Ultimate Sacrifice: The Cuban Missile Crisis and C-Day

From Chapter One of "Ultimate Sacrifice"

CHAPTER ONE: The Cuban Missile Crisis and C-Day

ALTHOUGH THE CUBAN MISSILE CRISIS is largely remembered as a stunning success for the United States, the little-known reality is that it left President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert with a sense of unfinished business and the need for a permanent solution to the problem of Cuba. In fact, the Missile Crisis was never fully resolved, because of Fidel Castro’s refusal to allow UN inspections for nuclear weapons, to ensure that all the Soviet missiles had been removed. However, decades of misinformation about JFK’s supposed pledge not to invade Cuba to end the Crisis is so pervasive that it is important to finally put it to rest. This chapter not only documents that JFK made no such pledge, but shows how the failure to fully resolve the crisis led to the creation of the C-Day coup plan the following year.

JFK’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, explained to us in 1990 that JFK never agreed not to invade Cuba, the reason being that Castro refused to allow UN weapons inspectors into Cuba in the fall of 1962.1 Those inspections had been part of JFK’s deal with Russia’s Nikita Khrushchev to end the tense nuclear standoff of the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time, we were surprised to hear this from Rusk, because almost every history book or media report about the Cuban Missile Crisis cited JFK’s so-called no-invasion pledge as a key reason for ending the Crisis. However, we quickly found confirmation of what Rusk had told us.

A transcript of President Kennedy’s November 20, 1962 prime-time TV news conference provided the first confirmation. That night, JFK declared that he would “give assurances against an invasion of Cuba” only when “adequate arrangements for [UN] verification had been established.” JFK emphasized that “the Cuban Government has not yet permitted the United Nations to verify whether all offensive weapons have been removed” and that “serious problems remain.”2 (While researching JFK’s comments, we also found that he had been the first president to use the term “weapons of mass destruction,” as well as the concept of “UN inspections” for them, and he used both phrases during the Missile Crisis.3)

A year after we talked to Dean Rusk, presidential historian Michael Bechloss discussed the supposed “no-invasion pledge” in his 1991 book, The Crisis Years. Making use of the new documents about the Missile Crisis that were being declassified, Bechloss was one of the first major historians to question the existence of the pledge. He said JFK “may have deliberately avoided such an unambiguous commitment,” and that JFK “watered down the pledge” by adding conditions that “had the effect of neutralizing” it. Bechloss concluded that JFK did not “rule out further American efforts to topple the Castro regime, including invasion.”4

More documents about the Missile Crisis and the so-called no-invasion pledge continued to be declassified, and by 1992 it was clear that the pledge had never gone into effect, as Rusk had said. The National Security Archive, located at George Washington University and the world’s largest nongovernmental library of declassified documents, was a major force in getting the new files released.5 The Archive published the documents in a massive volume called The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 that included an analysis by historians Laurence Chang and Peter Kornbluh.6

Chang and Kornbluh confirm that “for almost thirty years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the myth persisted that Kennedy had struck a secret deal with Khrushchev binding the US to a commitment not to invade Cuba. But the recent declassification of the remaining correspondence between Kennedy and Khrushchev, and of internal State Department memoranda, reveals that no such deal was ever made.” They explain that “President Kennedy’s pledge not to invade Cuba . . . was conditioned on the implementation of adequate inspection and verification procedures.” They quote JFK’s letter to Khrushchev on October 27, 1962, in which JFK said that “upon the establishment of adequate arrangements through the United Nations to ensure . . . these commitments . . . [the US would] give assurances against an invasion of Cuba.” But as Chang and Kornbluh document, “Cuba did not allow on-site inspection” to verify that all the Russian missiles had been removed, so the pledge never took effect.”7

The National Security Archive historians present many pages of declassified documents confirming what Dean Rusk told us in 1990. The documents are especially interesting in light of the recent events in Iraq: The actions of George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, and UN Secretary General Kofi Anan in the fall of 2002 regarding weapons of mass destruction parallel very closely the actions—and even the words—of JFK, Fidel Castro, and UN Secretary General U Thant in the fall of 1962.

The documents show that Dean Rusk was one of the US officials who encouraged JFK not to make a firm no-invasion pledge in 1962, in order to allow the US more flexibility in getting rid of Castro. As the book states, “Internal State Department memoranda declassified in April 1992 reveal that US officials who saw the Missile Crisis as a great opportunity to overthrow Castro lobbied hard against any pledge that would inhibit future US policy toward Cuba.” A strategy paper from Rusk’s State Department dated November 7, 1962 called for “maximal US strategy . . . directed at the elimination . . . of the Castro regime,” even as the Missile Crisis was winding down. Chang and Kornbluh say that Rusk’s position was that “the latitude to overthrow Castro . . . was more important than a concrete resolution to the most dangerous international crisis of the twentieth century.” During the crisis, Rusk wrote to JFK adviser John McCloy—appointed to the Warren Commission a year later—saying “Our interest lies in . . . avoiding the kind of commitment that unduly ties our hands in dealing with the Castro regime while it lasts.”8

As the days passed in November 1962, neither JFK nor Khrushchev wanted to return to the tense standoff of October, but neither man was able to find a solution to the problem. JFK complained in a letter to Khrushchev on November 15, 1962 that “There has been no United Nations verification that other missiles were not left behind and, in fact, there have been many reports of their being concealed in caves and elsewhere, and we have no way of satisfying those who are concerned about these reports.”9

At his November 20, 1962 prime-time press conference, JFK was asked: “Is it your position, sir, that you will issue a formal no-invasion pledge only after satisfactory arrangements have been made for [UN] verification?”10 After JFK made it clear that that was indeed the case, he was asked by a reporter “If we [the US] wanted to invade Cuba . . . could we do so without the approval of the United Nations?” JFK essentially said yes, replying that the US “has the means as a sovereign power to defend itself . . . in a way consistent with our treaty obligations, including the United Nations Charter.” JFK said that while he hoped “to always move in concert with our allies,” he reserved the right to act “on our own if that situation was necessary to protect our survival or integrity or other vital interests.”11

But Khrushchev was unable to get Fidel Castro to allow the UN inspections. A leading Cuban journalist at the time, Carlos Franqui, said that Castro “could never accept the idea of an inspection of any kind by any agency . . . because that would have finished him off” by making him look weak.12 So, on November 21, 1962, JFK notified Khrushchev that the Missile Crisis was over—but with the issues of UN inspections and a no-invasion pledge still unresolved. JFK wrote Khrushchev that “I am now instructing our negotiators [at the UN] in New York to move ahead promptly with proposals for a solution of the remaining elements in the Cuban problem,” meaning the UN inspections in Cuba. JFK said: “I regret that you have been unable to persuade Mr. Castro to accept a suitable form of [UN] inspection or verification in Cuba . . . but, as I said yesterday, there need be no fear of any invasion of Cuba while matters take their present favorable course.” As The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962 notes, “in the end there was no formal resolution of the Missile Crisis.”13

Since there never were any UN inspections in Cuba, JFK and his cabinet made it clear, both in their private meetings and to a Congressional committee, that there wasn’t a no-invasion pledge.14 As Dean Rusk told us, without the UN inspections, the Cuban Missile Crisis never really ended. JFK and members of his administration felt that they had to do something to make sure all the missiles were gone and wouldn’t be reintroduced, since their efforts at the UN had proven fruitless. By the spring of 1963, JFK and his key advisers were looking at new ways to topple Castro. However, Rusk agreed that the American public—and possibly the Soviets—had assumed that there was such a pledge, which made the Kennedys’ efforts in 1963 all the more risky. That’s why they needed a legitimate—or seemingly legitimate—”coup,” not just an assassination or a full-out US invasion while Castro was still in power. They didn’t want to risk a nuclear confrontation with the Soviets, so any US military action against Cuba would have to take place under very special circumstances. It would have to appear to be a peace-keeping mission, in response to a “palace coup” against Castro, to quote a recently declassified memo.15 As Dean Rusk explained to us, Castro’s refusal to allow the UN inspections led directly to what became the Kennedys’ plan for a coup in Cuba.

The problem of Cuba remained a growing thorn in the side of JFK into the spring and summer of 1963. The New York Times reported on May 10, 1963 that a Senate subcommittee said that at least 17,000 Soviet troops remained in Cuba, including 5,000 combat troops. Worse, the report said that concealed missile sites were “quite possible,” a charge that JFK couldn’t completely refute without the UN inspections that Castro wouldn’t allow. Hawkish sub-committee chairman John Stennis was demanding that JFK take “positive” steps to make getting the Communists out of Cuba his highest priority.16

A few weeks later, the Times reported that CIA Director John McCone had testified to Congress that “only onsite [UN] inspection can completely confirm” the “end of the [Cuban] missile threat.”17 A June 14, 1963 secret National Intelligence Estimate said that while it was “unlikely that the USSR” would “reintroduce strategic [nuclear] missiles into Cuba . . . we cannot, however, rule out such an attempt.” Moreover, the US might not be able to find the missiles if they were reintroduced, since the report said it would be “possible” for the Soviets “to adopt improved measures of concealment and deception . . . to avoid providing many of the indicators that US intelligence would be relying on” to detect any new missiles.18 We could not always depend on U-2 spy planes to do the job, since they were now sometimes being approached by Soviet MiG jets. This forced the U-2s to abort, since procedures “call for aborts when Cuban aircraft [come] within 40 miles of U-2 and at altitude in excess of 40,000 feet.”19 Finally, U-2s were useless if new Soviet missiles were put in caves or underground sites.

However, JFK had already been planning to take some type of action to prevent the reintroduction of Soviet missiles into Cuba and to resolve the problems with Castro once and for all. White House memos declassified just a few years ago show that in late April 1963, the Kennedy administration was beginning a major push to eliminate Castro, setting the stage for C-Day. The April 23, 1963 notes from a National Security Council subcommittee on Cuba say that Defense “Secretary McNamara . . . made clear his belief that the elimination of the Castro regime was a requirement.” McNamara suggested a program that would create “such a situation of dissidence within Cuba as to allow the US to use force in support of anti-Castro forces without leading to retaliation by the USSR on the West.” Then “the Attorney General proposed . . . a list of measures we would take following . . . the death of Castro” and “a program with the objective of overthrowing Castro in eighteen months.” JFK adviser Ted Sorenson listed one of the “objectives raised at the meeting” as being to “develop a program to get rid of Castro.” Another objective was to provide “support for dissident elements in Cuba.”20 This was the second meeting of the “Standing Group of the National Security Council,” a subcommittee recently formed to focus solely on Cuba.21 It was just one of several such groups, all under the control of Bobby Kennedy.

The notes from a different Cuba subcommittee two days later develop the plans further. These April 25, 1963 notes say that CIA Director McCone talked about creating “a feasible climate for a successful attempt to fragment the Castro organization.” The CIA’s point man on Cuba, Desmond FitzGerald, said at the meeting that “we will have to be able to assure” high Cuban officials who might be willing to overthrow Castro for the US “that the US will be sympathetic to possible successors” to Castro “even though such people maybe have been former Castro supporters.” FitzGerald also discussed “support to selected Cuban exile groups . . . as being one of the key points of the possible new program.”22

The third of the seven government committees that investigated aspects of the JFK assassination was the Rockefeller Commission, which found that “McCone once stated one ultimate objective of our policy toward Cuba should be ‘to encourage dissident elements in the . . . power centers of the regime to bring about the eventual liquidation of the Castro/Communist entourage and the elimination of the Soviet presence from Cuba’” [emphasis in original].23

In directing the Cuban subcommittees in these actions to topple Castro, Bobby Kennedy was not acting on his own. Investigative journalist Gus Russo, who has numerous CIA sources, documented that “although Robert Kennedy assumed the task of dealing with the nuts and bolts of policy implementation, this by no means implies that the younger brother was operating without JFK’s implicit agreement. When Robert Kennedy issued his April 23, 1963 directive seeking studies aimed at overthrowing Castro in 1964, he was merely echoing the President’s own words.”24

A “Memorandum for the President” from that time period foreshadows many of the key elements of the C-Day coup plan. Though addressed to President Kennedy, the memo also had a section where the Defense Department, the CIA, and Bobby Kennedy’s Justice Department could all check their “concurrences” with the policy. This 1963 memo—finally declassified in 1997, due to our efforts and those of other researchers—makes it clear that the administration’s “ultimate objective with respect to Cuba remains the overthrow of the Castro/Communist regime and its replacement by one com- patible with the objectives of the US.” The memo foreshadowed C-Day, saying “We should seek to create conditions conducive to incipient rebellion to which we could then respond” [emphasis in original].25

The memo makes it clear that after a “rebellion,” the US should “respond with open military support . . . and Special Forces, up to the full range of military forces.” This would come in response “to a request for assistance from any anti-Castro . . . group . . . in Cuba which demonstrates an ability to survive, [and] which seriously threatens the present [Castro] regime.” The memo notes that “US military forces employed against Cuba should be accompanied by US military-trained free Cubans.”26 Cuban exiles trained by the US military would soon be a key part of C-Day. These April 1963 meetings were not the first time the Kennedys had targeted Castro with a broad plan of covert action. The previous year, President Kennedy and the National Security Council had approved “OPERATION MON- GOOSE,” a large program involving the US military and other agencies including the CIA. Robert Kennedy was actively involved, though he did not dominate it to the extent he would dominate C-Day the following year. For decades, OPERATION MONGOOSE has been described as primarily a relentless and escalating campaign of sabotage and small Cuban exile raids that would somehow cause the overthrow of Castro. Only in recent years have newly released documents and accounts shown that MONGOOSE also included plans for an invasion of Cuba in the fall of 1962. The military was heavily involved with MONGOOSE, and suggested a variety of often outrageous plans to justify the military invasion, such as blaming the sinking of a ship or the crash of an airliner—or a US space capsule—on the Cubans, or staging a phony attack on Guantanamo. In recent years, historians have begun to focus on the Soviet and Cuban response to MONGOOSE, and whether it actually helped to trigger the Cuban Missile Crisis. MONGOOSE was quietly terminated in early 1963 after a demonstrable lack of results.

The April 1963 meetings and memos were in response to a lack of progress in efforts against Castro that had followed in the wake of MONGOOSE. Some of those programs were known to the Kennedys and their Cuban subcommittees. One was AMTRUNK, a CIA program conceived three months earlier by New York Times journalist Tad Szulc, a close friend of JFK. It was an attempt to find disgruntled military officials in Cuba who might be willing to recruit higher military officials in a plot to overthrow Castro. Detailed in a later chapter, AMTRUNK was making little progress. In addition, the CIA had been supporting dozens of Cuban exile groups for years, but most were ineffective, and the Kennedys were starting to scale back their support and shut down the groups’ raids on Cuba.

The CIA had two other major operations against Cuba that were being hidden from the Kennedys in April 1963. One was CIA backing for the violent Cuban exile group Alpha 66, which even attacked Soviet ships in Cuban waters, a dangerous act during the Cold War. Even as JFK denounced Alpha 66 and tried to clamp down on its leadership, he didn’t realize that the CIA was actually directing the group’s activities. The other major operation was the CIA’s ongoing plots with Mafia boss Johnny Rosselli to assassinate Castro. The CIA-Mafia plots began in 1959, had been ramped up in the summer of 1960 prior to JFK’s election, and continued even after the CIA had assured Bobby Kennedy in May 1962 that they had been stopped. These plots were still active in the spring of 1963, with two well-documented attempts. The CIA-Mafia plots with Rosselli were part of the CIA’s ZRRIFLE “Executive Action” program, which employed a European assassin recruiter codenamed QJWIN, whose real name is still classified by the CIA. This program was first uncovered by the Senate Church Committee in the mid-1970s.

CIA Director John McCone, a recent JFK appointee, was kept in the dark about the unsanctioned CIA operations as much as JFK was. CIA officials who were aware of them, the highest of whom appears to have been Deputy Director for Plans Richard Helms, had far different ideas on overthrowing Castro by 1963 than did the Kennedys. Historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., a JFK aide at the time, wrote that “the CIA wished to organize Castro’s overthrow from outside Cuba, as against the White House, the Attorney General’s office and State who wished to support an anti-Castro movement inside Cuba. The CIA’s idea was to fight a war; the others hoped to promote a revolution.” Although our sources and documents indicate that Schlesinger did not know about the plan for a coup in Cuba, he worked closely enough with the Kennedys to accurately describe their feelings about Cuba.27 The Kennedys wanted a change in Cuba to be part of a political solution, whether by a genuine coup or (by the fall of 1963) a negotiated agreement with Castro, whereas Helms and other CIA offi- cials acted as if assassination of Castro by any means at any time was justified.

Since none of the CIA’s sanctioned or unsanctioned actions were having much effect by April 1963, the Kennedys were very receptive just a few weeks later when one of the highest officials in Cuba contacted a Kennedy ally and offered to stage a coup against Castro, if the Kennedys would back him.28 The offer fit perfectly with what the Kennedys were already looking for—a way to “get rid of Castro” by supporting “dissident elements in Cuba,” which would “allow the US to use force . . . without leading to retaliation by the USSR.”

For more about "Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba and the murder of JFK": www.ultimatesacrificethebook.com

For more about the National Security Archive at Georgetown University, cited in Chapter 1:

Part I
Chapter One: The Cuban Missile Crisis and C-Day
1. Interview with Dean Rusk 1-5-90.
2. Harold W. Chase and Allen H. Lerman, eds. and annotators, Kennedy and the Press: The News Conferences, with an introduction by Pierre Salinger (New York: Crowell, 1965), pp. 333-339.
3. Chase and Lerman, Kennedy and the Press, pp. 333-339; John F. Kennedy address at Rice University 9-12-62, from Public
Papers of the Presidents of the United States, v. 1, 1962, pp. 669-670.
4. Michael R. Beschloss, The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963 (New York: Edward Burlingame, 1991), pp. 555, 556.
5. Their Web site has a vast array of important documents and information on the US and Cuba, and covert CIA operations
(www2.gwu.edu or www.gwu.edu).
6. Laurence Chang and Peter Kornbluh, eds., The Cuban Missile Crisis 1962(New York:The New Press), 1992.
7. Ibid., pp. 235, 236.
8. Ibid., p. 236.
9. Ibid., Document 72
10. Chase and Lerman, op. cit, pp. 333-339.
11. Ibid.
12. Carlos Franqui, Family Portrait with Fidel:A Memoir (New York: Random House, 1984), p. 200.
13. Chang and Kornbluh, op. cit., Document 78 and p. 237.
14. Ibid., pp. 234-237, 394, others. Their book documents that it was President Richard Nixon who later formalized such
a pledge.
15. Joint Chiefs of Staff document, dated 12-4-63 with 11-30-63 report from Cyrus Vance, Record Number 202-10002-101116,
declassified 10-7-97.
16. New York Times5-10-63, Section 1, p. 1, Section 2, p. 2.
17. New York Times6-1-63, Section 3, p. 5.
18. Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume XI, Department of State, #347, 6-14-63
19. Ibid., #352, 6-25-63
20. Ibid., #322, 4-23-63.
21. Ibid., #322, 4-23-63.
22. Ibid., #323, 4-25-63.
23. Rockefeller Commission Document prepared for David Belin 5-1-75, Record Number 157-10005-10201, declassified 3-24-94
24. Gus Russo, Live by the Sword(Baltimore: Bancroft Press, 1978), p. 178.
25. Army copy of Department of State document, 1963, Record Number 198-10004-10072, Califano Papers, declassified 7-24-97.
26. Ibid.
27. Schlesinger, Robert Kennedy and His Times, pp. 510-511; cf 514.
28. Interview with Harry Williams 2-24-92.

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