Annals of secrecy: At height of missile crisis, Pentagon proposed assassination of Cuban officials

A newly declassified Pentagon study, published today by the non-profit National Security Archive, sheds new light on the thinking of U.S. military leaders at the height of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962.

As President Kennedy searched for a solution that did not involve a war that might have gone nuclear, the Pentagon was itching to escalate.

This Pentagon paper proposed “provocative actions” in Cuba, including the assassination of Cuba leaders, if the Soviet Union did not remove its missiles from the island.

Prepared just as the crisis was ending, but before the agreement between President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev agreement ending the crisis had been announced, the report shows that the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted the White House to be ready for action in the event that negotiations failed and “Soviet offensive weapons are not eliminated.”

(You can read the report, entitled “Alternative Actions if Build-up in Cuba Continues Despite Russian Acceptance of the Quarantine,” by clicking here.)

Kennedy ignored the JCS advice, alienating the Pentagon and deepening a power struggle that historian Robert Dallek calls “JFK vs. the Military.”

The Pentagon’s case for ‘provocation’

JFK and Curtis LeMay

JFK and Air Force General Curtis LeMay, one of the Joint Chiefs in October 1962. Associated Press)

The National Security Archives’ website also offers this commentary from analyst William Burr:

“[JCS] Chairman Maxwell Taylor suggested to Secretary of Defense [Robert] McNamara a series of ‘direct and indirect’ and ‘provocative’ actions against Cuba (with their pros and cons). The Chiefs had been itching for an air attack and an invasion and may have believed a diplomatic failure would give the Pentagon a chance to take action. Therefore, they proposed indirect measures, such as pressures from the Organization of American States, and direct actions, ranging from an air blockade to covert operations to an all-out invasion.

“The proposed covert operations included the assassination of ‘leading Russians and Cuban communists,’ Burr notes. (See page 19 of the JCS report.)

According to Barr, the JCS also:

“suggested a series of ‘provocative’ actions to induce Fidel Castro ‘to make a mistake’ and give the United States an excuse to launch an attack. Among the provocations were harassments such as destroyer patrols around Cuba and inciting riots on the ‘Cuban side of the Guantanamo fence’ by using base workers as ‘agents’ and providing military aid to them.

The legacy of excessive secrecy

The document sheds news light the profound differences between JFK and the Pentagon as Kennedy’s presidency entered its final year. JFK Facts reported last year on a Pentagon history.

The plans were found and declassified by archivists at the Air Force. The exact same report, held in the Office of the Secretary of State, remains heavily redacted.

Barr says the disparate treatment of the same document

“raises questions about the extent to which Pentagon guidance influences declassification review practices at the National Archives’ National Declassification Center (NDC). According to a recent NDC report, nearly 40 percent of the millions of pages of documents reviewed, most of which are over 40 years old, have been withheld on national security grounds. That astoundingly high percentage of exempted pages may include items that the Pentagon regards as ‘national security information’ but which are no more sensitive than the Cuba ‘secrets’ of 1962.”

In August 2011, the leaders of the NDC said they would not make a priority of declassifying 1,100 CIA records related to JFK’a assassination. Those documents will not be made ublic until October 2017, at the earliest.



  1. Tim Gratz says:

    Man, read the report. It discusses a whole series of proposals for dealing with the missiles, and lists the advantages and disadvantages of each, from an all-out invasion to much more limited options. I do not see it actually advocating any specific course of action. Yes it does include a remarkably short reference to the assassination of Cuban and Russian officials but I can only shrug with respect to the proposed assassination of Cuban officials. For two years the CIA had made numerous attempts on Castro’s life, assassination attempts that may well have been secreted even from the members of the JCS. There is of course debate whether JFK/RFK were witting of the events that continued even after the end of the missile crisis. What I do find startling is the almost off-hand suggestion (but only as a possibility not as a recommendation) of the assassination of Russian leaders. I am not aware and I invite reader comment if the CIA had ever contemplated the assassination of RUSSIAN leaders.
    What I also find chilling is that the only cons listed with respect to assassinations is that these actions might take too long! My gosh, there was no consideration given to the morality of assassinations? There was no consideration given to the probability that if the U.S. assassinated Russian leaders it most likely would have precipitated a world war and a probable nuclear exchange? Granted, other actions considered (not proposed) by the Chiefs might have escalated into a clash between the super-powers but our assassination of Russian leaders would surely have done so. So in response to this alternative by the Joint Chiefs one can only shake one’s head and mutter “My god! What were they thinking!?”

  2. lysias says:

    Fabian Escalante’s 2004 book The Cuba Project: CIA Covert Operations 1959-62 says that the CIA was continually involved in such plans throughout the period 1959-62.

  3. Tim Gratz says:

    Escalante’s book does not go far enough if it suggests that VIA operations against Cuba stopped in 1962. CIA plots against Castro’s life continued of course into 1963. Consider the Cubela caper. I also forgot to mention that in suggesting as an option the assassination of Russian and Cuban leaders the Joint Chief’s study never considered as a “con” the possible retaliation against U.S. leaders, a “blowback”.

  4. JSA says:

    A lot of blame has been cast upon the CIA for the assassination of JFK, and rightly so, in my opinion. But I think the military (command at the top not every enlisted person in the entire service!) should also take the heat/blame in the assassination, as well as LBJ. I look at the Bethesda autopsy as a MILITARY operation, with LBJ and Hoover (and potentially some at CIA like Angleton) assisting and supporting this operation. I wouldn’t rule out some of the top military helping to set up the Dallas shooting gallery at Dealey, maybe in a supporting technical role. The reason I mention Bethesda specifically however is because of the generals and top brass directing everything, you could say micromanaging the autopsy down to the smallest detail.

    Critics who defend the Warren Report say this is nonsense. But history has shown many times the threat that a powerful military can be to a non-military or in modern day lingo, “civilian” government. The Romans were well aware of the threat to Rome and tried to keep a separation, as did our original Framers, who tried to address the problem in 1787. They could not foresee the explosive growth of intelligence and a permanent military in general, grown to tumor-like size after WW2, feeding off large corporations and permanently installed while amateur elected officials come and go in Washington.

  5. TLR says:

    Shocked, shocked I tell you.

    You can see that Operation Northwoods never really went away, despite Kennedy’s opposition to it. In 1962-63, the US had an overwhelming advantage in nuclear missiles, and the hawks were certain that the US could launch a surprise attack and beat the USSR easily.

    Just another piece of evidence against the real culprits behind the JFK assassination.

  6. Mike Rago says:

    Now if Cuba did come into play in the murder of JFK it was not in the manner that you describe.

    John Kennedy was the first president to be seriously confronted with a nuclear war. The peaceful settlement of the Cuban Missile crisis and the quid pro quo removal of missiles by the Soviet Union from Cuba and the United States from Turkey turned Kennedy steadfastly against nuclear proliferation. If there is a connection between Cuba and the murder of JFK that is the connection.

    In 1963 the Soviet Union did not consider Israel a friend. Nuclear weapons in Israel were no different than nuclear weapons in Turkey at that time. Kennedy would not allow it. Kennedy would not allow the nuclearization of the middle east.

    The Kennedy Ben-Gurion Nuclear Exchange

  7. David Regan says:

    As shocking as this report was, I encourage everyone to check out the following from 1968:

    U.S. Had Plans for “Full Nuclear Response” In Event President Killed or Disappeared during an Attack on the United States:

  8. David Regan says:

    The divide between JFK and the JCS could not have been more apparent in October 1962.

    Cuban Missile Crisis Revelations: Kennedy’s Secret Approach To Castro

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