Bay of Pigs Open Questions

This is an update on the ongoing work I’m doing, an extension of the Task Force Alpha post I made a couple of weeks ago. It’s proved to be quite challenging. I did obtain the oral history of Admiral Dennison, as CINC Atlantic, he had the primary command role in Navy support for the CIA landing operation designated Bumpy Road. It’s clear that I’m going to have to work all the research into a monograph, it’s far too lengthy a subject for a blog post. But for the moment, I’ll touch on a few things that jump out at me.
First, it is unclear whether the CIA actually prepared a written plan for the original Trinidad landing; if they did it and the critical Navy rules of engagement for it are missing. That means there is limited documentation available from the Eisenhower Administration and exactly what Ike might have verbally committed to is unclear. Given what remarks we do have from him there is reason to suspect that he would have much more readily bought into public Navy and Naval Air support for the landing; regardless of the B-26 operations being prepared by the CIA Air staff. As of December Ike had even made a remark about “provoking” Castro and using an event to trigger the landings – it’s quite possible he would have allowed the Navy to perform standard convoy duty and combat air patrols right into the landing area at Trinidad. That would almost certainly have led to Cuban attacks and full scale engagement by American forces.
It also has to be noted that despite the efforts of CIA apologists, the JCS staff did give some very solid warnings against the change from Trinidad to Zapata, the air consultants also advised that there was an 85% chance that the planned surprise air strike would not successfully take out the entire Cuban air force and warned that if a single armed Cuban air craft appeared over the landing that it would be able to successfully attack and very likely destroy or significantly jeopardize the entire landing. That warning seems never to have registered with the CIA and most certainly was not passed up to JFK.
The Navy CIA liaison for Bumpy Road was adamant that the initial Trinidad plan would have succeeded; unfortunately we don’t have any detailed comments on why he felt so strongly or what might have really changed in the transition between administrations. There certainly is some evidence that the official chain of communications from via the JCS and Admiral Dennison might have been supplemented by another chain going from Bissell to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Burke. I find it more than a little interesting that Admiral Burke apparently issued the order to the Navy command ship (the aircraft carrier Essex) at the Bay of Pigs (Zapata) for all ships records to be incinerated…before the Essex departed from the scene.
However, having said all that, the other thing that becomes more and more clear is that the Brigade Air Operations were far short of what would have been required to enable and sustain a successful landing and that Bissell and Cabell repeatedly failed to make the point clear to JFK…who was still under the impression that the Brigade could fade into the mountains and turn guerilla, a course of action virtually impossible from the Bay of Pigs and never part of the Brigade’s training or equipping. Even as the Brigade ships were coming under attack, Bissell and Cabell never explained the distinction to JFK.
I intend to continue this study as I have time and to prepare a study of it, for the time being it will have to remain an open issue and I will move on to other blog topics.

Rules of Engagement

Rules of Engagement (ROE) are the written guidelines for when and with what force the American military may engage hostile forces. ROE drew a great deal of attention in regard to the SE Asian fighting and ROE restrictions undoubtedly cost American lives there.  I’ve become much more familiar with ROE and it appears as a major topic in my upcoming book, Surprise Attack.  As it turns out it is proved to be an extremely critical issue – and one generally ignored by the media – during the attacks on America on 9/11.  Its also a much more seminal issue all the way back to Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and the early Cold War administrations of Eisenhower and JFK.  And as I’m learning in further Bay of Pigs Study it may have been a key factor in the transition of that CIA operation against Cuba.

I’m obtaining more primary source material on the Bay of Pigs but one thing that has jumped out at me so far is that while JFK required written plans for the CIA operation – and forced a broad evaluation of them once his administration came into place, its unclear whether Eisenhower did the same.  He certainly met with the CIA officers in charge and got verbal descriptions, certain of his comments are a matter of record.  But to date I have been unable to locate a detailed written plan for the Trinidad operation as designed under the Eisenhower administration, or for that matter, the ROE for the Naval forces assigned.  I may just be missing it so far but even with what I’ve found its possible to reverse engineer a bit of it simply from examining the Mach and April ’61 changes to the proposed and JCS approved ROE.

One thing that quickly becomes evident is that both JFK and McNamara were quite concerned that the ROE being put in place by the Navy would to easily allow combat to begin between Cuban and possibly even Soviet forces and the American Navy.  Of course there was nothing strange about that, its clear the Navy had been assigned to escort the landing ships and support/protect them as a classic convoy operation. Standard military practice – but we find that it produced a series of urgent directives to the Joint Chiefs to modify the ROE and to ensure there were no combat engagements prior to the landing.  With those directives, what had been laid on as a standard convoy type escort for the Brigade landing group, literally up to some three miles of the landing – with authority to engage any hostile forces which threatened the Brigade-  turned into something very different.  Certainly if the Navy destroyers had moved in as close as initially authorized,  they would have taken Cuban fire and in return the Navy would have decimated the Cuban defense forces, including their aircraft.  But of course that would have quickly been seen as an American invasion. On April 7, direction from the President made it absolutely clear the ROE would be changed to reflect that US forces were to distance themselves by at least twenty miles and no engagement was authorized unless the landing craft were attacked up to that point – and then the landing would be aborted and the US forces would simply cover the landing force as it moved away from Cuba.

The core issue that shows up in all this is that Eisenhower was not nearly as concerned about American visibility in the operation as JFK was, leaving JFK inheriting a plan that was essentially not deniable, and trying to turn it into something that was in something like two months.  While it was impossible to control the total operation (after all it included landing tanks and a paratroop drop) it was possible to control the location and the ROE.  It also appears that concern over the Navy and its ROE was something that may have stuck with both McNamara and Bundy……leading to their focus on ROE during the Cuban missile crisis, a confrontation with the Admiral in charge of the Cuban blockade and JFK’s personal involvement with details of the Navy ROE, up to the point of what sort of explosives were to be used in interdicting Soviet submarines.

In the end, changes in ROE may have dramatically affected the CIA operation against Cuba, something obscured by all the attention given to the B-26 strikes, but whatever its impact there, the sensitivity to ROE may also have helped avert World War III only twelve months later.

Evolution of the Cuban Landings

In pursuing questions raised by the earlier article I posted on the Bay of Pigs and Task Force Alpha, I’ve made a much more detailed comparison of the information in the article and the best available chronology of the evolving operation – anyone interested should give the chronology a read:
I’m still pondering but it leads me to some preliminary observations. As late summer ’60, the Special Group (SG) was only being informed about plans, and expressed a lack of confidence in the success of guerrilla action alone. On October 31 CIA headquarters confirm the shift in planning to an amphibious landing by up to 1,500 exiles and on Nov. 8 the SG was informed of that shift….they did not approve anything at that point. On November 29 Eisenhower was also informed and enjoined those running the project to be more aggressive. On December 8 the SG did approve paramilitary trainers for the Brigade, an airstrip in Nicaragua and supply missions into Cuba.
On Dec 20 the Commander in Chief Atlantic (Denison) expressed his concern to the CIA about the operation and submitted 120 questions; only a dozen were answered. It’s important to note that the Navy liaison assigned to the project (Captain Scapa) was told only to talk to the CIA eg Bissell and to Chief of Naval Operations Burke – who was in turn briefed only by Bissell. That meant that CINCATLANT Denison was largely out of the direct CIA loop but apparently receiving orders and directives from the Joint Chiefs for rules of engagement for the forces that came to be assigned to support the amphibious and landing craft Scapa was involved with preparing.
On Jan 4, ’61 the CIA plan was documented and assumed strikes against Cuban air and naval forces. No specific details on given on the nature of those strikes but when JFK was briefed by Ike on Jan 19 he was told that Ike felt the operation must receive major US support, even if public. At that point Ike appears to have signed on to a non-deniable operation – the nature of that becomes more clear later but confusion appears to have already been in play because when Hawkins/Easterline briefed JCS reps on Jan 30 they stated that no over US military support was necessary. Ike had initially wanted the landing to occur by Jan 30 but clearly the preparations had lagged.
On Feb 8 JFK expressed the direction that he wanted an effort not requiring obvious support by US ships, planes and supply missions. The following day, CINCLANT Denison met with JFK and asked if he wanted a “bail out” option if the landing failed….JFK said definitely no to that, in that event the exiles were to disburse into guerrilla operations. By Feb 17 JFK has become firm that he would approve only a large scale infiltration, not the type of landing that had been prepared for Trinidad. Within a week JCS warned the CIA that if a single Castro plane appeared over the landing area it could well sink all or most of the landing force. And on March 11, JFK officially rejected the Trinidad landing.
The strange thing is that on March 24, naval support for the CIA operation was finalized (including rules of engagement) and included naval air cover over the landing site beginning at 0600 the day before the landing. It seems rather clear that at some level, the Navy had been planning for full air cover over the Trinidad landing for some time, although that is not really mentioned in any of the later Bay of Pigs inquiries. In March, Dennison also proposed expanding the initial Navy rules of engagement to involve US ships intervening if the Brigade landing ships were attacked and at risk. Clearly the Navy was actively promoting and preparing for overt military support of the landing……the question is whether or not Denison had discussed this level of detail with JFK in their meeting of Feb 9? The article previously posted refers to an oral history from Denison in which he states that the original plan which he had proceeded to implement for the Trinidad landing included naval air cover and combat air patrols for the landing but that was cancelled when the Trinidad plan was replaced by Zapata. If the Trinidad support plans had remained in place for Zapata the pre-landing B-26 strikes would have not been critical because with ground attack in place by the A-4’s as well as CAP, the surviving Cuban aircraft would quickly have been eliminated over the beachhead.
On April 1 the JCS approved Denison’s proposed rules of engagement (ROE), which seemingly would have provided active combat air cover and naval destroyer support if needed. On April 5 Task Force Alpha and the Essex sailed….the Essex had debarked all its normal ASW aircraft in preparation to take Navy A-4 attack jets on at sea – clearly reflecting the rules approved by the JCS. So on Arpil 5 the Navy seems to have been continuing preparations for the same type of air support which had originally been described by Denison. But on April 5 JFK directed that the ROE needed to specify that if the landings ships actually need protection, the landing was to abort! A major disconnect seems to be in play three weeks before the landing. And given JFK’s April 5 order, when Bissell and Cabell learned that only half of Castro’s air force had been destroyed in the pre-landing B-26 attack they should have either begun aborting the landing themselves or gone to JFK and clearly spelled out that was the only option unless the rules were changed.
The preceding thoughts are very preliminary and I may well be misreading or misunderstanding something in the chronology or article so if you are closely following this, please give them both a read and let me know where and how my reading is incorrect. ..thanks.

The Bay of Pigs and the US Navy

There is a real temptation among those interested in the JFK assassination to look at the personalities and events – as well as “practices” – of 1963 as being unique. I had hoped that with the research and publication in Shadow Warfare, I could bring a broader perspective and those that have read it generally seem to agree. The frustrating thing is that it has either not come to the attention of or been read by very many people, especially within the JFK community. That may be because increasingly there is a real reliance on internet sources….which can be really a bad thing considering how many myths, legends and misinformation that readily floats on the net. On the other hand, if you focus on actually historical sites and archives there is great material…it takes a bit longer to find it but it’s well worth the trouble. The following is largely derived from such a study, which you can find for yourselves in the following publication:
In working on updates to my forthcoming 2015 book on national security, I happened to revisit the Bay of Pigs, with a particular interest in one of the things that has troubled me for some time. It’s something that appears in most JFK books and is stated either without much elaboration or as something to be taken for granted. However, since we have the CIA IG report, the Taylor Commission report and the CIA internal rebuttal to the Taylor Commission all online, the question of why there were Navy jet strike aircraft off Cuba, why there was an aircraft carrier there, and why there was apparently a much larger Navy force including a Marine landing Brigade should come to mind when one reads all those reports.
After all, from the beginning, the Eisenhower era plan had involved landing a guerrilla force and even the altered plan of early 1961 had called for a very low profile, night landing with absolutely no overt involvement by the American military. Captain Jake Scapa had from the beginning been assigned to work with the CIA operation, primarily on its amphibious elements – he was assistant chief of plans and operations at the Navy’s Little Creek Amphibious base.
If you dig into the plans and reports, the only noted assignment of Navy ships was to provide a screening force of destroyers to remotely shadow the smaller landing craft from Nicaragua – to provide aid in case there were mechanical or other problems and to shield the group from vessels that might cross its path. They were to be turned away under cover of a Navy exercise in progress. The basic “shadow” force was designated as Task Force Able, it operated under the operational designation “Bumpy Road” and consisted of an anti-submarine task group including an ASW carrier (with helicopters and propeller driven aircraft capable of using depth charges), ostensibly deployed for exercises. It is not unusual to find such groups accompanied by a submarine and two submarine did deploy with Task Force Alpha operation. The force had been scheduled for exercises off Rhode Island but those exercise were simply moved to the Caribbean.
It appears that Task Force Alpha also contained a Navy element not discussed in any real detail in the post Bay of Pigs inquiries – the ASW carrier USS Essex flew off its normal complement of helicopter and propeller aircraft and was reportedly stocked with a variety of ordinance for land strikes. The carrier was also accompanied by a CIA officer. After debarking and while at sea, the Essex took on board a flight of Navy jet attack aircraft – a dozen of A-4 jets were deployed out of squadron AS-34. The referenced article on the operation suggests that as far as the Navy was concerned the original, Trinidad landing, version of the invasion plan was to be supported by Naval air strikes and combat air patrols over the landing area – yet historically there has never been any suggestion of that in the plans reportedly presented to President’s Eisenhower or Kennedy. Beyond that, the Admirals in charge appear to have taken their own initiative to significantly increase the force by activating a second carrier (the USS Independence), a light cruiser (the USS Galveston), a full Marine Landing Brigade and two full additional squadrons of destroyers.
Once again this seems far beyond the scope of any known plan and was apparently done without the knowledge of the White House or President. This is an area that has never been clear in regard to the Bay of Pigs and some friends have volunteered to help me with a FOIA project that may reveal more. Wish us luck!
This incident is simply one more illustration that there have often been serious disconnects between the Commander in Chief and the military service’s senior officers. Everyone knows about Truman and MacArthur, most do not know that Eisenhower pursued military legal measures against some of his former Chiefs – even after their retirement. Which brings us back to my basic point, which is that we need as much perspective as we can get in historical studies.

Cuba 50 Years Late

Those reading this week’s news about President Obama’s effort to open some level of diplomatic relations with Cuba won’t be seeing much – if any – mention of the fact that it is an effort actually begun over 50 years ago, by President John Kennedy.  During 1963 JFK had begun a highly secret dialog with Fidel Castro, in an effort which he hoped would restore basic relations and some level of trade in 1964.  The details of that effort are now well known, I describe them in SWHT and NEXUS and a great deal of the original source documents including phone calls are available at the National Security Archive web site.

The 1963 initiative actually began with an outreach by representatives of Fidel Castro.  Castro had become greatly disenchanted with the Soviet Union and had recently moved to suppress Soviet oriented Communists within his own regime. He used personal and media representatives to extend an offer for talks on restoring relations – in turn JFK made it clear that he would demand that Cuba stop its efforts to spawn new Communist movements in Latin America and make moves towards a more neutral position in international relations, cooling its military alliance with the Soviets.  In doing so, JFK demonstrated that he was one of the few politicians of the time who understood the impetus towards nationalism and the value of neutrality in third world nations and was prepared to take advantage of it to block further creation of Soviet client states.  Of course Kennedy faced huge political danger in such a move, RFK warned him it could lead to impeachment if Congress found out about it before a deal could be reached. However Castro responded in a very open fashion, taking nothing off the table in agreeing to negotiations.  It could have been a huge strategic gain for the United States, at a time when Communist expansion around the globe appeared to be increasingly successful.   Kennedy had the nerve to explore the possibilities, and by November, 1963 arrangements were being made for the first meetings between personal representatives – then came Dallas.

Castro felt so strongly that improved relations were desirable that the made the same outreach to LBJ,  going so far as offering him the option of Johnson publicly acting against Cuba to ensure his election – while secretly opening a dialog.  Johnson refused to even acknowledge the outreach and certain parties – particularly Helms and Bundy – acted to block Castro’s representatives from presenting further offers to the White House.

Fast forward to 2014….and 50 years of inertia, including an ongoing economic embargo.  Beginning in 2013, Putin’s militarily reinvigorated Russia began its own outreach to Latin America, leveraging its oil revenues to begin to restore relationships which had fallen apart with its financial crisis following the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.   Cuba was not the only opportunity for Putin, Venezuela was as well.  The appearance of Russian bombers in Venezuela and the declaration of Russian military flights off the American coasts, including over the Gulf of Mexico, was something not even seen during the Cold War. The U.S. had chosen not to deal with the Cuban relationship for some five decades, it appeared very possible that the Russian Federation might be interested in setting the clock back a few decades, dramatically improving its relationship with a new Cuban government.

Then, anticipated by virtually nobody, the bottom fell out of the oil and gas market, the economies of both Russia and Venezuela began to tank. Venezuela had been acting as a financial surrogate for Cuba,  supplying its energy needs virtually free of charge.  Suddenly those days appeared to be coming to an end.  At that point it appears the Cuban government once again put out its own feelers for an improved relationship with the United States and the Obama Administration responded.  Of course any President can only do so much on his own and its very likely that Congress will attempt to block a truly expanded relationship – although numbers of agriculture oriented states have been lobbying for trade relations with Cuba for some years, touting the opportunity for real job growth and income from doing business with a market only 90 miles off shore.

Real opportunities – both geopolitical and trade – suddenly exist, largely based in the new-found energy sufficiency of the U.S.  Kennedy missed an opportunity 50 years ago, obviously through no fault of his own.  The question is whether the United States understands its own history and can get past the political opposition that will now erupt. We have no idea if good sense would have triumphed in 1964.  We’ll see if we’ve learned anything at all from the establishment of relations and trade with Vietnam, with China and with other dire Cold War enemies since then.

Where’s the Strategy?

The language of clear and present danger,  “the _______ unlike previous aspirants for hegemony, is motivated by a new fanatic faith, antithetical to our own and seeks to impose its absolute authority over the rest of the world”.   The quote is from The National Security, by Norman Graebner, his book was published in 1986 and the subject of the quote is the Soviet Union. The actual verbiage is from the National Security Council, in its document number 68, begun in 1949 and issued in early 1950.

Fast forward to 2014 and the same statement could be made in regard to the fundamentalist jihadi movement, as epitomized by ISIS/ISIL and demonstrated by the military establishment of new “caliphates” across the Middle East, in Libya and into Yemen and Nigeria. If anything the new fundamentalist regimes are more openly  brutal in their takeovers than the Communist regimes which were taking control of Russia, China and North Korea during late 40’s and early 50’s. The actual loss of life to date would shift strongly to the Communist regimes, but the jihadi caliphates are much more open about their methods and practices.

The point in the comparison is that under the administrations from Truman through Kennedy, there was an immense amount of strategic effort devoted to characterizing and coming up it both new national security practices and strategies to counter what was perceived as a global threat. There was also an immense amount of Congressional attention to that threat and a variety of legislation was passed to deal with it.  As of 2014 that legislation remains largely unchanged and serves as the platform for dealing with an entirely different type of threat, one which more openly proclaims its desire to take absolute control over the rest of the world.  While this is not an article in praise of the Cold War American strategies, it should at least be acknowledged that they were developed, debated and implemented with Congressional involvement.

Yet after years of a new growing threat, one which now actually claims significant geographic areas of control, there appears to be little strategic dialog.  At best we see knee jerk military actions and a constantly broadening military assistance programs, including National Guard relationships with over 60 nations around the globe and a constantly expanding low visibility military capability.

View story at

As followers of this blog and readers of Shadow Warfare know, I don’t see such things as necessarily bad, more like necessary evils.  What troubles me is that way back in the Cold War, the U.S. pursued its National Security strategy with vigor but was often blind to the more subtle nuances – such as the differentiation between Communist and Nationalist movements.  That led us to aligning with first colonial and later military dictatorships and ultimately forced  many nationalist movements towards the Communist banner and outreach to Communist nations, simply in reaction.  The contemporary question is whether we would be able to come up with a more rational strategy, for instance one which could address the complex situation in major nations such as Nigeria.

Perhaps a more rational strategy is possible, perhaps not.  But at the moment we seem to be strictly in knee jerk mode, with no sign of the sort of strategic thinking or debates of the Truman era – as well described in Graeber’s work.  Today’s arguments and debates are over the level of National Security Council (read White House/National Security Adviser/Sec of Defense) tactical micromanagement of the military campaign against ISIS and the apparent bipolar nature of a Congress which opposes executive actions while demanding involvement in foreign military campaign but can’t even deal with a new Authorization for Military Force much less calls for a formal declaration of war called for by a potential Presidential candidate.

Bottom line, tactical decisions, authorizations for military force and even declarations of war would be best served in the context of an overall strategy to address a new threat in a new century – if somebody sees signs of such a strategy emerging, being discussed, promoted or debated, please let me know.  So far I’ve missed it if that’s happening….   The best I can find is the sort of dialog in this article, which should actually be the sort of discussion we are seeing in Congress or at least within the National Security Council.




Benghazi Benghazi Benghazi

Yes, I know I’ve posted on this before but a friend of mine put something on Facebook recently which caused me to take a look at a whole thread of Benghazi comments and I was literally amazed at the number of absolutely false statements still being posted.  While that sort of thing could be excused in the early days, at this point in time its clear that history continues to be submerged by politics.  Now I’m not naive enough to know that does not routinely happen but this seems to be one of the more egregious examples I’ve come across – and that’s saying a bunch.

One of the reasons I can say that with some confidence is that I spent a considerable amount of time studying Benghazi as a part of my newest book, still tentatively titled “Surprise Attack”.  The good news there is that I do have a publisher commitment, it should start into edit this spring and is targeted for publication and availability in Fall, 2015.   In doing the research for the Benghazi section of the book (actually not just Benghazi, but a general study of attacks on American diplomatic facilities overseas) I had not only contemporary news coverage as a source but three separate government inquiries, including one which was obviously politically motivated – the House Armed Services Committee inquiry. That effort was clearly devoted to finding as much fault as possible with the administration.  Actually for my purposes that was good since it dug and it dug deep, especially into the warnings intelligence and military response that is my focus.  It actually contained testimony from the CIA Chief of Station in Benghazi that I was amazed to see in  print – the sort of thing that normally is kept far from the public record.

Independently of the government investigations and reports, three of the CIA paramilitary security officers from the Benghazi Annex have recently published their own book, “13 Hours / The Inside Account of What Really Happened in Benghazi” which gives virtually a minute by minute account not only of the attacks on the two facilities but the deployment of the Annex force, the security personnel from Tripoli, and the final and very well orchestrated mortar attack….long after the rest of the attacks and with the rescue party actually entering or about to enter the Annex itself.  It was that final burst of fire that killed the Annex security operatives conducting over-watch from the roof of the complex. I would highly recommend the book and the operators themselves are quite clear and adamant about the delay of their own deployment – based on the Chief of Station’s hope that he could keep cover by relying on the militia for a response other than his own forces.

The point of all this is that we now have an accurate history of the event – but that seems to be making little public impact.  Instead, what we see is a total focus on the fact that initial information was obfuscated (as if it were not standard national security operating practice), obviously in an attempt to cover up the CIA mission on the ground in Benghazi.  And rather amazingly, despite all the dialog, the CIA operations story is largely being shelved.  In Shadow Warfare we discuss our speculation on the CIA Benghazi mission and refer to a good deal of early investigative reporting linking it to covert operations in North Africa and Syria. The discouraging thing is that reporting has faded away in the face of the Benghazi political diatribe and once again it may be 30 years before we learn what was really in play.  It seems you either get the real story quickly from the few good investigative journalists or you have to wait for the historians to give it to you decades later – if ever.   I suppose I should have titled this rant something like “Opportunity Lost”, but then nobody would have ever looked for that with an online search…grin.

Air Force One

Events aboard Air Force One on November 22, 1963 have long become a matter of both mystery and speculation in regard to the assassination of President Kennedy.  That remains true despite the fact that William Manchester documented the personalities and activities on that aircraft, and its flight back to Washington in considerable detail in his classic early work The Death of a President.  Towards the end of his writing on that work, he was actually given access to what he knew to be an edited transcript of tape recordings made during the aircraft’s flight.  Actually, although that recording is generally described as a transcript of Air Force 1 radio communications, it is much more than that.  The recording itself was made by the White House Communications Agency, with equipment placed adjacent to the Special Air Mission (SAM) at Andrews air base.  The Special Air Mission supervised all of the aircraft used for White House travel, including VIP travel of senior diplomatic and Joint Chief’s staff.  The recordings had begun specifically at the direction of President Kennedy, who wanted a record of all communications related to presidential air travel.  Given that Air Force One was expected to function as a command center in the event that a national security incident happened during the president’s travels, such a record was as critical to the history of his presidency as were the White House records of events during the Cuban missile crisis.

On November 22, the tape recordings captured a variety of calls to SAM control as well as its communications with both Air Force One and a Cabinet aircraft on the way to Japan.  It was obviously an invaluable historical record, a window into both the personalities and response to the assassination – including the national security activities as the new president took over his responsibility as Commander in Chief.   Initially the existence of the tapes was kept from the public, made known apparently to certain individuals including Presidential aide Pierre Salinger. Salinger was actually provided a transcript of the communications to the Cabinet aircraft, which he had himself had been on at the time of the assassination.   When Manchester became aware of the tape, he requested a copy and was denied.  Ultimately after the better part of a year, he was allowed to listen to a copy he clearly understood to be edited.

Over the course of several decades, an edited version of the tape and a transcript did become available through the Johnson Library. More recently, in 2012, another copy was found in the estate of General Clifford, a military aide to the White House.  Interestingly, the Clifford tape has information edited out of the Johnson Library version, but the material removed proves not to be of any particular military security value – which makes sense given that these radio communications were clear channel and could be picked up by everyone from radio hams to Soviet listening posts. So, if the tape was edited (apparently twice at least), what was the motive?   Part of the answer to that may lie in the fact that there are independent source records of a variety of radio telephone calls which do not show up in either edited tapes – these include calls  by Johnson to Robert Kennedy,  National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, Johnson’s lawyer and at least one other personal friend.  Yet very personal calls such as to Rose Kennedy were left on the tape.

The issue also remains as to whether there were any national security calls on the tape, perhaps scrambled but still there (it was later denied that there was secure voice capability on the aircraft; that denial is highly questionable) – or any of the National Command Authority calls that should have been in progress – even basic communications checks from SAC’s command post, its airborne alert command post, and the National Airborne Emergency Command post which was airborne at the time.  There are no signs of even routine communications of that nature and no sign of all of any communication from the National Military Command Post at the Pentagon.  All this raised the question of what was on the full tape and why it appears to have been heavily edited (even for such things that should be there as routine communications checks).

Was there something on the tape that would have raised concern that a conspiracy had either been discussed – or suppressed – in the earliest hours following the assassination?  Were there embarrassing personal calls by the new President (including discussion of stock sales) at a time when he should have assumed his Commander in Chief role?   Would the full tape show Johnson to be ignorant or even negligent in assuming that role?   Or would the full tape reveal that Johnson had actually lied about certain conversations with Robert Kennedy and his need to stay in Dallas to take the oath of office prior to departure?

It all remains a mystery.  What is not a mystery is that a government record was knowingly altered into edited versions and then apparently destroyed.  Work continues on a search for possible copies of the full tape, but in the interim the alteration of the Air Force One communications records remains yet another open issue in regard to the true response of President Johnson and the operation of the nation’s command and control system following President Kennedy’s assassination.







Bishop, Phillips and Veciana – the implications

Antonio Veciana recently verified that CIA officer David Phillips used the alias of Maurice Bishop from the time of his first 1960 contact with Veciana in Cuba, a relationship that continued over several years and continuing into cover operations in Latin America    The Phillips/Bishop match has been written on at great length by researches ranging from Gaeton Fonzi and Anthony Summers to myself.   In his autobiography Phillips mentioned making contact while in Cuba with a group plotting an attack on Fidel Castro; he stated that he used both an alias and a disguise in those contacts.   We know that Veciana was involved in such a plot and that he had actually proposed an attack on Castro to the CIA (the related document lists the crypt for his CIA contact as “Olien”, a crypt not yet found in other documents).   Phillips notes that he contacted Veciana as a businessman, making no reference to the CIA, and Veciana confirms that Phillips maintained that stance throughout their relationship.  In 1968, Veciana was given a job working for AID (a long time CIA cover) and moved to Latin America, during the next few years he was involved in additional efforts to kill Castro.  I go into this in some detail in NEXUS but Veciana was not the only Cuban exile involved and it appears that Phillips directly and personally ran those assets while serving in a CIA management position as Chief of Cuban Operations for the Western Hemisphere.

It is reasonably clear that Phillips used CIA resources and CIA money to fund those operations.  What is not clear is the degree to which they were sanctioned, documented or the subject of any CIA paperwork trail. Equally important is that circa 1962/1963, Veciana relates the fact that Bishop/Phillips was key in providing the drive, introductions and money to form Alpha 66 and then to direct its activities.  That is especially interesting since once again there is no CIA paper trial showing any connection to Alpha 66.  It is even more interesting given that Veciana relates that Bishop/Phillips directed the group to attack Soviet targets in Cuba, in a series of missions that were to essentially “put JFK’s back to the wall” in some sort of intervention.  Alpha 66 was being used in direct opposition to American and White House possibility – at the direction of a CIA officer.   One possibility was that the group was crated under a sanctioned operation and that Phillips effectively “stole” it with personal direction and manipulation.  Yet there is no paper trail connecting the Agency to Alpha 66 at any point and those documents which do mention it appear to support the view that there was no direct connection.

All of which means that either there is a huge volume of CIA documentation that is missing from the released materials – to no obvious purpose – or that all connections with Alpha 66 were destroyed.  Other possibilities would be that the whole thing could originally have been a vest pocket operation that Phillips stole or that he hijacked the Veciana contact to his own purposes when Veciana arrived in exile in Miami.

Under any guise, its a fascinating and important historical story.  Did the CIA initially direct Phillips to Veciana based on the offer to assassinate Castro?  If so did the CIA not ask for any follow on reports about the assassination group inside Cuba. Phillips was actually brought out of Cuba for a time once his commercial cover was exposed, was he not debriefed then – before being sent back to essentially retrieve his family.   Hopefully someone or some group of researchers will follow this trial – it could have serious historical implications as to whether or not the CIA was essentially acting independently under the Kennedy administration or whether CIA officers had the ability to go rogue and subvert contacts for their own agendas – in Phillips case an agenda lasting well over a decade.   Personally I’ve written about Phillips activities throughout his career in SWHT, NEXUS and Shadow Warfare – no doubt I’ve even forgotten some of the relevant details in those works.  Hopefully younger and fresher minds can use that as a launching point to take this piece of history much further.





The Janus Factor

The War against ISIS is turning out to be uncomfortably familiar in some aspects. The U.S. Congress has managed once again to avoid engaging with it in any fashion other than an extremely limited resolution related to arming groups in Syria. We seem to be totally failing to interdict jihadi volunteers moving into the region, in the thousands (if press reports are correct) and while its agreed that the ISIS internet media campaign is one of its most effective weapons, we apparently have engaged in no cyber warfare against them. It also appears that our military is operating under severe policy micromanagement – refer to the following article on that.

If you are old enough to have experienced Viet Nam or if you have read Shadow Warfare, this may sound frustratingly familiar. And in one respect it seems surprising since President Obama has previously been praised (and condemned) for delegating a high degree of military autonomy to JSOC and the counter terror groups for their operations.

But after pondering this a bit, it strikes me that what we are seeing is a repeat of what I call the Janus Factor. President’s Johnson and Nixon have been roundly condemned for micromanaging military operations in both South and North Vietnam – where the U.S. was publicly engaged. However covert operations in Laos were far more autonomous, largely under control of the CIA and the US Ambassador in Laos. In the Obama Administration, we have observed an ongoing serious of clandestine JSOC activities and a dramatic (if low profile) growth in Military Assistance and State National Guard partnership programs with foreign nations. With virtually no media coverage, the US is now involved in 68 such National Guard partnerships around the world.

What seems to occur is that if a President is politically exposed in overt warfare, there is a huge temptation towards micromanagement (something that did not exist prior to and during WWII).  In covert and clandestine operations, with limited media exposure, the military is allowed far more autonomy (cynically this could also seen as political deniablity). It is a phenomena that seems to affect all of the modern day administrations. But to date it shows little sign of being positive for actual military operations….