In the 1950s, the Eisenhower administration in the US feared the rise of global Communism. As a result, they fostered a series of regime changes across the globe from Iran to Guatemala. At the end of his term, a new scheme was hatched.
Till 1959, Cuba had been dominated by the corrupt autocratic regime of Fulgencio Batista. In January 1959, after nearly six years of sporadic fighting, this government was overthrown by armed rebels led by Fidel Castro and his lieutenant Che Guevara.
Guevara and Castro
The same year, Castro visited the United States and declared “I know the world thinks of us, we are Communists, and of course I have said very clear that we are not Communists; very clear.”
However, the new regime soon allied itself with the Soviet Union. The alarmed feared that Cuba could become the base for armed insurgencies throughout Latin America. Castro for his part resented the US aid to the previous Batista regime and nationalized all US property in Cuba.
In March 1960, Eisenhower allocated $13.1 million to the CIA to overthrow the Castro government. The CIA gathered over 1,400 Cuban refugees opposed to the regime and formed the paramilitary 2506 brigade. The plan required these forces to attack Cuba with air and naval support.
Dwight D Eisenhower
But before the plan could be put into action, the US had a new President, John Fitzgerald Kennedy assumed office in January 1960. A relatively young man of 43, Kennedy was initially awed by the stature of his advisors in the intelligence and military communities. He authorized the invasion plans to go ahead. However, unlike Eisenhower, he was wary of openly involving the US against the inevitable world reaction. At the time, both the US and USSR tried to maintain the fiction that they did not directly intervene in each other’s affairs or those of their allies to reduce the probability of nuclear conflict.
John F Kennedy
The invasion was a fiasco. The Cuban government likely had advance warning of the attack from their intelligence network and loose talk from members of the 2506 brigade. When the forces landed in Cuba on 17 April 1961 at the Bay of Pigs, they were soon boxed in by the Cuban military. Diplomatically, Cuba moved in the UN to accuse the US of attacking it.
Sensitive to international pressure, Kennedy limited and then halted direct US support, especially in the form of air strikes. The total number of forces committed were only half of what the CIA had deemed necessary. The 2506 brigade was overrun and captured in 3 days.
Bay of Pigs
Kennedy later felt that he had been too trusting of his advisers and hadn’t asked enough tough questions. Later, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy repeatedly over-ruled his military advisers to avoid nuclear confrontation with the Soviets.
In the late 1980s, almost none of the senior western intelligence agencies predicted the fall of the Soviet Union.
In his remarkable take down of the British secret services, Adam Curtis describes the British chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee, Sir Percy Cradock. At the end of the 80s as everyone realized the Soviet system was collapsing, Cradock remained convinced that Gorbachev’s reforms were just a cunning ruse to deceive the west. This view was not based on any secret evidence, but from “analysing open source data”. In other words, reading the news, except they interpreted it in their own mad way. Cradock’s position ensured that his view dominated intelligence thinking.
Sir Percy Cradock
The biggest secret the intelligence services were seemed to be protecting was that they weren’t very good at their jobs.
Richard Feynman remarked that his father was in the clothing business and supplied uniforms to the US military. He therefore knew the difference between a man in uniform and a man out of uniform. It is the same man.