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U.S. intelligence activities in Cuba

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Especially with the rise of an insurgency under Fidel Castro in the late 1950s, Cuba has been a high priority to the United States intelligence community, both for pure intelligence and often abortive covert action. Contrary to widespread opinion, activities were never limited to the Central Intelligence Agency; indeed, before the formation of the CIA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation had intelligence responsibility for the Western Hemisphere. Some of the most critical intelligence in the Cuban Missile Crisis came from signals intelligence provided by the National Security Agency and imagery intelligence from military units.

Cuba 1960

The Soviet Ambassador to the US said the USSR had no plans to put bases into Cuba.

CIA covert action

Operation Mongoose was approved by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to assassinate Fidel Castro.

Intelligence collection

There had been CIA agent reports and NSA SIGINT of increased military activity in Cuba starting in late 1960, but these initially appeared to be of defensive equipment.[1]

Cuba 1961

Between August 1960, and April 1961, the CIA pursued a series of plots to poison or shoot Castro according to the assassination plots proposed by Colonel Sheffield Edwards, director of the CIA's Office of Security.[2]

The CIA-organized Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba in 1961, failed, using plans that the regular military advised against. Kennedy also required the invasion to be less visible, and reduced its air support. Recently declassified documents show that President Kennedy had officially denied the CIA authorization to invade Cuba. Cuban leader Fidel Castro used the routed invasion to consolidate his power and strengthen Cuba's ties with the Soviet Union.

CIA established a main physical facility in Miami, Florida, as one of the bases for intelligence and covert actions against Cuba. The station itself had the cryptonym JMWAVE; operations using it had their own cryptonyms or code words, such as Operation Mongoose. The facility, under commercial cover of "Zenith Technical Enterprises", was located at the University of Miami, was considered too obvious and closed in 1968. Some of its functions moved to other locations in the Miami area, including the overt radio broadcast monitoring station of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service.

Operation Mongoose was re-approved to Edward Lansdale by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in November 1961. The CIA tried and failed several times to assassinate Fidel Castro. Various methods are discussed, such as hiding bombs in seashells.[3]

The CIA supported a variety of anti-Castro agents such as Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, who are wanted in Venezuela for terrorism charges. [1]

Cuba 1962

The January 1962 Special National Intelligence Estimate suggested "We believe that Castro's Cuba will continue to do what it can to export its revolution."[4] Such attempts were made, especially under the leadership of Che Guevara.

While there were CIA agent reports of increased Soviet activity from late 1960 on, NSA SIGINT gave indications of increased air defense activity from approximately May 1962. In August, CIA imagery intelligence IMINT confirmed the presence of Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missiles, the presence of which indicated something was receiving exceptional protection. Surveillance, without overflights, was stepped up.[1]

In October 1962, high-altitude reconnaissance photographs, taken from outside Cuban airspace by U-2 aircraft flown by Air Force pilots were analyzed at the CIA's National Photographic Interpretation Center (NPIC), indicated that Soviet missile construction was underway. As described by Dino Brugioni, these photographs were brought to the President and Secretary of Defense, who authorized overflights that confirmed the construction and triggered the Cuban Missile Crisis.

NPIC IMINT was key in assessing the activity in the crisis. A selection of the actual photographs, as well as supporting data such as the chart of CIA photographs are at the George Washington University National Security Archive.[5] Some of the techniques used to determine what was being shipped into Cuba, and out of it after the US-USSR agreement was reached, was called "crateology", or recognizing the characteristic ways in which the Soviets crated military equipment, is Hilsman's To Move a Nation.[6] A photograph analyzed using the crateology technique is shown in.[5]

Cuba 1963

In November 1963, Operation Mongoose was cancelled following the John F. Kennedy assassination.[3]

Cuba 1965

In a letter read by Fidel Castro, on Che Guevara bids a "Farewell", resigns from all of his official positions within the Cuban government. The letter, which Che apparently never intended to be made public, states that "I have fulfilled the part of my duty that tied me to the Cuban revolution...and I say goodbye to you, to the comrades, to your people, who are now mine."[7]

Cuba 1967

An agreement of April 28 between the US Army Military Group in Bolivia, and the Bolivian military, assigned mission sixteen-member United States Army Special Forces, drawn from the 8th Special Forces group of the U.S. Army Forces at Southcom in Panama, to "produce a rapid reaction force capable of counterinsurgency operations and skilled to the degree that four months of intensive training can be absorbed by the personnel presented by the Bolivian Armed Forces." In October, the 2nd Battalion, aided by U.S. military and CIA personnel, did engage and capture Che Guevara's small band of rebels.[8]

Written in October, a CIA Directorate of Intelligence report presents an assessment that Guevara's preeminence as a leader of the Cuban revolution has waned, and his internal and international policies have been abandoned. In domestic policy, his economic strategy of rapid industrialization has "brought the economy to its lowest point since Castro came to power," and observes that Guevara believed centralized economic planning was an ideological necessity.

In foreign policy, he "never wavered from his firm revolutionary stand, even as other Cuban leaders began to devote most of their attention to the internal problems of the revolution." Guevara also preferred, in opposition to Castro, the Chinese side of the Sino-Soviet split.

With Guevara no longer in Cuba, the CIA's assessment concludes, "there is no doubt that Castro's more cautious position on exporting revolution, as well as his different economic approach, led to Che's downfall."[9]

Che Guevara is captured and executed by Bolivian Army Rangers. The CIA officer with the team tried to follow US government wishes and take him alive to Panama, but failed.

Cuba 1976

On May 17, 2005, documents from the National Security Archives were presented on ABC's television show "Nightline". Among other things, they discussed Luis Posada Carriles, who was detained in Miami in May 2005 by Homeland Security. Posada is a Venezuelan living in the US, who is a member of anti-Castro groups, and is charged with plotting to blow up a Cubana airliner in 1976. Venezuela, from where the airliner flew, has charged him with terrorism against the aircraft.[10] The Posada matter points out the inherent conflict between US anti-terrorism and its policy of hostility to Cuba. "He has admitted to plotting attacks that damaged tourist spots in Havana and killed an Italian visitor there in 1997. He was convicted in Panama in a 2000 bomb plot against Mr. Castro."[11]. Posada, who was a Venezuelan intelligence officer, claims asylum in the US, although Venezuela (not Cuba) is trying to extradite him. "If Mr. Posada has indeed illegally entered the United States, the Bush administration has three choices: granting him asylum; jailing him for illegal entry; or granting Venezuela's request for extradition.

It is unclear if Posada, or his associate Orlando Bosch, notified the CIA or FBI before the airliner attack. "According to Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Archive's Cuba Documentation Project, Posada's presence in the United States "poses a direct challenge to the Bush administration's terrorism policy. The declassified record," he said, "leaves no doubt that Posada has been one of the world's most unremitting purveyors of terrorist violence." President Bush has repeatedly stated that no nation should harbor terrorists, and all nations should work to bring individuals who advocate and employ the use of terror tactics to justice. During the Presidential campaign last year Bush stated that "I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world." Although Posada has reportedly been in the Miami area for more than six weeks, the FBI has indicated it is not actively searching for him.[10]

Cuba 2005

Intelligence analysis

Porter Goss indicated Agency concern with the succession, given that Fidel Castro was suffering the effects of a serious fall.[12]


  1. 1.0 1.1 National Security Agency. Role in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  2. Bay of Pigs 40 years after.. National Security Archive. Retrieved on 2007-07-16. p. 3, 14 CIA, Inspector General's Report on Efforts to Assassinate Fidel Castro.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Weiner, Tim (2007). Legacy of Ashes. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385514453. 
  4. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named carib62
  5. 5.0 5.1 National Security Archive (2002). The Cuban Missile Crisis 1962: The Photographs. George Washington University National Security Archive. Retrieved on 2007-09-16.
  6. Hilsman, Roger (1967). To Move a Nation: The Politics of Foreign Policy in the Administration of John F. Kennedy. Doubleday. 
  7. , Kornbluh, Peter, The Death of Che Guevara: Declassified, George Washington University National Security Archive
  8. Macek, Kenneth T. (April 28, 1967). Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Activation, Organization and Training of the 2d Battalion - Bolivian Army.
  9. Latell, Brian (October 18, 1965). Intelligence Memorandum: The Fall of Che Guevara and the Changing Face of the Cuban Revolution. Central Intelligence Agency.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Kornbluh, Peter (May 10, 2005), Luis Posada Carriles: the Declassifed Record, CIA and FBI Documents Detail Career in International Terrorism; Connection to U.S., National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 153, George Washington University National Security Archive
  11. Weiner, Tim. Cuban Exile Could Test U.S. Definition of Terrorist, May 9, 2005.
  12. Goss, Porter J. (16 February 2005), Global Intelligence Challenges 2005: Meeting Long-Term Challenges with a Long-Term Strategy (Testimony of DCI Porter Goss), Senate Select Committee on Intelligence