The Bay of Pigs
One of the most painful episodes of my entire career in intelligence, both personally and officially, was the ill-fated operation to liberate Cuba from Communism, now known throughout the world as the Bay of Pigs. This has been written about extensively since those explosive days of April 1961. Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Theodore Sorensen have both devoted chapters to it in their respective books on President Kennedy, giving the White House viewpoint. The leaders of the Cuban brigade have told their stories in an excellent book, The Bay of Pigs, edited by Haynes Johnson. And just a few months after the landing Charles Murphy told some but not all of the story in an article in Fortune magazine, after extensive interviews with people who obviously had been inside the operation.
But the complete story of the Bay of Pigs has never been told, and unfortunately some of the most important lessons of the failure have never been brought to light. It was clearly a failure of major magnitude as far as the United States was concerned, but it was one that could not be isolated or blamed on any one part of the government--from the President on down. The reasons for the failure were many and complex and included aspects of security, intelligence, policy, and operations. But most vital of all was the failure on the part of the United States government to understand that it could not accomplish with covert or clandestine means that which it was unwilling to attempt with diplomacy or direct military action.
When the Communists have an operational failure, the chief of state does not acknowledge responsibility, there isn't a public orgy of intragovernmental denunciation, and the details aren't spelled out in Pravda or Izvestia. Those responsible and concerned are undoubtedly dealt with quietly and effectively-and either do not make the same mistake again or do not hold the same responsibilities again. It would indeed be fascinating to list Communist cold war operations that have failed, but that should provide no solace for our own inadequacies. Nor should we engage in covert activity solely on the grounds that others do it and we must fight fire with fire.
The original plan for the liberation of Cuba can be quite simply described. It was to assist the Cuban exiles to do to Castro exactly what he had done to Batista. At the time the planning started, Castro had been in power just a little over a year--since January 1, 1959--and there was not only evidence of considerable opposition to him among the Cuban people, but of growing dissension in the ranks of his own followers. The increasing strength and control exerted by the Communists, the fanatical dictatorship of Castro himself, and the ruthless elimination of any opposed to the movement were serving to alienate all but the Marxists and extremists among the educated Cubans, plus a few who felt that they were still in a period of revolutionary zeal which would pass and be replaced by moderation. Castro's revolution was appealing more and more exclusively to only the have-nots, and be promised them the moon. Castro made special efforts to gain support from the students and the Negroes, and unquestionably he had a charismatic quality which appealed to them.
The year 1960 was the period during which Castro joined forces with the Communists and integrated them with his own July 26 movement and the Revolutionary Directorate of the Students. He went even further and in effect gave them control of the labor movement. More and more of the moderates and Castro's supporters in the July 26 party were alienated by his favoritism for the Communists. There was no one single event prior to the Bay of Pigs that showed Castro's full political orientation or forecast the direction in which he would take Cuba; rather, be had to be judged by all his actions.
The debate will rage for years as to when Fidel Castro became a full-fledged Marxist-Leninist. Some who knew him as a law student at the University of Havana say be was not a Communist then but was a revolutionary-at that time indicating he wanted those in power out and wanted himself in.
Many have pointed out that Castro was at Bogota in 1948 at the time of the Inter-American Conference when the Colombian Liberal leader Jorge Gaitan was murdered and the city was practically torn apart in the rioting that followed. Castro is reported to have taken part in the rioting, but there is no evidence that be was there as a leader, a Communist, or anything but an agitator who joined with many others in capitalizing on an unanticipated event to demonstrate against order and embarrass the United States.
Theodore Draper, who has studied Castro, Communism, and Cuba, has put together some interesting studies of Fidel's statements over the years. If one can believe that Castro meant what he said, these would indicate that Castro did not become a full-fledged proponent of Marxism until 1961.
There were many other factors in Cuba besides Castro's politics that shaped American policy toward Cuba in 1960. He had deeply shocked American sensibilities by the many executions after seizing power in 1959. His anti-American statements started to grate more and more as he continued to receive United States subsidy for his sugar crop. The American oil companies gave him an advance of $15,000,000 in taxes to help his empty treasury and then had their property confiscated when they refused to refine Russian crude oil. His seizure of over a billion dollars in American property and investments was the last straw, and the United States cut off his assistance after he had received more than $200,000,000.
There were alarming military factors also. More and more Cubans were heading for Communist countries for military training, and Soviet technicians were pouring into Cuba. Reports indicated that the Soviets had promised Castro MIG fighters for his air force and that Cuban pilots were to be trained in Czechoslovakia. Other reports told of increasing numbers of coastal patrol boats enroute to Cuba from Europe. These were ominous indications for those who hoped to see Cuba free. With Castro's police and counterintelligence becoming increasingly efficient, the flow of refugees out of Cuba--and of support for resistance groups inside Cuba--was becoming more and more difficult to maintain. Patrol boats would cut off the main escape route-by boat to Florida. And fighter aircraft would cut the second most important method for supplying the resistance--by air.
It was in this atmosphere that President Eisenhower gave his permission to the CIA to provide support and guidance to Cuban exiles to plan and prepare an operation that would free their island of Castro.
This was a formidable task. While there were more than 200,000 Cuban exiles in the United States, they had in common only one asset for the operation--their desire to get rid of Castro. Among them the only ones qualified to either plan or participate in any such operation were the former officers and men of Batista's army. Most of these were hated by their fellow refugees and were a political drawback to any such effort.
There was no political unity among the Cuban refugees even though their ranks included many former political figures. In fact, there were over a hundred different exile groups and organizations and there was constant competition and maneuvering for position and most especially for United States support among them. The Cuban exile leaders used every door they could open in Washington for this purpose--in Congress, in the State and Defense Departments, in the CIA, and in the White House.
This competition for support was difficult enough in itself, but it had even more harmful by-products. Whether it was part of this competitive desire for support, or because of an inherent inability to comprehend the necessity for absolute and complete security in any such operation, the leaks about the operation from its very inception were horrendous. In fact, these leaks alone were sufficient to have justified dropping the entire project. That it was not dropped simply shows how anxious the United States was to get rid of Castro.
I heard one newspaper correspondent claim that he could spend a day in Miami visiting the gathering places of exiles and end up by knowing everything that was being planned against Cuba. I can believe it, with the qualification that it also would have contained a good deal of exaggeration: if every exile group that claimed the ability to land guerrillas in Cuba had been able to do it, Castro would never have had a chance.
The loose talk was most unfortunate for those free-lance exiles who were running their own operations against Cuba, often using unseaworthy boats and whatever arms they could beg, borrow, or steal. Many of these died needless deaths as their plans quickly reached the ears of Castro's agents in the United States, who then sent advance warning to the island.
The lack of secrecy was even more harmful to the operation being mounted by the Cubans with CIA help. Critical details such as which airfield was being used to ferry Cubans to the training camps, and even the location of the camps themselves, were picked up and published in the American press. The journalists operated on the theory that anything they could learn could be printed and in only a few instances did the press withhold stories because they were persuaded publication was contrary to the public interest.
There were undoubtedly things that the CIA did that contributed both to the Cuban talkativeness and the press interests. As the planning for the operation progressed, it was necessary for the Agency to move more and more out of the position of friend and adviser to the Cubans and more and more into the position of directing and commanding the operation. This was required mainly by the inability of the various Cuban groups to agree on a plan, a target, a method, or even cooperation. If the operation were ever to be launched, somebody had to take action. As the CIA officers concerned became more and more direct in their requests, the Cubans became more and more resentful, talked more and more, and appealed back to the other parts of the government in Washington.
The results in Washington were that a considerable allocation of manpower had to be made to fielding the approaches of the Cuban émigrés and trying to keep the operation secure and moving forward. The Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, being the President's brother, was a particular target, and some of the Cubans for political reasons had to be seen and listened to by him personally. General Maxwell Taylor in the White House had to receive some. The Defense Department was approached by many. The State Department was besieged. Those that could find an approach to the CIA used it.
One of my close friends, also a former CIA officer, asked me to come to New York to see a Cuban with whom be had had business dealings. I spent three hours in a hotel room listening to him explain why everything that the CIA was trying to do was wrong. Obviously I could not comment on what be was saying. He was not one of the Cubans involved and had no need to know what was going on. He did have a good deal of accurate information and obviously had been briefed or told a lot by someone in the know. He was also highly critical of United States policy and disdainful of the quality of our intelligence on the situation in Cuba. I listened to him and promised that his views would reach the appropriate people.
On my return to Washington I wrote a detailed report of his statements and sent the memorandum to the head of the task force running the operation. I am sure that it was carefully reviewed and the useful information in it was properly used. But I am equally sure that whatever was done would not have satisfied him (and if it had, it would have dissatisfied other Cubans). I am also sure that using our mutual friend-and all others he knew w'no could open the door-tbat he tried to sell his views to as many other high-level officials in the government as would listen to him.
The Cuban émigré lobby posed particular problems with Congress. As they had in the Executive branch, they talked to all the Senators and Congressmen who would listen; and as with the upper echelons of the Executive branch, members of Congress had to listen for political reasons. Most members of Congress listened and then passed on what they beard to the State Department or to the CIA. Some used the material to make speeches, and a few used the exile information to attack the administration's policy.
The exiles also distributed a vast amount of information both verbally and in print about what was going on in Cuba. Some of it was accurate; a good bit was highly colored. It came from escapees who reported on the situation in Cuba when they arrived in Florida, It came in letters from relatives, and even in the telephone calls out that occasionally were possible. And it came from fertile imaginations that were heavily influenced by what they wanted the United States government to believe. Not one in a thousand was written by a trained observer, and the "capabilities" of the average individual for careful observation and accurate reporting are too well known to deserve additional comment.
The original plan for the operation that was presented to the White House called for building up the guerrilla groups in Cuba that were fighting Castro's militia, and for sending in small groups trained to be leaders and organizers of the resistance. This concept was undoubtedly strongly influenced by the fact that several of the key officers in the operation had been in the OSS during World War II and had worked with the resistance in Europe and Asia. These officers in turn could not but help be swayed by the optimism of the Cuban exiles who were convinced that if Castro's not more than 1500 guerrillas could defeat Batista's 40,000-man army, they should have no problem overthrowing Fidel with limited forces.
Both comparisons proved to be in error. In Europe occupied by the Germans and in Asia occupied by the japanese in World War II, the people were willing to take action to throw out the invader, and even more important were willing to risk their lives by providing food and shelter to the resistance groups. Batista fell in Cuba not so much because of the military victories of Castro's guerrillas in the hills, but because of the decay in his own regime and the fact that go percent of the Cuban people had turned against him. The resistance to Batista, particularly in Havana and Santiago, played an even more important role in Castro's victory than did his guerrilla support.
In attempting to turn the tables on Castro, the planners had to count on building a resistance to the regime. This resistance had to crystallize around the leaders to be sent back in. If it was able to commit acts of sabotage and ambush units, it would gain strength with each success against the militia. This in turn would build resistance to Castro all over the island. With more and more defections from the armed forces and the government and more and more support from the peasants and the countryside, it was believed that Fidel could be toppled.
Unfortunately, these optimistic forecasts of the development of an anti-Castro underground did not materialize. While it was true there was opposition to Castro in Cuba, Castro's government was initially a popular one, especially with the workers, peasants, students, and soldiers. He seemed to promise them all the things they had never had. The real opposition was among the propertied class, and most of them were fleeing Cuba. The militant underground was under constant pressure from Castro's army and security forces. Consequently, the expected help for the infiltrators was considerably less than expected.
In late 1960 the plan was changed. Rather than continuing to send in small groups that were having only limited success, it was decided that a larger force should be landed which could secure a major beachhead and airhead. This foothold would then provide a base for the Cuban Revolutionary Council in Miami to establish a government of Free Cuba. With the beachhead established, it was believed that the defections from Castro would snowball and the Free Cuban government could request assistance from the Americans and urge all anti-Castro Cubans to rally to their support.
With the new plan, the size of the force had to be increased. It jumped appreciably over the ensuing months from several hundred to 800 and then to its ultimate figure of 1443. This required more intensive recruiting and less care in selection. It also added to the security problems.
The "Cuban Brigade" also required more and larger arms and equipment than the small arms, explosives, and hand radio sets of the smaller groups. jeeps and trucks, tanks and landing craft, aircraft and troop ships, and bazookas and artillery were needed. While obtaining this material did not pose too great a problem, delivering it to embarkation ports and maintaining secrecy did.
Training the Brigade was also a problem. Many of the Cubans had little or no military experience, and there was considerable skepticism whether they could master the weapons and the techniques of warfare sufficiently well in order to be an effective force. The task was not made easier by dissent in the training camps.
The Department of State insisted that all the training be done outside the United States. In the light of subsequent events, this seems to be rather silly, but the Department was acting on the assumption that it was to be a Cuban exile operation that could be and would be disavowed by the United States. They did not even want the United States jungle Warfare School in Panama used for training Cubans.
The Guatemalan government was willing to look aside if the training camp was established on its territory and every effort was made to preserve its security. A friendly plantation owner was persuaded to make a remote part of his large holdings available for a camp and airstrip.
The first arrivals, as has been reported in Haynes Johnson's book, had a rugged time, as the camp had to be hacked out of the jungle. A few resented the discipline and a minor mutiny occurred, which was widely reported and played up by the newspapers. The Washington Post, for example, ran headlines such as "CIA Holds Twelve Cubans Prisoner." The New York Times hardly helped matters by sending a correspondent to the area who wrote a series of articles on the camps. The irony is that if the training had been done on a large United States military installation this kind of reporting might have been prevented, even though the dissidents probably would have revealed the location of a United States base, too.
In March 1961 I was speaking to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco on the spread of Castro Communism in Latin America. Professor Ronald Hilton of Stanford University asked what I thought of the discovery of the CIA training camps in Guatemala. I did not answer the professor's question, but I made what I thought was a noncommittal comment by saying that it is a bad thing whenever covert CIA activity is discovered. This, he then announced, was an open acknowledgment that there were CIA camps, and this was played up in the press on the West Coast.
All these events were carefully noted in Havana. Castro had been telling the world that the United States was plotting his downfall, and the wide press coverage of the exile activities increased the frenzy of his accusations. It also increased the alert of his forces and undoubtedly the activity of his intelligence services.
In early April the Cuban Brigade was deemed ready and approval was sought to launch the operation. Two sites for the main landing had been studied. The first selected and the one most favored was at the small town of Trinidad on the south coast of Cuba. It had some port facilities, an airfield nearby, and was not believed to be heavily defended. Further, it was at the foot of the Escambray Mountains and if something went wrong with the operation and the Brigade had to disperse, the mountains offered good possibilities for escape and evasion.
The Joint Staff in the Pentagon reviewed the plan and reported that they thought it feasible. The State Department was not so receptive. They thought the seizure of a town would cause too high a "noise level"-meaning protests in the United Nations and through diplomatic channels-and wanted a site selected that would attract less attention. To my mind this attitude of the State Department was the clearest possible indication that the policy level of the government had no clear appreciation of the attention the operation would attract or what the world reaction would be. A landing force of a half-dozen ships, putting ashore nearly 1500 men, with a company of paratroopers dropped by transport planes and covered by a small bomber force, was going to attract attention at any point on the coast of Cuba. One could almost use the description used for the Allied attack on the port of Dieppe in German-occupied France in 1942: it was too big to be a raid and too small to be an invasion.
The second site proposed by the CIA planners was the Bay of Pigs. This was a very sparsely inhabited piece of coastline, with a few summer cottages and scattered hamlets. There were good beaches for landing purposes, an airstrip near the beach, but the interior was swampy and had only a few roads.
It was felt that surprise could be achieved at the Bay of Pigs and a beachhead secured before there could be a major reaction on the part of Castro's forces. There was to be a diversionary landing in Oriente Province and of course it was hoped that there would be confusion in Havana as to which was the main landing. The Bay of Pigs, however, had one important drawback and that was that there was no place to go if the landing failed and the Brigade had to be dispersed. Escape through the swamps was all but impossible.
Failure, however, was not in the minds of any of the participants. The Cubans did not expect it to fail and were quite confident that their countrymen would rally to their assistance once they secured a beachhead. Perhaps even more important, they were certain that if they started to falter, United States forces would come to their assistance. As to what their American mentors said to them in this particular regard will always be a point of historical dispute. Cuban leaders of the Brigade have alleged that they were given to understand that United States military forces would back them up. The Americans who participated have also strongly maintained that they never made such a commitment.
Having reviewed this subject rather closely, I am quite convinced that the truth lies somewhere in between. It seems most likely that while the Americans didn't go so far as to say that United States forces would actually land in Cuba, it is only fair to suspect that in the excitement and emotional beat just before the landing they must certainly have been as encouraging as possible.
The Americans running the operation, both those from the CIA and the military personnel assigned to the project, obviously did not expect it to fail. They were confident that there would be numerous defections, particularly from the Castro militia and probably also from the Cuban army. They were disdainful of the fighting ability of the Castro Cubans and undoubtedly were influenced by the miserable showing that Batista's army had made against Castro's guerrillas. Further, they underestimated the number of men in arms that Castro would be able to put in the field against the invading force. But there was no United States military force to back up the Cubans and there was no plan for United States military intervention.
President Kennedy made this forcefully clear at a press conference on April 12, 1961, when he categorically stated that United States Armed Forces would not intervene in Cuba.
Fidel Castro was not so certain. By mid-April he was in a frenzy. He obviously knew about the training camp in Guatemala. He was certain that some sort of major blow against his regime was in the making. Perhaps this was to be an invasion by United States forces; and despite what President Kennedy said, be felt severely threatened. As a result, Castro directed his security forces to round up all known or suspected members of the opposition. Nearly 100,000 were arrested and taken to detention camps all over the island. This was the first catastrophic blow to the Bay of Pigs operation, because here was the hard core of those who might have rallied to the support of the beachhead.
Then came the first raid by the free Cuban B-26 bombers on the Castro airfields. About half of the Cuban air force was destroyed or damaged according to post-strike photographs, and the attack was considered successful. According to prior planning, one of the B-26's pilots returning from the attack on Cuba landed in Miami and announced that he had defected from Castro's air force. This was simply a story to cover the attack and create confusion in order to keep the "noise level" at a minimum. It wasn't terribly successful, since the "noise level" crescendoed with violent attacks in the United Nations, alleging United States complicity.
It was at this time that the Brigade left their camp in Guatemala and embarked for their landing at the Bay of Pigs. On the night of Sunday, April 16, the officer in direct charge of the operation, a Marine colonel on assignment to the CIA, decided to go home to dinner for the first time in several days and left instructions with his colleagues not to let "them" change anything. The "them" in this instance referred to the policy level of the government and reflected the concern of those in charge of the operation that there might be further restrictions on what they could do.
He was right. Shortly after he had left the operations room, McGeorge Bundy called to advise that the President had decided to cancel the second air strike by the Free Cubans. General Charles P. Cabell, who was acting director of Central Intelligence that night-Allen Dulles was in Puerto Rico making a speech-joined Richard Bissell and proceeded to the State Department for a late evening session with Secretary Rusk. The Secretary confirmed that the President had decided to cancel the second air strike because of the rising protest in the United Nations, but advised General Cabell that he could appeal directly to the President who was at his country place near Middleburg, Virginia. General Cabell decided that such an appeal was useless and returned to the operations room. He was greeted by an appalled and angry group of officers who described the change in plans with such comments as "criminally negligent." General Cabell asked a colleague from the joint Staff to join the meeting and inquired as to what the regular military forces could do to assist. It was agreed that the carrier Boxer could stand nearby at least for psychological support even if its planes could not intervene. It is interesting to note that as the Pentagon general was being escorted out of the building during the early morning hours he turned to his escort officer and said, "Of course he knows that the operation will fail, doesn't he?"
At that moment the landing could have been recalled. A plan was in existence for diverting the ships to Puerto Rico in the event of a last minute cancellation and the Cuban paratroopers had not yet left Central America. But the "operators" had a very strong conviction that if for any reason the operation did not go through, the Cuban Brigade would either act on its own, or mutiny; or create such disturbance that it would be more dangerous than even failure of the operation. While many now felt pessimistic about the possibilities of success, the decision was to go ahead.
The landing of the Cuban Brigade has been repeatedly described and one could only characterize the military aspects of this phase of the operation as successful. The paratroopers landed on target. Four of the five so-called battalions landed on the proper beaches and while the fifth battalion missed its beach, it eventually got ashore and into the battle. However, when dawn came Castro's air force went into action and from that moment on the possibilities of success lessened with each passing hour. Castro only had five operable jets--three United States T-33 trainers and two British Sea Furies--yet these turned the tide of battle. They sank one of the landing ships, destroying a considerable proportion of the ammunition supply and communications equipment. They damaged another ship and drove the rest out to sea.
The Free Cubans fought magnificently and inflicted heavy casualties on Castro's forces. But with the Castro jets controlling the air over the battle, no resupply or re-enforcements were forthcoming and even though the Free Cuban B-26's were thrown into the battle on the second day and inflicted heavy damage, they could not turn the battle. By the third day it was over. The brigade leader told the United States ship that offered to rescue him to go to hell, and the bulk of the Brigade was captured, tried, imprisoned, and ransomed.
The shock in Washington could not have been greater. Robert Kennedy has called it the darkest moment in his brother's life. The President asked General Maxwell Taylor to constitute a board of review together with the Attorney General, Admiral Arleigh Burke and Allen Dulles. The press widely interpreted this to mean that guerrilla warfare responsibilities would be transferred to the Pentagon.
Within the CIA, Allen Dulles directed me, as inspector general, to do a complete review of the operation and its implementation. We were to stay out of national policy decisions, but to examine how well the Agency carried out its responsibilities. For the next several months several of the staff went through every aspect of the operation, talked to nearly all of the Agency participants and reviewed every pertinent file. The report that was produced was a critical one dealing with operational matters and therefore one that should always remain classified. Rather than receiving it in the light in which it was produced, which was to insure that the same mistakes would not be repeated in the future, those that participated in the operation resented it and attacked it bitterly.
In the orgy of national self-recrimination that followed the Bay of Pigs operation, President Kennedy took the full blame. Thus, like President Eisenhower in the U-2 operation, our Chief of State acknowledged complicity in an activity about which he should have remained silent.
It has been the custom throughout history for governments never to acknowledge covert or clandestine activities, and intelligence agents are trained to expect no help from their countries. This is not toughness for the mere appearance of being tough, but realistic politics. It permits the normal conduct of international relations to continue without the constant disruptions that would occur if every apprehended agent were acknowledged.
On two occasions the President of the United States chose to ignore this custom, and the international turmoil that followed was far greater than would have resulted from the incident alone. If Washington had remained silent after the U-2 was shot down over Sverdlovsk and left the matter to the usual exchange of angry notes, the Summit Conference might have been salvaged. But President Eisenhower's acknowledgment of approving the program caused Khrushchev to lose face and take drastic action. President Kennedy's acceptance of blame for the Bay of Pigs was in the same category.
It is true that in each instance the President reassured the American public that he knew what was going on in his government, but whether the domestic gain was worth the international loss is questionable.
Throughout the rest of Washington, after the Bay of Pigs there was a general effort to try and move out of the hot seat and put somebody else in it. There were those that tried unjustly to blame the Defense Department and joint Chiefs of Staff, whose participation had been limited. There were those who hinted that Ambassador Stevenson and others opposed to the operation had been influential in restraining the President, thus causing the invasion to fail. There were even participants who made sure that the press heard at length about their side of the operation.
Basically, President Kennedy was correct when he said that there was enough blame to go around. But the failures were primarily those of the Central Intelligence Agency, because it had been given the responsibility for the conduct of the operation and the operation was a failure.
Yet the causes of failure were much deeper than merely intelligence mistakes. Basically the operation had been well implemented. It had not succeeded because there had been a complete miscalculation by the CIA operators of what was required to do the job. If there had even been a moment during the battle when the Brigade had been near to achieving victory, then we might be able to say that it had been close. In my opinion, the outcome was never close and even to this day there is serious question whether it would have succeeded even if the H-hour air strike had been permitted, and even if Castro had no airplanes or tanks to put into the battle.
This miscalculation-about the tools required-is in turn related to the lack of intelligence on the quality and the fighting ability of the Castro forces. The Castro militia and army had fought better and more expertly than expected, and their loyalty to Fidel had been much higher than anticipated.
The defections from Castro's force did not occur in the numbers expected. While some laid down their arms and surrendered when the going got rough, most of the Communist force fought well. It could be argued that the Free Cubans were never able to put enough pressure on the defending forces and that if the tide of battle had turned against Castro, his troops would have thrown down their arms and gone over to the other side. On the basis of what is known about the battle, this conclusion does not seem to be justified.
President Kennedy's statement that the United States would not intervene in Cuba just prior to the operation was a psychological handicap. It certainly must have confused the anti-Castro Cubans and was confusing to those participating in the operation.
When word seeped out of Cuba that Castro was rounding up all the suspected opposition, this danger signal should have caused a complete reconsideration of the operation in Washington. With all of the anti-Castro resistance in concentration camps, there were few, if any, people left to reinforce the beachhead from within Cuba.
It is clearly evident that the President of the United States and his principal advisers never fully understood the degree to which the operation could be denied as a United States project. One of the basic principles of such an operation is that the role of the United States government is concealed. But by the time the landing took place at the Bay of Pigs, it not only was no longer secret, but it was generally known that the Cubans were being supported and directed by the United States. Further, if the policy makers thought that a brigade type of landing on the shores of Cuba was not going to attract attention, they soon learned differently.
Beyond question the "operators" sold the project, and perhaps quite reasonably lacked the objectivity to cancel it out. It would be unnatural if they had not been convinced of the possibility of success and were determined to carry it through.
The President lacked any staff organization to review the operation. The briefers came in, talked to him and his principal advisers, answered questions, and then left. There were no staff papers to speak of; there were no evaluation studies; and because it was a covert operation everybody treated it as super hush-hush. This was a mistake. Within the top echelons of government, it should have been more widely reviewed. The President, as he did later in the Cuban missile crisis, should have had the best brains in Washington reviewing, analyzing, and passing judgment.
Finally, the most important lesson of all was that it is seldom possible to do something by irregular means that the United States is not prepared to do by diplomacy or direct military action. As in so many things, the attempt to do it the easy way backfired with catastrophic results to the reputation and integrity of the United States.
Why did the Bay of Pigs fail? How could the Central Intelligence Agency with its information gathering facilities, its highly developed analytical processes, and sophisticated personnel and procedures make such a mistake?
In my opinion it failed not because of the CIA, but despite what was available in the CIA. The policy makers were not adequately informed of the capabilities and limitations of the instrument of foreign policy that they had chosen to use. The men in charge of the project chose to operate outside the organizational structure of both the CIA and the intelligence system and consequently forfeited a considerable amount of the expertise and judgment available in Washington. There was no really detached body of experts giving a critical evaluation as to the chances of success or failure. It was essentially the same group of people processing the intelligence, planning the operation, "selling" the project to the policy makers, and finally directing the final effort. It was a classic example of the correctness of those who maintain that there should be a clear separation between those who evaluate intelligence and those who mount operations based on that intelligence.