Cuban Project (also known as Operation Mongoose)The Cuban Project (also known as Operation Mongoose) is the general name for CIA covert operations and plans developed during the early administration of U.S. President John F. Kennedy on November 30, 1961. The President authorized aggressive covert operations against the communist government of Fidel Castro in Cuba. The operation was led by Air Force General Edward Lansdale and came into being after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.
Harvard Historian Jorge Domínguez states that a prime focus of the Kennedy administration was the removal of Fidel Castro from power. To this end it implemented Operation Mongoose, a US program of sabotage and other secret operations against the island.
The goal of the Cuban Project was to "help Cuba overthrow the Communist regime", including its leader Fidel Castro, and aim "for a revolt which can take place in Cuba by October 1962". American policy makers also desired to see "a new government with which the United States can live in peace." Source: U.S., Department of State, FOREIGN RELATIONS OF THE UNITED STATES 1961-1963, Volume X Cuba, 1961-1962 Washington, DC.
Ever since the Cuban Revolution, and the rise of communism under Fidel Castro, the United States government was determined to undercut the integrity of the Socialist revolution and install in its place a friendlier government. After the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, it had to take Cuba more seriously. A special committee was formed to search for ways to overthrow Fidel.
It was based on the estimation of the US government that coercion inside Cuba was severe and that the regime was serving as a spearhead for allied communist movements elsewhere in the Americas. It was further believed that repressive measures within Cuba, together with the seeming failure of the government's socialist economic policies, had resulted in an atmosphere among the Cuban people which made a resistance program a distinct possibility at that moment.
As such, the US designed their covert plan to fuel a growing anti-regime spirit to provoke an overthrow of the government and/or assassination attempts on Castro.
The United States Department of Defense Joint Chiefs of Staff saw the project's ultimate objective to be to provide adequate justification for a US military intervention in Cuba. They requested that the Secretary of Defense assign them responsibility for the project, but the Attorney General Robert Kennedy retained effective control.
Mongoose was led by Edward Lansdale in the Defense Department and William King Harvey at the CIA. Samuel Halpern, a CIA co-organizer, conveyed the breadth of involvement: “CIA and the U. S. Army and military forces and Department of Commerce, and Immigration, Treasury, God knows who else — everybody was in Mongoose. It was a government-wide operation run out of Bobby Kennedy's office with Ed Lansdale as the mastermind.”. Over thirty different plans were considered under the Cuban Project, some of which were carried out. The plans varied in their efficacy and intention, from propagandistic purposes to effective disruption of the Cuban government and economy. These included the use of American Green Berets, destruction of Cuban sugar crops, and mining of harbors.
Operation Northwoods was a 1962 plan, which was signed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and presented to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara for approval, that intended to use false flag operations in order to justify intervention in Cuba. Among other things considered were real and simulated attacks which would be blamed on the Cuban government. These would have involved attacking, or reporting fake attacks on Cuban exiles, US military targets, Cuban civilian aircraft, and development of a terror campaign on US soil.
The Cuban Project played a significant role in the events leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The Cuban Project's six-phase schedule was presented by counter-insurgency specialist Air Force General Edward Lansdale on February 20, 1962; it was overseen by Attorney-General Robert Kennedy, and President John F. Kennedy was briefed on the operation guidelines on March 16, 1962. Lansdale outlined the coordinated program of political, psychological, military, sabotage, and intelligence operations as well as assassination attempts on key political leaders. Each passing month since his presentation, a different method was in place to destabilize the communist regime, including the publishing of views against Castro, armaments for militant opposition groups, the establishment of guerilla bases throughout the country and preparations for an October military intervention in Cuba. Many individual plans were reportedly devised by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro. Plans to discredit President Castro in the eyes of the Cuban public included contaminating his clothing with thallium salts that would make his trademark beard fall out and spraying a broadcasting studio with hallucinogens before a televised speech. Assassination plots included poisoning a box of Castro's favorite cigars with botulinus toxin and placing explosive seashells in his favorite diving spots.
The CIA operation was based in Miami, Florida and among other aspects of the operation, enlisted the help of the Mafia to plot an assassination attempt against Fidel Castro, the Cuban president; for instance, William Harvey was one of the CIA case officers who directly dealt with the mafiosi John Roselli.
Professor of History Stephen Rabe writes that “scholars have understandably focused on…the Bay of Pigs invasion, the U.S. campaign of terrorism and sabotage known as Operation Mongoose, the assassination plots against Fidel Castro, and, of course, the Cuban missile crisis. Less attention has been given to the state of U.S.-Cuban relations in the aftermath of the missile crisis.” In contrast Rabe writes that reports from the Church Committee reveal that from June 1963 onward the Kennedy administration intensified its war against Cuba while the CIA integrated propaganda, "economic denial", and sabotage to attack the Cuban state as well as specific targets within. One example cited is an incident where CIA agents, seeking to assassinate Castro, provided a Cuban official, Rolando Cubela Secades, with a ballpoint pen rigged with a poisonous hypodermic needle. At this time the CIA received authorization for thirteen major operations within Cuba; these included attacks on an electric power plant, an oil refinery, and a sugar mill. Historian Stephen Rabe has observed that the “Kennedy administration...showed no interest in Castro's repeated request that the United States cease its campaign of sabotage and terrorism against Cuba. Kennedy did not pursue a dual-track policy toward Cuba....The United States would entertain only proposals of surrender." Rabe further documents how "Exile groups, such as Alpha 66 and the Second Front of Escambray, staged hit-and-run raids on the island...on ships transporting goods…purchased arms in the United States and launched...attacks from the Bahamas.”
Harvard Historian Jorge Domínguez states that the scope of Mongoose included sabotage actions against a railway bridge, petroleum storage facilities, a molasses storage container, a petroleum refinery, a power plant, a sawmill, and a floating crane. Harvard Historian Jorge Domínguez states that "only once in [the] thousand pages of documentation did a U.S. official raise something that resembled a faint moral objection to U.S. government sponsored terrorism." Dominguez writes that "sabotage actions were approved against a railway bridge, some petroleum storage facilities and a molasses storage vessel. Actions were subsequently carried out against a petroleum refinery, a power plant, a sawmill, and a floating crane in a Cuban harbour.” He further remarks that "only once in these nearly thousand pages of documentation did a U.S. official raise something that resembled a faint moral objection to U.S. government sponsored terrorism." The CIA operation was based in Miami, Florida and among other aspects of the operation, enlisted the help of the Mafia to plot an assassination attempt against Fidel Castro, the Cuban president. William Harvey was one of the CIA case officers who dealt with the mafiosi John Roselli.
The Cuban Project was originally designed to culminate in October 1962 with an "open revolt and overthrow of the Communist regime." This was at the peak of the Cuban Missile crisis, where the United States and the Soviet Union came alarmingly close to nuclear war over the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba. The operation was suspended on October 30, 1962, but three of ten six-man sabotage teams had already been deployed to Cuba.
Dominguez writes that Kennedy put a hold on Mongoose actions as the Cuban Missile Crisis escalated, and the "Kennedy administration returned to its policy of sponsoring terrorism against Cuba as the confrontation with the Soviet Union lessened." However, Chomsky argued that “terrorist operations continued through the tensest moments of the missile crisis,” remarking that “they were formally canceled on October 30, several days after the Kennedy and Khrushchev agreement, but went on nonetheless.” Accordingly, "the Executive Committee of the National Security Council recommended various courses of action, "including ‘using selected Cuban exiles to sabotage key Cuban installations in such a manner that the auction can plausibly be attributed to Cubans in Cuba’ as well as ‘sabotaging Cuban cargo and shipping, and [Soviet] Bloc cargo and shipping to Cuba." Peter Kornbluh, senior analyst at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, raised the point that according to the documentary record, directly after the first executive committee (EXCOMM) meeting that was held on the missile crisis, Attorney General Robert Kennedy “convened a meeting of the Operation Mongoose team” expressing disappointment in its results and pledging to take a closer personal attention on the matter. Kornbluh accused RFK of taking “the most irrational position during the most extraordinary crisis in the history of U. S. foreign policy”, remarking that “Not to belabor the obvious, but for chrissake, a nuclear crisis is happening and Bobby wants to start blowing things up.”.
Assassination of Castro
Many assassination ideas were floated by the CIA during Operation Mongoose. The most infamous was the CIA's alleged plot to capitalize on Castro's well known love of cigars by slipping into his supply a very real and lethal "exploding cigar." While numerous sources state the exploding cigar plot as fact, at least one source asserts it to be simply a myth, and another, mere supermarket tabloid fodder. Another suggests that the story does have its origins in the CIA, but that it was never seriously proposed by them as a plot. Rather, the plot was made up by the CIA as an intentionally "silly" idea to feed to those questioning them about their plans for Castro, in order to deflect scrutiny from more serious areas of inquiry.
Other plots to do in Castro that are ascribed to the CIA include, among others: poisoning his cigars (a box of the lethal smokes were actually prepared and delivered to Havana); exploding seashells to be planted at a scuba diving site; a gift diving wetsuit impregnated with noxious bacteria and mould spores, or with lethal chemical agents; infecting Castro's scuba regulator apparatus with tuberculous bacilli; dousing his handkerchiefs his tea and his coffee with other lethal bacteria; having a former lover slip him poison pills; and exposing him to various other poisoned items such as a fountain pen and even ice cream. Fabian Escalante, who was long tasked with protecting the life of Castro, contends that there have been 638 separate CIA assassination schemes or attempts on Castro's life.
The Cuban Project, as with the earlier Bay of Pigs invasion, is widely acknowledged as an American policy failure against Cuba.
"Cuba: Lost in the Shadows," a documentary features some key players in anti-Castro activities.
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