Command Disconnects

While I’m very much still interested in and sill do some ongoing research on the political assassinations of the 1960’s, for the last decade or so my interests have become more oriented towards issues of national security and in particular the civilian command and oversight of military operations. My upcoming book In Denial will focus on those subjects – with extensive detail of how that process worked (or did not work) in the Cuba Project launched under Eisenhower and carried out by the CIA under JFK.

In Denial illustrates many of the command problems with covert/deniable action – as well as the extensive disconnects in command and control which occurred during the amphibious landings at the Bay of Pigs. One of the lessons that stands out most clearly in that disaster is the danger of “disconnection” between national policy, as directed by the Commander in Chief, and actual combat operations.

For three months in 1961, President Kennedy worked on defining the mission of the Cuba Project, even expressing it in a new national security memorandum. And throughout that time, the CIA’s senior officers largely ignored his direction in crafting their operational plans. Worse yet, they failed to elevate the issues raised by their own senior military commanders.

Unfortunately, decades later, we are seeing the same disconnections once again jeopardizing missions, and fragmenting our established national security strategies. This time the command and control problems are not within the chain of command; they are clearly with the Commander in Chief. We saw that first in the fiasco related to any structured military response to Iranian actions in the Gulf (and no, as CIC you don’t tweet to tell everyone you are planning and then calling off a major military action). Most recently we are seeing it in Syria.  There is simply no evidence of a structured mission, nor of consultation between the CIA and the president’s intelligence or military community.

When the CIC’s spontaneous orders jeopardize an ISIS operation that has been in the works for months, forcing a risky last minute effort to carry out the mission – it’s a good thing when it still works, but a very bad sign in terms of strategy, command, and control.

When that same impromptu command decision results in having your forces literally abandon their bases and equipment – as we just did in Syria, literally handing them over to the Russians, you are forced into extreme measures.  In Syria that led to the last resort of bombing to at least minimize the impact of an unplanned retreat – and when you start bombing your own bases, clearly things are out of control.

Then when you announce a withdrawal, then begin sending in even heavier forces, matters get extremely complex – and risky – for the forces in the field.

At this point in time, it is truly unclear if the American forces on the ground know their mission, or whether or not it will change tomorrow.  That is a very dangerous situation.

As a veteran myself, I feel quite strongly about our military forces being committed without clear missions, being forced to operate in a state of uncertainty, and constantly having their roles redefined – that increases the risk for them and in all honestly makes us look increasingly vulnerable to our adversaries.  It also undermines the sacrifices we ask them to make. And if that sounds like my attitude is showing – it is.

Oswald “Tagged”


Given the recent discussion of domestic contacts with Lee Oswald, combined with both FBI and CIA records which appear to have been gone missing, I was asked a very good question as to when and how I feel Oswald was “tagged” to link the JFK assassination to Cuba and Castro. For context I should point out that the “missing” files related to Oswald would logically relate to CIA and FBI associations with him prior to the assassination, associations pertaining to their use of him as a source of intelligence and possibly his value as a propaganda asset (in programs that never jelled due to the assassination).

Any possible use of Oswald by conspirators planning to attack JFK occurring within the CIA (at any level including field officers) would never have been put into a document; it is anathema to create written records relating to any sort of assassination within the CIA (or at least it was after about 1955; up to that point we do find numerous reference to the practice).

Given that, my best answer as to where and when Oswald was tagged begins in New Orleans. By the time he arrived there he was a known figure to both the FBI and CIA and was a cooperative source for the FBI.  He was also under consideration for CIA use in anti-Russian propaganda (reference his remarks in his unpublished manuscript of his time there). By the summer of 1963 he was also quite possibly a candidate for joint FBI/CIA use in the AMSANTA FPCC project.   Both of those associations would explain why there are missing records in both agencies.

One of the risks both agencies always face is having their sources  turned against them (whether knowingly doubled or patsied).  Both have suffered from that repeatedly and we know they do damage control by destroying records…its just SOP.

But as far as being tagged for an action against JFK, I believe it was Oswald’s high profile media visibility as a Castro supporter in New Orleans that got him picked as someone who would point to Castro. We have good evidence that he was being used by conspirators in some fashion in regard to a planned incident in the DC area – his own letters – verify that and associate him not only with Castro but with CPUSA. His reference to going “underground” was especially damming in regards to a communist connection (something the Warren Commission studiously ignored).

It was in August/September that he was first “tagged” to point to Castro….but unfortunately we have no clear clue by who….Nagell tells us it was anti-Castro Cubans posing as Castro agents and there is some evidence to support that. Certainly there is evidence that the FBI was encouraging him to make those sorts of contacts. But for whatever reason the DC incident aborted and he ended up in Dallas.

We have some pretty good leads that in Dallas he was doing some strange things on his own, it certainly appears that that he was voluntarily being a dangle to a variety of groups, most likely for the FBI.  That would make a lot of sense given the Cuban exile weapons buying efforts going on in the Dallas – which the FBI was all over and which led back to the House on Harlandale. That scenario is also corroborated by Hosty’s remarks about Oswald being under surveillance and meeting with subversives.

In Dallas – where his movements were being monitored – his use of aliases, post office boxes, fake names and fake ID’s suggest he was either playing at being a source on his own accord – or encouraged to do so. And that role was known to the people he was associating with – it was at that point he emerged as a definitive patsy, especially once he went to work at the TSBD.

Beyond that, the argument can be made against his being a knowing part the attack on the president because he continued search for other work, including applying for jobs outside downtown Dallas (that application is on record).

I believe Oswald’s tagging was the culmination of his activities over several months.  I also suspect if we could see the Joannides records we would have some support for that…which is why multiple judges have denied access to them. And if the FBI files in New Orleans had not been destroyed there would be more – ditto for all the FBI subversive division files in Dallas. And ditto for the Domestic Contact files.

Up to the day of the assassination it appears the FBI was watching Oswald and viewed him as a window into the subversive activities they were tasked to deal with, the CIA was monitoring his movements and very possibly had plans for him, most likely related to the FPCC.

And then someone who had seemed useful to both agencies turned into a terrible threat to each of them.

CIA Domestic Contacts

My last post raised the issue of why we appear to have found no CIA Domestic Contact reporting on Lee Harvey Oswald. We have solid indications that Domestic Contacts was interested in him following his return from Russia and initiated activity to monitor Lee and Marina within the White Russian community. Given that Oswald had not truly defected and had even been financially assisted in his return to the United States, he certainly would have been a subject of intelligence interest as to his Russian contacts and experiences.  We do know that the FBI directly contacted him on his return and asked him to report suspicious contacts – and he agreed to do so, later going so far as to directly approach the FBI in New Orleans.

Given standard practices we should find CIA Domestic Contacts with Oswald.  We find them with other individuals returning to the United States and having had contact with communist nations – including both Russia and Cuba. There are documents related to Domestic Contacts and Robert Webster, another American ostensibly “defecting” to Russia:

They maintained contacts with Americans doing international business – including those they found to be a waste of time (such as Mitch Werbell) and those that became long time CIA assets (William Pawley)

Anyone coming back to the U.S. from Russia or Cuba was routinely contacted (identified by the Support division at headquarters and referred to domestic contact field offices):

In short, there is every reason to expect that Domestic Contact files should have existed on Oswald, in several locations including headquarters, Dallas and New Orleans. We should have Domestic Contact documents in his 201 file.  I would encourage researchers to review there Oswald related documents to review them for any sign of routing to Domestic Contacts.  That would include distributions to or from “DCD” Domestic Contacts Division, C/DC/CIA  Chief/Headquarters Domestic Contacts.

An example of those being used can be found in the following Domestic Contact documents on Gerry Hemming after his return from Cuba – copied from Chief Contacts to CIA Security:

And in this widely circulated inquiry by Domestic Contacts into Frank Fiorini aka Sturgis – Domestic Contacts was not at all bashful about circulating its information even to the highest level offices:

Good hunting, either post here or email me if you find Oswald link to Domestic Contacts

CIA Domestic Operations

There has always been a lot of incorrect information about what the CIA is and is not allowed to do domestically. I’ve seen some individuals write that it is illegal for them to operate inside the United States at all – which makes it hard to explain why there were telephone numbers for the CIA in all our major metropolitan cities. And if you think about their role in intelligence collection for a bit, you realize that essentially writing off contact with all American’s who travel overseas, who work inside the nation’s borders with foreign businesses, or are in contact with foreign diplomatic personnel would mean abandoning serious sources of information.  The same would apply for choosing not to monitor known or suspected foreign agents – certainly the FBI would have a role in criminal actions by such individuals (as in espionage) but political action and various types of psychological warfare are not criminal, just dangerous (and informative).

For a better idea of what the CIA was did domestically during the Cold War, and some insight on where they crossed the lines, I would suggest a reading of the Rockefeller Committee findings on the subject:

What is of most interest to those interested in the JFK Assassination has to do with the CIA’s legitimate role in collection of foreign intelligence inside the United States – specifically in regard to what should reasonably have been its interest in Lee Harvey Oswald. Given Oswald’s time inside Russia, he would have been a valuable source for insight on a variety of Russian protocols and practices, not to mention the basic open source information he would have picked up living in Russian and working in a Russian factory. Sources on such things were not all readily available in the early 1960’s.

Certainly it would be reasonable to find a Domestic Operations file on Oswald, with material collected by that division and also material copied from other groups – for example, pertaining to his travel to Mexico and his contacts with the Cuban and Russian embassies in Mexico City, valuable information given those two embassies were major CIA intelligence targets. Yet as far as I can tell, after contacting some very knowledgeable researchers, we find no Domestic Operations file on Oswald and no obvious circulation of Oswald documents to that group. In fact one of the mysteries that emerges is that we appear to have paid so little attention to Domestic Operations that it is not quite clear that we even know what that distribution code should be…still working on that one.

What we do know, and if you have SWHT 2010 you will find it in Chapter 20: Loose Ends, is that a Domestic Operations officer in Dallas, J.Walton Moore, contacted a voluntary source, Goerge D. Mohrenschildt, who was well embedded within the Dallas Russian expatriate community in regard to a couple coming to Dallas from Russia – Lee and Marina Oswald. We know that D Mohrenschildt did so, became friends with the Oswald’s and apparently encouraged – and likely funded – Oswald’s hiring of a secretary to prepare a journal of his time in Russia. In one aspect that journal (never fully completed nor published) served as a very effective and extended debriefing document on Oswald’s time in Russia. Certainly the sort of thing valued by the CIA. However apart from that we find no direct contact by Domestic Operations with Oswald (we do find several FBI contacts) and as noted above, apparently no Domestic Operations documents on Oswald at all. 

Did Domestic Operations pass up on a source which would have been fully within their authority and part of their standard tasking?  Did they not even attempt a contact?  Or for some strange reason did they have to obtain the information they would normally ask for via a cut out?  For that matter, did the HSCA or the ARRB not even make an inquiry about Domestic Operations files on Oswald?

We often discuss the significance of “holes” in the record – if it is true that there was no Domestic Operations file or documents on Lee Oswald, and they were never copied on any of his activities during his return from Russia, his contacts with the Russian and Cuban embassies, or his time in Mexico, it certainly raises some questions – including whether the research community should be spending time looking at a group within the CIA we know about but have largely ignored.

I suppose – based on one of my more recent posts – I should also note that circa 1962/62, the senior CIA officer in charge of Domestic Operations was Tracy Barnes.

CIA Health Alteration Committee

In the long ago research for my book NEXUS, I first came across anecdotal remarks, made during the Church Committee inquiry into CIA and assassination, that during the Eisenhower era assassination was actually such a standard practice that there was a structured process for projects intended to neutralize or eliminate political targets – organized to the extent that there was a “Health Alteration Committee”.

Actually, in spite of what you might read in the popular media, there is no indication that such a committee ever existed. It’s not that the CIA didn’t frequently pursue assassination, it was just never that well organized, or managed. That has become more clear as new research has revealed more detailed about specific assassination efforts of the 1950’s and early 1960s.

I’ve been doing a bit more research into CIA assassinations as it relates to multiple CIA attempts against Fidel Castro during the first Cuba Project  – efforts which were so poorly managed that the individuals in charge (Richard Bissell and Tracy Barnes) appear to have thought they were going to be successful right up to the time of the actual amphibious landings in Cuba. John Newman is also publishing new work on Cuba, as well as producing extreme detail about the CIA’s assassination efforts against Patrice Lumumba in the Congo.

It was John’s recent work that led me to realize how deeply Richard Bissell was involved in a whole series of assassination efforts during 1960 and 1961. I’ve wondered why he appears to have done such a poor job with the Cuba Project, but one of the factors was that he was also juggling two different (highly challenging) assassination projects, both using resources which were new to the CIA. It’s not that the CIA had not worked assassinations before, but they normally took advantage of indigenous regime opponents, simply enabling them with poison or weapons.

Going after Castro was tough enough, Bissell actually had to read several people into the effort just to get money out of the Cuba Project budget, under operational control of Jake Esterline. And the sniper attack plans against Castro aborted simply because the CIA had such poor maritime resources for the project that the privately owned boat being used to infiltrate the shooter suffered engine problems and was taken out of action.

In the Congo, Bissell ended up going to Staff D to look for foreign assets and both the officers he approached turned him down, saying assassination was not part of their job. He ended up almost entirely relying on the Congo Chief of Station, who was less than enthusiastic about the plan to poison Lumumba using CIA assets sent in from Europe. He was much more inclined towards the traditional approach of encouraging local surrogates to kill Lumumba themselves, which in the end was what actually happened.

All of which tends to explain something some of us have wondered about for some time – why William Harvey was called in and asked to create a new Executive Action program for international political assassinations. And why it was put under Staff D. The basic answer is that up to that point it time CIA assassination efforts had been individually crafted, largely personalized under the direction of Richard Bissell and Tracy Barnes. Harvey was ordered to create something which would be much more professional, more structured, more covert, and with global reach. As we know from his own notes, he was not all that excited about the concept even though he did pursue it as directed. Of course in the end he did no better against Fidel Castro than Bissell had done – even as a committee of only one.

Actionable Intelligence

Actionable Intelligence

This seemed like a good time to write on an issue that was key to the failure to protect America from the attacks of 2001, an issue that has once again come to the fore in an alarming fashion.

I’ve written about this here and in other places at length so I won’t belabor the point aside from pointing out that the actual foreign intelligence collection in 2000/2001 was actually quite good, and could very well be better today than it was then – emphasis on “could”.

In the period of late 1999 through the summer of 2001 the CIA, working with other governments, had managed to build a reasonably good network around a truly challenging adversary, al Qaeda. In the fall of 1999 the Agency and the Clinton Administration counter terrorism director went to the president’s national security advisor with warnings about Millennium attacks. As always, threat intelligence is only of value when it becomes “actionable”, which means someone at an executive level forces the nation’s security system to respond to it. President Clinton accepted his national security directors (and the CIA’s) concerns and did just that. The result was that a variety of so called “millennium attacks” were interdicted and aborted – but for many reasons, including political ones, you hear nothing about that these days (nor about the aborting of the Bojinka airline attack plot).

Virtually the same warnings were issued beginning in the late summer of 2001, but there was no significant executive response, the intelligence did not become actionable and it stayed down within the system – within the CIA and more importantly within the FBI.  Regardless of warnings from the intelligence community and special briefs to the president from the CIA, special action would have had to been directed towards the FBI and agencies such as the FAA to deal with the threat.  That did not happen, the attacks did.

The point being that in 1999 the president trusted the intelligence community and acted. In 2001 for a variety of reasons, the president did not act. Now, in 2019 we have an American president largely divorced from his national intelligence community, clearly not trusting them, and indeed appearing to trust foreign sources more than what is arguably the best threat intelligence capability on the planet.

Worse yet, due to his disclosures of national security information, the intelligence community does not trust the president – his violations range from exposing details of foreign intelligence collections capability to sharing information which could very well expose foreign assets.

And yes, the CIA did pull an asset out of Russia, it would be insane for them to publicly admit that – and if you buy the Secretary of State’s denial you are probably willing to think the Taliban can be trusted to honor their agreements in Afghanistan (attitude disclosure statement). As to the national security director as a backup, that’s not working out all that well these days.

Possibly even worse than all that – if possible – at this point in time any allied nation intelligence agency who would have previously shared highly security information with the United States has to pull back to save themselves and their sources  – which undermines literally decades of trusted relationships.

Bottom line – not acting on intelligence can have terrible consequences.  Handling it in a compromising fashion can be equally bad.

CIA Pseudonyms and Aliases

As I mentioned in an earlier posts, a number of people have been working really hard at developing a new a section on the Mary Ferrell Foundation WEB site – a section to address pseudonyms and aliases.

That work is a major addition to the existing series of Cryptonyms already on the site. We hope this resource will be valuable to anyone researching in CIA documents obtained both from the Mary Ferrell Foundation archives, as well as other major online document repositories.

Pseudonyms and Aliases are a truly tricky area because both involve what appear to be real names and on occasion, even with in the documents, the usage appears to have been blurred.

Normally the distinction is obvious, pseudonyms for internal use and aliases for external.  That allows you to make the call as to which which based on usage – the text usually talks about an alias being used in meetings or activities outside the agency, not just in documents.

Of course to be useful, serious aliases need to involve more than just a one time fake name use, they require employment and education covers, work histories, mail backstops and even “pocket litter” carried during field work.

So for all of you who actually dig into documents, we hope this new reference (which will be expanded and likely corrected on some names) will serve as a valuable resource.  You can find it at this link:




JFK and the Bay of Pigs


As mentioned in previous posts, much of my current research and writing time is being spent on a forthcoming new book dealing with the concept of “deniability” in covert actions, particularly operations which involve military elements. While the book will be a broad look at the topic, the fundamentals are illustrated through a deep dive into the 1960/61 Cuba Project of the Eisenhower and Kennedy Administrations.

It’s all fascinating for anyone interested in the CIA, in the relations between the CIA and the military, and of course anyone interested in JFK and Cuba – which has entered the history books almost entirely in regard to the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis. That is a shame since historically the Bay of Pigs activity reflects only about three months of a CIA project which had been in progress for over a year – and as a sanctioned covert action it actually failed as of November, 1960, under Eisenhower.  For the full story of that failure you need to research a couple of thousand pages of documents yourself, or wait for the book…

For the moment, I’m posting primarily to present two basic points.  First, the operation at the Bay of Pigs was not at all what the CIA had promised Kennedy that it would be – they violated a number of the basic directives they had been given.  When I say that I’m talking about the project’s senior officers, Bissell and his aide Barnes.  The military officers inside the project, Esterline and Hawkins, had no idea what Bissell had promised nor any real hope that the plan would actually succeed – and had told Bissell so in person well before the operation actually launched.

The second point is that, despite what you may have read, JFK did authorize a considerable amount of air support during the three days of the operation itself, in fact he extended a number of authorities which overrode the basic rules of the mission. It turned out not be enough, in one instance due to a major US Navy blunder having nothing to do with either Kennedy or the CIA. However for an overview, the following are the mission parameters – and the compromises which JFK allowed in an effort to save the operation as it began to be overwhelmed on the beachhead:

Operational Ground Rules:

President Kennedy’s demand for political deniability was clear and consistent from the very first meetings between his new administration and the CIA. It was reasserted in his final directives and the rules of engagement for the Zapata Plan. The Cuban brigade was to be landed at night, all landing craft and brigade ships were to be at sea and outside Cuban territorial waters by daylight.

The Navy was authorized to provide screening for the brigade ships at sea and to protect the force outside the limit of territorial waters by engaging with and diverting Cuban aircraft or boats.  Only in the event that U.S. forces were fired upon were they allowed to return fire. No American citizens were to participate in the landings, and no American’s were to participate in brigade air combat strikes or combat air patrols.  Neither were American’s to participate in air transport or re-supply of the brigade.

Waivers issued during combat:

American’s were allowed to stay directly involved in in the operations, literally assuming command of the LCI’s and the landing craft  – no effort was made to order CIA officers Lynch and Robertson out of combat (sent into the landing without headquarters knowledge) or to alter their unauthorized roles.

An American civilian commanded one LCI and other civilians, commercial seamen, crewed both LCI’s at the beachhead, all remained with the craft throughout the operation although none actually crewed the craft’s machine guns as did Lynch and Robertson.

American’s were allowed to fly in operations in support of the beachhead, both in supply missions and in successful B-26 ground strikes against Cuban forces on Day 2, as well as in a second – fatal – series of planned ground strikes on Day 3.

United States Air Force transports were authorized to conduct air drops into the beachhead – only failing to do so due to lack of preparation and logistics issues.

Brigade aircraft were authorized and did use napalm from American military stocks in air strikes, something which confirmed American sponsorship.

American jet aircraft were authorized to fly combat air support for the Day 2 B-26 air strikes and did so successfully.

American jet aircraft were authorized to fly combat air support for the Day 3 B-26 air strikes and failed to carry out their mission.

American destroyers were sent directly off the beach to probe the landing area in advance of a U.S. Navy evacuation mission. They took on Cuban artillery fire while doing so – but did not return fire.

Essentially the only escalation which President Kennedy did not authorize was the actual use of American jet aircraft to destroy the Cuban Air Force or directly attack the Cuban Army/Militia. Which of course would have been an overt act of war, without Congressional authorization.

Reading CIA Documents

The good news is that historians and other parties now have a treasure trove of Cold War era history available to them in released CIA documents, housed on line in a variety of repositories including the Mary Ferrell Foundation and Black Vault.

However anyone reading them will be faced with the reality that CIA documents contain a variety of code words, all of which are designed to conceal and protect critical information about operations, employees and assets in the event that the documents themselves would be “compromised”. That means having them obtained by anyone outside the intelligence agency, whether it be an adversary power, the media, or any party outside the service itself. This security practice also concealed that same information from other agencies, law enforcement and the military, who are routinely copied on certain types of CIA memoranda and reports.

The Mary Ferrell Foundation now offers an extensive guide to decoding CIA cryptonyms of the 1950s and 1960’s, and we are working on a project to add other related operational security categories such as pseudonyms and aliases. I’m working on an overview to address the larger spectrum of document security “tradecraft” including personnel security (aliases, backstops, covers), but for now I thought sharing the following might be helpful in differentiating cryptonyms from pseudonyms.

The first and most common mechanism of operational and personnel security has been to assign code names (cryptonyms) to functional sections of the CIA itself, to its offices and facilities, and to other government agencies as well as to its own operations and personnel. .

To simplify matters and control document routing, the first two digits in the cryptonym’s/codes normally refer to the geographic or functional area of a particular directorate, geographic region, office, or operation. The rest of the code name was intended to be meaningless although that appears not to have been true in all instances. In some cases the codes seem show a bit of “attitude” – such as designating ODENVY to refer to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, ODYOKE as a general code for the U.S. government, or ODACID for the State Department.

Protocol called for the code names to be centralized and registered but in practice some groups – such as counter intelligence – had the authority to create and control their own codes, and even maintain their documents outside the centralized system during certain periods of time.
In some instances code names for operations were also extended to individuals involved with them (usually individuals who were operational assets or parties of interest and not CIA personnel), creating an entire series of cryptonyms – AMOT-1, AMOT-39 etc.

While cryptonyms were used for organizational and operational security, other types of codes and measures were used to protect the identity of individual CIA employees or, on occasion, a contact working as a source for the CIA whose “true name” required concealment. Pseudonyms for CIA employees were often assigned for their entire career, while others were limited to the period in which the individual was working with the agency, either as a volunteer or assigned by their respective organization. That held true for both civilians and military personnel “detailed” to the CIA from a particular service. CIA contract employees could also be assigned different pseudonyms over time.

Pseudonyms were registered and were restricted to use in reports, memoranda and other document related activity – not to be used externally.

Individuals who did need to present themselves in public, using assumed identities for different operations and activities, were assigned false names and in some instances extensive false identities – the names and identities were assigned as “aliases”. Aliases would be regular names, some of them similar to true names but others strikingly different. We do find aliases mentioned in documents; in some instances “true names” are also given to help with the obvious internal confusion.

Aliases that were used for any extended period of time had to be “backstopped” with residence and mailing addresses, as well as other precautions to ensure that the individual using them would be able to function using a name and identify other than their true name. Short term aliases generally involved at least a minimal level of false identification and miscellaneous but related materials sometimes referred to as “pocket litter”.

Individuals detailed to work with the CIA on covert action projects were assigned certain types of “covers” for operational security, the most basic being that of an employee of another government agency such as the State Department or USAID; the simplest covers were little more than mailing addresses where mail could be received under one name and forwarded to another – or simply forwarded as a routine forwarding request. An example would be to have military personnel detailed to serve in the earliest years of the Vietnam era forwarded or returned from a military postal address in the Philippines.

Clearly this all got quite confusing, even internally within the CIA, and we do find documents with handwritten annotations of true names beside pseudonyms or even aliases, a security violation but still a temptation for those trying to deal with reams of reports and memoranda.

Mystery Man

Tracy Barnes is an individual whose path I keep crossing.  Most recently in the current work I’m doing on the Cuba Project and the Bay of Pigs.  I first came across Barnes when I was researching NEXUS, my book on the CIA and assassinations.  As it happened Tracy was the head of the CIA’s Guatemala operations (PBSUCCESS), a program which paid a great deal of attention to assassination, while not actually carrying out most of the planned murders simply due to the pace of events – which moved quicker than did the actual assassination plans (which themselves involved not only the use of threats for intimidation, but a program of regime elimination as part of the actual coup).

Barnes turned up again in the Cuba Project, that time as an aide to Richard Bissell, the project chief.  The Cuba Project had an extremely bifurcated and compartmentalized organization structure – a significant factor in its failures. While Barnes is sometimes characterized as the individual responsible for the Cuba project under Bissell (yes, that’s what Wikipedia says), that was not at all true.  The project’s major operations were run under WH/4, a task group of CIA Western Hemisphere led by J.C. King, with actual operations under Jake Easterline (taking direction from Bissell, possibly relayed through Barnes).  In fact the deeper you dig into the organization chart the more amazingly poor the whole command and control structure of the Cuba Project becomes.

Finding Barnes in both projects where assassination was a major, if hidden element, of operations led me to do a good deal of research on Barnes and it’s amazingly hard to find solid information on him.  One of the things that emerged early on is that he and Bissell had both been rumored within the Agency itself to have constituted what was called the “Health Alteration Committee”.

One instance, documented by the HSCA, involved Barnes – acting under Bissell – to either assassinate or incapacitate an Iraqi Colonel with a poisoned handkerchief.  Another involved Barnes giving the order to blow up a Cuban airliner, hopefully with Fidel Castro on board…and order cancelled by Bissell. While Castro makes some sense, given the structure of the CIA it’s difficult to imagine exactly what authority Bissell and Barnes would have had in regard to Iraq, it certainly is inconsistent with the known assignments. Which leads to the speculation that the two men may simply have been known to be willing to pursue such actions and used at senior officer discretion – as an on call team for such actions. Barnes apparent involvement in the Trujillo assassination comes to mind in that regard.

It is rather hard to trace Barnes’ exact responsibilities and activities.  For example after the failure of the Cuba Project he was reassigned to Domestic Operations, a rather backwater post compared to his previous career postings.  But one interesting to JFK research because it would be CIA Domestic Operations which appears to have contacted Lee Oswald on his return to the United States – and through surrogates in his return to Dallas, Texas. If there was one unit of the CIA that should have been monitoring Lee Oswald in 1963 it would have been Domestic Operations, searching for reports on Oswald from Domestic Operations, or copied to it or to Barnes would be an interesting task.

As for myself, my limited posting time recently is largely due to my intense work on a new book dealing with the Cuba Project.  And in research for that book, Richard Bissell becomes a primary figure – as he should as chief of the project.  So do Jake Easterline, operations chief in WH/4 and Colonel Hawkins the project’s military officer (of its second phase – the landings in Cuba; its first phase failed after some six months).

But I’ve been struck by how little Barnes appears in communications and reports.  He was so deeply into the project that he did attend strategic meetings, he was a player at project HQ and was clearly trusted by Bissell.  But what was his real role?  One of the directions I’m going now is that Bissell had compartmentalized things to the extent that the Guatemala and Nicaragua operations of the project were quite separated from the boat missions and intelligence collections going on out of the project’s Miami Base (not yet designated JMWAVE) and its Key West maritime missions base.

One of the things the IG report on the project criticized was how insular and isolated those Florida missions were from the overall project.  And interestingly enough in the early months of 1961 the Florida base and in particular Key West appears to be where the sniper attacks and assassination missions against Fidel Castro were being run.

Missions apparently under the oversight of none other than Carl Jenkins. But the question arises, who was the HQ person giving orders for those missions. At present I’m speculating it was Tracy Barnes, acting very secretly under Richard Bissell – who in turn had initiated the separate efforts to kill Fidel Castro using Roselli, Trafficante et al. Even with all the work we have done to date we have never established an operational connection between the poison efforts and the Cuba Project.  The same can be said for the sniper attacks and the Cuba Project headquarters.

Now I’m thinking that the connection may well have been Tracy Barnes.  And when Bissell and Barnes hit the wall with the failure at the Bay of Pigs, they lost their position as the Health Alteration Committee…..which meant they needed to be replaced….Mr. Harvey, we have a new task for you.