I’ve written recently about the extremely unusual July 1963 TILT mission conducted by JMWAVE in support of William Pawley’s effort (organized in conjunction with Senator Eastland’s Senate subcommittee) to obtain information out of Cuba which would have proved a huge embarrassment to the Kennedy administration , very likely undermining the president’s path to reelection. As it turns out, the summer of that same year saw other independent actions by the senior officers at the CIA’s Miami Station.
Based on remarks by William Shackley in interviews with journalist Don Bohning, it appears that Shackley and the Miami station’s chief operations officer got together (around Shackley’s pool) to come up with a plan for renewing covert missions against Cuba and Castro. Normally such plans would have come out of CIA headquarters or at least Desmond Fitzterald’s new Special Affairs Staff – tasked with reinvigorating the anti-Castro effort. Ideally they would actually have originated within the new Cuba Coordinating Committee, a much higher level interdepartmental group which included Robert Kennedy.
At the point in time the committee had just been informed that the Army was conducting its own planning for programs of covert action conducted under Commander in Chief Atlantic (which would have been in line with JFK’s intention to switch major covert action from the CIA to the military, as was already happening in Vietnam). As it was, JMWAVE appears to have stolen the initiative from both the military and the Cuba Coordinating Committee.
The new JMWAVE effort began with Morales handpicking a very select group of the station’s Cuban paramilitary assets to go into special training for extremely compartmentalized missions – the personnel likely included familiar names from David Boylan and my Wheaton name research, we do know that Tony Izquirerdo was the highly select group. Special high performance boats were obtained, including two “ghost” mother ships which would operate out of Florida ports.
In what would appear to be a direct contradiction to Kennedy administration goal of physically moving mission’s against Cuba offshore, the two ships, Rex and Leda, were based out of Port Everglades and West Palm Beach, flagged as Nicaraguan and captained / crewed by Cuban volunteers. The ships carried radar, electronics and a variety of weapons – stored in port and only mounted at sea. The also carried special high speed boats to be used in the actual sabotage missions. The Rex and Leda were also used to support routine infiltration and caching missions, which continued to average some dozen a month.[i]
Going beyond the missions themselves, Morales utilized his own social network, including contacts in Guatemala, to create a cover for the new sabotage missions – which were conducted by a group designated as Commandoes Mambises. The group was entirely a creation of Morales, using Rafael Martinez Pupo, a wealthy Cuban businessman living in Guatemala, as the public relations front for a group which nobody had ever heard of previously. Pupo became the spokesman for the group, going to the media with reports of their attacks on a metal processing plant and an air raid on a refinery. Special Group documents do reflect that the covert oversight group was briefed two early raids by Commando Mambisis but it appears a third may also have been conducted using both sea and air assets – the source of the aircraft used is totally undocumented.[ii]
Pupo continued to carry on a media campaign for Commando Mambises, speaking of secret bases in the Caribbean and cells inside Cuba. The September 23 report on two raids to the Special Group was well received, although some security issues were mentioned.
Of course the raids gained a great deal of discussion within the Cuban community, especially given that none of its many leaders or groups had any idea of a group led by Pupo, of anyone who might be fighting with it or of any new bases. Following Special Group security reviews, new missions were authorized for October and November, the first which actually matched a list of raids actually approved by President Kennedy did not occur until October.
The JMWAVE Commando Mambisis missions, operating from Florida, continued through 1963 and on into 1964, even after being exposed to the media in a trap by Castro forces during a mission on October 21. During that mission, infiltration personnel previously inserted into Cuba were identified and monitored by Cuban forces, which then attacked during a pick up effort by the Rex. Two paramilitary personnel were killed, one wounded and four captured. The Rex managed to flee but was tracked back to Florida and as part of the Cuban response, its aircraft mistakenly strafed a U.S. flag bauxite freighter transiting the same coastal waters.
Within days Castro had called out the U.S. involvement, identified the CIA ships and even broadcast the locations of the Florida ports from which they operated.[iii] Reporters flocked to those locations and broadcast extended interviews about the comings and goings of the “ghost ships”.[iv] In something of a fruitless effort, JMWAVE then “sold” the ships through cut outs, repainted and relocated them, while continuing with their missions and giving Castro the opportunity to call out the United States on their follow-on missions which continued under President Johnson.
In just one more illustration of disconnects within the overall anti-Castro efforts, the Commando Mambisis missions were conducted at the same time that millions of dollars were being poured into the entirely separate and extremely deniable Artime/AMWORLD project, being established at bases around the Caribbean, an effort which did not launch its own boat missions until late spring 1963. While both were ultimately exposed, JMWAVE’s initiative was far more successful in actual raids and damage to Cuban assets.
[i] Cable, JMWAVE to Director, “Infiltrees”,
[ii] Don Bohning, The Castro Obsession, 161-163
[iii] Ibid, 164
[iv] “Castro Says USA used Raider Ship”, AP Wire Service, October 31, 1963