Wheaton Names / Who Knew?
Larry Hancock and David Boylan, 2018
From Larry's Lancer Presentation
One of the most fundamental challenges in JFK assassination research is dealing with third party sources who appear to provide insights into the origins and motive(s) of a conspiracy related to President Kennedy’s murder. The starting point in evaluating the sources is obvious. First there must be independent documentation verifying that they were personally associating with the individuals they themselves name, at a point in time when they claim to have obtained the information. Second, their sources must be determined to have been in a position to have heard or otherwise obtained the information being described.
Beyond that, information which has been officially offered to law enforcement or official investigative bodies gains an additional level of credibility given that the source is not only exposing themselves to legal action but also demonstrating a personal risk by being on record with information which may become public.
Beyond that there are consistency checks on the information itself. One of the most important is whether any connections can be determined among the names related by the sources. If multiple independent sources independently provide names which can then be verified to actually have been connected in a historical context, the information rises to a higher level of credibility.
With those guidelines in mind, the following paper examines third party information presented to the Assassinations Records Review Board by Gene Wheaton. The ARRB itself interacted with Wheaton on several occasions, but that interaction was very much pro forma and there is no indication that, even though he presented a series of corroborative documents relating to his own sources, that they seriously considered his information. It was only after his communications were released as part of the routine disclosure process that his story – and documents relating to his sources – became visible to researchers. Wheaton himself had assumed that his information would remain confidential and he was shocked when researchers approached him to show him the paperwork he had submitted and ask for his comments. Only a single interview, conducted by William Law and filmed by Mark Sobel, is available to offer his personal confirmation of his information.
Wheaton’s attempt to offer the information to the ARRB, which he had previously been willing to take to Senator Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, was intended to stimulate an official investigation, provided confidentially and clearly not in any attempt at personal visibility or gain.
This paper summarizes our efforts to investigate Wheaton’s story and apply rigorous vetting criteria. As it developed, the effort expanded into a study that went well beyond Wheaton himself - on to a series of other sources which appear to be corroborative. Those individuals and the information they independently provided are discussed individually as sources. In addition, the backgrounds of certain of the individuals who seem to be common to all the information which has emerged are reviewed in Appendix A. Appendix B contains new information regarding the involvement in Castro assassination efforts of key figures in the Wheaton story such as Jenkins and Rodriquez.
Source 1: Gene Wheaton related to the ARRB that in the mid-1980s he had heard conversations among individuals who described the motives and participants in the murder of President Kennedy. The conversations involved former CIA operations (paramilitary) officers as well as Cuban exiles who had been involved in CIA activities for decades. At the time Wheaton was managing a transport airline company and seeking business shipping materials to Central America in support of the Reagan era covert North/Secord Contra warfare against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.
Based on documents Wheaton supplied to the ARRB, we know that two of the men involved in the conversations were Carl Jenkins, hired by Wheaton to lead his sales effort, and Rafael Quintero, a personal friend of Jenkins and one of the two Cuban exile field managers running Contra support operations in Central America for Oliver North and Richard Secord.
While Jenkins did not specifically name the other individuals involved in the conversations it seems likely that they included Felix Rodriquez, the other Cuban exile logistics manager working for North/Secord, and possibly Luis Posada - brought into the Contra project and working for Rodriquez. Rodriquez himself was literally a legend within the CIA and Cuban exile communities, one of a very few paramilitary officers to be publicly acknowledged as a CIA employee. We now know that he was also a key figure in a highly secret CIA effort to kill Fidel Castro in a sniper attack, prior to the Cuban exile landings at the Bay of Pigs beaches in Cuba. Released CIA operational and personnel documents now provide a good deal of context on the anti-Castro operations of 1960-1964, including the personal backgrounds of both Jenkins and Quintero, as well as Felix Rodriquez.
Wheaton described the JFK assassination remarks he heard as simply conversation among the men he was associating with during his Contra support sales effort, the recalling of old projects and individuals they had worked with operationally in anti-Castro efforts for the CIA. The individuals being discussed had either been trained by Jenkins or were known to him through anti-Castro CIA projects. Apparently Jenkins and Quintero had both worked with the individuals being discussed during the early 1960’s. It is unclear whether individuals discussed in respect to the Dallas attack were actually named, however Wheaton stated that it was clear that those who attacked JFK were seeking revenge for friends who had died and the free Cuba, a cause they felt Kennedy had betrayed. However those “above them” had a higher level goal than simple revenge.
It seems most likely that the anti-Castro era names who would come up during these conversations in the 1970s would include men who had not only been involved in efforts against Castro’s Cuba but who would have also had some history in Nicaragua, the contemporary focus of all the individuals meeting with Wheaton and talking among themselves. Given that assumption, we can posit certain individual’s individuals who might well have been the subject of the exchanges Wheaton heard.
One such individual, one of the earliest Cuban exile volunteers to enter the Contra struggle in Nicaragua, was Nestor “Tony” Izquierdo. Izquierdo had also been one of the earliest volunteers for the CIA anti-Castro project circa 1960. He had escaped from Cuba via Mexico and shortly after his arrival in Miami had been recruited into a group being trained to go into Cuba as part of a covert effort to organize a successful resistance movement against the Castro regime. His skills earned him entry into parachute jump training and he became one of a select number of exiles (including Felix Rodriquez and Rafael Quintero) who were infiltrated into Cuba prior to the 1961 Cuban Expeditionary Force landings, in a variety of missions.
While Rodriquez and Quintero went into Cuba multiple times by boat, Izquierdo reportedly dropped onto the island in a very risky night parachute jump. Izquiredo was inside Cuba at the time of the Bay of Pigs landings but managed to work his way out of Cuba following that disaster. After making his way back to Florida he became a CIA asset, part of the exile group used in ongoing CIA JMWAVE maritime infiltrations. He continued in that effort into 1963, participating in covert maritime missions into Cuba – missions personally organized and led by Rip Robertson.
In the fall of 1963 Izquierdo joined a new, highly secret and highly autonomous, Kennedy Administration project designed to move anti-Castro operations out of the U.S. and make them totally deniable – the project was designated as AMWORLD and Rafael Quintero was its military leader, working with CIA officer Carl Jenkins.
By early 1964 Izquierdo, along with Felix Rodriquez (who had been personally recruited by Artime) had been covertly sent to Nicaragua. Later in 1964 Izquierdo was recruited by Rip Robertson for a very select paramilitary team sent into secret operations in the Congo. Following his time in the Congo, Iquierdo became involved with some of the most radical exile groups including CORU. Ultimately he became one of the earliest Cuban volunteers to go to Nicaragua to train Contra rebels to fight against the Sandinista regime. He as killed in 1979, during an air mission into Nicaragua.
Luiz Posada, brought into work Contra logistics support operations by Quintero and Felix Rodriquez had, along with Izquierdo, been involved in some of the most violent and activist Cuban exile groups – CORU. Posada was one of the founders of CORU and had been personally associated with both assassination attempts against Fidel Castro (working as a covert asset of CIA officer David Phillips) and the mid-air bombing of a Cuban air liner.
We can only speculate as to the exact names which were at the root of the conversations Wheaton heard, which he describes as war stories told by those involved in the contemporary Nicaraguan Contra activities. Given that Quintero had recruited Izquierdo into the Artime project and worked with him operationally - and that Izquierdo had been the first of the Cuban exiles to die in the Contra effort - it certainly seems that his name would have come up. Another individual with an operational history with all Wheaton’s current associates, as well as an extended history in Nicaragua, would have been Rip Robertson.
During PBSUCCESS, Robertson, known as a “cowboy” within CIA field operations, had become so close to Nicaraguan president Somoza that at Somoza’s urging he had sent an airstrike against a neutral freighter off Guatemala, causing an international incident. That had so annoyed CIA headquarters that Robertson was essentially banned from CIA missions for several years, taking up residence in Nicaragua and starting his own business there.
However with the start of the CIA Cuba project (JMARC/JMMATE) Robertson was brought back into CIA activities – primarily because of his long and close personal relationship with President Somoza. In fact Robertson was designated as the key American liaison to Somoza for the first Cuba project. Robertson coordinated all JMATE activities in Nicaragua and was effectively in control of establishing and operating the CIA strike base established at Porta Cabezas in Nicaragua (JMTIDE).
(Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation, Volume II: Participation in the Conduct
of Foreign Policy Author: CIA, Mary Ferrell Foundation; MFF146717.PDF, 268 pages)
Robertson was in Nicaragua from December, 1960 through mid-February 1961. He returned to Guatemala in April to sail with the Cuban Expeditionary Force and participate in the Bay of Pigs landings. He earned the respect from the Cuban volunteers by going ashore and fighting alongside them – against specific orders not to do so. His reputation as a “cowboy” and his trust by the Cuban volunteers was enhanced by his personally leading maritime missions into Cuba for the CIA following the disaster at the Bay of Pigs. During those missions he repeatedly violated standing orders; on one mission he directed his mission crew to conduct machine gun attack on Che Guevara’s residence. There was no CIA officer more respected and well regarded by Cuban anti-Castro fighters than Robertson, who always fought right along with them, irrespective of orders.
Robertson died in Dallas in 1970 after overseas service in the Congo and Vietnam. Anecdotal reports, circa 1964 in the Congo, describe him as a separate source of information about the JFK attack in Dallas, He appears to have rather openly discussed the nature and motives for the attack with his Cuban exile team in the Congo, a team which included several of his long time maritime mission personnel including Nestor Izquierdo.
Robertson is especially interesting to this story in regard to the missions he was involved with during the summer of 1963, including the TILT operation – a mission which violated a host of standard CIA security guidelines and involved a number of non-CIA authorized Cuban exiles, as well as civilians such as John Martino and former American ambassador William Pawley.
JFK story origins:
If we assume the war stories Wheaton heard involved the common experiences and associates of Quintero and Rodriquez, two points quickly emerge. The first is that they had both been involved in the earliest CIA paramilitary operations against Cuba, operations carried out by specially selected Cuban exile cadre who had received initial training at American military facilities in the Panama Canal Zone. Several of those individuals had been selected for advanced training even before the Cuban Expeditionary Force Guatemala training camp was established. Carl Jenkins had overseen the Panama camp training (JMRYE) and had gone on to become Chief of Base at the Guatemala ground training base (JMTRAV). Jenkins had been in charge of the Guatemala base from Sept, 1960 until December 10, when Frank Egan took command. Jenkins himself appears to have been moved into special maritime operations against Cuba, missions which involved both Quintero and Felix Rodriquez – missions very possibly associated with extremely secret special projects aimed at assassinating Fidel Castro.
If the men involved in the JFK war stories Wheaton heard were indeed Quintero and Rodriquez, the two may have been relating information heard from their associates in the early, covert Cuba missions into Cuba as well as the later AMWORLD and Congo projects. Information from other sources appears to support that possibility.
Source 2: Rolondo Otero was a source for HSCA investigator Gaeton Fonzi, expressing to Fonzi his personal knowledge that a CIA officer had been circulating among certain Cuban exiles in the early fall of 1963 - talking of treasonous activities of JFK in regard to a secret diplomatic outreach to Cuba and Castro. Otero himself was a personal friend of Nestor Izquierdo, associated with him in a parachute group and also with Luis Posada in CORU activities during the early 1970s. Otero also claimed to have heard a similar story to that related in the Wheaton conversations – that Cuban exiles had been involved in the attack on JFK, in revenge for his failure to support the Cuban landings with air cover and for his ongoing treachery. Otero provided Fonzi with the name of a local Cuban exile who purportedly had a broader knowledge of those involved – Bernardo de Torres.
Otero’s remarks in regard to a secret JFK/Castro outreach have been confirmed in a variety of sources. As early as June 1963. Special Group Augmented discussions included the possibility of establishing new and highly secret channels of communication to Castro. Notes from that meeting relate that there was a “discussion of “various possibilities of establishing channels of communication with Castro”.
However it appears that the CIA officer Otero described was talking about something far more specific, something more imminent and far more threatening to the Cuban exiles. Something which involved the possibility of actual negotiations between Fidel Castro and President Kennedy. The activity in question would have been secret negotiations which might have changed Cuba’s relationship with Russia, ended the American embargos and sanctions and formally acknowledged the continuity of Castro’s regime.
That new Kennedy/Castro secret was indeed very real, extremely secret. It was being conducted with deniable State Department assets – entirely outside the purview of the CIA, the Special Group Augmented and even the National Security Council. It was underway by early fall and as it proceeded the first actual meeting between American and Cuban representatives was being scheduled for November, 1963.
There are indications that the CIA officers at JMWAVE in Miami were aware of the developing Kennedy/Castro contacts, contacts involving highly personal backchannel communications supposedly known only to the President and two State Department officers. Documents indicate that by early fall the designated Castro representative (Rene Vallejo) – previously the subject of no CIA interest at all – was being targeted for CIA intelligence collection and possible surveillance. That interest was relayed to JMWAVE in Miami, to the Cuban intelligence group units (AMOTS). Assets to be used in targeting Vallejo were being evaluated, including AMOT assets in Mexico City.
What becomes especially interesting - and supports Otero’s remarks about a CIA officer spreading the word against JFK in Miami – is that highly secret JFK/Castro outreach was known beyond CIA headquarters and the Miami CIA station. In addition to Otero, it appears to have been communicated to a civilian in Miami, a civilian with whom Rip Robertson was operationally and personally involved beginning in the summer of 1963. That civilian was John Martino and Martino was quite public in his remarks about a secret Kennedy Administration accommodation with Castro.
Source 3: John Martino admitted to close friends, shortly before his death, that he had been involved in a minor role in a conspiracy (including acting as a courier in trips to Dallas) against JFK. He related his limited knowledge of both the plan for Dallas and the motives for those who were involved in the attack. His friends, first anonymously, and then officially relayed that information to the HSCA. In later years both his wife and his son confirmed that he had prior knowledge of the attack in Dallas and provided a limited amount of information as to whom he had been associating with in the period in which he had apparently become involved.
Martino independently supports other sources who described that the word had been spread among certain Cuban exiles in Miami that there was a secret JFK/Castro dialog emerging. That fact can be confirmed by references which Martino made in speeches and writing, both prior to and following the assassination. He also admitted to the knowledge that that Lee Oswald was being used in a relatively minor role in the conspiracy, pointing the attack on JFK towards Fidel Castro. Martino had actually observed Oswald leafletting during a trip to New Orleans.
Speculation on Martino’s sources, and who might have involved him in the conspiracy, seems to rest with individuals known to be Martino’s most trusted associates in the September/October, 1963 time frame. Certainly his most relevant anti-Castro activity, one quite surprising for a man his age, had been his personal participation in a highly secretive maritime mission into Cuba, CIA Operation TILT.
That mission (intended to obtain evidence that Russian ballistic missiles were still deployed inside Cuba) was approved by Western Hemisphere chief J.C. King, at the highest levels of the CIA - approved apparently without knowledge of the Special Group Augmented, the NSC or RFK/JFK. If it had succeeded the revelations would have been a tremendous political blow to the Kennedy administration. TILT included the participation of William Pawley, previously an American ambassador, earlier a secret Presidential liaison to the Batista regime and one of a very select group who had made am early, highly classified evaluation of American intelligence for President Eisenhower.
Pawley himself personally participated in the TILT mission along with Martino, a number of non-CIA vetted and non-operationally approved Cuban exiles and a photo journalist from LIFE magazine. The participation of Pawley, Martino, the LIFE photographer and the unvetted Cubans were all major violations of standard CIA security protocols. Given Robertson’s operational role at JMWAVE, Martino would have been one of the few “outsiders” that Robertson would have been in contact with in the summer of 1963.
The TILT mission itself was under the operational command of Rip Robertson. However beyond contact during the mission into Cuba, Martino’s son related that Rip Robertson was a frequent visitor to the Martino home during much of 1963; another definite violation of CIA security protocols. Other visitors included Felipe Vidal and Frank Sturgis (Fiorini). Both men circulated at will through the Cuban exile community.
Although Vidal was not a major exile “political” figure, he was well respected for his bravery, commitment and naval experience. During 1963 Vidal was operationally involved in ongoing efforts to stage independent paramilitary missions into Cuba with Roy Hargraves and Bernardo de Torres. Hargraves was photographed preparing for maritime missions against Cuba, in the company of Bernardo de Torres and Felipe Vidal. Vidal and Hargraves were independent actors with extremely limited resources and certainly with no connections to or support from the CIA
It should also be noted that Vidal himself related the information that he was aware of the fact that JFK was about to betray the Cuban exiles once again, negotiating some sort of accommodation with Fidel Castro – an accommodation that would leave Castro in power and abandon the Cuban exiles. Vidal described himself as having devoted an effort to spreading the word within the exile community that JFK was actually a threat to them. It is also a matter of FBI record that, like Martino, Vidal himself did travel to Dallas during the fall of 1963.
In addition Roy Hargraves was independently reported to the FBI as having known of and possibly as being involved in some fashion in a plot against JFK.
Source 4: Ray January January operated an aircraft servicing and sales company at Red Bird airport in Dallas and during 1963 was involved with a small number of multi-engine transport aircraft which were being sold to a third party company associated with the Houston Air Center. January was responsible for servicing, checking and making any fixes required by the buyers who were accepting the aircraft. The last aircraft being sold was actually a WWII troop carrier which had been heavily modified, having all the seats removed and reconfigured as a cargo carrier.
While the aircraft was being accepted, the pilot/aircraft mechanic conducting the acceptance identified himself as a Cuban (he spoke English with no particular accent) who had previously flown similar aircraft in Cuba but who had also been a pilot at the Bay of Pigs (both B-26 fighter bombers and parachute troop transports were involved in support of the landings). He was outspoken in relating that his friends had died during that effort - because JFK had not delivered the promised air cover for them. The pilot told January that JFK would be killed in revenge for those deaths. January felt the man to be quite sincere but simply did not believe him until the afternoon of Nov. 22. He spoke briefly to the man before the transport departed in early afternoon and was told that things were simply happening as the Cuban had stated earlier.
Nothing about the pilot’s remarks indicates he was directly involved in the Dallas attack; he had been there working on the aircraft’s checking and acceptance since Nov. 18. It does suggest that he was associating with individuals who were talking about JFK in terms of betrayal and revenge. His remarks reveal the same motives overheard by Wheaton and independently related by Martino, Otero and Vidal – that revenge was the motive and that to those involved, JFK’s death was a matter of executing a traitor.
As with the Wheaton incident, the question becomes whether the pilot’s remarks can be associated with any particular group of individuals. Only now, while still speculative, it is actually possible to detail a potential common origin – among people working in and associated with the new Artime/Quinero/AMWORLD project which had begun in the summer of 1963.
That project was headed by CIA officer Henry Hecksher. Hecksher had previously served with the CIA in Berlin, Guatemala, Laos, and Tokyo as well as on the Cuba projects – including special missions to Mexico City in 1962. Hecksher’s second in command was Carl Jenkins. Jenkins had prior service across SE Asia including Laos and Indonesia, as well as in training the initial Cuba project Cubans in Panama and in running pre-invasion maritime missions into Cuba out of CIA bases in the Florida keys. As Artime began to prepare for new offshore, deniable missions against Cuba in 1964, he brought in former personal associates such as Rafael Quintero, Nestor Izquierdo and Carlos Hernandez. Although it is not possible to be specific on their assignments, at least one of those individuals appears likely to have been associated with a new element of the AMWORLD project, a renewed effort to assassinate Fidel Castro (AMTHUG).
Given that the Artime project was to be exceptionally deniable and intended to be highly autonomous, associates of Artime and the Cuban exile project personnel became directly in field activities without direct CIA officer supervision or involvement - to an extent never seen in previous CIA projects. Working under the umbrella of Desmond Fitzgerald’s new Special Affairs Staff, Hecksher and Jenkins and a very small CIA staff provided AMWORLD support including the provision of false identities and travel paperwork (required to covertly exfilitrate them outside the United States) as well as business and employment covers.
The AMWORLD staff also facilitated coded communications, enabled logistics and coordinated funds transfers – Artime’s own people moved money and managed the monies from the CIA, using a variety of shell accounts and banking covers. The majority of AMWORLD purchasing, leases, shipping and money management was performed entirely by Artime’s associates. For example it is a matter of record that Artime’s close friend Frank Sturgis was dispatched to Dallas in June, 1963 to begin arrangements for obtaining transport aircraft for Artime’s use.
While AMWORLD was to be focused on deniable attack missions against Cuba from offshore locations – making it almost entirely a maritime effort – it did require limited air transport and a small number of pilots were brought into the project. One of the AMWORLD pilots was Antonio Soto. Soto had previously been in the Cuban Air Force, he was recruited into the Brigade and had flown a B-26 in support of the Bay of Pigs landings. He had further pilot training in the U.S. and CIA documents cite him as speaking good English.
Another AMWORLD pilot was Jorge Navarro. Although Navarro was a pilot and had been in training in the Cuban Air Force before going into exile, he did not fly for the Cuban Expeditionary Force but rather was assigned to paramilitary operations. His experience in unarmed combat and in sharpshooting appears to have qualified him for assignment to the special group of individuals inserted into Cuba prior to the Brigade 2506 landings. The record indicates that his insertion was operationally conducted by Rip Robertson.
Navarro was recruited into the Artime project in August, 1963 and served in it as a pilot until 1966, at which time he and many other members were recruited by the CIA for special operations in the Congo. Navarro stated that he was one of the pilots that flew C-47s in Nicaragua for the Artime project. Antonio Soto was also recruited for CIA air operations in the Congo. His stay in Nicaragua was very brief and he never actually flew for AMWORLD before transferring to the Congo. His first Congo tour was from the end of 1963 until May 1964.
We have no way of positively determine if either Soto or Navarro was the individual who talked to Ray January in Dallas the week of JFK’s assassination. However research on the aircraft in question does support that it was intended for the Artime project, which is also on record using leased military transport planes. Documents confirm that as of February, 1964 Artime had one transport aircraft available to his operations
Talk against JFK:
In addition to the remarks from the sources previously noted, there are other instances of threatening talk against JFK, that talk was reported to the FBI in both Chicago and Miami. We know now that a motorcade in Chicago was canceled following an FBI advisory that individuals it was monitoring had traveled to Chicago and might pose a risk to the president. In addition, threats in Miami were well enough known that a number of special security measures were taken in regard to the president’s trip there during the fall. We also know that Secret Service records relating to the Chicago trip and to the president’s fall travel were destroyed, some as late as the ARRB record collections activities in the 1990s. While we have no idea what was in those records it is apparent that some still unknown factor resulted in one of the first acts by President Kennedy’s brother Robert immediately following word of the attack in Dallas.
On the afternoon of the assassination, Robert Kennedy made two significant personal contacts. Neither has ever been explained nor was RFK ever questioned about them. One was an outreach to the new director of the CIA, specifically asking whether or not the CIA had been involved in the murder of his brother. The other was an attempt to reach his personal friend, Harry Ruiz Williams - Ruiz Williams had been one of the Cuban exile officers at the Bay of Pigs, seriously injured in the fighting. Williams’s injuries were such that in he was released in April 1962, with some sixty other badly injured prisoners. After that he worked closely with RFK in negotiating the release of the rest of the Brigade.
RFK was unable to connect directly to Williams but he did reach author Haynes Johnson, who was working on a book with Williams at the time. RFK indicated to Johnson that he wanted to talk to Williams because he felt “his people” had been involved in the attack on his brother.
At the time Ruiz Williams was involved with forming a Cuban political coalition in support of the new and deniable Kennedy administration AMWORLD (external military attacks) and AMTRUNK initiatives (Cuban domestic coup effort) initiatives. Williams appears to have been the administration’s candidate to be the leader of a new Cuban republic - in the event that the AMWORLD / AMTRUNK initiatives were successful in ousting Castro.
There is no doubt that there was talk against JFK in the Cuban exile community, about the idea that he had become a major obstacle to any effort in ousting Castro. Such talk can be documented within certain exile circles, including within the student revolutionary group, the DRE. A DRE member engaged in an effort to buy weapons in Chicago was reported by an informant; he had stated that his group had new backers and they were going to be moving against Castro – as soon as JFK was out of the way. Another Cuban exile, recently arrived in Miami and apparently trying to impress a girl he was chatting up at the Parrot Jungle restaurant was reported to the FBI as saying that he hated Castro as did his friend Lee – his friend was in either Texas or Mexico at the time and was capable of shooting Kennedy between the eyes. At the time the new Cuban exile was living on the estate of former Havana casino operator Mike McClaney, who had helped him gain entry to the U.S.
The obvious challenge is not in documenting such talk against JFK, but rather in dealing with sources that at first glance seem to be totally unrelated. In addition to remarks from Chicago and Miami, we have reviewed similar comments from within the CIA paramilitary community in Miami, or from individuals operationally associated with individuals like Quintero, Jenkins, and Robertson.
At first glance there seems no obvious connections between comments from within a Cuban exile student group (DRE) or from a new Cuban exile whose only obvious connection was to Mike McClaney. How could those two connect to CIA paramilitary personnel or to a Cuban exile pilot in Dallas?
Only now, after literally decades of research, and the ongoing availability of new documents, is there an indication that there may be common threads linking a number of seemingly disparate sources. Threads which all lead back to the CIA paramilitary network that had developed during the covert missions against Cuba in 1961 through 1963, and to names found to be associated with the Artime project which began during 1963 – a network of individuals who by the fall of 1963 would be working with each other once again.
Manuel Artime Busa (crypt AMBIDDY-1): Manuel Artime had been one of the Cuban exiles meeting with Senator Kennedy as early as the Democratic Convention in July 1960; he became well acquainted with RFK. Artime became one of the more well-known Cuban exile political figures. Known widely inside Cuba for his anti-Batista activities, he became a highly symbolic figure in the American anti-Castro efforts. While the CIA would ultimately back away from the idea that a wide scale uprising against Castro was part of the plan for sending the Cuban Expeditionary Force on to the island, we now know that to be false. In fact we know that their plans involved sending Artime into Cuba in advance, with special groups of pathfinders and scouts, to link up with active resistance groups on the island. A number of the personnel used in those infiltration teams, were taken from the CIA’s Guatemala camp, as of January still under the command of Carl Jenkins. Others were taken from maritime operations teams (AMHAZE) which had been established at bases in the Florida Keys.
Beyond that there is strong reason to speculate that putting Artime and a total of four special teams into Cuba, in an operation approved directly by the CIA Director, was part of an initiative to assassinate Fidel Castro and trigger a general uprising which would have been climaxed by the arrival of the Cuban Expeditionary Force.
Under orders from CIA Director Helms, Artime and two special Cuban exile teams were sent under extremely high and compartmentalized security from Guatemala to Florida in early February, 1961. Seven team members were to personally accompany Artime. In addition a separate three man team traveled on the same transport aircraft, carefully isolated from Artime and his team. Related documents suggest that prior to the actual mission teams proceeding into Cuba, Artime was to receive a special CIA headquarters briefing.
Those missions and the overall assassination initiative are not directly related to our exploration of the Wheaton names, however what is currently know is detailed in Appendix B of this work. In contrast, Manual Artime and certain individuals closely associated with him, and with anti-Castro paramilitary operations are directly related to the Wheaton names studies, much more so than previously understood.
Artime and AMWORLD
What we do know is that the plans to put Artime into Cuba in February/March did not come to pass. Instead he rejoined the expeditionary force and Brigade 2506 in Guatemala and became the senior exile political leader to actually go into the fight with the Cuban brigade. Along with many of them, he was captured and spend 20 months in a Cuban prison during 1961/62.
In late 1962 Artime was released from Cuban captivity along with the remaining prisoners from Brigade 2506 and he initiated a new contact with the CIA through JMWAVE operations chief David Morales – as well as direct personal contacts with RFK. In January, 1963 William Harvey, acting head of Task Force W (which was still supporting the second generation anti-Castro Mongoose project) recommended Artime for use by the CIA, initially for propaganda purposes. Artime also continued to meet directly with RFK from February –April, 1963. There were May meetings between Theodore Shackley, head of JMWAVE (crypt Andrew K. Reuteman), David Morales (crypt Stanley R. Zamka), Henry Hecksher (crypt Nelson L. Raynock) and Artime (crypt AMBIDDY-1; alias Ignacio).
While we know a good deal about the logistics, funding and even the purchasing activities of Artime’s new project we have very limited details on the activities of his personnel, especially during 1963. Given that the role of the CIA officers assigned to AMWORLD was vastly different than previous CIA covert operations, this is understandable. Hecksher, Jenkins and the small logistics staff functioned as advisors and coordinators rather than directly in either personal activities or actual military operations. Their role was to support financing, shipping and the purchasing activities that required to support what was to appear as a totally independent and autonomous military initiative against Castro. A variety of commercial and civilian covers were required, not just for personnel but for major buys of deniable weapons from commercial arms dealers. Ships and barges of various types had to be bought or leased, transit papers arranged, and most importantly off-shore bank accounts established. And in addition to offshore accounts, deniable shell accounts were established inside the United States.
Those accounts were run by Sixto Mesa, a close personal friend of Artime’s from the days of anti-Castro activities in Cuba. It appears that multiple “working accounts” (including accounts at the First National Bank of Miami) were established inside the U.S. each constantly funded at the level of $25,000. Those accounts were used for domestic travel and lodging, recruiting, maintaining communications channels such as letter drops and generally funding activities including the purchase of materials available in the United States. Over the period of its life, the overall AMWORLD project as a whole was provided with some $7,000,000.
It also seems important to note that Artime’s official cover story for the AMWORLD operation – vital to distance it from the CIA, the United States and the Kennedy administration – was that it was a totally independent movement, funded by President Samoza of Nicaragua and with European donors. Artime is quoted in telling potential recruits at Fort Benning that the U.S. government was not going to do anything more against Cuba, they had become an obstacle and he intended to obtain bases and support totally outside the U.S.
Initial organizational moves in the new project began in June and by July/August the first funding and recruiting for AMWORLD was in progress. By the end of June matters had proceeded to the point where Artime’s close friend Frank Fiorini (Sturgis) was dispatched to Dallas by Artime to investigate a source for transport aircraft to be used in project operations. While most of Artime’s military operations were intended to be sea borne raids, transport aircraft would be required and records show that at least one C-47 transport was obtained for AMWORLD use. Major covert financial funding for AMWORLD began in July, 1963.
Available documents do give us some level of information on the recruiting and staffing of Artime’s project. We now have documents which identify certain of his “commandoes” although there is no overall personnel list. Among the individuals personally recruited by Artime was Felix Rodriquez, in addition Artime brought a number of individuals into the project who he had worked with inside Cuba and who had been specifically named in his pre-Bay of Pigs mission. One of the names - Felix Rodriquez – is already familiar to the Wheaton story. However what the documents reveal is that the personnel selection for AMWORLD was totally unlike any previous CIA operation. There appears to have been no extended security vetting and even when JMWAVE received recommendations for AMWORLD, it simply forwarded them on through the Special Affairs Staff, earmarked for AMWORLD reference.
It is especially significant that prior participation in independent and unsanctioned maritime missions against Cuba or in illegal activities involving violations of U.S. federal statutes did not prevent individuals from being taken into Artime’s operation. In fact several individuals being investigated by the FBI for federal crimes may have escaped charges by being quickly taken into the Artime project. That represented a dramatic break with prior exile activities sponsored by the CIA, where all personnel were security screened prior to any assignments.
One of the early 1963 AMWORLD recruits was Carlos Hernandez (Brigade trainee 2523). Carlos was well known to Artime, having been a member of Artime’s “Commandos Rurales” in Cuba, along with Nestor Izquierdo and Rafael Quintero. Hernandez was a black belt in Karate and a sharpshooter. It was his expertise in Karate and his friendship with Artime that had led to Artime to request Hernandez as his personal bodyguard while Artime was traveling in Latin America early in 1960.
Carlos had also been one of the first volunteers for the CIA’s Cuba project. That project began strictly as an operation to train a relatively small number of exiles into Cuba. Their mission would be to join on-island resistance groups, stimulating a guerrilla activities and triggering a counter revolution.
Carlos Hernandez began his CIA paramilitary training under Carl Jenkins at the CIA’s Panama camp (JMRYE). Training included infantry combat, guerilla operations, and sabotage as well as radio communications. Following training in Panama, Hernandez was moved into advanced training in the use of explosives and infiltration skills, at a CIA camp operated outside Belle Chasse, Louisiana (JMMOVE). A number of the earliest Cuban exile volunteers went through Panama training and moved on to Belle Chase – that list includes Carlos Hernandez, Victor Hernandez, Frank Bernardino and Jorge Navarro. Those individuals were then “sheep dipped” as malcontents and officially taken out of the program, while actually being moved into safe houses and then into Cuba infiltration missions managed out of the CIA’s base in the Florida keys (JMFIG).
While many of these missions remain to be explored, we do know details of one involving an AMHAZE team, a team involving Carlos Hernandez and designated as Operation Yeast. That mission was to launch from Ramrod Key and was intended to stimulated an uprising in Cuaba’s Oriente Province (one of the team members, Luis Sierra, would later head Artime’s 1963 AMWORLD project). As with several of the missions associated with stimulating on-island resistance to Castro, Operation Yeast apparently aborted due to Castro military forces in the intended landing area.
Several of these individuals involved in those maritime missions were personally known and especially trusted by Manual Artime. In January 1961, in preparation for his still mysterious mission inside Cuba, Artime he had requested Carlos Hernandez, Nestor Izquierdo and Frank Bernardino, as part of his own special commando group. While they were not available at that time, already dispatched for maritime infiltration missions (AMHAZE). But again, in April, Artime specifically requested that that the CIA locate and transport several of the individuals - including Hernandez, Izquierdo and Bernardino – to Guatemala, to accompany him as a special commando group during the upcoming landings in Cuba.
Those same individuals, are also found among the CIA vetted Cuban paramilitary personnel participating in in various post Bay of Pigs missions (AMHAZE) into Cuba - with certain of the missions under the operational control of Rip Robertson.
Some of these individuals – including Tony Izquierdo and Felix Rodriquez were inserted into Cuba prior to the landings; they managed to evade capture and make their way back from Cuba. They continued with CIA activities into 1963. Others, such as Carlos and Victor Hernandez continued in maritime infiltrations, eventually being taken out of operations as the CIA began to limit such missions even before the Cuban missile crisis.
These individuals remained fervent anti-Castro activists but upon being separated from the CIA began to affiliate themselves with independent exile groups such as the student revolutionary movement (DRE). After his releas from post-Bay of Pigs JMWAVE maritime missions, Carlos Henandez became a very active DRE member, part of its military leadership. He was a participant in a dramatic and internationally publicized boat raid on Havana in August, 1962.
By the summer of 1963, Carlos Hernandez and John Koch Gene (whose brother had died at the Bay of Pigs landings) had been recruited by Victor Hernandez (another DRE member) into projects which involved launching independent aerial bombing missions against Cuba from both the Miami and New Orleans (LaCombe La.) areas.
The Cuban exiles participating in those 1963 projects were Student Directorate (DRE) members and the financing had come from former Havana casino figures, primarily from Mike McClaney, via Sam Benton. The FBI conducted an extensive investigation of the bombing efforts (the FBI summary report runs to 112 pages) but in the end no charges or other legal actions were taken against any of those involved - even though the incident had involved the illegal purchase of explosives and their transport across multiple state lines. Explosives and other materials for the abortive bombing project had been obtained in Illinois, where DRE members had been traveling in the summer and fall of 1963, seeking weapons for new military activities. By that point in time the Kennedy Admiration was opposing any of their military missions and supporting them only in public relations and propaganda activities.
Victor Hernandez’s (CIA crypt AMHINT -25) activities following the abortive bombing projects are unknown. Although he was interviewed by the HSCA they failed to question him about virtually anything beyond that incident. His CIA operational approval had lapsed in May, 1963, only two months before he became involved with the first attempted McClaney bombing mission, to be flown out of Florida.
While we don’t actually know what Victor was involved in during the rest of 1963 and into 1964, we do know several Cuban exiles investigated in the LaCombe air attack plan were recruited by Artime and were taken into his project by early fall, 1963. Those individuals included Antonio Soto and Gonzolo Herrara, who would both go on to join covert CIA air operations in the Congo. Carlos Hernandez and John Koch were also requited for AMWORLD, as part of “Quintero’s Commandos”.
A deep dive into the documents released during the last few years reveals that a considerable number of Artime’s AMWORLD recruits had prior experience in the special maritime infiltrations run against Cuba both before and after the Bay of Pigs disaster. Those missions launched from the Florida Keys and many of the individuals directly involved in the post-BOP missions worked directly with Rip Robertson.
The group that came together in the AMWORLD project was first organized inside the U.S. beginning in the summer of 1963. The location and movements of all those involved are still hazy but we do know there were funds made available for domestic activities such as lodging, travel and even the purchase of supplies and weapons. Only in December and January were personnel given cover identities and covertly exfiltrated out of the United States to Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. In addition to now familiar names such as Rafael Quintero, Felix Rodriquez and Nestor Izquierd, the recruit list also included names from the independent DRE and McClaney funded projects of summer, 1963 - including Carlos Hernandez, John Koch Gene, Antonio Soto and Jorge Navarro.
Some of these individuals were likely together inside the United States in the fall of 1963. The majority of them were together in Nicaragua in 1964 – and some of them including Rafael Quintero, Felix Rodriquez and Nestor Izquierdo would return to Nicaragua in the 1970’s, key figures during the North/Contra era.
“The Names” - Connections and corroboration:
What begins with conversations heard by Gene Wheaton turns out to be something much more “connected” than isolated war stories from a couple of people. When his 1970s Nicaraguan Contra logistics sales effort reunited Carl Jenkins with Rafael Quintero it brought together not only current Contra project people like Felix Rodriquez and likely Luis Posada, but individuals who had a decades long history with covert paramilitary action against Fidel Castro, including high risk one and two men missions run directly into denied and highly dangerous territory.
These men were the alpha cadre of the CIA’s Cuba projects, repeatedly selected for covert projects and missions before and after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, ultimately picked for the new and highly autonomous AMWORLD project – some would continue to be picked for clandestine missions such as the Congo operations and the mission that finally killed Che Guevera.
As to the war stories themselves, particularly those that involved the talk of an attack on JFK, in terms of motive and incentive it appears they are fully consistent with the other sources we noted – Vidal, Otero and Martino – all associating the attack on JFK as involving Cuban exiles, individuals dealing with a sense of betrayal and with a fundamental motive of revenge.
Beyond motive, it appears that a number of pre-assassination remarks about a threat to JFK are also repetitive and consistent. Those remarks – to Ray January in Dallas, at the Parrot Jungle in Miami and from a DRE member in a weapons sting in Chicago – all appear to connect back to unsanctioned DRE activities in the summer of 1963 (with financing from gambling figures in Miami and Los Angeles) and to people who became involved with new Artime/AMWORLD autonomous anti-Castro effort the end of that summer.
Those individuals had been frustrated enough to join in efforts to procure weapons and launch missions against Cuba even as the CIA and JFK was denying the DRE any further military role in efforts to oust Castro – and as Artime himself was telling recruits they had been abandoned by the US, the CIA and the Kennedy administration.
The names, the motives, the threads do all seem to be interwoven. At a minimum what they suggest some type of rogue CIA/Cuban exile action against JFK. An action incited and abetted by certain CIA officers and involving the most activist Cuban exiles. At this point, based only on these sources and stories it is impossible to be more specific – however the one name common to all the threads, and the one directly associated with John Martino, who himself admitted to being a minor participant in the conspiracy, would seem to be that of Rip Robertson.
Appendix A / Backgrounds:
In October, 1995 Gene Wheaton advised John Tunheim, the Chairman of the Assassinations Records Review Board that he had “relevant information” for the Board’s inquiry. He included a four page personal biography as well as a personal commendation from President Nixon for his work in Iran, targeting the global heroin network.
In response to a blanket communication sent to everyone who had contacted the ARRB, he responded with a one page CV of a former CIA officer – a close personal friend and employee of his at the time Wheaton was serving as Vice President of National Air Cargo, operating a fleet of 23 turboprop primarily involved in overnight UPS transport services. The former CIA officer had been employed in Washington D.C., as a sales liaison seeking air transportation contracts for support of the Reagan Administration humanitarian and military efforts against the government of Nicaragua.
The ARRB did follow up with a contact, at which time Wheaton advised them that he could produce documents relating to two former CIA officers who had related details pertaining to the assassination of President Kennedy, specifically information related to the Cuban exiles who had carried out the attack (motivated by their hatred of JFK as a “traitor” to the anti-Castro cause) and to those individuals above them who had acted for their own reasons.
Although the ARRB totally failed to respond to Wheaton’s outreach, the eventual release of the ARRB files, their discovery by researcher Malcolm Blunt and subsequent investigations (including confronting Wheaton with documents he had never realized would be made public) revealed that the individuals Wheaton had desired to name as sources for the ARRB were former CIA Directorate of Plans/Operations officer Carl Jenkins and a well-known Cuban exile who had worked extensively with the CIA in military activities against Cuba. Wheaton stated that both men were in possession of names and details related to the attack on JFK in Dallas and had discussed the attack and those who participated in it in his presence. The CIA paramilitary officer employed by and a close friend of Wheaton was Carl Jenkins.
Jenkins began his military service during WWII, following the war he was commissioned as a Second Lt. in a Reserve Rifle Company (1940) and became an instructor for the CIA in 1952, teaching courses in paramilitary operations, survival and Evasion and Escape during 1952 and 1953. During the 1950s he conducted training across SE Asia, including training Thai and Nationalist Chinese personnel and served in Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia. His specialties included maritime infiltration and guerilla/resistance tactics.
In 1960 Jenkins (CIA crypt James D Zaboth) was assigned to the CIA’s Cuba project (JMATE) in 1960/61, placed in charge of training of Cuban exiles and expatriates. The initial training work was carried out at a CIA camp in Panama. From Panama Jenkins was assigned to develop a much larger training facility in Guatemala. He served Chief of Base for the ground forces training in Guatemala (JMTRAV). In February Jenkins was reassigned, apparently to run a variety of highly covert infiltration missions into Cuba, missions related to preparing the way inside Cuba for the landing forces. He was associated with the abortive effort to move Artime and special teams into Cuba in March and appears to have been involved with the covert efforts to send in personnel to carry out attacks against Fidel Castro in early April.
Following the failed landings at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, Jenkins was sent to Vietnam, where he served as a special warfare advisor to I Corps in the northernmost region of South Vietnam, operating out of DaNang. In 1963 Jenkins was assigned to a new project, designated AMWORLD. That assignment most likely had to do with his earlier experience in covert Cuban operations as well as his prior service as a case officer for Rafael Quintero (AMJAVA-4), a participant in the very early covert maritime missions into Cuba.
AMWORLD continued as an active CIA project following the death of JFK, however Cuba did not remain a priority for President Johnson and as all attention turned towards Vietnam. The Artime project struggled on, only to be quietly closed down by 1965. Following his AMWORLD assignment Jenkins was assigned as a senior advisor to the Dominican National Police and following that as Senior Advisor on Security and Training to the national police of Nicaragua. In 1969 he moved to Laos, becoming Chief of Base for CIA military operations in southern Laos during 1971-73 (a position earlier held by David Morales, former Operations officer for the JMWAVE station in Miami). Jenkins retired at the end of the SE Asian conflict, although he was called back for special duties as late as 1979.
Quintero, was the second individual named by Gene Wheaton as having knowledge of the individuals involved on the attack on President Kennedy.
Quintero had been involved with infiltration missions into Cuba prior to the failed landing of the Cuban Expeditionary Force and had operated covertly on the island, as had Felix Rodriquez. He had managed to evade and escape during the landings and the following massive round up of suspected insurgents, as had Rodriquez. Following his return to the United States, he had had drafted plans for a new covert operations initiative and presented them to Special Group leaders Robert Kennedy and Maxwell Taylor, who in turn offered the plans to CIA Deputy Director Richard Helms.
Quintero was well respected, both within the CIA community and by senior members of the Kennedy Administration who thought highly of him. Helms was favorably impressed and forwarded Quintero’s plans on to the president’s military representatives. As the Artime project evolved into AMWORLD, Quintero was appointed second in command of the new project and accompanied Artime to the most secret meetings – with Carl Jenkins continuing as his case officer as he had been during the early 60/61 JMATE project. .
Quintero was involved in AMWORLD military operations through 1965. It appears that given his experience with autonomous operations and deniable military logistics, he was then retained as a contract employee working with a variety of companies in Mexico and Central America that functioned as CIA fronts. He officially separated from the CIA in 1971, maintaining contact with his former associates. In 1976 he was approached by former CIA officer Ed Wilson and personally loaned Wilson ten thousand dollars to help set up a new freight forwarding company. Shortly afterwards Wilson approached Quintero to take part in an assassination; Quintero assumed it was CIA sanctioned and he and an experienced Cuban exile demolitions expert flew to London to be briefed on the mission.
During the briefing it became clear that Wilson was involved with a strictly private project and that Russians were involved. The project was actually one of the Gadhafi/Libyan deals that Wilson and other Americans had become involved with and Quintero immediately returned to the U.S. and reported it to his longtime friend, Carl Jenkins. Jenkins advised him to have nothing to do with Wilson.
By 1985 Quintero was in a new position, as field logistics coordinator for the Reagan Administration Contra initiative against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. He traveled across Central America, arranging shipping and weapons clearances with multiple governments – working directly for Richard Secord (under Oliver North) and with no official US government clearances or standing Quintero established senior level government arrangements with foreign governments and military agencies. Quintero supported Secord in establishing airfields and setting up a covert air operation in support of the Contra effort – all after Congress had passed legislation officially removing the CIA from Contra military activities.
At the same time, another long time CIA asset – Felix Rodriquez – had also been brought into the North era Contra operation.
Rodriquez had been deeply involved in the pre-invasion maritime missions into Cuba, as well as in plans for an abortive sniper attack on Castro. He became one of the earliest recruits for the AMWORLD project, personally approached by both Artime and Quintero while in U.S. Army training at Fort Benning in the earl fall of 1963.
Rodriquez was among the Artime recruits “black exfiltrated” out of the U.S. at the end of 1963. He carried out a number of activities, including radio communications coordination, in the AMWORLD project. Following the end of AMWORLD, Felix Rodriquez was retained by the CIA as a totally deniable field agent. In his own biography he describes being paid as a principal agent but only under a verbal agreement with no contract and no paperwork. Following a short assignment to Venezuela, Felix Rodriquez, along with two other Cuban exiles, was moved into a project in Bolivia – a project specifically targeting Che Guevara. Operating under commercial cover, Rodriquez became a key figure in the operation which ultimately led to Guevara’s death.
Afterwards Rodriquez continued activities across Latin America, conducting counter insurgency training under the cover of being an American military officer. Following that service he was moved to SE Asia, where he supported Project Phoenix field operations out of Saigon; after Vietnam he was redirected back to Latin America, to a post in Argentina in 1972.
While working as an “off the books” CIA employee, Rodriquez had also pursued other work - serving as a security consultant in Lebanon and then joining Ed Wilson (as Quintero did) for work supplying weapons to militias in that country. He writes of “hoaxing” his CIA case officer to go overseas for that work. His activities across Latin America introduced him to a host of senior military officers in the region. He officially separated from the CIA in 1976 and received a virtually unique approval to publicly talk and write about his CIA employment. By 1981/82 he became involved in a number of private initiatives against the Sandinista leadership in Nicaragua, implementing what he called his own “tactical task force” of experienced anti-Castro Cuban exile fighters.
Ultimately Rodriquez, like Quintero, became deeply involved with the North/Secord Contra operations, organizing and managing transportation and supply logistics for the effort. It was during this involvement that Quintero became reacquainted with Carl Jenkins and in which Jenkins went to work for Gene Wheaton, seeking air transportation contracts to support the North/Secord Contra effort.
Nestor “Tony” Izquierdo
Another of Artime’s early recruits for the AMWORLD project was Nestor Izquierdo, another Cuban exile with a long history of anti-Castro operations. He had been one of the earliest anti-Castro revolutionaries inside Cuba, along with both Artime, Quintero and Tony Verona.
Izquierdo was among the earliest exile volunteers - along with Quintero and Felix Rodriquez – to volunteer for the CIA’s Cuba project, taking his initial training in Panama under Carl Jenkins, Reported he parachuted into Cuba prior to the Bay of Pigs landings. Following the disaster at the Bay of Pigs Izquierdo managed to make his way out of Cuba and joined CIA JMWAVE maritime missions against Cuba, missions often personally led by Rip Robertson. Like Artime, Robertson clearly had a good deal of respect for Izquierdo’s operational skills, actually taking him out of the AMWORLD project (under Quintero and Jenkins) for a special hostage rescue mission into the Congo in the fall of 1964.
Izquierdo ended up being one of the last AMWORLD recruits to leave Nicaragua as that project was being closed down. He and Silvano Pozo Carriles helped secure the cache of AMWORLD armaments at Monkey Point in Nicaragua. In June 1965 Carl Jenkins managed to obtain work for both men in Panama, in jobs under George Cabot Lodge, son of Henry Cabot Lodge.
Upon his return to the United States, Izuierdo became involved with some of the most activist Cuban exile groups, joining CORU along with Rolondo Otero, Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles. Izquierdo was also one of the earliest volunteers to train Contra rebels to fight against the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. He was killed in 1979 during an air mission into Nicaragua.
Rip Robertson and TILT
The TILT mission remains somewhat mysterious for many reasons, even though we do have documents on its origins and a detailed after action report from the operation’s mission leader, Rip Robertson. TILT was first floated by DRE members in the spring of 1963. It was also endorsed and promoted by John Martino through his anti-Castro political contacts in Miami. The purported objective of the mission was to connect with a revolutionary group inside Cuba who was hiding defecting Russian missile technicians. Those Russians supposedly (according to the DRE sources) had remained in Cuba after the Russian agreement to remove all ballistic missiles from the island. Supposedly they were willing to provide statements and evidence that Russian ballistic missiles - and possibly nuclear warheads - remained in Cuba. Arrangements were in place to immediately provide that evidence to Congressional and media sources in a manner that would have been highly damaging to the Kennedy Administration and JFK’s upcoming election campaign.
What the available documents confirm is that the TILT mission was authorized at the level of the CIA’s Western Hemisphere chief, JC King, and supported by Ted Shackley, the head of the JMWAVE station in Miami. It was approved and carried out at a point in time when all missions into Cuba required approval by the Special Group Augmented (SGA) covert action oversight committee (headed by RFK).and Presidential concurrence. Yet there is no indication that TILT was communicated to the SGA or approved by RFK or JFK.
The TILT mission itself involved a host of violations of standard CIA security practices, including the participation of a LIFE magazine photo journalist. In addition it involved the personal participation of William Pawley, a former US Ambassador. Beyond his work as an ambassador, Pawley had been a consultant on national security and the organization of the CIA, submitted an eyes only secret report on the national intelligence t0 President Eisenhower. TILT also involved the participation of a number of non-CIA vetted Cuban exiles involved with Alpha 66 (a proscribed exile military group at that point in time) and of John Martino, recently released from prison in Cuba and a highly visible critic of the Kennedy Administration policies on Cuba.
Appendix B / Castro Assassination Efforts:
We are far from having the full details of the extremely secret CIA military initiative which targeted Fidel Castro for assassination in early 1961. It is even unclear to what extent the heads of the Cuba project and the CIA Director himself were informed as to the operational details of its various efforts. As with many areas of the overall Cuba project, deniability and compartmentalization appears to have overruled effective communications and operational coordination. The best we can do is to detail some of the elements now known to have been occurred.
During the first three months of 1961 at least two different military missions were planned. Those missions targeted Cuban leaders and specifically Fidel Castro. Theyt were intended to lay the groundwork for a popular uprising which would have supported by the landing of the Cuban Expeditionary Force. One mission (possibly planned under the “Pathfinder” operations) was intended to carry out an attack on Fidel Castro at a location near the Bay of Pigs resort where he routinely vacationed. It appears that plan may have included details of Castro’s personal travel and activities, including information from sources previously close to Castro inside Cuba such as Frank Sturgis. Prior to his departure from Cuba Sturgis had offered to personally carry out a lethal attack on Castro, however the CIA had declined his offer at that point in time.
Sturgis’s name appears in one January 20, 1961 report which includes a reference to “Pathfinder”.
A second plan – known to Carl Jenkins, if not operationally managed by him - did go operational; it involved the insertion of personnel who were to carry out a well-planned sniper attack on Fidel Castro at his retreat on Varadero Beach, east of Havana. The mission was supported with maps and annotated drawings of the Varadero (formerly DuPont owned) Estate. Those materials were prepared from aerial and possibly satellite photo imagery processed by the imagery staff assigned to JMWAVE. We only know about these two assassination projects because certain of the WAVE personnel were later transferred to the National Photo Imagery Center (NPIC) and they provided information the Church committee on assassinations. The very limited records which describe the two plans were submitted to the Church Committee by managers at NPIC, they included statements from some eight personnel who had worked on projects related to attacks on Castro.
According to Edward Cates, the chief of the Image Exploitation Group at NPIC, “a number of our photo interpreters [8 individuals] supported Carl Jenkins of the DD/P (Deputy Directorate of Plans) concerning a plan to assassinate Castro at the DuPont Veradero Beach Estate, east of Havana. Castro was known to frequent the estate and the plan was to use a high powered rifle in the attempt. The photo interpretation support was restricted to providing annotated photographs and line drawings of the estate.”
It appears that the CIA may have performed its own internal investigation of those missions in the mid-1970s. Two memoranda from June and August, 1975 record the statement of a Cuban CIA officer (in 1961 a contract employee) that he participated in three abortive Cuban infiltration missions, including an effort to land him near Varadero Beach. The objective of that mission was a long range rifle attack on Fidel Castro. One of the memos mentions the names of two Cubans involved in the mission, “Felix” and “Segundo”. Based on this information, it appears that Carl Jenkins may have been transferred out of Guatemala to manage a number of covert infiltration missions, involving at least one which involved Felix Rodriquez and a sniper attack on Fidel Castro.
The memo also discloses that the boat used, the “yacht” had aborted one insertion due to engine problems. That observation, when combined with information in related documents, allows us to identify both the yacht as the Tejuana III and the individual named Felix as Felix Rodriquez. CIA documents record the missions of the Tejana III, which began in late February, 1961 and ended in early April. The Tejana made four trips into Cuba during that period, carrying infiltration personnel and supplies for on island groups intended to support the planned uprising. Some 27 personnel and 60 tons of supplies were covertly transported into Cuba. It appears that Felix Rodriquez was sent in on a one man mission in early April, a mission which was forced to abort due to an engine problem with the Tejana III.
A separate CIA document, the debriefing of Felix Rodriquez prior to his separation from the CIA in 1976 (and a very unusual authorization for the public disclosure of his CIA service) records his own statement that in December 1960 he had volunteered to kill Fidel Castro, stating that it was the only solution to the Cuban problem. He also stated that he had been supplied with a special sniper weapon for missions into Cuba and that he and another CIA Cuban had made three missions into Cuba. Rodriquez did not identify the CIA officer who had given them the assignments or state any details on the missions. In his own biography, Rodriquez provides more detail on the assassination plan, describing a German bolt action sniper rifle with a telescopic sight. The rifle itself was pre-sighted according to the specifics of the mission, based on the exact location in which Castro was to be attacked.
While we have a good level of detail on the abortive sniper attack involving Felix Rodriquez, the earlier mission – apparently scheduled for March – remains far more mysterious. However we do know that Director Helms himself approved the transportation and staging of four different teams that apparently were scheduled for missions in the March time frame, but which either aborted or failed. One of the teams would have involved Artime, another a special three man mission which ultimately did attempt and failed in a major sabotage effort on the Havana power system as well as the assassination of Castro. While characterized to the Church committee as a rogue operation, that effort clearly was sanctioned and involved a three man team sent out of Guatemala by Carl Jenkins.
At the same time, another team consisting of 7 exile personnel and two deniable team leaders was also sent out of Guatemala. Interestingly, one of the team leaders may have been one of the Russian defectors who had been used for Cuban exile military training in both Panama and Guatemala. That possibility is indicated by the fact that a CIA document indicates him as associated with AEDEPOT. The AE crypt can be shown to be used for Soviet Union sources, in particular defectors and agents.
For reference it should also be noted that the CIA’s efforts to use Havana casino connections to actually poison Fidel Castro did not get underway before March. The first effort failed and a second effort was hurriedly put together in early April, immediately prior to the dispatch of the Cuban Expeditionary Force. That effort aborted because the conduit for the poison, Tony Verona, was sequestered along with other exile political leaders immediately before Brigade 2506 sailed from Guatemala. President Eisenhower’s initial time frame for putting exile forces into Cuba would have inserted them prior to the November, 1960 elections. When that failed he requested that the CIA carry out an operation in December. However the CIA’s plan had changed so dramatically over time that even the basic missions in support of an internal uprising in Cuba – much less the actual elimination of Fidel Castro - were not operational prior to January, 1960.