Did JFK have a vendetta against Castro?

A reader writes:
“From what I remember of the James Douglass book, JFK and the Unspeakable, JFK was a champion of F. That was a threat to institutions like the CIA. The CIA took his convictions so seriously they had to assassinate him. But…
according Tim Weiner in “Legacy of Ashes”, JFK had a vendetta against Fidel Castro, mostly for the humiliation of the Bay of Pigs fiasco. JFK became obsessed with assassinating Castro.
 
This doesn’t sound like a peace lover to me. How do you reconcile the two takes on JFK?”
Excellent question.

Fidel Castro, tormenter of empire

My short answer is “No,” with the qualification that JFK’s attitude towards Castro evolved over the course of his presidency.

When Kennedy approved the CIA plan to invade at the Bay of Pigs in early 1961, he clearly wanted to get rid of the Cuban leader at a low cost. But when the invading force was under fire and the CIA requested U.S. air support, JFK refused. He didn’t think getting rid of Castro was worth the cost of committing the United States to a shooting war.
When the CIA-trained rebels were defeated. JFK did not feel humiliated by Castro. He felt let down by the CIA, which had given him a flawed plan, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which had assured him it would succeed without air support.
Attorney General Bobby Kennedy took the Bay of Pigs defeat more personally. He did feel humiliated and became more deeply involved in Cuba policy and covert operations, including assassination. In May 1962 RFK was briefed by CIA officials who had recruited mobsters Sam Giancana and Johnny Rosselli (both under investigation by the Justice Department) to kill Castro, Kennedy made clear he did not approve of the choice of assassins but he did not object to the idea of assassination. If anybody had a vendetta against Castro, it was RFK.
Bill Attwood

William Attwood, go-between

Tim Weiner’s book is terrific but on this point I disagree with him. After the missile crisis of October 1962, Kennedy was moderating his Cold War politics and articulating a  “strategy for peace” in his justly famous American University commencement address. He indicated he was open to restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba (as President Obama has now done). When the State Department recommended demanding that Castro had to break ties with the Soviet Union before the United States would talk to him, JFK said he did not want to set a condition that Castro would have to reject.  That’s not the action of a man who has a vendetta.

At the same time, in June 1963, CIA began to pursue another assassination plot against Castro. I  think that Bobby Kennedy probably knew about this plot. Lisa Pease, David Talbot  and other JFK authors disagree arguing that the Kennedys did not know about this plot. With limited evidence it is difficult for me to reach a definitive conclusion.
What is certain is that In September 1963, JFK and RFK authorized William Attwood, a U.S. diplomat at the United Nations, to contact Cuban officials and feel them out about the possibility of rapprochement. In October 1963, JFK met with French editor Jean Daniel in the White House and made an extraordinarily candid admission that the United States had abused Cuba over the years. JFK spoke knowing full well that Daniel was headed to Cuba to meet with Castro. That was not the action of a president pursuing a vendetta either.
Indeed, Daniel was talking to Castro when the word came from Dallas.

21 comments

  1. Nathaniel Heidenheimer says:

    No.

    Bear in mind the context, compare to the rest of the National Security State, and recall that Cuba was in the Western Hemisphere and JFK would have to appease some elements of Cold War on this.

    All things considered, the answer is an absolute no.

  2. Alan Dale says:

    Competing American policies regarding Cuba, the “two tracks,” clandestine programs of destabilization, sabotage and attempted assassination, and back-channel feelers representing a willingness or desire to find a path towards coexistence and rapprochement is a polarizing issue among many distinguished JFK scholars.

    There is certainly no question that JFK and Robert Kennedy shared some exclusive Cold War secrets, one obvious category of which may have concerned American policies and operations relating to Cuba. I think we may find some explanation for the parallelisms, two-tracks: rapprochement and assassination, if we consider the possibility that President Kennedy and the Attorney General may have been pursuing opposing agendas at the time of the president’s murder. Is it absurd to reconsider what many of us may have always assumed about the relationship President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy shared? I believe we may have erred by thinking their relationship was essentially a co-presidency. I have come to believe it wasn’t. President Kennedy may not have confided absolutely everything he thought, considered, or decided to anyone, not even the Attorney General.

    Regardless of the many strange bedfellows Robert Kennedy learned about during his involvement with Cuban operations, I believe the possibility that he was intent to see those operations through to an ultimate resolution of Castro being eliminated, in a manner intended to “take care of the problem” on his brother’s behalf, may have come without being informed or included in the president’s eventual decision to pursue an alternate course. My conjecture is that by the fall of 1963, Robert Kennedy’s possible involvement in the “Get Castro” program may have been at odds with JFK’s ultimate intentions.

    I could certainly be wrong.

    • Bill Clarke says:

      Alan Dale February 3, 2015 at 10:25 pm

      But it wasn’t a parallel two track approach. It began as a one track attempt to destabilize the Castro government and even to assassinate the man. When that didn’t work we get this new track of rapprochement with Castro. Perhaps there was a short period of overlap at the end of the first track and the start of the second track but this would be rather brief.

      To think Bobby would work at cross purpose to his brothers wishes seems a bit far fetched to me. I don’t see it ever happening.

      • “To think Bobby would work at cross purpose to his brothers wishes seems a bit far fetched to me. I don’t see it ever happening.”~Bill Clarke

        I think that Alan Dale has a good point of conjecture; that John hadn’t disclosed to Bobby the feelers he was putting out to Castro. So “working at cross purpose” would would not be the phrase to cover that situation.

        Let us at least all admit that it is a point for conjecture, no one can know this with any certainty.
        \\][//

        • Bill Clarke says:

          Willy Whitten February 4, 2015 at 8:39 pm

          If this situation was real, and I don’t think it was, one or the other Kennedy boys was at a cross purpose with the other. Take you pick of which brother, Willy.

          But I don’t think that is what happened at all. I think that Castro put egg on the face of JFK at the BOP. To Bobby that was the same as putting egg on his face. Some report that both brothers were obsessed with Castro from that point on. Both brothers. I find it incredible that Jack and Bobby weren’t on the same page in Cuba. I think this double parallel track business in a bit far fetched.

  3. Bill Clarke says:

    “Under relentless pressure from Bob Kennedy, we went to work. Before MONGOOSE had run its course, some 600 CIA staff employees and between 4,000 and 5,000 contract personnel were involved.”

    “A Look Over My Shoulder”, Richard Helms, page 202.

    Now if Operation Mongoose wasn’t a vendetta I don’t know what would be. We won’t even get into the assassination attempts on Castro since that upsets so many of the Camelot fans.

    I believe I detect an effort here to blame Bobby more for Mongoose than the president. I’ve seen a lot of people thrown under the bus to protect the Camelot image but this is the first time I’ve seen Bobby treated that way. Interesting. The CIA works for the president, not the Attorney General.

    • Ramon F Herrera says:

      [Bill Clarke:] “We won’t even get into the assassination attempts on Castro since that upsets so many of the Camelot fans.”

      ======================

      Thanks for your concern, E-friend, but we are big boys and gals, we can take it.

      We Camelot fans lost our innocence (along with most of America) a few years after Mimi Alford lost her virginity.

      http://rockcenter.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/02/08/10355502-white-house-intern-speaks-about-jfk-affair-i-was-sort-of-swept-into-this-web

    • “The CIA works for the president, not the Attorney General.” ~Bill Clarke

      Preposterous! The CIA works for the elite oligarchy and their military industrial complex. It began that way and it remains that way.
      \\][//

      • Bill Clarke says:

        Willy Whitten February 4, 2015 at 8:43 pm

        And I find your statement preposterous too, Willy. The president hires them, the president fires them. That sounds to me like they work for the president.

      • Photon says:

        And your source for that information is what?
        Who is this oligarchy? Got any names? It is important to substantiate your claims-just ask Chris Kyle’s family. Willy, when you stray from items that you have familiarity with you seem to accept opinion as fact and proven disinformation as reputable sources. But the truth is not a piece of bronze, malleable to any shape that you desire. It is based on a scaffold of clearly identifiable evidence, not special effects or sculpted reproductions. Obviously you have no familiarity with the CIA, nor any of its employees. It is like any other government agency, dependent on funding, answerable to congressional oversight and politically appointed leadership. It isn’t even the largest and most important intelligence gathering entity of the United States-despite the hype and publicity. Far from being the all powerful and sinister agency of literary lore the Agency in general has been less successful than many of its foreign counterparts; many of its most successful operations have been based on activities driven by allied agencies and shared information.
        Willy, I detect an absence of basic research methods in some of your comments, such as a lack of any curiosity about the accuracy of claims that tend to support your viewpoint. Do you have a college degree of any kind?

        • Bill Simpich says:

          Photon,

          Until you end your anonymity and take responsibility for your actions at this site that is based on getting history right, it makes no sense for you to challenge the credentials of anyone. That is where anonymity with all of its blessings has to fall – when one is responsible for what they say and can’t just make stuff up like Brian Williams and Ronald Reagan.

  4. “Legacy of Ashes”; pg 180, Weiner says:”The Kennedy’s launched163 major covert operations in less than three (years).” Some of these presumably included assassinations and coups. Pg 208, Weiner says: “The objective,as Bobby Kennedy told Fitzgerald in April1963, was to oust Castro in eighteen months-before the next presidential elections” ; pg 272; Weiner says (per Pearson’s column) “The item badly frightened Bobby Kennedy. He and Helms had lunch the next day, and the director brought the sole copy of the CIA memo tying Kennedy to the Mafia plot against Castro.” Having just read this book what caught my attention was: 1) the Kennedys were
    not hesitant to use violence to achieve political ends and 2) Bobby’s reaction to the idea that his ‘mafia’ plan might backfired. In any case, there are so many twists, turns, and conflicting opinions, it would be interesting to actually have a consensus on how all the facts tie together.

  5. Dan says:

    Bill Kelly found an important document- minutes of a briefing of the Joint Chiefs in late September 1963 by Desmond FitzGerald, chief of CIA’s Cuba operations. FitzGerald told the Joint Chiefs that CIA was studying in detail the 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler to develop plans to deal with Castro. One will remember that the 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler involved an internal coup led by ranking German military officers. It is likely that such a plot was underway in the fall of 1963, and would be most relevant to the assassination of President Kennedy.

    • lysias says:

      Possible connections between the JFK assassination and earlier assassination and assassination attempts, including the 1944 Hitler plot, are discussed in this Education Forum thread: CIA plot to kill JFK.

      It’s interesting that Allen Dulles, in Switzerland, was being informed about the developing plot against Hitler by one of the participants, Hands Bernd Gisevius, at the time. They both were involved in the creation of the CIA.

  6. Ramon F Herrera says:

    Gaeton Fonzi makes a very important point.

    The “will splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter them to the winds!” species is a monumental dung heap, only repeated by barely informed readers.

    Perhaps some WH assistant misheard, when JFK actually said something along the lines of:

    “I will increase the CIA resources a thousand fold! I will give them the power of the winds!”

    and was confused.

    Never did the CIA have so much money, power, resources like after the Bahía de Cochinos fiasco.

    If that is “scatter to the winds”, boy! I hope all my projects are scattered to the winds!!

    ================

    Chapter Four
    IN MIAMI, THE SEEDS OF VENDETTA

    Fonzi, Gaeton (2013-09-01). The Last Investigation: A Former Federal Investigator Reveals the Man behind the Conspiracy to Kill JFK (Kindle Location 885). Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.

    • Bill Clarke says:

      Ramon F Herrera February 4, 2015 at 11:15 am

      RFH. The “will splinter the CIA in a thousand pieces and scatter them to the winds!” species is a monumental dung heap, only repeated by barely informed readers.

      I’ve never been more proud of you Ramon. Salute.

    • J.D. says:

      While Kennedy obviously did not literally do that, there is no reason to believe that he did not say it. The specific quote comes from a New York Times story from April 25, 1966:

      http://ratical.org/ratville/JFK/Unspeakable/Item03.pdf

      It’s hard to attribute much meaning to this quote, however, since we don’t know the context or even the official he said it to.

  7. J.D. says:

    Here is what Tim Weiner says about JFK’s complicity in the Castro assassination plots, in “Legacy of Ashes”:

    pp. 686: The question of whether President Kennedy authorized the CIA to kill Castro can be answered, at least to my satisfaction. In 1975, [Richard] Bissell testified to the presidential commission led by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller on the question of presidential authorization of assassinations by the CIA.
    Rockefeller questioned Bissell:
    Q: Any assassination or assassination attempt would have to have the highest approval?
    A: That’s correct.
    Q: From the President?
    A: That is correct.

    pp. 216: I once put the question to [Richard] Helms personally: Did President Kennedy want Castro dead? “There is nothing on paper, of course,” he said evenly. “But there is certainly no question in my mind that he did.”

    Weiner adds, in the notes (pp. 686): “This seems to me to settle the question of JFK’s authorization, taken together with Bissell’s testimony and the overwhelming weight of circumstantial evidence. The counterargument is that John Kennedy would never have done such a thing, and that argument has worn very thin.”

    I would raise these objections to Mr. Weiner’s argument:
    1. He ignores the possibility that the CIA heard what they wanted to hear from Kennedy.
    2. He does not discuss the evidence of Kennedy’s interest in restoring relations with Cuba, the back-channel communication with Castro, and the new context for foreign policy created by his American University address and the Test Ban Treaty.
    3. He assumes, for some reason, that high-ranking CIA officials could not possibly have lied about this matter.

    • I would agree with J.D.’s objections to Mr. Weiner’s argument.

      I see no ambiguity in JFK’s turning, his final acts and speeches make this vividly clear.

      I will add that I think anyone who would believe anything said by the CIA is jejune and naïve.
      \\][//

  8. Ronnie Wayne says:

    Yes, Get Casto, which he inherited, it failed, which he took responsibility for after the BOP. This included the poisoned sea shells, scuba suits, etc. JFK chose accommodation with a neighbor, albeit a communist. This choice may have contributed to his demise. JMO it wasn’t the only reason.

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