Former law professor targets Latell’s ‘Castro knew it’ theory

Arnaldo Fernandez

The enduring theory that Fidel Castro was behind the assassination of President Kennedy, first propagated by CIA assets in the pay of CIA within hours the crime, remains in circulation 50 years later. Now this theory is coming in for close scrutiny in an informative series on Op-Ed News entitled The Anti-Latell Report.

Written by Arnaldo Fernandez, a former law professor at the University of Havana, the articles examine the work of Brian Latell,a former CIA analyst, who has developed a modified version of the “Castro did it” conspiracy theory, which might be summarized as the “Castro knew it” theory. In his 2012 book, “Castro’s Secrets,” Latell argued that the Cuban leader knew about Oswald in the fall of 1963, knew he might kill JFK, and did nothing about it.

The “Castro knew it” theory deserve discussion as much as any JFK theory, if only because of its growing respectability.

In his recent piece for the New York Review of Books, critic Frank Rich noted that “there’s less and less present-day political mileage to be had in the perennial campaign to portray Kennedy as the victim of a Communist plot,” which is true. But it is also true that there is more and more present-day intellectual mileage to be had in blaming Castro.

The  “Castro knew It” theory has become the default position of prominent JFK authors such as Gus Russo, Ed Epstein and Ron Rosenbaum, who don’t endorse the Warren Commission but reject the dominant view of the JFK research community, which depicts Kennedy as the victim of a plot by his enemies on the right.

What Fernandez brings to the story is a wealth of new facts about Latell’s primary source, a former Cuban intelligence officer named Florentin Aspillaga. Check out this installment, the Aspillaga Story.

Two points are worth noting in thinking about the “Castro knew it” theory.

First, Castro was always much more skeptical about assassination as a political tool than his enemies in Miami and Langley. As a Marxist, Castro believed that class struggle, not individuals, were the key to understanding political power. He rejected assassination, not because it was immoral but because he did not think it would not do much to change the correlation of forces between the social classes.

Castro acted accordingly. In the struggle against the Batista regime, Castro consistently spurned proposals to assassinate the pro-American dictator and other high ranking officials.When Rolanda Cubela, a commandante in the nationalist Revolutionary Directorate, assassinated Batista’s chief of intelligence in 1956, Castro criticized the action as ineffectual. When the Directorate attempted to kill Batista in the presidential palace on March 13, 1957, he said it was a waste.

This doesn’t mean that Castro didn’t use violence to gain and preserve power. He did. Upon taking power in 1959, he sent hundreds of Batistanos to the firing squads. But those were not assassinations to eliminate individuals but mass executions intended to liquidate the bourgeoise and change the correlation of forces,

Once in power, Castro used his intelligence services, the Dirigencia General de Inteligencia (DGI)  to punish his foes and remove them from the battlefield via socialist legality. The Cubans who challenged his rule with armed forces, such as Alberto Muller, Huber Matos, Eloy Guttierz Menoyo, and Rolando Cubela, were not assassinated. They were captured alive and sentenced to long jail terms by courts under Castro’s control.

The “Castro knew it” theory is somewhat more plausible than the “Castro did it” theory because it posits that Castro did not embrace the tactic he consistently rejected.  But it studiously avoids another fact of the struggle for power in Cuba that is relevant to JFK’s assassination: the enemies of Castro in Miami and Langley always believed in the efficacy of assassination as a tool of political change. There were hundreds of plots to assassinate Castro that can be reliably attributed to the CIA and its allies. When JFK visited Miami on November 18, 1963, security was tight because of many threats against Kennedy’s life from unhappy Cuban exiles.

Second, as I have pointed out to Latell, even if what he says about the DGI’s knowledge of Oswald is true (and I’m not sure it is because his sourcing is weak), the CIA still knew far more about Oswald than the DGI before JFK was killed. The evidence that senior CIA officers such David Phillips, Bill Hood, Jane Roman knew about Oswald before JFK was killed is conclusive. It is confirmed by the CIA’s own documents. The evidence that senior DGI officers knew about Oswald is thinner and harder to corroborate, although it must be noted that Cuba retains documents related to JFK’s assassination that have never been made public.

One of Fernandez’s strongest points is that if Apsillaga told his story about DGI’s pre-assassination interest in Oswald to the CIA when he defected to the United States in 1986, there should be a written record and that that record should be subject to immediate review and release under the JFK Records Act.

Yet no Aspillaga debrief has ever surfaced, so what Apsillaga told Latell in interviews cannot be corroborated by the available CIA records. I asked Latell about this and he acknowledge that he knows of no records that corroborate Aspillaga’s story. That raises the possibility that Aspillaga and the CIA did not consider his story significant in 1986. If not, why not?

I find Castro’s interpretation of November 22, as told to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, to be more factual and plausible than Latell’s theory,





37 thoughts on “Former law professor targets Latell’s ‘Castro knew it’ theory”

  1. Arnaldo M. Fernandez

    Of course! Since the very beginning, Castro focused in Oswald´s inability (better said, human inability) to fire a rifle with telescopic sight against a moving target hitting it two times in six seconds (for the sake of argument, you can discard a third shot). However, Hoover dismissed Castro´s allegation in his ad hoc memo from June 1964 to WC General Counsel.

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  3. Have yet to see on this website any mention of James Files. Great Episode on ” NewsMax TV” titled ” I killed Kennedy/JFK”. Cia contract workers such as Tosh Plumley and others provide pieces of a picture showing US Government knowledge,Organized Crime participation. Ultimate line in show is Files relating that Roselli flown in by Plumley on a MATS flight informs Files and Mr. Charles Nicoletti” It’s called off”. To which Nicoletti replies ” It’s going down”. Individuals that fabricated Secret Service badges and contribute to Kennedy’s assassination we’re not that large a group according to this ” Documentary”/ News Story. James Files does relate facts proven about bite marks on shell casing found behind the stockade fence.

  4. John McAdams writes:

    “He, like virtually everybody you are citing as suspecting a conspiracy, Jeff, is reasoning like any ordinary buff who has read a bunch of conspiracy books.”

    I take “ordinary buff” as a demeaning term, but that’s OK. But what, precisely, do you mean by “conspiracy books”? I’m seeking a definition.

  5. Castro stood to gain quite a lot with the removal of both President Kennedy & Robert Kennedy. Both removals brought a halt to Operation Mongoose & other US ‘Cuban Operations’. Some believe Castro was just as capable of impersonating Lee Oswald as the CIA or KGB was. Drugs began to pour into the USA following the death of President Kennedy. If Castro was a part of providing drugs to Americans via South American or Mexican alliances what he couldn’t get in goods trade he received in drug money. I wouldn’t let him completely off the hook. He still is a mass murderer.

    1. Arnaldo M. Fernandez

      Mongoose was canceled by JFK on October 1962. Bill Harvey was removed and sent to Roma because he dared to keep on running that operation against JFK orders.
      In March 1963, JFK sent hundred of federal agents to Florida and Louisiana in order to dismantled anti-Castro exiles groups, although he followed a double track policy by authorizing some “autonom operations” with a few of selected groups.
      As Simpich has been demonstrating in State Secret, the Oswald´s impersonation in Mexico City is directly related to American intelligence officers.
      An impersonation by Castro´s is implausible given the paper trial of the visa application and the September 27 call to the Soviet Consulate from the Cuban one.
      If it would have been the case (impersonation by Castro´s agent), the CIA informants inside the Cuban Embassy or the multiple CIA surveillance programs in Mexico City would have given a clue.
      It was actually the CIA who concealed Oswald´s visits to the Cuban Consulate, manipulated the photos of “the Mystery Man” and spread phony stories of Oswald in Mexico City for involving Castro in the assassination.

  6. At first reaction, I find this hard to believe:

    “although it must be noted that Cuba retains documents related to JFK’s assassination that have never been made public.”

    but since I respect professor Fernández, I will accept it.

    Can somebody please provide more information about it?

    1. In his book El Complot, Fabian Escalante makes reference to a bout dozen documents related to the JFK story that he saw in the Cuban security service archives, most of which seem to have been informant reports. One of the most interesting concerns a meeting in Central America in December 1963, addressed by Howard Hunt, where JFK’s assassination was discussed.
      When I met Escalante in Havana I asked him about these records. He said he was allowed to look at them but not make copies. In retirement he said he had no access to them. He suggested that I appeal to Ministry of the Exterior for their release. I did that. I never received an answer.

  7. Jeff, I must disagree with you about this.
    Now I think a strong case can be made that the assassination was carried out by Mafia forces (Ruby’s involvement proves this and we have ar least alleged confessions by Rosselli, Trafficante, and Marcello), anti-Castro Cubans (per Martino’s statements) and rogue CIA agents (eg Morales).
    But this does not necessarily negate the pre-knowledge and perhaps even encouragement of the assassination by Castro.
    You make a good point re Castro’s objection to assassinations not on moral grounds but on grounds of efficiency. I know that he had objected to Cubela’s murder of Blanco Rico in October of 1956.
    You wrote thaty his tactic was not to exceute people but rather to sentence them to long jail terms.
    “Once in power, Castro used his intelligence services, the Dirigencia General de Inteligencia (DGI) to punish his foes and remove them from the battlefield via socialist legality. The Cubans who challenged his rule with armed forces, such as Alberto Muller, Huber Matos, Eloy Guttierz Menoyo, and Rolando Cubela were not assassinated. They were captured alive and sentenced to long jail terms by courts under Castro’s control.”
    This is certainly an overstatement. The case of william Morgan comes immediately to mind and i am sure research would show many more.
    But the case of JFK is of course far different than that of Cuban dissidents. If JFK had been in Cuba with his attempts to murder the Maximun Leader (or RFK) perhaps Castro might have arrested them, tried them for attempted murder and jailed them. But he did not have that option to stop JFK/RFK plots to kill him.
    The Cubela story strongly strongly suggests that Castro may have had a hand in the JFK case as a matter of self-defense.
    As you know he first warned “American leaders” if the plots against his life continued. And he did this in a way that telegraphed his knowledge of the Cubela caper.
    Then when the CIA continued with Cubela, he went even further. Through Cubela he obtained assurances (rightly or wrongly) that the Kennedys had PERSONALLY condoned the attempts to assassinate him. It is almost as if he was being careful to NOT take any acction aginst JFK if the plots against him could not be traced back to JFK/RFK.
    But even if Castro did not do anything to assist in the assassination, if he had advance knowledge that it was coming did he have a moral obligation to attempt to stop it when he had good reason to suspect that if JFK/RFK were gone he might be able to sleep better?
    Consider this example set in America. John Smith knows that Jack Doe is ought to kill him. In fact, several Doe attempts on his life have failed. Smith has gone to the police but they are helpless or unwilling to defend and protect him. He knows that sooner or later Doe will get lucky and he will be a dead duck.
    Then he discovers that Frank Sheperd is about to kill the man who is his attempted assassin.
    Does Smith have a moral obligation to try to stop Shepard’s murder of the man dedicated to his violent death?
    If Castro had pre-knowledge of the assasination was he wrong to not report it?
    Back to whether Castro had pre-knowledge. I assume you might concede that Castro had significant intelligence in the Cuban exile community. A strong case has been made that many in that community had knowledge of the planned assassination. If so is t not liklely in fact probable that Castro acquired knowledge of the upcoming assassination through his spies in the exile community?


      Castro reported a plot against Reagan in 1984. If he would have known about a plot against JFK, he would rather have done the same, moreover if the back channel was opened. From the very beginning, Castro’s instint of self-defense was against the CIA, not the White House. Unveiling a plot of Cuban exiles to JFK would have been his right move to accomodation.
      However, Castro owed nothing to Kennedy for being morally driven to give him intel about any plot. And that’s why Dr. Latell’s story is worse, since he considered “Castro’s silence” his most despicable act in his almost five decades in power.

    2. If Castro was aware or heard “murmurings” it makes it more likely not less that the CIA and possibly the FBI were also aware of the same thing. The silence (or complicity) of these groups is more significant in this crime since they allegedly represented U.S. interests.

  8. I find Castro’s interpretation of November 22, as told to Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic, to be more factual and plausible than Latell’s theory,

    And exactly what did Castro know? He, like virtually everybody you are citing as suspecting a conspiracy, Jeff, is reasoning like any ordinary buff who has read a bunch of conspiracy books.

    I agree that Castro was not behind the assassination, and didn’t know about it beforehand.

    But in my case, it’s not the result of an ideological bias against the CIA, or anti-Castro Cubans, nor of an ideological sympathy for Castro.

    1. John,

      In this comment you reveal your hand. According to you, those who believe a conspiracy felled JFK harbor bias against the CIA or anti-Castro Cubans or have “an ideological sympathy for Castro.”

      That is a neat, tidy world view. It also avoids some messy truths.

      I for one don’t care who killed JFK; if Oswald did it acting alone, fine. I don’t believe James Angleton had a thing to do with the assassination; but it’s clear to me Richard Helms wanted no honest inquiry into the matter. I don’t particularly care for Castro one way or the other; his speeches are too long. I had a good friend in college in the 1960s who knew everyone in Cuba who was an anti-Castro Cuban.

      You miss the mark with me. Sure, I think the assassination was a coup d’etat. Not because I’m anti-CIA; not at all. And certainly not because I’m aligned ideologically with Castro. But because the facts on fair balance scream it.

    2. John,

      I’m beginning to think you frame the JFK assassination inquiry as a Conservative vs. Liberal contest. Not as a search for what really happened.

      It appears you proceed ideologically. Markers are your use of demeaning jargon: “buffs” and the like. The one-sided way you view the record, a black-and-white approach. The way you off-handedly dismiss Warren critics.

      A university professor shouldn’t be an ideologue. Many are, and probably most are Left-leaning ideologues. I could sympathize with your sense of minority among university professors. But I can’t accept intellectual dishonesty. I reject it from the Left every day, and from the Right most days.

      1. Don’t lecture me on intellectual dishonesty.

        And it’s silly accusing me of a “black-and-white” approach. I think in your mind, anybody who has come to a conclusion of which you disapprove is guilty of a “black and white approach.”

        As for ideological bias: It’s no accident that the vast majority of conspiracists want to blame some group on the right, in spite of the fact that the evidence against Castro is quite as good as the evidence against any group on the right.

        Which is to say, not much good at all.

        It’s clearly the acting out of an ideological animus.

        1. This is amusing. Someone who clearly exhibits an ideological (as opposed to clearheaded scientific view) of anthropogenic global warming has the gumption to lecture about biased thinking. John, I’ll step up to the plate here and defend those who question the Warren Commission version.

          I would accuse Fidel Castro if I could, but the facts don’t show that he was involved, any more than Nikita Khrushchev was in JFK’s assassination. I blame Castro for recklessness in allowing his patron nation (the USSR) in installing theatre nuclear missiles on his island. But I also find fault with our own “LeMay nutcases” who were eager beavers ready to lob us into a nuclear winter with a first strike. I am also not enthralled with homosexual Hoover, who used every power trick to hold onto his secret power stash. So, does that make me a right winger, a left winger, or just a REALIST?

          As for ideological bias, your website is all pro-lone nutter and you never met a Warren Commission factoid that you didn’t like. So who’s being the idealogue? Ideological animus is as ideological animus is. Jonathan and I are just calling a spade a spade, sir.

          1. Someone who clearly exhibits an ideological (as opposed to clearheaded scientific view) of anthropogenic global warming has the gumption to lecture about biased thinking

            You are welcome to be dogmatic about global warming while the entire nation shivers in the cold.

          2. “No, you are just engaging in an ad hominem attack.”

            How is bringing up your website’s record of biased thinking (omitting or discounting all witness testimony that runs counter to the official WC Report for ex.) “just engaging in an ad hominem attack”?

            An ad hominem attack is when a person calls another person a child molester, as in the following example (see point 5):
            Note that the email cited in the above link is evidence against you.

            As for J. Edgar, your attempted defense made me laugh. It’s like John F. Kennedy trying to deny that he had sexual affairs, because there were no films or pictures of him in the act.

          3. “You are welcome to be dogmatic about global warming while the entire nation shivers in the cold.”

            This is the kind of “logic” that should ring alarm bells with skeptical, critical thinkers. John, you’re confusing scientific facts (glacial decline, mean temperatures globally on the rise, etc.) with weather events. That’s not “dogmatic” — it’s fact. As opposed to “faith-based” which is what your following of the Warren Report exhibits, when you omit inconvenient witness testimony or try to smear the messenger, like Dr. Crenshaw.

    3. Ah, the Red-baiting brings back fond Cold War memories! Gotta pull out the old VHS copy of RED DAWN and watch it again, lol.

      And why should Castro be a conspiracy buff? The CIA, Mafia and Cuban exiles were only plotting to kill him for over a decade. The crazy kook! Silly buff!

      1. Red baiting would be saying that Castro did it.

        Left wing bias is blaming it on the CIA, or the anti-Castro Cubans, or Texas oil millionaires, in spite of the lack of evidence.

        1. Since JFK’s enemies were on the Right, not on the Left, it seems like a logical place to look for suspects.

          Kind of like Aldo Moro being killed by the so-called “Red Brigades,” though they had in fact been thoroughly infiltrated by security forces, organized crime and Gladio mercenaries.

          Look at the victim’s enemies, and you will likely find the culprits among them.

          1. JFK’s enemies were on the Right, not on the Left,

            No, Castro was his enemy, and Castro knew about the plots against him. Indeed, he threatened Kennedy in a conversation that was reported by the AP in September 1963.

        2. “Left wing bias is blaming it on the CIA, or the anti-Castro Cubans, or Texas oil millionaires, in spite of the lack of evidence.”

          Yet Barry Goldwater blamed anti-Castro Cubans, along with some of LBJ’s crony friends as targets who should have been considered in JFK’s assassination. I know old Barry got flack from some of the GOP for standing up to the Christian Right in the 1980’s, but would you call him a LEFTIST?

          As for red-baiting, that was Oswald’s job—to trigger possible ties to Castro and/or the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War when nobody in Congress or independent of say CIA could verify for certain. A very clever decoy.

  9. I’m skeptical too.

    Aspillaga’s claim of being told to stop CIA work and beam towards Texas is laughable. One would have to accept that a presumably sophisticated Cuban ELINT monitoring station, set up to monitor CIA traffic (as if they have their own frequencies that could be easily monitored) would simply be redirected so as to monitor American amateur radio operators? Huh? It would be easier to turn on a $2.00 AM radio and listen to American news media broadcasts in real time.

    1. As I noted above, this argument that there were other better soures of information is flawed as a reason to disbelieve Aspillaga. Neither he nor Latell said the short wave radio monitoring of Texas was the ONLY source of information. It would have been entirely logical for Castro to order the redirecting of the monitring to Texas as an ADDITIONAL source of information. Thus far, I have not heard a good argument for why Asprillaga, who apparently was credible on all other issues, is not credible on this one.

    1. Why? He knew Kennedy was trying to kill him. I suppose he might have tipped him off (to curry favor), but that does not seem to be Castro’s mode. He certainly would not have tipped off JFK for moral reasons.

      I found Latrell’s book interesting, well written and persuasive. He concluded it was likely that Castro knew Oswald likely would attempt to kill Kennedy. That seems a reasonable and conservative conclusion, based on Aspillaga’s report about being told on November 22 to start monitoring broadcasts from Texas and the credible report from the guy with the U.S. Communist/Socialist Party that Castro told him Oswald had threatned to kill Kennedy at the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City. The criticism that Castro would not have needed to rely upon short wave radio transmissions for information about a possible assassination is miguided. Neither Aspillag nor Latrell said the monitoring was designed to be the only source of information – just a source of information.

      Finally, Casto being inteviewed by French journalist Jean Daniel at the time of the assassination is interesting. Castro rarely granted interviews to journalists, but he happened to do so that day, which meant he had a witness when he learned of the assassination. Aspillaga’s reaction was that it was a “cover.” It could have been happenstance or orchestrated. Below is the link to Daniel’s account, which is very interesting. What struck me was that upon hearing the report on the phone, Castro did not ask the obvious question, “who did it?”

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