U.S. Policy / Cuba

Central Intelligence Agency. Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro. Text dated 25 April 1967; cover memorandum by the Inspector General dated 23 May 1967. 133 pages.

This report was classified "Secret -- Eyes Only," and was declassified after Congress ordered a government-wide review of material relating to the JFK assassination. It was sent to the National Archives in November 1993. Perhaps twenty or so names are redacted, but that still leaves about 85 names. This is the most authoritative account available of the CIA-Mafia plots to kill Castro, which included poisoned cigars and poison-tipped ballpoint pens, an exploding sea shell, a skin-diving suit dusted with fungus, a chemical to make his beard fall out, and botulin pills that one technician "tested on monkeys and found they did the job expected of them."

Those who were high-up in the bureaucracy claim little knowledge of these plots. John McCone noted that over the years, phrases such as "dispose of Castro," "remove Castro," and "knock off Castro" were used in high-level government meetings, but that "those phrases were always construed to mean the overthrowing of the communist government in Cuba." Even William Harvey, who knew exactly what he was doing, made sure that phrases like "elimination of leaders" were excised from internal memorandums. The CIA has mastered the art of deniability. To put it bluntly, they can make a monkey out of anyone who tries to hold them responsible.


Escalante, Fabian. The Secret War: CIA Covert Operations Against Cuba, 1959-1962. First published in 1993 as "Cuba: La guerra secreta de la CIA." Translated by Maxine Shaw and edited by Mirta Muniz. Melbourne, Australia: Ocean Press, 1995. 199 pages.

Fabian Escalante was head of Cuba's state security department from 1976-1982, and since then has been a high official in the Interior Ministry. He is considered Cuba's leading authority on the history of CIA activities against his country. During the period recounted in this book, Escalante was with Cuban counterintelligence, and in 1978 he directed the Cuban effort to help investigate the JFK assassination at the request of the U.S. House committee.

The CIA's war against Cuba from 1959-1962 was intense and unrelenting. The 42-page chronology of incidents in the back of this book shows that hardly a week went by without one sort of CIA provocation or another. With this level of cold-war escalation, it was inevitable that it would all come to a head during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. At that point the stakes became too high, and by January 1963, Operation Mongoose was officially discontinued. The CIA was still active against Cuba in later years, but between the assassination of JFK and the subsequent escalation in Vietnam, dirty tricks in other parts of the world took precedence.


Hinckle, Warren and Turner, William W. The Fish is Red: The Story of the Secret War Against Castro. New York: Harper & Row, 1981. 373 pages.

Over ten years of research by two well-connected investigative writers have produced a classic that belongs on every shelf. Unfortunately the book never appeared in paperback, and can't be found on used book lists because it is so prized by collectors. To get a copy you have to find one in a library and photocopy it, or get the new edition, retitled "Deadly Secrets," that Thunder's Mouth Press in New York published in 1992.

While other books deal with discrete events relating to Cuba and Castro, this one attempts a history of the anti-Castro Cuban community and their CIA and Mafia sponsors, from 1960 through the Bay of Pigs, Operation Mongoose, the Kennedy brothers, the New Orleans community uncovered by Jim Garrison, Omega 7 and CORU terrorism, and Watergate. Not only is the book extremely name-intensive, but many of the names are not found elsewhere.

Hinckle is a former editor of Ramparts magazine and a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Turner is a 10-year FBI veteran and expert on the paramilitary right who continues to follow developments in the Kennedy assassinations. Each author has written several other books.


Hunt, Howard. Give Us This Day. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1973. 235 pages.

E.Howard Hunt is one of the most infamous characters in the history of the CIA. This book describes his participation in the planning of the Bay of Pigs operation. Due to Hunt's command of Spanish and his experience in the CIA-sponsored 1954 coup in Guatemala, he was assigned to the Miami Station in 1960 under the alias of "Eduardo" as a political action officer. His main task was to help anti-Castro exiles form a government-in-exile which would be set up in Cuba shortly after they invaded. The plan was for Hunt and "provisional government" leaders to fly to Cuba as soon as anti-Castro forces had secured the airstrip at Playa de Cochinos. There they would broadcast that a new government was in power and call for military assistance from the U.S. The plan failed when anti-Castro forces were slowly destroyed by Cuban artillery and ground forces. Hunt will remain one of the more important figures in the history of the CIA. He shows up everywhere, from books on the JFK assassination to books on Watergate.

-- Wendell Minnick


National Information Service. The CIA's War Against Cuba. Havana, 1988. Printed for the NIS (AIN in Spanish) by Novosti Press Agency. 102 pages.

Ridenour, Ron. Back Fire: The CIA's Biggest Burn. Havana: Jose Marti Publishing House, 1991. 174 pages.

The July 19, 1987 issue of Granma Weekly Review and two books -- one by the National Information Service titled "The CIA's War Against Cuba" and another by Ron Ridenour titled "Back Fire" -- all deal with the same topic. Granma has pictures of "83 CIA officers accredited as permanent diplomats or diplomats in transit in Cuba," while the two books narrate the experiences of Cuban State Security agents who penetrated CIA operations in Cuba. The NIS book is based on a Cuban television series of the same name. Ridenour, an American who lives in Cuba, draws on this material and conducts some additional interviews, and then adds a bit of historical background.

In June 1987, Florentino Aspillaga Lombard, chief of Cuban intelligence in Czechoslovakia, defected in Austria. Since he knew about the extensive penetration of the CIA, the Ministry of the Interior decided to cut their losses and go public with the story. Pictures of CIA officers servicing dead drops and made-in-USA spy paraphernalia were published and broadcast, double agents working for State Security were interviewed as national heroes, and some American diplomats were expelled. It was all somewhat embarrassing for the CIA, so not much appeared in the U.S. press. The period covered by these descriptions of CIA activities in Cuba is generally from 1977-1987.


Operation Zapata: The "Ultrasensitive" Report and Testimony of the Board of Inquiry on the Bay of Pigs. Frederick MD: University Publications of America, 1984. 367 pages.

Wyden, Peter. Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979. 352 pages.

Two books in NameBase, "Operation Zapata" and Peter Wyden's "Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story," deal with the 1961 CIA invasion of Cuba that was inherited by President Kennedy as soon as he took office. This was the first embarrassment for a CIA that had come to think of itself as all- powerful. Hundreds of CIA-trained Cubans and dozens of CIA officials blamed Kennedy after he failed to involve U.S. forces to salvage a deteriorating situation. Some of the crucial events in U.S. history since 1961 can be traced back to the Bay of Pigs, and to Kennedy's subsequent desire to rein in the CIA.

"Operation Zapata" presents the declassified portions of the twenty meetings held by the Taylor Commission to investigate what went wrong. Top CIA, military, and national security officials testified, as well as some Cubans who participated in the invasion. Some names are deleted, and the material is fairly esoteric except to those who have studied the actual invasion. But it remains valuable as an unimpeachable historical reference.


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