ZNet | Central America & Caribbean

What We’re Not Supposed To Know About The Missile Crisis

by Jane Franklin; Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Fifty years ago, on October 22, 1962, I was pregnant with my third child when President John F. Kennedy spoke on national television and I learned, with the rest of the world, that we were on the brink of nuclear war. Satellite photos had revealed Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, and President Kennedy had ordered a naval blockade to stop any Soviet ships on their way to the island.


In that moment, lives changed. Our daughters and our unborn son and the other children of the world were threatened with annihilation. For six days, until negotiations between Washington and Moscow defused the crisis, people lived through the Missile Crisis, which became an enduring part of our personal histories.


Not until years later did we learn about Operation Mongoose, Washington’s new secret plan to overthrow the Cuban government – the plan that provoked the Missile Crisis. Cuban intelligence agents found out about it soon enough and tried to stop it, to no avail. Although some declassified documents about Operation Mongoose were made public in 1989, few people in the United States have even heard of it, much less understood its profound and sinister significance.


The covert activities of Operation Mongoose began on November 30, 1961, a mere seven months after Cuba defeated the invasion at the Bay of Pigs. As I wrote in Cuba and the United States: A Chronological History:


President Kennedy issues a memorandum to Secretary of State Dean Rusk and others who will be involved in his decision to launch top-secret Operation Mongoose “to help Cuba overthrow the Communist regime.” This leads to the creation of a new control group, the Special Group (Augmented) (SGA), to oversee Mongoose.[1]


William K. Harvey was put in charge of the CIA's Task Force W that would participate in Mongoose with about 400 people working at CIA headquarters in Washington and in the Miami CIA Station.


To coordinate Operation Mongoose with the Departments of State and Defense, Kennedy appointed Air Force General Edward Lansdale, the CIA official who had engineered the presidency of Ramón Magsaysay in the Philippines against the Hukbalahap rebellion and then set up the Vietnamese puppet regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in Saigon.


In frequent reports about his new job, General Lansdale presented his plans, which could better be called his fantasies, but nevertheless were going to be used to try to overthrow a sovereign government. As Lansdale stated in 1975, he tried to remove Fidel Castro by any means, including assassination. Yet by May 1962, Operation Mongoose had managed to put only four small teams onto the island, many fewer than planned. Yet Lansdale believed that the Cuban people would rise up to overthrow Fidel Castro while the United States would “give open support,” including “military force, as necessary.”    


When Cuban intelligence agents learned of Operation Mongoose, Cuba took their discovery of another planned invasion to the United Nations, which paid no attention to Cuba’s warnings (just as the UN paid no attention when Cuba tried to stop the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion). The British delegate on the Security Council called Cuba’s charges a “propaganda exercise.”


In this context, in July of 1962, Raúl Castro visited the Soviet Union, which did pay attention; deployment of nuclear missiles began that month. After all, Soviet missiles in Cuba were no closer to the United States than U.S. missiles in Turkey were to the Soviet Union.


In August an Operation Mongoose report from Lansdale mentioned the possibility of a lengthy U.S. occupation after “military control of the island.” When precisely was the overthrow scheduled to take place? October 1962. Thus Washington’s plan for regime change in October led to Cuba’s getting nuclear missiles for defense against that invasion, which led to the Missile Crisis.


On October 27, President Kennedy sent a letter to Premier Nikita Khrushchev with a proposal that the Soviet Union immediately withdraw its missiles from Cuba while the United States would end the naval blockade and pledge not to invade Cuba. This agreement would be made public. Meanwhile, Attorney General Robert Kennedy met with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly F. Dobrynin and agreed privately that once the crisis was resolved, the United States would withdraw its Jupiter nuclear missiles from Turkey.


On October 28, after six days at the nuclear brink, the worst of the Missile Crisis ended when Moscow Radio broadcast Premier Khrushchev's letter to President Kennedy accepting the October 27 proposal.


On October 30, the Special Group (Augmented) ordered a halt to all the sabotage activities of Operation Mongoose. However, the CIA’s Task Force W, created as part of Operation Mongoose, was not terminated. Its hundreds of agents remained in action in Washington and Miami. Sabotage teams on the island were not withdrawn despite the SGA order. For example, on November 8 one of the CIA teams blew up its industrial target.


But on November 20, President Kennedy lifted the naval blockade of Cuba after the Soviet Union and Cuba agreed to remove Soviet IL-28 bombers from Cuba.


Hit-and-run attacks on Cuba continued -- for decades. In January 1963, Desmond Fitzgerald replaced William Harvey as head of Task Force W and proposed various plots to assassinate Fidel Castro. In that month alone three children were killed in two attacks on the island.


People here in the United States continue to know little about the State of Siege that is U.S. policy toward Cuba. Now in 2012 Washington maintains its trade embargo, which was initiated to starve the Cuban people into submission (there are declassified documents about that, too). Ironically, the full trade embargo that took effect February 7, 1962, was part of Operation Mongoose. And while Operation Mongoose ended, the policies that created it continue. Regime change by any available means has continued to be Washington’s goal. 

[1] The participants in the Special Group (Augmented) included the top formulators of U.S. foreign policy, including National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, Deputy Under Secretary of State Alexis Johnson, Under Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric, CIA Director John McCone, and General Lyman Lemnitzer, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?-augmented by Attorney General Robert Kennedy and General Maxwell Taylor, who was appointed SGA chair. Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara sometimes attended SGA meetings. Richard M. Helms, replacement for Richard Bissell as CIA chief of covert operations, became a major participant, along with Richard Goodwin of the State Department, and Ed Murrow and Don Wilson of the United States Information Agency (USIA). This information is part of the fuller account of Operation Mongoose and its aftermath in Jane Franklin, Cuba and the United States: A Chronological History (New York: Ocean Press, 1997); it is available online at http://www.janefranklin.info.


Historian Jane Franklin is the author of Cuba and the U.S. Empire: A Chronological History.

E-mail: JaneFranklin@hotmail.com