tv Bay of Pigs 60th Anniversary CSPAN April 18, 2021 12:00am-1:01am EDT
cuba. called brigade 2506, their goal was to overthrow fidel castro, who took power two years ago in the cuban revolution. coming up, we look back at the failed invasion and its consequences. joining us is former cia historian nicholas dujmovic. first, a newsreel reporting on the early stages of the attack. ♪ [video clip] >> the assault has begun on the dictatorship of fidel castro. cuban army pilots open the first phase of organized revolts with bombing raids on three military bases, two of the b-26 light bombers seek asylum on florida. on the heels of the airbase, land bases were affected by rebels in several places. as revenge against the dictator with a refugee planning a full-scale army revolt near. ♪ in havana, acting foreign
minister, rockets fired which he claimed were u.s. at the united nations, cuban foreign minister accused the united states of unleashing an invasion, he said the invading soldiers were trained in florida. he makes a quick denial. >> these charges are totally false and i deny them categorically. the united states has committed no aggression against cuba and no offensive has been launched from florida or any part of the united states. narrator: in the guatemalan foothills, a mysterious deco where some of the rebels have been based. observers have said otherwise. professional soldiers are among the teachers and once trained,
the men mysteriously disappear. guatemala has held no brief for the castro regime and has aided the rebels. ♪ >> in cuba, people have pushed back the invaders and 300,000 militia men have been mobilized. the invasion was successful in the early hours with fidel blaming the u.s. is it the first chink in his armor? narrator: we are back with nicholas dujmovic, director of the intelligence program at catholic university and he is here today to discuss the 60th anniversary of the bay of pigs invasion, which was the failed cia-backed effort to remove cuban leader fidel castro from power. good morning.
nicholas: good morning. it is a pleasure to be with you on this auspicious anniversary. host: tell us what happened 60 years ago today on the southern coast of cuba. nicholas: let me talk about what it was intended to do and what happened. the bay of pigs operation was a well-meaning but overly mismanaged attempt on the part of the u.s. government to oust the cuban government of fidel castro and liberate cubans from communism. it turned out to be a disaster. what was intended was an
amphibious invasion of some 1500 cuban exiles, trained, armed, supplied by the agency. who would come ashore on the southern coast of cuba on a remote place called the bay of pigs where they would establish a beachhead and hold that beachhead, and that would attract dissidents to that regime, defectors from the cuban military. it would spark a general uprising, it was believed, among the cuban people that would sweep away fidel castro from power. they would declare a provisional government that would then request the help of the united states. what actually happened 60 years ago was that the cuban military was alerted to the fact of an invasion somewhere. they had sufficient security forces in the area to respond far more quickly than the cia planners envisioned and so, there were other many mistakes. air cover was supposed to be
guaranteed by a series of airstrikes, there was only one airstrike. president kennedy canceled -- actually two airstrikes, there was supposed to be a total of three, the second one was scotched, the third one was called off at the last minute. there was no air cover over the beaches and the cuban air force under castro had command of the air. that really chewed up those brave cuban exiles fighting for their country, for freedom. it was a -- it turned out to be one of the biggest blunders in american foreign policy history and one of the biggest failures in the history of u.s. intelligence operations. so, there is a lot to talk about, a lot went wrong with this. well-meaning, but very mismanaged operation. host: so what were the actual results of the invasion?
what happened that day and the days after? what were the direct results? nicholas: well, in the predawn hours of april 17th, about 1400 cuban exiles on various landing craft, landing ships, actually most of them made it to shore despite the fact one of the mistakes was that we did not realize there were coral reefs there and the landing craft had a great deal of trouble with those coral reefs, causing most of the exiles to have to wade to shore. because castro air force had command of the air, his fighters were able to destroy two supply ships that carried ammunition and other supplies for the brigade and so they were caught on the beach, some of them made it as far as 25 miles inland but
were driven back. there were some bright spots, some battles between brigades, armored vehicles, tanks, and castro's tanks. they were able to hang on, surprisingly, for all of two days. and on the afternoon of april 19th, they simply ran out of ammunition. the cuban assault brigade did not give up so much as they simply ran out of ammunition and were captured. host: we see here, i will pull up some fast facts of the bay of pigs invasion on the screen. 114 people were killed during the bay of pigs invasion, including four u.s. airmen. more than 1100 people were captured. five b-26 bombers were shot down
and like you said, two u.s. supply ships sank during the bay of pigs invasion. with all of that, what went wrong? you talked about the coral reefs, but what went wrong here? nicholas: well, it has been said -- and i totally agree with this -- that the operation as a military operation was too small to succeed. castro with 1400 men ashore, no matter how well trained, how well positioned, castro was able to mount 20,000 men in arms both regular military and militia, against them. he had a potential to mobilize 200,000.
so, the concept of the cuban exiles being able to hang on to this beachhead is quite debatable. it is important to realize that this turned out as a world war ii, classic support mission for guerrillas or commandos. there were anti-castro end of the escambray mountains and the sierra maestra. it was said it would be done to castro what had been done to batista before him. and so, as the planning went forward in the late days of the eisenhower administration, the plan kept getting bigger. it started with, we will infiltrate and by the fall of 1960 and especially after the election, it sort of morphed into this conventional,
amphibious operation that had these presumptions that the cuban people were ready to rise against castro, was totally false. one of the mistakes was that the operational planners were not consulting the cia analysts who knew cuba best. the analysts were never asked, 'well, if we are able to put a force ashore, would the cuban people then rise up?' there is a lot of discontent in cuban society, but castro's grip on power, it seems pretty secure. anyway, the analysts would never ask that question. host: let me remind everyone watching that they can take part in this conversation about the bay of pigs 60th anniversary. we will open up regional lines, which means that if you are in the eastern/central time zone, your number will be (202) 748-8000.
if you are in the mountain/pacific time zone, your number will be (202) 748-8001. we will open up a special line for cuban-americans. cuban-americans, we want to know what you are thinking on the 60th anniversary of the bay of pigs invasion. the line for cuban-americans is (202) 748-8002. keep in mind, you can text us at (202) 748-8003 and we will always read on social media on twitter at @cspanwj and on facebook at facebook.com/c-span. now, nicholas, at the top of the show, we showed a newsreel that referenced a mysterious training base in guatemala. if the media knew about this, was this operation ever really a secret? nicholas: well, and that is the problem. i mentioned that it was too
small to succeed as a military operation. it was too large as an intelligence operation to stay secret. you are absolutely right. castro knew what was happening. he had agents in guatemala where the cuban exiles -- most of them -- were being trained. but also, he was relying mostly on american and regional newspaper reporters who would hear things from the cuban exile community in miami and were able to piece together pretty much the whole story. in fact, "the new york times" on january 10th, 1951, at a front page above the fold, about the map article explaining that the u.s. was preparing cuban exiles for action against the castro
regime. president eisenhower, who was in the last days of his administers -- administration, said that basically they had the whole story. and yet, planning went forward. one of the many blunders of this operation. host: who were these cuban exiles who were being trained for this assault brigade? how long had they been outside of cuba and what type of support could they realistically expect if they got to cuba? nicholas: after castro took power in early 1959 and started nationalizing industries and expropriating the property classes. there was an exodus of cubans, professionals, people with money, who saw that these
socialist practices were going to be injurious to them and so you had in southern florida, 100,000 or so cuban exiles, anti-castro. the big challenge for cia were trying to unite them into a single front because there were many differences between them, some of them had been for the previous dictator, batista. most of the others did not like that. there were differences of opinion. that was a great challenge. what cia operative them was a chance to retake their country. they signed up. there was a recruiting drive and again, they were trained in guatemala, nicaragua, a few
places in the u.s., despite state department objecting to that. they were hoping to take back their country for freedom. host: lets let some of our viewers take part in this conversation, roger from new york. good morning. caller: good morning. how are you feeling? nicholas: fine. host: go ahead, roger. caller: i have an interesting question. in 1898, the u.s. with teddy roosevelt got rid of the spaniards and mckinley sent the rough riders in and everybody into cuba to get rid of the spaniards. why didn't eisenhower, why didn't kennedy, why didn't they send the u.s. military in. i was reading a thing about the
bay of pigs on "usa today" and most generals at a time, the cia was not supposed to go in and do military operations. the u.s. military, the dod, was supposed to go into cuba to get rid of castro. nicholas: yes. both eisenhower and kennedy were unwilling to commit, at least openly, u.s. military forces to the overthrow of the castro regime. one of the great concerns was to maintain good relations with the rest of latin america. latin america, latin american people, saw that united states
as overbearing, they did not like them on the munroe doctrine. they did not like to be in america to backyard. for good foreign policy reasons, it was ruled out that we would have the u.s. military openly go against the castro regime. now, kennedy considered that when it came to the event that happened some 18 months later, that was the cuban missile crisis. that is another story. host: what made u.s. officials decide to back this bay of pigs invasion? what was going on that made u.s. officials decide to consider any type of intervention in cuba at this point? nicholas: well, castro was cozying up to the soviet union. at the time, this was in the depths of the cold war tensions, tensions were high. there was an arms race and
eisenhower in particular had already acted against what he thought was going to be a soviet beachhead in the western hemisphere in guatemala. he used cia in a covert action to oust the democratically elected president of guatemala, in 1954. cuba, as castro gets closer to the soviet union ends and accepts arms, is starting to implement socialist policies, is accepting soviet advisors from the kgb and military, eisenhower believed that we had an even bigger problem with cuba becoming part of the soviet orbit, than in guatemala years previously. for eisenhower, it was a matter of keeping the soviets out of our hemisphere and the saying
is, it is only 90 miles from the united states. why kennedy went forward with it is a little harder to justify, he did campaign in the 1960 election on freeing cuba, on providing support. he was actually and wittingly saying what the eisenhower administration was doing secretly. he was advocating it openly. he was politically committed to moving forward on that and he inherited this plan, this plan that had grown from a guerrilla infiltration and supply operation to a conventional amphibious landing and kennedy later rued the fact that he had trusted the experts. it led him to have a great skepticism of the u.s. military
leaders and other leaders who had led him on. host: back to our phone lines, as we do, i want to remind everyone that this is a coproduction with american history tv and being simulcast on c-span3, so let's talk to henry, calling from asheboro, north carolina. good morning. caller: hello. host: go ahead, henry. caller: i have seen a documentary. there was a lot of dark skinned cubans. you do not see them hiring dark skins. you see the number of light skins. even now, you see the light skins here.
you cannot go to the beach at night. certain beaches you cannot go to. you cannot go to the hotels and stuff like that. slave owners and they have control of the land. host: what was going on with the cuban people during the bay of pigs invasion? nicholas: there were resistance elements, there were anti-castro elements who were expecting some sort of action, some sort of invasion, and were waiting for it. they had weapons, they had explosives, there were active guerrilla movements in the escambray and sierra maestra mountains. the problem was that, in order
to keep it secret, their -- secret, the cia believed there were resistance groups that were probably penetrated by castro, they were not told of the imminent invasion, so they could not get ready, they heard about it from the media. not only that, but after the first airstrike, which happened two days before the invasion, castro started rounding up suspected dissidents, 20,000 or more, a lot of the resistance forces were simply rounded up in security sweeps. so, if there was a basis for a groundswell of opposition to castro that this invasion and beachhead would have sparked, castro effectively squelched
that option, dealt with the potential for resistance by sweeping them all off. host: we talked a little about international policy with that united states and bay of pigs invasion. how did the bay of pigs invasion affect national policy? i want to show a clip here of cuban policy being discussed during the fourth presidential debate between 1960, between john f. kennedy and richard nixon. here is that exchange. [video clip] >> i look at cuba, 90 miles off the coast of the united states, 1957, i was in havana, i talked to the american ambassador there. he said he was the second most powerful man in cuba and yet even though ambassador smith and ambassador gardener, both republican ambassadors, both warned of castro, the marxist influences around castro, the communist influences, both of them have testified in the last six weeks that despite our warnings to the american government, nothing was done.
>> i think that senator kennedy's recommendations and the handling of the castro regime are probably the most dangerously irresponsible recommendations he made in the course of this campaign. what senator kennedy recommends is that the united states government should give help to the exiles and to those within cuba, who opposed the castro regime. let's see what this means. we had five treaties with latin america, including the one setting up the organization of american states in bogota in 1948 in which we agreed not to intervene and the internal affairs of any other american country and they have agreed to do likewise. the charter of the united nations, its preamble, article 1 and article 2 also provide that there should be no intervention by one nation in their internal affairs of another.
-- the internal affairs of another. i do not know what senator kennedy suggests when he says that we should help those who oppose the castro regime. both in cuba and without. i do know this, if we were to follow that recommendation, we will lose all of our friends in latin america, we would probably be condemned in the united nations, and we will not accomplish our objective. i know something else, it will be an open invitation for mr. khrushchev to come in. to come into latin america and to engage us and what would be a civil war and possibly even worse than that. host: what role did questions about castro in cuba play in the 1960 presidential election? nicholas: is such a bizarre situation because nixon is arguing exactly the opposite of what he believes. i mean, kennedy is attacking nixon from the right on cuba, saying the cuban revolution has to be quarantined and that its opponents have to be supported. they kennedy campaign had put out the campaign statement that
the eisenhower administration was not helping, providing virtually no help and so in this debate, which was the fourth of the presidential debates. nixon is countering that press statement from the kennedy campaign for all of reasons he articulated and you have this bizarre situation, if you are an american voter in 1960 and you do not want the united states to intervene in cuba, he would vote for nixon, who articulated why this should not happen. even though nixon himself was actually pressing for the cia to act against castro, even wanted the u.s. military involved. if you are an american voter in 1960, and you want intervention in cuba, you will vote for
kennedy, who actually had serious misgivings about it. particularly in the use of overt force on the part of either cia or military. so, it was a bizarre situation. and it definitely played into the election, one of the closest ever. host: so once he took office, how much did domestic politics have to do with president kennedy's decision-making when it came to the bay of pigs? nicholas: significantly, because kennedy and his brother, robert, the attorney general, were determined that they would not give the republicans any ammunition that they were chicken, that they were weak. kennedy had this persona of vigor and a new way of doing things that contrasted with the doddering, sclerotic eisenhower administration.
it was unfair, but that is what kennedy believed, that he could not afford not to act in some way and so, he believed, more or less, in the plan that he inherited from the eisenhower administration and i say more or less because he accepted it yet, allowed it to go forward, and yet put severe constraints on it that helped doom its chances of success. host: eric from lawrence, new york. good morning. caller: good morning, thank you very much. my question is in two parts, objectively. how responsible is president kennedy, or also his brother, for calling off the invasion and not giving the air cover. that is polemical historically.
second, i have been told the cia is an information gathering agency. yet, if i understand you correctly, it has been involved in military preparations, training people, to intervene, perhaps assassinate che. you said you do not know what it was like for the parties to come back to betray people. nicholas: yes, a lot of people in cia and u.s. military who were nearby on the assets and other ships believe that it was a mistake for president kennedy to cancel that last morning of the d-day air strike.
the first airstrike, on the 15th, had taken care of a disabled half of castro's small air force. the few aircraft that he had played havoc. they were not disabled by subsequent airstrike. a lot of resentment about that. it does raise the question, even if the brigade had perfect air cover, could it have survived? and there is a lot of reason to believe that the concept was fundamentally flawed, whether or not the brigade had air cover or not. in terms -- your question about cia's info gathering versus covert action, it has done both from the beginning. from very early on, from cia's charter with the national security act of 1947, there has been an understanding of cia, in addition to collecting
intelligence, would from time to time act in, what has been called covert action, covert action under title 50 of the u.s. law was simply the implementing of a policy to effect abroad in a way that u.s. hand would not be denied. from the beginning, the cia was considered the best u.s. agency to do that because cia had already established a secret relationship with foreigners, which was necessary for this to happen. the difference is that early on, cia was in favor of doing covert influence operations, propaganda, influencing a newspaper, having an agent of influence influencing a political party or leader. the question was whether cia would do paramilitary activities, things that involved violence and thanks to policy derived by george kennedy from the state department, the cia
got that mission in 1948 and so, there began during the eisenhower administration a series of cia paramilitary covert actions, some of which were successful, many of which were not, culminating as a cia historian formally, i used to call the bay of pigs the mother of all covert action disasters. host: let's talk to ron from berrien springs, michigan. good morning. caller: good morning. i remember watching the cuban revolution on tv. i cannot remember what year it was, but i was probably about 9 or 10 years old. i was rooting for castro then. i'm going to go to vietnam because i a vietnam veteran. can you tell me the first cia agent to be killed in vietnam?
nicholas: that was john burke. i'm sorry, that was in china. caller: in 1945, the first oss officer was killed in vietnam. the vietminh help my father survived three years in the pacific because he was fighting the japanese and he asked us for help. we stabbed uncle in the back. now he is the only friend you have in southeast asia. you call cuba and vietnam one of your greatest failures or iran,
hot and iran now we have the islamic revolution going on forever and same thing with afghanistan. 1979 under carter, we stuck our nose in there and i said after the russians, they are coming after us. when are you guys going to get some thing right? nicholas: i think cia does get a lot of things right. in implementing the policy, the covert policy that constitutes a covert action. the cia is operating under the desires of the president. the president had to sign a document called a finding that says i find this action necessary and i want cia to do this. that finding is then transmitted in a memorandum of notification to the congress, which then can weigh in on it if they so choose. there's a lot of adult supervision, that is not to say that there has not been mistakes. these are policy failures that are owned by the u.s. government at all, it is not just the cia,
the cia is not doing these things as a rogue elephant as once claimed. host: let's remind everyone that we are talking about the 60th anniversary of the bay of pigs invasion on washington journal. this is the coproduction with american history tv and it is being simulcast on c-span3 right now. one of our social media followers has written in with their story. this tweet says, i was a child in cuba during the bay of pigs fiasco. we hid in a closet while antiaircraft fire raged from that nearby hilltop. the next day in the middle of the night, we fled the round up of opposition to the countryside and hid for weeks until it was over. what was happening for the people of cuba during the bay of pigs invasion? nicholas: again, tens of thousands of them were rounded up.
the result of the invasion was that even though there had been a lot of opposition that castro and the country, because he stood up to the united states, he was a latin american leader who stood up to the united states, he was more popular than ever with the cuban people and actually popular regionally. so, the action, in terms of foreign policy, backfired on the u.s. and the exodus continued from cuba for many decades. host: another one of our social media followers has a question for you. if the cia had succeeded in cuba, was there any guarantee it will not have turned into a right-wing dictatorship like other cia south american interventions? nicholas: i am a historian, not a fortune teller. i would speculate that certainly is a possibility because we saw
that happening in other latin american countries. over time, these right-wing dictatorships generally became more democratic. so, who knows what would have happened. host: let's go to jason, calling from san diego california. good morning. caller: good morning. i would like to ask a question and maybe get some verification. is it true that when castro won the revolution and was celebrating, he came to the u.s. to meet with american congressmen, politicians, or whoever. he went to new york and he could not find a place to stay and he had to go to harlem to get a
hotel and nobody came to congratulate him on anything but russia and khrushchev hopped on a plane, came to the u.s., came to harlem, to the streets of harlem, found castro at the hotel, and he celebrated with castro and from that day on, russia had won castro's confidence and they became friends. host: is that what happened, nicholas? nicholas: yes, that is what happened. a lot of that was political theater. i think castro intended to stay in harlem for appearances. he already was developing a relationship with the soviet union, wasn't sparked because of this act of generosity in the part of khrushchev. these things are usually political theater. it is interesting that on that trip, castro did meet --
eisenhower would not meet with him, but he met with the vice president, richard nixon, who was impressed by this young, charismatic, new leader of cuba. but said afterwards that he is either incredibly naive about communism, or is one of them. host: i am going to show for everyone a clip from president kennedy, who was speaking about the bay of pigs invasion to the american society of newspaper editors on april 20th, 1961. here is what he said. [video clip] >> the president of a great democracy like ours and the editors of great newspapers such as yours, owe a common
obligation to the people, an obligation to present the facts, to present them with candor and present them in perspective. it is with that obligation in mind that i decided in the last 24 hours to discuss briefly at this time the recent event in cuba. on that unhappy island, as in some of the other arenas of the contest for freedom, the news has grown worse instead of better. i have emphasized before that this was a struggle of cuban patriots against a cuban dictator. while we could not be expected to hide our sympathies, we made it clear that the armed forces of this country would not intervene in any way. any unilateral american intervention in the absence of an external attack on ourselves or an ally, would have been contrary to our traditions and
to our international obligations. host: did the media and the american people accept president kennedy's angle there on the bay of pigs story? nicholas: he did. to kennedy's surprise, his popularity shot up. he was more popular as a result of this and taking responsibility for it, he said i am the responsible officer of this government and he took the blame even though there is plenty of blame to go around. it was an interesting speech because he emphasized that this was their work of cuban patriots, anti-communist, who loved their country and wanted castro and communists out. the cuban reduced as themselves -- they were using cia to
achieve their ends and because -- the average age was around 22, very young, many of them are still alive, several hundreds of them are still alive, and i would love to hear from any of them if they call in. it is interesting also that kennedy definitely said later in that speech that having ruled out military force unless there is a imminent threat, he did not rule it out entirely. that may have encouraged khrushchev, the soviet leader on a gamble to place medium-range missiles in cuba the following year.
host: let's talk to jay, from indiana. good morning. caller: thank you so much for taking my call. i was a first year student at university in 1961 and i remember all of this and at the university, there was a colony of refugees or escapees i guess, from cuba. they lived near us and i made friends with them. in fact, they introduced me to espresso coffee, which i still love. if i recall correctly, one was a lawyer, the other was a doctor. they were clearly well educated and part of an elite that had left cuba with the help of the united states. and my comment goes to how we are using the term freedom,
because it seemed to me -- this is to my 18-year-old self in 1961 and later -- that what we were really supporting was an elitist governing group who flourished under batista. and it also seemed to me that the real support was for capitalism and not necessarily freedom to the masses. and i do not romanticize castro, i know exactly who and what he was, but i am still wondering if we were really on the side of the people about the masses, and not the governing elite. i'm wondering if he would stick to that? thank you so much. nicholas: yes. as an historian, i very often take at face value what people at the time to their motivations were. definitely, you know, the u.s. government working through the cia wanted to enhance american national security. and was upset at the
nationalization of industries that were owned by americans, so there was that angle too. and yet, they saw a mutual interest with these cubans, i can say in cuban exile community, they were not all lawyers and doctors, there were a lot of people who were anti-castro who were from the classes that castro had most of his support with, the peasants and workers. it is a mixed picture as always. these things are. but i think the rhetoric of freedom is still not a bad way to describe these events and try to explain them. host: what were the consequences of the bay of pigs invasion for u.s. relations with the soviet union?
nicholas: well, that is the problem, because you can draw a straight line from the bay of pigs to the cuban missile crisis of october 1962. the soviet leader, khrushchev, saw the bay of pigs failure, failure of the united stated, as a great victory for soviet foreign policy and its desire to have inroads into the western hemisphere through cuba. khrushchev saw this as an indication of weakness and indecision on the part of the american president and at their later summit in vienna and the end of the summer of 1951, khrushchev beat up kennedy rhetorically and later that summer, put up the berlin wall. khrushchev also saw this as an opportunity to change the
strategic imbalance by putting these medium-range and intermediate range missiles secretly in cuba, his intent was that he would be able to get away with it and announce it as a fait accompli, and force western concessions on other issues like berlin. host: did president kennedy or anyone from that united states ever admit the country's role in the bay of pigs invasion? nicholas: oh, i think so. it was pretty clear to all through the media, through the exiled community, that the cia had been involved, again, kennedy took responsibility for it. but an important legacy of all
of this is the fact that kennedy learned decision-making from this, he learned not to trust the experts, the cia leadership, and u.s. military leadership who he felt with justification had let him down. he realized that he made poor decisions based on faulty information that he had received. when it comes time for the cuban missile crisis, what to do about these missiles that u.s. intelligence now has detected in cuba, it changed the whole process of consultation and decision-making and led to a good outcome. so that is the best legacy of the bay of pigs. that is the silver lining. and what is otherwise a great debacle for the united states and for those cubans who fought there. host: let's talk to randy from louisiana. good morning. caller: in my mind, i was thinking about the chain of events that happen, you had khrushchev who came here in
1959, then in 1960, you had the shootdown of gary powers and in april of 1961, bay of pigs, and in october, the cuban missile crisis. it is interesting how all of these things played out and also, in 1961, the berlin wall was put up. and how all of these things fell into place. nicholas: oh, yes. there were perceived communist advances in southeast asia, it -- in southeast asia, in laos, in the congo. it was a time of high tension in the cold war. at the time of the bay of pigs, i was three years old and i remember in subsequent years when i went to elementary school, it was still the cold war, there was still the threat of a nuclear exchange between the superpowers and i remember
the drills that the nuns would put us through to hide under our desks in the event of a nuclear attack. there was a lot of tension and we sometimes forget that the cold war, we look back on it now, was some humor even, but at the time, it was deadly serious. we did not know how it will turn out. but thank you for that litany of cold war events. it is very true, it really ratcheted up the overall tension. host: it wasn't until about 20 months after the bay of pigs invasion that castro released the bulk of the exiled brigade prisoners and president kennedy spoke at a ceremony at the orange bowl in miami for those brigade members. how did the release come about? nicholas: yes, negotiations began between the u.s. government working unofficially, but still directly through a man
named james donovan, he had been a former oss member, a lawyer, he had negotiated the release of francis gary powers. in the movie, "bridge of spies," he was played by tom hanks. james donovan worked with the castro regime negotiating the free the prisoners, 1189 were captured, i believe nine died in captivity and castro withheld eight considered most dangerous, but by december of 1952, he was releasing them. that was in exchange for what donovan negotiated, about $53 million in medicines, pharmaceuticals, and food aid for cuba. host: it turns out that the very last one of those exiled brigade members to get released was
released in 1986. let's go back to our phone lines, and talk to sid, who is calling from plainview, new york. good morning. caller: good morning. i would like to ask, how castro was able to maintain power was through his ruthlessness and death squads and incarceration of his opponents, akin to what xi jinping does and many of the communists and also, can you comment on the cia attempts to assassinate castro through poisoned cigars and other crazy methods. thank you very much.
nicholas: ok. on the assassination attempts, there were many. in 1960, when eisenhower was president, ideas that if top leadership could be eliminated, then you would have a general uprising sparked by the infiltration of guerrillas and the amphibious landing. it was thought that if you took out fidel castro, raul castro, who just yesterday stepped down from power, and shea guevara, the argentinian revolutionary, people would more likely rise up against the leaderless regime. and there were some imaginative ideas, most of them never went past the drawing board. there were a few attempts, there
was an attempt to enlist mafia figures, who were offered $150,000 for a hit on castro using poison pills. they did not work. the person never got into a position to use them. in terms of castro's hold on the regime, you are right, it is sort of a feature of communists regimes that they use repression, secret police, series of informants, to keep a lid on any dissent, i will let it go at that. host: what lessons did the cia and other american intelligence communities learn from the failure of the bay of pigs and are any of those lessons still relevant today? nicholas: oh, i think so. in terms of the conventional military nature of an amphibious landing, that had never been
attempted on that scale before by an intelligence agency and never would again. the bay of pigs is not a conventional paramilitary covert action and it was never attempted again. it is a one off. and i think the other lesson that cia learned from this is you have to involve your analysts, the ones who are most expert on a particular region.
and that was put in effect by allen dulles' successor, john mccown, head of cia, required to resign. john mccone made sure that in covert action planning, the best experts, the analysts, would be involved so they could help the operational planners know what is the ground truth. host: you brought up the fact that raul castro has retired as head of the communist party and leader in cuba. looking back over the 60 years since, since the bay of pigs invasion, are we still living with the consequences of the bay of pigs invasion? nicholas: oh, yes. every time the united states intervenes in a country, we generally forget it yet appeared , we are not all that historically minded as a people. perhaps some in cia will still remember it yet appeared my job as a cia historian is to make sure that the cia workforce did not forget certain things. when we intervene in foreign countries, they never forget it. and cuba and the cuban leadership will remind us always that we had attempted this
bungled operation to replace the government there. host: let's talk to bill from dover, delaware. good morning. caller: good morning. i wanted to say that 60 years ago, living with my family in northern virginia, my father woke me up and said, hey, get up, you're not going to school today. something is going on. and that he woke my sister up and took us into the living room, sat us before a -- we had a big radio, and he had that shortwave band being used by the cubans brigade to communicate back and forth. we were actually listening to them talking on their radios during the invasion and subsequent to it. basically, it was a horrible
disaster, of course, but i remember my father identified voices on the radio, saying i know this guy, that is pepe, he is one of the leaders, and i recognize his voice and one of the things that pepe said in spanish, which my father translated, was that i have got one bullet left, we have run out of ammunition on our supply ships, never came in, america never backed us up. i do not know what to do with this last bullet. i am standing in water up to my waist. should i shoot it at one of the cubans coming down toward us or should i use it on myself? host: go ahead and respond real quick, nicholas. nicholas: certainly, he is referring to the brigade commander who used that last bullet to destroy his radio. yes, it was a frantic plea for help and shortly after that, there were completely out of ammunition and were captured. host: is there any lessons we can take today from the failed bay of pigs invasion?
nicholas: yes. when we are talking about covert actions that involve paramilitary activities, the president, the national security council and cia leadership need to really work through the assumptions behind it, the what-ifs, the problem with the bay of pigs is that every single part of it had to work perfectly for any of it to be successful. that is not the way to run a covert action. so, more limited in scope if we are going to do it at all, there is still a debate on whether the u.s. military should do covert action, you know, of this type and lead the influence activities to cia. host: we will like to thank