The Cuba Backstory

Tipping Point Part 1 – “The Cuba Backstory” – is now live on the Mary Ferrell Foundation: 

https://www.maryferrell.org/pages/Tipping_Point_Part1.html

This segment is a pretty large piece of the total material, some of the following segments will be much shorter.  It just comes out this way in trying to maintain some topical unity in dividing it serialization.  I urge those interested to give it a really detailed read, to check out the links and citations and especially to try and follow the chronology as it develops over some five years.

Certainly much of the content has been discussed in bits and pieces, but often without keeping it in proper chronological context.  Given how much people, assignments and agendas changed over that period of time, it is really a mistake not to discuss some of the key names in the conspiracy discussion without placing them in the right time frames (especially since some names appear multiple times, and in very different roles).

I will advise with a blog post whenever a new segment goes up, Part two will likely follow in a week or so.

In the meantime, I will begin to address posts to the question of why some figures who are discussed at length in Someone Would Have Talked to not appear, or appear in a reduced role, in Tipping Point. One of those figures is Richard Case Nagell, who I still consider to be a source with some important information about Lee Oswald, but not information directly related to the attack in Dallas or specifically the details of the specific conspiracy that jelled during October and early November, 1963.

Nagell has some important information to offer about Oswald’s history, going back to Japan, and the interest from various parties which developed in Oswald during 1963. However the overall story of Oswald and the intelligence community is outside the very specific the focus of Tipping Point. Readers of Someone Would Have Talked have already been introduced to Nagell, the 2010 edition introduced the likelihood that Henry Hecksher, someone much more deeply involved in the Cuba story than previously suspected, had been the CIA officer connected to Nagell in Mexico.

In a follow on post I’ll attempt to parse out what Nagell does offer us which is directly related to the context of events in 1963, and what isn’t related to the attack in Dallas.

Tipping Point Begins

I’m happy to announce that the Mary Ferrell Foundation site has begun the serialization of Tipping Point, my newest study of the JFK assassination. Tipping Point is the culmination of some 30 years of my own research, but it’s a work built on the efforts of a host of dedicated citizen researchers who have pursued the truth in the murder of President Kennedy for decades more.

Those efforts include the most recent work of a my friends David Boylan, Bill Simpich, Stuart Wexler, and others who have continued to dig into the documents, records and personal associations of the individuals discussed in Tipping Point. Their work in decoding CIA cryptonyms, pseudonyms, and aliases – and applying them to the immense number of operational CIA and FBI documents released since the passage of the JFK Records Act – has allowed us to make real strides in examining the assassination in light of the full context of national security events in 1963. Complementary historical work in State Department and military records has also has also revealed key information about geopolitics during the last year of the President’s life, information either unknown or intentionally withheld from the official investigations into the President’s murder.  

To be clear, Tipping Point is a study of conspiracy in the assassination of President Kennedy. It does identify and discuss the tactics of the attack in Dallas, the assets developed to support various aspects of that action, and the unraveling of the full  plan following the shooting of the president. However, it is not a study of shooting trajectories, or of the immense body of material taken into evidence and examined by the official inquiries into the murder – the “Introduction” section of Tipping Point clarifies why I did not follow that path, as so many others have over the decades.

Thanks to the efforts of Rex Bradford, Tipping Point will be serialized on the Mary Ferrell Foundation website.  The Introduction is available now and new segments will be made live every week to two weeks.  Given the extended citation links to documents and sources, each segment requires a good bit of work to set up on the site. The extended citations and commentaries in the end notes also led to the decision to publish Tipping Point as an actual book (print and electronic) which will be made available on Amazon early in 2021.

I’ll be happy to take questions on this blog as people read through it, or privately at my own email larryjoe@westok.net  

As to Tipping Point itself, you can now begin with the “Introduction”, that will give you a good idea of my path to this work, and why I settled on a “back door” approach to pursuing the conspiracy.  You can find it at this link:

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

The Two Genii’s

America, in the years following World War II and under first Presidents Truman and then Eisenhower, initiated an effort to actually control atomic energy and atomic weapons. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was the first attempt, it actually given authority over fission and later fusion weapons. However the huge escalation in bomb building, the Eisenhower focus on atomic weapons (New Look) as a strategy for reining in military spending, and the practicalities of deploying weapons with delivery systems spelled the end of AEC control. 

Several reasonable plans for international control were developed under Eisenhower, including the Open Skies proposal. Those efforts were doomed by Joseph Stalin’s political agenda (given the dire economic situation of the post-War USSR, he needed the specter of an American atomic threat as a unifying element). It should also be noted that the American military had begun making contingency plans for atomic strikes against Russia even before the war ended – based on the likelihood that Stalin would order the Red Army west through Europe. Given the war time mapping of the “Casey Jones” project, an Open Skies agreement would have been of more advantage to American military planners than to the Soviets.

With the move to massive production of atomic weapons in the early 1950’s, the Atomic Genii was well and truly out of the bottle by the middle of that decade.  There was some hope that it had been forced back inside, at least to some extent, following the implosion of the Soviet Union and  a variety of weapons agreements – as well as the removal of most tactical nuclear weapons from the field. However, by 2014/15 Russian Federation politics and Vladimir Putin put nuclear weaponry back into the headlines. That provided sufficient justification for a major American response in atomic weapons updates and upgrades. At this point in time there is ample reason for the United States to respond and it’s safe to say the Genii is now well and truly out again – even in some of its most insane guises:

https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/37191/it-looks-like-russias-nuclear-powered-cruise-missile-test-program-is-back-in-business

The second Genii, which can bring down governments, fragment nations, and even undermine cultures, emerged in the second decade of the 21st Century. It took the form of internet assisted political warfare. It may not pose the same level of physical threat to the planet, but it is exceedingly dangerous and potentially more effective as a practical weapon against nations than atomic devices. We had good evidence of how dangerous it was becoming as early as 2014 (I published Creating Chaos in 2015, detailing how fast it was evolving). 

Yet even with all the evidence and both American and European intelligence communities officially (and repeatedly) weighing in on the threat, it remains as obvious and significant now as it did four years ago – you can see that in current headlines. Still, it amazes me that the Director of National Intelligence sounds somewhat as naïve as to its levels of sophistication as some of his recent public remarks suggest, it’s as if he just learned about the tactics?

https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/21/politics/fbi-election-security/index.html

https://www.npr.org/2020/10/19/925423705/doj-unveils-more-sweeping-cyber-charges-against-russian-intelligence-officers

The most damming thing about the situation is that there was an opportunity, in the very beginning, to force the second Genii back into its bottle.  However, unlike the Eisenhower Administration’s initiatives, the Trump Administration not only did not make the effort in regard to this new threat, the President himself overtly undermined the serious attempts by the intelligence community – and the feeble attempts by the Congress – to take steps to deal with it. 

Obviously a primary tactic against information warfare – which uses untruths, misinformation and disinformation – is to quickly identify and publicly circulate both the sources and the specific examples of information which has been weaponized. A proactive defense also involves the total national leadership establishing, agreeing to, and endorsing a common fact checking system. Beyond that individual political leaders must become involved in aggressively supporting and promoting fact checking to their constituent communities. 

There was a window for that beginning in 2016, possibly extending for a year or so.  But that window has closed, and the fact that President Trump himself did not even endorse or comment on the two news stories I cited above demonstrates that two years later he has passed on the opportunity to face up to and deal with the problem.

I’m normally an optimist but it’s getting harder – the first Genii has been invited back and now has a partner. If anything the second Genii elevates the danger of the first, information warfare is easy to launch but hard to control beyond a certain point.  Adding chaos to an environment where atomic and now hypersonic weapons are once again in a state of proliferation is a very dangerous practice. 

Over, And Over and Over Again

During the recent recording of a panel session for the upcoming Virtual JFK Lancer 2020 conference, we were discussing American involvement in SE Asia, particularly the early years in Vietnam, and the transition from Eisenhower’s policies to JFK’s.  While huge amounts of time have been spent discussing JFK’s decisions during 1963, much less has been devoted to his earlier views on the region, including his experiences and positions while a Senator during the Eisenhower administration.

My friend Michael Swanson is addressing that in his upcoming book, which deals with the origins of the Vietnam War. At one point during our conversations on “nation building”, the topic turned to counter-insurgency as it was conducted over several years in Vietnam. That led me to recall the point that as soon as the United States became involved in nation building in Afghanistan, I recalled seeing a number of figures show up on radio and television to discuss what should be done there, based on their experiences in Vietnam. 

My immediate reaction was simply to listen open mouthed as to why anyone would use Vietnam as a positive example of developing plans for Afghanistan?  In regard to nation building, Walt Rostow’s philosophies lead JFK into making commitments to the Diem regime which proved not only impractical, but politically disastrous. Beyond that it seems tragic that the high level military decisions in Vietnam would ever be brought forth as an experience on which to make policy or counter-insurgency plans for Afghanistan.

I’ve wrestled why the question of why the U.S. keeps repeating the same geopolitical mistakes over and over again. Most recently I examined that question in great detail in my 2020 book, “In Denial”.  However during our conversations about Vietnam it dawned on me that there was another aspect I had not discussed in any detail – the political nature of promotion and senior command within the military.

Not that I plan another book about it, but there is history to show that senior command often comes to officers who are brilliant at certain elements of  command – especially in logistics and coordination – and who are also adept at managing their careers within the services. Not that they might not have been successful in combat, but they are often very career oriented, and especially likely to make decisions on the conventional practices which they mastered in their earlier years.  

Unfortunately this means in some instances that high level commanders tend to rely on the standard practices that relate to their own experiences – but which may not fit changing circumstances and new threats.  I’ve written about some examples in my past books. One example being the Hawaiian Army command’s focus on sabotage, and its failure to take full advantage of the new technology of radar as it related to the defense of the islands and the fleet at Pearl Harbor. Another example from World War II would be General MacArthur’s total failure to follow his orders to use strategic air power to preempt attacks on the Philippines, instead focusing on a defense against Japanese landings.   

In regard to Afghanistan, CENTCOM’s early insistence on conventional practices totally failed to respond to the situation on the ground which was accurately being reported to them by the first CIA paramilitary action teams inserted into the field – and according to the CIA, was a factor in allowing Osama bin Laden to successfully escape into Pakistan.

Perhaps the most egregious example of falling back on experience (and on following “the book”) comes from the American experience in Vietnam. This is related exceptionally well in Lewis Sorley’s biography of William Westmoreland.  Westmoreland was an able commander, experienced in conventional military practices and certainly of a political bent, as illustrated in Sorley’s work. Yet his experience served him and the nation poorly – with Westmoreland rejecting virtually all the advice he was given by those with prior experience on the ground in Vietnam. Instead he overlaid his own conventional combat experience (including massive artillery bombardment) onto a conflict which was of a totally different nature.  

The point of all the above is simply to highlight that there are risks in relying strictly on experience in making high level decisions, especially if those decisions do not take into account direct input from field level personnel (including both the military and State Department). In the simplest terms, far too many of our national policy decisions appear to have been made according to the old temptation – if a hammer as your only tool, you begin to treat every challenge as a nail.

On a more positive note, some commanders and even some policy makers are able to operate at a different level.  As an illustration of that, for those interested in national defense issues, I would refer you on how the Marine Corps is restructuring itself in light of new challenges and realities:

November in Dallas 2020

There is no doubt 2020 is a “different” year, but the more challenging it becomes the more the need to carry on. In that vein, JFK Lancer is continuing its tradition of historical conferences focused on the Kennedy Administration and the JFK Assassination. This year, as with so many things, the conference will be virtual.

The speaker line up remains strong – as for myself I’m participating in four events. Two will be presentations, one on JFK and the Bay of Pigs and the second on my new work, Tipping Point. Beyond that I’m joining three fellow researchers in a panel discussion and, if it proves workable, virtually hosting a walking tour of the Plaza as I did in person for many years.

You can find some basics about the conference and register at this link:

http://jfklancer.com/Dallas2020/index.html

More information on speakers and topics will go up as time permits. This is a new effort for JFK Lancer and obviously it has organizational and technology challenges – but what in 2020 doesn’t.

And it that vein, for those who have not lost the dream of the sixties, I heartily recommend revisiting its spirit with the following:

April in Florida

My research suggests that the personal relationships which developed between William Harvey and both James Angleton and John Roselli were of major importance in the ultimate emergence of the conspiracy which killed President Kennedy.  I explore those separate and unique associations at length in NEXUS / The CIA and Political Assassination.

In NEXUS I also develop the point that one common operational interest of the three men in the early 1960’s was Cuba and Fidel Castro. While Harvey and Roselli’s roles in regard to Cuba have been widely discussed, there had previously been little attention to Angleton’s role with post-Bay of Pigs intelligence involving Cuba, and even less in regard to his contacts and support of Harvey in his Mongoose era assassination effort against Castro. In fact some authors had portrayed the two men as being at odds (and outs) with each other. We now know that to be false, with a personal bond and correspondence between Harvey and Angleton in place right up to the point of Harvey’s death.

Given Harvey’s and Angleton’s common interests in Cuba and the events of spring, 1963, in Tipping Point (still planned to begin serialization at the Mary Ferrell Foundation this month) I propose that William Harvey’s trip to Florida in April of 1963 may well have been a seminal event in what would later evolve as the conspiracy to kill President Kennedy.

Roselli’s involvement with the Castro assassination efforts was initially orchestrated by the CIA Office of Security, funded by and under the operational responsibility of both the Western Hemisphere Directorate (J.C. King) and Cuba Project Chief (Richard Bissell).  However Office of Security Records indicate that William Harvey was operationally assigned as the “case officer” for John Roselli in May, 1962. That followed first Harvey’s assignment to create a political assassination capability for the CIA (hidden within Staff D and the ZR/RIFLE crypt) and then his appointment to head the CIA element (Task Force W) of the new inter-agency effort against Cuba led by Lansdale (Mongoose).

Harvey’s target for political assassination quickly emerged as Fidel Castro and Harvey sought Angleton’s advice both in establishing covers for the project and in regard to how Castro might be deniably assassinated. In the end Roselli returned to the use of John Roselli and Roselli’s connections as a primary tool in the effort, if not the only one. And JMWAVE provided operations support for those activities.  

From that point on, during 1962 and 1963, we have few details on the actual operational efforts to assassinate Castro. We have sensational and wild stories about cigars and sea shells and poison during 1962, stories which garnered a great deal of attention from the Church committee. But we know virtually nothing of Roselli’s involvement, nor of a turn to plans for rifle attacks. 

When the committee realized that it had not gotten the full story from Roselli (especially in regard to events of 1963), it recalled him for more testimony – he was brutally murdered before that could occur. A shame, because Roselli himself had actually claimed detailed knowledge of the Kennedy assassination, something the committee had totally failed to explore.

The only 1963 operational activity we do know about in regard to Harvey and Roselli comes from a set of Harvey’s expense reports – discovered by researcher Anna Marie Walko and first described in Noel Twyman’s ground breaking work, Bloody Treason. What Anna Marie found was the record of a trip by Harvey to Florida in April, 1963. An extended, weeklong trip which took Harvey not only to Miami, but very covertly on into the Keys, to the vicinity of the CIA’s paramilitary operations bases there. There is good reason to think the trip involved both contacts with Roselli and operations chief Morales, and possibly others during the jaunt into the Keys.

The reason for the trip listed on the expense report was “ZR RIFLE Operations”, yet Task Force W had closed activities months earlier, Harvey himself had been reassigned to Chief of Station in Italy and would relocate during the summer. And the new SAS operations under Desmond Fitzgerald show no signs of having involved Harvey on a continuation of the earlier Castro assassination efforts with Roselli. Yet a newly available CIA document confirms that as of Febrruary, 1963 Harvey had been authorized to continue ZR-RIFLE activities. Another memo of March “extended” the activities and yet more memos of 1963 deal with one of the projects overseas assets (QJ/WIN), who was indeed officially terminated in April, 1963.

Still, none of that appears directly relevant to Harvey’s trip to Florida in April.  A trip described as “operational” and one which did take him to the JMWAVE maritime base in the Keys.  A trip which also seems to have involved the presence of John Roselli. And a trip that occurred at the same time CIA headquarters high level concerns were focused on the possibility that President Kennedy seemed very interested in positively responding to a brand new outreach from Fidel Castro.

Some have associated the trip with the termination of Roselli from the effort (assuming he was being hidden under the QJ/WIN crypt). Yet given the personal relationship between Harvey and Roselli that certainly would not require a week-long trip to Florida and an “operational” visit to the Keys.  

Which leaves the trip as a mystery, seemingly isolated from Desmond Fitzgerald and SAS and buried within an increasingly autonomous activities by Shackley and Morales at JM/WAVE – and an increasing dissatisfaction with the Kennedy Administrations Cuban efforts. A frustration which could only have escalated if Harvey had carried word about JFK’s initial interest in Castro’s outreach to the men he was meeting with in Florida.

Good News

Somewhat amazingly, given all the strain and stress of 2020, I’m able to share a good bit of progress and news for the year. First came the publication of my own new book – In Denial / Secret Wars with Air Strikes and Tanks (which includes an extended discussion of the Cuba Project and the real story of JFK and the Bay of Pigs).

Then the publication, on the Mary Ferrell Foundation site, of the extensive research by David Boylan and myself into Gene Wheaton’s JFK assassination lead. A lead which Wheaton personally provided to the ARRB.

And finally, the imminent serialization and book publication of Tipping Point / The Conspiracy that Murdered President Kennedy – which is the (personally unanticipated) sequel to Someone Would Have Talked and NEXUS.

But that’s not the real news for this post. This news covers the success in recovering and reviving two major pieces of work by long time researchers – in depth research which appeared to have been lost with the passing of those individuals. The passing of both John Hunt and Ian Griggs basically seemed to have left years of their work lost in abandoned and unpublished manuscripts.

The first effort to deal with that apparent loss came with Stu Wexler’s recovery of John Hunt’s research manuscript on the RFK Assassination – and not just the manuscript, but hundreds of unique graphics, photographs, and illustrations which John had accumulated to support his work on what can be shown to have been a woefully inept and manipulated criminal investigation of the Senator’s murder. With some organizational work by myself and a huge, dedicated, editing effort by Gary Murr we expect to have John’s unmatched work turned over to Debra Conway at JFK Lancer in early October.

The second successful effort was the recovery of Ian Grigg’s decade’s long research into the organization, duties and personnel of the Dallas Police Department.  Ian’s work, much of it based in oral history interviews, provides a totally new level of insight into the structure of the organization but many of its basic practices.  As it turns out Ian had actually completed almost all of his work prior to his passing and although formatting and structural editing will be required, his research manuscript is now with JFK Lancer and Debra Conway.

Certainly Debra will have a laad of work to do to get each of these research pieces actually published. Publishing John Hunt’s manuscript will be especially challenging given the number of graphics to be included – and the associated work in making all those not included available for access. And of course Debra’s publishing work has to be done in conjunction with the return of the JFK Lancer November Conference for 2020 – this time in a virtual format.

I’ve completed and recorded my own session for the upcoming virtual conference, it is on JFK and the Bay of Pigs.  In addition, we are planning an effort to record a virtual walking tour of the Plaza, the sort of tour I led in person for conferences over a decade or so.  That is also a challenge, but we really hope to make it work; for those who have never been to Dallas it is a visual experience that is vital to fully understanding what you may read in regard to the actual attack on November 22, 1963.

All in all it’s been a surprisingly productive year, especially so in the face of everything else 2020 has brought us!

Tipping Point

Tipping Point

Earlier I had blogged on my activity in regard to a new work dealing with the assassination of President John Kennedy. A great deal of new information has become available in the years following my first effort 2006 on that subject, Someone Would Have Talked, a work that was initially developed more as a research manuscript than anything else, but which turned into a book.  A decade ago that book was reworked, added to extensively and re-issued in 2010, providing the newest research and disclosures of the time.

A full decade has passed since that publication, a period which has seen an explosion in resources, a great amount of which covered the specific areas of interest which I had already been exploring. And over the last three years, a number of researchers have made immense strides in understanding and correlating a host of documents, including not only those disclosed by the work of the Assassinations Records Review Board, but extensive numbers of primary historical documents from both the FBI and the CIA.   

The result of that work is that we can now not only read the documents, but break through crypts, pseudonyms and aliases to understand exactly who was involved in what activities – as well as more full understand contemporary operations going on inside different sections of each agency in the early 1960s. That capability, plus the availability of new sources and oral history research, has made it possible to extend the early work in Someone Would Have Talked to an entirely new level.

Which means that my earlier posts about a new 40 or 50 page monograph on the Kennedy conspiracy have evolved into something far beyond what I had anticipated – something which goes beyond 300 pages and is pushing 400 separate end notes and extended commentaries – the majority of which are supported by links to actual documents (providing more proof that it’s a good thing I never attempted to write short stories).

The news now is that with the extensive support of Rex Bradford at the Mary Ferrell Foundation, this new work will be serialized and made available to everyone on the Mary Ferrell Foundation web site.  However, beyond that, it will also be made available as an actual book, available for purchase on Amazon – with all proceeds reserved for the ongoing work of the Foundation.

I’m not going to say much more about the work itself, hopefully the serialization will begin to be available in October – we have not tied down the exact number of segments in that, clearly it will take more than a handful. What I will do is provide at least a feel for the content by listing the major headings and subheadings below. 

Tipping Point / The conspiracy which murdered President John Kennedy

Introduction

            Reality Check

            Dissension

            The Back Door

The Cuban Backstory

Revolutionary Cuba 1958-1960

The CIA Cuba Project 1960-1961

Covert Action Against Cuba 1961-62

Anti-Castro Activism 1961-1962

Helter Skelter – 1963

Enter Lee Oswald

            Walking a Tightrope

            Oswald’s Uses

People in Motion – Fall 1963

Context for Conspiracy

            They Talked

            A Witches Brew

            Tipping Point

Trickle Down

            Oswald in Play

            A Useful Idiot

The Conspiracy

            Assets

Tactics and Tools

            Jack Ruby

            Harry Olson?

            J.D. Tippit?

            A Visible Conspiracy

            The Castro Linkage

Final Words

Citations and Commentary

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.