Real History

I suppose my continuing to blog about the CIA’s Cuba Project, JFK and the Bay of Pigs is an indication of stubbornness – but admittedly I am stubborn about “real history”. And I continue to see remarks and receive questions about the Bay of Pigs based on decades old histories of the event. After the work I put into In Denial, I’m just not about to give up on getting the word out on the real history, especially in regard to the Bay of Pigs, a seminal event in the Kennedy Administration

Many of the standard remarks and questions about that event still come from people who repeat at least one of these long standing takes on the Bay of Pigs: a) it was a disaster demonstrating JFK’s failure as a commander, b) it showed his nativity as a new President, c) it was all part of a well structured conspiracy to entrap him into full scale war against Cuba, or d) it was intended to fail, thereby embarrassing him and making him a tool of the CIA during the next four years (the last option primarily pointing towards CIA Director Dulles as the evil mastermind).

As In Denial demonstrates, the first three premises are simply nonsense, part of a meme initially orchestrated by Cuba Project leader Richard Bissell to divert blame to his own failures onto President Kennedy.

In regard to the CIA and a well organized conspiracy, with what we know now, it is hard to find anything about the Cuba Project that would be considered well organized – or communicated accurately to the incoming Kennedy Administration.

DIA Director participated in a few minutes, giving only minimalist and often vague and uninformed comments on the project and its operations.  J.C. King (CIA Western Hemisphere Director) was far more involved in those administration reviews meetings, as was Air Force General Charles Cabell, detailed to the CIA and the Cuba Project.

The primary briefing officer in the meetings, and the source of what details JFK and his senior administration members were told was Project Chief Richard Bissell.  The project’s infantry chief, in charge of preparing the Cuban volunteers, was Colonel Hawkins, He attended a limited number of briefing meetings in early 1961, commenting on the training and readiness of the Cuban Brigade ground force – which was his assignment. 

The air arm of the Brigade was very under represented in those same meetings, with Bissell often speaking for them – a major mistake since he had no relevant experience and had personally mandated the total separation of the Air arm from the ground forces under Hawkins. That was a move which Hawkins advised could prove fatal – and did.

The person that might have made the real difference in the meetings with the new administration, or with with JFK, was Jake Esterline, the actual project operations head But in the months immediately before the Bay of Pigs, Bissell began to screen him out of meetings, apparently because Esterline was being too hard nosed about the issue of increased air support (something which caused he and Hawkins attempted resignation only days before the landings).

In response Bissell promised them he would convince JFK more and larger air strikes were needed, but then almost immediately cut plans in half without telling them (his own decision, not JFK’s). 

Decades later, with access to operational and historical documents, Esterline concluded that Bissell had made sure he was not in key meetings because his comments would likely have exposed serious operational risks, and JFK likely would have cancelled the whole thing.  Neither of the two operational commanders were in direct contact with JFK as the force launched towards the beaches; if they had been issues and questions would undoubtedly have come up which could well have aborted the landings – and ended Bissell’s career then and there.

Later it appears that it was Bissell who first fed negative information to the media, leading to the articles which directed all the blame at JFK. And it was also Bissell who lied to Esterline and Hawkins in regard to the air strike decisions, again placing all the blame on JFK. 

In the highly classified post-Bay of Pigs Taylor Commission hearings Dulles actually accepted a good deal of blame.  Not that he did not deserve it as being the senior man in charge, but his sins were largely of omission.  An example shows up in the meetings in which the Joint Chiefs had pointed out the logistics were so weak that the beachhead would collapse without a major uprising / resistance campaign. 

JFK’s people heard that and accepted that it was part of the plan. What they did not hear was any specific commentary on that uprising at all from Dulles et al. In reality neither Bissell or Dulles had any intelligence or reason to believe that would happen (later confirmed by both the CIA IG and the CIA Historian) and Bissell had actually ordered contact with the resistance groups for operational security.  The CIA’s own highly trained Cuban volunteer maritime paramilitary assets were not even deployed to reconnoiter the landing area, much less make contact with resistance groups in the area.

Of course that is only a glimpse into the full story, which I will continue to try to make visible as real history. For those interested, I will be on Chuck Ochelli’s show Thursday evening, September 10, 7 PM central time, talking about the Cuba project, these issues and many others.  It also gets archived if you can’t listen live.

Revisiting JFK and the Bay of Pigs

One of the pitfalls of writing on historical research is that once I finish a project I somehow imagine everyone knows what I’ve learned and it becomes “old news” to me. After working on In Denial for some three years, and then getting the book into print, I fell into the trap of thinking several key questions regarding JFK and the Bay of Pigs had finally been resolved. But recently, in reading an online forum post on the longstanding issue of the canceled air strikes, I realized that for the world in general (or the part of it that cares about President Kennedy and his administration) that remains a point of debate, and considerable mystery.

What is missing from contemporary discussions of JFK and the Bay of Pigs is that over the last few years we have come to know a good deal more now about the operational details of the Cuba Project of 1960/61, particularly in regard to the landings of the Cuban volunteer Brigade at the Bay of Pigs. For example, we now have all segments of the CIA IG report, with nothing restricted.  Beyond that we finally have all sections of the CIA Historian’s report, especially the last section which, while filled with polemic, is extremely educational – especially because it contains extensive comments and excerpts from the Taylor Commission report. That was the inquiry ordered by President Kennedy, its work and report remains unreleased; however the CIA historian managed to obtain access to it for his research. 

That is extremely important because it gives a much deeper view into what the new Kennedy Administration principals were actually told in advance of the landing, as well as what was not shared with them (from CIA senior officers Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell), as well as what was totally misunderstood by other participants such as CIA project principal General Charles Cabell. Close attention to the Taylor Committee reports also reveals details of how the Kennedy Administration members were shielded from operational details, and misled by Dulles and Bissell’s simple practice of not commenting on certain points – especially in regard to certain of JFK’s directives operational guidance or the prospect of a general Cuban resistance uprising in conjunction with the landings. We can now see the extent to which that precluded any real discussion of key issues like the intelligence available on the assumed Cuban uprising that was seen as key to the plan. That meant there was no CIA reality check on a number of key points, leaving administration participants with what in reality were false assumptions.  

Beyond these new materials, we now have oral history information from the project’s military leaders (Esterline and Hawkins) as to exactly what they were told by Project Chief Bissell, information on actual instructions given to the Cuban Brigade leaders, and details of what the CIA officers unofficially detailed to the landing (Grayston Lynch and Rip Robertson) were told – and assumed as official operational doctrine for the landings.  I should mention that the level of disconnects in information from those actually involved in the effort becomes both obvious – and depressing. 

The disconnects actually became so obvious to both Esterline and Hawkins that in the end they concluded that Bissell had actually lied to them on a number of occasions – including telling them that the anticipated D Day air strikes had been personally cancelled by JFK. After seeing the new information made available to them, they felt that too had been a lie, along with many other things that Bissell had represented as decisions coming from President Kennedy.  

Finally, thanks to some deep digging into released CIA operational memoranda and communications on the project (an effort involving a huge amount of research and “crypt cracking” by my friends David Boylan and Bill Simpich), we now have insight into a level of detail that give us a totally new view into the military aspect of the project – and a significant reality check on what has been previously been written about the landings at the Bay of Pigs.

A number of key points emerge in that detail, including the fact that the Cuban Brigade Air element had no direct communications with the beachead, that the Brigade’s own officers had no direct communication with the aircraft over the beach head, and that the Navy was using entirely different radio frequencies, a point only revealed during actual combat. Clearly the operational  screw ups were immense, severely undermining the actual fight by the Brigade’s volunteers. 

One of the most pitiful documents describes a message from Brigade Air to the Navy desperately pleading with them to make sure they provided air cover for the American pilots which had been allowed to fly a last ditch air strike – as it turns out that message was actually sent after the Navy had totally failed at that task.  You can read the frustration in the messages being exchanged, especially when Brigade Air refuses to send any more volunteers.

In the end it becomes clear that even the endless debate about JFK, and the cancellation of the final Day 1 air strikes has been largely meaningless. The Joint Chiefs had officially gone on record that the CIA’s logistics support for any sustained supply of the beachhead was very questionable; they cautioned that it would collapse without an almost immediate island wide uprising – which the CIA itself understood was extremely unlikely. When you find that given the desperate nature of the supply situation at the end of Day 1, the US Air Force was authorized to fly supply drops over the beach with American transports – and were unable to do so – you further realize how lacking the planning was, contingencies simply were never addressed.

The good news, from a historical point of view, is that we now know the truth about the Bay of Pigs, the bad news is how what that truth reveals.

Hidden Measures?

Any historical review of President Kenney’s actions in regard to the Bay of Pigs landings in 1961 has to take full note of information that was withheld from the official inquiries which immediately followed that disaster. Of course it took decades for us to learn the full extent of the information that did not enter the official record – not unlike the decades it took historians to uncover the truth about the Tonkin Gulf incidents, which dramatically escalated American involvement in SE Asia under President Johnson.

At the moment I’m working on a presentation on JFK and the Bay of Pigs for the upcoming JFK Lancer virtual conference, and a couple of totally new items that I wrote about in my newest book (In Denial), popped out, especially since they are totally absent from the inquiries into that disaster.

One of the more interesting is especially intriguing because it may lead back to two separate occasions in which President Eisenhower told the Cuba Project leader (Richard Bissell) that he should create a provocation which would allow conventional American military action against the Castro regime. Dulles himself acknowledged that direction, but never admitted to doing anything which would have followed Eisenhower’s lead.

As it turns out, Bissell may indeed have pursued that idea. One possibility emerges from information that only emerged decades later, a story of a covert operation launched by CIA and Navy Intelligence officers out of the Guantanamo Navy Base in Cuba. If you have In Denial you will find that discussed on pages 280-284.  The basic story involves infiltrating some six to eight Cuban volunteers via the base, and supplying them with a large quantity of explosives and detonators. Those volunteers would then link up with another group covertly deployed by ship to perform some still unknown (but apparently key) action.

The interesting element of the story is that there were no real, significant targets of opportunity for a diversionary action in the mountainous area of far eastern Cuba – other than the Guantanamo base itself. And Guantanamo had always been seen as a flash point for Cuban military action against the U.S.  In 1962, mobile Soviet tactical nuclear missile launchers were deployed and hidden near the base in the event that it needed to be totally eliminated during any American military action.

According to those involved in 1961, only days before the planned landings at the Bay of Pigs, the team out of Guantanamo had begun to establish an explosives cache near the base. At that point an accident resulted in some 250 detonators exploding, badly injuring all the volunteers – who were aided back into the base by the Navy officers working with the team.

While there is no concrete proof that the explosives or teams were going to be used in a provocation against Guantanamo, something which would trigger an escalating American military response, it would make since of the otherwise mysterious events. Events which included not only the high risk deployment of a covert team out of Guantanamo, but also the choice of the landing place for the Nino Diaz mission – just across the mountains from Guantanamo.

We will likely never know for certain, but it certainly possible that Bissell had not totally ignored the option of provocation in his “hidden measures”, none of which were exposed in the official investigations of the project.

Relentless

While American attention is focused on the Pandemic and our upcoming elections it’s easy to lose touch with global security issues. In fact few Americans are following events in Europe, and even fewer aware of the new government brutality related to elections in Belarus.  Of course a decade and more ago the same could have been said for American understanding of the early “color revolutions” in Georgia, the other former Soviet Republics – and especially the Ukraine.

In Creating Chaos I attempted to examine the color revolutions in the context of political warfare – and to detail the evolution of Putin’s evolving “sphere of influence” strategy. In particular I explored Putin’s weaponising of the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) for foreign intervention, initially targeting Moldavia, Georgia, and Belarus. That strategy proved quite sound – ensuriing that individuals taking power in those republics had and retained old line Moscow connections. Of course they needed to be reminded that they were allowed to be nominally independent, but expected to maintain strong political and economic ties to Russia.

That approach worked quite effectively – even though it had to be bolstered by military intervention in Georgia – in many of the new “democratic” republics, as well as in several of the former Asian Soviet states. Over time it didn’t work nearly as well in the Ukraine, requiring more  military intervention.

Fast forward a few years and the color revolutions are ancient history – but not really. Popular (messy) democracy and independence from Moscow remain a concern even years later. To Putin the loss of political influence in any former Soviet republic represents a blow to the Russian sphere of influence strategy and will always remain a concern, on occasion perceived as an actual threat if it undermines Russian military access (as in Crimea).

Which brings to 2019 and 2020 in Belarus, and the political mechanization’s of its president Alexander Lukashenko (long closely tied to Moscow). With yet another election coming up in 2020, what was one to think of Lukashenko’s sudden claims in 2019 that there had been an attempted coup against him – requiring enhanced security measures?  A coup positioned as being supported by his longtime friends in Moscow?

Interestingly, Russian media supported the original concept that a coup was in play – but one orchestrated by the West,  as earlier in Yugoslavia and Ukraine. And of course with covert support by Ukraine, always to be pictured as a Western puppet. Of course any popular movement in Belarus would simply be an artifact of Western political operatives. 

What now seems a bit clearer is that Lukashenko’s claims of a coup attempt were most likely a proactive move to suppress popular opposition ahead of the upcoming elections. Lukashenko  floated the idea that Russian mercenaries were involved with the local opposition in a coup against him – at the same time knowing full well that those Wagner Group mercenaries were simply in transit though Belarus (part of an ongoing agreement to move covert Russian military personnel into deployments in Africa, very likely Libya).

Blame the Russians, let the Russians blame the West – net result, a reason to suppress dissent in the interest of national security.  A complex story, terribly hard to following in real time but with one clear outcome.

On the other hand, the next state of the story – the elections of 2020 in Belarus – offer a much more definitive picture of political warfare in the former Soviet Republics.  If you watched any of the news streams you should have been shocked by the brutality of the paramilitary forces directed against the street protests (for clarity, I mean from Belarus, not the earlier ones from Washington D.C.).  Protesters were obviously beaten, terrorized and put on television to recant – in classic Soviet era mode – it’s getting harder to keep grounded in what century we are viewing on television. If you missed it, check these links:

https://www.euronews.com/2020/08/14/belarus-crackdown-evidence-grows-of-widespread-torture-as-protesters-are-freed

And then women formed lines to protect the protesters (wow, more déjà vu)

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53761747

My point in all this is to contribute just a bit of news from outside the U.S., to point out that the tactics I covered in Creating Chaos are still in play, and to harp on the fact the Putin is relentless. He has a coherent strategy, he pursues it obsessively, and he will never give up another former Soviet republic to a color revolution. 

Missing Time

Well actually what has been missing are new posts from me. That is explained by the fact that all my available time has been consumed with edits and corrections to my final work on the JFK assassination. Thankfully, after several weeks of that, the manuscript is with Rex Bradford and when time permits he will format it, and place it on the Mary Ferrell Foundation web site for access by all those interested.

Rex has proved a demanding, but excellent editor, and his efforts led to a variety of copy rewrites and expansions – as well as a much more structured work. Its hard to say how many pages it would be if it were being turned to a book, but its just shy of 200 pages in Word so it ended up as being a lot more than the simple monograph I first conceived (much like almost all my projects. The end notes, which involve extensive commentary in many areas, ended up at more than 300 citations.

If you have them and have not completed any of my previous JFK related works – Someone Would Have Talked, NEXUS, In Denial and the more recent Wheaton Lead Exploration (with David Boylan), you will want to bring those out and finish or revisit them before wading into this final work.

The Wheaton Lead paper can be found on the MFF site at:

https://www.maryferrell.org/pages/Main_Page.html

Also, if you do not routinely visit the Mary Ferrell Foundation site you really should, there is a rapidly expanding body of work there and if you pass it by in favor of JFK forums you really are missing some serious historical research.

Now, since I have been away, and before I jump into anything else – if you have questions or would like to see a particular topic addressed here in a blog post please post them here or drop me a note at larryjoe@westok.net

PS: I will be working with Debra Conway and JFK Lancer to develop a virtual JFK seminar for 2020, as well as an ongoing seminar series for 2021. These things are not easy to make happen, but we are giving it our best effort, and hopefully it will provide a new online venue for some of the best researchers. Wish us luck!

Presidents, Generals and Admirals

The American military command structure – with an elected civilian as Commander in Chief – is often challenging, especially when the president has no personal experience in the military and little understanding of its actual command structure. On occasion it is also complicated by presidents who also have no understanding of what constitute legal vs. illegal commands under U.S. legal codes, or the restrictions imposed on military personnel by the Unified Code of Military Justice.

At times situations have become tense on the military side, for example there were worries that President Nixon (who had actually attempted a “madman strategy” against the North Vietnamese) might become unbalanced enough during his impeachment to issue illegal orders related to the use of nuclear weapons. On other occasions, presidents have requested the military to conduct assassinations – only to be told that is not authorized and legally can only be done by the CIA. Unfortunately in more recent decades such niceties have faded away to a large extent, as Congress has abandoned its control over all areas of presidential military action – conventional, clandestine and covert – and the military has lost a good deal of its ability to push back against presidential directives.

Prior to such recent events, concerns over orders being obeyed tended to rest with the presidents – although circumstances sometimes protected “rogue” military commanders, at least for a time.  Perhaps the most classic example would be General Douglas McArthur.  It is a matter of historical record that McArthur disobeyed his standing war orders following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and even isolated himself from with the War Department in Washington, ignoring repeated attempts at communications.  His failure to immediately comply with the war plan, which would have sent American strategic bombers against Japanese targets, was a major factor in the total loss of American air power in the western Pacific and of the Philippine islands. Later, in Korea, McArthur also failed to respond to repeated warnings of the major Chinese incursion that overwhelmed his own troops, ultimately becoming so independent that President Truman was forced to remove him. 

Much that has been written about the Kennedy Administration and its relationship with the military focuses on Air Force General Curtis LeMay, well known for being fearless (given his personal leadership of bombing raids against Germany), extremely hawkish, and totally outspoken with his advice to civilian leaders including President Kennedy.  In fact, so outspoken during the Cuban missile crisis that the question is often raised as to why Kennedy did not remove him from the Joint Chiefs or otherwise discipline him.

What gets missed in that conversation is that JFK actually learned that no matter how strongly LeMay felt or how loudly he protested – he followed orders. And as that crisis taught Kennedy, no matter how strongly he might want to avoid a nuclear confrontation with the Soviets (JFK’s plan for dealing with the ongoing Berlin issue contained an escalation strategy leading up to the use of tactical nuclear weapons if the Russians moved either in Berlin or into West Germany) he could not simply forfeit the nuclear option, and the commanders who would have to execute that if it was ordered.

In contrast to the focus on LeMay, we now know that during the missile crisis and the ensuing blockade JFK, RFK and even Defense Secretary McNamara were seriously concerned about the U.S. Navy acting beyond presidential directives and starting a full scale war. The reason for that concern has never been entirely clear, however my recent research work on In Denial revealed that there might indeed have been good reason for that concern – relating back to events in early 1961. 

It appears that at least some Navy Admirals demonstrated the types of concern (or distain) for JFK as a commander that is most frequently associated with General LeMay.  However rather than standing up and facing him in executive meetings, they engaged in activities – including some special relationships with the CIA – which were far less obvious and could indeed have moved the U.S. directly into war in Cuba, and a military confrontation with the Soviets.  

If you have read In Denial you will have noticed such activity being discussed in several places including the chapter on Hidden Measures. The questionable actions involved the Navy Guantanamo base in Cuba, Navy intelligence officers operating with the CIA, and beyond that to the apparent deployment of a very much unauthorized American super carrier group.  It’s a rather striking story which has not gotten much comment yet but it explains why a year after the disaster at the Bay of Pigs,  President Kennedy’s main military command concern might have been with the Navy, and the possibility of its excessive use of force in the Caribbean.

Actionable Intelligence

It was a big national security story only a few days ago, but like any news these days it simply disappeared within some 72 hours.  In case you missed it the essence was that the U.S. intelligence community had determined that Russian military intelligence (GRU) had been engaged with the Taliban to encourage attacks on American forces, and had even offered bounties for American deaths.

While the intelligence community was significantly in agreement to repeatedly put the possibility of Russian involvement with the Taliban in Presidential security briefs, no action at all had been taken in response to the intelligence over a period of several months.  Putting the matter into context, it appears President Trump and his national security advisors had made it so clear over time that president did not want to hear negative intelligence on Russia that there was no taste for pushing the report or forcing the issue of even a minimal response. Of course that in itself is not news by this point in time.

Even when the issue was forced by public exposure, the White House responded that there was going to be no response. The reasons given were diverse, including the fact that the intelligence was incomplete and that not all elements of the intelligence community were able to support it. Intelligence community sources suggested that the report had largely been based on human intelligence, and that while the CIA found them extremely credible, NSA was unable to confirm with technical intelligence.  That would not really be surprising given the nature of the Russian contacts with the Taliban.

What the White House did not comment on was that regardless of the “bounty” issue, the intelligence contained hard data including financial transactions which certainly confirmed that Russian military intelligence was in contact with and engaged with the Taliban – and not in a manner that contributed to the security or military activities of Americans in Afghanistan.

The White House also commented that there would be no response since the intelligence was “not actionable”.  That sounds like a formal term and perhaps it actually meant something – with that in mind a little context is necessary to judge the overall incident and the White House response.

First off, ”actionable intelligence” means only is that the intelligence is specific enough that a threat has been identified to the extent that the source is identifiable, its nature of the threat has been characterized, and plans can be made to deal with it in some fashion.  In this particular instance all of those criteria were clearly met.  

Secondly, threat intelligence is always less than one hundred percent certain and it’s not at all uncommon to find differences in levels of assessment from the various parts of the intelligence community.  That’s why there is a Director of National Intelligence and a staff that is built to be the most experienced and expert resource the nation has available – with the ability prepare the best overall judgement. In this instance that is exactly what was done and why this particular threat made it into the President’s daily security briefing.

One of the major areas of progress in national intelligence over the decades has been to move on from one person decisions within individual agencies or military services. There a number of examples of how one person decisions have led to disasters. For example before Pearl Harbor FBI Director Hoover had been given considerable evidence indicating that Japan was actively collecting combat intelligence for a strike at Pearl Harbor, however Hoover did not endorse nor promote the information and it received no War Department consideration.  During the Korean War, General MacArthur was provided with intelligence pointing to a massive (and imminent) Chinese intervention, but he chose not to credit or endorse the information to the Joint Chiefs or to President Truman, and his forces were shattered by massive Chinese ground forces.

Over the time our intelligence community did evolve beyond that and there is now considerable information sharing, an intelligence group dynamic, and an overall position with the experience and expertise to weigh positions among the agencies and produce a balanced product – which goes to the president.  In earlier administrations that position was headed by the CIA Director, not it’s the Director of Nation Intelligence.  In both instances the intelligence and estimates are gated by the president’s own national security advisor, that is intended to enhance the process and in some cases it has – in other cases it has not.

Late in the Clinton administration a relatively vague but urgent threat emerged, from jihadists who were organizing to make major soft target attacks during the celebrations at the end of the century.  In that case the national security advisor responded and had the confidence of President Clinton and a series of “millennium” attacks were interdicted in both the U.S. and Canada. A year later, much more specific intelligence emerged about Al Qaeda plans to attack the U.S. – either overseas or domestically. In that case the national security advisor, reflecting President Bush’s priorities, gave no particular endorsement to the intelligence, carried out no actionable response and even with special efforts by the CIA to brief President Bush on the threat, no real initiative was launched to deal with it. After September 11 the explanation was given that the threat was too vague and not actionable.

It is fair to say that given the size and nature of the American intelligence community, as of this date no potential threat (whether to the nation, American citizens or its military forces) gets into the president’s daily brief without considerable endorsement to support it.  In particular, nothing about Russia is going to get into President Trump’s briefing papers without having a reasonably  solid level of support. And it’s not going to get there if there are not some sorts of actions that could be initiated to explore it, prioritize or even to reduce or neutralize it. In the end the excuse that Russian engagement with the Taliban in Afghanistan is going to simply be ignored because it is not “actionable” just does not wash – what it boils down to is yet another matter of personal (albeit executive) priorities as to whether action is taken. 

In this particular instance, the presidential decision not to respond in any fashion may be excused, supported or cursed, however one thing is certain –  it most certainly does provide a window into President Trump’s priorities.

JFK and the Bay of Pigs

It is only relatively recently that we have come to know that much of the most often repeated news stories (and the more formal histories) which treat President Kennedy and the Bay of Pigs are either woefully incomplete, or in some cases simply wrong. In terms of being incomplete they lack the information that we have come to know the President was not given about the effort when finally authorizing it. In terms of being wrong, they fail to note the extent to which he allowed deniability to be sacrificed by allowing military action which had originally been specifically forbidden.

My newest book, In Denial; Secret Wars with Air Strikes and Tanks, covers the Cuba Project and Bay of Pigs in great detail (as well deniable warfare following the Bay of Pigs and in contemporary times).   In doing so it examines the information JFK was not given – and the real time waivers which were given for American involvement in virtually everything short of open  engagement of Cuban forces by the American Navy (which would have been an act of war since the Cubans themselves had not attacked the American forces):

What President Kennedy was not told:

The project presented to JFK was not what President Eisenhower had approved in March 1960 – the first project had failed by the before the November elections of that year.

The project presented to JFK had not been reviewed or approved by President Eisenhower.  

The project presented by the CIA to JFK received only conditional endorsement by the American military, with written concerns about it being exposed to air attack, not logistically sustainable, and almost certain to fail unless an island wide uprising against the Castro regime immediately occurred to support it.

JFK was not told that the major anti-Castro resistance network inside Cuba had been compromised, its senior leaders captured and executed, and the majority of its members arrested and imprisoned weeks before the scheduled landings at the Bay of Pigs.

JFK was not told that there had been a series of efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro prior to the landings – and that they had all failed.

JFK was not told that the CIA had deployed none of its Cuban volunteers to the area of the landings in advance, and was in no communication with any resistance groups there.

The president had directed that all landing activity should be conducted at night with all transport ships and craft at sea outside Cuban waters by dawn – he was not advised that the operations plan, which included landing American Army tanks, armored trucks and massive amounts of ammunition and fuel, could not possibly have been executed prior to sunrise.

The president was not advised that the advance airstrikes had destroyed only half the Cuban air force, and that the failure to destroy the rest placed the landing in extreme jeopardy from air attack.

JFK had ordered plans to be made to extract the Cuban volunteers if the landing faced strong opposition and was told that in that event the force could proceed into the mountains and conduct themselves as guerillas.  He was not told that the force had received only standard infantry training, that its equipment – including heavy weapons – and its supplies were not appropriate for guerilla action and that the unit’s leaders had not been briefed (or agreed to) guerilla action on evacuation plans (there were none).

When JFK ordered a follow on air strike the morning of the landing canceled over – concern for deniability – senior CIA officers did not advise JFK that the Brigade ships and landing were at major risk from the surviving Cuban combat aircraft.

Military actions which were authorized as the Brigade came under increasing attack (and no uprising or significant resistance activity occurred):

Following the landings Cuban pilots flew a series of night strikes against Cuban airfields (unsuccessful)

American pilots were authorized to fly Brigade aircraft in ground attacks against Cuban troops attacking the landing beaches (successful)

Cuban pilots flew supply drops over the beachhead on the first night after the landing (successful)

A major resupply by Brigade ships was ordered for the first night (unsuccessful)

American Air Force transports and Brigade transports were ordered to fly a major aerial resupply mission the second night of the landings (unsuccessful)

American Navy jets were ordered to provide air cover over the beachhead in support of ground strikes by Brigade fighter bombers flown by American pilots (unsuccessful)

The Navy was ordered to evacuate the Brigade from the beachhead and American destroyers were deployed off the beaches (unsuccessful)

If you have read In Denial I’d love to chat with you about these gaps in the histories regarding JFK and the Bay of Pigs, either here or by email.  Beyond that, the publisher and I have a problem – unlike most of my earlier works of military history and national security, In Denial did not get reviewed by the Library Journal or Publishers Weekly (yes, poor timing with it appearing the middle of a global pandemic…sigh).

That means the book is simply not going to make it into many libraries, at present its not showing up on the global library catalog (Worldcat) at all.  So, if you read it and like it please try to persuade your local library or your University library to carry it – or offer to purchase a copy and donate it (we did try to keep the price down).  If you can help with a library effort it would be most appreciated!

“Little Green Planes”

Recent news confirms that the Russian Federation, at its president’s direction, is further escalating the “privatization” of military action in support of its efforts to establish a new  Russian “sphere of influence” – something that its leadership has been talking about for some six years now.  But before discussing that, I need to attribute the “little green planes” reference as a creation of Taylor Rogoway, contributor and editor of The War Zone, one of the best military blogs on the internet.

The term “little green men” first came into play in the Crimea, when Putin deployed his military to seize that Ukrainian territory. He first denied those forces, only to much later admit that they were a combination of regular Russian military and volunteers.  The volunteers went on to help trigger fighting in what became break away segments of Eastern Ukraine – over the years their initial efforts were supported both by deployment of regular Russian combat units and by private Russian military contractors.

I’ve covered that strategy in both Creating Chaos and In Denial and noted Russian involvement in Africa as a significant new Russian activity, significantly improving its economic reach based on the activities of private Russian “security contractors” .

The current escalation of its intervention in Libya involves the deployment of a considerable number of Russian fighter and fighter bomber aircraft to Libya, to support a strong man who is attempting to take over the Libyan government.  Those aircraft will support a considerable number of Russian “contract” military personnel already in combat within Libya.  Details can be found at these links:

https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/33698/russia-now-has-at-least-14-combat-jets-in-libya-as-satellite-images-reveal-new-details

https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/33666/mig-29-fighters-were-at-russias-air-base-in-syria-just-before-showing-up-in-libya

Beyond access to Libyan energy, the question arises as to why Russia would involve itself in combat against a legitimate government, especially when it could pit its forces directly against Turkish units which are supporting the legal government.

The answer is simply “sphere of influence”.  Putin has made it clear that he seeks to restore the geopolitical sphere of economic and security influence that the Soviet Union (and the Russian Empire) exercised well beyond current Russian borders – in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East and at times around the Mediterranean.  His strategy of supporting strong men has given Russia key military bases in Syria (used to stage the new aircraft deployment to Libya) and access to airfields in Libya. 

If he is successful in Libya he will be able to project Russian geopolitical influence across the entire Mediterranean, backed by military force – as shown with the shadowing of American surveillance and intelligence collections aircraft.

https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/33688/armed-russian-fighters-fly-dangerously-close-to-u-s-navy-patrol-plane-in-the-mediterranean

As I’ve mentioned before, Putin is highly focused and tactically brilliant – his privatization strategy is an example of that and he is simply advancing that step by step.  In turn the American political leadership has turned inwards to the extent that while our military is clearly aware of what Russia is doing. it is receiving little or no strategic support in confronting it.

It is hard not to conclude that “little green men” and “little green jets” are literally taking advantage of a lack of any American counter geopolitical strategy. Whether this is a temporary anomaly or a new “America First” reality remains to be seen.  

…….I thought I should update this; the major press is a few weeks late but its catching up with some coverage of the Libyan situation:

https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/09/world/russia-libya-military-intervention-intl/index.html

Private Armies

There have always been mercenaries, and even mercenary forces. During the Cold War various types of deniable, surrogate military units were created for covert operations, primarily by the United States. The transition to more professional, heavily equipped private armies (more comfortingly described as “security forces”) began to occur during the American involvement in Iran and then Afghanistan.

As events proved, there were some negative consequences associated with such units, especially in Iran. In fact “Blackwater” accumulated sufficient baggage that the whole concept of such security forces came into disrepute. As an example Libya refused to accept American associated private security forces. That became a contributing factor in the fiasco at the American embassy in Benghazi. While the CIA employed private contractors in Benghazi, they had to be kept low profile since the Libyan government refused to accept them. Even when deployed under diplomatic cover as security for the CIA station (physically distant from the embassy), they could not be stationed directly at the embassy for its own security facility security.

Despite a questionable history, private armies (security forces) have grown substantially and I suspect most readers will be surprised by both their size and military capabilities – described in these links (if the links don’t load for you a search for “private security contractors” will give you current information:

One of the newer trends is the growth of private military contractors is with private air forces. These days some of the largest, most technically advanced, and capable modern forces are actually privately owned.  Any single one of them could defeat many nations in aerial action – and it remains to be seen (as it does with private security contractors) what legal constraints if any affect them?:

https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/30557/air-force-hires-seven-companies-in-long-awaited-mega-adversary-air-support-contract

https://www.defensenews.com/air/2020/01/13/red-air-providers-prep-for-a-big-year/

For that matter, I suspect that most would be surprised at the scale of “private” military combat still going on by Russian surrogate forces against the government of the Ukraine. While that conflict as a whole is more in the nature of the surrogate force efforts of the United States during the Cold War, the use of private Russian military contractors is much more line with what is evolving in terms of private armies in the 21st Century. :

https://euobserver.com/foreign/147507

That trend is something I elaborate on at some length in my new book “In Denial: Secret Wars with Air Strikes and Tanks”. 

Deniable warfare circa 2020 is taking a variety of forms, China and Iran are approaching it in a much different fashion than Russia and President Putin.

However given the scope of what Russian is doing with its private military contractors, it’s pretty amazing how little media coverage it receives in the United States.  Of course given the combination of how America has turned inwards combined with the pandemic perhaps that is understandable.  These days our major media outlets have very little left of the foreign correspondent news force they used to field, and do virtually no international news reporting of any depth presently.

For those who have not been following what Russia and Russian oligarchs are doing with private armies I would offer the following news links:

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/russian-military-group-deployed-1200-people-libya-report-200507113646940.html

https://www.theafricareport.com/16511/russias-murky-business-dealings-in-the-central-african-republic/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/25/venezuela-maduro-russia-private-security-contractors

While Russian security contractors are well organized and clearly directed as part of Putin’s global influence strategy, it would be hard to say the same thing for their American counterparts. In that regard it’s also pretty amazing that a security contractor that services President Trump’s political events could have stepped into the following mess in Venezuela in the fashion described in this article.

https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/33322/breaking-down-the-absolutely-batshit-botched-coup-attempt-against-venezuelas-maduro

About the only thing that weighs in against this being part of some American strategy is the utter dysfunction of the operation. On the other hand it provides an interesting contrast between the private armies integrated into Russian strategies and the activities of American security contractors.