Operation Mongoose

Operation Mongoose: History

In March I960, President Dwight Eisenhower of the United States approved a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) plan to overthrow Fidel Castro. The plan involved a budget of $13 million to train "a paramilitary force outside Cuba for guerrilla action." The strategy was organised by Richard Bissell and Richard Helms.

In September 1960, Allen W. Dulles, the director of the CIA, initiated talks with two leading figures of the Mafia, Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana. Later, other crime bosses such as Carlos Marcello, Santos Trafficante and Meyer Lansky became involved in this plot against Castro.

After the Bay of Pigs disaster President John F. Kennedy created a committee (SGA) charged with overthrowing Castro's government. The SGA, chaired by Robert F. Kennedy (Attorney General), included Allen W. Dulles(CIA Director), later replaced by John McCone, Alexis Johnson (State Department), McGeorge Bundy (National Security Adviser), Roswell Gilpatric (Defence Department), General Lyman Lemnitzer (Joint Chiefs of Staff) and General Maxwell Taylor. Although not officially members, Dean Rusk (Secretary of State) and Robert S. McNamara (Secretary of Defence) also attending meetings.

At a meeting of this committee at the White House on 4th November, 1961, it was decided to call this covert action program for sabotage and subversion against Cuba, Operation Mongoose. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy also decided that General Edward Lansdale (Staff Member of the President's Committee on Military Assistance) should be placed in charge of the operation.

The CIA JM/WAVE station in Miami served as operational headquarters for Operation Mongoose. The head of the station was Ted Shackley and over the next few months became very involved in the attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro. One of Lansdale's first decisions was to appoint William Harvey as head of Task Force W. Harvey's brief was to organize a broad range of activities that would help to bring down Castro's government.

Sidney Gottlieb of the CIA Technical Services Division was asked to come up with proposals that would undermine Castro's popularity with the Cuban people. Plans included a scheme to spray a television studio in which he was about to appear with an hallucinogenic drug and contaminating his shoes with thallium which they believed would cause the hair in his beard to fall out.

On 12th March, 1961, William Harvey arranged for CIA operative, Jim O'Connell, to meet Sam Giancana, Santo Trafficante, Johnny Roselli and Robert Maheu at the Fontainebleau Hotel. During the meeting O'Connell gave poison pills and $10,000 to Rosselli to be used against Fidel Castro. As Richard D. Mahoney points out in his book: Sons and Brothers: "Late one evening, probably March 13, Rosselli passed the poison pills and the money to a small, reddish-haired Afro-Cuban by the name of Rafael "Macho" Gener in the Boom Boom Room, a location Giancana thought "stupid." Rosselli's purpose, however, was not just to assassinate Castro but to set up the Mafia's partner in crime, the United States government. Accordingly, he was laying a long, bright trail of evidence that unmistakably implicated the CIA in the Castro plot. This evidence, whose purpose was blackmail, would prove critical in the CIA's cover-up of the Kennedy assassination."

Lansdale also brought into Operation Mongoose a group of CIA operatives who had successfully overthrown President Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala in 1954. This included Tracy Barnes, David Atlee Phillips, David Sanchez Morales, William (Rip) Robertson and E. Howard Hunt.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation had to be brought into this plan as part of the deal involved protection against investigations against the Mafia in the United States. Castro was later to complain that there were twenty ClA-sponsered attempts on his life. Eventually Johnny Roselli and his friends became convinced that the Cuban revolution could not be reversed by simply removing its leader. However, they continued to play along with this CIA plot in order to prevent them being prosecuted for criminal offences committed in the United States.

Robert F. Kennedy now took the leading role in trying to overthrow Fidel Castro. At a meeting in November, 1961, Kennedy accused Bissell of "not doing anything about getting rid of Castro and the Castro regime." CIA agent Sam Halpern complained that "Bobby (Kennedy) wanted boom and bang all over the island... it was stupid... the pressure from the White House was very great." Bissell did what he could to arrange the assassination of Castro. This included asking William Harvey to take over the Mafia contracts from Sheffield Edwards.

To counteract this policy Nikita Khrushchev sent Castro help. By October, 1962, the Soviet Union had 40,000 soldiers, 1,300 field pieces, 700 anti-aircraft guns, 350 tanks and 150 jets in Cuba in order to deter another invasion. He also began supplying Castro with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.

In 1962 Desmond FitzGerald was appointed Chief of the Cuban Task Force. In this post he personally organized three different plots to assassinate Fidel Castro. This included working with Rolando Cubela, a senior official in Castro's government.He was given the codename AM/LASH and reported to JM/WAVE. However, Joseph Langosch, of the Special Affairs Staff, suspected that Cubela was a "dangle" (a double agent recruited by Castro to penetrate the American plots against him". This idea was reinforced when Cubela refused to take a lie-detector test.

In September, 1963, Cubela had a meeting with the CIA in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was suggested that Cubela should assassinate Fidel Castro. According to a CIA report Cubela asked for a meeting with Robert Kennedy: "for assurances of U.S. moral support for any activity Cubela under took in Cuba." This was not possible but FitzGerald, now Chief of the Cuban Task Force, agreed to meet Cubela. Ted Shackley was opposed to the idea as he was now convinced that Cubela was a double-agent.

Desmond FitzGerald and Nestor Sanchez met Cubela met in Paris on 29th October, 1963. Cubela requested a "high-powered, silenced rifle with an effective range of hundreds of thousands of yards" in order to kill Fidel Castro. The CIA refused and instead insisted on Cubela used poison. On 22nd November, 1963, FitzGerald handed over a pen/syringe. He was told to use Black Leaf 40 (a deadly poison) to kill Castro. As Cubela was leaving the meeting, he was informed that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

On 7th April, 1964, the SGA officially brought an end to the sabotage operations against Cuba. John McCone, director of the CIA, stated that President Lyndon B. Johnson had abandoned the goal of overthrowing or "eliminating" Castro.

Primary Sources

(1) Chauncey Holt was interviewed by John Craig, Phillip Rogers and Gary Shaw for Newsweek magazine (19th October, 1991)

There may be certain types of assassination that they're good at, but other types they're not. So they enlisted the better known names, Giancana, Roselli, in Operation Mongoose. And you had Edward Lansdale, and William King Harvey, all the guys who became legends. And there is no use in expounding on their careers and how they got involved in this.

Also, one of the lesser known people involved in this was Peter Licavoli. Licavoli was a confidant, close to both Giancana and Roselli. And he had a ranch in Tucson, Arizona. It was very nicely placed and had a landing strip on it. So he was involved in Mongoose because of the location (of his ranch), and it was a nice place to have meetings and they had meetings there. His involvement in Mongoose was a marginal type thing.

I really don't think that Roselli or Giancana or Maheu ever were all that serious about knocking off Castro. They wanted to get some leverage against the government. They were trying to deport Roselli, the were chasing Giancana all over the landscape and they were willing to use anything they could to actually give them an edge.

(2) Richard Bissell, Reflections of a Cold Warrior (1996)

(The Mafia-connection aspect) did not originate with me - and I had no desire to become personally involved in its implementation, mainly because I was not competent to handle relations with the Mafia. It is true, however, that, when the idea was presented to me, I supported it, and as Deputy Director for Plans I was responsible for the necessary decisions.... Sheffield Edwards, the director of the Agency's Office of Security - and his deputy became the case officers for the Agency's relations with the Mafia. Edwards was frank with me about his efforts, and I authorized him to continue... I do not recall any specific contact with the Mafia, but Doris Mirage, my secretary at the time, does...

I hoped the Mafia would achieve success. My philosophy during my last two or three years in the Agency was very definitely that the end justified the means, and I was not going to be held back. Shortly after I left the CIA, however, I came to believe that it had been a mistake to involve the Mafia in an assassination attempt. This is partly a moral judgment, but I must admit it is also partly a pragmatic judgment.

(3) Richard D. Mahoney, Sons and Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy (1999)

Late one evening, probably March 13, Rosselli passed the poison pills and the money to a small, reddish-haired Afro-Cuban by the name of Rafael "Macho" Gener in the Boom Boom Room, a location Giancana thought "stupid."

Rosselli's purpose, however, was not just to assassinate Castro but to set up the Mafia's partner in crime, the United States government. Accordingly, he was laying a long, bright trail of evidence that unmistakably implicated the CIA in the Castro plot. This evidence, whose purpose was blackmail, would prove critical in the CIA's cover-up of the Kennedy assassination.

(4) Leroy Fletcher Prouty, An Introduction to the Assassination Business (1975)

Assassination is big business. It is the business of the CIA and any other power that can pay for the "hit" and control the assured getaway. The CIA brags that its operations in Iran in 1953 led to the pro-Western attitude of that important country. The CIA also takes credit for what it calls the "perfect job" in Guatemala. Both successes were achieved by assassination. What is this assassination business and how does it work?

In most countries there is little or no provision for change of political power. Therefore the strongman stays in power until he dies or until he is removed by a coup d'etat - which often means by assassination...

The CIA has many gadgets in its arsenal and has spent years training thousands of people how to use them. Some of these people, working perhaps for purposes and interests other than the CIA's, use these items to carry out burglaries, assassinations, and other unlawful activities - with or without the blessing of the CIA.

(5) Christopher Sharrett, Fair Play Magazine, The Assassination of John F. Kennedy as Coup D'Etat (May, 1999)

One phase of this narrative is represented in Gus Russo's Live by the Sword. The moralistic biblical admonition of this book's title offers its thesis: Kennedy got what he deserved. Russo's conception of the Kennedy brothers portrays them as the ultimate Cold Warriors, with RFK the instigator of plots against Fidel Castro that LBJ wanted to hide in the aftermath of the assassination in order to prevent a war with the Soviet Union. According to this narrative, LBJ believed that "Castro killed Kennedy in retaliation," an idea that has long had currency in the mass media. But this discourse ignores a large part of the historical record. Marvin Watson, a Johnson staffer, told the Washington Post in 1977 that Johnson "thought there was a plot in connection with the assassination," and that "the CIA had had something to do with the plot."

On the matter of RFK being the guilt-ridden instigator of the Castro plots, anguished that he had caused his brother's death due to his anti-Castro obsessions, we should note that Robert Kennedy exploded in front of assistants Peter Edelman and Adam Walinsky after he read the Jack Anderson column that put into play the idea of RFK as craftsman of the Castro assassination plots. RFK complained "I didn't start it, I stopped it. I found out that some people were going to try an attempt on Castro's life and turned it off. A recent Canadian Broadcasting Company documentary on the Kennedy assassination includes taped remarks by RFK speaking very derisively of CIA covert operations specialist William Harvey. RFK termed Harvey's ideas "half-assed" and potentially very damaging to the United States. Recently declassified CIA documents about its use of hoodlums to penetrate the Cuban Revolution and assassinate its leaders demonstrate that the Agency didn't brief RFK. Gus Russo perpetuates the claim that RFK was convinced that Castro killed his brother, ignoring evidence that RFK contacted Jim Garrison (since RFK took seriously the notion of a domestic plot), and that he was concerned with the possibility that the CIA may have had involvement in the assassination.

(6) Nathaniel Weyl, Encounters With Communism (2003)

Toward the close of the Kennedy Administration, an American of non-Hispanic origin, called on me at our oceanfront place in Highland Beach, Florida. He wanted to interest me in a plan to send commandos secretly into Cuba to blow up the petroleum storage facilities in the Havana area. This seemed to me a senseless and criminal terrorist act.

Sabotaging oil facilities would deprive the Cuban people of a vital resource without necessarily weakening the dictatorial regime. Since we were not at war with Cuba, any incidental loss of life would constitute murder.

I told the mysterious person who approached me that this was not the sort of thing I do and that I was not interested.