John F. Davies says:

    Personal story.
    During my time in the service, every year DOD would publish a glossy magazine-like publication titled- “Soviet Military Power”. It displayed all the latest Soviet weapon systems, with all the performance figures and ominous tomes about how effective they were. I once compared this to what was in Jane’s Weapon Systems, and usually found them at variance. When I asked another Officer, he matter of factly replied that this was meant to scare the Congress into voting money every year. Straight from the horse’s mouth.

    The CIA on the other hand, had a more rational analysis based on input from a variety of sources, and as they had no institutional ties, the analysis branch did indeed give a more accurate picture of the Soviet military. Which showed that Ivan was in fact a great creaking beast that was ready to fall apart with just a a little push. And which also happened ten years later.

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