Jack Pfeiffer

Jack Pfeiffer

Jack Pfeiffer had a Ph.D. in history and served with Air Force Intelligence before joining the Central Intelligence Agency in 1955. He was later appointed as Chief of the CIA History Staff (1976-1979). Pfeiffer wrote a four volume history of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba based on CIA classified documents. After he retired from the agency, Pfeiffer attempted to get this work declassified.

Jack Pfeiffer died on the 31st of January, 1997. Although most of his Bay of Pigs history is still classified, one volume is available at the National Archives’ JFK Assassination Records Collection.

The historian David Barrett has pointed out that: "Pfeiffer writes of incompetence at CIA, of an out-of-touch Allen Dulles, of too-close relations between CIA and anti-Castro U.S. corporate leaders." This included the activities of William Pawley and Tommy Corcoran.

Primary Sources

(1) Jake Esterline was interviewed by Jack Pfeiffer on 10th November, 1975.

Jack Pfeiffer: I have a question, and it is what was Pawley's relation to this whole operation... and your relation with Pawley seems to have been quite close, too.

Jake Esterline: I think it was a hangover relationship from the things that Bill Pawley had done as quite a wheel with a number of very senior people during the Guatemalan operation ... that they felt that Bill, who had been very closely tied into Cuba ... that he was a very prominent man in Florida... that there were a lot of things that he might be able to do, in the sense of getting things lined up in Florida for us... and also his ties with Nixon and with other republican politicos. I used to deal with him quite a bit before.... From my point of view, we never let Bill Pawley know any of the intimacies about our operations, or what we were doing. He never knew where our bases were, or things of that sort. He never knew anything specific about our operations, but he was doing an awful lot of things on his own with the exiles. Some of the people that he had known in Cuba, in the sugar business, etc. I guess he actually was instrumental in running boats and things in and out of Cuba, getting people out and what not, and a variety of things that were not connected with us in any way. He was a political factor from the standpoint from J.C.'s standpoint. I don't know whether Tommy Corcoran entered in at this point... I think Tommy Corcoran was strictly in Guatemala. I guess Corcoran didn't come into this thing, at least not very much.

Jack Pfeiffer: His name turns up once or twice.

Jake Esterline: Yes, I met him once, in connection with Cuba, but I don't remember who... for J.C. King, but I don't remember why, at this point. It wasn't anything of any significance. My feeling with Pawley... he was such a hawk, and he was every second week... he wanted to kill somebody inside... . It was from my standpoint - we were trying to keep him from doing things to cause problems for us. This was almost a standing operation.

Jack Pfeiffer: This is what I was wondering, because Tracy Barnes, I know on a number of occasions, seemed to make it quite clear that what the Agency had to be careful of was getting hung with a reactionary label, and then at the same time that was going on, here is all of this conversation back and forth with Pawley and his visits...

Jake Esterline: Really to keep him from doing something to upset the applecart from our standpoint. In that sense, I did fill that role in part for a long time; and the net result of the thing is that Bill thinks I am a dangerous leftist today. If I hadn't been a foot dragger, or hadn't taken all these dissenting opinions of this, things in Cuba would have been a lot better.

Jack Pfeiffer: Was Pawley actually involved in the covert operation in Guatemala?

Jake Esterline: Yes, he, well I am sure he was, in a...

Jack Pfeiffer: I mean, with you as far as you...

Jake Esterline: Not I personally, but he was involved with State Department. I said Rubottom a couple of times, I didn't mean Rubottom, I meant Rusk. He was involved - especially in Guatemala with Rubottom or whoever Secretary of State was, and Seville Sacassaa and Somoza and whoever Secretary of Defense was in getting the planes from the Defense Dept., having them painted over, the decals painted over and flown to Nicaragua where they became the Defense force for that operation.

Jack Pfeiffer: I ran across some comment that he had made to Livingston Merchant.

Jake Esterline: They were good friends, and knew each other. But to my knowledge, he never had any involvement like that during the Bay of Pigs days, although you'd have to ask Ted Shackley about what they did later, because I think he ran some things into Cuba for Ted Shackley.

Jack Pfeiffer: That is beyond my period of interest. He was involved in a great amount of fund raising activity, in the New York area apparently - pushing or raising funds in the New York area - wasn't Droller involved in this too? What was

your relation with Droller... were you directing Droller's activities, or was Dave Phillips running Droller...

Jake Esterline: Oh, I sort of ran Droller, except I never knew what Tracy Barnes was going to do next, when I turned my back. Droller was such.an ambitious fellow trying to run in... trying to run circles around everybody for his own aggrandizement that you never knew... but Droller would never have had any continuing contact with Pawley, because they had met only once, and I recall Pawley saying that he never wanted to talk to that "you know what" again. He was very unhappy that somebody like Gerry... he just didn't like Gerry's looks, he didn't like his accent. He was very unfair about Gerry, and I don't mean to be unfair about Gerry - the only thing is that Gerry was insanely ambitious. He was his own worst enemy, that was all.... We just didn't think that Tracy really understood it that well, or if Tracy did, he coudn't articulate... he wouldn't articulate it that well. Tracy was one of the sweetest guys that ever lived, but he coudn't ever draw a straight line between two points....

Jack Pfeiffer: What about JFK?

Jake Esterline: JFK was an uninitiated fellow who had been in the wars, but he hadn't been exposed to any world politics or crises yet if he had something else as a warm up, he might have made different decisions than he made at that time. I think he was kind of a victim of the thing. I blame Nixon far more than I do Kennedy for the equivocations and the loss of time and what not that led to the ultimate disaster. Goodwin, I just thought was a sleazy; little self-seeker, who I didn't feel safe with any secret. His consorting with Che Guevara in Montevideo had rather upset me at the time...

Jack Pfeiffer: How about McNamara did you get involved with him at all?

Jake Esterline: No.

Jack Pfeiffer: Bobby Kennedy?

Jake Esterline: I wouldn't even tell you off tape. I didn't like him. He's dead, God rest his soul.

(2) Don Bohning, The Miami Herald (30th April, 1998)

It was a major coup when the National Security Archive, a nongovernmental documentation center in Washington, recently obtained the declassification of a controversial CIA inspector general's report on the ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

But, according to the Archive's Peter Kornbluh, the 150-page report by the late Lyman B. Kirkpatrick is only the tip of a paper iceberg still stashed away at the agency's headquarters in Langley, Va.

He estimates there are still about 30,000 pages of CIA operational documents related to the Bay of Pigs that remain secret, of which perhaps 10 percent - or 3,000 pages - is expected to be declassified soon.

Kornbluh, a senior analyst who heads the Archive's Cuba documentation project, has been engaged in a 10-year effort to obtain documents related to U.S.-Cuba relations since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959.

That effort helped obtain the release some years ago of 10,000 pages of documents related to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis and a small number relating to the Bay of Pigs.

Only several hundred pages of Bay of Pigs documents have been released by the CIA, including the lone remaining copy of Kirkpatrick's report, which came after a two-year effort by the Archive.

The remaining still-classified documents, Kornbluh contends, "continue to be withheld because members of the directorate of operations (clandestine services) are concerned that they will reflect badly on the early history of the CIA.''

Among the significant ones still to be released, Kornbluh says, is the complete report by the Taylor Commission - headed by the late Gen. Maxwell Taylor - which analyzed the invasion for the Kennedy administration. Portions of the Taylor report were released years ago, but the complete document remains classified.

Also yet to be declassified, Kornbluh says, is a four-volume internal history of the invasion written by the late Jack B. Pfeiffer, an agency historian. Pfeiffer himself wanted to see his work declassified and before his death sued the CIA unsuccessfully for its release.

Still another document that remains secret is a 47-page "after action'' report written by Jack Hawkins, a retired Marine colonel who headed the paramilitary staff for the Bay of Pigs invasion. Hawkins recently made a formal request for its release, so far to no avail.

Jake Esterline, who headed the CIA's Bay of Pigs Task Force, has also requested release of documents he authored, again so far without success.

Kornbluh believes it's too early to tell what unanswered questions might be answered by the still-secret Bay of Pigs documents.

Kornbluh notes, however, that history is usually written by the victors and the full story from the Cuban side has yet to be told. "The thing that bothers me,'' Esterline says, "is that the recent death of (Manuel) Piñeiro further closed the window of opportunity of ever understanding the full extent, if any, of the Castro government involvement with the death of President Kennedy.''

Piñeiro, known as Barba Roja (Red Beard), Cuba's longtime foreign intelligence chief, died in a car crash in Havana this year.

"With (Che) Guevara also gone, there probably are only two or three, including Castro himself, who would be familiar with things we have never understood,'' Esterline says.

(3) David Barrett, Jack Pfeiffer (2005)

During the 1970s, CIA historian Jack Pfeiffer wrote a Top Secret multi-volume history of 1961’s Bay of Pigs intervention in Cuba. Before his death, Pfeiffer sued unsuccessfully to de-classify some of the History. Though it is widely believed that all volumes are still classified, one is available at National Archives’ JFK Assassination Records Collection. Pfeiffer writes of incompetence at CIA, of an out-of-touch Allen Dulles, of too-close relations between CIA and anti-Castro U.S. corporate leaders, and about “The Question of Assassination".

(4) Jack Pfeiffer, Bay of Pigs, Volume III (1979)

There was considerable concern over the necessary formalities of diplomacy in order that the United States not be involved in investigations by either the UN or the OAS for its anti-Castro program. Because it has been widely publicized that ex-Vice President Richard Nixon was one of the principals in planning the Bay of Pigs Operation, this volume has attempted to put the role that Nixon played into the proper context. It was the role of an interested senior officer in the Executive Branch, and by no stretch of the imagination could Nixon's role be constructed to have had a major impact on the development of operational planning by the Central Intelligence Agency in its anti-Castro effort.

(5) Jack Pfeiffer, Bay of Pigs, Volume III (1979)

By way of summarizing, it would appear that CIA's official anti-Castro program as reflected in Project JMATE did not include assassination as an integral part of its operational planning, but would not have been averse to eliminating Castro or other of the Cuban leaders if the opportunity had been afforded. Based on records, however, WH/4's principals were in no way privy to, or participants in, the Mafia assassination planning at the time of the Bay of Pigs.