Friday, August 6, 2010

When Did Castro Know He Was Targeted For Assassination?

On September 7th 1963, Fidel Castro sent a message to America. Rushing into a diplomatic reception at the Brazilian Embassy in Havana, he pulled aside Daniel Harker, the Associated Press correspondent in Cuba, and told him in front of other journalists, "If US leaders are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe. Let Kennedy and his brother Robert take care of themselves since they too can be a victim of an attempt that can cause their deaths." The AP story made headlines in the United states. Just eleven weeks later, President John F, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas .
Castro’s message did not go unnoticed by James Jesus Angleton at the CIA. As head of its Counterintelligence Staff, he knew that the CIA had a top-secret plans to eliminate Castro. Had Cuban intelligence somehow learned of it?
The plots to kill Castro began in the halcyon days of the Eisenhower Administration. In the summer of 1960, the CIA gave Colonel Sheffield Edwards, the director of its office of security, $150,00 to organize an untraceable assassination of Castro. Working through intermediaries, he subcontracted the job to a group of Mafia figures, including John Roselli, Sam Giancana, and Santo Traficante. The advantage of using the Mafia was that if their assassin was captured, the plot could be plausibly blamed on organized crime. Roselli planned to use a waiter to poison Castro, and had the CIA provide him with botulinus toxin pills. But, as the years dragged on, he was unable to execute the plan. The Kennedy Administration suspected that Roselli was conning the CIA to get immunity from an FBI investigation. So under unrelenting pressure from the Administration, the CIA decided to handle the kill itself. Desmond FitzGerald, the chief of the CIA’s Cuba operation, and a personal friend of the Kennedy brothers, then recruited a 30-year old Cuban named Rolando Cubela Secades. Unlike the Mafia contractors, Cubela had direct access to Castro who was a personal friend of his. He also had experience as an assassin. Before Castro came to power in 1959, Cubela had killed Batista's chief of military intelligence, Blanco Rico, on behalf of Castro. And as an organizer of international support for Castro, Cubela had the freedom to travel. After contacting the CIA, Cubela said he had become disillusioned with Castro and was willing to kill him. So he was fashioned in 1963 into the CIA’s secret instrument to eliminate Castro. Was this the plot Castro was referring to in his outburst?
What really shook Angleton was that Castro had chosen the Brazilian Embassy to deliver the warning. On that very day, September 7th, Cubela was in Brazil was meeting with his CIA case officer Nestor Sanchez to discuss the assassination. Since the CIA’s psychological profile showed that Castro was prone to taunting behavior, Angleton believed it was more than a coincidence that Castro had chosen the Brazilian embassy to warn of an assassination plot that was being formulated that day in Brazil. Then when Angleton reviewed Cubela’s CIA file, his worst fears were confirmed. Not only had Cubela had steadfastly refused to take the CIA’s polygraph examination, but his mistress, who was an airline hostess in France, was working for the Cuban intelligence service. The danger was that Cubela was a "dangle," someone sent by the Cuban intelligence service to feign disloyalty to test the CIA's intention. He sent a memo warning that the Cubela operation was "insecure."
Despite Angleton’s intervention, the assassination mission was not aborted. FitzGerald was under "white heat" from Robert Kennedy to get rid of Castro, and Cubela, secure or insecure, was the CIA’s only candidate for the job. At the September 7th meeting in Brazil, Cubela said that before he murdered Castro he needed proof that Kennedy was personally behind the assassination. He then asked to meet personally with Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Such a meeting was out of the question, but FitzGerald found an alternative way of satisfying Cubela's demand. On October 29th 1963, using the pseudonym "Jim Clark," he met personally with Cubela in Paris, telling him he was a special emissary for Robert Kennedy. To prove he bona fides, he said he would write a conformation "signal" into a speech that President Kennedy was due to give in Miami in mid November. The phase they agreed upon was that the Castro regime was a "small band of conspirators" that needed to be "removed." Then president Kennedy himself delivered those very words in Miami on November 18, 1963 .
The meeting, in which Cubela would be given the murder weapon was scheduled to take place in a hotel room in Paris on November 22nd 1963. In the midst of that meeting, Cubela’s case officer was handed the horrifying news that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. The meeting abruptly ended.
Cubela returned to Cuba and had no further contacts with the CIA. He continued working for the Cuban government and he was not charged with acting as the CIA’s assassin against Castro. In 1966, he was jailed for post-1964 subversion in Cuba, but unlike more than 500 other Cuban officials who were executed for similar subversion, he was granted clemency by Castro. Later, after serving a prison sentence, he was allowed to resettle in Spain, where he died of old age. Cubela’s close associate Carlos Tepedino eventually admitted to the CIA that Cubela "had strong connections with" and was "probably cooperating with" Cuban intelligence. If so, when Castro issued his extraordinary warning in September 1963, he knew that the CIA planning to kill him. He also knew his warning had gone unheeded when Desmond Fitzgerald flew to Paris to meet with in October 1963. And he knew on November 18th 1963 that President Kennedy had provided in his speech the signal to move the assassination plot ahead.