by Jacob G. Hornberger
This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion, a regime-change operation in Cuba planned and initiated by the CIA. The invasion was a disastrous failure, one that the CIA is still trying to rectify half-a-century later.
When the CIA was established in 1947, the original idea was that it would simply be an intelligence-gathering agency to help the president make decisions in the Cold War against America’s World War II ally, the Soviet Union.
However, the CIA refused to countenance such a limited mission. From the very beginning, it intended to be a major player in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy. The CIA would make itself the prime protector of the “national security” of the United States, with the CIA being the ultimate arbiter of the meaning of that nebulous term.
In 1953, the Iranian people learned first hand the power of the CIA. In a brilliantly planned and orchestrated regime-change operation, the CIA succeeded in ousting the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, a man named Mohammed Mossadegh, and replacing him with an unelected brutal dictator known as the Shah of Iran.
With the full support and cooperation of the CIA, the Shah ruled Iran for the next 26 years with a brutal hand, rounding up opponents, torturing them, and executing them, all with the goal of maintaining “order and stability” in Iran. In 1979, fed up with the cruel U.S-supported tyranny and oppression under which they had lived since 1953, the Iranian people revolted and ousted the Shah from power.
One year after the CIA’s anti-democratic regime change operation in Iran, the CIA did it again, this time in Guatemala. In a brilliantly carried out plan, the CIA succeeded in ousting the democratically elected president of the country and installing a series of brutal military dictatorships. The event ended up throwing the country into a decades-long civil war that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Nonetheless, the coup was considered a huge success by the CIA, especially since it, like the CIA’s regime change in Iran, had somehow protected the “national security” of the United States.
So, coming on the heels of two successful regime-change operations, the CIA figured that a regime-change operation in Cuba would be a piece of cake. It was not to be. When the hundreds of anti-Castro Cubans landed at the Bay of Pigs, Fidel Castro’s military forces were waiting for them. The attackers were killed or captured.
While the CIA had planned the attack during President Eisenhower’s administration, it was actually carried in the first few months of the Kennedy administration. While Kennedy formally took responsibility for the failure, given that the “buck stopped” with him, the truth is that it was the CIA that was actually responsible for the debacle, and Kennedy knew it.
The CIA and anti-Castro Cubans blamed Kennedy for refusing to provide U.S. air support for the invaders. If U.S. warplanes had come to the assistance of the invaders, the argument went, the invasion would have succeeded.
However, prior to the invasion Kennedy had made it clear to the CIA that the United States would provide no air support for the attackers. If they were to succeed, they had to do it without U.S. air support. The CIA had assured Kennedy that U.S. air support would not be needed and that the operation would succeed without it.
The CIA’s representation to Kennedy was a flat-out lie. The CIA knew that U.S. air support would be required for success. The whole plan was a set-up from the get-go, one in which the CIA hoped to trap Kennedy into providing the needed air support. The CIA figured that once the invasion was underway and in danger of failing, the new president would be trapped into providing the needed support.
But the CIA misread the new president. When Kennedy told them that there would be no air support, he meant it. While he was willing to go along with supporting a group of Cuban immigrants who wished to invade their home country, Kennedy had no intention of using the U.S. military to effect regime change in Cuba or any other Latin American country.
After the invasion, Kennedy realized that he had been set up by the CIA, and was furious. He vowed to tear the CIA into a thousand pieces. He also fired three of the most respected and revered figures inside the CIA: CIA Director Alan Dulles and CIA deputy directors Richard Bissell and Charles Cabell.
Yet, in the eyes of the CIA as well as the anti-Castro Cubans, by failing to provide the air support Kennedy had betrayed his country, Cuba and the Cuban people, and the cause of freedom. Worst of all, he had jeopardized national security by leaving a Soviet-aligned communist in charge in Cuba, one who would allow the Soviet Union to install nuclear missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States the following year.
The anger and distrust between Kennedy and the CIA continued growing until the day he was killed in Dallas, especially after Kennedy refused to bomb and invade Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, promised the Soviet Union that the United States would never invade Cuba, promised to withdraw nuclear weapons from Turkey, refused to send combat forces into Laos and Vietnam, and, worst of all, began reaching out to the Soviet communists to explore a détente between the two nations.
Ironically, the CIA’s decades-long obsession with regime change in Cuba has never died. Fifty years after duplicity and debacle at the Bay of Pigs, the CIA is still interfering with the internal affairs of Cuba with the hope of finally achieving the regime change it failed to achieve five decades ago.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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