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tv   Attempts to Overthrow Cuban Leader Fidel Castro  CSPAN  April 23, 2021 11:00am-12:34pm EDT

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next on american history tv, historian vince houghton discusses america's attempts to overthrow fidel castro, as well as lesser known plans as poison, drugged coffee, and exploding cigars. >> good morning, everyone. >> good morning. >> yes, it is a good morning, a great day, and after that, well,
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we won't even go into that. i think it goes downhill. i'm peter earnest, the executive director, and we're delighted to have all of you here with us. let us thank the smithsonian volunteers for being with us for this event. the last thing, if you would be kind enough to turn off your mobile devices, cell phones and so forth. as an agency officer, cia officer who went through the church pike hearings which of course one of which -- part of which will be discussed today by vince houghton. almost before attempted assassinations, i should say, none of which succeeded that reflects in confidence or a lack of commitment or we'll hear one of them today. but looking back at that period, the charges almost seem quaint because today there's very little hesitation by successive administrations of both parties
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in knocking off the heads of terrorist groups and the leaders of these folks right and left. as you know, at least on a couple of occasions take out an american citizen. looking back on that period as i say, it almost seems quaint. however, it will be fun to revisit it with my colleague, vince houghton who holds a ph.d. from the university of maryland and diplomatic and military history. the area of his research was scientific and technological issues or developments, if you will, in the -- during the world war ii and the early part of the cold war. vince also got a masters in relations between the soviet union and the united states. also of interest, you may get questions on that, vince. that's a lively topic today. i should say that vince has also taught extensively both at the university level, the high school level, and middle school.
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i would think middle school would have been the most challenging. >> the worst. >> the worst. okay. good for you for being a teacher. he's a u.s. army veteran, and served inside bal balkans, and worked with civilian, and military presence. it's a pleasure for me to introduce my colleague, dr. vince houghton. >> thank you, peter. this is interestingly enough, when we planned this service, olke in the back, we talked about doing these four great assassinations with one not so great fascination thrown in. won't really matter that castro is still alive because we planned these back let's say in october. things have changed a little bit. but the basic idea behind this is killing fidel or, you know, not killing fidel.
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you know, and for a lot of younger people in which i deal with on a day-to-day basis here at the museum, castro or the mystique of fidel castro is not as well known as it would be for other generations. he hadn't been in charge for a while. he really wasn't this, you know, mean ogar of a person leading cuba. he was for a lot of people remembering the cold war. a lot of people who lived through the time period. for the most part, castro advocacy a caricature of himself in the end. i love this cartoon. to me, it really spells out the end of castro's career once he had been retired. and so when he died, it was a big deal a lot of places but for many of college-aged students or older than that, it was okay, some old guy used to be a bad person died. he didn't matter a whole lot when it came to the relationship between the united states and cuba or the broader world.
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here we're going to talk a little bit differently. we're going to look at the cia attempts on castro's life. the number 638 is according to castro's retired chief of cuban intelligence who said in an interview, we counted 638 different attempts by the cia on castro's life, so for the next four hours, we're going to systematically go through each -- no, i'm kidding, and i included this quote which was fwraet, from castro, surviving as r assassination attempts were an olympic event, i would win the gold medal. we tried let's say 638 times to kill castro, but 639 is the charm, and this is the spy museum exclusive, so you all are hearing this first before anybody else did. i now have acquired the name of the top secret operation that finally got fidel castro.
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the name is a little on the nose. they're not as creative as they used to be. this is not an operation overlord kind of thing, you know, but we finally paid off. so mission accomplished. we finally got fidel. it's a really funny story for me and my mom will never let me live this down. my fascination with fidel castro started at an early age. i grew up in miami, i was not cuban, but my friends were and many of their fathers, mothers, grandparents were refugees from cuba. one of my best friend's grandfather was a colonel in ba tee that's army. they came over because they had to from miami, and the funny story behind this is my mom lives in miami, my whole family was down there for many years.
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i had been up here for many years. lived in washington. every thanksgiving i went home to miami because that's where the family was. my wife's family is in miami as well. every thanksgiving, except for this year. the one year i say you know what, i have been done a lot of traveling. we have been out of town a lot, let's stay in washington this thanksgiving and of course fidel castro dies two days after thanksgiving, when i would have been in miami for the greatest party in the history of the universe, and my mom will never let me live it down. that's what happens when you don't come home for thanksgiving. a horrible dictator dies and you miss a good party. you know, but it really was from the very beginning a question that i had to deal with, this idea of who was this man. he was somebody as a historian was somebody i couldn't reconcile the image of castro that i got from my friend's
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families, the image of this monster with a lot of information that i had read from let's say more objective sources. the real problem you run into is there's not a lot of objective sources when you come to fidel castro. you have people that knew him best. many that were pro castros. they're skewed in certain ways, and the others that knew him best were arch enemies and you're not going to get a straight story from them either. you look at things and say this is a man, a man with an inedible following, a man with an incredible charisma that got people to follow him and do things they wouldn't otherwise. you hear these stories about cuban education and medicine being the best in the world, about how everything is free. later in life i would learn those stories were half true, half nonsense. cuba has some of the greatest medical schools in the world. the doctors aren't there because they have all been shipped overseas. they were sent to venezuela,
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traded for oil. the medical care in cuba is not very good for most people because the doctors, the best in the world, but they ain't there. they're somewhere else. but you look at things like, these are the pictures of castro before he became el commandante, the dictator, playing basketball and baseball. he wanted to be a major league baseball pitcher. he actually sort of tried out. the story of the orioles, if you have heard that, they say wicked curve but his fast ball was pretty pedestrian. he was a great athlete, good at basketball. somebody who was a avid reader who understood history, and it was very difficult to kind of reconcile this with the monster i had grown up to think about based on my friends and friends' families. let's tackle the broader question of who was fidel. this is going to be an incredibly controversial topic. there is no one who has a blank objective opinion about this.
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there are people who think he was the world's worst dictator. there are people who think he was a great guy. i'm coming down somewhere in the middle. >> was he a communist. i have asked this question of cuban exiles, people who fought against castro for decades. i said, did castro start out a communist, and most of them kind of hedge the question because they know it's very difficult to say yes, castro started out a communist. he came to power, and he worried the united states not because he was a card carrying marxist, he worried the united states mainly because he immediately started nationalizing companies that we had a lot of economic ties to or owned outright. you might say, this sound like a communist to me. he didn't couch this in marxist terms like the cold war idea of marxist lennon was going to take over the world. more of the second, what nassar
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did in egypt. that was the rhetoric, the idea was we need to bring these companies back to the cuban people. could he have been a potential partner? this is another wufrl counter factual. anyone know what country castro visited first when he took power? he came here. he went straight to moscow, no, he came to the united states. he came to try to meet with president eisenhower and vice president nixon, neither of whom were available. i guess ike was playing golf. it was purposeful. they did not want to meet with him. it was so purposeful that castro when he visited new york couldn't find a hotel anywhere except in harlem. the united states made it very difficult for him just to stay in a hotel. i'm not saying we pushed him into the hands of the soviets but there's certainly that argument. the question is broader than that, the idea is was he ready to embrace a soviet partnership from the very beginning, and i
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think the answer to that is unknown. he wouldn't have come to the united states if he didn't think there was a possibility we could potentially work with him. you can call this naive, and many close advisers did call this naive because simultaneously as he was trying to meet with the americans here in the united states his brother raul who is the current president of cuba and chegovada, one of his top lieutenants was in moscow, meeting with nikita khrushchev. they knew that we would not allow for the nationalization of the united fruit company and other organizations that were billions of dollars for american economics. they knew the writing on the wall probably before fidel did. one way or another, however, once fidel castro realized there was no possible way of any kind of relationship with the united states, he does reach out to the soviet union, and puts himself in direct let's call it a direct
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confrontational situation with the united states. we are not in a position where we would let a soviet satellite state be so close. and you know, this wasn't kind of sort of reaching out to the soviets, this is a full embrace of soviet ideology. i like to call castro a born again communist. in many ways he was. when he came back from his trip and realized he was going to have to reach out and embrace the other major power in the world, he very quickly started adopting a lot of these marxist lennenist terminology he wasn't using before. it worked. he and khrushchev had a strong alliance as we know from the cuban missile crisis and the amount of weapons and aid that went to cuba. there's a lot of history here. we're not going to cover all of it. we're going to focus more on our attempts to get rid of him. and we're going to get to the bay of pigs. that's obviously one of the big stories here, but there's
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actually schemes that were brought up and thought of prior to the bay of pigs and some of them are worth noting. before 1960, castro takes power on essentially new year's day, 1959. if you have seen god father part 2, you know the story. prior to the eisenhower administration, there were some basic schemes, and schemes is a good word here as you'll see for trying to take castro out. one of them involved a radio station and castro gave broadcasts about once a week. he would give a stirring patriotic, this is what we're doing inside cuba broadcast to the people inside cuba. one of the early ideas was to spray in radio station with lsd so that when castro gave his broadcast, he would be tripping on acid, and say crazy stuff, and people would stop following him. then there was an idea of taking his cigars, and putting lsd in
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his cigars, so he would trip whenever he smoked cigars. there was an idea to put a substance inside a cigar that would make his hair fall out. and there's another thing here as well, sal yum salts inside his shoes, makes your hair fall out. the idea was cuban society was very macho, and people thought in the united states if castro's beard fell out, he would lose this charisma. he was called the beard by many, and if he had no beard and eyebrows, the cuban people would refuse to follow him anymore. this is your tax dollars at work, people. these were ideas thought up prior to the big idea. the big idea of course was the full pledged invasion, the bay of pigs, and april 1961, this is when the actual invasion takes place. we could talk for hours about this. i won't. just because we have other things to talk about. the bay of pigs was designed to
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take castro out in one fell swoop. the flag you're seeing on here is the flag of the 2506 assault brigade. the 2506 was named that, each of the members of the brigade had a number, not their name. it was kind of their code name, and 2506 was the number of the first man who died during training. they renamed the brigade after him. there weren't many people in the brigade, only about 1,500 people, and the brigade that attacks cuba but the idea was to start the number system higher so that if someone was captured, you could say what's your name, my number is 2605. oh, my god, there's 2,600 of you here. nice little deception operation. the bay of bigs was an operation thought up by the eisenhower administration, dumped on the kennedy administration because kennedy was a lieutenant during world war ii and eisenhower was
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a five star general, eisenhower said this a good plan, kennedy didn't put a whole lot of thought. the cubans in miami don't have nice things to say about kennedy when it comes to bay of pigs. many to this day refuse to vote for a democrat because of what jfk did 50 years ago. that's the nicest -- every one of their statements usually has four letter words that i won't say because c-span is covering it. they're not fans. the most charitable thing we can say is kennedy didn't know what he was getting himself into. the bay of pigs operation was a failure as we know. it doesn't oust castro. many members of the brigade were rounded up and captured and in many respects, the bay of pigs actually helped castro to consolidate his power inside cuba. prior to the bay of pigs, people could speak out against castro,
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there were embryonic movements against castro, but after the bay of pigs he was able to crack down on these opposition movements and lock in his power. when he met with american ambassador deen russ, the secretary of state under kennedy, he said thank you so much for that ridiculous operation because it allowed us to lock down power inside cuba. so let's look quickly at what went wrong. there's a lot of rushed planning when it came to the bay of pigs. we knew through intelligence that the soviets were going to ship advanced weapons to cuba as part of the deal that castro had made with khrushchev, and so we couldn't wait long to kind of figure out how to get this done right because eventually the cuban exiles would be dumped on the beach and running up against state of the art technologically advanced cuban weapons. as it was in 1961 in the early stages when the bay of pigs invasion took place, they were not going up against state of
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the art soviet equipment. the idea is let's get in as quickly as we can so we're not running against top level equipment. the broader involvement is top level security in the bay of pigs invasion, one is how good cuban counter intelligence was. as a somewhat tangential aside, cuban intelligence is one of the best in the world. per capita arguably the best in the world. they have a huge advantage. their huge advantage is they only have one external enemy they're focused on, us. the cia only had one country that they had to pay attention to. we'd be good at what we're doing. we would be good anyway, but we have to look at everybody. the cubans really only needed to focus on the united states but they were very good at doing it. as many refugees pass ld over the florida straits into miami, estimates vary but there are numbers that say as high as one out of every ten refugees was a member of cuban intelligence so when the cuban refugee community
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in miami was planning this operation, there were cuban intelligence alternates inside the planning, inside the operation, passing information back to cuba. to the point that a week before, actually, it's only five days before the bay of pigs invasion, radio moscow, which is the equivalent of radio for europe or voice of america, actually broadcast a message saying cuban exiles are about to invade cuba to get castro out. now, you would think the united states government would be like, this is blown, we cannot do this. they obviously know we're coming, this is a problem. but they don't. they ignore the warning signs. the miami herald was ready to publish a piece weeks before the invasion detailing that there was a group of training camps in guatemala, cuban exiles planning to take out castro, and they sat on it but the fact that the herald knew about this. they weren't in any top secret briefings, meant that everybody knew about this. but even assuming they had good internal security, even assuming
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that the planning was done well, the plan counted on a popular uprising inside cuba. the idea was the 1,500 men of 2506 would land on the beach and the cuban people would rise up against castro. this was wishful thinking. there was no popular uprising, no rallying in the streets against fidel. what they ended up with 1,500 men defending 40 miles of beach along this long coastline, against the entire cuban army, plus militia. didn't go well. this is a picture of me standing on the bay of pigs. this is d-day. not something where you want to drop 1,500 relatively well armed but we're not talking about state of the art equipment here, men on the beach, against the entire cuban army. it's not a way to effectively
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start a revolution. if you don't get through the beachhead, which they don't, you're screwed, being pushed back into the sea and there's not much you can do. the problem is down to this concept of group think. the plan came during the eisenhower administration, and kennedy says this is a good idea because eisenhower is a five star general and no one would stand up and say mr. president this is really stupid. everyone was convinced that yeah, the cuban people will rise up. that's a great idea. yeah, these 1,500 guys can start a revolution and defeat castro. that's a great idea. no one had -- i don't want to put it on their shoulders and say no one had the courage. it was more that people were just wishful thinking and everyone began wishful thinking that this was going to be a successful operation, so let's take a look quickly. limon kirkpatrick the inspector general did a postmortem, a massive document. i wanted to pull out big key
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issues that they identified to show why this goes bad. the first one is interesting. the cia exceeded its capabilities. this is the cia in 1961. during the 1950s, the cia got, let's argue, too big for its britches, a bunch of successful operations around the world, overthrowing governments in guatemala and iran, fixing elections in italy. they're not yet the cia we know and love today. they're not yet at the capability of running massive para military operation in 1961. they get really good in vietnam, in laos, the secret war on laos, this is not the same thing as fixing an election in italy. this is a massive para military operation. so the idea that the cia is going to run this operation to kick out a very popular president was laughable at this point. let's go to the next bullet
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point here. say you're to collect and analyze intelligence about cuban forces. that's a problem that the cia is not collecting and analyzing intelligence about cuban forces. that's the basics, peter can tell you that's probably plan number one, you should be doing if you're thinking about an invasion of cuba, and i that didn't take the time to do it, and has a lot to do with the presidential transition, and the cia didn't know anything about what was happening inside cuba. insufficient spanish speakers, another one of those gorilla operations in cuba, 101 kind of things that you should know. and then lack of contingency plans. this is an issue where when the plan went bad, which it did in the very beginning, right, the uss houston, a ship that was borrowed from the u.s. navy was carrying all the extra ammunition and explosives. that got blown up before it actually got to the ground. so basically in as it was approaching the bay of pigs, it was hit by an artillery round
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and exploded. there went all the ammo. there went all the actual heavy weapons. what do you do now? what's plan b? there wasn't a plan b. there was no how do we fix this. there was no how do we get them out of the situation. not great planning. bay of pigs is a failure. the u.s. licks its wounds. kennedy comes back and actually fires all the top leadership of cia including cia director allen dulles who had been the man who built the cia into what it was to the point. dulles fell on a sword, kennedy felt he needed to clean house and bring in his own team. he does, his own team really begins to take things in a different direction. instead of looking at these big broad para military actions they start really thinking covert. how can we take out castro in a way that's not going to embarrass us if it goes bad and not going to get us into a
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shooting war with the soviets, and the answer is a program called operation mongoose. many have heard of operation mongoose, perhaps. a catch all for any thing that was focused on destabilizing the cuban government and taking out fidel castro. 638 different operations which is a nonsense number, not really that high. they're counting everything from when a random cuban tried to do something against castro, to one of the groups, like alpha 66, old dudes running around the everglades blowing stuff up. these are not operations that are cia operations, but anytime the cia or anybody else tried to do anything to destabilize the castro regime, it kind of came under this broader heading of mongoose. mongoose is a multiphased operation. it starts out slow, as we continue to fail to kill castro, we get more and more elaborate
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in our operations. mongoose includes three famous names in the history of cia. edward lansdale was the corporate action guru within cia. he was the guy thinking of all the more interesting ways to do a lot of these what we would consider now because of church and pike and other things, unethical operations. i'm not going to say he was a bad guy. he was given the parameters he could work within, which was essentially do whatever you need to do, and he took that to the full extent. bill harvey is another great example of this. william harvey a great cia covid operator, more on the para military side. harvey was also somebody who, there's like a hundred of these, but harvey was one of the people brought up as a potential model that ian fleming using to create james bond. you know, that's like where did washington sleep, well, there's about a hundred different people, who did fleming base
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james bond on, well, harvey is somebody who is part of this group. we have it from richard nixon himself. he said that when he and ian fleming sat down and talked about james bond, femming told nixon that bill harvey was an inspiration for the james bond character. if you can't trust richard nixon, who can you trust. and ted shackley, this name might ring a bell. he was the chief of station in saigon during a lot of the vietnam war. he will become a central figure in the operation mongoose plan. before he went to street -- vietnam, a chief of station in another place, somewhere that may surprise you. we'll talk about that in a second. there are straightforward attempts at castro's life, and i want to get those out of the way before we get into the more elaborate ones. there were some let's just go and shoot the dude, keep it simple stupid theory, and one was a man named felix rodriguez.
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anyone heard of the name felix rodriguez. my staff in the back is going, yes, i talk about him all the time. he's still alive, lives in miami today, used to be the president of the brigade 2506. it was called a grade team, infiltration team. after the bay of pigs fiasco, many of the men who were on that mission were invited to join not only the u.s. military in many cases as officers but also were recruited into cia, and felix took the cia route after a short stint with the u.s. army and was recruited by cia to infiltrate into cuba and shoot fidel castro as a high powered rifle. as simple as it gets. castro was given the rifle, ready to go, and three times they tried to get him into the island, and three times they failed to actually infiltrate him into cuba.
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one time he was on a raft, supposed to meet a bigger boat, and the boat never showed up. and another time it was a cuban coast guard boat, so it was a real problem. so eventually they scrapped the plan. but that shows at first they were thinking, you know what, let's do it the old fashioned way, high powered rifle with a bullet can solve our problem at any moment. when this failed, they went on to other things. there's an interesting coda to the story of felix rodriguez, he went on to do things at the cia, a long and distinguished career. he never got fidel but got an amazing opportunity as a cuban refugee in 1967 to hunt somebody else down. he was the leader of the cia team that went to bolivia to get this guy, and anyone recognize the man on the right, that's chay, this is the last known picture, and it was taken right
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before his execution. and felix led the team that captured him. he didn't get fidel. he got chay. not bad. that's his background, his story. we start thinking in more elaborate ways and the elaborate planning is not done mainly from langley in the washington, d.c. area. it's done from a different cia station. now, where are cia stations generally? are they in idaho? >> their overseas n moscow, havana, beijing, except for the cia station in miami, florida. all right. known as jm wave or jm wave without the slash or jm wave. we're going to talk about it as the miami station, a cia station in a domestic city, miami, florida, not supposed to be that way, but it was.
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during the majority of the 1960s, the largest cia station in the world other than the one right here at headquarters was in miami. not moscow, not beijing, not berlin. in miami florida. it existed under the cover name of zenal cover enterprises incorporated. anyone know miami well. now i can make stuff up. it was over currently by the miami zone, an area that used to be an air station during world war ii. it had blimps, in the middle of nowhere. no one would drive by there, so when it popped up, nobody gave it a second thought. it had been called several different things. double check vanguard services corporation as benign and you know, boring names as you could come up with so no one would you say ask anything else. the largest station in the world, 300 to 400 officers at
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its height. peter can tell you, that's pretty big. $50 million budget in 1961. that's an annual budget. that's a massive amount of money. not only do you have 300, 400 people working for the cia, but under the auspices of the miami station, you have 15,000 cue pan exiles, connecting them in one way to the other. people directly working for them. this could be people that are working with as part of splinter groups or other things like that, but this is a massive enterprise and ends up being bun one of the biggest employers in south florida. miami today, the glitz and glam of lebron and miami wouldn't exist if wasn't for fidel castro, and the cia. i'm not exaggerating. they had four people at the cia station just working on acquiring real estate and managing the properties that the
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cia owned down in miami, and i have a list here. i'm not going to read off, like marinas, hunting camps, things like publishing things to make paraphernalia, propaganda. safe house,s all were bought and sold by the cia station. think about this. you're bringing 400 officers town there, and relocating, let's say thousands of cuban exiles. they all needed homes. they all needed to shop at stores. they all needed to buy food. the economy of miami went from being a sleepy town to a bustling metropolis it is today because of the cia station and fidel castro in the early 1960s. they ran the third largest navy in the caribbean after the u.s. and cuba. access to state of the art aircraft, but it was the worst kept secret in miami. i consider it a great story.
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my father, the reason i grew up in miami is my father grew up in miami as well, and he was not c cia. he was a p.e. teacher, when he graduated from college. he started out as the least top secret thing in the possible universe. and his college roommate, they all stayed in miami, his college roommate said my car broke down, i need to ride to work. they're driving down south, turn right on to southwest 152nd street, zenith technical enterprises, and my dad goes, i didn't know you worked for the cia, it's the worst kept story in miami. the cover story didn't mean anything. it was to the point that everybody understood this was where the cia was operating out of to try to kill castro, and eventually had to change their name again because so many people knew what zenith technical enterprises, and picked something nor obscure
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sounding, the melmar foundation. and the secret operation was being held down in miami. this wasn't a small building. it's hard to see. this is a massive enterprise. i'm going to walk over here for a second. these are big buildings. it took this massive amount of space in miami. these big buildings. it was considered the university of miami south campus. that's actually who they rented the space from, the university of miami, and then um basically said you just keep it. just keep it. you basically transformed it now into a government run facility. it's all yours. and so this is not something you could keep secret. it's one thing if you have a safe house or two in the middle of the woods, riding operatives out of. it's another thing if you have 400 case operatives, and cubans going in and out. a great story of them training in the everglades and get pulled
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over by florida state trooper, and the trooper looking in the back of the station wagon, and seeing antitank rifles in the back of the car and being like, you know, it was just kind of a nudge nudge wink thing, go on your way, go on with your business. it's not that odd to me that you have an anti-tank weapon in the back of your car because you're speaking in a heavy cuban accent, and out by the cia station. it's one of those things everybody understood: operations started from the cia station, and if you have seen god father part two, you might be anticipating. the real phase one of operation mongoose used the mob as their heavy hitters. this was an attempt by cia to keep things simple. they wanted mob to walk up behind castro, and just shoot them in the back of the head, very nuch much gangland mob
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killing. they said no we're not going to do this, this is a guaranteed way to get ourselves kid. they demanded a bond way of taking out fidel castro. the main people who were the points of contact between the mob and the cia were johnny roselli, and roselli was this middle management mob guy who knew everybody. kind of the joe peshi in good fellows. he could be a good middle man, go between between the mob bosses. he was the point of contact for cia to reach out to sam juncana, the head of the mob in chicago. this is the old school, you know, he is al capone's basic descendant as being in charge of
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the mob in chicago, as big as it gets, and actually if you know the history of the warren commission and jfk assassination, that's where the whole did the mob kill kennedy thing. we're not going to get through the conspiracy nonsense. he's about as big as it gets, and trumpaconte was head of the mob. he had a dog in the fight. he was somebody who had been kicked out with castro, along with the casinos and mob people. they're the ones that really really want to get rid of castro. the cia basically said we've got $150,000 on the line, whoever kills castro, was money is theirs. this is ordered from the very top. we're talking about allen dulles before he gets fired by jfk. dulles would say they were in a meeting where they discussed
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using the mobs. we never said anything about killing the guy. it was dulles's way to say he had plausible deniability. the they had ideas of using lee cigars, actually putting botulism, and slipping it in. they were never able to get close enough to slip him a botulism cigar. they had another idea of a pin with shellfish poisoning, the same thing the cia, and the idea was to have somebody brush past fidel and stick him with a shellfish poison pin. we can't get anybody that close. this is not going to happen. and then the idea that actually finally was put into production a little bit was to take a liquid poison and drop it inside his coffee or tea in the version
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of a small bill. they felt they could get to somebody that served castro his drinks and drop a pill inside. this was a decent idea. the problem was the first pill they created didn't dissolve. they drop it in water, and it floated around in the water. the tech people went back and created a second pill that did dissolve, and they decided to check the lethality on a guinea pig. the problem was that the specific type of poison, guinea pigs were inord nantly immune to the poison. they were poisoned and they were like, what, thanks for the drink. somehow we have to figure out something else and somebody finally said, well, this poison doesn't work on guinea pigs, and it is finally monkeys. monkey croaked and died, and
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they said we finally got something that can kill castro. the problem is they had to have this elaborate operation to actually get somebody who served castro on a day-to-day basis. that person got cold feet. the person said i am not going to actually do this. this is not something that's going to make my life go on for very much longer. castro liked to go to different restaurants. he would frequent a restaurant for a couple of days, and the cia would be like we've got a good pattern. but castro knew what he was doing. he wont got there consistently. the minute they set up an operation to go poison his tea at this one restaurant, he would start to go to a different restaurant. and they would figure out a plan, and he would go to a different restaurant. they are chasing him around havana, trying to find a place to slip this stuff into his coffee. in the end, it doesn't work, obviously since, you know, we
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killed him with 639 in operation, waiting for him to get really really old. so the first national attempt at killing castro doesn't work out. the next slide i'm going to bring up, i wasn't sure necessarily if i was going to include this or not. because operation north woods, new to all of you. that's good and bad statement. north woods operation was proposed but never carried out, and it went all the way up to john kennedy. it was created by the joint chiefs of staff and went all the way to the president's desk, and the president said we're not doing this. the fact that it was proposed has been used by conspiracy theorists, to say if the governor was able to do this, they're able to do anything, fake the 9/11, or the moon landing. north woods is about as corrupt and shady a plan as you can possibly think of.
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this is something that i can't believe our joints chiefs of staff came up with. just to give you an idea of what north woods is, a list of different ways we could justify an invasion to take out castro with the u.s. military. the objections were as broad as having the cia kill cuban refugees and pretend it was the cuban government. developing a fake terror campaign in miami and washington, d.c. and blame it on the cuban government. as somebody whose father was living in and miami and i wasn't conceived i'm happy they didn't put this plan into action. they were talking about blowing up buildings in miami and blaming it on the cubans. and a remember the main incident to blow up the main explodes in 1898 and havana harbor. it probably was an accident. we blamed it on spain, it started the spanish american
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war. the joint chiefs of staff are like look, we can blame it on the cuban government that would justify an invasion. and sinking a boat load of cuban recipes, and bhaming is on the cue -- blaming it on the cuban navy, and dressing up cuban refugees as cuban army soldiers and having them do an assault on guantanamo bay. all of these are listed in document that was approved by joint chiefs of staff and handed to president kennedy. kennedy, to give him credit, said are you guys out of your mind. we're not this country. we don't do stuff like this. how did it get to that level, right, how did it not get stopped before it got to the desk of the president. operation northwoods is used by conspiracy nutters, out there to say, if we're willing to do this, what else are we willing to do. this was a plan that was a
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little over the top. it doesn't mean we didn't try other ridiculous things to try to kill castro. >> one of my favorites is the story of james donovan. so have you seen bridge of spies, tom hanks plays jim donovan in "bridge of spies," he's the general counsel for the oss during world war ii and a lawyer for an organization called the osrd, which focused on high-tech military research and development during world war ii. later worked for the nurenburg trials. he was tasked again by the u.s. government to negotiate the release of the bay of pigs survivors who had been captured by the cubans. we sent him over to negotiate with castro to get these hundreds of cuban exiles that
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had been captured and sent back to the united states. the cia said you're going to be in the same room with casino toe. he loves scuba diving. it's got a special fungus on it that will give a massive skin rash, and inside the snorkel is tuberculosis, and donovan's like i'm not doing this. number one, i am a diplomat. right? i'm not working in your spy world. i'm not going to poison this man as i'm trying to negotiate in good faith. donovan went out and bought a brand new wet suit and gave it to castro. the cia was annoyed at donovan. castro loved to go skin diving and scuba diving. let's create a trapped seashell. if you have seen our lump of coal inside the museum, world
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war ii oss, it's a plastic explosive shaped as a lump of coal. the idea was to create a fake seashell made out of an explosive and put it down in an area where castro would have to go down and pick it up and, when he did, it would blow him up this is very much james bond, and this is nonsense. they couldn't figure out a way to put it in a place that he would be guaranteed to pick it up. they couldn't create an effective seashell that would be big enough to guarantee his death. and if they created one that was so beautiful, it would look ridiculously fake. so that plan was scrapped as well. there's also the issue of using a woman who had been fidel castro's lover. she had been jilted by fidel. she was pissed off. she was mad enough that the cia
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reached out, and said you want to get back at fidel, we want you to kill him for us. when she walked in the one room, fidel said you're here to kill me, aren't you? he knew it was coming and she broke down. she broke down crying. she said, i'm sorry, he kind of gave her a stern look, and then they jumped in together, and they were lovers again. so that didn't work out all that well either. then there was a program called am lash. this is the idea of using a poison pen. we have one of these in the actual collection. this looks like a normal ballpoint pen but instead of the tip of the pen, there's a hypodermic needle where you can have some kind of disease and biotoxin, and stab the person with it. the interesting part about this is this plan was being hashed
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probably the exact same moment as john kennedy was being shot in dallas. so as one president's being assassinated there was a plan being hatched in paris for another assassination taking place. and then everyone's heard the story of the place. and everyone has heard the story of the exploding cigar. it's likely we try to do this. it's likely we created one that when he lit it, it would explode in his face and blow him up. it's very difficult to do. and just like the cigar with botulism, it would be even more difficult to plant on his person, inside his cigars. i just want to point out that creating an exploding cigar is an idea that's been thought of before. this is not a brand-new idea the cia concocted. this was thought up by a very important person who decided this was a great way of taking care of his enemies and, of course, that's bugs bunny. daffy duck with his cigar and
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jerry and tom. guys, literally, this plan is out of looney toons. the cia is pulling stuff out of cartoons. i don't know if there's a chicken and the egg, but exploding cigars is not something an agency that takes itself seriously is concocting. and i want to make a side note here because there's something we have to understand. this is out of pure desperation. this is not let's think of the most ridiculous thing we can do. we were thinking let's find a way to take out fidel castro because we were desperate and sometimes desperation leads to amazing inspirations. sometimes it leads to the sr-1. sometimes desperation leads to the internet. sometimes desperation leads to exploding cigars. it depends on which direction you take it.
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there's the end of the cia operation. there are about 50 other groups that tried to kill castro over time and failed in their own special ways. i want to highlight one because one guy got close very times. his name was luis posada carriles. it's hard to read this. this is his picture when he was inducted into the u.s. army but it does say he's part of 38025. this is a original spook who had been working against castro since the very beginning. he was at hard core anti-castro as it got. he was able to get very close to taking out fidel castro. let me give you a little of his background before we talk about panama specifically. he was known to work with a man named orlando bosch, another cuban exile. he and jorge worked very closely
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together to try to do everything they could to disrupt the cuban economy, the cuban government to kill fidel. they both wanted, still to this day, although bosch is dead, they are considered the ring leaders behind the bombing and destruction of cuban airline 455. this was a commercial aircraft that was carrying a big chunk of the cuban fencing team from the pan-american games. they won gold, flying back to cuba and the plane exploded in the tear and killing everyone on the plane. they were considered the two that got the bomb on the plane. the idea was to kill cubans, kill cuban government officials. many of them are completely unapologetic. in many respects, they're heroes because they are the only ones way it to the cuban government in many ways.
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interesting crossover, he was the deputy to felix rodriguez in the 1980s work nlg latin america. this is a time when felix was no longer with cia. he was working at an independent contractor in el salvador helping to fund the anti-communist forces. iran contra comes around. depending on who you asked, felix kind of washed his hands of iran contra but he jumped in with both feet. later on tourist bombings in havana and other places in 1977 traced to posada. the interesting thing for the spy museum is in -- right after the 1997 tourist bombings, the fbi went into havana to help do the investigation of these tourist bombings. and instead of really investigating them all that deeply, they were able to uncover the evidence that led to the arrest of the cuban five
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here in the united states. so, even the fbi who dick he tated carilles and others as terrorists didn't take it all that seriously to go ahead and find out who he was doing wrong against the cuban people. they actually used the opportunity to go inside havana to try to capture these cuban spies who were spying against the united states. the panama plot is where he almost got castro. in panama city he was discovered right before he was able to place 200 pounds of high explosives in the lectern that castro was about to give a speech at. and right before and this is -- can you imagine the kind of reconstruction that would have done? he got close enough they had to essentially arrest him on the premises as he was about to plant these bombs. he got pretty close. he was captured after this. he was jailed by panama. and later pardoned because, you
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know, that's not really all against that law. he's trying to kill castro. the fact that somebody with this rap sheet is pardoned and living his retirement down in miami, a free man, tells you a little about the american and our allies' attitude towards people who try to take out fidel castro in our name. we look at some of the precautions fidel took until the very end of his life. it became much, much more difficult after mid-1960s, late 1960s to even consider going after fidel castro. he employed food-tasters. this was smart. you want somebody to eat your food first so you don't drop dead of poison. this is what a lot of dictators do nowadays. hey, drink this water first. see if it tastes funny. he had his gifts screened. this was more important as he got sick. a lot of people sent him gifts as he got sicker and sicker.
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every gift was opened up, taken apart to make sure there weren't any exploding cigars or anything tucked inside the gift. he loved to walk around havana. that made him a person of the people where he would take strolls and talk to the average citizen. well, after the couple of first assassination attempts he stopped doing that. he was really hold up inside several compounds inside cuban -- outside havana. i was there before he died. i was there in the springtime, i guess. you would drive by these areas and there would be back, off the main street, a street that would have a big gate and military vehicles outside the gate and that was one of fidel's houses. no one actually knew where he was. i asked the question, where doesfy dell live? nobody knows. even the cuban people don't know. they knew where his houses were. those are easily identifiable but no one but his top, top people knew which one he was in
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at any one time. he had body doubles. people that looked a lot like him so in case you wanted to shoot somebody, you would hit the body double instead. he had multiple addresses. he was never in the same place at the same time. this had to be exhausting. when you look at the longevity of this man, it was extraordinary. not just the fact he chain-smoked cigars and he ate rich food and had a healthy appetite for female companionship or somebody that had so many different people trying to kill him. the fact he was constantly on the move, constantly under stress he was going to be assassinated, constantly stressed that he was going to be invaded by the united states. i don't admire the man but it's extraordinary that he lived as long as he did. i'm going to end with my favorite story about fidel castro. it may be true, it may not. this comes from the telephone game of stories.
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the joke is that one time fidel castro was given a galapagos turtle as a gift. they said, you know, fidel, commandant, these turtles live up to 100 years. the story is fidel gave the story back. he said, oh, that's the problem to pets. you get attached to them and they die on you. to me that just sums everything up. this was a man who understood that no matter what you tried to do, he was going to keep on kicking. really it's old age that got him in the end. a lot of people look at -- i asked this question, fidel has retired but it has he really retired? it ended up, yeah, he was really out of touch with what was going on in the day-to-day operations. raul was really running things the last couple of years. when something big came up, he got on the phone and said, let's do it this way. the final thing that got him was he lived a long and exciting life and then operation wait for him to get really, really old and eventually he'll die game in
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and finally got fidel for us. so, i'm going to open up to any questions. i'm happy to answer anything. thank you. [ applause ] we do have two mics that are going to go around. wait for them. >> you know, the emphasis on how much high-level emphasis there was. i remember being told when robert kennedy was attorney general on his way home to hickory hill every day -- or almost every day, he would stop at the headquarters and talk about this, so i think that's something worth pointing out. in was obviously -- obviously the attorney general and the white house was extremely interested. >> yeah, it became an unnatural obsession. this little country that had no national impact. they had already finished nationalizing everything. the businesses were screwed one way or another. granted, once the soviets were there as a military unit, they became a little more of a national security threat.
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until there were missiles there, they weren't at all. we've been holding on -- this is me politicking a little bit. we've been holding on to this idea that cuba is a national security threat and they're not. they're an intelligence threat. that's a whole other ball game. their intelligence is amazing. the cuban five were arrested for spying and they didn't get life in prison because they had a very interesting defense. they said, we weren't spying on the united states. we were spying on the cuban exile community. you're like, you know what, that's about as logical a response as you can get, right? i mean, castro was worried about the exile community coming in and invading. sure, he was worried a little about the united states military, but after a certain point, certainly after we pledged not to invade and it looked as though we weren't going to do it for a while, it was really the exile community behind the cia that the worry was. it's interesting to see how
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obsessed the concerndy administration got. i think it went back to the bay of pigs. it made him distrust cia until he put john mccohen in. it put a real big whack on his belief and competency coming from langley. someone over here? shauna, she's coming with the microphone. >> hi. i have a little bit of a side question. by way of background, i worked on the internet for 40 years and on doing research on a book for the internet. so, i was wondering, could you explain what you meant when you said desperation led to the internet? because -- no, seriously. that's something i have never heard and i've worked on the internet since the very beginning. >> when you're looking at -- >> what's your source? >> no, when you're looking at arpa net, the idea was, can we create a fast and efficient way to communicate?
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and communicate securely? that's what the darpa was trying to create. but talking about desperation at the highest levels. you're not saying what you're supposed to say. desperation at the highest levels. we're talking about cold war broader desperation, the idea we need to create technologies that will give us a leg up on what the soviets are doing. you wants to claim the internet not as a civilian? >> first of all, internet and arpanet are two very different things and they have to be disambiguous. >> the internet and worldwide web are two different things. >> i'll get off this and talk to you about it afterwards. but i do believe what you said is factually incorrect based on interesting viewed people in leadership positions in darpa in the '70s. okay. you know, it's not like the bowling green massacre, but i think it's -- i think you're not
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right. >> all right, i am. it's fine. >> it's always good to hear vince shamed publicly. >> you're assuming i have the ability to feel shame. >> you're right. you're right. no, we love vince. >> there were all these plans to kill castro. were there any plans if they worked, as a follow-up plan? >> no. no, there were contingency plans. the idea of government next i'll, who would be in charge. the problem you run into is that by the time mid-'60s come around, there were a lot of claims to the throne from the exile community. it would be a power vacuum like no other. well, we've seen some recently that were pretty nasty but there would be a pretty significant power vacuum. even if castro gets killed, raul steps in. the idea was this cult of personality of castro. which it was, right?
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no question his charisma, his gravitos behind him. if you cut off the head, the people will rise up. at that point it was unlikely, especially after bay of pigs because what castro did is consolidate and bring power not only under him but the government, under the system that had been created. so, it's a counterfactual conversation, obviously, if castro was killed in 1965, would it have made a difference? some people say yes but there's a lot of strong evidence that says, you're in a position where castro dies, doesn't necessarily mean the government collapse. it would go on going on, especially with raul in charge or chay, whoever. chay was never a political leader. but raul could have stepped in or somebody else. at the very beginning that made a lot more sense. when castro was consolidating his power. taking out fidel would have had
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a huge impact because he was the guy that everyone rallied behind. as the government bake more bureaucratic, it became more like a government, it necessarily wouldn't have been a game-changer, i don't think. there were contingency plans but i don't think they were very realistic. it would have been chaos. basically tens of thousands of miami cubans rushing back to take their property back, who's in charge. there was a high arcy within the miami community but splinter groups broken off that didn't agree to that hierarchy, so it was difficult. it would have been very interesting. i say that kind of in a sardonic way. it would have been complete bonkers if it had happened. >> i know you tried to avoid the subject of kennedy's assassination, but i'm just curious in your humble and
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speculative opinion. do you think the cuban government and/or cuban exiles had in anything to do with the assassination? >> i don't think the exile community had anything to do with the assassination. they were mad, but i'm a firm believer that lee harvey oswald pulled the trigger three times and there's no evidence whatsoever that he had ties to the cuban exile community. there are ties he had ties to the cuban government but i think fidel would have let us know. he's that kind of guy. i think as he got older he would have been like, you know what i did? he had nothing to lose at that point, right? i think conspiracies, unless they can be proven -- i know this is kind of a trite comment. i'm a firm believer in the acumen a's idea.
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the simplest solution is the solution. he could have taken all shots. the physics works. there's no reason to bring conspiracy into this. oswald was a deranged young man who thought killing kennedy was a good idea to help the soviets and the cubans. maybe they had something to do with it, but it's not in their best interest, right? if the cuban government sends oswald over to kill kennedy and somehow we find it was the cuban government, we would turn cuba into a parking lot. same with the soviets. i look back at the zimmerman telegram, if you know that story. it gets world war i started. the german government says, mexico, attack the united states if they join world war i and we'll give you back these states. mexico is like, you're out of your mind. i can see the cubans doing something very similar. even if oswald went to them and said, i want your help assassinating kennedy. no, no, no, we're on good terms.
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fst was annoyed they pulled all the missiles out but his number one goal was to make sure the cuban government and cuban people stayed under his power and he had accomplished that. killing kennedy just opens that up for a possible reversal of that. you're not going to have -- that would be the only invasion in american history with 100% approval rating. if the cuban government was proven to be behind the kennedy assassination, it would be like, okay, everyone go. everyone sign up and go. there doesn't seem to be a reason for either of those governments to be involved. but i could be wrong, right? i mean, who knows. amanda's in charge. >> i'm kind of interested in the later history. when or if we sort of stopped worrying about assassinating fidel and decided to wait him out? >> well, so, the miami station was basically shut down or
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dropped down to very few people about 1968. we are a little more focused on vietnam at that point. shackly had been moved to the saigon station chief. vietnam became our number one priority. by 1975, as peter talked in the very beginning, were the church and pike hearings where a lot of assassination plots were revealed to the public for the first time. and then you get executive order 132333, which pete alluded to this and he talked about things seem to be common place today but we're not offing political leaders today. actually, that was because of what comes out of the mid-1970s decisions where it's now illegal for us to assassinate political leaders. now, we get around that because al qaeda and other things, these aren't political leaders, these are terrorists, but it became actually illegal in the united states for us to target castro. that doesn't mean he wasn't targeted, but it wasn't a u.s. government policy. you have these groups like alpha
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66. i hope none of them are watching c-span right now. alpha 66 is a group of now very old men who run around the everglades shooting leaves and alligators and stuff getting ready for the time where they can go and invade and take their country back. you know, there were attempts like what coralles did, alpha 66 trying to plan some real operation but none of them were backed by the u.s. government. because there's no reason at that point. i think most people in the high levels of the intelligence and defense world realize cuba was not an issue anymore. this is especially true once the soviet union begins to fall because, you know, the soviet union was the reason cuba was considered a national security threat. certainly by the mid-1980s cuba is not something you're paying a lot of attention to. now, why do people keep paying attention to it? because florida needed to be won in national elections, and south florida needed to be won if
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florida was going to be won. and you had a ton of cuban voters in south florida who are going to vote for keeping the embargo, vote for anti-castro policies, vote republican. if you wanted to win cuban as a republican, you needed to be talking about how bad castro was. you see the reagan administrations and the bush add administrations, even clinton talking about how bad castro is because if you want to win the united states presidency, you need to win florida. until very recently, the census data for this is from maybe like ten years ago, cuban-americans now only make up 49% of hispanics in south florida. so they're not the majority of hispanics in south florida anymore. many of the younger cubans, sons and granddaughters of the exiles are actually not still pissed off at john kennedy and willing to vote more like young people, vote more democratic. and that's why you start seeing
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this shift in american policy towards a lightening of cuban sanctions, the thaw, which started with the obama administration, even with the clinton administration, because politics in south florida have dramatically changed. but you could -- it's safe to argue that it stayed the way it did for so long because of political reasons. not because of any national security reasons. most of the community had realized that cuba was not a threat. i mean, by the mid-'60s, most people realized this. does that answer the question? yep. >> any speculation on your part as to what happens in cuba when raul eventually dies? >> they have a designated successor. they have a guy lined up. he's in his 50s. with the trend going on, he has 40 years or so that he can be in charge.
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there is a designated successors. the cubans i've talked to said that doesn't necessarily mean anything because when raul dies there will be a little tussle to be in charge. put there is a hand-picked successor who has a leg up. he's a younger guy, but he won't be some big reformer. the likelihood is he'll be keeping the policies the same way they are today. but they were smart enough to realize they needed to kind of name somebody. basically his job -- i can't remember off the top of my head. attorney general or high-level government official basically named by raul when i step down -- that's probably what will happen. raul isn't dying any time soon. he's health are. when i step down, this is the person that's going to take over. theoretically they're supposed to have elections for this stuff. they technically have elections. castro won with 99.9% every time. raul was probably the only person that voted against him. so, it's a democracy, but
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they're basically saying, this guy's in charge next, so there's not a whole lot of democracy there. it should be a relatively peaceful transition. theoretically. it never is perfect. you went from one brother to the other and that went pretty well, but a lot of the cuban people are a little worried about that because they said that if raul does die, there's no one around anymore to put the power behind this guy. so, there might be a little bit of a power struggle. it's unlikely because most people basically said, you know, this is the next person in line. you can actually google it. ist michael, miguel something. i'll pay attention to him when it's time. i have enough other things to worry about. but people at the cia are paying a lot of attention to him right now because he's the designated next guy. >> i understand raphael was assassinated as a cia operation i think in may 1961.
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my question is, did any of -- was there any overlap in those who plotted his assassination with those plotting attempting to kill castro? it depends on what level and we're looking at plotting at the highest levels of the cia, you have the same couple of people making these decisions. you have the deputy director of operations. actually, the director of plans at the time. when did that shift? plans to operation, peter? it was still plans at the time. you have people like bill harvey and landsdale and people like this. the people overlap on the ground, no, the plan with castro was done with cuban exiles, first and foremost. they only cared about cuba. . they were great because they had a singular focus. they were great because they
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were really, really dedicated. they still are to this day. castro dying, they had a celebration, they said, who's next? it's raul. cuba is not free until cuba's free. . for a long time it was a cult of fidel but i think they realize like everybody else that it now becomes the government of fidel. until the government of fidel, then there is no freedom. you have to think these guys for 60 years now have been the same thing, feeling the same thing, as passionate as they've ever been. and that's pretty extraordinary. i mean, just as extraordinary as the longevity of fidel, the longevity of their passion. i can understand. look, i've never had my homeland taken away from me. i can understand if i did, i'd be pretty annoyed about it and want to do something about it. that's the situation you're seeing with these exile communities down in florida. does that answer the question to the degree? i mean, i don't -- from the highest levels of cia you're talking about the same people.
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beyond that they're farming it out to different groups. it's always good to use different people, if you can. the likelihood, for a lot of reasons, it basically -- legitimacy of governments gets somewhat dinged up if people come in from the outside. so, you want to use dominicans when you can use dominicans. you want to use guatemalans when you can use guatemalans. it's good to use cubans when you can use cubans. it's not great to cross-pollinate because that destroys the legitimacy from the outside. especially in the latin american communities. latin american communities are some of the most prideful if their own background, and you'd be surprised -- maybe not, but i was surprised to hear and see how derogatory they can be towards other communities. you know, for people from idaho, hispanic is a hispanic. that's certainly not the case. central americans have different
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ideas for south americans and south americans have different ideas towards everybody else and the caribbeans think they're better or worse than others and ar begin tin yans think they're better than everybody because they think they're europeans. there's this hierarchy every country has. that's why it's very dangerous to do a cross-pollination. i know that's a long-winded answer but hopefully that's what you're looking for. any other questions? >> thank you. we were actually down there last year and we actually went snorkeling in the bay of pigs, which was actually a beautiful place. >> it's gorgeous. >> it's a nature preserve and everything. but when they told us when we were down there is not only has he named a successor raul, but in february of 2018, the designated date he's resigning. >> we'll see. >> that's what they said. >> yeah. >> so, my question is, towards
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the end when obama and others, was there a split at all between raul and fidel over that? and after that, what do you think the repercussions of the new administration are going to be with regard to cuba? >> well, so, there wasn't a big split. basically fidel was the perfect mouthpiece at that point. if you remember when the reproach mont took place, fidel came out and ripped the united states. he said, i understand this is happening. i like it's happening but the u.s. is not the great satan. that's what the ayatollah would say but the same idea. they're the bane of our existence. this has been his mantra since the very beginning. that's why when castro was in power, you didn't have this -- when fidel was in power, you didn't have this kind of handshake because the easiest thing for fidel to do was to blame the united states for all the problems of cuba. the one thing i always argued against the embargo was your feeding right into his hands.
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because the cuban people don't have the food they need, it's because the americans are embargoing you. the cuban people don't have the freedom you need? it's because we have to protect against the americans. the cuban people don't have whatever they need, it's the americans' fault. we were the boogieman that castro could always point to and say, your problems are because of them. now raul's in a position where he still can kind of tweak that, but it's much more difficult for him to say, it's because of the americans. and that's one of the things the obama reproach mont did is make it where they couldn't use us as a boogieman. they still can because the physical embargo is still there. it's been lightened a little bit. we can travel down there. dry foot was ended at the end of the obama administration is. wet foot/dry foot. for cubans, only cubans, that if you're caught crossing from cuba to the united states and you're in a boat still, you're still in
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the water, we will pick you up and send you back to cuba. but the minute you step foot on dry land, you can stay. so, literally if this is the water line. say i'm standing on miami beach and this is the water line, the waves are coming in. if the u.s. coast guard catches me three feet into the water, they ship me back to cuba. but if i'm running and a lay out and dive and make it onto the beach, i have asylum. it was wet foot/dry foot. it was the most ridiculous policy. it was done specifically for cuba. one of the last thing the obama administration did was end wet foot/dry foot and puts cuban exiles -- anyone trying to travel to the united states from cuba on the same footing as everybody else trying to get political asylum. so, what the obama administration was trying to do, and i agree with this, not because i'm a democrat, i agree with this because studying cuban policy for decades is try to take away that target, take away
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that excuse for the cuban government by saying, your problems are because of the united states. and there's a lot of problems in cuba. they've got some issues. i don't know where you stayed when you were there. there's about a one-mile -- one square mile in havana that is gorgeous. it is like you're in venice. it's cobblestone streets and outdoor cafes and gorgeous buildings, no trash anywhere, art sculptures. it is beautiful. you go outside of that area, you're back in the 1950s. there's nothing done about anything. people living in poverty. the craziest thing, everyone walks down the middle of the street. why are you walking down the middle of the street? because they're afraid to walk on the sidewalks because balconies fall on people and kill them. they walk down the middle of the street because it's easier to play frogger through traffic than it is to dodge falling balconies on people. we also passed -- we stayed -- we didn't stay in the nice area.
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we stayed with people in the not so nice area. and down the street neighbors, the entire house collapsed while they were in it. they don't fix it. they pull the bodies out and leave it because there's no money to fix anything. like i said, all their doctors, their doctors are amazing but they're all in venezuela. they were sent there -- what's that? now venezuela -- they may get their doctors back. when russia pulled out, they needed oil because they don't pull a lot of their natural resources so they basically traded doctors for oil. you hear. their great medical schools. wonderful. they don't have any doctors there that know what they're doing. the fact is their doctors make less money per month than i do in a day. and so a lot of times they actually -- doctors will come back from the hospital and have to clean somebody's house to make extra money so they can actually feed their families. that's cuba today. for decades, like i was saying, fidel was able to say, it's
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their fault. because of the embargo, because of the policies of the united states. by getting rid of that stuff, there's no one to blame but themselves and i think that's one of the great things of trying to change these cuban policies. yeah, but -- >> the question is, is the current administration going to -- >> oh, if you ask me, can i get inside donald trump's head? number one, i would say, i don't want to get inside. nightmares for weeks. but i have no idea what he's going to say next and do next or any of that. [ inaudible ] what the obama administration did was made it difficult to roll some of this back. particularly when the -- some within the south florida cuban community were very happy about this, and you have people visiting, you have people sending money who weren't able to see money before, seeing family they weren't able to see before. rolling this stuff back at this point, the world didn't end. the world didn't end.
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we opened up cuba a little bit and the world didn't end. all right, there goes that boogieman. i can't imagine it's high on the priorities list but, again, none of this stuff is high on the priority list. you're asking me to predict what the trump administration does. you know, i don't have my crystal ball here. i can't do that. i hope they continue. it sounds like, from those i know at state, it sounds like rex tillerson, despite the fact that he was the exxon ceo and knows what he's doing, or at least is willing to learn, is willing to take the job seriously. and the state department is the key behind all of this. at this point it's not military intelligence anymore. it's state department. if state goes to the president, you would think and says, look, we just need to keep doing what we're doing. it's working. it's actually benefiting us. american businesses may be able to move in there sooner rather than later. we'll get you a nice car. i don't know. whatever you need to do. then i think we're in good
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shape. it's not just about wanting to go down there and vacations. it's about the idea that this is an island with amazing culture, great baseball players, there's a lot there. and it's not just, you know, it's not just music, it's not just culture. they're 90 miles away. it's a wonderful place that -- i mean, before castro took power, it was fantastic. you know, it was a -- the mob was there. that was bad. batista was there, he was a tyrant. but for the most part, it's a paradise. it's a caribbean paradise 90 miles from key west. it's something i'm hoping will continue in this direction but, again, i can't predict that stuff. if anybody can, god bless you. you're going to make a lot of money. but i can't be that person. time for one more question. all right. right there. >> i wanted to cut to the chase on the -- we were desperate to do so. to what extent do historians now believe john kennedy directly ordered the assassinations? as you know, apologists don't
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want to acknowledge it. evan thomas in his biography of robert kennedy says there's no evidence. what's the current state of evidence whether john kennedy explicitly or directly said, go get him? >> directly. yeah, i mean, it's -- covert -- the cia is not going to make those decisions on their own. even before church and pike. nowadays, any covert action has to be blessed by the president. that wasn't the case going back to the 1960s and the kennedy administration. but under dulles, they're certainly not going to make these kind of decisions because dulles does have free reign under eisenhower, not under kennedy, but certainly under mccohn. kennedy makes a point of firing dulles at the start of his presidency. kennedy becomes president in january of 1961. bay of pigs, dulles is fired and
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mccohn is his hand-picked replacement. he's not going to do anything without the blessing of at least bobby. there might be times when it only gets to bobby kennedy, his attorney general, but there's no evidence anywhere that they didn't talk about everything together. so, i would say we're almost guaranteed there's implicit blessing. i would think it's even more explicit. kennedy may have -- may have not said, let's put a bullet in his head but we can listen to a lot of the excom communications from the cuban missile crisis where they say, we needed to get rid of that guy. yes, they're not saying what caliber rifle to use, but they're basically saying, we need to kill the dude. i think that's pretty explicit in my book. apologists, revisionist historians, i get that. i don't think it makes kennedy any worse. i think people are trying to rehabilitate some kind of camelot out of this.
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seymour hirsch took that down a notch or two if you read "the dark side of camelot." this is what we did. if it wasn't kennedy, it would have been nixon. it was eisenhower before that, johnson after that. this was the american way of doing war without actually doing war. and, you know, until church and pike made that explicitly illegal, there was nothing -- we're using hindsight to say that's a bad thing. it was the way we did things. we did things very successfully. iran was still going well in the 1960s. it wasn't until '79 in hindsight says we shouldn't have gotten moez adeck out there. we blessed off in vietnam that that was a smart move. so, knocking off leaders was a legitimate foreign policy decision. and it was a choice that we can make at the time that made some sense at times. and, look, again, like i said from the very beginning, if we had killed castro at the beginning, it could have ended
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things before they even started. by '63, '64, not so much. and certainly after that. but if you had taken castro out before he was able to consolidate his power and build his government, it could have fallen. again, it's counterfactual history, who the hell knows, but there's an argument to be made that the cult of personality at that time was so strong that it was all based on charisma, based on his ability to lead that chopping off the head in the early stage would have made a huge difference. all right. that's all the time i got. thank you all. [ applause ] >> vince, thank you very much. terrific presentation. good job. really interesting. thank you all for coming. have a great rest of your day. ♪♪
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weeknights this month we're featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. tonight, an evening of programs on baseball, including historian david, who talks about the 1919 world series fix by members of the chicago white sox, which came to be known as the black sox scandal. he also goes in-depth into how book and film portrayals face public perception of what happens. watch tonight againing at 8:00 p.m. eastern and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span3.
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as he approaches his 100th day in office, president biden makes his first address to a joint session of congress on wednesday. watch live coverage beginning at 9:00 p.m. eastern on c-span, online at c-span.org or listen on the free c-span radio app. on april 17, 1961, a force of more than 1,400 drive-trained cuban exiles launched an invasion at the bay of pigs on the southern coast of cuba. their goal was the overthrow of communist leader fidel castro, who had taken power only two years earlier in the cuban revolution. coming up, we look back 60 years at the failed invasion and its consequences. our guest is former cia historian nicholas dujmovic who heads catholic university's intelligence study program. first, a news reel reporting on the early stages of the attack. ♪♪ >> the assault has begun on the

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