31 October 2017 — TRNN
The new round of documents on the Kennedy assassination shed light on the long-running U.S. government effort to overthrow Fidel Castro — including discussions to stage attacks on U.S. soil and blame Cuba
Peter Kornbluh directs the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive in Washington D.C. and is co-author of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana.
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. A new round of documents on the Kennedy assassination has been released. The docs don’t shed new light on how Kennedy was killed, but they do shed light on the long-running US effort to overthrow the Castro government in Cuba. Joining me now is Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive in Washington, D.C. He is co-author of Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana.
Welcome, Peter. What to you is significant about these now JFK documents and what they contain about Cuba?
PETER KORNBLUH: What’s significant is that almost none of them are new. There’s only actually 52 new documents that we haven’t seen before that have been released out of these 2,800 documents. All the other ones have been released as part of the JFK Act before and now are being released with less or no redactions. Many of the documents that you’ve looked at are actually ones that have been out and around for a while. Many of them do address the issue of US covert interventions, efforts to assassinate Fidel Castro and roll back the Cuban revolution.
That’s because the original JFK commission that was in charge of identifying relevant documents made a very appropriate and broad definition of what a JFK-related document was. Because of the whole issue of Kennedy trying to kill Castro, and rumors that Castro might have retaliated by killing Kennedy, because this became a conspiracy theory in the folklore of the Kennedy assassination, all the documents related to US covert operations, assassination plots, and the violent terrorist activities of Cuban exiles who once worked for the CIA, all of those documents have been released over the years. There’s still some more to be released, but in this last release of documents, we did find those Cuba documents.
AARON MATÉ: Let me read one excerpt, and you can tell me both if it’s new, and also just comment on its significance, because it’s gotten some attention. This is an internal planning document where US officials are discussing plans for covert operations related to Cuba. It’s dated April 12th, 1962, and it says, “We could develop a communist Cuban terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities, and even in Washington. The terror campaign could be pointed at Cuban refugees seeking haven in the US We could sink a boatload of Cubans en route to Florida, real or simulated. We could foster attempts on lives of Cuban refugees in the US, even to the extent of wounding in instances to be widely publicized.”
Peter, is this something that we’re learning for the first time or is this old knowledge, and your thoughts on what this means here? Because here we have US officials talking about launching an attack inside the US.
PETER KORNBLUH: Yes, this was a series of proposals not by the CIA but by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Joint Chiefs wanted to invade Cuba again after the Bay of Pigs, and handle it themselves. They were angry that the CIA had bungled the paramilitary invasion of Cuba, but for the Joint Chiefs, they needed a date to actually attack Cuba. The issue for them became how to create a pretext or a justification for attacking Cuba.
Their underlings came up with this whole set of proposals, some of them extremely Machiavellian and sinister, like the one you just read about the terrorism campaign in Miami and Washington. There was another idea that called for pretending to blow up a plane, and claim that a bunch of people who weren’t real people were killed on it, and blame Castro for it. This was part of a series of proposals called Operation Northwoods.
Those documents did come out because of the John F. Kennedy Assassination Record Act in the 1990s. They caused a lot of discussion, but it was also clear that these were creative and horrible, sinister proposals but that the president of the United States never really looked at them and certainly never accepted them, and they were obviously never implemented. What we’re seeing here are other documents that are drawing on those Operation Northwoods proposals and presenting them again, in this case in a meeting context here. This document is a document about an Operation Mongoose meeting where they’re deciding what they’re going to do for Operation Mongoose. Part of the suggestion is this campaign, but of course this campaign was never implemented. This campaign was never accepted.
AARON MATÉ: Let me read one more idea that was discussed. It was spitballed, but it wasn’t implemented. It says, “Specifically, the possibility of producing crop failures by the introduction of biological agents which would appear to be of natural origin. Mr. Bundy said he had no worries about any such sabotage, which could clearly be made to appear as the result of local Cuban disaffection or of a natural disaster, but that we most avoid external activities such as the release of chemicals, etc., unless they could be completely covered up.” Essentially, biological sabotage.
PETER KORNBLUH: The Cubans have always argued that the CIA and other agencies of the United States did over the years use some kind of chemical and biological poisoning of the crops. When there would be a swine flu epidemic, or an actual epidemic of livestock in Cuba over the years, the Cubans often blamed it on the CIA. It’s very hard to know. Obviously, the US intelligence agents, and the US intelligence community, and the covert operatives in our government back then considered this part of their bag of dirty tricks against Cuba, but we don’t know for sure that these operations were actually implemented.
That’s not to say that a whole set of very sinister and illegal and criminal operations weren’t implemented over the years. We tried to kill Fidel Castro in every conceivable way. We trained exiles who became major-league international terrorists. We had them on the payroll, taught them how to use explosives. We invaded Cuba. We’ve had an embargo. We launched Operation Mongoose. Because of Operation Mongoose, Fidel Castro accepted the Soviets’ offer of having nuclear missiles on the island of Cuba, because he feared another US attack, another US invasion. The history of Cuba and the United States is replete with very sinister operations.
Whether these that are mentioned in the documents were ever implemented seems unlikely, and I can’t say for sure that we didn’t use biological or chemical warfare on Cuba in a limited way over the years, but it’s never come out that we have. It’s never come out that that particular idea that you just mentioned that’s in the document, that was discussed at that Operation Mongoose meeting, was actually ever implemented.
AARON MATÉ: That background that you outlined to Cuba’s decision to allow Soviet nuclear missiles on its territory, it’s striking how missing, absent that is from the history so many of us get about the Cuban missile crisis. It’s important context that you’ve outlined there. Finally, Peter-
PETER KORNBLUH: Right. Today is October 30th, and two days ago, on the 28th of October, was the 55th anniversary of the official end of the Cuban missile crisis, when Khrushchev 55 years ago decided to pull out those missiles from Cuba. Of course, secretly he had come to a deal with John Kennedy. Khrushchev would pull out those missiles, and Kennedy would eventually secretly order the withdrawal of US missiles that were parked in Turkey alongside the Soviet border. There was a secret deal made to end the crisis, but it’s a real thing. It’s a real issue.
AARON MATÉ: Kennedy, I take it, didn’t agree to stop terrorizing Cuba, because that continued well after him, right?
PETER KORNBLUH: Covert operations continued. If you read our book, Back Channel to Cuba, and if your listeners do, you’ll see that Kennedy after the Cuban missile crisis had very different thinking about US policy towards Cuba. He actually started down the road towards significant secret diplomacy with Fidel Castro that was culminating right at the moment that he was killed. There’s some conspiracy theorists that think he was killed because of his secret outreach and communications with Fidel Castro.
I don’t know if your listeners know, but on the very day, the very moment that Kennedy was killed, he had an emissary, a French journalist, meeting with Fidel Castro in Varadero Beach. They were talking about Kennedy’s message that this journalist carried to Fidel, which was basically, “We have some concerns. You need to do this and you need to do that, but perhaps coexistence is possible.” News came in while they were talking that Kenney had been shot. Fidel turned towards this French journalist, Jean Daniel, and said, “There goes your mission of peace.”
Then the next thing he said is, “They’re going to say we did it,” which is exactly what happened. Cuba has been thrust into this whole conspiracy folklore as either a reason for the assassination or the actual perpetrator of the assassination. That’s why you’re seeing so many documents in the JFK assassination release that deal with Cuba.
AARON MATÉ: Given Kennedy’s record not just in Cuba but also especially in Vietnam, I’m skeptical of claims that try to cast him as an enlightened diplomat towards the end of his life, but I didn’t know that, what you just said. That’s really important information.
PETER KORNBLUH: You have to read the book, and I think you’ll find the effort that Kennedy was making somewhat compelling.
AARON MATÉ: Fair enough. Finally, Peter, given all these plots that the US has discussed and in some cases enacted against Cuba, has Cuba ever tried any legal channels to get compensation from the US or some sort of legal decision to get it at least to stop or even apologize?
PETER KORNBLUH: The Cubans have certainly demanded again and again and again that the embargo be lifted. They have taken a resolution to the United Nations every year in October for the last almost 30 years. Almost every single year, the overwhelming vote, 130, 132 countries to two, the United States and Palau or the United States and Israel. The United States is on the receiving end of world condemnation of its overall policy towards Cuba. That is part of what actually compelled President Barack Obama to go ahead and make a breakthrough in the entrenched policy towards Cuba, was the world opinion, and particularly opinion in Latin America.
The Cubans don’t really like the idea of going to the World Court, because they don’t really like, they think that the court could someday be used against them. Of course, US law has been used against them. They’ve had their assets frozen here. We’re in a debate over Cuba policy. These whole documents are still relevant today. The Cubans are very concerned about what Donald Trump might do, aggressively, towards the island of Cuba. Cuba’s in a big political transition, with Raul Castro stepping down in just a few months as president of Cuba. For the first time, there will be a president of Cuba that doesn’t have the name Castro since the Cuban revolution. It’s a very dynamic time.
We should use these documents, even if they’re not brand new to us, to remind ourselves what the history of US policy towards Cuba has been, and really push for a much better, non-aggressive, and civil policy towards the island of Cuba.
AARON MATÉ: Peter, for many years, you’ve been helping us understand that history, so we thank you for that. Thank you for joining us today. Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive in Washington, coauthor of the book which I have to read now, Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana. Peter, thank you.
PETER KORNBLUH: Thank you. Call me back when you’re done reading it.