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Castro Assassination Attempts

Prior to the scheduled invasion of Cuba by Cuban exiles in April 1961, the CIA attempted to have Cuban leader Fidel Castro assassinated. To help set up the assassination, the CIA enlisted Robert Maheu, a former FBI agent , who was later to direct billionaire Howard Hughes' Nevada businesses. Maheu recruited John Roselli to arrange for the murder attempt. The CIA assigned two operatives, James O'Connell and William Harvey, to accompany Roselli on his trips to Miami to put together the assassination teams. The first attempt to kill Castro, made in March or early April 1961, was a failure. Five more assassination teams were subsequently sent against the Cuban leader in the next two years. All ended in failure. The last attempt was made in late February or early March 1963.

Following a 1967 column by Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson, press reports that suggested Castro's involvement in the assassination of President Kennedy began to circulate once again. Specifically, they posed the theory that President Kennedy might have been assassinated in retaliation for CIA plots against the life of the Cuban leader.

In August 1960, Mr. Richard M. Bissell approached Colonel Sheffield Edwards to determine if the Office of Security had assets that may assist in a sensitive mission requiring gangster-type action. The mission target was Fidel Castro. Because of its extreme sensitivity, only a small group was made privy to the project. The DCI was briefed and gave his approval. Colonel J. C. King, Chief, WH Division, was briefed, but all details were deliberately concealed from any of the JMWAVE officials. Certain TSD and Communications personnel participated in the initial planning stages, but were not witting of the purpose of the mission.

Robert A. Maheu, a cleared source of the Office of Security, was contacted, briefed generally on the project, and requested to ascertain if he could develop an entree into the gangster elements as the first step toward accomplishing the desired goal. Maheu advised that he had met one Johnny Roselli on several occasions while visiting Las Vegas. He was given to understand that he was a high-ranking member of the "syndicate" and controlled all of the ice-making machines on the Strip. Maheu was asked to approach Roselli, and tell him that he had recently been retained by a client who represented several international business firms which were suffering heavy financial losses in Cuba as a result of Castro's action.

The pitch was made to Roselli on 14 September 1960 at the Hilton Plaza Hotel, New York City. During the week of 25 September, Maheu was introduced to Momo Salvator Giancani and Santos Trafficant, who were both on the list of the Attorney General's ten most-wanted men. The former was described as the Chicago chieftain of the Cosa Nostra and successor to Al Capone, and the latter, the Cosa Nostra boss of Cuban operations. The project was canceled shortly after the Bay of Pigs episode.

President John F. Kennedy was a great fan of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels; in fact, Kennedy's comment at a news conference about his love of Fleming's thrillers did much to move the Bond novels to the top of bestseller lists. Kennedy invited Fleming for a stay at the White House and during the course of the visit, Kennedy turned to his preoccupation with getting rid of Fidel Castro. Kennedy reportedly asked Fleming how Bond might eliminate Castro. Fleming suggested the way to get at Castro was to attack his manliness and proposed having an agent slip some chemical into Castro's drink that would make his beard fall out. Alternatively, Fleming suggested that you might be able to kill Castro by boobytrapping a conch shell that would be conveniently placed where Castro might discover it while skin-diving. Many years later during the Congressional inquiry into alleged CIA wrong doing conducted by Senator Church, a CIA witness testified about a number of attempts to assassinate Castro; the list included both an attempt to destroy Castro's beard and a plot to blow him up with an explosive ladened conch shell while Castro was skin-diving.

The Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities was formed to investigate the performance of the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies. The Senate committee detailed two general types of operations that the CIA had directed against Castro. One, referred to as the AMLASH operation, involved the CIA's relationship with an important Cuban figure (code-named AMLASH) who, while he was trusted by Castro, professed to the CIA that he would be willing to organize a coup against the Cuban leader. The CIA was in contact with AMLASH from March 1961 until June 1965. The second plot documented by the Senate committee was a joint effort by the CIA and organized crime in America. It was initiated in 1960 in a conversation between the agency's Deputy Director for Plans, Richard Bissell, and the Director of Security, Col. Sheffield Edwards. According to the Senate committee, this operation lasted until February 1963.

The Senate committee concluded from its review of the joint operations of the CIA and organized crime that "...Castro probably would not have been certain that the CIA was behind the underworld attempts." Nor, in the view of the Senate committee, would Castro have distinguished between the CIA-underworld plots and the numerous other plots by Cuban exiles which were not affiliated in any way with the CIA. By emphasizing these two conclusions, the Senate committee apparently intended to suggest that the efforts by the CIA and organized crime to eliminate Castro would not have resulted any retaliation against officials of the United States.

The Senate committee identified the AMLASH operation as being "clearly different" from the CIA-underworld plots. It was still in progress at the time of the assassination, and it could clearly be traced to the CIA, since AMLASH's proposed coup had been endorsed by the CIA, with the realization that the assassination of Castro might be a consequence. Nevertheless, the Senate committee found " evidence that Fidel Castro or others in the Cuban Government plotted President Kennedy's assassination in retaliation for U.S. operations against Cuba." The Senate committee left the door open, however, starting, "...the investigation should continue in certain areas, and for that reason (the committee) does not reach any final conclusions."

AMLASH himself envisioned assassination as an essential first step in any overthrow of Castro. As early as August 1962, AMLASH spoke to his CIA case officer about being interested in the "...sabotage of an oil refinery and the execution of a top ranking Castro subordinate, of the Soviet Ambassador and of Castro himself." CIA provided AMLASH with the means of assassination and assurances that the U.S. Government would back him in the event his coup was successful. CIA files reflect that AMLASH returned to Cuba shortly after the August 1962 meetings. (76) He next left Cuba and met with a CIA officer in September 1963. At that time, the CIA learned that AMLASH had not abandoned his intentions and that he now wanted to know what the U.S. "plan of action" was. AMLASH asked for "technical support" which, according to FitzGerald's memory, was described by AMLASH as being a high-powered rifle, or other weapon, to kill Castro. The technical support was actually offered to AMLASH on November 22, 1963, the day President Kennedy was assassinated.

The Cuban Government came to believe that AMLASH was in fact Rolando Cubela (based upon its construction of a profile from biographic information on AMLASH made public by the Senate committee). Rolando Cubela was given a life sentence for acts against the Cuban Government.

Organized crime probably was active in attempts to assassinate Castro, independent of any activity it engaged in with the CIA. During the initial stages of the joint operation, organized crime decided to assist the CIA for two reasons: CIA sponsorship would mean official sanction and logistical support for a Castro assassination; and a relationship with the CIA in the assassination of a foreign leader could be used by organized crime as leverage to prevent prosecution for unrelated offenses. During the latter stages of the CIA-Mafia operation, from early 1962, to early 1963, however, organized crime may no longer have been interested in assassinating Castro. The Soviet influence in Cuba had rendered the prospect of regaining the old Havana territory less likely, and there were fortunes to be made in the Bahamas and elsewhere.

The Mafia may have continued to appear to participate in the plots just to keep the CIA interested, in hopes of preventing prosecution of organized crime figures and others involved in the plots. This theory is supported by the actions of Robert Maheu, an FBI agent turned private investigator who had acted as a CIA-organized crime go-between, and John Roselli, a Mafia principal in the plots. Maheu, for example, was the subject of an FBI wiretap investigation in Las Vegas in the spring of 1962. He had installed a telephone wiretap, which he claimed was done as a favor to Mafia chieftain Sam Giancana, who was also involved in the anti-Castro plots. Maheu's explanation to the FBI was that the tap was placed as part of a CIA effort to obtain Cuban intelligence information through organized crime contacts. The CIA corroborated Maheu's story, and the case was not prosecuted. In addition, in 1966, Maheu used his contacts with the CIA to avoid testifying before a Senate committee that was conducting hearings into invasion of privacy.

Public revelations about the plots corresponded with Roselli's efforts to avoid deportation in 1966 and 1971 and to escape prosecution for illegal gambling activities in 1967. It was Roselli who managed the release of information about the plots and who proposed the so-called turnaround theory of the Kennedy assassination (Cuban exiles hired by the Mafia as hit men, captured by Castro. were forced to "turn around" and murder President Kennedy). The committee found it quite plausible that Roselli would have manipulated public perception of the facts of the plots, then tried to get the CIA to intervene in his legal problems as the price for his agreeing to make no further disclosures.

Some believe that one reason the US hasn't normalized relations with Cuba is a view that Castro was behind JFK'S assassination

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Page last modified: 22-11-2013 00:03:07 ZULU