President John F. Kennedy–wanting the attack to disguise the role of the United States in the invasion–refused to commit U.S. Marines and Air Force bombers to the invasion.
Long forewarned of the coming invasion, Fidel Castro sent in his forces to decimate the invaders.
Kennedy took responsibility for the failure. But privately he blamed Castro for refusing to be overthrown.
As a result, Kennedy and his brother, Robert–then Attorney General–created their own covert operation to depose Castro.
Robert and John F. Kennedy
Known as the Special Group, and overseen by Robert Kennedy, it launched a secret war against the Castro regime, code-named Operation Mongoose.
“We were hysterical about Castro at about the time of the Bay of Pigs and thereafter,” Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara later testified before Congress about these efforts. “And there was pressure from JFK and RFK to do something about Castro.”
Robert S. McNamara
Nor was everyone in the CIA enthusiastic about the “get Castro” effort.
“Everyone at CIA was surprised at Kennedy’s obsession with Fidel,” recalled Sam Halpern, who was assigned to the Cuba Project. “They thought it was a waste of time. We all knew [Castro] couldn’t hurt us. Most of us at CIA initially liked Kennedy, but why go after this little guy?
“One thing is for sure: Kennedy wasn’t doing it out of national security concerns. It was a personal thing. The Kennedy family felt personally burnt by the Bay of Pigs and sought revenge.”
It was all-out war. Among the tactics used:
- Hiring Cuban gangsters to murder Cuban police officials and Soviet technicians.
- Sabotaging mines.
- Paying up to $100,000 per “hit” for the murder or kidnapping of Cuban officials.
- Using biological and chemical warfare against the Cuban sugar industry.
“Bobby (Kennedy) wanted boom and bang all over the island,” recalled Halpern. “It was stupid. The pressure from the White House was very great.”
Among that “boom and bang” were a series of assassination plots against Castro, in which the Mafia was to be a key player.
Chicago Mobster Johnny Rosselli proposed a simple plan: through its underworld connections in Cuba, the Mafia would recruit a Cuban in Castro’s entourage, such as a waiter or bodyguard, who would poison him.
The CIA’s Technical Services division produced a botulinus toxin which was then injected into Castro’s favorite brand of cigars. The CIA also produced simpler botulinus toxin pills that could be dissolved in his food or drink.
But the deputized Mafia contacts failed to deliver any of the poisons to Castro.
As Rosselli explained to the CIA, the first poisoner had been discharged from Castro’s employ before he could kill him, while a back-up agent got “cold feet.”
Other proposals or attempts included:
- Planting colorful seashells rigged to explode at a site where Castro liked to go skindiving.
- Trying to arrange for his being presented with a wetsuit impregnated with noxious bacteria and mould spores, or with lethal chemical agents.
- Attempting to infect Castro’s scuba regulator with tuberculous bacilli.
- Trying to douse his handkerchiefs, tea and coffee with other lethal bacteria.
Americans would rightly label such methods as “terrorist” if another power used them against the United States today. And the Cuban government saw the situation exactly the same way.
So Castro appealed to Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, for assistance.
Khrushchev was quick to comply: “We must not allow the communist infant to be strangled in its crib,” he told members of his inncer circle.
By October, 1962, the Soviet Union had sent more than 40,000 soldiers, 1,300 field pieces, 700 anti-airctaft guns, 350 tanks and 150 jets to Cuba to deter another invasion.
Khrushchev also began supplying Castro with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles–whose discovery, on October 15, 1962, ignited the single most dangerous confrontation of the Cold War.
Suddenly, the two most powerful nuclear countries–the United States and the Soviet Union–found themselves on the brink of nuclear war.
John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office
At the time, Kennedy officials claimed they couldn’t understand why Khrushchev had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. “Maybe Khrushchev’s gone mad” was a typical musing.
None of these officials admitted that JFK had been waging a no-holds-barred campaign to overthrow the Cuban government and assassinate its leader.
The crisis ended when, after 13 harrowing days, Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba. Behind its resolution lay a promise by the Kennedy administration to not invade Cuba.
But President Kennedy was not finished with Castro. While continuing the campaign of sabotage throughout Cuba, the Kennedys were preparing something far bigger: A fullscale American invasion of the island.
On October 4, 1963, the Joint Chiefs of Staff submitted its latest version of the invasion plan, known as OPLAN 380-63. Its timetable went:
- January, 1964: Infiltration into Cuba by Cuban exiles.
- July 15, 1964: U.S. conventional forces join the fray.
- August 3, 1964: All-out U.S. air strikes on Cuba.
- October 1, 1964: Full-scale invasion to install “a government friendly to the U.S.”
But then fate–in the otherwise unimpressive form of Lee Harvey Oswald–suddenly intervened.