Friday, October 30, 2020

Key Excerpts from Mission With LeMay - My Story

 Key Excerpts from: 

Mission With LeMay – MY STORY – By General Curtis E. LeMay

With MacKinlay Kantor

[For more on MacKinlay Kantor see: JFKCountercoup2: LeMay's Ghostwriter MacKinlay Kantor ]

(Doubleday and Company, Inc. 1965)

Dedication: to Helen and all other courageous Air Force wives who have forever given comfort and strength to their men.

Forward: …..I have indeed bombed a number of specific targets. They were military targets on which the attack was, in my opinion, justified morally. I’ve tried to stay away from hospitals, prison camps, orphan asylums, nunneries and dog kennels. I have sought to slaughter as few civilians as possible.

…..On this Monday of 25 February, 1963, my limousine was picking me up at the door to our quarters (Quarters Number 7, over a Fort Myer on a Virginia Hill overlooking the Potomac)….I’d rather be active, doing almost any demanding interesting thing in the world, than participating in social activities.

I would rather be flying and at the same time handing the controls. One portion of my brain likes to run ahead or go back….and plan for the future, construct a solid platform on accomplishments of the past, and avoid those treacheries which might be built into the structure if one didn’t also review the mistakes of the past.

Most of all, I guess, I would rather be doing that than anything else: commanding activity in the fied, as one might say – even with no declared war in progress.

Next to that I’d rather be out hunting somewhere – maybe in Africa or Alaska, or in the Montana Rockies. Next, driving a sports car. Next maybe it would be fishing. Next – I don’t know. But not socializing…except with a few intimates, those with whom I can share a reverence for the past, and an awareness of challenges to come.

So I walked out of the front door of our quarters….the driver was there and an aide was there. A sergeant emerged from the house behind me, carrying a bag which I had to take to the office.

Helen came out in her pretty flowered housecoat, to kiss me goodbye as she always did when I was home and going to the Pentagon. She kissed me just like that when were second lieutenants on our initial duty, after our marriage in 1934.

I got into the limousine and looked a the telephone directly in front of me after I sat down….

In other decades I had commanded a squad, a section, a single aircraft, a single crew, and then later a squadron or a group;….In this February 1963 I had responsibility for the eight hundred and seventy-one thousand, five hundred and twenty-eight officers, cadets and airmen of the United States Air Force,.

But on my way to the Pentagon, and on this morning, there was no leisure for me to be considering such items or cogitating about them, So I didn’t ruminate. Just reviewed the testimony offered during two intense days of the preceding week, and wondered if I had gone wrong anywhere. Hoped that I hadn’t.

We were asking for $363,700,000 to be restored to a procurement law in order that we might accomplish properly the initial stages of our program for a new reconnaissance strike aircraft, formerly the B-70, and re-designated as the RS-70. 

(BK: Notes: AKA Also know as the Valkyrie Bomber)

….Often the President of the United States and I had sat beside each other during the two years since his inauguration. I suppose if on that chilly February 25th morning some soothsayer had said grimlley to me, ‘Nine months from now, to the day, one of you two – either President Kennedy or yourself – will be buried in Arlington’ – I suppose if the soothsayer had said that will all authority, and still refused to tell whether it would be President Kennedy or General LeMay, Probably I would have through that it would be myself. Not that I ever lost any sleep over the possibility of lurking assassins; I’m sure the President didn’t either, right up to the moment the bullets struck him. But I did fly a lot, and always have, even after becoming Chief of Staff. The President also flew frequently, as we know; but you might say that we flew under somewhat different conditions.

It would have seemed weird and unforgettable to witness, in precognition, the vast weeping procession and the people watching it.

Occupied with no gloomy forebodings or even sentimental reflections on the dead already stowed in Arlington, we drove past, following the swift route to the Pentagon down the river….

….No time now for consideration of the Air Force at large, of Fort Myer and Arlington with their history, of the President himself. Fact is, I was engaged in a protracted struggle with the President’s appointee, Secretary McNamara of the Department of Defense. We were diametrically opposed in policy. Our contention, easily recognizable in 1962, had emerged again almost a year later in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.

I went into the Pentagon and stood before the blank elevator door and felt for my key. (We get in by means of a key, no one without a key can operate that elevator.) The elevator can take you down to the Command Post, far underneath the ground. That’s a bomb shelter supposed to be proof against any violent explosion up above. But I had no need to go down there at the moment, so I pressed the button for up.

The elevator brought me to the fourth floor and to my office suite adjoining, Offices of al the Chiefs of Staff and Secretaries included in the DOD (Department of Defense) lie in a given portion of the Pentagon, but on different floors. So this whole arrangement is as convenient for one as for another.

…I had not been in te financial and organizational side of the automobile business. I had been active in the airplane business, in crowding the maximum performance from all equipment and personnel I commanded.

Thus it may be believed that Secretary McNamara and I would hold different views on the matter of manned aircraft.

In the official report which came before the public in March, 1962, it was noted that the House Armed Services Committee had rewritten the Pentagon’s major authorization bill in strong language.

Such language had not been used previously in any directive of the sort. ‘

To quote from the report: “It means exactly what it says: i.e., that the Secretary of the Air Force, as an official of the executive branch, is directed, ordered, mandated, and required to utililze the full amount of the $491 million authority granted ‘to proceed with production planning and ong leadtime procurement for an RS-70 weapon system.’”

Sounded good, but in the end it really didn’t mean a thing. President Kennedy himself intervened before the whole project came to a vote in the House. The President got the House to withdraw the language which derived from this recommendation by the House Armed Services Committee, and which would have made it mandatory for Secretary Zuckert to go ahead with the RS-70 plans.

We were not only up against the President. We were up against his Secretary of Defense as well – his appointee, Robert S. McNamara, formerly of the Ford Motor Company. McNamara said flatly that funds authorized for the construction of further RS-70s would not be used, even if voted by the Congress. ….

…..Secretary McNamara had his own beliefs and his own attitude. These did not coincide with the beliefs and attitude of the majority of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Al of us excepting a recent appointee, General Maxwell D. Taylor, were in favor of the RS-70 program as I recited it in testimony before the Committee.

….I managed to go trough routine motions at my office. An aide came in with details of the day’s arrangements where I should be, at what time. The manuscript of my next talk at the War College was presented….

But it is strange how one can proceed with a given mechanical task and at te same time entertain capable recollections of the problems which have occupied him during recent days, and which still persist. Such challenges surmount the ordinary activity of an office or even a command, and – thanks – be! – do not appear every day in a commander’s life….

At eevn so early a stage of the game, I should like to make clear to the reader of this book that I have never quarreled about civilian control per se.

We know in America that, under law and by tradition, we are commanded by civilians. We are a nation composed chiefly of civilians. So we in the military, at the time I’m talking about, did not raise a blanket objection to being overruled. Sincerely we wanted to play on Secretary McNamara’s team.

What we did object to was the Secretary’s saying, “No,” to something the military wished to do, and giving a military reason for his action. Palpably thus he and his coterie were setting themselves up as military experts….

My mother and father came from farm families in southern Ohio. My father, Erving LeMay, was born in Union County near the village of Wadkins. Mother was born at Great Bend, down on the Ohio river in Meigs County. They met when my father’s family bought a farm in that same country, and moved down there….

…It was the fall of 1924. Can’t recall how much I had to plank down for tuition in order to get started at Ohio State, but I had saved enough for that…..My first ambition was to get a degree in civil engineering….First week on campus, I’d join the ROTC. It al looked pretty good to me. I couldn’t see anything wrong with a Government’s or a university’s requiring young men to have a little military training….

One of my old classmates from Kelly (Air Field) was Herb Tellman….It was in the spring of 1931 that he finally arranged a couple of blind dates for us: Helen Maitland and another girl….Helen says, “I’ll take the fat one.”

But Helen inspired me a desire to emulate her frankness of conversation, her honesty of recollection….


Back on the job again, we reported to Washington and sat down with Tooey Spaatz to talk about what we were going to do….It was decided that I’d be te one to go to Wright Field….I was going to be Deputy Chief of Air Staff for Research and Deveopment….

Also we started Project Paper Clip.

….A few intelligent deeds had been done, and that was what Project Paperclip was all about. The moment enemy resistance collapsed in Europe we overran some of the research centers, and started gathering up papers and fies – and the scientists – and trying to get them bak to the States. Unlike the Russians, we didn’t bring anyone over here who didn’t want to come. It was all a matter of convincing them that they woud be happy in the United States, and have a better future career over here than over there. And we had to guarantee to al of them that we would take good care of their families in Germany.

But the only way we could get them into this country was as Prisoners of War. It so happened that an effective majority of our scientists didn’t want them around. Not so unbelievable as it seems. Frankly, I think that many of our scientists were frightened of their own deficiencies. They didn’t welcome any German competition. Nevertheless, we did get quantities of them over here. I even found one batch behind barbed wire….

It may come as a shock and surprise to some readers to learn that Werner Von Braun was one of these people, and also his old teacher and boss, General Dornberger. Think of that, and it really makes you sit up and take notice. Wonder where we’d be today, if we’d let those people languish in the pen.


Before we get off among the jackals and the elephants, I’ll have to tell about Author Godfrey. We first met when I was out at Offutt (AFB), and he came there to take a look at SAC and see what it was all about. As all his widespread audiences know by this time, Godfrey was in the United States Navy when he was a kid. In fact, he was a high school dropout at sixteen…..In later years, as a successful performer and commentator on the air, he became acquainted with General Vandenberg…..Godfrey flew his own airplane to Offutt, and began to look around….Result was that eventually he resigned his Reserve commission in the Navy and moved over to the Air Force – lock, stock and barrell. In the end we were able to give him a commission in the Air Force Reserve (Retired)….

Eary in 1957, Godfrey came around to me with Jim Shepley from Life magazine, and the late Dick Boutelle, president of Fairchild. Tey said, “We want to go on an African unt. Could you arrange one?”

I told them, “Boislambert told me that if I ever came to Africa he’d fit it up. O.K. Let’s lay one on.”

It started like that. I dent off a note to Boislambert, telling him that I would like to go on a little hunt, and bring Boutelle and Shepley and Godfrey along, and could he arrange it?

He said, “Certainly,” and went ahead and planned a modest hunt – commensurate with my salary, since I was the poorest of the bunch. I think originally it was going to cost us about five hundred dollars apiece.

Claude had hunted in French Equatorial Africa every year, except during the war, since he was nineteen. He had some equipment there – enough to suit moderate tastes and needs. He would be our outfitter and guide and everything else, and that was adequate….he knew al the tribes down there, all the local people.

Then the thing started growing like a puffball in the yard. First thing that happened was Jim Shipley….  “Look, we may not get to go to Africa again. We ought to have some good pictures of this hunt, and we all know that you can’t shoot and take pictures at the same time. Why don’t I take one of our Life photographers aong? He can get the pictures; we can all have copies of them. Then, if we find anything good – Maybe I can do a spread for Life.”

It was Arthur Godfrey who came up with the next bright idea. “If he’s going to take still pictures, we ought to get some movies too. I might be able to use the movies in a television show.”

So we borrowed some movie cameras, and planned to turn them over to the still photographer, who was a wonderful still photographer and had won many awards on is work. Just the same, he was an extra man- anoter man on the expedition.

Godfrey got his next notion. It was to save time by flying over the desert in his DC-3. We should send the airplane in advance to Tripoli. With the weather the way it is in wintertime down there, you sometimes have to wait for favorable conditions, until you can start out with a DC-3. However, this grand plan was going to save us a lot of time, because we could go over to Tripoli in one of the big planes in a jiffy; and then fly the DC-3 straight across the Sahara to Fort Lamy in the Lake Chad area. That was just about the limit of range for a C-47, as I knew (A DC-3 is the civilian version of the military C-47).

“Arthur, if we are going to cross the Saraha Desert, we’d better have a single sideband radio put in that airplane. Then I can always get into the SAC net. If we should be so unlucky as to go down in the desert, we can tell them where we went down, and somebody will look for us.”

So the high-frequency radio – the single sideband – was installed in the aircraft. After Arthur saw it – “Why, isn’t this the same kind of thing we use in a ham radio, on the ham bands?”

“Sure. Same set.”

“Well, why don’t we get a generator and take this along on the hunting trip? We can do some hamming in the ham bands.”

I told him that we could do this, but it would call for more equipment, and I’d better check with Boislambert.

Next Godfrey had an idea. “Whey can’t I get a commercial show set up? Why can’t I pipe radio shows out from Darkest Africa?”

I agreed that this would be possible; but for anything commercial of that sort, you’d have to have to get on the commercial frequencies. You’d have to arrange with one of the communications companies to do that. It would be just like sending a wire on a commercial telegraph. But if we did this, it meant a radio operator must go along. Also we’d require another truck for the generator. More extra men.

Godfrey owned a Bell Helicopter. He says, “Why don’t we take the helicopter? We ought to be able to get some good pictures that way, of game and things, and we could use it for transportation to un-get-at-able places.”

So, check with Boislambert once more. Claude responded with enthusiasm. “This is superb! We can reach some remarkabe locations, utterly unspoiled, where hunters have never been before. We couldn’t get there otherwise, except in this helicopter.

O.K. on the helicopter. So we ship that chopper by boat to Douala on the African west coast, just off the Gulf of Guinea, and then have it flown up from the coast to Fort Archambault in the interior. That meant that we needed a mechanic to put the thing together up there…..

Then Godfrey decided that he couldn’t hunt and fix up the radio program, and do all those other things related to his project, and still do a the flying in the helicopter. So we borrowed a pilot from the Bell company.

In the end it wasn’t any modest little five-hundred-dollar-per-head hunt, such as Boislambert had originally projected. It was Godfrey’s party, pure and simple, and I can’t even estimate what it cost. He had taken over the financing of the whole thing. He shipped quantaties of his sponsors’ products into Fort Arcambault via Air France. Fruit juices, Lipton’s tea, Lord knows what. But we didn’t use the DC-3 after all. Just the sideband radios.

Instead of being mobie and roving, we were compelled to have a static camp. We built one, on the River Aouk, a hundred and fifty miles or so northeast of Fort Arcambault. Our static camp boasted a population of seventy-five peope. Not much ike Boislambert’s original conception.

But we were enabled to camp in this untouched area soley because of the helicopter. We used it as a reconnaissance vehicle, and spied out a route which the trucks could travel. French officials had decared that it would be impossible to get any trucks in there. The helicopter pointed the way; and the trucks got in there after five days – and quite a lot of hacking of bush, in order to clear a path.

Then they set up te permanent camp on the river, with thatched huts and everything. There on the Bahr Aouk, not too far from the Sudanese boarder.

We were in Africa from March 4th to 27th. We lived literally surrounded by herds of antelope and wildbeest, troops of wart-hogs….practically every other variety of good table meat, except Zebra. Guess we could have stood up on camp stools and shot everything we needed, if we’d wished to do so.

Once again I found myself shooting for the pot. Sparrows would have done no good. Seventy-five hungry people, most of them heathy hard-working Africans, will eat a ot more meat than one Emeryvillle tomcat.

Butch Griswold was minding the manse at Omaha. Even when we were remotely in the bush, I would get on the radio at least once a day and talk with SAC Headquarters. Sometimes electrical conditions didn’t permit me to reach them directly; but I could always get in to one of our North African bases, and then  they would rebroadcast right to SAC HQ. If anything had come up, I could have flown out in the helicopter to Fort Archambault and been picked up there. There was plenty of runway. That’s the way we came to the country, by Air France from Paris, via Tripoli. ….

…..I accumulated two huge, loose-leaf volumes with back covers. These were kept under lock and key, and they weighed about a ton. They were tantamount to a daily diary of my work during the C of S years. Wish I had gotten such a record together for the Vice Chief period, but we just didn’t do it. There are exactly seven hundred and twenty-eight items in those folders, ranging from TOP SECRET to Unclassified. By far the largest portion, naturally, are Classified documents. It is likely that the bulk of those won’t be downgraded for years to come. Therefore they may not be used in this book.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

LeMay's Executive Jet Aviation

In 1964, LeMay became one of the founding board members of Executive Jet Aviation (EJA) (now called NetJets), along with fellow USAF generals Paul Tibbits and Olbert Lassiter, Washington lawyer and former military pilot Bruce SUnlun, and entertainers James Stewart and Arthur Godfrey. 

It was the first private business jet charter and aircraft management company in the world. 


Godfrey Wings Off To Hunt With Gen. LeMay

 Detroit Free Press - Friday, November 15, 1963

Godfrey Shows Detroit 

By Bettelou Peterson - Free Press Radio-TV Writer 

No one calls him Mr. Godfrey. 

In the hotel elevator, at the parking lot, in the Fisher Building lobby, he's "Arthur," a good and well-known friend, and there's a handshake and a "How are ya" for everyone who greets him. 

He flew to Detroit from Chicago, piloting his own plane, on his way to Rose City and a few days hunting with old friends, one Gen. Curtis LeMay. 

"It's Curt's birthday and we try to celebrate by going hunting," said Arthur. "We haven't done it in a few years though." 

Arthur was wearing a gift from Mrs. LeMay, a hand-some petit point vest covered with game animals and birds. Its warmth, said Arthur, was all he needed against Detroit's frigid weather. 

For a man who inspired frantic phone calls Wednesday when rumors hit New York that he had died, Arthur Godfrey is hearty and healthily alive. 

He sighed over the rumors; "I was beginning to wonder-It's been three months since the last one." 

"If a quarterly rumor doesn't pop up," he added, sardonically, "I'd feel neglected. My wife, poor kid, used to get waked up in the middle of the night by people trying to check such stories." 

Arthur did have a touch of........

BK NOTES: While I have the continuation of this story there is nothing there of importance though I will retype it here when I get a chance.

[Many thanks to Larry Haapanen for finding and sharing this artice]

AF's Top Generals Complete Two-Day Meetings at MAFB

AF's Top Generals Complete Two-Day Meetings at MAFB 

Friday, November 15, 1963

A U.S. Air Force Commanders' Conference ended at Maxwell Air Force Base Thursday (Nov. 13-14) after a two-day high level conference concerning current Air Force problems. 

It was one of a series, scheduled at regular intervals, according to an Air University spokesman. 

Attending the meeting were: 

Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, chief of staff, U.S. Air Force. 

Gen. Thomas S. Power, commander-in-chief, Strategic Air Command. 

Gen. Walter C. Sweenehy, Jr., commander, Tactical Air Command. 

Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, commander, Air Force Systems Command. 

Gen. Mark E. Bradely, Jr., commander, Air Force Logistics Command. 

Gen. John P. McConnell, deputy commander-in-chief, U.S. European Command. 

Gen. Jacob E. Smart, commander-in-chief, Pacific Air Forces. 

Gen. Joe W. Kelly, commander, Military Air Transport Service. 

Gen. Gabriel P. Disosway, commander-in-chief, U.S. Air Forces in Europe. 

Gen. Charles P. Cabell, retired. 

commander, Air Training Command. 

Lt. Gen. Edward J. Timberlake, commander, Continental Air Command. 

Lt. Gen. Herbert B. Thatcher, commander, Air Defense Command. 

Lt. Gen. Troup Miller, Jr., commander, Air University. 

Lt. Gen. William H. Blanchard, deputy chief of staff, programs and requirements, Hq. USAF. 

Lt. Gen. James Ferguson, deputy chief of staff, research and development. 

Lt. Gen. David A. Burchinal, deputy chief of staff, plans and operations, Hq. USAF. 

Maj. Gen. Wendell W. Bowman, deputy commander, Air Force Communications Service. 

Maj. Gen. Robert H. warren, superintendent, U.S. Air Force Academy. 

Maj. Gen. Richard P. Klocko, commander, Air Force Security Service. 

Maj. Gen. Gerald Page, deputy director, Aerospace Plans, Hq. USAF. 

Maj. Gen. J. D. Saville, retired. 

Maj. Gen. J. F. Wisenand, retired. 

Maj. Gen. O. J. Ritland, deputy commander for Manned Space Flight, Air Force Systems Command. 

Maj. Gen. C. H. Terhune, Jr. Air Force Systems Command. 

Brig. Gen. Jewell C. Maxwell, Air Force Systems Command. 

A. F. Donovan, vice president, Hughes Aircraft Corp. 

Allen Puckett, vice president, Aerojet General Corp. 

[Thanks to Larry Happanen for finding this newspaper report from the Montgomery, Alabama, Advertiser.] 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Nestor Sanchez

 Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Patriot Games: The Intriguing Life's Work of a CIA Official

The Washington Post reports that a retired official from the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of Defense has died.  Nestor Sanchez’s life reads like a Tom Clancy novel set in the major international hotspots of the later 20th century:

Most of his time at the [CIA] involved top-secret covert actions, including bloody 1954 coups in Guatemala and a 1960s plot to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro.  Mr. Sanchez was also closely connected to former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, a onetime CIA paid informant.

Mr. Sanchez joined the CIA in 1952. His first assignment for the agency was as a field intelligence officer during the Korean War, where he recruited defectors to infiltrate North Korea.

Later, Sanchez’s CIA work focused on Latin America:

A New Mexico native and fluent Spanish speaker, Mr. Sanchez was sent to Central America to help engineer the 1954 coup against the left-leaning Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz Guzman.

Beginning in the early 1960s, Mr. Sanchez sharpened his focus on CIA operations in Cuba.  "It is obvious that the Soviets and Cubans are attempting to spread the malaise of Marxism to other countries, especially in Latin America," Mr. Sanchez once said, defending U.S. actions against the small tropical country. "They would impose dictatorships, economic decline and human suffering on the people." 

* * *

Mr. Sanchez later worked in Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia and Spain before retiring from the CIA as chief of the Latin American division.

One curious case involved a Cuban informant:

Mr. Sanchez worked as the case officer in charge of Rolando Cubela, a Cuban CIA asset. Cubela was an officer in the Cuban army who had become disenchanted with Castro's leadership. At one point, Cubela asked Mr. Sanchez to provide him with a high-powered rifle equipped with a silencer and zooming scope.

Instead, on Nov. 22, 1963, Mr. Sanchez gave Cubela a hypodermic syringe filled with poison and camouflaged as a writing pen. But the assassination attempt never took place, and CIA officials later suspected that Cubela was a double agent.

In the 1980s, Sanchez served in the Reagan Administration’s Defense Department:

From 1981 to 1987, Mr. Sanchez served as a senior official in the Department of Defense.  An ardent anti-communist, he advocated for millions of dollars in Defense funding to aid the development of Latin American armies, especially in El Salvador.

"We understand the concern of those who remember the specter of Vietnam that the war in El Salvador is being 'Americanized,' " Mr. Sanchez said in 1983.  "But Vietnam was 10,000 miles away. El Salvador is a contiguous region right at our doorstep.  San Salvador is closer to Washington, D.C., than is San Francisco."

Even his personal life was enhanced by his professional life:

From 1955 to 1959, Mr. Sanchez was posted to Morocco under State Department cover, where he oversaw intelligence gathering operations from a small base in Casablanca.  During his time there, Mr. Sanchez married Joan Russell, a fellow CIA employee working undercover in Casablanca.  She died in 2008. 

The Politics of Deception - Castro and Cuba

 The writer is author of "The Politics of Deception: JFK's Secret Decisions on Vietnam, Civil Rights and Cuba." He wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

There is a safe somewhere in the Central Intelligence Agency's headquarters in Langley, Virginia, that very likely contains a sort of tribute to Fidel Castro. It's a Cohiba, the cigar favored by the Cuban leader, dusted with one of the world's most lethal poisons — botulin toxin.

"Merely putting one in the mouth would do the job," John Earman, an inspector general of the CIA, wrote in 1967. By "job" he means assassination.

Under orders from Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, the CIA devised numerous plots to kill Castro. The revolutionary turned communist survived White House enmity for half a century.

The Cohiba was uncovered after CIA Director Richard Helms ordered Earman to get the truth behind rumors in the press of the assassination attempts. Earman's little-noticed 1967 report was finally made public in 1998.

The toxic stogie was the work of Dr. Edward Gunn, chief of medical services of the CIA's operations division. Gunn's career defied the Hippocratic pledge: "First, do no harm."

At the dirty tricks division, according to Earman's report, Gunn was Dr. Do Harm.

In 1961, Gunn had prepared a box of 50 poisoned cigars, meant to land on Castro's desk in Havana. They were never delivered.

The Cohiba that remained in the agency's permanent repository was a matter of some pride for the doctor. Although six years old, it "was still 94 percent effective," the inspector general's report said. It could still have caused Castro a quick and horrible death.

Gunn devised other attacks. In 1960, the CIA hired two certified mobsters — SamGiancana of Chicago and Johnny Roselli of Las Vegas, the report said. Both patriots refused the $150,000 CIA assassination fee. But they balked at blasting Castro during a speech in Revolutionary Square. They insisted on poison that would be slipped by their Havana agent into Castro's teacup.

Gunn had trouble with the poison pill. Instead of instantly dissolving, it was still there after a night in a water glass.

When tested, it failed to kill the guinea pigs. Finally, Gunn managed to send a monkey to a screeching death. Although the pill arrived in Havana, Giancana reported his agent "got cold feet."

Kennedy's failure to overthrow Castro in the 1961 Bay of Pigs fiasco produced constant Republican attacks on his leadership. It resulted in what the inspector general's report termed "severe" pressure by Kennedy to eliminate Castro.

Once more, Giancana and Roselli were recruited, and once again Gunn provided the means. This time, the poison was inserted in a pencil with a secret compartment carved by the good doctor. Once more, Havana agents failed.

By 1963, Desmond Fitzgerald had taken charge of the CIA's Cuban Task Force. Fitzgerald became renowned at Langley for the laughter his schemes produced. They never got out of the lab.

There was the midget submarine for planting explosives in a sea mollusk near Castro's favorite skin-diving area.

And a plot to dust the interior of a skin-diving suit with bacteria that would cover his body in Madura-foot tumors and another to infect his underwater oxygen system with tuberculosis bacteria.

"The fruitless and, in retrospect, often unrealistic plotting should be viewed in that light," Earman wrote.

The final attack was planned — but never carried out — in 1963 after one of Castro's closest associates was approached by the CIA. He was Maj. Roland Cubela Secades, a bearded student revolutionary.

According to his CIA handler, Nestor Sanchez, Cubela hoped for American recognition as Castro's successor once his former comrade was dispensed with. He asked for explosives and automatic weapons with telescopic sights to do the job.

As a physician, Cubela said, he could devise other methods, as well. Gunn helped out.

In his CIA lab, Gunn carved out the guts of a Paper Mate ballpoint pen. Inside, he placed a syringe so fine that Castro would feel only a slight nick as poison was injected.

Cubela was not impressed with Gunn's handiwork when Sanchez delivered it to him in a Paris hotel room. Even so, he placed it in his pocket. Cubela said he would devise his own poison for the syringe.

It was Nov. 22, and as Sanchez and Cubela walked downstairs to the hotel lobby, they learned that Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. According to Sanchez, Cubela was rocked by the news.

"Why do bad things happen to good people?" Castro's would-be assassin asked his CIA handler.

Peter Kornbluh The Darkest Day - JFK and Castro

 The Darkest Day

Fifty years later, unsubstantiated conspiracy theories still swirl around the assassination of President John F. Kennedy

By Peter Kornbluh | From Liev Schreiber, November/December 2013

On the morning of November 22, 1963, a CIA operative named Nestor Sanchez arrived in Paris carrying a Paper Mate pen that contained a hidden hypodermic needle—a Cold War weapon specifically created by the agency’s Technical Services Division to kill Fidel Castro. At a meeting in an undisclosed location later that day, Sanchez provided the converted pen to a Cuban military officer—codenamed “AMLASH”—who was the CIA’s highest level asset in Cuba. The two discussed how to fill it with a deadly poison called “Blackleaf 40.” But AMLASH considered trying to prick Castro with a rigged pen to be a suicide mission; instead he requested a high-powered, long-range, sniper rifle. As the two left their meeting, they received word that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. “It is very likely,” a top secret CIA history on plots to kill Castro later emphasized, “that at the very moment President Kennedy was shot a CIA officer was meeting with a Cuban agent in Paris and giving him an assassination device to use against Castro.”

On that same day and at that very same moment, some 5,000 miles away in Cuba Fidel Castro was meeting with an emissary sent by President Kennedy to offer a possible rapprochement between Washington and Havana. The Cuban leader and the president’s “messenger of peace”—a French journalist named Jean Daniel—had just finished a lunch of freshly caught fish.  They were discussing the potential restoration of normalcy in U.S.-Cuban relations when Castro received a phone call reporting that Kennedy had been shot. “This is terrible,” Castro told Daniel, realizing that his mission of peace had been aborted by an assassin’s bullet. And then Castro predicted: “They are going to say we did it.”

Fifty years after the death of the president in Dallas, the confluence of these dramatic, but coincidental, events on November 22, 1963, continues to provide fodder for a range of assassination conspiracy theorists who place Cuba at the center of their theories.  From the right, conspiracy buffs have postulated that Fidel Castro managed to manipulate a revolutionary wannabe named Lee Harvey Oswald into killing Kennedy before Kennedy could kill Castro; from the left, numerous theories speculate that the CIA and other nefarious national security operatives assassinated the president because he had become “soft” on Communism—particularly in Cuba—and wanted to end the Cold War. After five decades of endless investigation and unproven hypotheses there remains little evidence to challenge the conclusion of the official investigative commission led by Chief Justice Earl Warren: Oswald, acting alone and for his own reasons, killed JFK. Nevertheless, Cuba and Kennedy’s policies
toward the Cuban revolution remain a central part of the public fascination with the “whodunit” of the murder of the president.

“We resist the idea that a nobody could do something as big as this,” one of John F. Kennedy’s top White House aides, Theodore Sorensen, told a New York Times reporter 20 years ago. Indeed, the American public has found it hard to accept that the most notorious crime of the 20th century could have been generated by an itinerate loner like Oswald. A Gallup poll taken shortly after the assassination found that 52 percent of the public believed Oswald had been part of a larger conspiracy; another Gallup poll on the fortieth anniversary of Kennedy’s death recorded that 75 percent of Americans believed more than one individual was responsible. “If you put the murdered president of the United States on one side of the scale and that wretched waif Oswald on the other side, it doesn’t balance,” as author William Manchester explained the national sense of incredulity. “You want to add something weightier to Oswald. It would invest the president’s death with meaning, endowing him with martyrdom. He would have died for something. A conspiracy would, of course, do the job nicely.”

Conspiracy theorists have certainly devoted themselves to that task. As if to feed the widespread wish to find a master criminal who fit the magnitude of the crime, an entire conspiracy industry has proliferated over the years. More than 2,000 books and many thousands of articles have been written. Major organizations such as the Coalition on Political Assassinations (COPA) and the Mary Ferrell Foundation have pursued the story of the assassination for decades. As the 50th anniversary of the assassination arrives, new websites such as have been created to centralize theories, documentation and the always ongoing debate over who, if not Oswald alone, killed Kennedy and why. That question has generated countless responses, many of them paranoid and preposterous. Lyndon Johnson killed the president, a group of gays killed the president, the military-industrial complex killed the president, the mafia and/or the CIA killed the president…these are just a few of the dozens of speculative theories still circulating on the 50th anniversary.

Conspiracy fantasies formed around many elements of the assassination, among them: the discrepancies between the bullet holes in the president’s body and in his suit coat, the so-called “magic bullet” that pierced Kennedy’s neck and then went through the shoulder of Texas Governor John Connally seated in front of him, the shadows on the famous photo of Oswald holding the Mannlicher-Carcano rifle used to shoot Kennedy, and the inaccuracies of the autopsy reports on the president’s injuries. One best-selling conspiracy book, Best Evidence, by David Lifton, claimed that the body in the casket that was put aboard Air Force One in Dallas to transport the dead president home was not the same one that was taken off the plane when it landed in Washington.  “The conspiracy theories are divorced from reality,” Jeremy Gunn, former staff director of the Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) told Cigar Aficionado, “and divorced from common sense.”

The creation of the ARRB by Congress in 1992 owes to the mass marketing of perhaps the most discredited and disreputable of all Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories: the witch hunt in New Orleans by local prosecutor Jim Garrison. Garrison originally claimed that the assassination of the president was “a homosexual thrill-killing”—and, on trumped up charges, unsuccessfully prosecuted a local businessman for the crime; he later expanded the pool of conspirators to include the CIA and FBI. His infamous investigation became the basis of the popular 1991 Oliver Stone movie, JFK, starring Kevin Costner.

Like Garrison’s investigation, the movie was utter fiction. But it galvanized public outrage over the U.S. government secrecy that continued to surround the Kennedy assassination.  “Even the records created by the investigative commissions and committees were withheld from public view and sealed,” noted the Executive Summary of the ARRB report.  “The suspicions created by government secrecy eroded confidence in the truthfulness of federal agencies in general and damaged their credibility.” The inexplicable lack of transparency, along with the corrosive nature of the conspiracy theories that filled the void left by the still hidden historical record, mobilized Congress in 1992 to pass the “JFK Act,” which mandated the review and opening of all documentation concerned with the death of the president.

The result was one of the most far-reaching declassification projects ever undertaken by the U.S. government. Under the supervision of a five-member board chaired by Judge John Tunheim, the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, White House and all other relevant government and law-enforcement agencies spent four years locating, reviewing and releasing an estimated 5 million pages relating specifically and broadly to all direct and indirect aspects of the assassination—none of which disproved original findings of the Warren Commission that Oswald acted alone. On Cuba, the Kennedy assassination records included detailed CIA operational cables and reports on covert operations to kill or overthrow Castro in the early 1960s.

“The agency made a genuine and sincere effort to declassify everything that was mandated by law,” says Brian Latell, who as the then-director of the CIA’s Center for the Study of Intelligence oversaw the agency’s work with the Assassination Records Review Board. But there were “lots of fights with the board” over declassifying specific documents, he recalled. “In every case it was sources and methods.”

Indeed, as the ARRB prepared to close its doors in 1998, it identified 1,100 additional CIA records as “assassination-related.” The Agency, however, refused to release them until 2017—the year the JFK Act states all remaining intelligence records must be declassified. Similarly, the CIA continues to fight a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by assassination scholar Jefferson Morley for the papers of the agency’s case officer for an anti-Castro group of exiles that had several encounters with the pro-Castro Oswald in New Orleans. By continuing to keep relevant records secret, the CIA has fanned the flames of speculation on Cuba’s role in the assassination, as well as the CIA’s role itself.

Castro’s prediction that “they are going to say we did it,” proved prescient. The very first accusation of a Cuba/Oswald conspiracy came just six days after the assassination, on November 28, when CIA Director John McCone briefed President Johnson on Oswald’s visits in late September to both the Cuban and Soviet Embassies in Mexico City. CIA intercepts of telephone calls revealed that Oswald was seeking “travel permits to Cuba and thence to the Soviet Union for himself and his wife,” McCone advised in a top secret update on the investigation into Kennedy’s assassination. But McCone also reported that a Nicaraguan intelligence operative named Gilberto Alvarado had “advised our [Mexico] station in great detail on his alleged knowledge that he actually saw Oswald given $6,500 in the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City on September 18th.”  Alvarado claimed the money was to pay for killing the president of the United States.

Both the CIA and the FBI had concrete evidence, however, that Oswald had been in New Orleans on September 18—he did not travel to Mexico City until September 26th. During questioning at a safe-house in Mexico City, Alvarado failed a polygraph test and retracted his claims. He was “totally discredited,” recalls the CIA’s Brian Latell.

Nevertheless, with the growing public clamor about an international Communist conspiracy, President Johnson moved quickly to appoint a presidential commission on the assassination. “Now these wild people are charging Khrushchev killed Kennedy and Castro killed Kennedy,” he told Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, who Johnson appointed to chair the investigation. “But the American people and the world have got to know who killed Kennedy and why.”

Although one informant who pointed the finger at Cuba was dismissed, the CIA also pursued information from a second informant—a leftist politician from Panama. This high-level “asset” had been personally recruited by veteran CIA operative Jacob Esterline to penetrate Castro’s inner circle. Esterline served as station chief in Caracas, and later senior manager of the Bay of Pigs operation. “They told me they would never do that,” the asset reported to Esterline after the assassination—a vague remark he and his agency colleagues interpreted as their informant’s belief in possible Cuban complicity. 

According to Esterline, this comment set off an internal investigation, codenamed “Black Walnut,” into whether the Cubans had anything to do with Kennedy’s death.  The sensitivity of “sources and methods,” in this case the identity of one the agency’s most important sources inside Cuba, has kept this investigation—it presumably cleared the Cubans of wrongdoing—hidden for half a century.

“Black Walnut” would not be the last of such internal inquiries; a dozen years later in the wake of the first major public revelations of CIA efforts to kill Castro using poison pills, toxic cigars, exploding sea shells and Paper Mate pens rigged with hidden syringes, the agency was forced to revisit the issue of whether its own assassination plots might have prompted Castro to retaliate.

At the time of Kennedy’s death, CIA “executive action” operations to eliminate Castro, codenamed “ZR/RIFLE,” were so secret that they were deliberately withheld from the Warren Commission. In 1975, however, an investigative Senate committee led by Senator Frank Church released a report titled “Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders,” which described, in shocking detail, the CIA’s clandestine assassination efforts—among them the Sanchez/AMLASH meeting in Paris on the day President Kennedy was killed. The report drew heavily on a top secret, 138-page internal CIA history, “Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro,” compiled in 1967 by the CIA’s own inspector general. The public revelations of the Church Committee report forced another CIA inspector general to assess whether Castro might have preempted the obviously failed efforts to murder him.

That second inspector general report, titled “What Could Castro have Known?” examined the “cause-and-effect relationship between the [CIA’s Castro] plans and President Kennedy’s death.” The agency’s inspector general detailed three specific plots, including the AMLASH operation, to determine whether at any point Castro would have known enough to have acted first. Since the assassination device was only passed to AMLASH on the actual day Kennedy was killed, the inspector general inferred that Castro would not have known in advance of that plot.

“One can speculate,” the report concluded, “as to whether or not Castro actually learned of the plans described above and, if so, the details that he would have learned. Assuming that he learned something—which is not all that clear—he would still have had to know enough detail to have devised that it was a U.S. Government action as the basis for launching a counterattack in the form of Lee Harvey Oswald, as has been postulated by some. The basic issue arises from speculation, and speculation cannot satisfactorily resolve it.”

In his recently published book, Castro’s Secrets: Cuban Intelligence, the CIA and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy, Brian Latell, now a retired CIA analyst teaching at University of Miami, argues that even if Cuba did not instruct Oswald to kill the president, Castro knew about his plans to do so in advance. This theory seems unlikely; all indications are that Oswald decided, impulsively, to seize the opportunity to shoot the president only the day before his trip to Dallas. Speculation, sheer though it may be, continues about a shadowy Cuban role in the Kennedy assassination.   

Even more conspiracy writers have speculated that Cuba was not the sponsor of the violence that shook the nation on November 22, 1963, but rather its subject—to terminate the president’s effort to pursue a peaceful coexistence with Cuba, CIA officials conspired with other sinister forces to terminate the president. In books such as Peter Dale Scott’s Deep Politics II: Essays on Oswald, Mexico and Cuba, and Gaeton Fonzi’s The Last Investigation, Oswald is depicted as either a CIA patsy or a cover for additional assassins positioned on the famous “grassy knoll.” The motivation of Kennedy’s killers was to eliminate the president before he could end the Cold War—in the Caribbean, and elsewhere. 

At the time of his death, Kennedy was indeed pursuing secret talks with Castro. The message of possible reconciliation that the U.S. president sent to Castro through Jean Daniel became public shortly after the assassination when the French journalist published a detailed account on his role as an “unofficial envoy” in the New Republic, and in a front-page New York Times article. His meetings with both Kennedy and Castro, Daniel wrote in the Times on December 11, 1963, had established “in effect a dialogue between President Kennedy and Premier Fidel Castro.” 

In fact, the White House had been quietly pursuing talks with Cuba for months—using a series of secret intermediaries and interlocutors before Daniel. James Donovan, a New York lawyer who Robert Kennedy had picked to negotiate the release of more than 1,000 exiles captured by Cuban forces at the CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion, became the first intermediary.  After Castro broached the possibility of expanding talks on the prisoner releases to improve overall relations to Donovan, the president instructed his top aides to “start thinking along more flexible lines” in negotiating with Castro.

In late April, a correspondent for ABC News named Lisa Howard who had traveled to Havana to do a televised special on the Cuban revolution replaced Donovan as the central interlocutor. When she returned from Cuba, Howard debriefed CIA deputy director Richard Helms on Castro’s clear interest in improved relations. In a top secret memorandum that arrived on the desk of the president, Helm’s reported that “Howard definitely wants to impress the U.S. Government with two facts: Castro is ready to discuss rapprochement and she herself is ready to discuss it with him if asked to do so by the U.S. Government.”

Predictably, the CIA adamantly opposed any dialogue with Cuba. The agency was institutionally invested in its ongoing efforts to covertly roll back the revolution. In a secret memo rushed to the White House on May 1, 1963, CIA Director John McCone requested that “no active steps be taken on the rapprochement matter at this time” and urged only the “most limited Washington discussions” on accommodation with Castro.

But in the fall of 1963, Washington and Havana did take active steps toward actual negotiations. In September Howard used a cocktail party at her E. 74th St. Manhattan townhouse as cover for the first meeting between a Cuban official, UN Ambassador Carlos Lechuga, and a U.S. official, deputy UN Ambassador William Attwood. Using Howard as a secret back channel, Castro and Kennedy then began passing messages about arranging an actual negotiation session between the two nations.

On November 5, Kennedy’s secret taping system recorded a conversation with his national security advisor, McGeorge Bundy, on whether to send Attwood to Havana to meet secretly with Castro. Attwood, Bundy told the president, “now has an invitation to go down and talk to Fidel about terms and conditions in which he would be interested in a change of relations with the U.S.” The president is heard agreeing to the idea but asking if “we can get Attwood off the payroll before he goes” so as to “sanitize” him as a private citizen in case word of the secret meeting leaked.

On November 14, Howard arranged for Attwood to come to her home and talk via telephone to Castro’s top aide, René Vallejo, about obtaining the Cuban agenda for a secret meeting in Havana with the Cuban commandante. Vallejo agreed to transmit a proposed agenda to Cuba’s UN ambassador, Lechuga, to give to the Americans. When Attwood passed this information on to Bundy at the White House, he was told that when the agenda was received, “the president wanted to see me at the White House and decide what to say and whether to go [to Cuba] or what we should do next.”

“That was the 19th of November,” Attwood recalled. “Three days before the assassination.”

As this dramatic history emerged over the past 25 years, it became grist for some of the more popular conspiracy theories, not only on the how but why Kennedy was killed. Early in the opening scenes of the movie, JFK, for example, a narrator sets the stage for the assassination by stating: “more rumors emerge of JFK’s backdoor efforts outside usual State Department and CIA channels to establish dialogue with Fidel Castro through contacts at the United Nations in New York. Kennedy is seeking change on all fronts.” It was JFK’s “turn toward peace” that led to his assassination, according to James Douglass’s chronicle of these conspiratorial events, JFK and the Unspeakable, which has gained a popular following. 

“JFK pursued a series of actions—right up to the week of his death—that caused members of his own military intelligence establishment to regard him as a virtual traitor who had to be eliminated,” the book argues. In the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which almost led to nuclear war, Kennedy, sought a détente with both Khrushchev and Castro, the book reports. “For turning to peace with his enemy (and ours) Kennedy was murdered by a power we cannot describe.”

“The imaginative recreation of the Kennedy assassination has been a way to explore the twin issues of confidence and conspiracy in U.S. history,” Jefferson Morley has written. The government secrecy that has accompanied the Kennedy assassination, while significantly reduced by the JFK Act, has eroded public confidence in official findings, while enhancing the validity of conspiracy theories—completely implausible and off-the-wall as some may be. The credibility of the Warren Commission findings have been severely undercut by the fact that the CIA withheld from its investigators all information on its Castro-assassination plots. Yet with the clear corrosive effect of undue secrecy on the American psyche, after 50 years there are still “sources and methods” the CIA feels compelled to hide, and records related to Cuba operations in 1963 that it claims still cannot be declassified.

In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, last year officials at the National Declassification Center, the government agency that pushes for prioritizing the release of still-secret historical records, approached the CIA about releasing all remaining Kennedy assassination records, as a historical contribution to the nation. But the “securocrats” at CIA claimed they did not have the time and resources to meet that deadline. The public would have to wait till 2017 before the remaining 1,100 records will be reviewed and, perhaps, finally opened.But what is now known about the CIA, Kennedy’s Cuba policies, the assassination and Oswald’s actions leaves an extraordinary and bitter irony. As historian Max Holland pointed out 20 years ago in a little read essay in Reviews in American History on “Making Sense of the Assassination,”Oswald’s violent acts were “manifestly political” and based on “a drive to be recognized as a revolutionary capable of the daring act.” A would-be communist, and one-man chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, he saw himself as a political actor who had the opportunity to save Cuba from the policies of U.S. aggression that he had likely read about in the New Orleans newspapers. The AMLASH mission and others like it may have come back to haunt the U.S., noted veteran journalist Daniel Schorr, who broke the story of the CIA’s assassination plots against Castro. “An arrow launched into the air to kill a foreign leader may well have fallen back to kill our own.”

What Oswald could not have known was that his act of assassination would actually terminate a significant secret effort by President Kennedy to explore détente in the Caribbean, and fundamentally change the framework of a hostile U.S. policy toward the Castro revolution. “This is an end to your mission of peace, this is an end to your mission of peace,” Castro said to Daniel as they listened to a radio report that President Kennedy had died in Dallas.

Fifty years later, that sad fact remains the ultimate historical irony of the Kennedy assassination.

Peter Kornbluh is an analyst at the National Security Archive, and is coauthor of a forthcoming book on the history of dialog between the U.S. and Cuba.