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tv   Bay of Pigs 60th Anniversary  CSPAN  April 23, 2021 12:33pm-1:36pm EDT

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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 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 dictatorship of fidel castro.
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cuban army pilots opened the first phase with bombing raids on three military bases. two of the b-26 life bombers then seek asylum in florida. on the heels of the air raids, landings were affected by rebels at several places on the cuban coast and the rebellion against the dictator was on. with the refugee pilot claiming a full-scale army revolt near. in havana, acting foreign minister rockets fired from the cuban raiders which he claimed have u.s. markings. meanwhile at the united nations, cuban foreign minister aro what said the invading soldiers trained in florida while ambassador stevenson makes a quick denial. >> these charges are totally false and i deny them
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categorically. the united states has committed no aggression against cuba and no offensive has been launched from florida or any other part of the united states. >> in the guatemalan foothills there's a training depot where some raiders may have been based. the government denies cubans are among those being instructed but observers say otherwise. once trained, the men mysteriously disappeared. guatemala has aided the rebels. in cuba itself, the people have been exhorted by castro himself to push back. the invasion was successful in its early hours with castro, of course, blaming the u.s. is it the first chink in his
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armor? >> we're back with nicholas dujmovic, a former cia deputy chief historian and current director of the intelligence study programs at catholic university, and he's here today to -- with us 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. nicholas, good morning. >> good morning, jesse. it's a pleasure to be with us on this aus suspicious anniversary. >> tell us exactly what happened 60 years ago today on the southern coast of cuba. >>. >> well, let me tell you what was intended to do and then what happened. the bay of pigs operation was a well-meaning but mismanaged attempt on the part of the u.s. government to oust the cuban government of fidel castro and
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liberate cubans from communism. it turned out to be a disaster. what was intended was an amphibious invasion of some 1,500 cuban exiles trained, armed, supplied by the central intelligence agency, who would come ashore on the southern coast of cuba at a remote place called the bay of pigs where they would establish a beach head and hold that beachhead and that would attract dissidents to the 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 then would request the help of the united states. what actually happened 60 years ago was that the cuban military
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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 -- and there were other -- many, many mistakes. air cover was supposed to be guaranteed by a series of air strikes. there was only one air strike. president kennedy canceled -- actually two air strikes. there was supposed to be a total of three. the second one was scotched. the third one was called off at the last minute. so, there was no air cover over the beaches. and the cuban air force under castro had command of the air. and that really chewed up those brave cubans exiles who were fighting for their country, for
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freedom. it was -- 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's a lot to talk about. a lot went wrong with this. well meaning, but very mismanaged operation. >> so, what were the actual results of the invasion? what happened that day and the days after? what were the direct results? >> well, in the predawn hours of april 17th, about 1,400 cuban exiles on various landing craft, landing ships, actually -- most of them actually made it ashore, despite the fact that one of the mistakes was we didn't realize there were coral reefs there. and the landing craft had a
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great deal of trouble with those coral reefs, causing most of the exiles to have to wade ashore. because castro's 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 20 miles inland, but were driven back. there were some bright spots. there were battles between brigade armored vehicles and 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
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were captured. >> so, we see here -- i'm going to put up some fast facts about the bay of pigs invasion on the screen. 114 people were killed during the bay of pigs invasion, including 4 u.s. airmen. more than 1,100 people were captured from the assault brigade 2506. five b-26 bombers were shot down. 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? >> well, it's been said, and i totally agree with this, that the operation as a military operation was too small to succeed. castro -- you know, with 1,400 men ashore, no matter how well
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trained, how well positioned, castro was able to quickly mount 20,000 men in arms against them, both regular military and militia. and he had a potential to mobilize 200,000. so, the concept of them -- of the cuban exiles being able to hang onto this beach head is quite debatable. it's important to realize this started out as a kind of world war ii classic support mission for guerrillas, infiltraing guerrillas or commandos. there were anticastro in the escambray mountains. it was said we're going to do to castro what castro as a revolution in those mountains had done to the dictator batista before him. and so as the planning went forward in the late days of the
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eisenhower administration, the plan kept getting bigger. you know, it started with we're going to infiltrate 30 or so trained guerrillas at a time that would link up with resistance forces. and then it -- by the fall of 1960, especially after the election, it sort of morphed into this conventional amphibious operation that had these presumptions of -- that the cuban people were ready to rise up against castro, which was totally false. one of the -- one of the mistakes was that the operational planners were not consulting the cia analysts, who knew cuba best. they were -- the analysts were never asked, well, if we're able to put a force ashore, would the cuban people then rise up? i mean, there's a lot of
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discontent in cuban society, but castro's grip on power, it seems pretty secure. anyway, the analysts were never asked that question. >> let me remind everyone watching that they can take part in this conversation about the bay of pigs 60th anniversary. we're going to open up regional lines which means if you are in the eastern or central time zones, your number's going to be 202-748-8000. if you are in the mountain and pacific time zones, your number's going to be 202-748-8001. we're going to 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. number -- the line for cuban-americans is going to be 202-748-8002. keep in mind, you can always text us at 202748003 and we're
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always reading on twitter, @c-spanwj and facebook at nicholas, at the top of this show we showed a news reel that referenced a mysterious training base in guatemala. if the media knew about this, was this operation ever really a secret? >> well, and that's 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're absolutely right. castro knew what was happening. i mean, he had agents in guatemala where the cuban exiles, most of them were being trained. but also, i mean, he was relying mostly on american and regional newspaper reporters, who would hear things from the cuban exile community in miami.
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and were able to piece together pretty much the whole story. in fact, "the new york times" on january 10, 1961, had a front page, above the fold, with a 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 administration, said that basically they had the whole story. and yet planning went forward. one of the -- one of the many blunders of this operation. >> who were these cuban exiles who were being trained for this assault brigade? how long had they been outside cuba? and what type of support could they realistically expect if when they got back to cuba and
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the invasion force? >> after castro took power in early 1959 and started nationalizing industries and expropriating the propertied classes, there was an exodus of cubans. professionals, you know, people with money, who saw that the socialist practices were going to be injurious to them. so in south florida you had 100,000 cuban exiles, anti-castro. the big challenge for the cia was to unite them on a single front. some of them had been for the previous dictator batista, and most of the others didn't like that. there were differences of opinion. so, that was a great challenge.
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what cia offered to them was a chance to retake their country. and they signed up. you know, there was a recruiting drive. again, they were trained in guatemala, nicaragua, a few places in the united states, despite the state department objecting to that. and they were hoping to take back their country for freedom. >> let's let some of our viewers take part in this conversation. we'll start with roger calling from greatneck, new york. good morning. >> caller: good morning. how are you feeling? >> go ahead, roger. >> fine. >> caller: yeah. hi. i have a question, very interesting question. in 1898 the u.s. with teddy
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roosevelt in the 17th volunteer new york got rid of the spaniards and mckinley sent the -- you know, the rough riders in and everybody into cuba to get rid of the spaniards. why didn't -- 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" in las vegas, nevada. and most generals at the 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. >> yes. both eisenhower and kennedy were unwilling to commit, at least openly, u.s. military forces to
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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 the united states as overbearing. they didn't like the monroe doctrine. they didn't like to be in america's backyard. and so for good foreign policy reasons, it was ruled out that we would have the united states military openly go against the castro regime. now, kennedy considered that when it came to the event that happened some 18 months later, and that was the cuban mistake crisis. but that's another story.
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>> 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? >> well, castro was definitely cozying up to the soviet union. at the time, this is in the depths of the cold war, tensions are high. there is an arms race. and eisenhower in particular had already acted against what he thought was going to be a soviet beach head in the western hemisphere in guatemala. he used the cia in a covert action to oust the democratically elected president in 1954. cuba, as castro gets closer to the soviet union and is starting to accept arms, is starting to implement socialist policies, is
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accepting soviet advisers, both kgb and military, eisenhower believed that we have even a bigger problem with cuba becoming part of the soviet orbit than we had with that possibility in guatemala several years previously. for eisenhower it was a matter of keeping the soviets out of our hemisphere. and the thing is, it's 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 unwittingly saying what the eisenhower administration was doing secretly. kennedy was advocating it openly. so he was politically committed to moving forward on that. and he inherited this plan, this
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plan that had grown from a guerilla infiltration and supply operation to a conventional amphibious landing. and kennedy later rued the fact that he had trusted the experts. this left him with a great skepticism of the judgment of cia leaders and u.s. military leaders who were encouraging him on. >> let's go back to our phone lines. as we do, i want to remind everyone that this is a co-production with american history tv and is being simulcast on c-span3. so let's talk to henry who is calling from asheboro, north carolina. henry, good morning. >> hello? >> go ahead, henry. >> yes. i've seen a documentary about castro taking charge of the revolution. he went to the dark-skinned cubans and said, i'll treat you
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better, because the light-skinned cubans kind of treated them bad, some places they couldn't go, certain jobs they couldn't get. when you look at the documentary, you see in the jungles it was a lot of the dark-skinned cubans fighting. you see light-skinned cubans going to america but you don't see dark-skinned. getting off the airplane, you see the light skins. you couldn't go to the beaches at night, go to hotels and stuff like that. [ inaudible ]. >> what was going on with the cuban people during the bay of
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pigs invasion? >> there were resistance elements, there were anti-castro resistance who were expecting some sort of action, some sort of invasion, and were waiting for it. they had weapons, they had explosive. there were active guerilla movements in the escambray, in the mountains. in order to keep it secret, because the cia believed some of these resistance groups were probably penetrated by castro's intelligence service, they were not told, another mistake, they were not told of the imminent eninvasion, they were not ready. they heard about it from the cuban media. days before the invasion, castro started rounding up suspected
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dissidents and a lot of the resistance forces were simply rounded up in the security sweeps. so if there was a basis for a groundswell of opposition to castro, that this invasion and this beach head would have sparked, castro pretty effectively squelched that option. dealt with the potential for resistance by sweeping them all up. >> we've talked a little bit about international policy with the united states and the bay of pigs invasion. but how did the bay of pigs invasion affect national policy? i want to show a clip here of cuba policy being discussed during the fourth presidential debate between -- of 1960, between john f. kennedy and richard nixon. here is that exchange. >> i look at cuba, 90 miles off the coast of the united states. in 1957, i was in havana.
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i talked to the american ambassador there. he said that he was the second most powerful man in cuba. and yet even though ambassador smith and ambassador gardner, both republican ambassadors, both warned of castro, the marxist influences around castro, the communist influences around castro, in spite of their warnings to the american government, nothing was done. >> i think that senator kennedy's policies and recommendations for the handling of the castro regime are probably the most dangerously irresponsible recommendations that he's made during the course of this campaign. in effect, what senator kennedy recommends is that the united states government should give help to the exiles and to those within cuba who oppose the castro regime, provided they are anti-batista. let's just see what this means. we have five treaties with latin
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america, including the one setting you want organization of american states in bogota, 1948, in which we agreed not to intervene in the internal affairs of any other american country and they as well have agreed to do likewise. the charter of the united nations, its preamble, article i and article ii, also provide there should be no intervention by one nation in the internal affairs of another. i don't know what senator kennedy suggests when he says that we should help those who oppose the castro regime, both in cuba and without. but i do know this, that if we were to follow that recommendation, that we would lose all of our friends in latin america. we would probably be condemned in the united nations. and we who not accomplish our objective. i know something else. it would be an open invitation for mr. kruschev to come in, to come into latin america, and to engage us in what would be a civil war and possibly even worse than that.
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>> so what role questions about castro and cuba play in the 1960 presidential campaign? >> it's such a bizarre situation, because nixon is arguing exactly the opposite of what he believes. 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. the kennedy campaign said the eisenhower administration wasn't helping, providing virtually no help. so in this debate, which was the fourth of the presidential debates, nixon is countering that press statement from the kennedy campaign for all those reasons that he articulated. and so you have this bizarre situation. if you're an american voter in 1960, and you don't want the united states to intervene in
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cuba, you would vote for nixon, who articulated why it shouldn't happen, even though nixon himself was actually pressing for the cia to act against castro and even wanted the u.s. military involved. if you're an american voter in 1960 and you want intervention in cuba, you're going to vote for kennedy, who actually had serious misgivings about it, particularly in the use of overt force on the part of either cia or the military. so it was a bizarre situation. and it definitely played into the election. one of the closest ever. >> so once he took office, how much did domestic politics have to do with president kennedy's decisionmaking when it came to the bay of pigs? >> significantly, because
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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, you know, had this persona of vigour and a new way of doing things that contrasted with the kind of doddering, sclerotic eisenhower administration. it was unfair. but that was 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, allowed it to go forward, yet put severe constraints on it that helped doom its chances of success. >> let's talk to eric who is
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calling from lawrence, new york. eric, good morning. >> 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 air cover? that's polemical, historically. second, i've always been taught the central intelligence agency is an information gathering organization. yet, if i've understood you correctly, and many others, it's been involved in military preparations, training people militarily to intervene, practices the assassination of che guevara. a lot of people felt betrayed by kennedy, i knew a man on the ship and "essex," who said you t know what it's like to see the bodies coming back and feel like
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we betrayed people. >> yes, people who were nearby, on the "essex" and other ships, believed that it was a mistake for president kennedy to cancel that last morning of d-day air strike, the first air strike on the 15th had at best taken care of -- had disabled half of castro's small air force. but the few aircraft that he had just played havoc, and they were not -- they were not disabled by subsequent air strikes. a lot of resentment about that. but 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 of -- it's a common --
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your question about cia as an info-gathering versus covert action organization, it's 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 that cia, in addition to collecting intelligence, would from time to time act in what has been called now covert action. covert action under title 50 of the u.s. law is the implementing of policy to affect political and economic conditions abroad in a way that the united states' hand is not evident or can be denied. from the beginning, the cia was considered the best u.s. agency to do that because cia had already established secret relationships with foreigners that is necessary for this to happen. the difference is that early on, cia was in favor of doing covert
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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 kennen of 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 in, as a cia historian formerly, i used to call the bay of pigs the mother of all covert action disasters. >> let's talk to ron who is
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calling from barion springs, michigan. ron, good morning. >> good morning, jesse. good morning, nicholas. nicholas, i remember watching the cuban revolution on tv. i can't remember what year that was, but i was probably about 9 or 10 years old. i was rooting for castro then. now, i'm going to go to vietnam because i'm a vietnam veteran, okay? can you tell me the first cia agent who was really an oss agent to be killed in vietnam? >> well, that was john birch -- no, i'm sorry. that was in china. >> in 1945, the first oss officer was killed in vietnam. now, ho chi minh and the viet minh helped my father survive in the pacific. he asked for help, and we
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stabbed uncle ho in the back. you call vietnam one of your great failures or how about iran, we coup d'etat iran. i said after they're done with the russians, they're coming after us, and here they are worldwide. when are you guys going to get something right? >> go ahead and respond. >> you know, i think cia does get a lot of things right. in implementing the policy of covert action, the cia is enacting the policies of the president. the president has 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
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in a memorandum of notification to the congress which then can weigh in on it if they so choose. so there's a lot of adult supervision. that's not to say there haven't been mistakes. these are policy failures that are, you know, owned by the u.s. government at all, it's not just cia. cia is not doing these things as a rogue elephant, as once was claimed. >> let's remind everyone that we are talking about the 60th anniversary of the bay of pigs invasion here on "washington journal." this is a co-production with american history tv and it's being simulcast on c-span3 right now. nicholas, one of our social media followers has written in with their story of the bay of pig invasion that i want to read to you. this tweet says, i was a child in cuba during the bay of pigs fiasco. we hid in a closet while
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antiaircraft fire raged from the nearby hilltop. the next day, in the middle of the night, we fled the roundup of opposition to the countryside and hid for weeks until it was over. what was happening with the people of cuba during the bay of pigs invasion? >> well, 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 to castro in the country, because he stood up to the united states, here is 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 really backfired on the united states. >> one of -- >> and the exodus -- >> go ahead, sorry. >> and the exodus continued from cuba for many decades. >> another one of our social
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media followers has a question for you. if the cia had succeeded in cuba, was there any guarantee it wouldn't have turned into a right wing dictatorship like other south american interventions? >> well, i'm a historian, not a fortune teller, but i would speculate that that certainly is a possibility, because we saw that happening in other latin american countries. over time, these right wing dictator ships generally became more democratic. so who knows what would have happened. >> let's go to jason who is calling in san diego, california. jason, good morning. >> yes, good morning. i would like to ask a question, maybe get some verification. is it true that when castro won
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the revolution and was celebrating, he came to the united states to meet with american congressmen, politicians or whatever. he went to new york, he couldn't find a place to stay, and he had to go to harlem to get a hotel, and nobody came to congratulate him or anything. but russia, kruschev, hopped on a plane, came to the u.s., came to harlem, walked through the streets of harlem, found castro at the hotel, and he celebrated with castro. and from that day on, castro -- russia had won castro's confidence and took him -- you know, they became friends. >> is that what happened,
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nicholas? >> yes, in the main, that's what happened. a lot of that, though, was political theater. i think castro intended to stay in harlem for appearances. he already was developing a relationship with the soviet union. it wasn't sparked because of this act of generosity on the part of kruschev. these things are usually political theater. it's interesting that on that trip, castro did meet -- eisenhower wouldn't 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 he's one of them. >> i'm 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
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editors on april 20, 1961. here is what he said. >> the president of a great democracy such as 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 cancandor, and to pret them in perspective. it is with that obligation in mind that i have decided in the last 24 hours to discuss briefly at this time the recent events in cuba. on that unhappy island, as in so many 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
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dictator. while we could not be expected to hide our sympathies, we made it repeatedly 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 upon ourselves or an ally would have been contrary to our traditions and to our international obligations. >> did the media and the american people accept president kennedy's angle there on the bay of pigs story? >> he did, and quite 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 was plenty of blame to go around.
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it was a very interesting speech because he emphasized that this was the work of cuban patriots, anticommunists who loved their country and wanted castro and the communists out. the cuban brigadistas themself have always maintained they were using cia, not the other way around, 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 hundred of them are still alive. and so i would love to hear from any of them if they call in. but it's interesting also that kennedy definitely said later in that speech that, you know, having ruled out military force, unless there is an imminent threat, he did not rule it out entirely. and this may have encouraged
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kruschev, the soviet leader, on a gamble to do his gamble to place medium range and intermediate range ballistic missiles, nuclear-tipped, in cuba the following year. >> let's talk to jay who is calling from indiana. jay, good morning. >> good morning, 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.
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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're using the term "freedom," because it seemed to me that -- 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 the real support was for capitalism and not necessarily freedom for the masses. and i don't romanticize castro, i know exactly who and what he was, but i'm still wondering if we were really on the side of the people, the masses, and not the governing elite. i'm wondering if you would speak
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to that. thank you so much. >> yes, well, again, as a historian, i very often say at face value what people at the time say their motivations were. definitely 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 that in the cuban exile community, they weren't all lawyers and doctors. there were a lot of people who were anti-castro who were from the classes that castro, you know, had most of his support with, the peasants and the workers. so it's a mixed picture, as
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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. >> what were the consequences of the bay of pigs invasion for u.s. relations with the soviet union? >> 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, kruschev, saw the bay of pigs failure, the failure of the united states, 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
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indecision on the part of the american president, and at their later summit in vienna, in the summer of 1961, kruschev basically 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 in nuclear force posture 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, announce it as a fait accompli, and force western concessions on other issues like berlin. >> did president kennedy or anyone from the united states ever admit the country's role in the bay of pigs invasion? >> oh, i think so, yes.
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it was pretty clear to all through the media, through the exile community, that cia had been involved. again, kennedy took responsibility for it. but an important legacy of all this is this -- the fact that kennedy learned about decisionmaking from this. he learned not to trust the experts, the cia leadership, the u.s. military leadership, he felt, with justification, had let him down. he also realized that he had made some poor decisions based on faulty information that he had received. so 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 decisionmaking, and led to a good outcome. so that is the best legacy of the bay of pigs. that's the silver lining in what
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otherwise is a great debacle for the united states and for those cubans who fought there. >> let's talk to randy who is calling from slaughter, louisiana. randy, good morning. >> yes, i was in my mind thinking about the chain of events that happened. you had kruschev that came here in 1959, then in 1960 you had the shootdown of gary powers, and then in april of '61, the bay of pigs. and then in october, the cuban missile crisis. it's interesting how all these things played out. and also in 1961, the berlin wall was put up, and how all these things fell into place. >> oh, yes. and there's perceived communist advances in southeast asia, in
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laos, in the congo. it was a very -- it was a time of high tension in the cold war. at the time of the bay of pigs, i was 3 years old, and i remember in subsequent years, when i went to elementary school, still the cold war, there's still the threat of a nuclear exchange between the superpowers. and i remember the drills 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 with some humor, even, but at the time it was deadly serious. we didn't know how it would turn out. thank you for that litany of cold war events, it's very true, it really ratcheted up the overall tension. >> it wasn't until about 20 months after the bay of pigs invasion that castro released
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the bulk of the exile brigade prisoners, and president kennedy spoke at a ceremony at the orange bowl in miami for those brigade members. how did that release come about? >> 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, office of strategic services, a lawyer. he had negotiated the release of francis gary powers. in the movie "a bridge of spies," he is played by tom hanks. james donovan worked with the castro regime, negotiating to free the prisoners. 1,189 were captured. i believe nine died in
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captivity. castro actually withheld eight of those he considered most dangerous. but by december 1962, he was releasing them in exchange for what donovan had negotiated, about $53 million in medicine, pharmaceuticals, and food aid for cuba. >> and in 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 figg calling from plains view, new york. figg, good morning. >> caller: good morning. i would like to ask how castro was able to maintain power was through his ruthlessness and
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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. >> okay. on the assassination attempts, there were many. in 1960, still when eisenhower was president, ideas that if top leadership could be eliminated, then you would have more likely to have this general uprising sparked by the infiltration of guerillas and later the amphibious landing. it was thought if we take out fidel castro, raul castro, who
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just yesterday stepped down from power, and che guevara, the argentinian revolutionary, the people would be more likely to rise up against this leaderless regime. and there were some imaginative ideas. most of them never went past the drawing board. there was an attempt to enlist mafia figures who were offered $150,000 for a hit on castro using poison pills. they didn't work. the person never got into a position to use them. in terms of castro's hold on the regime, you're absolutely right, it's sort of a feature of communist regimes that they use repression, secret police, a series of informants, to keep a
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lid on any dissent. i'll just let it go at that. >> what lessons did the cia and other american intelligence communities learn from the failure at the bay of pigs, and are any of those lessons still relevant today? >> oh, i think so. in terms of, you know, the conventional military nature of an amphibious landing, that had never been attempted certainly on that scale before by an intelligence agency and never would again. the bay of pigs is not a conventional paramilitary covert action. it was never attempted again. it's 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.
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and that was put into effect by alan dulles' successor, john mccomb of the cia, who 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. >> you just brought up the fact that raul castro has retired as head of the communist party and leader in cuba. looking back over those 60 years since the bay of pigs invasion, are we still living with the consequences of the bay of pigs invasion? >> oh, yes. oh, yes. every time the united states intervenes in a country, we generally forget it. we're not all that historically-minded as a people. perhaps some in cia will still remember it.
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one of my jobs as a cia historian was to ensure that the cia workforce did not forget certain things. but 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, this bungled operation to replace the government there. >> let's talk to bill who is calling from dover, delaware. bill, good morning. >> good morning. i just 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's going on. and he woke my sister up and took us into the living room and sat us down in front of the --
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we had a big old radio with shortwave on it and everything. he had the shortwave band that was being used by the cubans, the brigade, to communicate back and forth. so we were actually listening to them talking on their radios that were during the invasion and subsequent to it. and basically it was a horrible disaster, of course. but i remember my father identified voices on the radio, saying, i know this guy, that's pepe, one of the leaders. one of the things pepe said in spanish with my father translating was that, "i've got one bullet left, we've run out of ammunition, our supply ships never came in, america never backed us up, and i don't know what to do with this last bullet, i'm standing in the water out here up to my waist, shall i shoot it at one of the
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cubans coming down towards us or should i use it on myself." >> go ahead and respond real quick, nicholas. >> certainly, he's referring to jose pepe san ramon, the brigade commander, who used that last bullet to destroy his radio. it was a frantic plea for help. shortly after that they were completely out of ammunition and were captured. >> are there any lessons we can take today from the failed bay of pigs invasion? >> 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-if
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what-ifs. the problem with the bay of pigs is 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're going to do it at all. there's still a debate whether the u.s. military should do covert action, you know, of this type, and leave the influence activities to cia. >> we would like to thank nicholas dujmovic, former cia deputy chief historian and intelligence study program director at catholic university, for being with us here this morning. thank you, nicholas. >> thank you, it's been a pleasure. ♪♪
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originally broadcast as a nbc white paper, this encyclopedia britannica edited classroom version of the report tells the story of the failed april 17th to 19th, 1961 invasion. the document traces the diplomatic split between the u.s. and cuba, describes exile groups opposed to the castro government, the cia's role in helping to train, equip, and organize an invasion force, and president kennedy's decision not to deploy the u.s. military when the plan falters. >> april 17, 1961. the bay of pigs. [ speaking foreign language ] >> in the year since he took power,id


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