Don Bohning graduated from the Dakota Wesleyan University in 1955. He spent two years in the United States Army before attending the American Institute for Foreign Trade in Phoenix. He also did graduate work at the University of Miami.
In 1959 Bohning joined the Miami Herald staff in 1959 as a reporter. Five years later he became a foreign correspondent for the newspaper.
Over the next 36 years he reported from every independent country in the Western Hemisphere. This included the overthrow of Salvador Allende by Augusto Pinochet in Chile, the 1978 Jonestown Massacre in Guyana and the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983.
Bohning has also written extensively about the Bay of Pigs and the attempts to remove Fidel Castro from power in Cuba. This had included carrying out interviews with CIA officials, Jake Esterline and Jack Hawkins.
Don Bohning, who retired from the Miami Herald is the author of the book, The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations Against Cuba, 1959-1965 (2005).
A CIA document dated 14th June, 1968, revealed that Bohning received his Provisional Covert Security Approval as a CIA confidential informant on August 21, 1967, then Covert Security Approval itself on November 14 th “for use as a confidential informant with natural access to information about news companies and personalities." (CIA document)
In her book, A Farewell to Justice (2005) Joan Mellen argues that Bohning was given the code-name AMCARBON-3. On 8th September, 2005, Larry Hancock speculated on the Education Forum that whereas Bohning was AMCARBON-3, Hal Hendrix was AMCARBON-1 and Al Burt, also a journalist at the Miami Herald, was AMCARBON-2.
While working on his book, Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, the journalist David Talbot contacted Bohning to ask him about his reported ties to the CIA. Bohning denied that he was paid for the work he did for the CIA. However, as Talbot pointed out: "The fact that Bohning was given a CIA code as an agency asset and was identified as an agency informant is a relevant piece of information that the readers" of his books and articles have a right to know.
In an article published on 6th August 2007, David Talbot, argued that AMCARBON was the cryptonym that the CIA used to identify friendly reporters and editors who covered Cuba. Talbot found a declassified CIA memo dated 9th April, 1964 that showed that the CIA’s covert media campaign in Miami aimed “to work out a relationship with [South Florida] news media which would insure that they did not turn the publicity spotlight on those [CIA] activities in South Florida which might come to their attention...and give [the CIA’s Miami station] an outlet into the press which could be used for surfacing certain select propaganda items.” (CIA Document)
On 6th October 2005, Don Bohning abmitted on the Education Forum in reply to Larry Hancock: "I have obtained the document about the JMWave relationship with the Miami Herald and references to AMCARBON-2, AMCARBON-3, etc., etc. As you noted, it is very confusing but it seems quite clear to me that AMCARBON-2 was probably Al Burt, my predecessor as Latin America editor at the Miami Herald. I have no idea who might have been AMCARBON-1 or Identity, 2, etc. even what they refer to. I also have obtained documents that clearly state that I was AMCARBON-3, something I was not previously aware of."
In retirement Don Bohning continued to work as a CIA asset. In an article that appeared in The Intelligencer (Volume 16 – Number 2 – Fall 2008), a journal published on behalf of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, Bohning attacked John Simkin, the author of this web-page. Using interviews with former CIA officers, Porter Goss, Carl Jenkins and Tom Clines, he criticizes Simkin for using unreliable sources such as Frank Sturgis and Gerry Hemming. Bohning dismissed the claims made by Sturgis about Operation 40: "this assassination group (Operation 40) would upon orders, naturally, assassinate either members of the military or the political parties of the foreign country that you were going to infiltrate, and if necessary some of your own members who were suspected of being foreign agents."
Breaking a 35-year silence, the chief of the CIA's planning staff for military aspects of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion says the effort was doomed from the day, a month before the operation, when President Kennedy ordered the landing site changed to one that would attract less attention.
Jack Hawkins, a retired Marine Corps colonel, said in an interview that after he and his staff drafted the new plan, shifting the landing from the city of Trinidad, on Cuba's south coast, about 80 miles westward to the Bay of Pigs, he had "decided this plan has no chance. It is going to fail.'' He said efforts to convince superiors of that were of no avail.
What eventually became known as the Bay of Pigs began in January 1960 when the Eisenhower administration decided that Cuban leader Fidel Castro should be ousted, an effort Kennedy continued after becoming president. It evolved from sending in teams of agents to develop resistance, into a small guerrilla-type infiltration of 200 to 300 men to join existing guerrillas, and, finally, into a full-scale landing at the Bay of Pigs by a CIA-sponsored Cuban exile brigade of about 1,500 on April 15, 1961.
The hope was not for Castro's immediate overthrow but to seize a beachhead, generate morale problems and defections within the Castro forces and eventually provoke a general uprising.
Instead, the landing ended in disaster when B-26 air strikes reduced by Kennedy failed to knock out Castro's air force. Castro forces captured 1,189 exile invaders, 114 others died and 150 were unable to land or never shipped out. The captured invaders were ransomed by the Kennedy administration for $53 million in food and medicine. They returned to Miami on Dec. 23, 1962.
The paramilitary staff, which Hawkins headed, was responsible for organizing, training and equipping the Cuban exile brigade and preparing the plans for its landing in Cuba. Although staff personnel changed at times, said Hawkins, they averaged six U.S military and 18 CIA officers. Hawkins reported directly to Jake Esterline, the CIA's project chief for the invasion.
The interview with The Herald was the first Hawkins has given to a daily newspaper journalist since the Bay of Pigs, although he wrote a first-person article in the year-end edition of The National Review, a conservative journal published by William Buckley.
In the wide-ranging December interview at his home in Fredericksburg, Va., Hawkins also:
* Questioned Kennedy's commitment to the Cuba project initiated under President Eisenhower, based in part on Hawkins' own observations at Oval Office meetings.
* Speculated that the lack of commitment may have been partially due to parallel assassination plots against Castro, utilizing the Mafia, that had been undertaken by the CIA in 1960 separately from the Bay of Pigs and accelerated by the Kennedy administration. Bay of Pigs planners - with the exception of the late Richard Bissell, the CIA's director of clandestine services and the man in charge of the invasion - were unaware of the plots until they became public knowledge years later.
* Said that he and project director Esterline learned only recently from declassified documents that Bissell had agreed with Kennedy to cut the number of CIA-supplied B-26 planes from 16 - considered the minimum necessary to knock out Castro's air force on the ground - to eight, but he did not tell them of the decision until days later, on the eve of the first air attack before the landing.
* Placed the primary fault for the effort's failure "at Bissell's door.... It was really Bissell's operation.''
* Said that the State Department and Secretary of State Dean Rusk never received their share of the blame for failure of the operation by its continued obstruction.
* Noted that he wrote a still-classified May 1961 "after-action'' report on the Bay of Pigs failure in which he recommended against any further covert efforts against Castro because the Cuban leader was "now already too strong to be overthrown by paramilitary operations.''
Hawkins said he had remained silent all these years in part because "I was obligated by my oath of secrecy to the Defense Department and the CIA,'' and also out of concern about Castro retaliation against him.
"I didn't know what Castro's attitude might be, and I was wary of that,'' he said.
In addition, said Hawkins, "I was really disgusted. I thought the United States had acted in an almost contemptible way about this whole thing..I just sort of washed my hands of it and put it behind me, went on with my life and tried not to think about it. It was one of the most disappointing things that I ever had to do with in my life, professionally.''
He said he decided to speak out when the CIA's Esterline "got in touch with me (early last year) and said he thought it was time that we told the truth about some of these things.''
Hawkins, who retains his native Texas drawl at age 80, joined the Marines in 1939 after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. He was assigned to the Cuba project on Sept. 1, 1960, as Bissell began to expand it from a guerrilla infiltration into a larger-scale operation involving an amphibious landing, with which Hawkins had considerable experience.
As a Marine officer in World War II, he was captured by the Japanese at Corregidor in the Philippines and spent 11 months as a prisoner of war. He escaped with several other Americans and two Filipino convicts who served as guides, and joined a guerrilla unit for seven months before getting to Australia via submarine in November 1943.
He later played significant roles in preparing for the U.S. invasion of Okinawa in 1945 and the Inchon landing during the Korean War, then served for three years as an instructor on amphibious landings in Marine Corps schools.
Hawkins was an instructor at the Marine Corps schools in Quantico, Va., when he was told "that the CIA was planning to land some exile troops in Cuba and they wanted a Marine officer with background in amphibious warfare to help them out with this project.''
There were, he said, several "critical junctures'' in the operation when a "change of course by the decision-making authority at the CIA was called for if the Bay of Pigs disaster was to be avoided.''
Among them, he cites the change in the landing site and the reduction in the number of B-26 aircraft participating in the initial attack in advance of the landing - intended to knock out Castro's planes on the ground - either of which should have aborted the operation.
Hawkins has praise, however, for the brigade members, who he says "fought hard and well and inflicted terrible casualties on their opponents. They were not defeated. They simply ran out of ammunition and had no choice but to surrender. And that was not their fault.''
While Hawkins considers the air support critical to any chance of success at the Bay of Pigs, he believes failure became virtually inevitable a month earlier when Kennedy, acting on the advice of Secretary of State Rusk, rejected the Trinidad landing as too "noisy,'' one that would attract too much attention to the United States.
The initial plan, beginning in 1960, had been to introduce trained paramilitary teams, of a few men with special capabilities, into every Cuban province, which was done. Their purpose was to develop armed resistance wherever they could and engage in sabotage and propaganda operations.
Simultaneously, it was planned to organize a small infantry force of 200 to 300 men to be infiltrated in and join 800 to 1,000 guerrillas already operating in the Escambray Mountains of Central Cuba above Trinidad.
But, said Hawkins, as the Soviets increased their shipments of arms and military equipment and Castro began to create a large militia force, Bissell decided in the fall of 1960 "that he should have a larger force to get in there, and he hit on the figure of 1,500.''
It was not until early spring of 1961 that the brigade got up to 1,500 men, according to Hawkins, with Trinidad still the targeted landing site.
Word came March 11 that the president wanted a new, less "noisy'' landing site and a night instead of a dawn landing, as originally planned.
"We were very surprised when we got word that the president had vetoed the Trinidad plan, which we thought was the best and probably only place in Cuba where we had a chance to pull this thing off,'' Hawkins said. "It was a good plan, I thought, and we had no idea that it was going to be rejected because it had been discussed right on up to that time.''
Bissell, he said, advised him as they were standing in the corridor that the president had given four days to come up with a "quieter operation. He said this one is too noisy, too much like an invasion. Of course, it was an invasion.''
Working around the clock, Hawkins and the paramilitary staff pored over maps and intelligence reports, determining that the Bay of Pigs was the only alternate place an airfield could be seized that would support B-26s, a requirement.
Hawkins said he reported this verbally to Bissell, at the same time telling him what was wrong with the site, including its isolation and relative inaccessibility.
"Bissell said right then and there on the spot, without consulting anybody else, since this is the only place that satisfies the president's requirements, then we'll go ahead with it on that basis. You draw up a plan immediately, and we'll present it to the president.''
A sketch of the new plan was drafted, presented to Kennedy and approved March 15, a month before the landing took place.
"After we got to drawing the detailed plan,'' Hawkins said, ``I had time to do some careful thinking about the thing. Before, I had just been doing what I was told -- get a plan. So we got it. But then I decided this plan has no chance. It's going to fail.''
Hawkins said he discussed his concerns with Esterline, the CIA's project director for the invasion, who said, "That's exactly what I think. It can't work. It's not going to work.''
He said they met with Bissell at his home in Georgetown the following Sunday and expressed their reservations.
Hawkins said the main purpose of the meeting was to insist that "if you want to go ahead with this operation at the Bay of Pigs, we want out. We just don't want to be part of a disaster, and that's just what it's going to be."
"We told him in no uncertain terms. . . . He didn't give any indication at all that he was willing to give up the landing at the Bay of Pigs. He says, 'Look, you just can't desert me at this point. I won't be able to carry on without you.' Well, we di dn't like it, but we agreed.. we won't quit - not now, anyway. We left there thinking that we were headed for trouble, headed for disaster.
"But,'' said Hawkins, "it's a difficult thing for a Marine officer or a CIA officer to ask to be relieved of his duty. It's a serious thing to do and you don't like to do it, so we stuck with him, and the results you know.''
"The change of site was the critical thing that made it unlikely of causing the overthrow of Castro,'' Hawkins believes. "I always thought that it was going to take some time. If we got the brigade up into the Escambray (Mountains) and they could coordinate the other guerrillas up there and maybe get new forces, new people, out of Trinidad into the Escambray and then continue the air operations with Castro having no air, they could stay up there a long time.''
Hawkins' account differs somewhat from Bissell's, as recounted in his memoirs, Reflections of a Cold Warrior, published posthumously last year.
Bissell wrote that he remembered "meeting with Hawkins at the headquarters after a long weekend and his saying, Well, we have developed an alternative plan to meet the president's desire for a quieter landing and we think that you will like it and approve of it. We do, and I think in some ways it's better than the original.''
Hawkins says "that's a lie, absolutely false. Jake and I told him that the plan could not succeed, landing at the Bay of Pigs could not possibly succeed and was going to end in disaster. That's the word I used.'' Esterline recalls the meeting the same way.
Bissell did not mention the Sunday afternoon meeting at his home with Hawkins and Esterline, which most Bay of Pigs historians now consider a key event.
Bissell acknowledged in his memoirs, however, that ``there is no doubt that failure to question the viability of the move (from Trinidad) had serious repercussions.''
"They had no chance to escape out of the Bay of Pigs,'' Hawkins said. "We told Bissell that. I told him that. They can't get out of there. Maybe a handful or a few individuals could get out of there and sneak away, but the bulk of them were trapped there. They can't get out.''
As for Hawkins, the change in landing sites was just one more indication of Kennedy's lack of commitment to the entire project.
"I felt that he was not strongly committed to the operation at all. When he first was briefed about it and I began to observe him when I went to these meetings, he didn't seem enthusiastic about it, but he seemed interested.''
Hawkins describes the weekly White House meetings with Kennedy on the Bay of Pigs as "essentially discussions'' that "did not resolve questions of policy... As policy questions arise, they should be resolved decisively and quickly. This was not done for the Cuba Project.''
Much later, Hawkins said, when he learned "about the efforts that (Kennedy) and his brother (Attorney General Robert Kennedy) were making to assassinate Castro... it has occurred to me that Kennedy thought he was going to solve the problem by this method, disposing of Castro through the Mafia. And that would make the Cuban operation unnecessary, he thought.
"That's just a surmise on my part. That could have influenced him to delay. In fact, I have heard since, I don't know how reliable the information is, that the assassination was supposed to come off not long before the invasion.''
He also believes that Kennedy was unduly influenced by Rusk and the State Department.
"The first time I ever saw him (Rusk) at one of the presidential meetings, he made it abundantly clear that he was opposed to the operation completely. And he didn't want any air operations whatsoever.''
"I always felt that the Department of State came away from this thing without being blamed as much as they should have been blamed for what happened,'' Hawkins says now.
All of that said, Hawkins still places primary responsibility for failure with Bissell.
"I think that the primary fault must be placed at Bissell's door. It really was Bissell's operation. Mr. Dulles was just sort of on the fringes of this thing. He gave Bissell free hand to do what he wanted throughout this operation.''
The landing went ahead, and the invasion failed. Hawkins went back to the Marine Corps, but not before drafting an "after-action'' report on the operation that remains classified.
"It was very comprehensive, included everything that I knew about that was done, and drew some conclusions about it,'' Hawkins remembers. "I recommended among many other things that no further effort should be made to overthrow Castro in this manner, by these covert means, because he is now already too strong to be overthrown by paramilitary operations.''
Thirty-seven years later, as the Bay of Pigs fades into history, many questions have been answered by the release of long-secret documents and the increasing willingness of the few remaining central participants to talk.
But many of the answers raise other questions surrounding the ill-fated invasion of Cuba on April 17, 1961, by a brigade of 1,500 Cuban exiles trained and supported by the CIA.
Two of the most troubling, according to participants and analysts:
Was a failed Mafia assassination plot against Fidel Castro directly linked to the invasion? And, if so, did that detract from the invasion planning and execution?
Did a combination of ego and ambition cause the late Richard Bissell -- the man most directly responsible for the invasion as the CIA's chief of clandestine and covert operations -- to mislead both President Kennedy and Bissell's own planners?
Author Seymour Hersh, in his recent book The Dark Side of Camelot, a critical look at the Kennedy presidency, most persuasively raises the linkage between the invasion and an assassination plot that began under the Eisenhower administration.
Why was mission canceled? " One of Kennedy's most controversial and least understood decisions during the Bay of Pigs was the cancellation of the second bombing mission'' Hersh writes. "The assumption that Castro would be dead when the first Cuban exiles went ashore, and the fact that he was not, may explain Kennedy's decision to cut his losses. The Mafia had failed and a very much alive Castro was rallying his troops.''
Hersh quotes Robert Maheu, a former FBI agent and the link between administration officials and the Mafia for the assassination plot code-named ZR/Rifle, as telling him that "Taking out Castro was part of the invasion plan.'' Castro's murder, said Maheu, was to take place "before - but preferably at the time of - the invasion.''
The plot fell apart when Juan Orta, who functioned as Castro's private secretary and was to slip a poisoned pill into a drink, apparently got cold feet and took refuge in the Venezuelan Embassy a few days before the invasion. Orta died several years ago.
Kennedy, Hersh said in an interview, must have known by April 15 - two days before the invasion - and perhaps earlier, that the assassination plot had fallen apart and "he was in real trouble with the operation.''
The question then became, Hersh said, whether Kennedy should "take a bath by going ahead with it or take a bigger bath politically if he stops it. If he stops it he takes a tremendous hit from the right.''
Peter Kornbluh, senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a nonprofit documentation center in Washington responsible for the recent declassification of hundreds of Bay of Pigs-related CIA documents, concurs that the question of linkage between the assassination and invasion is an intriguing one.
"The degree to which it (the assassination plot) was coordinated as part of the planning and whether the President actually knew about it and factored it into the decision-making process'' is a key question, Kornbluh says.
Historian Arthur Schlesinger insisted in at least two appearances at the Miami Book Fair last November that he did not believe Kennedy was even aware of an assassination plot against Castro.
If there was a link, key CIA planners for the Bay of Pigs invasion apparently were not aware of it. Jake Esterline, the Bay of Pigs project director, says he learned of the assassination plot by accident when he was asked to approve an unexplained expenditure by the late J.C. King, then head of the CIA's Western Hemisphere division.
"I really forced my way in by refusing to pay unless I knew what I was paying for,'' Esterline said in an interview. "That got me partially briefed.''
Esterline said he was sworn to secrecy and didn't even tell Jack Hawkins, a retired Marine colonel who headed the Bay of Pigs paramilitary planning staff. Hawkins did not learn about it until long after the failed invasion.
Esterline now believes there "is no question about it... if that whole specter of an assassination attempt using the Mafia hadn't been on the horizon, there would have been more preparation'' for the invasion.
He believes "Kennedy and his group were not prepared to support the operation and if Bissell and others hadn't felt they had that magic bullet (assassination), I don't think we would have had all the hairsplitting over air support.''
Esterline has no doubt that Kennedy knew of the assassination plot.
The questions surrounding Bissell arose in the spring of 1996 at a conference on the Bay of Pigs attended by former CIA officials, brigade members and academics, following release of documents to the National Security Archive.
Those documents and later information have convinced both Hawkins and Esterline, who worked for Bissell on the Bay of Pigs, that Bissell was not leveling with them and probably was not passing on their concerns to Kennedy over such things as a change in the landing site and air cover.
Hawkins cites a recently declassified briefing paper by Bissell to the President dated April 12, 1961, that he says "proves that Bissell had agreed with Kennedy several days before the operation began to cut the air support in half.''
Bissell didn't tell Esterline and Hawkins about the decision until the invasion.
"I am sure Bissell never made it clear to the President why it was necessary to eliminate Castro's air force before the landing,'' Hawkins said. `"I gave great emphasis to this... Bissell knew what the military staff's opinion was about this need but . . . Bissell never pressed it.''
Jacob Donald "Jake'' Esterline, a veteran of US intelligence services and the CIA'S project director for the ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, has died at age 79. Death came quickly at midday Saturday as he collapsed of an apparent heart attack while riding in a car with his son-in-law near his home in Hendersonville, N.C.
Esterline, who spent 27 years with the Central Intelligence Agency and its World War II forerunner, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), was a significant participant in the making of contemporary history.
In addition to his role in the Bay of Pigs, he commanded a battalion of Burmese guerrillas in a jungle war against the Japanese; was chief guerrilla warfare trainer at The Farm, a once-clandestine training school for CIA recruits at Williamsburg, Va.; headed the CIA's Washington task force in the 1954 overthrow of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz; served as CIA station chief in Guatemala, Venezuela, Panama and Miami during the height of the Cold War and as deputy chief of the agency's Western Hemisphere division.
Apart from the Bay of Pigs, it was as chief of the CIA's Miami office from 1968 to 1972, that involved him most directly in Cuban affairs.
His task in Miami was to quietly complete the phase-out of the unsuccessful post-Bay of Pigs secret war against Fidel Castro - started by the Kennedy administration and known in its initial stages as Operation Mongoose - without creating a scandal that might embarrass Washington.
That meant disposing of ships and boats, terminating leases on safe houses, marinas, boat yards, relocating the CIA's Miami offices and - the most difficult task - laying off the several hundred Cubans still directly on the payroll.
''I felt a sense of obligation to the Cubans after the failure of the Bay of Pigs,'' he said, explaining in a 1995 interview why he volunteered for the Miami assignment. ``If it was going to be done, I wanted to see it done right.
''I thought, Really, my heart will always be with these people, these Cuban exiles in all these years, starting with the Bay of Pigs, and I don't want to see them cast in the cold.''
For better or worse, however, his role in the Bay of Pigs remains the event for which he will be most remembered and one that haunted him for the remainder of his life.
He had been recalled from Venezuela in early 1960 to undertake the project, which initially was envisioned as a guerrilla incursion at Trinidad, on Cuba's south coast. It eventually evolved into a full-scale invasion at the Bay of Pigs, an isolated swamp area 80 miles to the west.
Both he and Marine Col. Jack Hawkins, his paramilitary counterpart in planning the invasion, became increasingly doubtful of its chance for success. On an April Sunday, a week before the invasion, Esterline and Hawkins went to the home of Richard Bissell, the agency's director of clandestine services who was in overall charge of the operation, and told him they were quitting.
After a heated discussion, Bissell talked them out of quitting by appealing to their loyalty and warning that their resignations wouldn't stop the invasion.
''We made a bad mistake by not sticking to our guns and staying resigned,'' he said in the 1995 interview.
The invasion failed, with both Esterline and Hawkins convinced the change in landing sites had much to do with its failure, along with President Kennedy's reduction in the air cover that had been promised for the invaders.
Hawkins, in a telephone interview Sunday, recalled that Esterline, in his capacity as the invasion task force chief ``had struggled continually to persuade political authorities to provide all the support and protection necessary for a small force of Cuban exiles to be landed on the Cuban coast.
''Failing this,'' said Hawkins, "he warned his superior at the CIA that the landing could not succeed with the restrictions imposed by the president. He recommended cancellation, but his advice was not heeded. The result was a military, political and diplomatic disaster at the Bay of Pigs.''
Hawkins praised Esterline as a man ``whose dedication and abilities were recognized at the CIA throughout his long career'' and who "devoted his life to the defense of the United States.''
''Jake was a great leader,'' said Sam Halpern, a retired CIA colleague and contemporary of Esterline. "He believed in what he was doing and he saw trouble ahead at the Bay of Pigs and tried to stop the operation to no avail.''
''I had the privilege and honor of serving under him during the U.S. intelligence community's secret war against Castro communism,'' said Carlos Obregon, a Cuban-American businessman in Miami. ``He shared with hundreds of us exile Cubans a love and passion for our cause.''
Born in Lewistown, western rural Pennsylvania on April 26, 1920, Esterline attended Temple University in Philadelphia for three years then enrolled in Officer Candidate School where he was when World War II war broke out.
He was recruited into the OSS, winding up as the commander of a Burmese guerrilla battalion fighting the Japanese, and was awarded a Bronze Star for his service.
He returned to Pennsylvania after the war, finishing an accounting degree at Temple. Ordered back to active duty in 1951 when the Korean War broke out, he took up a standing offer to join the CIA.
Survivors include Mildred, his wife of 53 years; two sons, Jacob Alan Esterline of Austin, Texas; and John Esterline of Peachtree City, Ga.; and a daughter Ann Hutcheson of Flat Rock, N.C.
In March and June 1964 the JMWAVE station in Miami dispatched two separate arms caches to Cuba for Cubela as part of the ongoing AMTRUNK operation, which was targeted at military officials. In May Cubela let it be known he wanted a silencer for a Belgian FAL submachine gun as soon as possible. But it first had to be modified and there wasn't time to do it for the June cache. Cubela was subsequently notified that it was not feasible to make a silencer for a FAL. By late 1964 Cubela was increasingly insistent that assassination was a necessary first step in a coup. In a memorandum, Sanchez suggested Cubela be put in touch with Artime. The memo said: "AM/LASH was told and fully understands that the United States Government cannot become involved to any degree in the `first step' of his plan. If he needs support, he realizes he will have to get it elsewhere. FYI: This is where B-1 [Artime] could fit in nicely in giving any support he would request."
The CIA's seven-page November 5 memo to the 303 Committee is essentially a review of the Artime operation until that time and the agency recommendations for the operation, concluding with the recommendation to continue it in conjunction with Cubela. Following the Sierra Aranzazu incident, Artime suspended operations until after President Johnson's victory in the November presidential election. Despite news reports to the contrary, the agency said Artime had "maintained close contact and good relations" with top officials in both Nicaragua and Costa Rica, "where he continues to receive their complete cooperation and support." Enrique Peralta, Guatemala's military president, had invited him to a meeting. "President Robles of Panama has promised Artime his full cooperation and any support he may need," and "President Reid of the Dominican Republic provided Artime a forward operating base in his country. Artime is in the process of surveying the base site." The memo then got to the crux of the matter.
"As a result of the publicity Artime received over the past year for his anti-Castro activity and the fact that at present he is considered the strongest of the active Cuban exile groups, an internal dissident group established contact with him and proposed joining forces," the CIA reported. "An emissary from the internal dissident group met with one of Artime's representatives in Europe in early October 1964 and proposed a 'summit' meeting between Artime and their 'top guy' as soon as the latter can travel to Europe, probably between 15 and 30 November 1964."
The CIA memo reported that Artime and his aides had come to the conclusion that the internal dissidents included at least a half-dozen prominent revolutionary figures, among them Efigenio Ameijeiras, Juan Almeida, and Faustino Perez, all of whom were with Castro aboard the Granma when it sailed from Mexico to Cuba in late 1956 to begin the guerrilla campaign against Batista. "Reports from independent sources confirm the discontent of this particular group," the memo reported. "In late 1963 an Agency representative had several meetings with a Cuban officer [Cubela] closely associated with this group who reported their anti-regime feelings and plans for a coup against Castro with the support of this group. It is known that the emissary who established contact with Artime's representative is a confidant of this officer."
In urging continued,support for Artime in light of the Cubela connection, the CIA argued:
"Whereas the incident of the Sierra Aranzazu raised serious doubts about the desirability of continued support to Artime, the contact of Artime by a potentially significant internal dissident group introduces an entirely new dimension to the problem. It is believed that within sixty to ninety days a reasonable evaluation of the potential and plans of the internal group can be made. Therefore, it appears desirable to defer any final decision on support (if any) to Artime until we have the opportunity to evaluate the potential of the internal group. It is assumed that the internal group established contact with Artime because of their belief that his paramilitary capability is based on close relations with the United States. Hence, if Artime is to maintain his attractiveness and continue developing this contact, it is necessary for Artime to maintain a good facade in terms of his paramilitary capability. While we feel it is desirable to give Artime every opportunity to develop an operation with the internal group, we believe the groundwork should be laid for a phase out of support to the paramilitary aspect of the program. Artime will be unhappy with any decision to terminate support regardless of how such a decision is implemented, but we believe a negotiated phase out dovetailed with support to develop the internal operation will reduce the number of problems and best protect the deniability of United States complicity in the operation, provided Artime cooperates."
a. Artime concentrate on developing the internal operation, maintaining his paramilitary posture to the degree necessary to preserve his attractiveness to the internal group.
b. Support to Artime at approximately the present level be continued for the next sixty to ninety days in order to give Artime an opportunity to develop an operation with the dissident internal group which has sought him out.
c. Should it be considered vital in order to maintain his attractiveness to the internal group and hold his own group together, permit Artime to conduct one raid and plan but not execute at least one more during this period."
The November 5 memo gave no indication how contact between Artime and Cubela might have been contrived to put them together "in such a way that neither of them knew that the contact had been made by the CIA." There also is a discrepancy as to when the initial contact with the Artime group was made. The Church Committee report said "documents in the AM/LASH file establish that in early 1965, the CIA put AM/ LASH in contact with B-1 [Artime], the leader of an anti-Castro group."
The November 5 memo said the contact was made in October 1964. A chronology in the CIA inspector general's 1967 report on assassination plots, said that Artime "received information through Madrid" on August 30, 1964, "that a group of dissident members of the Castro regime desired to establish direct contact" with him. On October 7, 1964, "an Artime associate [Quintero] went to France for a meeting with an intermediary from the dissident group."
Then, on November 13, the CIA chronology cites a contact report of a meeting in Washington with Artime: "Artime agreed to talk to AMLASH1 [Cubela] if it turns out that he is the contact man for the dissident group. Artime thinks that if AMLASH-1 is the chief of the dissident group we can all forget about the operation." Three weeks later, on December 4, a request was prepared "for $6,500 as an extraordinary budget expenditure for the travel of Artime for maintaining contact with the internal dissident group's representative in Europe during November and December 1964. There is no direct indication in the file that the request was approved, but indirect evidence indicates that it was. Artime did travel to Europe and maintained the contacts."
Sanchez, the CIA's AMLASH case officer, met Cubela again in Paris on December 6-7. On December 10 he reported in a memo: "Artime does not know and we do not plan to tell him that we are in direct contact with Cubela [one and one-half lines censored; presumably referring to assassination/coup plot].... Cubela was told and fully understands that U.S. Government cannot become involved to any degree in the 'first step' of his plan. If he needs support, he realizes he will have to get it elsewhere. FYI: This is where Artime could fit in nicely in giving any support Cubela would request." A parenthetical note follows with comment from the investigators, which says:
"Sanchez explained to us that what had happened was that SAS [CIA's Special Affairs Staff] contrived to put Artime and Cubela together in such a way that neither knew that the contact had been engineered by CIA. The thought was that Artime needed a man inside and Cubela wanted a silenced weapon, which CIA was unwilling to furnish to him directly. By putting the two together, Artime might get his man inside and Cubela might get his silenced weapon-from Artime. CIA did not intend to furnish an assassination weapon for Artime, and did not do so."'
Washington obviously considered an internal coup the last-best hope it had of unseating Castro; so much so that by year's end representatives of the CIA, Defense, and State had prepared "A Contingency Plan for a Coup in Cuba" and what the U.S. response would be. They sent it to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. A December 30, 1964, cover letter signed by Cyrus Vance noted, "Bundy has been advised ... and requested to inform the President of the existence of the plan on a suitable occasion." As foreseen in the plan, the U.S. response would vary depending on whether it had "up to forty-eight hours" advance notice of the coup. If so, it would then send in a "special team" to make a decision on whether to provide support; otherwise "a longer time would be required." The plan laid out the criteria that had to be met for U.S. support:
(1) Have some power base in the Cuban army or militia in order to survive.
(2) Be prepared to establish a provisional government, however rudimentary, with some sort of public claim to political viability to provide an adequate political basis for covert U.S. action (not required if Soviet troops
were clearly fighting Cuban patriots).
(3) Neutralize the top echelon of Cuban leadership.
(4) Seize and hold significant piece of territory, preferably including Havana, long enough to permit the United States plausibly to extend support and some form of recognition to the provisional government.
The contingency plan emphasized, "The US does not contemplate either a premeditated full scale invasion of Cuba (except in the case of Soviet intervention or the reintroduction of offensive weapons) or the contrivance of a provocation which could be used as a pretext for such action."
Quintero, the MRR representative who made the initial contact with the internal dissidents and was the first to meet with Cubela, said the link began with Alberto Blanco, one of the dissidents on the Cuban embassy staff in Madrid. Quintero said he went to Mallorca to talk with a ship captain about hijacking a passenger liner as Portuguese rebels had done three years earlier with the Santa Maria off the coast of Brazil. When he got back to Madrid from Mallorca, "Cuco" Leon, a former Cuban legislator who was friendly with Somoza, told him "there's a bigger thing here than that... a big comandante in Cuba, they're planning a plot against Cuba." The hijacking plan was canceled "in order not to get any kind of publicity that could hurt the operation with Cubela." The August 30 meeting with Blanco was arranged for Paris, beginning the MRR relationship with the Cubela dissidents.
That CIA contract pilot, Jim Rose, who had flown with David Ferrie, had begun to work for Garrison, even as he continued his missions for the clandestine services. Did he think the Agency was so big it could be out of control? Garrison asked Rose. The first time Rose walked into Tulane and Broad, Ivon frisked him, only to ignore a ballpoint pen.
"It's napalm," Rose said. "If I shot you, your face would go up in flames." Garrison dubbed him "Winston Smith," then "Winnie the Pooh," then "Rosalie." Rose worked on Shaw's telephone records and found the number of Sergio Arcacha Smith's lawyer. He identified one more CIA courier, William Cuthbert Brady. He knew Loran Hall and Lawrence Howard personally as "proficient riflemen and top-level guerrilla fighters."
In 1966, Rose had joined former Batista executioner Rolando Masferrer's invasion of Haiti to depose the dictator Duvalier. In his attempt to escape, he shot a man square in the face. McNabb, "Rose," was a stone-cold killer. He knew that among those working for Masferrer was William Seymour of No Name Key notoriety. Terming Masferrer "the most dangerous man in the United States," Rose suggested that if any anti-Castro leader were involved in the assassination, "his first choice" would be one of the Masferrer brothers.
Rose proposed a Miami-based scheme to Jim Garrison. To locate those Cubans photographed with Oswald outside the International Trade Mart, he would pretend to recruit mercenaries for a CIA proj¬ect in Biafra. A concealed Garrison investigator would photograph the applicants. Should Rose be exposed, Richard Gerstein would have him arrested and "put on the next flight to New Orleans."
In this effort, Rose contacted several CIA-linked reporters, among them, Donald Bohning, CIA's AMCARBON-3. "AM" stood for Cuba; "Carbon" was that CIA cryptonym for its writer assets. Bohning, who became the Latin American editor for Miami Herald, an Al Burt doppelganger, lunched weekly with CIA's Jake Esterline, one of the reluctant engineers of the Bay of Pigs operation. Bohning had received his Provisional Covert Security Approval as a CIA confidential informant on August 21, 1967, then Covert Security Approval itself on November 14th. On July 31 st, the DDP himself approved the use of Bohning in the CIA's Cuban operations.
Bohning informed Esterline of Rose's visit on March 28, 1968. A "Winston Smith," working for Jim Garrison, was looking into the activities of Rolando Masferrer in 1963, before the assassination. Rose was attempting to identify certain Cubans who had appeared in photographs. He was leaving for Biafra to fight as a mercenary next month.
Bohning declined to help Jim Rose. Later he found other journalists of his acquaintance had also been contacted, but with Rose using the name "Carl McNab"[sic]. "I use many different names for different purposes," Rose explained to Bohning when next they met. "I used to have still a different war name with the Company." That was "Carl Davis."
During that sojourn in Miami, while JMWAVE watched his every move, Rose met with Lawrence Howard. He didn't believe Masferrer was involved in the assassination, Howard said smoothly. "He's too smart for that." But others "in the ring around him could well have been." Masferrer had been sentenced to twenty-four years in prison for the abortive Haitian escapade, but Rose managed to meet with him.
A CIA memo dated June 5, 1968 states that Bohning was known within the agency as AMCARBON 3 -- AMCARBON was the cryptonym that the CIA used to identify friendly reporters and editors who covered Cuba. (AMCARBON 1 was Bohning’s colleague at the Miami Herald, Latin America editor Al Burt.) According to the agency memo, which dealt with New Orleans prosecutor Jim Garrison’s investigation of the Kennedy assassination, Bohning passed along information about the Garrison probe to the CIA.
A follow-up agency memo, dated June 14, revealed that “Bohning was granted a Provisional Security Approval on 21 August 1967 and a Covert Security Approval on 14 November 1967 for use as a confidential informant.”
A declassified CIA memo dated April 9, 1964 explained that the CIA’s covert media campaign in Miami aimed “to work out a relationship with [South Florida] news media which would insure that they did not turn the publicity spotlight on those [CIA] activities in South Florida which might come to their attention...and give [the CIA’s Miami station] an outlet into the press which could be used for surfacing certain select propaganda items.”
While researching my book, I contacted Bohning to ask him about his reported ties to the CIA. Was he indeed AMCARBON 3? “I still do not know but… it is possible,” Bohning replied in one of a series of amicable e-mails and phone calls we exchanged. “There were several people in the Herald newsroom during the 1960s who had contact with the CIA station chief in Miami.”
Bohning took pains to explain that he was not a paid functionary of the CIA, insisting he was simply a dutiful reporter working every source he could as he went about his job. And, as I wrote back to him, I’m fully aware that agency officials – looking to score bureaucratic points with their superiors – could sometimes make empty boasts that they had certain journalists in their pocket. I also told him that I understood that many journalists, particularly in those Cold War days, thought it was permissible to swap information with intelligence sources. But in evaluating a journalist’s credibility, it is important for readers to know of these cozy government relationships. The fact that Bohning was given a CIA code as an agency asset and was identified as an agency informant is a relevant piece of information that the readers of Washington Decoded have a right to know.
Even more relevant is that, over the years, Bohning’s journalism has consistently reflected his intelligence sources’ points of view, with little or no critical perspective. Bohning’s book, The Castro Obsession, is essentially the CIA’s one-dimensional view of that historical drama, pure and simple, down to the agency’s self-serving claim that it was the Kennedys’ fanaticism that drove the spy outfit to take extreme measures against the Castro regime. Bohning’s decision to invoke former CIA director and convicted liar Richard Helms’ conversation with Henry Kissinger, another master of deceit, as proof that Robert Kennedy was behind the Castro plots speaks for itself.
In Bohning’s eagerness to shine the best possible light on the CIA, he goes as far as to attempt to exonerate David Morales – a notorious CIA agent whose hard-drinking and violent ways alienated him not only from many of his colleagues but from his own family, as I discovered in my research. Among my “thin” sources on Morales were not only those who worked and lived with him, but his attorney, who told more than one reporter that Morales implicated himself in the assassinations of both Kennedy brothers.
A U.S. government report published in 1975 based on a congressional inquiry headed by the late Idaho Senator Frank Church and entitled Alleged Assassination Plots Against Foreign Leaders, makes no mention of Operation 40. (1) Neither does a Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro, prepared in 1967 by the CIA's inspector general under orders from then President Lyndon Johnson. It was declassified in 1993. (2) It is inconceivable that had Operation 40 been an assassination unit, as Simkin claims, that either or both the Church Committee and the CIA's Inspector General's Inspector General's report would not have made some made mention of it. Essentially, the only references to it as described by Simkin are contained in books and other works by conspiracy theorists, including Fabian Escalante, an official in Cuban State Security.
While there were unsuccessful plots to assassinate various foreign leaders, mostly involving Cuba's Fidel Castro, beginning in 1960, the only documented systematic CIA assassination program as such was code-named ZRRIFLE. Created by the late Richard Bissell, it was headed by the late Bill Harvey from November 1961 through the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962. Part of that period Harvey also headed Task Force W, the CIA component of Operation Mongoose, the multi-agency, post-Bay of Pigs program to rid Cuba of Fidel Castro. Mongoose was designed by Kennedy White House aide Richard Goodwin. As far as is known, ZRRIFLE never assassinated anyone. (3)
Contrary to Simkin's definition, Operation 40, as described by some of those who were part of it, as well as in official documentation, was the last unit formed for the failed, CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961. Its task essentially was to follow the Cuban exile invasion force, purge officials, seize documents and take over administration of "liberated" towns and villages.
When the invasion failed, the group returned to Miami , morphing into what was known locally as the Cuban intelligence organization in exile, the Cuban CIA or, more commonly, as Operation 40. Its CIA codename was AMOT. It operated under, but quasi-independently and at a separate location from JMWAVE, codename for the giant Miami CIA station then located at the University of Miami's South Campus (now the home - perhaps appropriately - for Metrozoo).
Headed by Joaquin Sanjenis Perdomo, a former police official in the pre-Castro Cuban government of Carlos Prio, it was disbanded in 1974 as part of the phase-out of JMWAVE operations. Its CIA case officer for at least two years, beginning in 1970, was the late Frank Belsito, who died in 2006. An account of AMOT can be found in a rather obscure book authored by Belsito, entitled: “CIA: Cuba and the Caribbean (CIA Officer's Memoirs)". It was published in 2002 by Ancient Mariner Press of Reston, Virginia.
(1) Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders: An Interim Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental operations with respect to intelligence Activities. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington , D.C. November 1 975 .
(2) Reports on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro. J.S. Earman, (CIA) Inspector General. May 2 3, 1967. (Declassified in 1 993)
(3) An excellent account of the ZRRIFLE program can be found in the book, “ Flawed Patriot: The Rise and Fall of CIA Legend Bill Harvey", authored by Bayard Stockton and published in 2006 by Potomac Books, Washington , D.C.