The Miami Herald
May 1, 2001

JFK aide puts blame on exiles

Says Miami leaks led to '61 disaster


 A top aide to President John F. Kennedy on Monday pointedly blamed Miami's early exile community for leaking information before the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, saying that while Kennedy was also to blame, exiles contributed to their own disaster.

 Word of the leaks is not new. Historians have already cited bragging in South Florida for signaling to Fidel Castro the U.S.-based plans for an invasion.

 But the remarks by Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy's longtime and trusted special counsel, were noteworthy both because of their content and context. They were his first public remarks on the episode and came during his first visit to Miami, said Jaime Suchlicki, director of the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies, which paid his way as well as ``a modest honorarium.''

 While Sorensen also blamed the CIA for misleading Kennedy, he called the leaks ``a paradox. . . . Secrecy was essential to a surprise landing, essential to the safety of the forces and personnel'' of Brigade 2506 and other Castro foes.

 ``And yet the primary source of advance leaks to The New York Times and others came from the Cuban exile community in Miami,'' he said in a speech delivered before a  round-table discussion. ``Much of what they had to say exaggerated the size of the force, and the power of the force, and the prospects of the force and that made Castro's preparation all the greater -- and, when it was all over, his gloating all the greater.''

 Sorensen, a New York lawyer, mostly spoke mournfully about the episode as ``the worst week of [Kennedy's] presidency, the worst week of his political life.''

 Several audience members took issue with Sorensen's blaming the leaks on exiles, including host Suchlicki, who called the swipe "a little low blow.'' Sociologist Juan  Clark, a paratrooper in the invasion, said Castro spies had infiltrated the brigade with which he trained in Guatemala.

 Other veterans complained bitterly about the betrayal by what brigade pilot Esteban Bovo Caras called "the Kennedy gang.''

 Sorensen defended Kennedy's decision to abort the 1,500-member brigade's invasion as a sign of ``political courage'' that prevented World War III and U.S. diplomatic isolation.

 Sorensen framed his criticism of Cuban exile leaks as "a sensitive paradox,'' and punctuated a nearly hourlong presentation with frequent disclaimers of any involvement  in the episode.

 Instead, he said he learned about it from Kennedy in a painful post-mortem ("full of emotion, anger, sadness and, for him, unaccustomed humiliation'') that blamed the  Central Intelligence Agency for misleading the president. The episode, he said, colored Kennedy's decision-making in the subsequent Cuban Missile Crisis.

 Outside the speech, five members of Vigilia Mambisa waved flags and placards that blamed Sorensen for ``40 years of Soviet hegemony in Cuba.''

 Sorensen, for his part, said Kennedy "never forgot his failure at the Bay of Pigs.''

 A major lesson: ``A see-no-flaws, hear-no-flaws, speak-no-flaws atmosphere'' by CIA planners in Washington meant no skeptics were called in to raise tough questions --  about everything from how a Castro crackdown ahead of the invasion might affect a potential uprising to whether brigade members could reach the Escambray Mountains from which to wage a guerrilla rebellion.

 Aside from his political defeat, Kennedy ``felt even worse that his holding back U.S. military action, his holding down the U.S. public profile, had contributed to the disaster and death and imprisonment that followed,'' Sorensen said.

 ``Nevertheless, it may be that he thereby prevented a still greater disaster -- a U.S-Soviet military confrontation that would have all too likely ended in a nuclear exchange, a holocaust, the virtual obliteration of Cuba, Florida, large parts of the United States, the Soviet Union and the world.

 ``For JFK, for the CIA, for the brigade, for Cuban Americans 40 years ago, it was no question a failure, a fiasco in its time. But today, 40 years later, I wonder was that true in the long run, was that true in all respects?''

 Sorensen spoke softly and sympathetically toward the old exiles for whom the Bay of Pigs fiasco still seems fresh four decades later.

 He received warm applause to his closing remarks, which he later clarified should not be construed to mean he opposed the economic embargo:

 "I hope in my heart that the next large-scale invasion of Cuba will in time -- and I don't know what time -- consist of American goods, American tourists, American
 investment, American agricultural surpluses and cultural enterprises and human rights activists and preachers and all the rest,'' he said.

 "Then I believe the flag of liberty will fly in a free Havana and a free Cuba.''

 Herald Staff Writer Elaine de Valle contributed to this report.