The New York Times
February 22, 1998
C.I.A. Bares Own Bungling in Bay of Pigs Report
By Tim Weiner

                 WASHINGTON -- One of the most secret documents of the Cold
                 War is out: the CIA's brutally honest inquest into the 1961 Bay
          of Pigs fiasco, which laid the blame for the disastrous invasion of Cuba
          squarely on the agency's own institutional arrogance, ignorance and

          The 150-page document also cautioned those who would use the CIA to
          overthrow enemies, saying that job belongs to the Pentagon and its broad
          arsenal of military forces around the globe.

          The report painted a picture of an agency shot through with deadly
          self-deception, one whose secret operations were "ludicrous or tragic or
          both." In mounting the Cuban operation, almost none of the CIA officers
          were able to speak Spanish, yet those same officers heaped contempt on
          their Cuban "puppets" hand-picked to replace Fidel Castro, the report

          The Bay of Pigs invasion, carried out in April 1961, was organized by the
          CIA and was intended to lead to the overthrow of Castro, whose
          Communist government just 90 miles from the Florida coast was seen as
          a beachhead for Soviet influence in the Western Hemisphere.

          While the basic facts of the commando raid on Cuba are known, the
          report, titled "The Inspector General's Survey of the Cuban Operation," is
          an untapped well of cold, hard facts. A leading historian of the operation,
          Peter Wyden, wrote wistfully in his book "Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story"
          (Simon & Schuster, 1979) that the report was "probably buried forever."

          Last week, after 36 years of secrecy during which all but one copy of the
          report was destroyed, a Freedom of Information Act request by the
          National Security Archive, a nonproft group, unearthed the sole surviving
          volume, which was locked in the safe of the director of CIA. The report,
          written by the CIA's inspector general, Lyman Kirkpatrick, after a
          six-month investigation, is a record of bungling by the best and the
          brightest and makes for chilling reading.

          The CIA's leaders believed that it was President John F. Kennedy's
          failure to approve an attack on Cuba's air force to coincide with the
          landing of commandos that caused the deaths of nearly 114 raiders.
          Another 1,189 were captured; the rest of the 1,500 either never landed
          or made their way back to safety.

          And in their rebuttals to the report by Kirkpatrick, they wrote that his
          depiction of "unmitigated and almost willful bumbling and disaster" -- in
          the words of Gen. Charles Cabell, then deputy director of the CIA -- was
          motivated by personal malice. Kirkpatrick had wanted to be the agency's
          spymaster, but his career advancement stalled when he contracted polio
          in the early 1950s.

          The report said the operation, whose planning began in April 1960,
          started as a classic covert action "in which the hand of the United States
          would not appear." The plan called for a group of exiled Cuban leaders,
          supported by a CIA cadre, to build political momentum slowly toward
          toppling Castro, who had taken power 16 months earlier.

          Very quickly, "this operation took on a life of its own," the report said.
          "The agency was going forward without knowing precisely what it was

          The CIA's officers "became so wrapped up in the operation as such that
          they lost sight of ultimate goals." Their budget multiplied from $4.4 million
          to $46 million. Within a year, they created an unruly, ill-trained, crudely
          supported invasion force whose cover was blown, and whose existence
          had been broadly hinted at in newspaper reports before the operation
          took place. "Plausible denial" -- the ability of the United States to lie
          convincingly about its role in the invasion -- became "a pathetic illusion,"
          the report said.

          With crisscrossing lines of communication and control among bases and
          camps in Miami, Key West, New Orleans, Nicaragua and Guatemala, all
          under sporadic command from headquarters, the CIA created a "complex
          and bizarre organizational situation" that was doomed to fail.

          The officers chosen to staff the huge operation were in many instances
          incapable; "very few spoke Spanish or had Latin-American background
          knowledge," the report said.

          Even today, CIA officials say that this lack of foreign languages and
          experience remains one of the biggest problems at the agency.

          Agency employees treated the Cubans training to overthrow Castro "like
          dirt." The abuse left the hungry, barefoot, disillusioned trainees "wondering
          what kind of Cuban future they were fighting for."

          The Revolutionary Council, the CIA-created alternative to Castro,
          became the agency's "puppets," as described in the report. "Isolated in a
          Miami safe house, 'voluntarily' but under strong persuasion, the
          Revolutionary Council members awaited the outcome of a military
          operation which they had not planned and knew little about while
          agency-written bulletins were issued to the world in their name."

          If the CIA could not work with Cubans, Kirkpatrick warned
          prophetically, "how can the agency possibly succeed with the natives of
          Black Africa or Southeast Asia?"

          President Kennedy had been in office just three months when the invasion
          took place. The report argued that he might not have fully grasped the
          details of the raid, because the CIA did not fully explain them. "Detailed
          policy authorization for some specific actions was either never fully
          clarified or only resolved at the 11th hour," it said. "Even the central
          decision as to whether to employ the strike force was still somewhat in
          doubt up to the very moment of embarkation."

          The CIA convinced itself and the White House that the invasion would
          magically create in Cuba "an organized resistance that did not exist,"
          composed of 30,000 Cubans who would "make their way through the
          Castro army and wade the swamps to rally to the liberators." This was
          self-deception, the report said, adding drily, "We are unaware of any
          planning by the agency or by the U.S. government for this success."

          On April 15, 1961, CIA pilots knocked out part of Castro's air force,
          and were set to finish the job. At the last minute, on April 16, Kennedy
          called off the air strikes, but the message did not reach the 1,511
          commandos headed for the Bay of Pigs. Three days of fighting destroyed
          the invading force. A brigade commander sent his final messages: "We are
          out of ammo and fighting on the beach. Please send help," and: "In water.
          Out of ammo. Enemy closing in. Help must arrive in next hour."

          It never came. Over the next few days two American teams and a crew
          of Cuban frogmen plucked 26 survivors off the beaches and reefs.

          After the inquiry completed its work, the agency clearly viewed the report
          as poison: "In unfriendly hands, it can become a weapon unjustifiably to
          attack the entire mission, organization, and functions of the agency,"
          warned Cabell, the deputy director at the time. Nevertheless, the CIA
          agreed to release the report as part of a slow process of making public
          parts of its past.

          Read with hindsight, the accumulated weight of the details in Kirkpatrick's
          report makes a case that "the fundamental cause of the disaster" was the
          CIA's incompetence, not Kennedy's failure to follow through with the air
          raids in support of the commandos.

          The agency failed the president by failing to tell him "that success had
          become dubious and to recommend that the operation be therefore
          canceled," it said.

          The consequence of canceling was chagrin: "The world already knew all
          about the preparations, and the government's and the agency's
          embarrassment would have been public," the report said. The cost of
          continuing was "failure, which brought even more embarrassment, carried
          death and misery to hundreds" and wounded American prestige. "The
          choice was between retreat without honor and a gamble between
          ignominious defeat and dubious victory," the report said.

          "The agency chose to gamble, at rapidly decreasing odds," in an operation
          sabotaged by bad intelligence, incompetent staffing, illusionary planning,
          and self-deception. In the future, it concluded, when the White House
          wanted to engage in major covert operations "which may profoundly
          affect world events," it should call the Defense Department, not the CIA.

          The report was released under the Freedom of Information Act to the
          National Security Archive, which collects and publishes declassified
          government documents.

          Peter Kornbluh, director of the archive's Cuba Documentation Project,
          called the report "one of the most important examples of self-criticism
          ever written inside the agency." He said it would be posted on Sunday at
          the archive's Web site: