U.S. propaganda war preceded exile landing at Bay of Pigs
BY DON BOHNING
Newly declassified documents on the Bay of Pigs invasion reveal
a monumental CIA propaganda
operation that began almost a year before a CIA-trained force of exiles landed on Cuba's
southern coast on April 17, 1961.
The documents speak of success in distributing propaganda inside
Cuba and elsewhere in Latin
America in the months leading up to the invasion. They outline plans for using seized newspapers and
radio stations on the island if the invasion force was able to occupy Cuban territory. And they reveal that
the CIA took direct control of radio broadcasts after becoming disillusioned with infighting among Miami
exile groups that had been conducting them.
Directed by David Atlee Phillips, who also headed the CIA propaganda
effort in the
overthrow of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz seven years earlier, the
propaganda effort included leaflet drops, pre-recorded radio programs made by
Cuban exiles and distributed to about 40 stations around the Caribbean, and
recruitment, training and infiltration into Cuba of ``small provocateur teams.''
After all the preparations, the invasion ended in defeat in about
three days of
The centerpiece of the propaganda effort was Radio Swan, a medium-wave
station broadcasting from a tiny island in the western Caribbean that was later
used as a transfer point for supplies sent to Honduran-based, U.S.-backed rebels
fighting Nicaragua's Sandinista government in the 1980s. The island has since
been turned over to Honduras, settling a longstanding ownership dispute.
Details of the CIA propaganda operation are contained in the Taylor
work of a board of inquiry formed immediately after the Bay of Pigs by President
John F. Kennedy and chaired by Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor.
Portions of the voluminous report were declassified in May 1977
segments in later years, but the entire document was not declassified until last
week through the efforts of the National Security Archive, a Washington-based
nonprofit foreign policy center.
``This is a key document to help understand an episode that continues
reverberate in U.S.-Cuba relations,'' said Peter Kornbluh, who directs the archive's
Cuba project and obtained the document's release.
Included in the Taylor Report is a six-page summary of testimony
by Phillips to
the Taylor Commission along with a ``Propaganda Action Plan'' formulated in
support of the invasion by the U.S.-funded Brigade 2506 and a brief history of
The station became operational May 17, 1960, two months after
Eisenhower approved the effort to rid Cuba of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. It
operated through a commercial front in Miami known as the Gibraltar Steamship
But Phillips, who died in 1988, said in his testimony to the Taylor
that the propaganda effort was much more far-reaching than Radio Swan.
Phillips said taped programs produced in Miami by Cuban exiles
air-expressed to ``about 40 stations in five countries around the Caribbean.''
``We [also] had WGBS in Miami, a very powerful medium wave station.
We had a
medium wave station in Key West, and we broadcast from a series of other
stations from countries all around the Caribbean,'' Phillips said.
Small propaganda teams were also recruited, trained and infiltrated
carrying printing presses, radios and other equipment.
``They successfully published a clandestine newspaper in Havana
and a . . .
[words deleted] carried out the only really successful political action that occurred
in Havana before D-Day, which was a student strike.''
There was, as well, a leaflet campaign with ``16 straight propaganda
seven more . . . combined with supply drops.''
As the invasion drew closer, Phillips said, two teams were available
``capable of going into Cuba to take over captured radio stations or captured
newspapers. We had a radio propaganda transmitter which went in with the
Brigade and we had trained the men to operate it.''
The history of Radio Swan noted that Castro began jamming it almost
immediately but ``was successful only in the city of Havana.''
``Scores of letters were received from all parts of Cuba to show
that the station
had listeners,'' the document said. ``As late as March 1961, a survey was made
to determine the extent of the listening coverage. An inexpensive ballpoint pen
was offered to those listeners who would write in to the station. The reply was
immediate: almost 3,000 letters from 26 countries. This barrage of mail included
significant amounts from all parts of Cuba.''
But the station had its problems as well, the document noted.
``Although great numbers of Cubans still listened to the station,
its credibility and
reputation began to suffer as the result of statements representing the selfish
interests of the Cuban groups producing the various programs.
``In the first place, these groups talked overmuch about their
activities in Miami
and the hard fight they were conducting along Biscayne Boulevard. Naturally, the
Cubans who were suffering under the Castro dictatorship within Cuba resented
``Secondly, the Cuban programs became a fulcrum where the individual
ambitions of Cuban exiles in Miami were presented to the other Cubans in Miami,
forgetting the all-important target audience.
``Finally, each program fought with the other for `scoops.' As
time passed and the
Cubans found their sources of information were no better than the next fellow's,
the program producers began to exaggerate in order to give their broadcasts a
touch of sensationalism. They made statements which were obvious lies to the
Efforts to achieve the proper control failed, the document said,
so on March 27,
1961, Radio Swan management sent a letter to program producers terminating
They were replaced by a programming schedule ``implacably under