Soviets Knew Date of Cuba Attack
By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Shortly after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, a top CIA
official told an investigative commission that the Soviet Union had
somehow learned the exact date of the amphibious landing in advance,
according to a newly declassified version of the commission's final report.
Moreover, the CIA apparently had known of the leak to the Soviets--and
went ahead with the invasion anyway.
In an effort to oust Fidel Castro, the CIA organized and trained a force
about 1,400 Cuban exiles and launched the invasion on April 17, 1961.
Castro's soldiers easily repelled the landing force in less than 72 hours,
killing 200 rebels and capturing 1,197 others in what became one of the
worst foreign policy blunders of the Cold War.
The investigative commission, chaired by Gen. Maxwell Taylor, was
established almost immediately and held a series of secret hearings at the
Pentagon before sending a sharply critical report to President Kennedy in
While portions of the Taylor Commission's report were made public on
two previous occasions, in 1977 and 1986, many pages had been blacked
out for security reasons by the CIA. The newly declassified version, in
contrast, is nearly free of deletions and contains a wealth of new detail.
The National Archives released the document late Wednesday to the
nonprofit National Security Archive, where senior analyst Peter Kornbluh
has been working for years to prod the government to release all classified
documents on the Bay of Pigs.
Kornbluh began demanding the full version of the Taylor Commission
report in December after determining that the document, cleared for
release by the CIA in 1996, had been lost by Pentagon officials.
"This document represents a case study of bureaucratic laxity when it
comes to the declassification of important history," Kornbluh said
yesterday. "I was told by the Kennedy Library [in December] that the
Taylor report was sitting at the Pentagon--and had been for three years at
When Pentagon officials could not locate the document, Kornbluh said, the
whole declassification review process involving the CIA, State
Department, Pentagon and other intelligence agencies had to be restarted
by officials at the National Archives, where the process finally was
completed just days ago.
Lt. Col. Catherine Abbott, a Pentagon spokeswoman, blamed the John F.
Kennedy Library in Massachusetts for sending the document in 1996 to
the Defense Department's Office of General Counsel, rather than to a
special declassification office. Abbott said she did not know what
happened to the document after it arrived in 1996.
Documents found in Soviet archives previously indicated that the Russians
had learned some details of the operation in advance, but the Taylor
Commission report shows for the first time that the CIA knew about the
leak and proceeded with the invasion nevertheless.
The revelation came in testimony before the Taylor Commission--blacked
out in previous releases of the report--by Jacob D. Esterline, the CIA
operations official who headed the task force responsible for coordinating
"There was some indication that the Soviets somewhere around the 9th [of
April] had gotten the date of the 17th," Esterline testified. "But there was
no indication at any time that they had any idea where the operation was
going to take place."
How the leak occurred is still a mystery.
In extremely candid testimony, Esterline called Tony Varona, one of two
Cuban exile leaders working closely with the agency, "an ignoramus of the
worst sort" who had "no conception whatsoever of security."
Referring to Varona and his cohorts, Esterline complained, "I've never
encountered a group of people that were so incapable of keeping a
For this reason, he explained, CIA planners told none of the Cuban
participants when the invasion would actually take place until a briefing on
April 12. Since the Soviets had by then already obtained the date, either
through a source or a communication intercept, "we were able to isolate
the fact that the leak could not have been Cuban," Esterline said.
Kornbluh said there is no indication that Esterline or anyone else at the
CIA warned President Kennedy of the leak before the invasion took
The newly declassified report also shows that CIA Director Allen W.
Dulles expressed doubt just three weeks after the invasion about whether
the CIA should have any further involvement in paramilitary operations.
"I'm the first to recognize that I don't think that the CIA should run
paramilitary operations of the type in Cuba," Dulles said. "I think we should
limit ourselves more to secret intelligence collection and operations of the