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   Vol.66/No.37           October 7, 2002  
Operation Mongoose:
President Kennedy’s
plan to invade Cuba
(feature article) 

In October 1962, in what is widely known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, Washington pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war. The events brought to a head the ongoing attempts by the U.S. rulers to overthrow the Cuban revolutionary government.

Released on the 40th anniversary of these events, the Pathfinder book October 1962: The ‘Missile’ Crisis as Seen from Cuba, by Cuban author Tomás Diez Acosta, tells the story of what really happened. The Militant is printing excerpts from the new title. The one below is taken from the third chapter of the book titled, "Operation Mongoose and U.S. Invasion Plans." Diez Acosta details how, in November 1961 the Kennedy administration put in place a series of covert operations aimed at invading the island. Copyright © 2002 by Pathfinder Press, reprinted by permission.

Click here for Background to 1962 ‘missile’ crisis in Cuba


As the Cuban people undertook huge efforts to develop their country despite the campaign of subversion, new plans for aggression were being drawn up in the United States. A debate was under way in Washington over the most effective method of directing, applying, and controlling the many resources devoted to overthrowing the Cuban revolutionary government.

In view of ongoing blunders in the anti-Cuba plans carried out by different departments and agencies, top echelons of the Kennedy administration began looking in late October 1961 for new methods to eliminate the prevailing "disorganization and lack of coordination." Just as in their earlier analysis of the Bay of Pigs operation, failures were ascribed to operational problems. Once again Washington underestimated the capacity of the Cuban people and their revolutionary leadership to successfully confront the challenges that such a hostile policy posed for their country.

U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy proposed to President John F. Kennedy the establishment of an operational command to direct the various plans of action in a unified, coordinated, and organized fashion and merge them into a "single plan." In practice, this meant the preparation of a new covert operation, not merely by the CIA but by the entire U.S. government. The president asked Assistant Special Counsel Richard N. Goodwin for his opinion. Goodwin, who also headed the Interagency Task Force, replied in a memorandum, "The beauty of such an operation over the next few months is that we cannot lose. If the best happens we will unseat Castro. If not, then at least we will emerge with a stronger underground, better propaganda and a far clearer idea of the dimensions of the problems which affect us."  
Operation Mongoose takes shape
At a White House meeting on November 3, 1961, Kennedy authorized the development of a new program, much more sinister than its predecessors, designed to destroy the Cuban Revolution.1 The project was code-named Operation Mongoose.

As a first step, several documents were prepared laying out the government’s existing action plans and its options against Cuba. The CIA prepared a report on covert actions under way,2 and the Interagency Task Force presented a "Plan for Cuba"--according to its authors, a study "to determine the courses of action which the U.S. would follow with reference to Cuba in the event of Fidel Castro’s death in order to insure the replacement of the Castro regime with a friendly government."

Among the scenarios foreseen in this paper was that a general uprising would occur in Cuba as the result of a power struggle and massive reprisals against political opponents of the regime. In that situation, a devious plan would be implemented to prepare the ideological and political conditions for military intervention. The document stated: "Although the U.S. cannot defend this action as justified under international law, we can stress the morality of the action on the basis that a chaotic, near civil war situation exists off our shores where millions of Cubans are seeking freedom by throwing off the Communist yoke and have requested our assistance."

As for the acceptability and feasibility of an invasion of Cuba, the document asserted, "American investments will suffer less in the long run than they would if Castro-Communism continued and spread throughout the hemisphere. The Alliance for Progress program will not encounter serious obstacles as a result of this action. If the operation is quickly and successfully accomplished, the political damage will be correspondingly reduced." Analyzing the repercussions that such action might have in Latin America, the document stated, "Widespread organized Communist disturbances will occur immediately but the more quickly the Castro regime is crushed the greater the difficulty the Communists will encounter in maintaining existing disturbances and in mounting further disturbances. A successful invasion may strengthen the will of Latin American Governments to destroy the Communist menace in their own countries." It concluded emphatically, "We can foresee no way other than invasion to accomplish the objective as stated in the problem."

On November 20, 1961, President Kennedy called the incoming CIA director, John A. McCone, to inform him that a new program of action against Cuba was being studied. In a memorandum summarizing Kennedy’s call, McCone noted that the proposal "would embody a variety of covert operations, propaganda, all possible actions that would create dissensions within Cuba and would discredit the Castro regime, and political action with members of the OAS in support of the action." In addition, McCone recorded that the president told him that Brig. Gen. Edward Lansdale, an expert on guerrilla and antisubversive operations, would be in charge of designing the project, under the direct supervision of the attorney general. The president told McCone that he and his brother Robert wanted the plan to be ready in two weeks. To that end a committee was to be established, headed up by Lansdale--who would also represent the Defense Department--along with high-level representatives of the State Department, CIA, and USIA. So obsessed were the Kennedys with the problem of Cuba that they proposed this committee be able to "cut across" the command structure of other agencies. McCone opposed this course, explaining the difficulties that it might pose once the operation was under way.

Ten days later, on November 30, 1961, President Kennedy officially communicated the key decisions made concerning the new operation in a presidential memorandum to the secretaries of state and defense, the director of the CIA, the attorney general, Richard Goodwin, and Generals Taylor and Lansdale.

The memorandum ordered the use of all "our available assets to... overthrow the communist regime" and designated General Lansdale as chief of operations, with the responsibility to lead the project through the appropriate government organizations and departments. It stipulated that "The NSC 5412 group3 will be kept closely informed of activities and be available for advice and recommendation." Kennedy also directed the secretaries of state and defense and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency to appoint "senior officers of their department as personal representatives to assist the Chief of Operations as required. These senior officers should be able to exercise--either themselves or through the Secretaries and Director--effective operational control over all aspects of their Department’s operations dealing with Cuba." Finally, Kennedy specified, "Knowledge of the existence of this operation should be restricted to the recipients of this memorandum, members of the 5412 group and the representatives appointed by the Secretaries and the Director."  
‘Cuba Project’ of Operation Mongoose
General Lansdale drafted a memorandum to the members of the 5412 group, dated December 7, 1961, which listed the concepts and general lines of action to be carried out in Operation Mongoose. This document can be considered the first draft of the Cuba Project aimed at overthrowing the revolution.

Utilizing his authority to employ all available means in the project, Lansdale openly spelled out the tasks of different agencies involved--tasks that had already been undertaken covertly but had not been put in writing in documents such as this. These included a proposal that the CIA undertake "bold new actions" and that it utilize the "potential of the underworld" and, in close cooperation with the FBI, "enlist the assistance of American links" to the Mafia in Cuba.

This draft of Operation Mongoose was discussed and approved by Group 5412 without changing or amending any of the projected tasks. Based on those projections, Lansdale and his operational group conducted studies and coordinated with the departments and agencies involved to finalize their project of secret war against Cuba.

On January 18, 1962, Lansdale submitted the Cuba Project to top government authorities and the Special Group (Augmented). It envisioned thirty-two tasks to be carried out by departments and agencies participating in Operation Mongoose. "The U.S. objective," the paper stated, " is to help the Cubans overthrow the Communist regime from within Cuba and institute a new government with which the United States can live in peace."

The program included a variety of political, diplomatic, economic, psychological, propaganda, and espionage actions, different acts of terrorism and sabotage, as well as encouragement and logistical support to armed counterrevolutionary bands. In short, the operation was aimed at provoking a "revolt" of the Cuban people, which once begun would lay the basis for direct military intervention by the armed forces of the United States and its Latin American allies.

The document asserted:

"The revolt requires a strongly motivated political action movement established within Cuba, to generate the revolt, to give it direction towards the object, and to capitalize on the climactic moment. The political actions will be assisted by economic warfare to induce failure of the Communist regime to supply Cuba’s economic needs, psychological operations to turn the peoples’ resentment increasingly against the regime, and military-type groups to give the popular movement an action arm for sabotage and armed resistance in support of political objectives." General Lansdale’s mentality in drawing up the project was shown in a memorandum to members of the Operation Mongoose working group, in which he emphasized: "It is our job to put the American genius to work on this project, quickly and effectively." The kind of genius the chief of operations had in mind was shown when he later added task thirty-three,4 consisting of "a plan to disable Cuban sugar workers during the harvest by means of chemical weapons."

1 In attendance at the meeting were Attorney General Robert Kennedy; George W. Ball, U. Alexis Johnson, Wymberley Coerr, and Robert Hurwitch for the State Department; Gen. Charles Cabell, Richard Bissell, Robert Amory, and Col. J.C. King for the CIA; and McGeorge Bundy and Goodwin of the White House staff. Also present were Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Nitze, and Gen. Edward Lansdale.

2 The CIA document had six points, including propaganda activities and psychological warfare (classified as nonsensitive); agent training; infiltration/exfiltration; creation of spy networks and counterrevolutionary organizations inside Cuba; encouragement of and material support to terrorist attacks and sabotage; and finally, air operations to support these subversive goals. "Paper Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency: Types of Covert Action against the Castro Regime. Washington, November 8, 1961," Foreign Relations of the United States 1961–63 (FRUS), vol. X, pp. 675-77.

3 A 1975 U.S. Senate report described the NSC 5412 as follows: "Beginning in 1955, the responsibility for authorizing CIA covert action operations lay with the Special Group, a subcommittee of the National Security Council composed of the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Deputy Secretary of Defense and the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. Today this group is known as the 40 Committee, and its membership has been expanded to include the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. During 1962 another NSC subcommittee was established to oversee covert operations in Cuba. This subcommittee was the Special Group (Augmented); its membership included the Special Group, the Attorney General, and certain other high officials." Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders: An Interim Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (also known as the Church Committee report). Washington, D.C: United States Government Printing Office, 1975.

4 Declassified documents suggest that this task was conceived by Lansdale at the end of his January 19 meeting with Attorney General Robert Kennedy. Lansdale critically noted there that the "United States Government was precluded from destroying the current sugar crop." See "Memorandum From the Chief of Operations in the Deputy Directorate for Plans (Helms) to Director of Central Intelligence McCone. Washington, January 19, 1962," FRUS, vol. X, p. 720.


Background to 1962
‘missile’ crisis in Cuba

After Cuban workers and farmers overthrew a U.S.-backed dictatorship and began a deep-going revolution in 1959, Washington took increasingly aggressive actions to try to overthrow the new revolutionary power. In April 1961, Cuba’s revolutionary militias and armed forces crushed a U.S.-organized mercenary invasion at the Bay of Pigs.

In the spring and summer of 1962, in face of escalating preparations by Washington for a full-scale invasion of Cuba, the revolutionary government signed a mutual defense pact with the Soviet Union. In October U.S. president John Kennedy demanded removal of Soviet nuclear missiles installed on the island. Washington imposed a naval blockade of Cuba, stepped up preparations for an armed assault, and placed its armed forces on nuclear alert.

In face of the mobilization of Cuban workers and farmers to defend their national sovereignty and revolutionary gains, the U.S. government backed off its invasion plans. Following an exchange of communications between Washington and Moscow, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, without consulting Cuba, announced his decision to remove the missiles on October 28.  
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