William Douglas Pawley was born in Florence, South Carolina, on 7th September, 1896. His father was a wealthy businessman based in Cuba and Pawley attended private schools in both Havana and Santiago. He later returned to the United States where he studied at the Gordon Military Academy in Georgia.
In 1925 Pawley began work as an estate agent in Miami. Two years later he began working for the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. In 1928 Pawley returned to Cuba to become president of the Nacional Cubana de Aviacion Curtiss. He held this post until the company was sold to Pan American Airways in 1932.
Pawley now became president of the Intercontinent Corporation based in New York. The following year he moved to China where he became president of the China National Aviation Corporation. Over the next five years he built three aircraft factories for the Chinese government of Chiang Kai-shek.
Pawley also formed a business relationship with Tommy Corcoran. In 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had asked Corcoran to establish a private corporation to provide assistance to the nationalist government in China. Roosevelt even supplied the name of the proposed company, China Defense Supplies. He also suggested that his uncle, Frederick Delano, should be co-chairman of the company. Chiang nominated his former finance minister, Tse-ven Soong, as the other co-chairman.
For reasons of secrecy, Corcoran took no title other than outside counsel for China Defense Supplies. William S. Youngman was his frontman in China. Corcoran's friend, Whitey Willauer, was moved to the Foreign Economic Administration, where he supervised the sending of supplies to China. In this way Corcoran was able to create an Asian Lend-Lease program.
Pawley also worked closely with Claire Lee Chennault, who had been working as a military adviser to Chiang Kai-shek since 1937. Chennault told Tommy Corcoran that if he was given the resources, he could maintain an air force within China that could carry out raids against the Japanese. Corcoran returned to the United States and managed to persuade Franklin D. Roosevelt to approve the creation of the American Volunteer Group.
William Pawley became involved and he arranged for one hundred P-40 fighters, built by the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, that had been intended for Britain, to be redirected to Chennault in China. Pawley also arranged for the P-40 to be assembled in Rangoon. It was Tommy Corcoran's son David who suggested that the American Volunteer Group should be called the Flying Tigers. Chennault liked the idea and asked his friend, Walt Disney, to design a tiger emblem for the planes.
On 13th April, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a secret executive order authorizing the American Volunteer Group to recruit reserve officers from the army, navy and marines. Pawley suggested that the men should be recruited as "flying instructors".
In July, 1941, ten pilots and 150 mechanics were supplied with fake passports and sailed from San Francisco for Rangoon. When they arrived they were told that they were really involved in a secret war against Japan. To compensate for the risks involved, the pilots were to be paid $600 a month ($675 for a patrol leader). In addition, they were to receive $500 for every enemy plane they shot down.
The Flying Tigers were extremely effective in their raids on Japanese positions and helped to slow down attempts to close the Burma Road, a key supply route to China. In seven months of fighting, the Flying Tigers destroyed 296 planes at a loss of 24 men (14 while flying and 10 on the ground).
In 1944 Pawley became president of the Industan Aircraft Manufacturing Company in Bangalore, India. Pawley was responsible for building India's first ammonium-sulfate plant in Trannvancore.
After the war Pawley became a diplomat. In 1945 Harry S. Truman appointed Pawley as U.S. Ambassador to Peru. Soon afterwards left-wing newspapers in Lima began to claim that Pawley was making "lucrative deals" for himself in Peru. This involved transporting unspecified goods in and out of Peru.
In 1948 Pawley became Ambassador to Brazil. During this time he became a FBI informant. He passed information to J. Edgar Hoover claiming that Spruille Braden, the Ambassador to Argentina was under the control of communist advisers such as Gustavo Duran and George Michanowsky. In a document dated the 7th September, 1948, Pawley suggested that Braden was attempting to expose "non-existant and imagery Nazis in Latin America" as a cover for his communist sympathies. Pawley also claimed that William A. Wieland, who worked as a press officer for the embassy in Brazil, held "anti-capitalist" views.
Pawley continued to be involved in various business projects. He was a close friend of President Rafael Trujillo and together with George Smathers, had invested in the bauxite industry in the Dominican Republic. He was also extremely friendly with Fulgencio Batista and in 1948 he established Autobuses Modernos in Cuba. A company he later sold to Batista.
On 7th November, 1949, Pawley sent a memorandum to the State Department suggesting that a small group of Americans should be sent to Formosa in order to help protect the government of Chiang Kai-shek. Pawley claimed that Dean Acheson rejected the idea after consulting with advisers such as Owen Lattimore, John C. Vincent and John Davis. In February, 1951 Pawley became special assistant to Acheson. Later that year he held a similar post under Robert A. Lovett. However, he discovered that the State Department considered him to be a reactionary and he was denied access to secret documents concerning Latin America.
Pawley was an active member of the Republican Party. A close friend of both President Dwight Eisenhower and CIA director Allen W. Dulles, he took part in a policy that later become known as Executive Action (a plan to remove unfriendly foreign leaders from power). Pawley played a role Operation Success, a CIA plot to overthrow the Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 after he introduced land reforms and nationalized the United Fruit Company.
John Foster Dulles decided that he “needed a civilian adviser to the State Department team to help expediate Operation Success". Dulles selected William Pawley. In his book Peddling Influence (2005), David McKean argues that Pawley's most important qualification for the job was his “long association with right-wing Latin America dictators.”
Gaeton Fonzi points out in his book, The Last Investigation: "Pawley had also owned major sugar interests in Cuba, as well as Havana's bus, trolley and gas systems and he was close to both pre-Castro Cuban rulers, President Carlos Prio and General Fulgencio Batista. (Pawley was one of the dispossessed American investors in Cuba who early tried to convince Eisenhower that Castro was a Communist and urged him to arm the exiles in Miami.)"
In March 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower, disillusioned with Batista's government, insisted he held elections. This he did, but the people showed their unhappiness with his government by refusing to vote. Over 75 per cent of the voters in the capital Havana boycotted the polls. In some areas, such as Santiago, it was as high as 98 per cent.
Some members of the State Department came to the conclusion that it would be in America's best long-term interest in Cuba to be seen as opposing Batista. William A. Wieland, Director of the Caribbean and Central American Affairs, was against America providing support for the Cuban dictator. As the U.S. Ambassador of Cuba, Earl E. T. Smith was later to tell a Senate Committee: "He (Wieland) believed that it would be in the best interest of Cuba and the best interest of the world in general when Batista was removed from office."
Wieland was not the only one who took that view. According to Pawley and Smith, Roy R. Rubottom, Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, John L. Topping, Chief of the Political Section and the Chief of the CIA Section, held similar opinions. Pawley and Smith also identified Herbert L. Matthews of the New York Times as being an important figure in providing support for the idea of regime change in Cuba. Smith pointed out that "Matthews wrote three articles on Fidel Castro, which appeared on the front page of the New York Times, in which he eulogized Fidel Castro and portrayed him as a political Robin Hood."
On 9th December, 1958, Pawley had a meeting with Fulgencio Batista. Pawley told Batista that he was losing the support of the American government. Pawley suggested that the Cuban dictator should resign and allow an anti-Castro and anti-Batista caretaker junta to take over. Batista rejected the idea and on 14th December, William A. Wieland, speaking for the State Department instructed Earl E. T. Smith, to inform Batista that he no longer had the support of the US government and that he should leave Cuba at once. On 1st January, 1959, Batista fled to the Dominican Republic.
Pawley later told a Senate Committee on Latin American Affairs: "I believe that the deliberate overthrow of Batista by Wieland and Matthews, assisted by Rubottom, is almost as great a tragedy as the surrendering of China to the Communists by a similar group of Department of State officials fifteen or sixteen years ago and we will not see the end in cost of American lives and American recourses for these tragic errors."
After Batista was overthrown by Fidel Castro, Pawley pressurized President Dwight Eisenhower to provide military and financial help to anti-Castro Cubans based in the United States. Recently released FBI files suggest he worked closely with Manuel Artime in efforts to overthrow Castro.
In the winter of 1962 Eddie Bayo claimed that two officers in the Red Army based in Cuba wanted to defect to the United States. Bayo added that these men wanted to pass on details about atomic warheads and missiles that were still in Cuba despite the agreement that followed the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Bayo had originally fought with Fidel Castro against Fulgencio Batista. He disagreed with Castro's policies after he gained power and moved to Miami and helped establish Alpha 66. His story was eventually taken up by several members of the anti-Castro community including Gerry P. Hemming, John Martino, Felipe Vidal Santiago and Frank Sturgis. Pawley became convinced that it was vitally important to help get these Soviet officers out of Cuba. To help this happen he communicated with James Eastland, the chairman of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, about this story.
Pawley also contacted Ted Shackley, head of the CIA's JM WAVE station in Miami. Shackley decided to help Pawley organize what became known as Operation Tilt. He also assigned William (Rip) Robertson, a fellow member of the CIA in Miami, to help with the operation. David Sanchez Morales, another CIA agent, also became involved in this attempt to bring out these two Soviet officers.
In June, 1963, a small group, including Pawley, Eddie Bayo, William (Rip) Robertson, John Martino, and Richard Billings, a journalist working for Life Magazine, secretly arrived in Cuba. They were unsuccessful in their attempts to find these Soviet officers and they were forced to return to Miami. Bayo remained behind and it was rumored that he had been captured and executed. However, his death was never reported in the Cuban press.
William Pawley died of gunshot wounds in January, 1977. Officially it was suicide but some researchers believe it was connected to the investigations being carried out by the House Select Committee on Assassinations. However, a relative Cash Pawley, has argued: "Bill Pawley had acquired a severe case of Shingles years earlier, which had progressed across his entire body (even the soles of his feet). He had been unable to lay down, stand or become comfortable in any position. The pain was excruciating, and there was no modern medicine(s) for a cure or even proper pain management at the time. Therefore, Mr. Pawley suffered day in and day out, until he just could not do it anymore. This was the reason for his suicide."