Fair Play for Cuba and the Cuban Revolution
How American Antiwar and Solidarity Movements in 60s Impeded an Effective Invasion of Cuba
July 26, Cuba’s most important holiday, is the commemorative date in 1953 when Castro and his forces unsuccessfully stormed the government stockade at Moncada and ignited the Cuban revolution. On a day like today, it should be noted that Americans made a successful Cuban invasion impossible with a campaign of determined resistance.
Antiwar and solidarity activists came together to protect the Cuban revolution during the era of 1960-1963—the era of the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis, and the JFK assassination—in significant part due to organizations such as the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC). Professor (and CISPES activist) Van Gosse has done groundbreaking research to make a good argument that this period really was the birth of the New Left.
The release in the last few years of thousands of CIA and FBI files reveals that this resistance was central in preventing a successful invasion of Cuba. Like most activist organizations, the FPCC had approximately a three-year life cycle—after that period, many of the core activists had returned to Cuba or have moved on to other pressing causes. In the period from 1960-1963, recently released documents show the powerful conflict between the forces of agitation (the FPCC and its allies) and the forces of provocation (the CIA, FBI and military). This conflict ended with a political landscape that made any future U.S. invasion of Cuba impossible. This story is not founded on a theory about who killed JFK, but rather examines an overlooked conflict.
The story below is largely set in New York City, the headquarters of the FPCC, and the revelation here of a key informant’s identity explains how different threads of this drama weave together. As the Church Committee said in the seventies, informants are used to “raise controversial issues” and “to take advantage of ideological splits in an organization.” Many of the documents are hidden to protect the identity of the informants, while the world is deprived of the history of how these informants were used to protect the U.S. national security state.
An April 1960 New York Times advertisement paid for by the Cuban government led to the formation of the FPCC
The founder and first leader of the FPCC was Robert Taber, a CBS newsman who was befriended by the Santos Buch family when they learned that Taber was interested in telling the rebels’ side of the story about Castro and his followers. With the help of the Santos Buch family, Taber obtained a rare exclusive interview with Fidel Castro while he was up in the mountains fighting in 1957. This interview became the basis of the CBS Special Report “Rebels of the Sierra Maestra: The Story of Cuba’s Jungle Fighters and his renowned book on the rebels: “M-26: Biography of a Revolution”. “M-26” refers to the aforementioned storming of Moncada on July 26, 1953.
Working with CBS newsman Richard Gibson, they decided to run a full-page ad in the New York Times in order to make a statement on the importance of the Cuban revolution. Taber and Santos-Busch went so far as to raise the money for the ad by obtaining a big donation from the Cuban government with the assistance of Raulito Roa, the son of Cuban UN foreign minister Raul Roa.
The advertisement caused a minor sensation in a number of different circles. The authors were flooded with more than a thousand letters of people ready to take action. Besides the timeliness of the appeal, it was signed by other leading lights in the literary community: Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Norman Mailer, Dan Wakefield, even Truman Capote. African Americans were prominent in the call—besides newsman Richard Gibson of CBS, it was also signed by the historian John Henrik Clarke, novelists James Baldwin, Julian Mayfield and John O. Killens, and the soon-to-be-famous Southern activist Robert F. Williams. Other supporters in this period included Linus Pauling and Allen Ginsberg.
The ad also caught the attention of the CIA’s Cuban affairs head William Harvey, whose love of alcohol and firearms caused many to ask if he was the role model for Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Two days after the ad ran, William Harvey bragged to FBI counterintelligence chief Sam Papich. “For your information, this Agency has derogatory information on all individuals listed in the attached advertisement.”
Harvey was the head of Task Force W, a brigade of 2000 Cubans, a navy of speedboats, and 400 Americans based at CIA headquarters and the JM/WAVE station in Miami. JM/WAVE may have been the largest CIA base in history. Huge quantities of arms and munitions passed through its gates. The JM/WAVE station directed a wide range of operations against Cuban shipping, aircraft and industrial sites.
The Socialist Workers Party and the Communist Party were able to work together within the FPCC, marking a break from a bad history going back to the Depression era when 20,000 Communist supporters marched through the streets to denounce their Trotskyist competitors. Berta Green of the SWP was able to provide deep experience from her organizing efforts in Detroit and more recently in New York City. Richard Gibson was a bridge to people like Robert Williams, Leroi Jones, journalist William Worthy and other black activists in making the equation between African American militance and solidarity with Castro and Cuba’s largely black population. Within six months, the FPCC had 7000 members in 27 “adult chapters” and 40 student councils on various college campuses with emerging student leaders such as Saul Landau and Robert Scheer. When Fidel met Malcolm X and other community leaders at the Hotel Theresa in Harlem during the late summer of 1960, it was the social event of the year in New York for African Americans and radicals alike.
In December, 1960, William Worthy released the documentary “Yanqui, No!”, with a camera crew that included the legendary D.A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles. After doing a national tour for Fair Play, his work led to an indictment for traveling to Cuba—imposed on no other journalist. “The Ballad of William Worthy” earned a spot in the Phil Ochs canon:
“William Worthy isn’t worthy to enter our door
He just came back from Cuba, he’s not American anymore
But it seems awfully funny to hear the State Department say
You’re living in the Free World
In the Free World you must stay.”
Sensing a deepening problem, the anti-Castro forces countered by investigating the funding of the initial ad, calling the FPCC leaders before a Congressional committee, the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee with the appropriate-sounding name of “SISS”. It was also known as the Eastland Committee; at the time, James Eastland was probably the most racist senator in the United States. The SISS was so powerful that its chief prosecutor Julian Sourwine had been known in the 48-state era as the “97th Senator”.
On January 6, 1961 Santos-Buch told Sourwine in executive session that he and Taber had received the needed money from “eight different people”. The documents reveal that Santos Buch changed his story on January 9 at a subsequent executive session, and that he was also given a promise that the CIA would help get a number of family members out of Cuba. On January 9, Santos Buch changed his story, at least in part because of his desire to extricate his family from Cuba. On January 10, Santos Buch publicly admitted that the Cubans provided the crucial $3500 needed to place the NYT ad. A week later, Jane Roman from James Angleton’s counterintelligence office in the CIA reported that security concerns made it too dangerous for the CIA to keep its promise to Santos Buch.
Taber had gone to Cuba the previous month, in December 1960. For obvious reasons, he now felt it was a good idea to stay. He passed on his executive secretary duties to Richard Gibson, covered the ensuing Bay of Pigs invasion, and was wounded by mortar shells in the effort. Meanwhile, CIA operatives David Phillips and James McCord (of Watergate fame) ran an illegal domestic surveillance on the FPCC throughout the year of 1961 until the FBI apparently got wind of it while they began their own operation. The CIA then backed away from the FBI’s turf for a period of time. During this same period, Phillips was running an anti-Castro media campaign in New Orleans. Phillips was the recent recipient of the CIA’s Intelligence Medal of Merit for the disinformation campaign he ran in Guatemala that paved the way for the successful 1954 coup—it was stated that “this achievement has no parallel in the history of psychological warfare”.
The upsurge of protest against the Bay of Pigs invasion in the United States
Some people could sense the Bay of Pigs coming, but the FPCC sounded the alarm. After the Nation magazine warned about it in explicit terms during November of 1960, the LA chapter held a press conference to get the word out. They “called upon Congress to investigate immediately the widespread reports indicating that the Central Intelligence Agency is implicated in the training of armed forces for an invasion of Cuba. Persistent reports from Guatemala, Nicaragua and Florida of invasion forces in these areas being tied to the CIA raise into question U.S. observance of the principle of nonintervention into the domestic affairs of other countries.”
At what is described by Van Gosse as a “massive inaugural rally of San Francisco Fair Play” in January 1961, the anarchist Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote an homage to Castro and Walt Whitman that sums up the passions of many people during this era:
“One Thousand Fearful Words for Fidel Castro
I am sitting in Mike’s Place trying to figure out
What’s going to happen
without Fidel Castro
Among the salami sandwiches and spittoons
I see no solution
It’s going to be a tragedy
I see no way out
among the admen and slumming models
and the brilliant snooping columnists
who are qualified to call Castro psychotic
because they no doubt are doctors
and have examined him personally
and know a paranoid hysterical tyrant when they see one
because they have it on first hand
from personal observation by the CIA
and the great disinterested news services…
I see no answer
I see no way out
among the paisanos playing pool
it looks like Curtains for Fidel
They’re going to fix his wagon
in the course of human events...
The radio squawks
some kind of memorial program:
“When in the course of human events
it becomes necessary for one people
to dissolve the political bonds
which have connected them with another—”
I see no way out
He’s tuned in on your frequency, Fidel…
History may absolve you, Fidel
but we’ll dissolve you first, Fidel
You’ll be dissolved in history
We’ve got the solvent
We’ve got the chaser
and we’ll have a little party
somewhere down your way, Fidel
It’s going to be a Gas
As they say in Guatemala…
Here’s your little tragedy, Fidel
They’re coming to pick you up
and stretch you on their Stretcher
That’s what happens, Fidel
when in the course of human events
it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve
the bonds of International Tel & Tel
and United Fruit
How come you don’t answer anymore
Did they cut you off our frequency
We’ve closed down our station anyway
We’ve turned you off, Fidel
I was sitting in Mike’s Place, Fidel
waiting for someone else to act
like a good Liberal
I hadn’t quite finished Camus´ Rebel
so I couldn’t quite recognize you, Fidel
walking up and down your island
when they came for you, Fidel
“My Country or Death” you told them
Well you’ve got your little death, Fidel
like old Honest Abe
one of your boyhood heroes
who also had his little Civil War
and was a different kind of Liberator
(since no one was shot in his war)
and also was murdered
in the course of human events
your coffin passes by
thru lanes and streets you never knew
thru day and night, Fidel
While lilacs last in the dooryard bloom, Fidel
your futile trip is done
yet is not done
and is not futile
I give you my sprig of laurel.”
In the immediate aftermath of the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, the FPCC’s national influence was at its highest point.
“Actions with up to 2,000 outside the United Nations began the same day as the invasion and lasted throughout the entire week of the crisis, culminating in a rally of perhaps 5,000 in Union Square on 21 April—the largest left wing demonstration there or anywhere else in the U.S. since the execution of the Rosenbergs, and one also unprecedented in that a young Communist and a young Trotskyist shared the same public podium, brought together by the 26th of July.
“...Meanwhile, San Francisco saw demonstrations in which students played a leading role. Coordinated actions on various Bay Area campuses on 19 April were followed by a student-only rally of 2,000 in Union Square on 20 April, and an equally large all-ages Fair Play demonstration...(where protesters) spontaneously took to the streets of the downtown area to march to the offices of Hearst’s virulently anti-Castro San Francisco Examiner, an unheard thing to do in those days.”
Elsewhere, there was violence inflicted on numbers of Fair Play protesters. Meeting halls were shuttered in Los Angeles, Detroit, Newark and Tampa. Campuses came alive with lively actions at Cornell, Swarthmore, Madison, Berkeley, City College, Yale, the University of Michigan and Oberlin.
On April 27, Hoover himself ordered his agents to focus on pro-Castro activists, stating that the FPCC illustrated “the capacity of a nationality group organization to mobilize its efforts in such a situation so as to arrange demonstrations and influence public opinion.”
Right after the Bay of Pigs, the FBI organizes a campaign of disruption against the FPCC
In response, FBI man number three Cartha “Deke” DeLoach began a well-documented red-baiting campaign against the FPCC during May 1961. “As part of his counterintelligence responsibilities, DeLoach developed a “Mass Media Program” that included over 300 newspaper reporters, columnists, radio commentators, and television news investigators.”
Meanwhile, during that same month, something very odd was going on in Havana. Dr. Enrique Lorenzo Luaces told Army Intelligence that Taber introduced him to “Lt. Harvey Oswald, an arms expert” while having drinks at Sloppy Joe’s, better known as the “Sardi’s for spies”. When the FBI interviewed Taber, he denied knowing Oswald. A popular position to take, especially since the common wisdom is that Oswald was continuously in the U.S.SR between 1959 and 1962.
During June, 1960, a few months after Oswald’s defection to the U.S.SR in late 1959, J. Edgar Hoover himself sent a memo to the State Department alerting it to the possibility that an imposter was using Oswald’s identity. Hoover was tipped to the problem by a telegram from Harold F. Good at the New York field office. Former Cuban Prime Minister Tony Varona testified to a House committee that he believed Oswald was in Cuba during 1961. There is a long and well-documented history of reports involving individuals impersonating Oswald, no matter where one stands on the JFK assassination.
The FBI uses Victor Vicente, the head of the FPCC’s Social Committee and informant T-3245-S*, to build a criminal case against Gibson
Back in Washington DC, SISS was now focusing its attention on Richard Gibson, issuing a subpoena for him to come to Washington and testify. They wrote a letter to INS, asking them to take action to stop Gibson from leaving the country before his testimony. INS explained that American citizens were virtually never given such a “stop” order without a directive from the Secretary of State. Within a matter of hours, such a directive was issued against Gibson. Gibson spent years abroad in the 1950s in expatriate circles, and this directive was a serious blow to his freedom.
In Gibson’s first appearance in April 1961, he told SISS that “on behalf of myself and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, and speaking personally for myself and many other American Negroes, I can only express delight at the utter and dismal defeat of this act of international banditry.” The SISS, licking its wounds, ordered him to come back with the FPCC membership list. When he came back on May 16, he provided the mailing list, and claimed that there was no way to separate the FPCC members from those who were on the mailing list. This infuriated the committee. The FBI was asked to take action to obtain whatever membership list could be found, as well as anything else that would expose Gibson to perjury charges. They immediately ordered a mail cover on Gibson’s home at 788 Columbus Circle.
On May 21 and 22, Special Agents Patrick Lundquist and Harold Hoeg went inside the FPCC offices and photographed the list provided to them by informant T-3245-S*. The identity of T-3245-S* has been the subject of serious speculation over the years, especially because the “S” is a symbol for a political informant.
With the flood of new documents released by the government in the wake of the JFK Act, I can confirm with confidence after long and careful study that the identity of this informant is Victor Thomas Vicente, who was the head of the Social Committee for the FPCC. As the one willing to do the difficult work of fundraising, he was given special trust. Vicente’s work proved invaluable.
The dean of the study of FBI “black bag jobs”, also known as “break-ins” or “surreptitious entries” for many years has been Athan G. Theoharis, professor of history at Marquette History. In a black bag job, the documents are photographed rather than stolen, so that the target does not know that its privacy has been compromised. William Sullivan justified them in a letter to the Director’s office in 1966: “Such a technique involves trespass and is clearly illegal; therefore, it would be impossible to obtain any legal sanction for it. Despite this, “black bag” jobs have been used because they represent an invaluable technique in combating subversive activities...aimed directly at undermining and destroying our nation.”
Theoharis credits the FBI for eight black bag jobs to the FPCC, far more than suffered by any other group in his study. He discovered an initial black bag job at the FPCC NY headquarters during January 1961, which I have not yet located in the FBI records on-line. The second one is clearly during the weekend of May 22-23, 1961.
The purpose for the entry was to obtain evidence to contradict Gibson’s testimony to SISS about the FPCC membership list and to the Fair Play publication. In the material provided by Vicente in May 1961, a voluminous mailing list was included in this material, but the agents reported that there was no way to determine whether a code system was being used on this list in order to designate members or subscribers—names of members of student groups were also provided, but no membership list and no list of subscribers to “fair play” was included in this material. Thus, this material could not be used to support a perjury charge against Gibson.
However, the data was used to focus on FPCC operatives in Dallas, Tampa and Miami (major cities in the southern United States). What is fascinating is that the NY office mailed the relevant portions of these mailing lists to Miami got the mailing lists on 6/16/61, Dallas got the lists on 6/19/61 in a letter from “FED” in the New York office to Dir. FBI urging an investigation of the principal FPCC leaders in the area. Shortly after, Miami was asked to bring the Tampa office into the hunt. The Tampa FPCC had hundreds of members during this period, due to the pro-Castro workers in the nearby cigar factories. The president of the chapter during this time, VT Lee, later became Gibson’s successor as the last national FPCC head. It seems like the FBI wanted the focus to be on FPCC members in the vicinity of Cuba. Within days, the FPCC mailing lists were circulating in right-wing circles such as the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission and the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee.
Taber returns to the U.S.A, leaves the FPCC, is hounded by the red-hunters, but curiously not charged with perjury—while Gibson seeks recruitment by the CIA in exchange for money
Taber returned to the U.S. during the end of 1961. The stories were various: One was that he was “homesick”; another was that Cuban currency was not convertible into American dollars. In any case, Taber claimed that he could return “quietly”. He was subpoenaed in short order. He resigned from the FPCC in February, and spoke with the CIA and FBI on 3/19/62. On 4/10/62, he had to testify again before SISS, this time in executive session, where he was confronted with his testimony that clashed with Santos-Buch about the source of the money for the ad. Despite the committee’s fury at Taber, he was never charged with perjury. Instead, his testimony was publicly released in June 1963. Many people claim that Taber had gone over to the CIA at this point. The real question is more subtle—it isn’t whether he asked to be an informant, but whether his offer was ever accepted.
In a dramatic incident during the summer, Gibson’s problems with money finally got the best of him. On July 16, 1962, Richard Gibson wrote a letter to Thornton Hagert of Falls Church, VA, the stepbrother of Philip Reiss of the Dept. of Agriculture. Gibson writes in the letter that Reiss told him in the past that he is a former CIA employee. Gibson wants to make contact with the CIA, and suggests either the 799 Broadway office or his home. (201-306052) (also see redacted version at 105-93072-80)
On July 24, 1962, the Nationalities Intelligence Section get the OK to interview Gibson. On August 16, 1962, Gibson is interviewed by NY agents Hoeg and Day. James Day writes the report in October, after Gibson skipped the country heading for Algeria in 9/12/62—some say “just ahead of an indictment” but I’m not convinced any indictment was in the works based on these records. Gibson initially went to Canada, and there is no sign of pursuit or even concern by his departure by the intelligence agencies.
Although I don’t see anything in the file indicating a push for indictment of Gibson, Gibson’s story to Lee was that the Cuban Mission told him that indictment was imminent. From reviewing the documents, it seems like this was Gibson’s cover story.
“On September 15, 1962, NY T-1 advised that on the evening of September 14 Ted Lee (also known as VT Lee) advised that Gibson’s departure from the United States was unexpected. Lee told the source that someone from the CMUN (the Cuban Mission to the UN) had contacted Gibson and had told Gibson that things were getting hot for Gibson in the United States and that it would be necessary for Gibson to go to Canada for a short time. According to what Lee told NY T-1, the employee of the CMUN gave Gibson an envelope and instructions. Lee further stated that when Gibson got to the Cuban embassy in Ottawa, Canada, Gibson was told that he should go to Algeria with the result that Gibson left Ottawa, Canada by plane on September 13, 1962 headed for Algeria. Lee stated that Gibson told him of this when Gibson called Lee from Ottawa, Canada on the evening of September 12, 1962. Lee further advised T-1 that very few people know of the involvement of the CMUN in this matter and that NY T-1 should keep it secret.”
Gibson says he will assist the FBI for money, as he finds the FPCC no more than a translation service and the whole leftist movement “ineffective and inconsequential”. He adds that the Cubans are stupid and he hates stupidity, and that the Communists have failed to help the Negro race.
Hoeg discusses in his report that he will submit the New York office’s “recommendation for both a tactical and strategic plan to be implemented to disrupt, dissolve, or at least neutralize the FPCC as a subversive organization”.
Another report on this interview says: “We advised Attorney General (Robert F. Kennedy) re (Gibson’s) interview with New York office on 8/16/62 (redacted) wherein he wanted money to denounce FPCC and wanted U.S. to grant fugitive Robert Williams immunity from prosecution if he returned from Cuba. We told AG Gibson was untrustworthy and we were not initiating any more communication with him. Data herein will be given AG, as well as CIA and State Department, which agencies are aware of the previous interview.”
FBI reports Gibson is in Algeria, speculates that Gibson may have been picked up by the CIA as an informant, but a handwritten note by Austin Horne of the CIA says no. Chief of the Nationalities Intelligence Section Raymond Wannall told his boss domestic intelligence chief William Sullivan that Gibson is very untrustworthy and the approach has to be to accept any info he provides but not to run Gibson as an informant.
A later document confirms that neither the FBI or the CIA would accept Richard Gibson’s help at that time: “Gibson indicated that he was willing to publicly denounce the FPCC, say he was duped, that the FPCC is a tool of the Cuban government, that it is ineffective, and anyone still remaining loyal (to the FPCC) was just wasting his time, or any other tactic subsequently determined to be the most effective course of conduct. However, there was an undertone that he expected to be paid for any efforts in this regard. He stated that it was his personal opinion that it would be much more effective to use the FPCC as a cover for intelligence and counter-intelligence purposes, but when questioned for his specific thinking in this regard, he commented only that this could possibly be worked out later.” Gibson clearly had some weak moments.
The Cuban missile crisis—protesting against the end of the world
At this point, during October 1962, the world was in the full grip of the Cuban missile crisis. Even when protesting against the end of the world, FPCC activists did not get a lot of support, but the show of resistance made the powers that be even more irrational.
From Ron Ridenour’s on-line book, Our America:
“I later learned that everyone in the United States was scared to death, even my friends. There were daily air raid drills—practice drills for children and workers in air raid shelters, stacked with food and water supplies. Hoarding became a national characteristic with rushes on supermarkets. The American people were preparing for a world war; they were not acting to prevent one. A few thousand rare souls braved the government-mass-media-panic-created atmosphere to take up picket signs. There were a few demonstrations. The largest mustered about 10,000 people. They marched before the United Nations plaza with slogans: “U.S.-U.S.SR, No War Over Cuba”, and “Hands Off Cuba.” The latter, more “radical” demand was opposed by the social democratic part of the tiny minority who protested U.S. bellicosity. The American working class—the population as a whole—shunned the left-wing like pariahs. As Simone de Beauvoir wrote in Force of Circumstance, “To be genuinely left-wing in the United States takes a great deal of character and independence as well as openness of mind...(they are) lonely and courageous men and women.”
Van Gosse mentions that the FPCC-led demo in New York on October 27 drew about 2500, and the SANE-led one the next day had about 8000 participants. San Francisco FPCC led the biggest one on the West Coast, with about 3500. These were among the few actions led by FPCC that month—the organization was already much smaller and weaker than during the Bay of Pigs eighteen months earlier. On October 8, the FPCC did put together a picket line at the UN with 200 participants, where they were attacked with bottles of red paint, rotten eggs and other objects.
The FBI “expanded its Security Index, establishing a special “Cuban Section” that included not only names of suspected Cuban agents operating in the United States, but also of people who had participated in organizations or picket lines that supported Castro. Nearly twelve thousand persons were included on the main index and another twenty thousand in two reserve indexes—all of whom were targeted for arrest as “potentially dangerous” in the event of an “internal security emergency”.
Oh, yes, the Security Index is still around, under another name. After 1971, the Security Index became ADEX during the 70s. From the 80s on, it’s been known as “Main Core”. There’s been progress, of a sort—now, 8 million Americans are apparently on the round-up list.
So members of the FPCC were on the Security Index, but not Oswald. He was placed on the FBI’s watchlist (a level of slightly lesser severity, denoted by a “Wanted Notice Card”) shortly after he relinquished his passport at the U.S. embassy in Moscow. This would be lifted a month before the assassination, as shown below.
At the same time, Oswald became a subject of the CIA’s mail-reading project “HT LINGUAL”. Thus, even though no CIA file was opened on Oswald for more than a year, Angleton’s CI-SIG unit was reading his mail, ostensibly because he was a defector that might be contacted by the Soviets.
Right at the time of the final Bay of Pigs prisoner exchange, the FBI and Vicente conduct a key black-bag job at the FPCC office.
During April, 1963, Vicente reports the contents of the FPCC bank statements from Chase for the months of January through April 1963. Lee is the person who can authorize withdrawal from the bank account. The FBI agents are still trying to develop volunteer Ed Linton as a source.
During this month, Victor Vicente stated that Vincent Lee had telephonically contacted him and asked that the NYC FPCC take care of the month’s rent of the FPCC office.
Lee was on a speaking tour for the month of April, and assured his colleagues that Ed Linton would handle the office Monday-Wednesday, Lee’s wife Marjorie Speece would handle the office Thursday, and that the office would be closed on Friday. The FBI agents entered on April 21, 1963—a Sunday. Lee’s final words on the subject were that “Victor Vicente will handle anything of importance that happens during his absence.”
4/18/63 is the postmark date of the letter sent from Dallas by Oswald to the national FPCC office in New York, according to a It refers to “photographs of the below listed material made available by NY 3245-S* on 4/21/63...in the event any of this material is disseminated outside the bureau, caution should be exercised to protect the source, NY 3245-S*, and the communication should be classified “Confidential”.
The FPCC notes stating that 50 pieces of literature were forwarded to LHO on 4/19/63. Lee informed the FBI that the notation was written by him—but all the evidence is that he was out of town at the time. It was a meaningless and stupid falsehood, and he was probably covering for his ally Vicente in an absent-minded fashion.
On 4/21/63, Vicente “made available records and correspondence currently maintained at FPCC Headquarters…Approximately 100 photographs were taken of this material…NYO will make appropriate dissemination when the film is developed.”
Hoover biographers Dr. Anthan G. Theoharis and John Stuart Cox have a copy of the FBI NY office’s “Surreptitious Entries” file, maintained “informally” in the SAC’s personal folder, which says that “the FBI did break into the FPCC offices during April 1963”.
On April 21, 1963, Vicente—advised that Lee H. Oswald of Dallas, Texas, was in contact with FPCC of New York City at which time he advised that he passed out pamphlets for the FPCC.”
Under the wing of the CIA, informant Victor Vicente goes to Mexico City and meets Castro and Che
The document that tells us what was Vicente’s award for all of his hard work is a 7/10/63 memo by CIA’s Louis de Santi of the counterintelligence division of the Special Affairs Staff (SAS) which states: “(T)he FBI informant (blank) is an American-born (blank) born in NYC (blank). He has been under FBI control for nearly three years penetrating the three pro-Castro organizations in NYC: the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC); the Casa Cuba, and the Jose Marti Club. Through the first two years Subject was only a marginal asset, in the last six months he has become a valuable penetration for the FBI into the above 3 organizations as well as the (blank) having apparently won the complete confidence of the pro-Castro leaders and Cuban officials. (blank) Recently he was asked to join the CPU.S.A…subject has been instructed by his Cuban superiors to take a camera with him to take pictures of Cuba for organizational meetings in NYC.”
The LAD/JFK Task Force wrote an analysis in the 70s that DeSanti debriefed the informant upon his return to the U.S., and there is a reference that there were interviews with Castro and Che Guevara.
In The Road to Dallas, author Robert Kaiser names the document quoted above that identifies Vicente: “In July 1963, the agency infiltrated an informer from the New York chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a Puerto Rican named Victor Thomas Vicente, into Cuba, probably through Mexico City. Vicente declined to settle there, as the CIA hoped he might, but he met both Castro and Che Guevara and was debriefed after he returned.”
Upon his return to New York, Victor Vicente showed a slide show of his recent trip to Cuba on September 23 with about 100 persons in attendance. The FPCC was still soldiering on with hundreds of people attending the various New York forums, but it appeared to be reaching the end of the three year life cycle that is the natural fate of most activist-oriented organizations. Cuba was no longer in the news on a regular basis. Getting the travel ban reversed seemed hopeless in the political climate of the era. The FPCC was undergoing more and more infiltration—some of the FBI reports refer to as many as forty informants. But the intelligence agencies’ plans to make the FPCC look bad were to blow up in their face.
Throughout this period, CIA and Mafia forces were trying to assassinate Castro
Trafficante (Tampa), Marcello (Dallas) and Johnny Roselli (Chicago) had the motive to assassinate Castro, and they worked with CIA operatives like William Harvey to get it done. In the wake of the missile crisis, such an operation had to be done in secret. Officials like William Harvey of Task Force W, Deputy Director of Plans Richard Helms, and Desmond Fitzgerald of the Special Affairs Staff had not informed the CIA Director about some of their plots, which forced them to cover up after the JFK assassination. Harvey testified to the HSCA that he and Helms concealed the Castro assassination plots from the CIA director.
David Morales, the Chief of Operations at JM/WAVE, was involved in all of the numerous CIA actions against Castro in 1963. CIA documents show that Morales was at an early AMTRUNK meeting at a “safe house in Washington, D.C.”, along with “Tad Szulc, New York Times reporter”, someone from the State Department, and two other CIA agents, before the CIA and AMTRUNK apparently went their separate ways in April. One of the more spectacular efforts happened on March 13, 1963, when Morales and “Colonel” Rosselli’s team tried to assassinate Castro from a house near the University of Havana by firing a mortar...bazookas, mortars and machine guns were taken. Demond Fitzgerald handed poison to another operative to kill Castro on the very day that JFK was shot.
The Kennedy’s had their own projects for a coup or to push the Soviets from Cuba
Kennedy also met with CIA officials in May 1962 and told them not to join forces with the Mafia without personally contacting him.
As quietly as possible during 1963, the Kennedy brothers were brewing their own Cuban disruption campaign. They had a two-track strategy: A coup launched from foreign shores if necessary, or an agreement with Castro to rid the island of Soviet influence. Working with a separate wing of the CIA than those supporting the Cuban exiles, this project was known as AM/WORLD.
The leaders of this effort were Manuel Artime and Harry Ruiz-Williams, with the CIA’s Harry Hecksher as the main case officer. The plan to create this junta in exile was picked up by the Associated Press as early as May 1963. By October, JFK had approved thirteen new sabotage missions as well a project called AMTRUNK proposed by New York Times correspondent Tad Szulc to enlist Cuban military officers into the coup effort. Although many referred to Artime as the Kennedys’ “Golden Boy”, it is revealing that the CIA referred to him as AM/BIDDY-1.
Oswald joins the FPCC and meets the CIA’s David Phillips of the anti-Castro forces, who is involved in a deceptive operation designed to counter the FPCC in foreign countries
During this same period Oswald used the opportunity to build up his resume as the head of his one-man FPCC chapter in New Orleans, culminating in an arrest and widespread TV coverage in August as he picketed on behalf of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and outraged his Southern neighbors. The arrest for breach of the peace grew out of a contrived fight between Oswald and the anti-Castro DRE, after what looked like a deliberately clumsy effort by Oswald to pose as an ant-Castro activist to infiltrate the DRE. Oswald even wrote VT Lee and described the fight several days before it actually happened. The head of the DRE was David Phillips.
At the beginning of 1963, the Cuban disruption program Operation Mongoose is abolished with Harvey’s departure. Harvey’s Task Force W now becomes the Special Affairs Staff (SAS).
Throughout 1963, David Morales of the CIA’s Special Affairs Staff (SAS) was one of the coordinators of operations against Castro (including new assassination projects), and to maintain contact with Cubans and other enemies of the Kennedys.
That autumn, when CIA agent David Phillips became Chief of Cuban Operations in Mexico City, he became one of these SAS coordinators. Phillips was in effect rejoining the officers he had worked with on the Bay of Pigs in 1961, at which time he had been responsible for propaganda operations against the newly-created Fair Play for Cuba Committee. The SAS was packed with people who wanted to invade Cuba and saw JFK as an impediment.
During September, Alpha-66 Cuban exile leader Antonio Veciana met with David Phillips and Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas at the lobby of the Southland Building for fifteen minutes. Oswald was talking about “something that we can do to kill Castro.”
On 9/16/63, John Tilton of the CIA asked the FBI to help obtain FPCC stationery and any existing foreign mailing list in order to have a sample “to produce large quantities of propaganda in the name of the (FPCC)” in order to “counter” their activities in foreign countries.
Tilton also said that the CIA was considering planting “deceptive information” which might “embarrass” the FPCC in areas where it has some support. Tilton assured the FBI that no “fabrication” would take place without advance notice and agreement.
The CIA request was directed to the “Nationalities Intelligence Section” —to chief Raymond Wannall. Its analogue in New York was Harold Hoeg’s Squad 312. “The reply to CIA should be delivered via Liaison.”
On 9/26/63, a memo then went out to SAC NY from LL Anderson on behalf of Director Hoover. “New York should promptly advise whether the material requested by CIA is available or obtainable. If available, it should be furnished by cover letter with enclosures suitable for dissemination to CIA by liaison.”
This is right when Lee Harvey Oswald left for Mexico City for a week, and repeatedly visited the Soviet and Cuban embassies in an unsuccessful quest for a visa to get to Cuba. Wasn’t this the foreign FPCC activity the CIA was gearing up to counter? Transcripts of calls that were supposedly made by Oswald to the Cuban embassy reveal conversations so contrived that it is obvious that an imposter was making these calls. Photographs and a tape recording made available to members of the Warren Commission showed that someone impersonated Oswald in Mexico City. Even Hoover said it to LBJ the morning after the assassination.
The 10/4/63 response from SAC NY James Kennedy reiterated his understanding that “CIA desires information regarding the availability of samples of FPCC stationery and FPCC mailing lists in connection with their consideration of plans to counter the activities of FPCC in foreign countries. The NYO plans to contact 3245-S* (Vicente) on 10/27/63.”
The attached blind memo is a COINTELPRO letter suggesting that VT Lee should be asked “how many dupes are still contributing to Castro’s propaganda arm here in the U.S.…his fervor for Castro’s cause is directly related to the amount of funds being received.”
Angelton’s aide Jane Roman stated that the man who “takes over Cuban operations in WH/3/Mexico on the 8th of October 1963 is named David Phillips.” The PR man who was key in bringing down the Guatemalan government now has a second chance at getting Cuba right.
The next day after Phillips takes over Cuban operations in Mexico, October 9, FBI supervisor Marvin Gheesling canceled a FLASH notice on Oswald that had kept him on the aforementioned Watchlist among all FBI offices. As mentioned earlier, Oswald was placed on this Watchlist due to his defection to the U.S.SR in 1959 and his statements to the U.S. embassy that he was going to provide military secrets to the Soviet Union.
When Gheesling canceled the FLASH just hours before the twin October 10 cables were sent by the CIA containing critical information about Oswald, he “turned off the alarm switch on Oswald literally an instant before it would have gone off”. Gheesling’s explanation for why he released the “stop” on 10/9/63 is contained in a memo to FBI #2 man Clyde Tolson from Inspector Gale: The “stop was placed in event subject returned from Russia under an assumed name and was inadvertently not removed by him on 9/7/62 when case closed.”
James W. Douglass, a Catholic theologian who has pondered this question, suggests that Gheesling may have been misled by Tilton’s memo “into thinking Oswald was only working under cover in Mexico to counter the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. As a CIA operative, Oswald did not belong on the Security Index. Thus, his security watch was lifted. His staged Soviet connection could then be documented for scapegoating purposes after Dallas, but without sounding a national security alarm that would have put a spotlight on Oswald and prevented Dallas from happening.”
The next day, the CIA sent two totally conflicting documents. One was a teletype to the FBI, State Department and the Navy about Oswald contacting the Soviet embassy in Mexico City, inaccurately describing him as “approximately 35 years old, with an athletic build, about six feet tall, with receding hairline...believed that Oswald was identical to Lee Henry Oswald”, a seeming error made by the CIA in their initial filing of 1960 when the CIA finally (and mysteriously) opened a file on Oswald a year after his defection and his threat to reveal military secrets to the Soviets.
The other document was a cable sent two hours later to the station in Mexico: “Oswald is five feet ten inches, one hundred sixty five pounds, light brown wavy hair, (and) blue eyes.” This description came from his mother to the FBI’s John Fain years earlier, which then ricocheted back and forth between INS, the FBI and CIA for years after that, although Oswald’s weight only varied between 130-150 and was 150 at the time of his death. The description sent to the FBI, the State Department, and the Navy is a deliberate lie.
The wording of this cable was repeated to the Dallas police officers almost verbatim in a mysterious call-in to the dispatcher fifteen minutes after Kennedy was shot: “white, slender, weighing about one hundred sixty five pounds, about five feet ten inches tall, and in his early thirties.” Despite repeated attempts to find out the source, even J. Edgar Hoover had to admit that the information came from “an unidentified citizen”.
Both of these messages were drafted by Mexico City desk officer Charlotte Bustos, while a key role in checking for accuracy was played by Ann Egerter of Angleton’s CI/SIG mole-hunting unit (the woman who opened the 201 file on “Lee Henry Oswald”) This may have been as part of a larger strategy to confuse the FBI, with the goal to withhold information about its anti-Cuban operations in Mexico City. Egerter admits that she thought Oswald “was up to something bad” and that she knew he had spoken with a KGB agent at the Mexican embassy.
Vicente comes through for the CIA on October 27
Right on October 27, as predicted in the NY FBI memo earlier that month, Vicente came through. He provided the Agency with the FPCC stationery they sought, as well as a ten-page mailing list. He also provided them with “one hundred photos of the financial records and general activities”, which included a recent letter from Oswald.
In any case, Vicente brought home the bacon. Special Agent James Kennedy wrote that he was “...advised that CIA was interested in obtaining samples of FPCC stationery and also the existing foreign mailing list of FPCC. On 10/27/63, NY-3245-S* furnished the above material to agents of the NYO...3245-S* is a highly confidential source, the unauthorized disclosure of which could be prejudicial to national defense interests.”
After the assassination, Taber, wracked with guilt, appears to have gone over to the other side
“At approximately 9:45 pm on the night of 11/22/63, ROBERT TABER telephonically contacted the NYO at which time it was immediately evident TABER had been drinking heavily He at first asked to speak with SAS JAMES A DAY and LUNDQUIST, who had previously interviewed him in Boston and NY, and then spoke to HAROLD HOEG. He was regretful, saying he wished he had never heard of the “damned outfit” the FPCC. Told him they wanted him to cure his perjury about the Cuban funding, he said he wanted to but didn’t want to go back to jail, he’s “got four years under his belt” (note: to the SISS, he told them he did eight years) FBI told him it was the best way to avoid prosecution. Taber called HOEG again on 12/5, and had a similar conversation.
The CIA and the Assistant AG Yeagley discussed plans to have a grand jury sit on 1/15/64 and prosecute Taber for perjury about Cuba’s Raul Roa being the source of FPCC’s original 1960 start-up ad, as well as failure for FPCC to register, based on his statements to Lundquist on 11/22 while intoxicated.
But, instead, FBI founder Robert Taber is interviewed by Lundquist and O’Flaherty, and offers to provide info to the CIA, and even called back Lundquist on information about another case—almost certainly the report about seeing “Lt. Harvey Oswald” in Cuba after the Bay of Pigs invasion. Taber admitted that he checked out of hospital on crutches in third week of April 1961 and went to Sloppy Joe’s tavern in Havana, but denied knowing anything about Lt. Lee Oswald or anyone named Oswald.
Taber affirms that he’s willing to assist the U.S. government. A situation can be created to make it look like he’s fleeing to Cuba to avoid prosecution. When Taber was interviewed by CIA, the agency initially said it was very interested in Taber’s offer. It is to be noted that both newspaper articles in the accompanying letterhead memo feature the possible prosecution of Taber, Gibson, and Lee.
Like with Gibson, the CIA apparently got cold feet. On March 2, 1964, Henry Real said that CIA plans to use Taber are “indefinite”. During March 1964, Robert Taber applied for employment with the CIA. The CIA’s Office of Security rejected him because “In view of Subject’s notorious background, which raises serious questions on his honesty, loyalty, integrity and (deleted) trustworthiness, (deleted). Leo J. Dunn.” Wannall grumbled to Sullivan a couple of months later that they should empanel a grand jury against Taber if he goes to Cuba as he has discussed.
During 1965, Taber released his classic work on guerilla insurgency, War of the Flea. Ominously, this book was reprinted in 2002 by Potomac Press, with a new foreword by Bard E. O’Neill, a military counterintelligence author. The book is now a standard reference for the U.S. military on counterinsurgencies.
In 1966, it appears that the plan Taber discussed with the CIA may have ripened into fruition. The CIA reported that Robert Taber asked for and received political asylum in Cuba. Allegedly, he was facing prison due to perjury before the Internal Security Committee.
Taber, like Gibson, clearly had some weak moments.
Virtually all the FBI agents named here were among the 18 punished by Hoover, and then chosen to lead the investigation into the assassination
18 FBI agents were punished by Hoover for their pre-assassination work. Lundquist and Hoeg of New York were two of them. At an HSCA hearing Gale stated, “Tolson called me on two of the agents in New York they (the Warren Commission or the FBI) found had, they felt, were derelict in the way they had reported the matter, and he asked me if we had found those...and I told him that, yes, we had found those.”
Hoover believed that Oswald’s background as a Soviet defector (and marrying the daughter of a Soviet intelligence officer) triggered espionage concerns; and his FPCC activism triggered security concerns. The FBI files available to Hoover also revealed that Oswald had initially threatened to provide U.S. military secrets to the Soviets in exchange for citizenship and that he was presently a self-declared Marxist. For these reasons, Hoover felt that Oswald should have been on the Security Index, and certainly should not have been removed from the Watchlist.
The others punished included Gheesling for removing the FLASH, Elbert Turner for not taking action on the CIA memo received the day after Gheesling removed the FLASH, and Hosty, Kaack, and Lambert L. Anderson for not following up more aggressively. Fain would have been punished, but he retired in 1962. Nevertheless, the same men proceeded to lead the post-assassination investigation as well.
As soon as the investigation was over, the FBI knew what it had to do to protect its role in history. The Director’s office told New York that since Warren Commission had issued its report, “you are now authorized to mail an updated copy of the letter previously submitted. Include a number of spelling and typographical errors in the letter and use commercially purchased stationery. Use every possible precaution to ensure that the letter cannot be traced to the FBI”. Originally submitted for approval three months earlier was a hit-piece on the “left-wing background and moral degeneration of Mark Lane”.
The FPCC legacy remains a powerful one
The FPCC provides a legacy of resistance. It was an antiwar organization and a solidarity organization, much like CISPES (Committee in Support of People of El Salvador). Berta Green, to this day, continues to organize against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is still a force in present day America—when co-founder Alan Sagner was nominated as head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Senator John McCain red-baited him about his history with the FPCC. (Sagner said good things about the founding of the FPCC, and then weaseled out with, “Within a year of two after the group was organized...I perceived that people were getting involved whose purpose and mission was different than mine.”)
Fair Play stood in solidarity with Cubans, and also with African Americans. Cubans helped build it, and part of the reason for the FPCC’s decline is that so many of them went back to Cuba. Some people fell or lost faith in the struggle; some were strengthened; and some we won’t be sure about until all the files are opened.
The work of the FPCC and its allies made any successful invasion of Cuba impossible. They blew the whistle on the Bay of Pigs loudly and clearly for months before the invasion. They mounted resistance to the war plans of U.S. military and intelligence advisors in the Bay of Pigs aftermath. The agencies retaliated by infiltrating the FPCC and demonizing its leadership. When JFK was allegedly killed by the FPCC activist Lee Harvey Oswald, the agencies had to hide their war plans from the Warren Commission in order to avoid punishment for public exposure of their illegal plans to assassinate Castro, violate the Neutrality Act by creating shadow armies and navies, and engage in dirty tricks on American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. The Kennedys’ AMTRUNK operation never regained its momentum and slowly petered out to a close by 1966.
LBJ was petrified that any Cuban connection with Oswald could result in World War III. That’s how he persuaded Warren to chair the Warren Commission. LBJ didn’t know, and didn’t want to know, any details about the assassination. The net result was to greatly ease the heat on Cuba.
Many of these activists are still alive and with their shoulders bent in defense of Cuba, such as Saul Landau. Lawrence Ferlinghetti still operates the City Lights Book store in North Beach and continues to inspire at the age of 90. Many others are unknown to anyone but their loved ones. After the hard stories about that era, it heartened me to know that Rosa Parks came to Robert F. Williams’ funeral in 1996 (he made it back to the U.S.A in 1969, where all charges were ultimately dropped), and gave thanks that a warrior that faced so many dangers in the defense of the people was able to return home with his family and live a long and happy life. Think about what didn’t happen to Fidel.
your coffin passes by
thru lanes and streets you never knew
thru day and night, Fidel
While lilacs last in the dooryard bloom, Fidel
your futile trip is done
yet is not done
and is not futile
I give you my sprig of laurel.”
Bill Simpich is an antiwar activist in the San Francisco Bay Area. The endnotes, with weblinks to the documents, are available with an email to email@example.com. To see other historical documents from the sixties and seventies involving U.S. intelligence and military plans, maryferrell.org is a great resource.
—Counterpunch, July 24-26, 2009