Bill Moyers tries to navigate the maze of America’s clandestine policies toward Cuba by going back to where it all began, with Washington’s decision to destroy the man Cuban exiles so bitterly despise.
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BILL MOYERS: Good evening. I’m Bill Moyers. You’re about to see a documentary which first aired in June, 1977, while I was at CBS ‘Reports. I’m repeating “The CIA’s Secret Army” on the Journal tonight, because the questions it raises couldn’t be more timely. For example, what happens when senior officials of government create a climate of opinion in which the CIA misuses its authority and turns clandestine operations into an undeclared war against other governments?’ There is support in the Reagan administration and among many in Congress to give the Central Intelligence Agency just such a mandate. Have we already forgotten the consequences of the old one? We’ll consider that issue later in this broadcast. Now, from CBS Reports, here’s The CIA’s Secret Army.
[1977 videotape of CBS Reports — tease]
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] These men belong to a terrorist organization responsible for a recent wave of bombings. kidnappings and assassinations. They are not operating out of Belfast or the Middle East. They are Cuban exiles waging a terrorist war against Fidel Castro. And their base of operations is an American city. Just minutes from this concealed arsenal are the beaches and resort hotels of Miami.
CUBAN EXILE: No matter what happens, we are going keep fighting against a Communist who stayed — who are in my country right now.
GEORGE CRILE, REPORTER: If you were asked to participate in a bombing or a kidnapping of a Cuban official. would you do so?
2ND CUBAN EXILE: If it’s a Cuban official which is my enemy at the time, yes. I would do it at any time I am ordered to do it.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The major terrorist attacks last year included these targets: Lisbon, April 22nd, Cuban Embassy bombed. two officials killed; New York, June 5th. Cuban Mission bombed; Merida, Mexico, July 23rd, one Cuban killed; Buenos Aires, August 9, two Cuban officials kidnapped; Panama, August 18, Cubana Airlines office bombed; Trinidad. Tobago. September I, Guyana’s consulate bombed, three injured. This is only a partial list. There have been scores of attacks over the last three years. The most vicious occurred last October when a bomb exploded on an Air Cubana flight from Barbados to Havana. Seventy-three people were killed.
GEORGE CRILE: The 73 innocent men that went down in the Air Cubana crash, do you feel that that was justified?
2ND CUBAN EXILE: I wouldn’t call them as being innocent, anyways, they were Cuban officials. They were Communist officials. And any kind of Communist officials. whether it’s Cuban or whether it’s any other nationality, playing the same game that Castro is playing, should be dealt with the same way.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] They are terrorists now. But once these men worked for our government. They were our soldiers. But we were never supposed to know it.
BILL MOYERS: They had marched through 17 years of American history, from the Bay of Pigs to the assassination of John Kennedy, from the missile crisis to Watergate. They are soldiers who refuse to fade away. This broadcast is their story. It is our story, too.
[Street scene. Miami]
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] For 17 years, now, Cuban exiles have walked the streets of this American city, carrying with them some of the darkest secrets of our government. They include men who broke into Watergate and men enlisted by the American government to assassinate Fidel Castro. The CIA secret war on Cuba was conceived in Washington and aimed at Havana. But wherever you begin to report this story, all roads lead here -to Miami’s Little Havana. My colleague, George Crile has been coming here for two years, now, writing a book about the CIA’s secret war.
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: We are trying to fight Fidel Castro and his regime around the world and inside Cuba.
GEORGE CRILE: A terrorist campaign.
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: No, no, no. We are revolutionary. We are not terrorists.
GEORGE CRILE: And the tactics will include striking at Cuban targets abroad—
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: Abroad, yes. One of our targets — of our tactics attacking Cuban embassy and personnel around the world.
GEORGE CRILE: Have you had many operations recently?
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: This month? Eight.
GEORGE CRILE: What are some of them?
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: Panama, Guatenada, Trinidad Tobago, Colombia, Mexico, and three more on the way.
GEORGE CRILE: And these are bombings? Or what are they?
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: That’s a top secret.
GEORGE CRILE: They tried to assassinate a Cuban official in Mexico.
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: They were trying to eliminate a Communist in Mexico — a Cuban Communist in Mexico.
GEORGE CRILE: Well, the action that the exiles used to make were symbolic bombs put out on the sidewalk in front of the embassy late at night.
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: No, no, no, not on the sidewalk. Inside the embassy. What happened in Trinidad Tobago two days ago. We set off a bomb inside the Guyana Embassy in Trinidad Tobago and we killed three — I mean, we injured three members of the Communist Party inside the embassy.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Lopez-Estrada’s easy candor makes it hard to realize that he is talking about a campaign of terror whose base of operations is an American city. Hard also to realize that these are men whose tactics of secrecy and violence once were inspired and condoned by the highest levels of our government.
GEORGE CRILE: Is this similar to the kinds of work that some of you may have done for the CIA in the ë60s against Castro?
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: Yes, sir.
GEORGE CRILE: Same tactics?
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: Yes, sir. We learned from them. We used the tactic that we learned from the CIA because we were trained to do everything. We were trained to set off a bomb. We were trained to kill. We were trained to infiltrate inside Cuba. We were trained to do everything. So we had direct payments. And right now, we don’t have the support of the United States government. We have to do it for ourselves.
BILL MOYERS: There are probably no more than 200 or 300 exiles actively engages in the violence. But in a terrorist war, even 20 or 30 determined men can be an awesome force. Like fish, terrorists need a sea to swim in, a community to sustain them. They find it here, in Miami’s Little Havana. The exiles came to Miami in 1959, after Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba. Today, there are over a half million Cubans living here. They have adapted and prospered. They have not, however, disappeared into the melting pot. You see this superficial differences everywhere. But you can only begin to understand the unique mindset of this American city when you talk to the exiles about Cuba and of the way of life they feel was stolen from them when Castro brought Communism to their homeland. What it comes down to is a base of support for the terrorists. At first hardly anyone noticed as the terrorists attacked targets abroad. But by 1974, their bombs were exploding in Miami. And it was impossible to ignore them. In the last three years, there have been over 100 bombings. In one day alone, bombs exploded in two post offices, a bank, the office of the FBI, the state’s attorney and the Dade County Police Department. Rolando Otero, responsible for bombing the Miami International Airport, is a veteran of the Bay of Pigs. He was just 17 when the CIA recruited him for the invasion. The terrorists who worked with Otero say these bombings are an indication of what to expect if the United States tries to restore relations with Cuba. Equally menacing are the political assassinations. Already, seven exile leaders have been murdered. Some, apparently, for adopting a moderate position toward Castro’s Cuba. Attempts have been made on others who condemn the terrorists. Little Havana has become a community where a man expresses himself freely only at great risk. One radio reporter had his legs blown off shortly after denouncing the terrorist tactics. Max Lesnick, the publisher of Replica, the largest Cuban newspaper in Little Havana, was another journalist to be victimized by terrorism.
MAX LESNICK: They exploded the two bombs here in Replica. A group of fascists tried to kill me in Little Havana. But anyway, this is the situation down there that all newspapermen or journalists have to face when you want to openly explain your position.
GEORGE CRILE: Well, what do you do to protect yourself?
MAX LESNICK: Okay. I have’ the protection of my intelligence service in some way. And I have a lot of friends. I have enemies but I have friends. And I have a small handgun.
GEORGE CRILE: Do you really need to have that gun?’
MAX LESNICK: Yes. I really need it. For my own protection. If my enemies know that I don’t have some way to retaliate the attacks, I will be a dead man, anyway.
BILL MOYERS: Juan Jose Peruyero was the seventh exile leader to be assassinated in Little Havana. In the month before his murder, the Miami terrorist had carried out numerous attacks on Cuban officials, culminating in the October bombing of the Air Cubana flight. By now, it was widely believed that Fidel Castro, the ultimate target of these terrorist attacks, would retaliate. Since the man in this coffin was a Bay of Pigs veteran and one of the better-known anti-Castro activists, the men at his funeral insisted that Peruyero had been killed by Castro’s agents. The charge is not without apparent logic. Just as the faces in this crowd appear to be the faces of ordinary men. But consider their experiences. Hundreds of veterans of CIA campaigns against Cuba in the Congo and throughout Latin America. Several of the men here were involved in Watergate. A number of the terrorists are here and a sizeable contingent of undercover police. FBI agents and, we can presume. spies from Cuba and other Latin American countries. In Little Havana. hardly anything is what it appears to be. Most of these men consider themselves patriots. But their loyalties vary. So do their identities. One man may play many roles. And just as it’s hard to find out who killed Juan Jose Peruyero. It is also hard to understand what brought them all to his funeral. To trace the path, to try to understand the terrorism at work in this American city, we must travel back through the maze of America’s secret policies toward Cuba — back to where it all began: with that decision in Washington to destroy the man these exiles so bitterly denounce today.
BILL MOYERS: Every year, veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion gather in Miami to commemorate their dead and to pledge anew their determination to overthrow Fidel Castro. Sixteen years ago, when they landed on the beaches of Cuba, they were young and full of hope — 1400 brave and eager soldiers in the CIA’s secret army, fighting to liberate their country. Among them. Rolando Martinez, who went to work for the CIA in 1960. He was still on the agency’s payroll when he later broke into Watergate. Many of them are middle-aged, now. But from their ranks come a number of today’s terrorists.
GRAYSTON LYNCH: Men of the brigade, it has now been more than 15 years since that night in April of 1961 when this brigade landed on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Americans were not supposed to have gone ashore at the Bay of Pigs. But the American you are looking at, here, led the brigade onto the beaches. He even fired the first shots at the Cuban defenders. His name is Grayston Lynch. Now a retired CIA case officer. Lynch is here today because, like these Cuban exiles around him, he is still haunted by a sense of betrayal and by the need to understand what went wrong during those three bloody days in April, 16 years ago.
GRAYSTON LYNCH: It is time, now, that we came to some real truths.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] No one knows more of the truth about the Bay of Pigs than Richard Bissell. As the CIA’s chief of covert operations, he was the architect of the Bay of Pigs invasion. His charge from the White House was to get rid of Fidel Castro.
RICHARD BISSELL: In the year 1960, to contemplate a full-fledged Communist state just off our shores in the Caribbean was, indeed, extremely shocking. Everyone’s used to this, now. But that was a very shocking concept.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] To understand why it was so shocking, you have to remember what the America of Richard Bissell’s generation had just experienced. Our world view had been instructed by Pearl Harbor, by the rise to power of Nazi Germany, and by the seizure of Eastern Europe by the Russians. Suddenly, we saw ourselves at the barricades of freedom, the Soviet Union as the unquestioned threat to democracy.
RICHARD BISSELL: We were in what has become fashionable to call the Cold War. And it was very easy to classify individuals and political parties and certain governments as being the bad guys, others as our allies, the good guys.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] We talked to Bissell about a previously classified White House report [the Hoover Report] on the future use of the CIA, prepared in 1954 by a group of distinguished citizens. “It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination. There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable norms of human conduct do not apply. If the United States is to survive, longstanding American concepts of fair play must be reconsidered. We must learn to subvert, sabotage and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated and more effective methods than those used against us.”
BILL MOYERS: [with Bissell] Was that the prevailing ethic?
RICHARD BISSELL: I think that’s an excellent statement of the prevailing view — at least the view of those who had had any contact with covert operations of one kind or another.
BILL MOYERS: In other words, the nature of the enemy is such that any tactics are necessary — are justified in order to thwart him and defeat him.
RICHARD BISSELL: I believe that was the view. And it certainly was my view at the time.
BILL MOYERS: How did Castro and Cuba fit into this world view?
RICHARD BISSELL: When Castro came to power, there was ‘still a great deal of doubt in Washington and, indeed, in the agency, itself, as to whether he was a committed Communist or was so Leftward leaning as to be, really, beyond redemption. And I remember, when Castro attended a U.N. meeting fairly soon after he’d come into office, was the dispatch of an officer of the clandestine service who met him secretly in New York and gave him a two-hour briefing on the dangers of Communism in Cuba, probably naming names.
BILL MOYERS: Naming the names of people in Cuba who were acting for the Communists who might try to subvert Castro.
RICHARD BISSELL: Right. Exactly.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] In Havana this year, we talked to Fidel Castro about the irony of his 1959 trip to the United States — a friendly CIA encounter in New York, but an ominous meeting in Washington with the American vice president.
FIDEL CASTRO: [through an interpreter] And I was invited to talk to Nixon. I had a talk with him about an hour and a half or so, if I’m not wrong in my memory, about two hours I talked with Nixon. And I remember that he was interested about Cuba. He asked me which were our ideas. And I explained the real objective needs Cuba had to Operate the theories of social changes. I remember that Nixon looked very young. He would have about 40 or so years. He listened to me with attention — I think that with indulgence. And then we said goodbye. Later on, I found out that immediately after our interview was over, Nixon sent a memorandum to Eisenhower telling him that I was a Communist, and that I had to be eliminated.
BILL MOYERS: Well, were you a Communist?
FIDEL CASTRO: I was a Communist. I, personally, was a Communist.
BILL MOYERS: Did it occur to you that the first Communist society in this hemisphere would make the United States nervous?
FIDEL CASTRO: But I think that much more nervous we could feel about it. to think that we have as neighbors such a powerful capitalist country as the U.S.A. And if we can resign to that idea, why can’t the U.S.A. resignate to this idea?
BILL MOYERS: But in the atmosphere of the Cold War, the United States was not ready to accept a Communist as the leader of a country just ninety miles away. Washington was increasingly alarmed by the news from Cuba: no elections; the beginnings of a mass exodus of Cuba’s middle class; the seizure of American business holdings. Most alarming — the unmistakable alliance Castro was forging with the Soviet Union. If not a Communist, he was at least-deemed to be serving their interests. In March of 1960, President Eisenhower authorized the CIA to overthrow Fidel Castro. The Agency’s initial plans called for a small guerrilla operation.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: [taking Oath of Office] I, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
BILL MOYERS: But by January, 1961, Kennedy’s inauguration, the CIA was proposing a massive operation built around a full-scale military invasion. The new President was faced with a terrible decision — whether to authorize or cancel the invasion. Somehow the CIA Director Allen Dulles convinced Kennedy that the American participation could be concealed, and he warned of grave consequences if the invasion was called off. The CIA had already recruited an exile army. Many of the men had been trained in guerrilla and commando tactics. They could not be disbanded without enormous political embarrassment. The disposal problem Kennedy faced back in 1961, we face today in Little Havana: what to do with the CIA’s exile agents. According to Arthur Schlesinger. Kennedy was troubled by the plan and made this comment just before authorizing the invasion. “If we have to get rid of these men, it is much better to dump them in Cuba than in the United States, especially if that is where they want to go.” This is where they were dumped — a long coastline called the Bay of Pigs. What happened here is the key to the history of the secret army all the way to Watergate and beyond. As with most battlefields. the scars of war have long vanished. But this is still a mysterious place — appropriately so. The Bay of Pigs invasion was the largest CIA operation m history. And it was begun in almost total secrecy.
BILL MOYERS: [at Bay of Pigs beach] It was an ill-starred venture from the beginning. Fewer than 200 of the invaders were regular soldiers. The others had been engineers, musicians, doctors, artists, mechanics, clerks, clergymen, even a few journalists. Some didn’t even know how to fire a rifle. And many were so trusting that they didn’t believe that the United States government, which had recruited, trained and sent them to the Bay of Pigs. would desert them once they got here. For them, it was a personal tragedy. Some lost their lives. The survivors lost their homeland. In time, they Would lose their unquestioning faith in America.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] In the beginning, the brigade thought the CIA’s plan was going to work. The first bombing raids destroyed much of Castro’s tiny air force. And in the initial fighting the brigade, armed with tanks and mortars. inflicted heavy casualties on the Cuban defenders. The exiles were so confident of victory that some even took time out on that first morning to pose for their own cameramen. The brigade’s first mission was simply to seize and hold a beachhead at the Bay of Pigs. Then the agency was to fly in a group of exile leaders from Miami. The United States would declare them the legitimate provisional government of Cuba. Within a few weeks. rebellion would break out in Castro’s army and throughout the island. And Castro would fall from power. Or so we hoped. To succeed, the invaders first had to control the air over Cuba. But the CIA was not to follow up its first successful air strikes. Back in Washington, stung by charges at the U.N. that America was sponsoring an invasion of Cuba, and fearful that more B-26 raids would involve the U.S. too openly. Kennedy canceled the remaining bombing runs. The air belonged to Castro. There is one American today who fully understands what Kennedy’s decision meant to the brigade. The CIA case officer, Grayston Lynch, had shared with these men the certainty of air support when he led them ashore 16 years ago.
GRAYSTON LYNCH: We were hit just after daylight by his planes. They continued to hit us all morning. We lost two ships — sunk. We could not unload the ammunition for the brigade. The brigade went ashore carrying one day’s supply of ammunition. That’s all.
GEORGE CRILE: And you watched as the men were being shot at from the air without any ammunition left and you were on the radio talking to Washington, what was the message coming in to you?
GRAYSTON LYNCH: A lot of promises, promises of all types of aid, which never arrived.
BILL MOYERS: One of the final messages that came over the radio was an offer to evacuate the exile army. But Pepe San Roman, the Brigade’s leader, was so sure that the promised air support was on its way that he turned the offer down.
PEPE SAN ROMAN: I never saw the United States lose a war. So I thought that some mistake had happened, that they were still going to go ahead with the plan, that something wrong has come up but — It was unthinkable. I couldn’t — never seen the United States do anything like that. And it was unbelievable. I — it has to be something wrong and they were going to land later on. And even though I hated to see my country being taken by a foreign country, I thought they were going to come in and just give us a hand only until we were strong enough to continue by ourselves.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] On the third day, while still waiting for the air support the brigade ran out of ammunition: The CIA secret army was now in Castro’s hands.
GEORGE CRILE: You had 20 months in jail to try to think over what had happened at the Bay of Pigs. What kind of thoughts did you have?
PEPE SAN ROMAN: I was ready to grab a rifle and fight the United States. It was a bad time for me. It was a bad time for every member of the brigade — very bad. Our hopes were crushed. For me, the government of the United States was the utmost of everything — bigger than my father, than my mother, than God. And to me, it was so low—’ so low a blow — to put you in here with so many plans and so many hopes for your country. And they knew before they sent us, in my mind, that they were not going to go ahead with it.
BILL MOYERS: [with Bissell] Are you saying that if the American stake had been clearly on the table, you might have gone all the way and had all that you needed to make it work?
RICHARD BISSELL: That’s substantially what I’m saying, yes. If everyone had believed and admitted to himself that the U.S. would be wholly held responsible, the President probably would have canceled the operation. But what in fact happened was that we had gone along for the preceding two months being over careful not to have a white face on the beaches, not to have modern aircraft in the air. Not to have a gun boat that could protect that old small cargo ships that we were using. And we had been over careful about these things that could have made a big difference. especially the air crews, because we were trying to preserve disclaimability. We were trying to preserve something that already was lost.
BILL MOYERS: [Bay of Pigs] For America, the Bay of Pigs opened an era in which history gave back to us the opposite of what we intended. Instead of ousting Castro, we only helped to consolidate his hold on Cuba. Instead of forcing the Russians out of the hemisphere, what happened at the Bay of Pigs led us to accept their presence. It probably contributed directly to the confrontation with the Soviets in the Cuban missile crisis two years later. The secret war against Cuba did not end here at the Bay of Pigs. As we shall see. it was only the beginning.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Miami, 1962. The country watches as President Kennedy welcomes back the Bay of Pigs prisoners. It had taken a year and a half and a ransom of $53 million to get these men out of Castro’s jails. At the time. few of us understood how Kennedy’s decision to cancel the air strikes had doomed the brigade. If we had, we might have wondered what was going on here. Why were the exiles cheering Kennedy as if he were their savior and champion? They shared a secret with him. The country thought the CIA’s war on Castro had ended at the Bay of Pigs. Actually, the President had set into motion a secret war so large that almost every person in this stadium had a friend or relative or at least an acquaintance who participated in it. On this day, the brigade presented Kennedy with its flag. And the exiles cheered. You can understand why when you listened to the pledge he made to them.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: [at podium] I can assure you that this flag will be returned to this brigade in a free Havana.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Kennedy’s pledge was well-publicized. But few Americans knew he had already committed the United States to an undeclared war on Cuba involving thousands of men and tens of millions of dollars. Dr. Ray Cline was then the deputy director of the CIA.
Dr. RAY CLINE: I would say that the altitude toward Castro throughout this period — but especially after the humiliation of the Bay of Pigs — was as determinedly antagonistic as it had been toward North Korea during the Korean incident. We visualized a situation in which Cuba was a thorn in the American side. And I don’t believe there was anybody in our government who did not speak disparagingly and bitterly about Castro and what he was doing to the peoples of the western hemisphere and how important it was to get rid of him — to extract Castro from the geopolitical picture.
BILL MOYERS: It wasn’t just
FIDEL CASTRO: Washington feared his political allegiances and his boast that he would spread his revolution throughout the hemisphere. By now, he had declared himself to be a Marxist-Leninist and ostentatiously embraced the Soviet Union. To Washington, the sounds from Cuba were like a Cold War nightmare come true. After the Bay of Pigs. Castro denounced Kennedy as another Hitler, and triumphantly ordered the destruction of the last symbols of the United States -the memorial near the American Embassy in Havana was to come crashing down. To a proud young president of the most powerful country in the world, it was the ultimate humiliation — this David taunting the fallen Goliath.
RAY CLINE: Both of the Kennedy brothers — and particularly Bobby — felt they had been booby-trapped at the Bay of Pigs and that it became a constant preoccupation — almost an obsession — to right the record somehow. And I remember what people have said about the Kennedys in other contexts, that they learned from their father, “Don’t get mad — get even.”
BILL MOYERS: And so the Kennedys commissioned the secret war. They even recruited some of the CIA’s first warriors: Armando Lopez-Estrada. the terrorist leader we met earlier. escaped from Cuba ‘after the Bay of Pigs. Now. back in the United States, he received a call from the White House.
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: I was in my house when I received a phone call from one member of the White House. And they asked me to buy fancy clothes and everything I needed and take a plane to Washington because the President wanted to talk to me.
GEORGE CRILE: Were you angry at the United States and at President Kennedy?
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: At that moment, yes. At that moment. Very angry.
GEORGE CRILE: Did you tell them that?
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: I tell them. I did. Because we wanted to know why we were abandoned inside Cuba.
BILL MOYERS: Another man who escaped with Lopez-Estrada was Roberto San Roman. brother of the imprisoned brigade commander. He too went to Washington to meet the Kennedy brothers.
PEPE SAN ROMAN: He took us to his home that same day. And he had a party.
GEORGE CRILE: This is Robert Kennedy.
PEPE SAN ROMAN: Robert Kennedy.
GEORGE CRILE: At Hickory Hill.
PEPE SAN ROMAN: That’s right. And he had his sons and daughters there, you know, to create an atmosphere — a family atmosphere. We really needed that because we were morally destroyed at that time.
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: In one of my interviews with Bobby Kennedy, he himself asked me if I wanted to work against Fidel Castro’s regime again. Of course. I said yes immediately. And then he called one man. As soon as I saw the person. I became very happy because I met him on the Bay of Pigs. His name was Gray.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Gray, of course, was Grayston Lynch.
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: At that time, we trained in the Keys — the Florida Keys. We used to come ashore from a mother ship in a rubber boat with mortar that we painted black and, you know, with a silencer and everything and land on the shore and then walk through the mangroves and through the backyards of private homes and everything, you know — this kind of training in the middle of civilization, you know.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The commando strikes began just weeks after the Bay of Pigs. Sugar cane fields were set ablaze. Later the attacks grew more ambitious, aimed at major industrial targets. But it was not just commando strikes. The CIA was already beginning an elaborate plan to destroy the Cuban economy.
RAY CLINE: And some rather elaborate clandestine operations were laid on which I remember involving, oh, contamination of commodities being shipped to or out of Cuba, the interference with the machinery — it’s called subtle sabotage. You know, if you send a piece of machinery to a country which looks great and yet the ball bearings are square instead of round so that in a few months it chews itself up, that’s subtle sabotage rather than— as distinct from pulling a booby trap in the machine that blows up immediately. So there were a number of operations of subtle sabotage, some of them rather successful. But that’s the kind of thing that the United States had in mind at that time.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Seven months after the Bay of Pigs, President Kennedy traveled to Seattle to deliver a major foreign policy address at the University of Washington. He talked about the rules of conduct that limited the United States in its fight against Communism.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: We cannot, as a free nation, compete with our adversaries in tactics of terror, assassination, False promises, counterfeit mobs and crises, we cannot, under the scrutiny of a free press and public. tell different stories to different audiences — foreign and domestic.
BILL MOYERS: [in Miami] So President Kennedy spoke to the nation on November 16th, 1961. But he was also at that time approving Operation Mongoose, the code name for the next stage of the secret war against Cuba. The name was romantic — Operation Mongoose — but the tactics were not. They included those very things the President had just said America did not do. Until Vietnam, there had never been anything in the American experience quite like the war on Cuba. To begin with, it’s against the law for the CIA to operate in the United States. But to direct its secret army, the agency established here in Miami the largest CIA operation in the world.
BILL MOYERS: It’s certainly an anomaly. You ran it as if it were in a foreign country. But it was on American soil.
RAY CLINE: That’s right. It is an anomalous case of a CIA operation which, if I had to justify it in terms of basic doctrine and charter, l would find rather difficult.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] We asked Dr. Cline how large that CIA station was.
RAY CLINE: If I had to guess, I would say 600 or 700 American staff officers. Now, that means people who are administering and running things. And —
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The figures bear repeating: 600 or 700 CIA officials in Miami secretly working to overthrow Fidel Castro.
RAY CLINE: But that’s a very large group of American staff officers. That does not include the Cubans with whom these people were dealing.
BILL MOYERS: Most estimates put the number at about 2,000. Rolando Martinez, whom we’ll meet again at Watergate, was one of those Cuban agents. He made over 350 clandestine missions to Cuba. We talked about those operations with Martinez and one of his early case officers, Grayston Lynch.
GRAYSTON LYNCH: This was spread over many years that we had — other captains have had, I don’t know, maybe 100. 150. We had people who went inside of Cuba on operations — 50, 60, 70, 80 times. It’s just a long war.
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: I went to the ocean. I was not a professional. I was not a Navy man. I was not even made for this kind of job. We were made by people like Gray. I did not know starboard from port and from the stem. And we might look after 354 missions that I enjoyed those missions, that I liked to be setting off the 57 recoilless rifle, the 11-calibre 50 that we carry around, the donut explosive to protect ourselves if we were chasen. I mean, so we have like me, doctors, attorneys, working in this kind of a job. We were made by you people in the hope that our effort was going to be rewarded in gaining our freedom.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Martinez and Lynch took us on a tour of some their early bases in Miami.
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: This was one of our safe houses, one of the ones they start bringing hope to us, again. You can see, was in a better neighborhood so we thought at that time that we really had the backing of the whole country. Was big. It was the dream house for this kind of operation.
GEORGE CRILE: Rolando, you would bring your guns and. gunboats right into that garage, there?
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: Yes. we used to load all our equipment.
GEORGE CRILE: And no one ever saw that you were doing anything suspicious.
GRAYSTON LYNCH: No. Not really. You have to remember that the people were in sympathy with us, for what we were doing. So if they had any suspicions or anything, they just kept quiet and more or less “good luck.
BILL MOYERS: And so the gun boats, dressed as pleasure craft, traveled down the canal on their way to Cuba.
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: When we went around here, we just were expecting to see the car of our C.O. [commanding officer] parking right in the comer to say, like, the last goodbye.
BILL MOYERS: Every time Martinez and his Cuban agents left this canal carry 50-calibre machine guns, they were clearly violating the country’s neutrality acts. At times, they were a problem for an unsuspecting Coast Guard.
GEORGE CRILE:: What would you say if they slopped you?
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: Well. in the beginning, I was stubborn. I’d say, “I have nothing to say arid you are not allowed to come aboard. Contact your boss and tell it what boat you are stopping.”
BILL MOYERS: Later, a more acceptable arrangement was worked out with the Coast Guard.
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: Then we were in advance given 30 or 31 different words for every day.
GRAYSTON LYNCH: In a sealed envelope. One for each day.
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: In a sealed envelope. And you opened that envelope the day that corresponded to the whether you were running. And if anyone stopped you, you just say “Alpha.” or “Omega.” “Kennedy.”
BILL MOYERS: Sometimes it would take the men almost a week to get back from Cuba to this canal.
GEORGE CRILE: Gray, what would you talk about when you met your boys when they came back from a raid’?
GRAYSTON LYNCH: Well, it was a regular debriefing. They would explain in chronological order exactly what happened.
GEORGE CRILE: So you would just get ready for the next one.
GRAYSTON LYNCH: Routine .
BILL MOYERS: But how was it possible to launch such provocative operations from Miami? For one thing, the agency created a network of safe houses to hide its activities. There were hundreds of them stretching from Miami to Key West. These beach houses in different locations, up and down the Keys, served as way stations for CIA commandos. But there was no way to conceal all the operations of more than 2,000 American and Cuban agents with their gun boats traveling down this coast.
BILL MOYERS: [in Miami] How, then, did they do it? Well, they had a lot of help — from the Customs, the Coast Guard, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and from much of the Miami and South Florida establishment. Seducing the press was critical. Two senior CIA officials told us they had explicit arrangements with the press, here, to keep their secret operations from being reported — except when it was mutually convenient. Nineteen separate police departments had to be enlisted so they wouldn’t arrest gun-toting exile agents. Bankers were needed to extend credit to CIA men running phony businesses and using fake names. And the need for cooperation stretched down the line. It amounted to a mass conspiracy to violate the country’s neutrality acts and other federal, state and local laws, as well.
RAY CLINE: In the circumstances of the time, with the kind of thinking we’ve been discussing at the top of the government no one questioned the wisdom or the propriety of such activity. The question was whether you’re doing enough to carry out the objectives of the U.S. Government.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] This is a sample of the pressure: Robert Kennedy, at a meeting of the Cuban Task Force. “The overthrow of Castro has the top priority in the United States government. All else is secondary. No time, money, effort or manpower is to be spared”: Former Secretary of Defense. Robert McNamara. recalling the mood of those times, “We were hysterical about Cuba at the time of the Bay of Pigs and the thereafter”: General Edward Lansdale, Robert Kennedy’s man brought in to run the secret war. “We are in a combat situation where we’ve been given full command.” One proposal submitted to the White House by Lansdale’s task force called for the use of biological and chemical warfare against the Cuban sugar workers. The General spelled out his proposals — 32 in all — in a 1962 memorandum to the attorney general. It concluded with this statement. “My review does not include the sensitive work I have reported to you. I felt you preferred informing the President privately… September 1975: the Senate Intelligence Committee displays an assassination device designed by the CIAës technical services division. Back in the early 1960s, Americans made a hero of James Bond. The fictional English spy with his 007 license to kill. But in real life, we thought that weapons like this one were employed only by the totalitarian regimes Bond was trying to neutralize. We learned something new about ourselves in the course of this Senate investigation. Our secret war on Cuba included assassination as a weapon of foreign policy.
BILL MOYERS: [with Castro] How did you feel when you first learned that the CIA was trying to overthrow you?
FIDEL CASTRO: It was so long ago that I almost do not remember. [laughter] But it seems to me like an evident truth — it has been a real truth since the very beginning of the revolution. And for the North Americans, the reports about the plans of the attempts against our lives were apparently something new.
GEORGE CRILE: Have you read this report? The Senate report?
FIDEL CASTRO: Most of it. I have read, especially things regarding Cuba. And I can tell you that here you find only part of the plans directly organized by the CIA in order to murder leaders of the Cuban revolution.
BILL MOYERS: Fidel Castro says there were 24 CIA assassination attempts. The Senate Intelligence Committee has documented eight. The CIA began lo plot Castro’s assassination during the Eisenhower administration. But in the early weeks of the Kennedy administration, the agency moved to streamline its assassination capability. The man in charge was Richard Bissell — then chief of covert operations for the CIA. He is speaking publicly about this subject for the first time.
BILL MOYERS: At one time the CIA organized a small department known as Executive Action, which was a permanent assassination capability. How did that?
RICHARD BISSELL: Well, it wasn’t just an assassination capability. It was a capability to discredit or get rid of people. But it could have included assassination.
BILL MOYERS: The CIA’s first plans for gelling rid of Castro aimed at discrediting him. By impregnating a box of the Cuban leader’s cigars with LSD. The agency hoped Castro would make a speech while under the influence and discredit himself publicly. Then there was the plan to dust his shoes with a powder that would cause his beard to fall out. The CIA thought this would rub Castro of his charisma. But for one reason or another such schemes were abandoned. And in August, 1960 the CIA turned to assassination. Richard Bissell believes that CIA Director Allen Dulles briefed both President Eisenhower and his successor, John Kennedy. But Bissell acknowledges that even he does not know for certain. The presidential method of granting authorization for sensitive operations like this was designed to be enigmatic.
RICHARD BISSELL: A president typically says that he wants to get rid of someone. And obviously he and everybody else involved would much rather get rid of someone in a rather nice way. But if the emphasis is on getting rid of him by whatever means have to be used. This I would have taken as an authorization.
BILL MOYERS: You’re not the first person to tell us about this curious way that CIA officials had in briefing the President, using circumlocution, as you said, and euphemisms. What was the reason for talking in this code?
RICHARD BISSELL: I think it’s very simple. I think if is the duty of a good intelligence officer to make sure that he doesn’t do anything that the chief of slate doesn’t want done or doesn’t approve of. And secondly, that he conduct his conversations with the chief of state in such a way that the chief of stale can never be proved to have explicitly authorized certain kinds of actions.
BILL MOYERS: Came to be known as deniability.
RICHARD BISSELL: Correct. A chief of state must, if he has a well-run intelligence service, be able to say that he knew nothing of a particular operation.
BILL MOYERS: It was under Richard Bissell’s command, just after Eisenhower had instructed the CIA to remove Castro from power, that the agency undertook its most highly criticized operation — the Mafia contract to assassinate Castro. The man who contacted the Mafia for the CIA was Robert Maheu. one of the mystery men of our times. During World War 2, he was an FBI agent, then a private detective, performing special contracts for the CIA. At the time of his recruitment to engineer the Mafia plot, he was just beginning as Howard Hughes’ chief trouble-shooter.
ROBERT MAHEU: I felt that we were involved in a just war. And I agreed to make the contact.
BILL MOYERS: The men he recruited for the CIA were John Roselli the Las Vegas Mafioso, Sam Giancana the Don of Chicago, Santo Trafficante the Don of Tampa.
ROBERT MAHEU: I personally am convinced that they agreed to join the assignment truly because they thought that they were making a contribution to the national security of our government.
BILL MOYERS: The contradictions in this story seem endless. The Mafia begun in the Eisenhower administration continued until early 1963. By that time, Robert Kennedy was supervising the CIA secret war from his attorney general’s office. He was also directing a war on organized crime. And Giancana and Trafficante were on his special list of Mafia figures targeted for prosecution. Thus, while one government agency was trying to put these men in jail, another had already enlisted them to kill Fidel Castro. The President’s brother was briefed about the Mafia plot in 1962 by the CIA. He may have thought the plot had been discontinued. Still, his response seems instructive. Kennedy issued no orders or guidelines prohibiting such activities in the future, only this proviso: “I trust that if you ever try to do business with organized crime again — with gangsters — you will let the attorney general know”
BILL MOYERS: You say you think, now, it was a mistake. But at the time, you apparently thought it was justified.
RICHARD BISSELL: I did.
BILL MOYERS: Why do you now think that it was a mistake?
RICHARD BISSELL: Mainly because I think we should not have involved ourselves with the Mafia. I think an organization that does so is losing control of the security of its information. I think we should have been afraid that we would open ourselves lo blackmail.
BILL MOYERS: If I read you correctly, you’re saying it’s the involvement with the Mafia that disturbed you and not the need or decision to assassinate a foreign leader.
RICHARD BISSELL: Correct.
BILL MOYERS: Do you have any second doubts about that?
RICHARD BISSELL: I don ‘I have any serious second doubts in the context of the times when these decisions were made except perhaps for one — a doubt or a proviso. I believe that an operation of that kind should never be undertaken unless it can be done so in the deepest, most permanently impenetrable secrecy.
BILL MOYERS: It’s all right if it isn’t disclosed.
RICHARD BISSELL: Ever. Or suspected. May I — I want to add a little…
BILL MOYERS: Anything you want to.
RICHARD BISSELL: Obviously, this is something that should not be done unless it’s virtually the last resort. And I not only think that the use of the Mafia was a mistake. I think we were a little too free and easy, then, in our whole attitude toward the possibility of assassination.
BILL MOYERS: John McCone former director of the CIA: “It was almost common for one person or another to say. We ought to dispose of Castro.”” Richard Helms, former director of the CIA: “If killing him was one of the things that was to be done, that was within what was expected.” Admiral Arleigh Burke, National Security Council: “Any plan for the removal of Cuban leaders should be a package deal. since many of the leaders around Castro were even worse than Castro.” General Edward Lansdale, chief of Operation Mongoose: “Gangster elements might provide the best recruitment potential for actions against Cuban officials.” This is a panelist of the testimony of record. In the summer of 1962, this man was a soldier in the CIA secret war. Washington was alarmed that summer by the Russian build-up in Cuba and newsmen pressed Kennedy about rumors of a new offensive.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: [at press conference] We are continuing to watch what happens in Cuba with the closest attention and will respond to — be glad to announce any new information, if it should come, immediately.
REPORTER: Would you answer my question of Capehart’s suggestion that we invade Cuba.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: Yes. No, I would not —
REPORTER: What about an answer. I didn’t —
JOHN F. KENNEDY: I am not for invading Cuba at this time.
[laughter but Kennedy doesn’t smile]
No, and I don’t have any — the words do not have some secondary meaning. I think it would be a mistake to invade Cuba.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Today, we can see the irony in the President’s words. He didn’t need to tum to the Marines to get rid of Castro. He had already given that assignment the CIA. In Havana, the easy questions at the press conference in Washington about invading Cuba were no laughing matter. For two years. the secret war with its commando raids and assassination attempts had been the central fact in Fidel Castro’s life. In the summer of 1962 that campaign was escalating. And Castro was contemplating drastic measures to counter it. With what we now know about the CIA’s secret war, let’s stop for a moment and look at the world as Castro saw it. On the eastern coast of his country, the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay — a reminder of the days when marines ruled Cuba; a little over 200 miles away, the second largest Cuban city in the world, Miami, full of its biller enemies: stretching to Key West, the safe houses and paramilitary bases of the largest CIA station in the world — some 2,000 exile agents. its infiltration teams now landing at points all around the island; in Washington, the highest officials of the American government plotting the destruction of the Cuban economy; around the globe in most major CIA stations. at least one agent assigned to disrupt Cuban trade; finally. a total embargo against Cuba agreed to by most of our allies. Thus the island was not only under secret siege. It was threatened with economic strangulation. Castro’s revolution could not have survived had it not been for the Soviet Union — an 8,000-mile umbilical cord stretched across the ocean. exchanging oil and machinery for sugar and nickel and subsidizing Castro’s economy with more than a million dollars a day. This was Castro’s lifeline in the summer of 1962. when journalists were asking Kennedy about rumors of a new invasion. Castro believed the rumors were true.
FIDEL CASTRO: And after having tried with economic blockade, with subversion, and the kind of war like the Bay of Pigs, the only alternative was left for them — direct invasion against Cuba. And that danger. in our opinion existed in a real manner. This was behind the decision to set the strategic missles in Cuba.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] In the fall. these Russian ships with their concealed cargo of nuclear missiles began arriving in Havana. On the evening of October 22nd, Americans went to their television sets to listen to the President announce the Cuban missile crisis.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: This government, as promised, has maintained the closest surveillance of the Soviet military build-up on the island of Cuba. Within the past week, unmistakable evidence has established the fact that a series of offensive missile sites is now in preparation on that imprisoned island. The purpose of these bases can be none other than to provide a nuclear strike capability against the Western hemisphere.
BILL MOYERS: And so the worst fears of the Cold War were realized. A local struggle had flared into a confrontation between the nuclear powers. In Washington and Moscow the machinery of world destruction was set into motion. It had all begun with the question of Fidel Castro’s right to survive as a Communist, 90 miles away. Now, in Havana. he mobilized his people for war. But it was a primitive gesture.’ Like the rest of us. Castro had to stand by helplessly as we waited to discover our fate. For Rolando Martinez, however, it was a moment of elation. Just a day before, he had dropped a commando team off here in Cuba, While waiting for them offshore, he heard the President on his shortwave radio.
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: When we heard Kennedy in his biggest speech. we said this is it. And we say, “we are the first to get into Cuba.”
GEORGE CRILE: You were already in Cuba.
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: We were already in Cuba. Say we are the first to get into Cuba. So that he gave us really joy and some kind of emotion that I cannot describe to you. Later on, we found out about the blockades and we carne out through all of the ships. I saw all the ships, the big Navy, the whole thing going, I say this is it, you know. I was happy. We said, boy, now we are legit. I mean, there is no more sneaky ways. We going boldly into Cuba and strike Cuba. As usual, it never happened, you know. As the result of that thing. it was another failure for the Cubans.
BILL MOYERS: The exiles reacted to the Cuban missile crisis with mixed emotions. But most of us thought it was President Kennedy’s finest hour — a performance matching toughness with restraint. We felt rather triumphant about it all, backing the Russians down. Castro’s role in transforming Cuba into a missile base for the Russians even seemed to justify our attempt to overthrow him at the Bay of Pigs. What no one considered at the time — because it was a secret to the American public — was the possibility that our Cuban policies had helped to precipitate the crisis in the first place. All through that year, the secret war had escalated. We have recently learned-that the task force directing the CIA’s war aimed for the overthrow of Castro by October, 1962 a month we now remember for the Cuban missile crisis. When the negotiations that ended the crisis were over, Kennedy had agreed with Khrushchev not to invade Cuba. But as in every chapter of this story the secret war continued.
BILL MOYERS: Dallas. November 22nd, 1963. President and Mrs. Kennedy arrive for a motorcade through the city. Half a continent away. in Miami, the CIA’s 2,000 agents were beginning another day in the 2 1/2 year-old secret war on Cuba. Fidel Castro had recently denounced Kennedy as a cretin and the Batiste of our times. He had added a warning. American leaders should realize that they could be in danger if they support efforts to assassinate Cuban leaders. On that same day. in Paris. a CIA official was meeting with a Cuban spy who had agreed to murder Castro. The man was a high Cuban government official. an intimate of Castro’s. He was being given a fountain pen in which the agency’s technical services division had imbedded a tiny poison pin. A slight prick in the skin and Castro would be dead. Just after the motorcade entered Dealey Plaza in Dallas, the two conspirators in Paris finished their meeting.
Sen. ROBERT MORGAN: And as they came out of the room. they heard the news story that Kennedy had been assassinated.
BILL MOYERS: Senator Robert Morgan, Democrat of North Carolina. spent 18 months as a member of the Senate committee investigating the PA’s attempts on Castro’s life.
BILL MOYERS: What did you learn about, on that commission?
Sen. ROBERT MORGAN: I learned about an awful lot of things that had been going on throughout the world and that had been carried on by our country !hat were quite shocking to me and, I think, shocking to the American people things that never thought happened or took place except in times of war.
BILL MOYERS: Such as.
Sen. ROBERT MORGAN: Well, I couldn’t imagine this country engaging in efforts to assassinate anyone or to take the life of anyone, in peacetime.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] As shocked as he was by the whole range of revelations. Robert Morgan points to one plot in particular — the one unfolding in Paris in the fall of 1963 which he thinks caused Castro to strike back. The Senator believes the CIA’s. would-be assassin was a double-agent whose reports to Castro of Washington’s conspiracy on his life finally provoked retaliation.
Sen. ROBERT MORGAN: Well as a lawyer of 25 years and as one who has tried many cases before juries. and as an attorney general in my state who had to argue many criminal cases on appeal. I would say I believe that the circumstances in this case are so strong that they convince me beyond every reasonable doubt that the assassination of our president was an act of retaliation for what we had tried to do in eliminating Castro.
FIDEL CASTRO: I’m going to tell you something. It would have been absolute insanity by Cuba — it would have been an irresponsible act if Cuba had gone to such an adventure as planning the death of the president of the U.S .A. This was crazy. It was a colossal insanity would have been a provocation. That is to say. it would have been to run the risk that our country would have been destroyed by the U.S.A. Nobody who is not insane could have thought about that.
BILL MOYERS: Yet the rumors about the assassination and Cuba persist. At first, it was because Lee Harvey Oswald’s membership in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and his attempts to go to Cuba: But now it is because we realize what the Warren Commission, which investigated Kennedy’s death, did not know or would not disclose — that in Castro’s eyes the American government had supplied a motive and Kennedy was its author. We didn’t know all this until just recently. Now, although there is no direct evidence respectable voices like Senator Morgan’s conclude Castro was responsible. This unsubstantiated speculation is one more legacy of the war against Cuba. All we can say for certain about the Kennedy assassination and Cuba is that it signaled the beginning of the end of the secret war.
GEORGE CRILE: At the time of the Kennedy assassination. were there still operations against Cuba — commando strikes.
GRAYSTON LYNCH: There was only one after the assassination and that had been approved prior to the assassination. And beginning in — under the Johnson administration. the operations changed to strictly intelligence missions.
GEORGE CRILE: What about at the time of the Kennedy assassination itself?
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: I was coming back from a mission from Cuba and I was being refueled down here in Marquesa by another of our support boats. And I found out about the Kennedy assassination. I was really stricken. Because we have great hope in Kennedy. Because we were the only ones who knew that Khrushchev-Kennedy pact was not working. Because we were conducting an operation against Cuba and we knew that at the very time in which Kennedy was killed. one of the biggest of all the operations, a commando attack against Cuba was going to take effect. And because Kennedy was killed. it never took effect. So I found out in the middle of the ocean about the killing of Kennedy. And it was very discouraging, you know. and sad.
GEORGE CRILE: Do you think the Kennedy administration was beginning to halt its operations against Cuba by the time the President was assassinated?
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: No. They were increasing the operations, on the contrary.
GEORGE CRILE: Is that your opinion. too.
GRAYSTON LYNCH: Yes. The plans that we had continued on into 1965 and they would have been progressively stronger attacks. And, again. for confirmation of that in the Senate committee hearings. they have pointed out that the President. I believe, approved nine commando operations in September before he was assassinated in November.
GEORGE CRILE: And those operations were being carried out?
GRAYSTON LYNCH: Yes. But only the beginning of them. There would have been many. many more.
BILL MOYERS: The secret war against Cuba did not end on November 22nd. 1963. But it did begin to fade away. Vietnam replaced Cuba as the preoccupation of the White House. Martinez, Lynch and the others would continue their boat operations from here for another four years. dropping supplies and weapons to the underground in Cuba. But there were no new assassination plots and no more commando raids from Miami. The CIA’s mandate was no longer to overthrow Fidel Castro but to prevent the Cuban revolution from spreading throughout Latin America. Hundreds of exile agents were kept on the payroll. Many were sent to Latin America to counter Castro’s agents. Two helped to hunt down Che Guevara in the mountains of Bolivia. But in 1967, the White House finally called a halt to the CIA’s secret war against Cuba. The agency closed down its giant station in Miami and disbanded its army of old soldiers. But once again the agony was faced with a disposal problem: what to do with its highly trained and motivated operatives A number turned to terrorism; but first, some would enlist in a new secret army and fight again — not in Havana -but in our nation’s capital. On the night of June 17th, 1972 the secret war on Cuba officially came home. Four of the men who broke into the Watergate complex in Washington were Cuban exiles, veterans of the CIA’s secret army. Now they had been recruited by Howard Hunt for another covert campaign, one which, like the Bay of Pigs, they thought had the full backing of the White House. The Watergate break-in was only one action in this new clandestine war. There had been others, there were to be more.
Sen. SAM ERWIN: [swearing in Bernard Barker at Watergate hearings] Do you solemnly swear that the evidence you shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?
BERNARD BARKER: I do.
BILL MOYERS: Bernard Barker is now a sanitation inspector for the City of Miami. Before the Bay of Pigs, he was Howard Hunt’s right-hand man in charge of recruiting exiles for the invasion. Ten years later, Hunt brought him out of retirement for Watergate. This latest assignment for the United States government began with a letter tacked to his front door.
GEORGE CRILE: This is a copy of a letter that appeared on your door just the night before the 10th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs. ”If you’re the Bernie Barker I used to know ten years ago, please call me before the 2nd. Signed. Howard Hunt.” Do you remember this letter?
BERNARD BARKER: Yes, I remember this letter. Perhaps if there is anything that ever changed my life, or that had tremendous effect on my life — it was this particular note. Of course. it’s signed. “Howard Hunt.” Well. I was one of the very very few who knew that Howard Hunt was “Eduardo.” Eduardo was a mythical name to the Cuban people. Eduardo was the man that was in charge of the CIA in this area. When you said ”Eduardo” you said the final word in everything relating to Cuba.
BILL MOYERS: [to Howard Hunt] They still speak of that name in an almost mystical way. Eduardo, to some of them, meant the hope for freeing Cuba. Eduardo became a hero to them, didn’t he?
HOWARD HUNT: I’ve heard that. said. yes. Bill.
BILL MOYERS: What did you tell Colson and the others in the White House about the Cubans you were trying to recruit?
HOWARD HUNT: I told them very simply that these were men who had had agency experience — certainly in the clandestine tradition — were reliable. very loyal to the United States and could be depended upon.
BILL MOYERS: They were that kind of people.
HOWARD HUNT: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: You knew you could trust them.
HOWARD HUNT: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: And they felt that because you were Eduardo. they could trust you and the men you were working for.
HOWARD HUNT: Early.
BERNARD BARKER: I think that if Howard Hunt would have told me jump over a mountain, on the way down. I’d have probably said. I wonder what he had in mind. you know. I would have followed Howard Hunt to hell and back.
BILL MOYERS: The trip to hell began here in Miami when, on the tenth anniversary of the Bay of Pigs in April, 1971. Howard Hunt made his fateful re-entry into the lives of the exiles. A ripple of excitement passed though the gathering as Barker moved about, telling friends that Eduardo was back. None of them knew that Hunt had never held a top post at the CIA. They thought he was a superspy, much like the characters he wrote about in his 50 spy novels. They didn’t know that he was retired from the CIA that he was trying lo gel a White House job that once there he would promote himself by telling of his ability to recruit them. Nor did they realize he was about in lead them into their most humiliating spectacle since his last appearance on the scene before the Bay of Pigs. Rolando Martinez was the first man Barker recruited for Eduardo. Martinez came from a very different CIA tradition. He was accustomed to case officers like Grayson Lynch, men who fought side-by-side with him and watched out for his interests.
GRAYSTON LYNCH: Rolando was the old faithful the, the old steady captain — terribly proficient. If you wanted a job done right— if you had an important job you sent Rolando. He did it, and he did it precisely. He was a professional and that’s the highest compliment I can give him.
BILL MOYERS: Martinez was still working for the CIA in 1971. He assumed Hunt was, too.
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: And I was kept with the intention that I was going to use in future: operations. And they told me that when they would resume the operation against Castro. I would be of tremendous value to them — for the cause. So Hunt meant for me the resumption of the operation against Castro.
BILL MOYERS: Some of them have told us that they believed that what they were doing was in some way connected with overthrowing Castro. What did you tell them about that?
HOWARD HUNT: Well, I certainly never told them anything of the kind. They had made an assumption that by virtue of my position in the White House, by virtue of the fact that had been a senior intelligence official had worked intimately with them in the past. That I would, let’s say amicus curiae [friend of the court] when the question came up, as it would, inevitably, in the second Nixon administration in terms of restoring relations with Castro. I think that they expanded — escalated — their hopes, based on seeing me move in and out of the old Executive Office Building, there having a phone that answered. “White House” and so forth. I think was impressive to them. I think that they thought that somehow this was going to mean the overthrow of Castro. Some of them did.
GEORGE CRILE: You once told me about a very emotional meeting you had with Howard a few months after he came down to Miami for the first time. In which you mentioned that you were operational again.
BERNARD BARKER: Oh yes, yes. Because that probably was one of the greatest moments that I can remember of this thing. You see, it was ten years after the invasion — perhaps about five or six years after I had been last been operational. Howard came from Washington and he says, “Well, Bernie, we’ve been talking around and so forth. Now. I have some things I want to tell you.” I said. “Well. Howard. I’ve been expecting you to come down to brass tacks. But, as usual I have followed our procedure. You’re the boss. I’ve waited for you to, in your own time — what is it? He said. “We’re creating a superstructure at the White House level. And it is above the FBI and the CIA. And we may end up in either one. if we so choose. But this is a national — you will he working for national security. I considered this was satisfactory. I said, “Okay. Howard.” I said. “Whatever you say. we’ll go ahead with it.” And then he got up and his face really lit up. And he said, “Bernie,” he says, “We are operational again as of right now.”
BILL MOYERS: Hunt had now gone to work with G. Gordon Liddy on the “plumbers” unit at the White House. He had Barker visit him in the Executive Office Building. And in a short time. Barker would assemble for him a small secret army, ready and eager to perform a variety of sensitive operations under the code name Diamond.
GEORGE CRILE: How many people did you manage to recruit for Operation Diamond?
BERNARD BARKER: Oh, about 120.
GEORGE CRILE: Did most of these people have experience with the CIA?
BERNARD BARKER: All of them. All of them were, at some time, connected with the — or another — connected with the Central Intelligence Agency, yes.
GEORGE CRILE: That was almost a prerequisite”
BERNARD BARKER: Yes. Definitely.
BILL MOYERS: When Bernard Barker testified before the Senate Watergate Committee, investigators thought only a handful of Cubans were involved in the scandal. He has just told us, 120 CIA veterans were enlisted.
GEORGE CRILE: What kind of missions could the Diamond people perform?
BERNARD BARKER: Any kind of missions. Because remember that here in Miami, we have every trained group that is needed in a revolution. If you want people superbly trained in explosives. we have ’em. If you want specialists in weapons, we have them. And you name them. and we got ’em.
GEORGE CRILE: You mentioned that assassination was one of the capabilities that you had to provide for.
BERNARD BARKER: No. I never mentioned assassination. I had no assassination groups in my capabilities.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] But as Barker explained, we may have been differing on a question of semantics.
BERNARD BARKER: There is a difference between assassination and killing. The only assassination that has ever been considered — in terms of intelligence — is political assassination. And political assassination is a very sophisticated subject and — which could very well be confused with assassination, per se.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] We ran into the same semantical difficulty on another allegation — that Operation Diamond was preparing to perform political kidnappings.
BERNARD BARKER: The word “kidnap” sounds to me like a term used in law. Remember that I’m a CIA agent — CIA background. We neutralize these things. We don’t think in terms of kidnapping. We don’t think in criminal terms. To you — to us, a casing — what you call a casing, to me is a feasibility study. And what you call a burglary. I call a surreptitious entry. Because there’s a difference in what you’re saying and what I’m saying.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Barker did not come by this interpretation of legality on his own. He learned it from his mentor [Hunt] at the CIA. In their mindset, almost any action was justified if carried out for reasons of national security. and in the traditions of the CIA. So Barker and the others followed Eduardo in operations against political targets of the White House — into the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist. Hunt would tell them that Ellsberg was passing classified information to the Russians. To the capital in Washington, to confront Ellsberg and others at an anti-war rally. Hunt would tell them that the demonstrators planned to desecrate J. Edgar Hoover’s coffin, lying in state. Finally, into Watergate. Hunt would tell them there were papers to be found proving that Castro was funneling money to George McGovern’s campaign. But the secret army was not to be disbanded after Watergate. It was to be used in President Nixon’s drug war — in Barker’s words, “to hit the Mafia using the tactics of the Mafia.” There was even talk of hitting columnist Jack Anderson by putting an LSD solution on the steering wheel of his car. and the scheme to disrupt the Democratic National Convention. Barker had readied his wire-tappers. street fighters — even a group of hippies prepared to carry out lewd demonstrations.
GEORGE CRILE: [with Barker] You have just described having helped to organize street fighters to go to the nation’s capital to break up demonstrations, it being part of an organization to disrupt the Democratic Convention. Sounds son of like declaring war on the democratic system. itself. Isn’t there some analogy to what the Nazis were doing back in the ’30s?
BERNARD BARKER: What you’re saying is that — in other words, that we can’t organize anything to defend ourselves. Huh? Because if we are afraid that some people may call us Nazis, then, it’s do nothing. I mean, this is what the Communists want you to think. Now, what we organized were defensive groups to prevent the normal functioning of a democratic process—
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Barker’s understanding of the democratic process is another of those troubling legacies of the secret war. Rolando Martinez’s story is different. Unlike Barker, he was troubled by his assignments for Eduardo and had gone to both his case officer and his station chief to ask them about Hunt. He was trying to get guidance. But Hunt’s work appeared to be a White House operation. And for whatever reason, the CIA didn’t want to interfere. So Martinez assumed it was all properly authorized and for a good cause.
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: There I was — a Cuban in contact with the Navy, with the Coast Guard, with the FBI, with the CIA, with all the authorities— all the higher authorities of this country, praised by the President of this country, Kennedy. Trying to fight a cause that we believed in with the help of the United States, going through all these years trusting, blind following, facing all kinds of dangers — until we got to the Watergate, which should be the supreme of all our efforts — working directly under the supervision of the White House, the higher authority in this country. And suddenly, I found myself in jail, like a criminal — my family suffering and in my principles, a tremendous doubt: Who should I trust? Whom should I be loyal to? There I was, a Cuban. The Congress was fighting the White House, the White House was fighting the CIA, the CIA was fighting the FBI, the FBI was fighting the Congress. There I was in the middle in the Watergate. Who should I trust? Who should I talk to?’ Where was the country? Who was representing the country? I thought in the beginning that we all worked together, fighting against Castro. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of a big problem in which you could not really pinpoint when were really serving this country.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] When this man landed on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs, Americans called him a Freedom Fighter. Today, he is an outlaw, hunted by the same government that once recruited. trained and armed him for the CIA’s secret war against Cuba.
GEORGE CRILE: Are you aware you are violating the American laws?
MASKED CUBAN EXILE: Really, I don’t think we are violating anything. In our point of view it is completely legal. Because I was trained to do that.
GEORGE CRILE: Trained by who?
MASKED CUBAN EXILE: By our control to the CIA. We did it before so we don’t think why we shouldn’t do it right now. We have contact with a former CIA and sometime we talk privately and we receive very good advice from them.
GEORGE CRILE: Do you feel, then, that constitutes moral support from the CIA?
MASKED CUBAN EXILE: Of course because when we talk to them, we remember a lot of things. I think what we did together and the way they taught me to fight and the way that I should behave.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] We’ve just been told that former CIA case officers are advising some of the terrorists. When we asked the CIA about this allegation, the agency refused to comment on any aspect of this broadcast. Meanwhile, the American government has begun negotiating with Cuba for better relations. And now these men in this concealed arsenal in Miami are an anachronism to just about everyone except themselves. All these years later, remnants of the CIA’s old secret army spin out of control — on a collision course, now, with Washington instead of Havana. A few miles away, on Labor Day, 1976 the veterans of the secret war are meeting openly. On the surface, there is nothing menacing about the gathering at the old Baptist Church, transformed into the Little Havana Community Center. That’s Grayston Lynch and his wife, He is one of the honored guests — the CIA case officer who led the Cubans ashore at the Bay of Pigs. On the right, Rolando Martinez — home after 15 months in jail for Watergate. Today, he’s escorting his old case officer and friend to the reunion. This is the first time the Bay of Pigs brigade has organized a political meeting. The CIA veterans are not the only ones turning out.
Rep. CLAUDE PEPPER: [arriving at Church] How are you? I’m Claude Pepper. So glad to see you.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Claude Pepper has been the congressman of this district for the last 14 years.
CLAUDE PEPPER: Hello. how are you? Very great occasion in honor of heroic men.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] The brigade is the one organization that commands universal respect among the 500,000 Cuban exiles here in Miami. The mayor of the city, as well as a congressional candidate, are about to arrive. For them, today’s meeting is just another political obligation to fulfill. But the terrorists we saw in those hoods are here. For them, the meeting is no mere reunion. Arturo Castro, the man in the dark glasses, is a Miami police detective. His assignment today is to find out what these men are doing here. Armando Lopez-Estrada, one of the organizers of the rally, a terrorist leader now elected military commander of the brigade. A full police escort leads the guest of honor to the meeting. The speeches have already begun. But a delegation waits outside to greet their old ally and friend, General Anastasio Somoza, the CIA’s oldest friend in the Caribbean, the dictator of Nicaragua. It was from Nicaragua that the CIA’s secret army set sail for the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and from bases in Nicaragua that the CIA financed a 300-man commando operation in 1964. Now that the American government has finally abandoned their cause, the exiles turn to Nicaragua, to General Somoza — Castro’s arch foe.
Pres. ANASTASIO SOMOZA: [at podium] Viva Cuba Libre!
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] We asked General Somoza what support he intends to offer the exiles.
GEORGE CRILE: [with Somoza] Weapons?
Pres. ANASTASIO SOMOZA: I would not specify what but I would speak for them.
GEORGE CRILE: Safe haven’?
Pres. ANASTASIO SOMOZA: Not necessarily.
GEORGE CRILE: Diplomatic passports?
Pres. ANASTASIO SOMOZA: Well, let me say — you’re asking me questions like if you were interrogating me in a police station. And you ought to understand how governments can help people who are trying to regain their liberty back. You are getting too specific for me.
GEORGE CRILE: No, the question is whether the exiles are making a gesture like —
Pres. ANASTASIO SOMOZA: We are going to ‘give them the same facility that Castro gives our people. All right?
GEORGE CRILE: Which is ample support.
Pres. ANASTASIO SOMOZA: Ample support.
GEORGE CRILE: As much as they need.
Pres. ANASTASIO SOMOZA: Yes.
GEORGE CRILE: Any kind.
Pres. ANASTASIO SOMOZA: To a certain extent — to the limitations of the Nicaraguan national interests.
GEORGE CRILE: And what tactics do you think, today, are possible, to accomplish anything in the fight against Castro’s Cuba?
Pres. ANASTASIO SOMOZA: Well. if I were to tell you tactics, I think I would be committing a great mistake.
BILL MOYERS: We don’t know what support General Somoza offered the exiles. We don’t know how much General Somoza actually knew about the purpose of this meeting. What we do know is that the brigade was called here as part of an ambitious plan begun earlier in the summer to broaden the base of the terrorist war. It started when representatives of several terrorist organizations met in the Dominican Republic to plot a new offensive against Castro. They had resolved to unify their efforts and claim credit for future attacks under a common name-CORU. The brigade’s new leaders were among the founders of CORU.
GEORGE CRILE: [with Lopez-Estrada] There have been bombings recently in Cuban consulates and embassies abroad and attempts on the lives of Cuban diplomatic officials. Is this part of the work of CORU?
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: It’s part of the tactics of the CORU.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] In late July, this Cuban official was murdered in Mexico by the CORU. Two Miami exiles, both CORU members, were jailed.
GEORGE CRILE: You have two men in jail, What can you do?
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: A very strong thing. I don’t want to tell you what we have in mind and what is our plan. But I’m pretty sure that those members — both members are going to be out of jail pretty soon.
GEORGE CRILE: Do you mean to tell me that the —
ARMANDO LOPEZ-ESTRADA: I don’t care what risks we have to take to do it. This is our promise and that’s what we are going to do.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Since our interview. CORU organized the escape of one of the two prisoners. Just before this broadcast was to air, an exile news organization sent us this film. It shows Lopez-Estrada and his terrorist colleague — the man charged with the assassination — at an unidentified location in Central America. These were the kinds of actions the brigade was being asked to endorse on Labor Day, 1976 in Miami. As in most rallies in Little Havana, the exiles denounced Castro and bemoaned their lost Cuba. But this time, after the speeches and the tears. the-brigade issued a declaration. The CIA’s old secret army proclaimed itself to be a government-in-arms. There were, no doubt, dissenters. But its leaders announced that the brigade was now a part of CORU’s war. That war had already included the kidnappings and murders of Cuban officials. But from the time of the first CORU meeting, the terrorists had been planning an even more shocking attack. They had resolved to bring down what they called -“the face of Cuba” an Air Cubana jetliner like this one. On July 9th, in Kingston, Jamaica a bomb placed in a suitcase intended for loading aboard an Air Cubana flight exploded prematurely. On October 2nd in Barbados, a second attempt failed; Then, on October 6th. Air Cubana Flight 455 from Barbados boarded its 73 passengers for Havana. The Cuban national fencing team was aboard. So were delegations from. Guyana and North Korea. The rest were Cuban citizens, average age: 30. Just minutes off the ground, a bomb exploded. This exchange was recorded between the pilot and the control tower.
PILOT: We’ve got an explosion aboard. We are descending immediately. We have a fire on hoard.
CONTROL TOWER: Cubana 455, Are you returning to the field?
PILOT: Cubana 455, Request immediately. Immediately landing.
CONTROL TOWER: Cubana 455, you are cleared to land.
PILOT: That’s worse! We’re down on the water —
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Those were the last words heard from the pilot before the plane crashed into the ocean. All 73 aboard were killed. Only 8 eight bodies recovered. In Havana. the Air Cubana crash was considered an attack on the entire nation. Over one million Cubans — more than one out of every ten in the country — turned out in the square to hear Castro deliver the funeral oration. There was not only sadness here on this day of mourning; there was fury at what the Cubans considered to be yet another CIA-sponsored terrorist attack.
CASTRO: [addressing rally] The CIA is behind all these deeds.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Castro singled out CORU by name.
FIDEL CASTRO: — las cinco que integra es un junto llamado CORU —
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] And he seized on the incident to claim that the CIA was beginning a new phase in its war on Cuba. He told his people here today that because of the Air Cubana attack, he would break the anti-hijacking treaty with the United States.
HENRY KISSINGER: [speaking to the press] The United States had absolutely nothing to do, with any of its organs, in the explosion of the Cuban airliner which triggered this Cuban action.
BILL MOYERS: There is no reason to believe Castro’s charge at the funeral — that the United States provided assistance or even offered encouragement to the terrorists. But there is no way of denying that the terrorists used Miami as a of operations. There is also no way of denying the past intimate relationship between the CIA and several of the key conspirators in the Air Cubana attack. In jail, in Venezuela, Luis Posada, a former CIA operative, charged — along with Dr. Orlando Bosch, the Miami terrorist leader, with masterminding the bombing.
GEORGE CRILE: You train ’em and put’em in business. It’s not that easy to turn ‘em off. That’s true everywhere in the world. This was unique because it was right on our own shores. We were operating from Florida. Now, if you had that kind of a situation in Laos, say, it was a little easier to manage.
BILL MOYERS: Didn’t the exiles — refugees — in Miami feet betrayed?
GEORGE CRILE: I think they did. And I think it —
BILL MOYERS: Was that a problem for you?
GEORGE CRILE: I think it was a serious problem. I think it raises moral problems for our government and our country as to what you should do when you adopt a line which encourages a group of respectable foreign nationals to come to America in hopes of support to change the government in the country from which they came. And then you sort of moderate U.S. policy and decide to live with the situation. What do you do with these people?
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] Armondo Lopez-Estrada, for instance. One of the founders of CORU, he was recruited by the Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, to fight in the CIA’s secret war, a terrorist campaign. Fifteen years later, he is leaving a federal grand jury investigating Cuban exile terrorists. For the veterans of the CIA’s secret army, the war had come full circle. Just 19 years ago, we thought of Cuba as a banana republic — a kind of American colony. Today — as one African leader put it, Castro has become the Henry Kissinger of the Russians. Certainly he has become, in Africa, a parapatetic deputy of the Soviet Union. Insurgents said to be trained by the Cubans and armed by the Russians, moving near the borders of Rhodesia and Zaire. In Angola, 15,000 Cuban troops. New detachments from Havana arriving in Ethiopia just two weeks ago. Altogether, Cuban military missions in at least ten African countries. Rumors of intrigue everywhere. And yet, Washington, in 1977, has been taking steps to improve relations with Castro. This spring, Senator George McGovern arrived in Havana with a delegation of basketball players from South Dakota. It was a moment reminiscent of the ping pong diplomacy that preceded the resumption of relations with China. From Miami, the exiles watched all this — bewildered and angry. As the basketball diplomats returned from Cuba, the brigade organized yet another April 17th anniversary rally in Little Havana — this time to issue a warning that no matter how American policy toward Cuba changes, the exile war will continue.
WOMAN CUBAN EXILE: [addressing brigade rally] We have inverted our speech so that our words be known from East to West and from North to South in the United States of America. We came here to tell the United States of America that we did not ask McGovern to go to Cuba, that we did not ask him to speak against us. That we are few, that we are tiny — but we are tiny giants that going back to the Bible — remember Goliath and David and we will have another day! Viva Cuba Libre!
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] After the speeches, there is a mass in memory of the men who died 16 years before, at the Bay of Pigs. Padre Macho had been there at the beginning, blessing the brigade at the Bay of Pigs. And he is here with the brigade today, as the exiles dedicate themselves to their war on Castro. One of the men Padre Macho had blessed 16 years before, Roberto Carballo, the brigade’s new president and.one of the founders of CORU.
GEORGE CRILE: But that means that you are sitting in an American city plotting an international campaign to strike at Cuban targets — bombings, assassinations, kidnapping of Cuban officials.
ROBERTO CARBALLO: Let me put it this way — we will have to think that this is done because we want to help this democracy. What will happen if we won’t do anything from this country — where can we do it from?
GEORGE CRILE: What do you expect from the American government? Obviously they can’t allow people to pursue such violent campaigns without trying to stop it.
ROBERTO CARBALLO: That’s the United States government’s problem, not ours.
GEORGE CRILE: What happens if they do try and stop you and they get in your way?
ROBERTO CARBALLO: How many Cubans are here? How many Cubans are going to keep on fighting?
GEORGE CRILE: I don’t know.
ROBERTO CARBALLO: Well, you’ll find out if something happens.
BILL MOYERS: [voice-over] We would like to forget our history with the exiles. But once they were our secret soldiers and their memories tie them to us.
JOHN F. KENNEDY: [voice-over] I can assure you that this flag will be returned to this brigade in a free Havana!
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: [voice-over] We use the tactic that we learned from the CIA because we were trained to do everything.
GRAYSTON LYNCH: [voice-over] We are creating a superstructure at White House level — and it is above the FBI and the CIA.
MASKED CUBAN EXILE: They were Cuban officials and any kind of Cuban playing the same game that Castro is playing should be dealt with the same way.
ROLANDO MARTINEZ: [voice-over] There I was… a Cuban in contact with the Navy, with the Coast Guard, with the FBI, with the CIA — with all the authorities, all the higher authorities of this country, praised by the President of this country, Kennedy. Who should I trust? Whom should I be loyal to?
[end of 1977 CBS Report]
BILL MOYERS: We will devote the remainder of our time tonight to following up several questions posed by the CIA’s secret army. First, what has happened to the exile war against Castro? The documentary resulted in an intensified FBI investigation of terrorist activities in Miami. Armando Lopez-Estrada and three other exiles were preparing for a commando raid against Cuba in the summer of 1977 when their boats were seized. One was loaded with an arsenal of automatic weapons, a cannon, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. The men were charged with illegal possession of firearms. At the trial, Lopez-Estrada revealed he was one of the masked men in the CIA’s secret army. He also testified that the weapons found on the boat had been provided by the CIA. An agent, he said, had given him a map showing the locations of the arms stash buried in the sands of the Bahamas. In January, 1978, the Cuban exiles were acquitted. Another federal trial revealed that Cuban exile terrorists had become the hot-men for the Chilean secret police. In Washington, they were tried for assassinating the former Chilean ambassador to the United States, Orlando Lettelier and his assistant, in return for Chile’s promises of political support, safe havens and training grounds to continue the war against Castro.
Of the five terrorists charged, two have eluded arrest despite a world-wide search. Two others were found guilty of murder last February and sentenced to life. The Cuban nationalist movement, to which these men belong, is the umbrella group for the anti-Castro terrorists. The crimes committed by the movement’s hit squad — Omega 7 — have led the FBI to regard it as the most dangerous terrorist group in the country. Among its targets, fellow Cuban exiles, members of the Committee of 75 — an organization favoring normalized relations with Cuba. The Committee’s dialogue with Castro is credited with the release of some 3,000 political prisoners and the first commercial flights to Cuba in 20 years. Two of its members have been murdered by Omega 7. It was also an Omega 7 bomb which exploded in a suitcase about to be loaded on a TWA flight from New York to Los Angeles in March. ’79. Other bombings: the Soviet Mission to the U.N. in December, ’79, injuring 6: the New York City ticket office of the Soviet Airline, Aeroflot, in January ‘80 injuring three: the Cuban Mission to the U.N. bombed four times in the last 2 1/2 years. One of the most recent victims of Omega 7, the attachè to the Cuban Mission, murdered in September. The CIA’s secret army focused on terrorism in Miami. But Omega 7 is increasingly active in Union City, New Jersey, and New York City, home of over 10,000 Cubans. According to the FBI. the hardcore terrorists probably number about 50. But the or support is overwhelming among the estimated million Cubans living in the U.S. For the majority of this community. any opposition to Castro is viewed as a patriotic act. One of the unanswered questions in this story is how the arrival of 125,000 Cuban refugees in the past year will affect the continuing terrorist war. Will it mean more recruits for Omega 7? As we saw, the story of the CIA’s secret army began in the 1950s and wound through some astounding chapters of American history: the Bay of Pigs, the Missile crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, the crimes of Watergate, and acts of terrorism which continue today. We demonstrated what, today, seems incontrovertible: the CIA was no mere rogue elephant rampaging on its own in violation of propriety, common sense and the Constitution. Official misdeeds at the lower ranks grew out of an official mentality at the top which had been fostered by the Cold War and renamed tolerant of dirty tricks employed against the enemy with no quarter asked or given. Congress looked the other way. or looked not at all until the Watergate crimes finally forced the Senate Intelligence Committee to look under the rock. It discovered assassination plots against foreign leaders and internal subversion of other governments. It was the Senate Intelligence Committee that first revealed the dimensions of the secret war against Cuba. But that was half a decade ago. And a new Congress is reverting to old ways. On January 13th, the Senate Intelligence Committee convened to confirm the new CIA director, William Casey.
WILLIAM CASEY: [at confirmation hearing] I think that there is a potential built-in conflict between performance and accountability which can be handled. Requiring examination and approval of everything that’s done in far-flung operations of anything that I’d say government is involved in is— has a danger of impairing initiative and making it impossible to do things that are important and beneficial but need to be done now —
BILL MOYERS: The Committee seemed less interested in examining Mr. Casey than in assuring him that the watchdog had once again become a lapdog.
Sen. MALCOLM WALLOP: [R-Wyo.] The American public does not have an adequate recognition of the nation’s need for a viable and strong intelligence community. They recognize it when things go wrong a rescue mission on Iran; a failed perception of intentions in Afghanistan, something else — but overall and from day to day we’re constantly under the stress of people who would have us believe that this country can operate without such a mechanism, that to go back to the old English problem, gentlemen don’t read other gentlemen’s mail — that somehow or another it is an anathema in a free society.
Sen. DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN: [D-NY] If the time comes when you think that anything seriously has been compromised by virtue of information given this committee, I hope you’ll say so. I hope you tell us and I hope you, if you feel so, tell the nation. We are not immune to your criticism. We have been very vigilant, I think. But if we have not been successful — and it’s your judgment that we haven’t been — you tell us. Because this matters.
Sen. HENRY JACKSON: [R-Wash.] Mr. Casey. I’ve been following intelligence matters for the last 30 years up here. And think the tragedy in this country is that intelligence has become a dirty word.
Sen. BARRY GOLDWATER: [R-Ariz.] I think one Of the greatest weaknesses~ that we suffer is in our overseas work. And I think this came about through the wrong activity of the Church committee and other committees of Congress which has directed assault on the intelligence family to the point that I find, in traveling, that the overseas offices are afraid to engage in covert activity without first thoroughly discussing it with the home office, for fear that their futures will be jeopardized. Now, I don’t want you to explain in detail what your feelings are about it. But I think I speak for my people interested in the profession, that if we don’t have overseas offices free to act covertly without going back home, we’re going get in the same kind of fix we were in with Viet — in Vietnam when pilots couldn’t t attack targets of opportunity.
BILL MOYERS: Birch Bayh. you were in the United States Senate from Indiana for 18 years until your defeat last November. You were one of that body’s most respected constitutional authorities. And you were chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee which is now headed by Barry Goldwater. “Agents must be free.” said Senator Goldwater. “to attack targets of opportunity. ” What does that suggest to you?
Sen. BIRCH BAYH: Well, I hate to get into an argument with my former colleagues on the committee but it seems to me that if we’re to have a policy that can be directed so that the President and the Secretary of State, and indeed, the Director of the CIA know what’s happening. they have to have some control over people out there in the field. And I think we have to have some command control within the intelligence system itself.
BILL MOYERS: Was it your understanding all of those years you were engaged in oversight and investigation, that the CIA was a rogue elephant, that it extended its authority without the permission of its superiors or was simply acting out what It understood to be a blueprint from its superiors?
BIRCH BAYH: Well. probably a little bit of both. I think there was not as thorough a realization, then, as there is now of what can happen when an intelligence mission goes awry. We’re not living in a milk-and-honey world. We need to know what our adversaries are doing. We need to have the best equipment; the best-trained men and we need to make certain that our country is protected. But this must be done under a rule of law and we must be certain that when a step is undertaken, we know reasonably what the conclusions of that could be if it goes wrong.
BILL MOYERS: There is now on the record so many of the activities of a covert nature that the CIA was responsible for over those years — the covert war against Cuba is just one of many. There’s the CIA’s involvement in Iran, the training of the Shah’s secret police. the CIA’s subversion of the political process in Chile, supporting violent right-wing groups, agents posing as businessmen trying to activate a military take-over: these actions basically incompatible with U.S. values. But they did happen. How do you prevent it from happening again?
BIRCH BAYH: It got out of hand because, I think, people in high places — and this is not the only place in government over the history of our country it has happened — the ends justifies the means. That protecting a country — which we all would give our lives for — that that is so important that we can do anything — violate the rights of American citizens and do some of the horrible things that we saw disclosed by the Church committee. We have to have a good intelligence system that has the capacity to find out what’s going on, to protect the country. But at the same time, we have to balance that off against the rights of individual citizens and the absolute necessity of intelligence being governed and operated under a rule of law. In listening to my former colleagues there talk about some people don’t believe there’s a need for intelligence -I don’t know who they’re talking about. I don’t know any Americans— and certainly I don’t know any member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, while I was there, that didn’t realize we needed good intelligence.
BILL MOYERS: How is it possible to wield the weapons of secrecy in the defense of our democratic institutions without endangering those institutions, themselves?’
BIRCH BAYH: That is a very, very important question. And it is a delicate balance. And I think, historically we’ve gone on one side of the line and the other side of the line. And I don’t think there’s a magic mix there — What we have tried to do, for example: the most critical area where that comes into play is to where we undertake to collect -intelligence in this country — perhaps intelligence against American citizens, some of whom have not committed any crimes. But the intelligence agencies believe they have information that is necessary for the overall benefit of the country. What we have required in instances like that is that before you invade the rights of American citizens that way — the black bags, the burglaries, the wire-tapping and this kind of thing — you must go to a special court that has now been established and you have to get a warrant that says, all right, this instance is critical enough. We really have a matter of national interest that we. in this case, are going to yield and permit you to have access to the personal property or the personal privacy of an individual citizen. It’s a delicate balance. We do that in law enforcement and in criminal activity in this country. But it’s a difficult one. It’s a difficult one particularly where you have a citizen who has not violated the law.
BILL MOYERS: But you think the court should still be involved in anything in this country.
BIRCH BAYH: Oh, yes. I mean. I-you know, the argument on the other side is that if you tell a federal judge the reason you want to tap somebody’s wire — that that federal judge cannot be trusted: there are going to be leaks. Well. I think the judges are as trustworthy as people who work for the CIA.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think that what we saw at the congressional hearings for Bill Casey was a green light from the committee to Bill Casey of the CIA to go out and do anything?
BIRCH BAYH: It certainly didn’t sound like it was amber to me, Bill. And I was concerned about what I just saw on the television, there. That sounds as if some people have forgotten the lessons that we all hoped to team from Watergate. I don’t want to put our country through this kind of thing again.
BILL MOYERS: Thank you, Birch Bayh. Since the CIA’s secret army appeared, there have been new revelations about excesses of intelligence operations — confirmed stories. for example, of agents during the Kennedy and Johnson years working closely with corporations and church groups to undermine the political process of Chile. Those efforts came to flower early in the ’70s when Nixon, Kissinger, and Haig, working with ITT and the CIA, set off the events that led to the overthrow and assassination of Chile’s president. The lesson of the CIA’s secret army is that you can destroy democratic ideals. trying to save them. Even wise men can inspire dark deeds when pursuing foolish policies in secrecy and zeal without — check or balance. I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on May 7, 2015.