Few, if any, international events of the Twentieth Century have been so misunderstood and so viciously misrepresented by the media and by "historians" as that which is popularly known as the anti-Castro "Bay of Pigs" operation that took place when a Brigade of about 1,400 U.S. supported Cuban-exiles landed on the shores of the island of Cuba at dawn on April 17, 1961.
Because of the passage of years and the growing mass of untrue and contrived reporting, few people have had an opportunity to discover the truth behind this notionally "Clandestine" operation that was created and directed by the CIA. Furthermore, to fully understand this operation, it is imperative that one becomes aware of its antecedent roots that grew so profusely in the mire of underground operations during the fifties. We need to understand the concealed, and frequently distorted, events many of which had their origin during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. The "Bay of Pigs" plan did not originate during the Kennedy administration. It had been inherited, full-blown. During the last few months of 1958, it had become clear that the Cuban President/Dictator Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar, was being forced to flee; and that Fidel Castro was leading his band of well financed rebels out of the Sierra Maestra mountains into Havana, unchecked. By late December 1958, Castro was close to Havana. The country was his to take.
At that time, on the Washington Mall near the reflecting pool beside the Jefferson Memorial there were several World War II "Tempo" buildings that had been hastily converted into offices for the clandestine services of the CIA. Here, during the last week of December 1958, the CIA had called together an inter- departmental task force under J.C.King, the Chief of its Western Hemisphere Division, and his deputy Jake Esterline. Its objective was to be ready to move American armed forces instantly if/when the U.S. Government decided to stop Castro before he reached Havana.
As the representative of the U.S. Air Force I was there, among five or six others in the Alcott Building, during the long night of New Year's Eve '58, awaiting the order that would have caused thousands of American troops to be landed in Cuba to block Castro's entry. However, shortly after midnight...as the festive New Years Bells were ringing all around town...the Government decided to take no action at that time. Castro entered Havana undeterred. Batista had fled, and Washington remained cautious and undecided.
[ NOTE: Some may recall that the CIA had mounted its biggest "Clandestine" operation against the government of Sukarno in Indonesia during that same year, 1958; and that the agency's active support of more than 42,000 anti-Sukarno rebels ended in an ignoble defeat at the hands of General Nasution of the loyal Indonesian army.
It did not take long to find out that Castro was a ruthless dictator. Hundreds of Cubans died at the wall. Thousands fled the country. Castro met with Vice President Nixon early in 1959 and Nixon later declared that if Castro was not a Communist, he certainly acted like one. The ranks of Cuban refugees swelled, and began to innundate Florida. President Eisenhower thought the Cuban males would be most effective and manageable if placed in camps under the care of the Army. Later it was decided to put them in special Cuban training camps, in other countries, to keep them together without involving the regular armed forces of the United States, except in the role of trainers and suppliers.
[ NOTE: Because so much of the "historical record" is erroneous, contrived and weakened by omissions, I am for the most part using a copy of the original "Letter to the President" dated 13 June 1961 written and signed by Maxwell D. Taylor in response to an earlier letter written to him by President Kennedy dated April 22, 1961...the day after the surrender of the Brigade. The President's letter charged General Taylor in association with Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Admiral Arleigh Burke and Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, i.e. The Cuban Study Group:
"to study our governmental practices and programs in the areas of military and paramilitary, guerrilla and anti-guerrilla activity which fell short of outright war with a view to strengthening our work in this area," and to... "direct special attention to the lessons which can be learned from the recent events in Cuba."
Gen. Taylor made special note of the fact that:
"As we have found no difficulty in reaching a unanimous
view on all essential points under consideration, we are
submitting this view as a jointly agreed study."
This later statement is most important. When one considers the enormous pressure on this group as a result of the failure of that operation; and the widely divergent interests of the members, it is remarkable that General Taylor was able to cite that this review was "a unanimous view" and "a jointly agreed study." Most historical accounts have failed to consider the enormous significance of that statement at that time.
Those selected to testify before the Cuban Study Group did so under oath, and--for the most part--their testimony is as valid as could be obtained. However, one thing the report lacks is direct testimony from the key CIA operational-level principals, and their active duty military counterparts who actually drew up the master plan, recruited and trained the Cuban exiles and who provided the supporting elements of the entire operation.
By the time this rebel "Brigade," landed on the beach it had at least 25,000 weapons in reserve on the ships, the largest combat and transport air force in Latin America and the supplies necessary to support the expected rising of anti-Castro Cubans from inside the country. They were trained, well equipped and well supported.
This failure to obtain testimony from those tactical leaders was a serious omission, and it was not accidental. Neither Taylor, Burke nor Bobby Kennedy knew who they were; therefore.and for the most part with a few notable exceptions the testimony was taken from a list prepared by Allen Dulles. Much of it, as a result, was self-serving and not objective. This omission has made it very difficult for otherwise meticulous historians to get to the true facts of the matter. I have yet to see a worthwhile book or article with material derived from those real sources.
I possess a copy of this original "Report" by Gen. Taylor. At the top right hand corner of the cover-page the Study Group cited its Pentagon location as "Room 2E980." My room number in the Joint Chiefs of Staff area of the Pentagon was 2D958. During the hearings, I was a short distance from their office. Since many of the men called to testify were long-time working associates of mine in the CIA and the Military, I was kept up-to-date with what was going on as they came and went via my office for a "coffee break" while awaiting their call for testimony.
This Cuban Study Group was made up of four totally different people: Gen. Maxwell Taylor, whom the President had not met before this period; Admiral Burke, Chief of Naval Operations and the member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff closest to the anti-Castro activities since March 1960; Allen Dulles who was, at least nominally, in charge of the entire operation; and Bobby Kennedy who, they all knew, sprinted from that room each day for a meeting with his brother in the White House.
Often the participants said to me after being in that room that it was like being among "Four Scorpions in a Bottle." They wondered if any would come out alive. All of them said that the dominant one was that young man, sitting stiffly in a "GI" office chair, saying little but hearing all. Of course that man was Bobby Kennedy. [ end note ]
On March 17, 1960, President Eisenhower approved the basic policy paper "A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime." This policy document, developed by the Central Intelligence Agency and indorsed by the "Special Group," i.e. a nondescript euphemism for a creation of that National Security Council, provided for a program divided into four parts to bring about the replacement of the Castro regime by covert means. They were:
"a) The creation of a responsible and unified Cuban
opposition to the Castro regime located outside of Cuba.
"b) The development of means for mass communication to the
Cuban people as a part of a powerful propaganda offensive.
"c) The creation and development of a covert intelligence
and action organization within Cuba which would be
responsive to the orders and directions of the exile
"d) The development of a paramilitary force outside of Cuba
for future guerrilla action."
Shortly after the approval of this policy paper by President Eisenhower, the latter section was further modified, as follows:
"d) Preparations have already been made for the development of an adquate paramilitary force outside of Cuba, together with mechanisms for the necessary logistics support of covert military operations on the island. Initially a cadre of leaders will be recruited after careful screening and trained as paramilitary instructors. In a second phase a number of paramilitary cadres will be trained at secure locations outside of the United States so as to be available for immediate deployment into Cuba to organize, train and lead resistance forces recruited there both before and after the establishment of one of more active centers of resistance. The creation of this capability will require a minimum of six months [ Sept 17, 1960 ] and probably closer to eight [ Nov 17, 1960 ]. In the mean time, a limited air capability for resupply and for infiltration already exists under CIA control and can be rather easily expanded if and when the situation requires. Within two months it is hoped to parallel this with a small air supply capability under deep cover as a commercial operation in another country."
NOTE: It is important to add here that Senator Lyndon Johnson, in his role as Senate Majority Leader, had appointed Senator John F. Kennedy, Mass. to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1957, under its illustrious chairman, Sen. J.W. Fullbright. As a result, we may be certain that Kennedy was well aware of these early developments as they were initiated and that expanded by the CIA and the military in support of Agency.
As these activities progressed, Kennedy through his good friends Sen. Smathers, Florida, and Sen. Mansfield, Montana, among others, became aware of developments among the Cuban exile community. Manuel Artime, who was one of the Revolutionary Council's leaders, told me, during August 1960 just after Kennedy had accepted the Democratic nomination for President, that they had visited with Sen. Kennedy at the Kennedy family's vacation home at Palm Beach, Florida. In many ways Kennedy was as well aware of this undercover planning against Fidel Castro as anyone on Capitol Hill. It may not have missed his notice that the six to eight month period, devised by the CIA for the "creation of this capability" neatly bracketed the date of the coming election on Nov 8, 1960. As we shall see, these became two of the most important dates in the whole scheme of things. [end note]
With this March 17th Presidential approval in hand, the CIA began at once to implement these policy decisions. A target for 300 male Cuban exiles was set for the recruitment of guerrillas to be trained covertly outside the United States. As a function of my office within the Headquarters staff of the U.S. Air Force, it was my responsibility to provide "Military support of the clandestine activities of the CIA." Therefore, before the end of March 1960 a few CIA men, whom I knew well after working with them for more than four years, visited my office and, among other things, asked if I knew of a base, perhaps in Panama, that could be used for the housekeeping and training of 300 Cuban exiles.
Shortly thereafter we visited Panama and found that Ft. Gulick was on stand-by, and would be available for what the CIA wanted. This is where the training and organizing of the "Brigade" began.
At this point it must be made clear that it was during the administration of Eisenhower that the United States Government had, in 1954, for the first time, defined and approved the concept of "Covert Operations." That decision led to the establishment of the policy structure for such an activity. The measures that were taken during 1960 and 1961 in support of the Anti-Castro program were strictly in accord with the limits of that National Security Council directive.
The approval of NSC 5412, "National Security Council Directive on Covert Operations" on March 15, 1954 marked the first official recognition and sanctioning of anti-Communist covert activities by the U.S. Government throughout the world. The NSC had determined that the overt foreign activities of the U.S. Government should be supplemented by covert operations. This had not been done by the National Security Act of 1947 that had established the National Security Council and the Defense Department, and had created the CIA.
NSC 5412 defined "covert operations" as:
"all activities conducted pursuant to this directive which
are so planned and executed that any U.S. Government
responsibility for them is not evident to unauthorized
persons and that if uncovered the U.S.Government can
plausibly disclaim any responsibility for them."
To provide a mechanism for the approval and coordination for most covert operations, NSC 5412 directed the establishment of the "5412 committee," (later the "303 committee," and the "40 committee"). To conceal its purpose it was generally known only as the "Special Group." This "5412 Committee" consisted of the Deputy Under Secretary of State, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, the President's Special Assistant for National Security Affairs and the Director of Central Intelligence, who also was designated as the "Action Officer." During 1957, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff became a member.
A major consideration behind this action, on the part of President Eisenhower, was his insistence that the CIA must not become a "Fourth Force" for pseudo-military Peacetime Operations, (Allen Dulles' term for Clandestine Operations) similar to the Army, Navy and Air Force during wartime. Therefore, the military services were instructed to establish "Focal Point" offices that would be charged with the responsibility to "Provide the military support of the clandestine operations of the CIA."
The frequently high cost of such an arrangement was worked out with the assistance of the General Counsel of the CIA, Larry Houston and his counterparts in the Department of Defense. In general, permanent transfers of military equipment were made under the provisions of the National Economy Act of 1932, as amended, and augmented as necessary by the CIA's agreement to reimburse each service for additional "out-of-pocket" costs.
The idea of the "Focal Point" office, as required under NSC 5412, was to reduce CIA contacts, in the Pentagon--for matters other than its Intelligence function--to a single office in each service for security reasons, and to enable that office to become familiar with the CIA's limited number of agents who would be authorized to make such contacts.
In keeping with this stricture, when I had completed the establishment of the "Focal Point" office with its global affiliates for the Air Force in 1956, Allen Dulles sent me and one of his key officials on a "Round the World" trip to become acquainted with a number of his Station Chiefs, among others. Fundamental to this procedure was the fact that both parties recognized that "military support" was not to be provided unless the NSC had first approved the operation.
Under the authority of NSC 5412, the U.S. Government launched in 1954-1955 a large "covert" CIA-operated program in Vietnam, as well as related programs in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. This major program, by 1965, had escalated to the point that the military had to assume responsibility for its operational control, initially by the invasion at Da Nang. At the same time the U.S. Marines invaded Vietnam openly, not "Covertly," military operations became the norm for the remaining decade of that 30 year struggle.
This NSC 5412 program provided the policy guidance for support of the anti-Castro Cuban exile program that Eisenhower approved in March 1960; and that continued in effect throughout the Kennedy administration.
Both Presidents knew that "covert operations" are against the principles of International Law, the Charter of the United Nations, the Treaty of the Organization of American States and the long-time practices of this country. Covert operations are a denial of national sovereignty.
President Eisenhower made it clear that the active duty military establishment would have no operational role whatsoever in the Cuban exile support program. That prohibition was made ironclad, and in no way changed with the arrival of a new administration on Jan 21, 1961
This policy established why the "Air Cover" problem so frequently named as a Kennedy failure was not a Kennedy decision to make. That policy against the use of active-duty U.S. Armed Forces in Covert Operations had been promulgated in 1954. President Kennedy and his administration were bound by its terms.
In keeping with the injunction that the military remain behind the scenes, the CIA made use of its equipment left over from that huge, and distant operation in Indonesia. It had been gathered at key bases in the Pacific Rim and in the United States. The large number of WW II-type B-26 bombers that had been modified for the Indonesian action were available. Because much of the equipment that was eventually needed for the Bay of Pigs operation was already available, the CIA did not have to go through the process of getting additional approval for a good share of the aircraft and other heavy equipment needed for the anti-Castro operation. It did need ships that were acquired from storage locations, refurbished and loaded at Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
Initially this made it appear that the CIA's master plan was relatively modest, and might be limited to the initial 300 men who were training in Panama. This is a significant factor when it is realized that the decision to create a full-sized invasion force was not made until after the election of Senator John F. Kennedy as President of the United States, when the CIA began a sudden escalation of the program from that approved 300 Cubans to approximately 4,000 five months later. In fact, President Eisenhower had approved nothing more than such operations as air- drop, over-the-beach landings and other moderate activities. He had never approved any plan for an invasion of Cuba by the CIA- trained exile force...not the General who had directed the Normandy invasion. He knew better. The CIA did that on their own by taking advantage of the post-election "Lame Duck" period.
These changes did not catch Kennedy off guard. He continued his own contacts with the political leaders of the Cuban exile community.
By August, Kennedy had been nominated for the Presidency.
During that month the Republican candidate, Vice President Nixon, delivered a speech before the American Legion convention in Detroit. At that same convention a swarthy, charismatic Cuban exile aroused thousands of Legionaires with a promise to liberate Cuba under the flag of the exile brigade. This magnetic Cuban speaker in Detroit, Manuel Artime, was the ace in the CIA's anti-Castro deck; but JFK got to him early. On the very same day Artime and his other inner circle Cuban exiles were in Washington for a meeting in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, they made a stop in the Senate office building for a meeting with Senator Kennedy.
I had been transferred, from the Air Force to the Office of Special Operations, a division of the immediate office of the Secretary of Defense, by that time. I was asked to obtain a military limousine and go to the Senate Office building to pick up a group of four men. All I had been given was a certain room number. To my surprise when I entered that office, I met Sen. Kennedy
With him were Artime and the other Cuban exile leaders. JFK had not missed a beat. He knew them well from their visits at his home in Florida.
During the lull between the Indonesian campaign and the origin of the Bay of Pigs plan, the CIA had decided to create a major air establishment headquarters in the United States. I discussed several sites with their Air Division officials and it was decided to utilize a little-used, interior site at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The CIA pulled together much of its equipment from bases all over the world and moved it to Eglin.
The CIA's very able and potent Air Division already had C-130, C-118 (DC-6), C-54 (DC-4), C-46, C-47 (DC-3), C-97 and C-45 transport aircraft. It had very special Short Take Off and Landing (STOL) air craft designated L-28 (single engine) and U-5 (twin engine); and it had the versatile B-26 bombers that had been modified by the Air Force for the CIA to carry eight 50-cal aircraft-type machine guns in the nose. It also had some U.S. Navy aircraft , called P2V-7's, that had been highly modified and were kept under Air Force cover as "RB-69's," as well as the U-2's and other reconnaissance aircraft that were supported by the Air Force in a separate organization. Additionally, it had the largest airline operation in the world with its Air America and some 101 other names under the Pacific Corporation leadership.
As stated in the Taylor letter to the President, 13 June 196:
"Sometime in the summer of 1960 the paramilitary concept for the operation began to change. It appears that leaders in the CIA Task Force set up in January 1960 to direct the project were the first to entertain the thought of a Cuban strike force to land on the Cuban coast in supplementation of the guerilla action contemplated under the March 17, 1963 policy paper. These CIA officers began to consider the formation of a small force of infantry (200-300 men) for contingency employment in conjunction with other paramilitary operations, and in June began to form a small Cuban tactical air force. Eventually it was decided to equip this force with B-26 aircraft which had been widely distributed to foreign countries including countries in Latin America."
Without any specific mention of the November Presidential election, the Taylor letter continued with its chronological account of the build-up and changing structure of the CIA's "Anti-Castro" master plan. This is a most important period and it reveals how the Eisenhower-approved plan for air-drop and over-the-beach limited activities began to be expanded during the summer and then was accelerated by the CIA during the "Lame Duck" period between Kennedy's election and his inauguration in Jan 1961 A careful study of this phase of the development of the Master Plan confirms that this was not an incidental deviation from the approved plan.
At the same time, one must keep in mind that Sen. Kennedy had his own "eyes and ears" tuned to developments as cited above.
The Taylor letter again provides an accurate and significant inside view of this course of action:
"There were ample reasons for this new trend of thought The Air drops into Cuba were not proving effective. There were increasingly heavy shipments of Communist arms to Cuba, accompanied by evidence of increasingly effective control of the civilian population by Castro. The Special Group became aware of these adverse factors which were discussed repeatedly in the Committee meetings during the fall of 1960. (Note again avoidance of any mention of the Presidential Election.) The minutes of the conferences indicate a declining confidence in the effectiveness of guerrilla efforts alone to overthrow Castro. "In this atmosphere the CIA began to implement the new concept, increasing the size of the Cuban force in training and reorienting the training toward preparation for its use as an assault force on the Cuban coast. On November 4th,
(NOTE: It has become obvious that the CIA, along with most of the administration, were convinced that Nixon would be elected President in Nov,'60.) CIA In Washington dispatched a cable to the project officer in Guatemala describing what was wanted. The cable directed a reduction of the guerrilla teams to 60 men and the introduction of conventional training for the remainder as an amphibious and airborne assault force.
"From that time on the training emphasis was placed on the assault mission and there is no evidence that the members of the assault force received any further preparation for guerrilla-type operations. The men became deeply imbued with the importance of the landing operation and its superiority over any form of guerrilla action to the point that it would have been difficult later to persuade them to return to a guerrilla-type mission. The final training of the Cubans was done by specialists from the U.S. Armed Forces in Guatemala where more than 400-500 Cubans had been assembled."
It is unfortunate that so few writers have learned that at the time of this build-up, so thoroughly outlined by the Taylor report above, the services had been asked to provide experts in this type of warfare for the development of the Master Plan, for the build-up of the force and its logistical needs, and for the training of the Cuban exiles. This is clear evidence that the Bay of Pigs operation was not a Kennedy plan. All of this had been set in concrete before the election.
It may be added here, that a U.S. Marine Corps Colonel with considerable amphibious landing and beach-head experience was appointed the chief of this all-military contingent of leaders of the tactical training programs. He was responsible for the actual invasion plan that had been taken to the Joint Chiefs of Staff for final approval
Had his tactical plan been carried out as visualized, the Brigade would have achieved its goal, according to the Cuban Study Group Report:
"Capture of the beach zone, provide a nucleus for the loyal
Cubans who, the CIA believed would rise to join them, and
hold Cuban territory for seventy-two hours, after which time
the Organization of American States would respond to their
call for recognition as the true Cuban government by
providing military land, sea, and air support immediately."
All of this had been planned, and agreed upon before the invasion. Fate played the cards differently.
It is imperative to note that even the Taylor Report itself enters into this game of obfuscation with regard to the Cuban- exile, anti-Castro plans. At one point it states:
"In the period December 10, 1960 to February 8, 1961, former Ambassador Whiting Willauer and Mr. Tracy Barnes of the CIA were charged with keeping the President and the Secretary of State informed."
Of course we all know that between those dates there were two Presidents, Eisenhower and Kennedy, and two Secretaries of State, Herter and Rusk. Although the Report refers to a single President, it makes no reference to which one.
Furthermore this Report states:
"The Director of Central Intelligence briefed President
Eisenhower on the new paramilitary concept on 29
November 1960 and received the indication that the President
wished the project expedited."
At that time: "the new concept was one consisting of an amphibious landing on the Cuban coast of 600-750 men equipped with weapons of extraordinary heavy firepower. The landing would be preceded by preliminary air strikes launched from Nicaragua..."
This brief outline of the newly developed Cuban invasion plan proves beyond doubt that it originated during the Eisenhower administration, and that the plan emphasized that the landing had to be preceded by "Preliminary air strikes launched from Nicaragua..." This was its fundamental tactical parameter.
It was the cancellation, on the eve of the landing, of the crucial air strike that caused the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation. This fact was confirmed by the Group Report that was signed by Gen. Maxwell Taylor...more on that later.
The Cuban Study Group Report continues with its rather obscure narrative of these developments prior to the inauguration of President Kennedy with the following:
"On January 11th, Ambassador Willauer representing State and
Mr. Barnes of CIA first discussed with representatives of
the Joint Staff the over-all problem of effecting the
overthrow of Castro. As a result, a working committee
including representation of CIA, State, Defense and the JCS
was formed to coordinate future actions..."
That's Jan 11, 1961, and still during the Eisenhower term. As the date confirms, these representatives were still Eisenhower people.
The Report then clarifies these notes:
"On January 22nd, [ the day after the Kennedy inauguration ]
several members of the new administration including Mr. Rusk,
Mr. McNamara, Mr. Bowles, and Mr. Robert Kennedy were
introduced to the Cuba protect at a briefing at the State Department.
General Lemnitzer and Mr. Dulles were also present... ."
NOTE: It is imperative to keep in mind that two of the men present at that Jan 22, 1961 meeting, Robert Kennedy and Allen Dulles, were also members of the Cuban Study Group that began its meetings only three months later. This serves to emphasize that this Cuban Study Group Report to the President of 13 June 61 had to be the most accurate account of the entire "Bay of Pigs" historical record. END NOTE
" John F. Kennedy received his first briefing on the
developing plan as President on January 28 at a meeting
which included the Vice President [Johnson], Secretary of
State [Rusk], Secretary of Defense [McNamara], the Director
of Central Intelligence [Dulles], the Chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff [Lemintzer], Ass't Sec. Mann, Ass't Sec. Nitze,
Mr. Tracy Barnes, and Mr. McGeorge Bundy."
The fact that McGeorge Bundy was present at this first meeting is significant because it was Bundy who made the telephone call to Gen Cabel, Deputy Director of Central Intelligence at 9:30 P.M. the evening before the landing of the Brigade in Cuba, that ordered cancellation of the crucial air strike from Nicaragua, as confirmed by the Cuban Study Group's unanimous report. That Report cites that cancellation as "probably the most serious" of its finding of "Immediate Causes of Failure of the Operation Zapata."
At this point the Taylor Report itself appears to have over- looked this important meeting of January 28, 1968 when it stated:
"The cancellation seems to have resulted partly from the
failure to make the air strike plan entirely clear in
advance to the President and the Secretary of State..."
Earlier this same Report had made it clear that Kennedy had been briefed as early as November 18, 1960 by Dulles and Bissell, the CIA official in charge of the operation and again on January 2 1961; and that both Allen Dulles and Robert Kennedy had attended that same Jan 28, 1961 meeting with the President. What the Study Group may not have realized was that Kennedy also had kept himself informed of the anti-Castro plans from as far back as March 1960 by many personal meetings with the Cuban leaders, as noted above. He knew what was going on. He knew very well how vital that final air strike was to the success, or failure of the Brigade's landing. He certainly did not cancel that attack that he had directed himself on April 16th; and it would have been ridiculous for the Cuban Study Group to attempt to weave such an idea into its Report...not with Bobby Kennedy sitting right there with them.
The Taylor Report followed with:
"The [Joint] Chiefs [of Staff] approved and forwarded to the
Secretary of Defense on 3 Feb 1961, JCSM-57-61, Military
Evaluation of the CIA Paramilitary Plan-Cuba."
At that time they considered that "timely execution of this plan has a fair chance of success..."
Again we find one of those most important bits of historical information buried in the pages of this Report. Following a detailed study made by a team of three officers from the Joint Staff during 24-27 Feb 1961 with visits to Retalhuleu, Guatemala and Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua:
"The JCS evaluation pointed out that if surprise were not achieved, the attack against Cuba would fail, adding that one Castro aircraft [ T-33 jet ] armed with 50 caliber machine guns could sink all or most of the invasion fleet.
"The JCS in approving this report on 10 March 1961 commented to the Secretary of Defense that...the plan could be expected to achieve initial success. Ultimate success will depend on the extent to which the initial assault serves as a catalyst for further action on the part of anti-Castro elements throughout Cuba."
At this point we again find that the NSC Directive ~5412 , March 1954, on "Covert Operations" remained an over-riding factor in this plan. The Taylor Report continues by emphasizing that point:
"From its inception the plan had been developed under the ground rule that it must retain a covert character, that is, it should include no action which, if revealed, could not be plausibly denied by the United States and should look to the world as an operation exclusively conducted by Cubans. This ground rule meant, among other things, that no U.S. military forces or individuals could take part in combat operations."
These statements from the JCS report and the later Taylor Report are high-lighted historically by the charge that President Kennedy refused to provide "Air Cover" for the Brigade once it hit the beach. This charge has been contrived since the earliest days following the landings. Anyone, at all familiar with the policy promulgated during the Eisenhower administration since March 1954, must realize that the entire framework of the anti- Castro planning was necessarily shaped by that highest level doctrine. There was no way that the Kennedy administration could lawfully ignore that earlier, and still active, doctrine by providing for the use of U.S. Navy "air cover" in any case.
For his part Kennedy had authorized and directed the first, exile Cuban, air strike of Saturday, April 15, 1961. That strike had succeeded in destroying all but the last, and most-potent three of Castro's combat-capable air force. He knew beforehand:
"One Castro jet armed with 50 caliber machine guns could sink all, or most the invasion fleet." (See above)
That is why President Kennedy again directed (April 16th) another, exile Cuban, air strike to be made at dawn, just before the landing on April 17th, to eliminate those last three jets on the ground. They had been located by U-2 reconnaissance after the April 15th strike that had destroyed the other combat-capable aircraft in Castro's small air force.
It had become that simple, and that imperative. Those remaining aircraft had to be destroyed to assure the success of the operation. President Kennedy well knew all of this antecedent tactical planning. He also knew that he could not order active duty U.S. armed forces into the fray. He knew that the dawn air strike from Nicaragua by four specially modified Cuban B-26's could easily destroy the last of Castro's air force while it sat on the ground. After all he knew that this is precisely what the combined French and British Air Forces had done to Nasser's superior air force at the time of the Israeli invasion of the Negev in 1956.
From Feb 1961 the plan of the invasion and the logistics preparation for it went forward even to the extent that CIA's top covert operator, Edward G. Lansdale had obtained the support of skilled Philippine Special Forces officers, chief among them was the President's military aide Col. Napoleon Valeriano, to aid the Cuban exiles. Meanwhile the military "Focal Point" offices were doing all they could to get the supplies and transport ready at the port in North Carolina.
On March 15th the Joint Chiefs of Staff reviewed and approved the CIA's latest tactical plan and reported to the Secretary of Defense that the ZAPATA concept "was considered the most feasible" of those considered and "did not oppose the plan." They were unable to review that plan in its final form because it had not been submitted to them until April 15th when the Brigade was already at sea.
On that earlier day, March 15th, the President was briefed and as a result, "The President again with-held approval of the plan and directed certain modifications be considered." Mr Bissell returned the next day with minor modifications and "The President authorized them to proceed with the plan, but still without giving it his formal approval."
During this period a memo had been given to J. C. King, Chief, CIA Western Hemisphere operations stating:
"The Cuban air force and naval vessels capable of opposing
our landing must be knocked out or neutralized before our
amphibious shipping makes its final run onto the beach. If
this is not done we will be courting disaster."
Although the name of the author of this most important tactical fact has been removed from the record, I am quite certain that I know who it was. There were some experienced Marines working with the CIA and the Cuban exiles. This admonition sounds like the voice of experience.
As D-Day approached, even without approval of the President, the Report states,
"A compromise was reached with regard to the air plan.
Early in April, it was decided to stage limited air strikes
on D-2...to give the impression of being the action of Cuban
pilots defecting from the Cuban Air Force...The Joint Chiefs
of Staff did not favor these D-2 air strikes because of
their indecisive nature and the danger of alerting
prematurely the Castro force."
The Taylor Report adds another most important item:
"Mr. Bissell of CIA also later stated at a meeting of April
6 that CIA would prefer to conduct an all-out air strike on
the morning D-Day rather than perform the D-2 defection
strikes followed by limited strikes on D-Day...
In summary the Taylor Report states:
"...the realization is that main reliance for the
destruction of the Castro Air Force must be placed on the D-Day strikes."
It must be noted that throughout this growing discussion of how and when to eliminate the Castro combat-capable Air Force there is not a single mention, by any of the many parties involved, of the utilization of U.S. Armed Forces aircraft for the air strikes or for air cover. This was not, and could not be a part of the plan as a result of seasoned Government policy.
Throughout this period of discussion the D-Day date slipped back from April 5th to April 17th, the date of the landing.
On April 12th an important conference took place with the President, the Secretary of State, the JCS and other NSC officials during which Mr. Bissell presented a paper outlining the latest changes in the ZAPATA Operation including the air strikes of D-2 and D-Day.
Even as late, in time, as this meeting was the President did not give final approval to the plan at this meeting, April 12th. Meanwhile, the ships of the invading force were at sea and approaching Cuba.
The D-2 strikes did take place with effective results. However, U-2 reconnaissance revealed that the three T-33 jets had been away from Havana and avoided damage. They were located at another airfield in effective range of the Cuban-exile B-26 aircraft at Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua.
The Report states:
"At about mid-day on D-l, April 16th, the President formally
approved the landing plan..."
The "Landing Plan," as you will recall from the above data, was premised upon the pre-dawn air strike by Cuban-exile B-26's from Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. It is at this point that the Taylor Report reveals its inadquacies as a result of the fact that key U.S. military tactical air and over-the-beach amphibious experts were not questioned.
I had assigned an Air Commando tactical expert to the camp at Retalhuleu to train the Cuban B-26 pilots. The CIA had placed its finest Air Operations officer at Puerto Cabezas. The Marine Corps had assigned an experienced Amphibious Landing Colonel to head the Brigade training; and the Army and Navy officers were as highly qualified.
Among these men there was absolutely no question or doubt about the extreme significance of this D-Day air strike to destroy the three T-birds on the ground. With no combat aircraft Castro would have been helpless against the Brigade's tactical ground attack aircraft and its potential fire-power.
The Cuban Study Group's Report makes it appear that there was some doubt and some lack of understanding about this operation. At the combat level where it really mattered there was absolutely no misunderstanding.
Without introductory comment, the Report states starkly:
"At about 9:30 P.M. on 16 April, Mr. McGeorge Bundy, Special
Assistant to the President, telephoned General C. P. Cabell
of CIA to inform him that the dawn air strikes the following
morning should not be launched until they could be conducted
from a strip within the beachhead." [NOTE: That Bay of Pigs
site had been selected, because--among other advantages--
there was a suitable air-strip on the beach. The Brigade's
B-26's would operate from there once it had been secured.
That was the plan; but it was predicated upon the
destruction of Castro's jet aircraft first.]
Gen Cabell and Mr Bissell tried to persuade Secretary Rusk to permit the dawn D-Day strikes.
"The Secretary indicated that there were policy
considerations against air strikes before the beachhead
airfield was in the hands of the landing force..."
The Secretary added, with reference to the air strikes that
President Kennedy had ordered, "They were not vital."
The Report continues:
"The order cancelling the D-Day strikes was dispatched to
the departure field in Nicaragua, arriving when the pilots
were in their cockpits ready for take-off."
That CIA Air Operations chief in Nicaragua is an old friend of mine. After he had received that order from General Cabell, he called me at my home, at about 2 A.M. on the morning of April 17th and told me about that catastropic order. I could hear the B-26 engines roaring nearby. He urged me to call the CIA command section and convince them to cancel it. We all knew that the entire operation depended upon that air strike. I called them; but as we all know now, that order was never reversed, and as the Cuban Study Group reported:
"The cancellation of the strikes planned at dawn on D-Day...was probably the most serious of the causes of failure of the operation as it eliminated the last favorable opportunity to destroy the Castro Air Force on the ground."
Sometime later, I met my CIA friend who had called me that night. He had been absolutely shattered by that reversal. He told me, "If I had gotten on my bicycle, and left the operations tent after that call those fired-up Cubans would have revolted and taken off. If they had left they would have destroyed those jets. The Brigade's landing would have succeeded."
That is how close the Bay of Pigs operation came to victory. Even failing that, many of us believe that General Cabell and Richard Bissell ought to have called off the landing once they had received that call from McGeorge Bundy. They certainly knew its significance. At least that would have prevented the horrible losses that followed.
But...the story can not end here. Why did Nixon frequently refer to that "Bay of Pigs" thing? Why has the Kennedy role been so terribly contrived and dishonestly fabricated? Why has the Air Cover issue been ballooned all out of shape? To put it in more simple terms, "Why did McGeorge Bundy make that telephone call?"
As a result of the Cuban Study Group Report to the President, a report that contained Bobby Kennedy's vote for unanimity as well as Allen Dulles', it is clear that President Kennedy had not ordered Bundy to make that call. Does anyone believe that Bobby would have sat there silently and let Bundy blame that call on the President, if he heard Bundy give that testimony? Or, if he did and returned to the White House with that news, his brother would have known what Bundy said that evening and that issue would have been settled before it got on paper...or did the Kennedys have other ideas?
In a most unusual Op-Ed page item in the New York TIMES of October 23, 1979 McGeorge Bundy wrote a somewhat garbled column under the title "The Brigade's My Fault." It was a somewhat elaborate and confusing confession. At least it's an answer. Because of the fact that I was so close to the anti-Castro planning from December 1958 to January 1964, I find great significance in the testimony, before the Cuban Study Group, of a man whom most historians have failed to notice at all, with reference to the Bay of Pigs and the following Study Group Report.
For my money, the most important man to have been interrogated by the Cuban Study Group was none other than General Eisenhower's Chief of Staff during the European Campaign in WW II, the Ambassador to Moscow immediately following the end of that war, and President Truman's Director of Central Intelligence from 7 October 1950 to 9 February 1953. This was General Walter Bedell Smlth...a man whose role in this pivotal hearing was as significant as that of General Taylor, if not more so. He and General Taylor were the weathervanes pointing the course john F. Kennedy had decided to travel
His appearance before the Group meant more in the long run than any, and all of the others. General Smith was there to signal President Kennedy's plan for the future, "Don't get mad: Get even." The Kennedys were going to fight back, not just for the Bay of Pigs failure; but for the many other failures and errors of the CIA.
This is no place to continue the Study Group's Report in detail; but it does contain some little-known and priceless clues to the history of the past quarter-century, General W.B. Smith set the tone when he testified:
a) "A democracy cannot wage war."
b) "When you are at war, Cold War if you like, you must have an amoral agency which can operate secretly and which does not have to give press conferences."
And, from the man who had been Director of Central Intelligence for more than two years,
c) "Covert operations can be done up to a certain size."
d) Then he began to lift the corner of the tent:
"The covert work might have to be put under another roof)
The following question was, "Do you think you should take covert operations from CIA?" and his answer was direct and unmistakable,
e) "It's time we take the bucket of slop and put another cover over it."
That was the General's testimony, and the Study Group might have ended its ordeal right there; but before General Taylor was finished with that Letter to the President he added certain most important section "Recommendations." They led to the formulation and publication of three of the most powerful policy papers signed by President Kennedy: the basic source of Kennedy's plan to "Break the CIA into 1,000 pieces."
1) National Security Action Memorandum No. 55, June 28,
1961. In part it reads:
"I wish to inform the Joint Chiefs of Staff as follows with regard to my views of their relations to me in Cold War Operations:
a) I regard the Joint Chiefs of Staff as my principal military advisor responsible for initiating advice to me and for responding to requests for advice. I expect their advice to come to me direct and unfiltered.
b) The Joint Chiefs of Staff have a responsibility for the defense of the nation in the Cold War similar to that which they have in conventional hostilities. etc.
c) I expect the Joint Chiefs of Staff to present the military viewpoint in governmental councils in such a way as to assure that the military factors are closely understood before decisions are reached. etc.
d) While I look to the Chiefs to present the military factor without reserve or hesitation, I regard them to be more than military men and expect their help in fitting military requirements into the over-all context of any situation, recognizing that the most difficult problem in Government is to combine all assets in a unified, effective pattern.
John F. Kennedy"
The second policy directive, NSAM #56, June 28, 1961 requested an "Evaluation of Paramilitary Requirements. The third was NSAM #57, June 28, 1961. It defined the "Responsibility for Paramilitary Operations."
With the formal publication of these unquestionably definitive papers it became clear that Kennedy had set the course as his paramount objective following his re-election in 1964. Before the year was out he had accepted the resignations from the CIA of its long-time Director Allen W. Dulles, it's long-time Deputy Director Charles P. Cabel and it's Deputy Director, Plans and formerly the man principally responsible for the "Bay of Pigs" operation, Richard Bissell.
By July 1961, John F. Kennedy was not getting mad, rather he was getting even; and since that date things in Washington, in this country and throughout the world have never been the same; because he was not permitted to finish his self-assigned task.