In the Central Intelligence Agency files regarding Cuba under the Batista regime, Fidel Castro "manages to get himself involved in many things that do not concern him." "Beginning in 1948, the activities of Fidel Castro came to be of increasing concern to the Central Intelligence Agency and the United States Government (USG)."i Despite the allegations of some officials, no direct link to Communism was established in Castro's history until after hostilities with the United States. "In fact, Agency support for the peaceful transfer of power from Batista to a democratically elected successor and amnesty for Castro and his followers...was proposed in a memorandum from the Inspector General in November 1957."ii Other methods had greater support in time.
The Agency began with assessing the Castro forces, "At least two agents were successfully placed in PSP ranks (Partido Socialista Popular), and in March 1958, one Agency officer managed to join the Castro forces in the mountains for a period of two weeks and to observe their tactics in combat."iii Agency officer Alfred Cox suggested officials should undertake private support and diplomacy with the Castro government. "Col. J.C. King...met with William D. Pawley on 18-19 November 1958 to discuss a plan which would have Pawley travel to Cuba to meet with Batista in an attempt to convince him to bow out gracefully." Yet this seemingly peaceful intervention attempted to award the country not to Castro's groups but a more pliable junta. Undoubtedly, Castro would never agree to such arrangements.iv
Colonel Joseph Caldwell King and the Western Hemisphere (WH) Division utilized the CIA's Havana Station. "What WH hoped to accomplish, presumably, was that they could organize these anti-Batista and anti-Castro dissidents and get them armed in time so that they could prevent Castro from taking over the government if Batista should suddenly resign or decide to flee the country."v "On 31 December 1958, Paramilitary Division reported to WH Division that a Helio Courier was already in place in Key West...a sterile C-54 (airplane) had been requested from Europe; and the Office of Logistics would have an arms load rigged for a drop by 2 January 1959."vi Officials pursue wholly opposing policies to deal with the Castro regime simultaneously. If discovered these actions could lead to military confrontation or perhaps even similar clandestine revenge.
Fidel Castro's forces then seize control of Cuba."Ambassador Philip W. Bonsal arrived in Havana on February 19, 1959 determined to break the mold of previous U.S. ambassadors...for the next twenty months, Bonsal would work tirelessly to build a constructive relationship with Cuba's new revolutionary government..." Bonsal hoped to build international relations founded upon "mutuality of interest."vii He sought to find common ground and realized the revolution was a virtual assurance, Bonsal pushed for rapprochement with Castro. Strategically it was foolish to make so close an enemy in the same hemisphere. Bonsal hoped Castro received the official "soft-glove" approach. However, some military and intelligence leaders were not supportive of peaceful solutions.
Castro's ever increasing commitment to socialistic change was viewed as a threat to the over a billion dollars in US assets. Castro's revolution gained traction with crimes revealed during Batista's rule. "Hardly a Cuban does not have a relative who was killed during Batista's reign of terror."viii The corrupt dictator executed thousands, all while Batista accepted a fortune in repeated Mafia bribes. Castro prior condemned these actions as tyrannical, yet history often repeats itself.
The Castro regime executed hundreds of these former Batista officials to ensure the revolutions success. This action secured his powerbase and removed potential rivals. American officials decried Castro's purge, Castro labeled the charge a "campaign of lies".ix Repeated political and internal official agendas intensified, Castro had disastrous conversations with then Vice-President Richard Nixon. During one meeting, Nixon tells Castro to cut off alliance with any Communist leaders or the United States would "cut off economic aid."x
In November of 1959, General Charles Cabell regarding Fidel Castro's Communist status offered, "Our conclusion, therefore, is that Fidel Castro is not a Communist, however he certainly is not anti-Communist." "If it should be established that the Cuban government is Communist-led or Communist-dominated, or if that government cannot be swayed from adopting measures which intentionally or unintentionally accomplish Communist objectives, the question of direct attacks against Castro will be re-examined...Under no circumstances would any asset be appraised of this contingency planning. In fact any disposition to undertake violent action should be promptly and emphatically discouraged pending a change in policy at the policy at the policy-making level."xii The Eisenhower administration did not initially embrace a violent overthrow of the Cuban regime.
In December of 1959, Agency Western Hemisphere Chief Colonel J.C. King sent a memo to Allen Dulles the Director of Central Intelligence. Its "specific objective" is "The overthrow of Castro within one year, and his replacement by a junta friendly to the United States which will call elections 6 months after assumption of office...thorough consideration be given to the elimination of Fidel Castro." Deputy Director for Support L.K. White noted in his diary "There was considerable discussion of the situation in Cuba, and the Director requested Dick Bissell to organize a special task force to insure that we were attacking the situation from all possible angles."xiii
The Agency Western Hemisphere Division created WH Division Branch 4 (WH/4) "as an expandable task force to run the 'proposed Cuban Operations." Western Hemisphere Branch 4 had "40 persons, with 18 at Headquarters, 20 at Havana Station, and 2 at Santiago Base." Officials appoint former Operation P.B. Success principal Jacob D. Esterline to head the new branch created by J.C. King. However, another version of the story credits Richard Bissell with Esterline's appointment.xiv By 1960, officials circumvent King in many future decisions related to agents within his division.
"As 1960 began General Cabell, the Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence, held a joint briefing on Cuba for the Department of State and the Joint Chief of Staff. Cabell "discussed the need for programs aimed at Castro -- psychological warfare, political action, economic action, and para-military (sic) action, all of which had been conducted in some degree during the past year."xv
"The policy decided on by the US Government in March 1960 called for the displacement of Fidel Castro..." American leaders expand displacement to include Castro's possible assassination. "Because the policy makers feared censure by the United Nations...the myth of 'plausible deniability' was the caveat that determined the CIA would be the principal implementing arm for the anti-Castro effort."xvi "It also makes clear that various US corporate interests played an active (sometimes overactive) role in support of the anti-Castro efforts of the Government."xvii
Officials produce dozens of failed plots against the Castro regime in the following years. The Mafia, Central Intelligence Agency, and dozens of anti-Castro Cuban groups fail to displace the rogue leader. His tenuous political future without a strong ally forces Castro to rely upon Soviet Communist support. The prior unfounded accusations became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Amid the failed policies, official fears become a reality for the Kennedy administration.
i. Central Intelligence Agency file, Bay of Pigs History Volume 3, Evolution of the CIA's Anti-Castro Policies 1950-January 1961, George Washington University, pp. 1-3, gwu.edu
ii. Ibid, p. 4
iii. Ibid, p. 6
iv. Ibid, pp. 8-10
v. Ibid, pp. 13-14
vii. William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh, "Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana", UNC Press Books, October 13, 2014, pp. 10-12
viii. Ibid, p. 12
ix. Ibid, p. 13
x. CIA file, Bay of Pigs History Vol. 3, p. 22, gwu.edu
xi. Ibid, p. 27
xii. Ibid, p. 28
xiii. Ibid, p. 32
xiv. Ibid p. 31
xv. Ibid p. 30
xvi. CIA file, Bay of Pigs History Vol. 3, Foreword pp. I-III
xvii. Ibid, p. 1
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CIA Castro assassination plots
Edited: December 2017