‘As the global reach of industry and finance grew during the postwar era, so did the national security complex. America’s vast system of military and covert power was aimed at not just checking the Soviet threat but at protecting U.S. corporate interests abroad. Behind the rapid international growth of multinational giants….lay a global network of military bases, spy stations and alliances with despotic regimes. The twin exigencies of the Cold War and U.S. empire gave the national security state free rein to operate. The CIA were empowered not only to engage in deadly ‘spy v spy’ antics against the KGB that became the stuff of Cold War legend but to subvert democratic governments that were deemed insufficiently pro-American and to terminate these governments’ elected leaders. Dedicated to the dark necessities of expanding American power this security complex began to take on a life of its own, untethered from the checks and balances of democracy.’
Extract from: The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, by David Talbot.
‘And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ John VIII-XXXII – Inscription etched into the foyer wall of the original CIA building, presumably a mission statement of sorts.
To all those CIA officers who died in the line of duty believing in the righteousness of the cause, and for whom the truth arrived too late to set them free.
Brief: For Americans inclined to reflect on such matters, it must be disturbing in the least that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)—ostensibly established to protect and preserve their country’s national security—has done more than any other entity to compromise that security, and devalue the international good-will and moral capital that America enjoyed at the end of World War Two. The CIA must not only shoulder the lion’s share of the blame for the position in which the U.S. finds itself within the geopolitical order; with little sign the agency has learned any lessons from its nefarious past, it appears self-evident for all but its most ardent apologists, the ‘Company’ can no longer be trusted—or for that matter, lay claim—to act in the national interest or in the interests of global stability, peace and security.
In paraphrasing TS Eliot’s Gerontion (see Part One), as Capitalism’s Invisible Army–whose core business is serving the Corporate Interests of America–we might argue [that] the degree of success the CIA have enjoyed ‘protract[ing] the profit of their chilled delirium’ for their ultimate overlords and masters should be best viewed then evaluated via the prism of the cost they’ve exacted from the rest of humanity in the process.
In this the final instalment of the series, we again continue to explore some of the reasons why.
— A Whole Mess o’ ‘Whuppass’ (Down the Mountain!) —
As we have noted herein and with the previous episode, the stories of CIA uninvited and unwelcome interference in the political affairs of foreign countries are legion of course, and Cuba, Guatemala and Iran are prime, but by no means the only examples. Yet throughout the years the Cuban revolution (of which more later) was taking place on America’s doorstep, another was brewing on the other side of the Big Blue Ball, one which in its own way was equally portentous. Certainly measured in terms of sustained blowback, it was significant.
This time it was in the geographical heart of deepest, darkest Africa, specifically the Belgian Congo (aka BC; now the Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC] by way of Zaire).
In 1960 an independence movement started gaining momentum, and between then and 1965 the CIA was intimately involved in an ongoing effort to influence the outcome of events. As we will see said “outcome” was very ugly indeed, and the blowback considerable; and like Guatemala, Iran and Cuba, said blowback had a very long shelf-life.
Although not as ‘celebrated’ in the annals of CIA skullduggery as possibly the earlier interventions, the DRC is nonetheless of considerable significance for a variety of reasons, some of which we will explore shortly. As always, some history here is necessary first.
The BC was a colonial outpost of Belgium from the latter part of the 19th century, initially under the infamously despotic, truly genocidal King Leopold II (aka The Butcher of Congo), who pillaged, raped, looted, mutilated, tortured, murdered, enslaved, plundered and burned his way through the African country throughout his reign until 1908.
A particularly low piece of work was His Royal Highness ‘Low Leo’. Arguably the worst advertisement for colonialism, imperialism and monarchism, it is generally accepted he presided over the deaths of upwards of 10 million Congolese people (‘give’ rather than ‘take’ a few ‘mill’ by most accounts). In the mass murder and genocide popularity stakes, this places him definitely in the same room as Adolph H, The Man of Steel, and The Chairman, albeit without the same kind of household name brand recognition.
The BC held vast amounts of relatively untapped high-value, strategic mineral and resource wealth (e.g. gold, copper, cobalt, uranium), and of course this attracted the attention of the US and its biggest corporate entities, always on the lookout for ways and means to exploit third world countries. This was especially at the height of the Cold War, when the war was as much about economics, energy and other high value and/or strategic resources as it was about political philosophy and ideology.
(Interestingly, the BC, a major exporter of uranium during the Second World War, supplied the ‘juice’ the Americans used in the atom bombs dropped in Japan, not the last time a uranium-producing African nation would figure large in a game changing foreign policy decision taken by the Americans!)
During the 1950s, there was widespread nationalism fermenting in the country. There were years of unrest, political bickering and nit-picking between ethnic and tribal groups and other political forces, over who the main muchachos would be in any new independent government, and/or most importantly, who would get the main spoils, and/or of course would get to keep them.
As we witness frequently in the CIA narrative, this scenario is a familiar one and one that is repeated monotonously with varying degrees of tragic consequence in most emerging, independent African nations throughout subsequent years.
In 1960 the country eventually achieved its full independence from Belgium, and Patrice Lumumba became the popularly elected Prime Minister. For his part Lumumba let it be known that he was not a very happy camper at the way his people had been treated over the years and at how his country had been ruthlessly exploited by the Belgians. This excerpt from his speech given at the ceremony of the proclamations of the Congo’s Independence gives us only an inkling of the privations of the Congolese people under Belgian rule:
‘We have seen our lands seized in the name of ostensibly just laws, which gave recognition only to the right of might. We have not forgotten that the law was never the same for the white and the black, that it was lenient to the ones, and cruel and inhuman to the others. We have experienced the atrocious sufferings, being persecuted for political convictions and religious beliefs, and exiled from our native land: our lot was worse than death itself. We have not forgotten that in the cities the mansions were for the whites and the tumbledown huts for the blacks; that a black was not admitted to the cinemas, restaurants and shops set aside for “Europeans”; that a black travelled in the holds, under the feet of the whites in their luxury cabins. Who will ever forget the shootings which killed so many of our brothers, or the cells into which were mercilessly thrown those who no longer wished to submit to the regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation used by the colonialists as a tool of their domination? All that, my brothers, brought us untold suffering….’
Little did he realise that his people and his country were about to be exploited even more so for another four decades, by one of his own, who himself—courtesy of the CIA—would rise to power and then go on to enjoy the full support of the world’s beacon of liberty, democracy and freedom, and purported champion of self-determination and national independence.
After observing—indeed, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary 0f Lumumba’s murder—that with the onset of the Cold War, it was inevitable the US and its allies would be unprepared to let newly nationalised African countries assume effective control over strategic raw materials, lest these fall in the hands of [the Soviets], Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, author of The Congo from Leopold to Kabila: A People’s History, noted,
‘It is in this regard that Patrice Lumumba’s determination to achieve genuine independence and to have full control over Congo’s resources in order to utilise them to improve the living conditions of [his] people was perceived as a threat to western interests. To fight him, the US and Belgium used all the tools and resources at their disposal, to buy the support of Lumumba’s Congolese rivals, and hired killers.’
Like Arbenz in Guatemala in ’54, and Mossadegh in Iran in ’53, he was said to be leaning towards Moscow with the possibility that the country could be taken over by communists, or fall into the Soviet/Eastern bloc orbit. Or at least that was the perception around the Beltway.
All of which is to say, this was a recurring motif in the CIA’s MO under Allen Dulles—when it came to him engaging the full might and force of empire against undesirable regimes and/or their leaders, the only “tools and resources” required were to declare undesirable leaders “Communists” or “Communist sympathisers” or “Soviet lackeys”. All of sudden you had by the ‘short ‘n curlies’ all the key decision takers and geopolitical tastemakers in and around the Potomac from the White House, the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom, right up to the steps of the Capitol chomping at the bit to send in the Marines.
But in the post-Dulles era, notwithstanding Grenada 1983 and Panama 1989, the days of sending in the American military’s finest were largely over. There were/are better ways to further the goals of empire.
(Dulles later admitted he and his cohort may have overstated the risk of Lumumba cozying up the Soviets. But by then the damage had been done.)
As expected Dulles cry of wolf in relation to Lumumba and the DRC’s future geopolitical leanings understandably set a cat amongst the hawks in Langley and Washington, where surprisingly, it was revealed later on some members of the then Eisenhower administration had ‘interests’ in the mineral wealth of the country. It also scared the local anti-communist, right-wing elements in the country including in the Army, especially the top brass who wore asbestos ‘Grundies’ under their fatigues, were highly tuned to the geopolitical and economic imperatives in relation to their country’s strategic global significance, and who would clearly benefit from a takeover of government.
Oh, and did I say they were pro-American, not pro-democracy, just pro-American?
This was of course music to the CIA’s ears. PLU’s—not Peace, Love and Understanding here mind you—we’re talking here about “People Like Us!” And the CIA was only too eager to assist.
If the communist elements took over—or even if Lumumba’s government charted a more neutral course of non-alignment—there was no doubt this would threaten the political fortunes and personal and financial interests of those making foreign policy in the US (shades of things to come) and presumably their fellow travellers in US and Congolese mining and resource companies and other vested local and international interests.
Accordingly, the go-to guys at the CIA went to work. This was their raison d’être.
Upon his elevation to leader, the Company immediately funded a campaign/plot to relieve Lumumba from the burdens of his newly acquired power, and of course replace him with a more user-friendly leader. Once again, an in-depth ‘blow-by-blow’ is not required here, but some detail is useful here in further underscoring for those requiring it at this point—the CIA’s motives, machinations and modus operandi in ‘regime redux’ in the newly independent nation. Although it wasn’t clear from the outset who the CIA did want in power it didn’t matter. They knew they didn’t want Lumumba!
And in these scenarios, what the CIA wants is the only game in town.
— Dark Days in the Dark Continent —
Beginning with a program of destabilization that included bribing Congolese politicians and fomenting resentment and suspicion amongst Lumumba’s political opponents, the CIA spooks brought in its “own animals” to support the coup, which included a motley collection of international mercenaries and soldiers of misfortune, Americans, Cuban-exile ‘refugees’ of the Bay of Pigs debacle (themselves presumably motivated by a desire to get some much-needed practice in the successful overthrow of legitimate governments and redeem their professional reputations in that regard), with some Rhodesians (soon to be rechristened Zimbabweans) and South Africans thrown in for good measure.
This intervention caused considerable unrest and further political instability, such that the President of the Congo sacked Lumumba almost before he got a chance to get comfortable in the big chair, who in a farcical twist, tried in turn to sack the President. However, this was not good enough for the Langley boys, who were, as always, notoriously demanding.
After getting the nod from Eisenhower, Allen Dulles issued the CIA’s equivalent of a contract on Lumumba’s life. Having Lumumba still running around was not an option. (It is instructive to note there has always been considerable speculation as to whether Ike directly sanctioned the Lumumba hit, but Talbot states categorically that indeed Number 34 did in fact give the go-ahead.)
Eventually, Congolese army General Mobutu detained Lumumba. Mobutu then handed him over to his arch political rival Moishe Tshombe, between whom very little love was lost. Although it is not known if the CIA played a direct role in his killing, it didn’t matter. (For that matter, the Belgians and MI6 have themselves long been considered in concert with the Company as keep players in his demise.)
Despite Lumumba’s assassination in mid-January 1961, between 1960 and 1965, there was coup after rebellion after counter-coup and a semi-permanent, wholly uncivil, civil war. Most of the various power seeking participants in this war were too busy covering their own asses for anyone to gain the upper hand for a few years, but the CIA were not too far away from the action.
Eventually Tshombe sort of assumed control of the country, but even his shelf-life was also short. unbeknown to him he was only keeping the seat warm for Mobutu. In 1965, Mobutu gained the upper hand and overthrew Tshombe and his cronies, changed his own name to Mobutu Sese Seko, and, for better or worse (almost exclusively the latter) became the new ruler.
Now whether Mobutu had been planning this all along or saw his chance and grabbed it or just got lucky is uncertain. Either way, the CIA breathed a sigh of relief as it had decided in the meantime Mobutu was their man, or maybe he really had been all along. He didn’t let them down. That he let a lot of others down though doesn’t even begin to tell the story.
Whilst he initially dragged the chain on demonstrating his despotic disposition and tyrannical tendencies, when he did get going he was unstoppable and quickly made up for any lost ground. To grease the wheels of power and keep them spinning in his favour, he bribed many of his potential challengers and rivals thereby giving new meaning to Sun Tzu‘s adage of ‘keep(ing) [your] friends close, and [your] enemies closer’.
For those political opponents who were less compliant or corruptible, Mobutu simply presided over their public executions in front of Coliseum-sized crowds, or in simple, crude, tried ‘n true tyrant style had them and their families tortured and/or murdered then disposed of on the QT. And then he really dug in his heels. By the end of the decade he was the unchallenged master of the Congo universe, and yet slowly but surely turned his country into an economic, environmental, social, political and human rights basket case, another black hole in the African universe!
Over time the country morphed into a ‘klepto-brutocracy’ of the first order. Mobutu had his personal fleet of Mercedes limos, frequent shopping trips to Paris, London and Milan on the Concorde (he even had a special airfield built for the plane) with his entourage of several wives and concubines, dozens of palaces, and an estimated $5bn dollars stashed in his own personal Swiss bank accounts at any given time all of which one can only presume he was keeping for a rainy day in case the road ahead got a little too bumpy. He went on to become one of Africa’s most enduring albeit not quite so endearing despots.
Although the ride did eventually get a little bumpy for Mobutu, any karma due him took its time in arriving and he caused a lot of people a lot of grief over a very long period of time and an equally broad expanse of geography in the interim.
The post-colonial world was never going to be a pretty sight anywhere it could be found on the planet, and this is one country where that observation really hits home, in a continent full of similar basket cases and less than pretty sights.
For over the three decades Mobutu ruled the country (renamed Zaire in the meantime), the living conditions of most of his people deteriorated rapidly and dramatically, and they were the lucky ones that survived the eternal existential inferno he brought to life with merciless gusto.
In 1994 it all started to go pear shaped for the now pear shaped despot. Tribal connections in Africa are deep and very complex, and are rarely respective of national borders or sovereign boundaries, most of which have been redrawn dramatically and frequently in the past 100 odd years (mainly since the white man showed up to collect the rent).
Since the 1972 genocides and even further back than that, there have always been ethnic tensions (‘diplo-speak’ for different tribes itching to slaughter each other en masse). When two tribal leaders had their planes blown out of the ‘clear blue’ by rockets fired by hostiles unknown (Mobutu being a prime suspect of course), it sparked a mutual “my tribe is ethnically cleaner than your tribe, or soon will be if we’ve got anything to do with it” resentment around the region, a massacre cum genocide just waiting to happen.
Further opposition to Mobutu’s corrupt rule from inside and outside the country erupted into regional (trans-border) war and eventually triggered the decade long genocide that took place between the Hutu—many based in neighbouring Rwanda and Burundi—and Tutsi tribes, located in something of a diaspora in all three countries. No-one really knows how many were killed, although few argue that the Hutus had the lowest body count, at least this time around.
That the CIA originally chalked up the coup in Zaire as a victory, and saw the rise of Mobutu as beneficial to the region was clear. A “victory” for what and “beneficial” to whom though are questions that many are still asking even to this day. It is uncertain though whether the Langley boys are asking the same questions after all these years.
Chances are that the current CIA spooks who are still engaging in regime change to achieve their ends—however they might be defined—would not be even able to identify where Zaire/DRC is on the map, let alone have any collective recollection of the role their predecessors had in the history of the ravaged, impoverished, at once bled dry and blood soaked country.
Or in the region. Or on the whole continent. Or of any of the other mentioned in this narrative and in later chapters.
Time will tell of course. The CIA story is far from over even here. “And you will know us by the trail of dead” indeed…?! If readers can come up with a better positioning statement, then I’m all ears….
— Intermission —
The Top 4 Most Mind-Blowing CIA Operations You’ve Never Heard Of
by Abby Martin, Big Brother Watch, RT
Abby Martin goes over a few — the operative word here — of the most outrageous CIA ops around the world, such as its efforts to destabilize Latin America through coups, assassinations and even an attempted character assassination through a CIA produced porno film.
— And Now for Something Completely Cuban —
As we’ve already seen earlier, some might argue the CIA fancied themselves more the teachers, not so much the learners! The actual assignation “Bay of Pigs” could be a byword for disaster, code for how not to conduct foreign policy. “Let’s not do a Bay of Pigs here” as a potentially useful, generic planning response in any situation requiring urgent attention to detail in risk management in order to avoid pear-shaped outcomes. If it isn’t, it should be!
And here’s the best bit. For decades after, the CIA spent more time, money, effort, ingenuity and energy in trying to ‘off’ Fidel than they have in trying to ‘off’ all of the other heads of state together that they’ve ever had in their sights for over 60 years, and in the most outlandish and inventive of Spy v Spy traditions.
They have come up with things such as placing small exploding devices in his ‘fave’ Cuban cheroots, to giving him LSD in public so he would flip out and lose face, to administering exotic bacteria, viruses or toxic poisons by a multitude of means and methods, and they even tried assassinating him using, wait for it, non-discernible microbionoculators (lethal darts, avec undetectable poison, fired from a purpose-built high-powered gun) to all manner of other well documented and bizarre plots such as administering chemicals to make The Bolshie Beardmeister’s facial furniture fall out, said “furniture” apparently considered to be ‘sacred’ in a Cuban kind of way.
That they tried so hard for so long is the main game here. It’s Maxwell Smart with a large dose of Spy v Spy again of course. The fact that Castro’s still alive (well sort of) having seen off 10 US presidents and hundreds of attempts to cut his water off is a remarkable feat unto itself. And only adds immeasurably to the absurdity of the whole Cuban Thing. And the current rapprochement with Cuba makes the whole exercise even more surreal. It begs many questions of course, not least of which is why it took Uncle Sam so long to kiss and make up with ‘Fiddie’ and Raul.
Viva le Revolucion infuckingdeed!
As for CIA Director Allen Dulles, surely his crowning achievement has to be the ill-fated fiasco that was the Bay of Pigs (BOP). The BOP foray was one of the most defining events of the Cold War, one of the CIA’s (and Dulles’s) biggest cock-ups, and with the possible exception of his assassination in Dallas Texas in November 1963, and the Cuban Missile Crisis (CMC), the most defining event of the short, but memorable presidency of the young JFK.
As well, this was the CIA’s and Dulles’s ‘And now for something completely different!’ moment. Indeed, if it wasn’t so serious and real, the BOP was the coup plan that might have been cooked up by Monty Python with Dad’s Army ‘singing back-up’, such were the defining characteristics of its planning, operation and eventual outcome. Few CIA misadventures resulted in more immediate and vociferous response from the American public and abroad. Even fewer ended in such obvious and immediately recognized ignominy. And if JFK had been enjoying the ride in the presidential limousine up until that point, it became extremely bumpy with the Cuban ‘situation’.
In short, when gave the nod for the out-of-school excursion that was the BOP, Kennedy bought hisself an’ his country a full bucket and a half o’ ‘whoopass’ down the mountain as it were.
In the wake of its highly publicized failure (a textbook case study in ‘blowback’), Kennedy forced Dulles and a few of his spook buddies to hang up their trilbies and trench coats. The commander in chief had had his fill of the spy v spy shenanigans Dulles and his cohort were engaging in. For his part, JFK was so rattled by the BOP experience, he threatened to ‘splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the four winds’. Them’s was fightin’ words to be sure, but Kennedy and his ever loyal grand vizier bro’ Bobby were nothing if not pragmatists. Whilst the reputation of the CIA was sullied in the wake of the BOP, it was nonetheless an American institution that was still associated with fighting the dreaded red menace. It remained intact and eventually lived to plot another day.
In the end Kennedy, after Dulles’s departure, refused to ‘chop up’ The Company as threatened, instead doing his best to abide by Harry S Truman’s dictum and take the ‘buck stops here’ rap for the disaster, which may or may not have provided any discouragement for future CIA covert actions.
It was in hindsight at least clear to JFK that with respect to the BOP gamble, he had a lot of presidential skin in this game. Arguably the biggest blunder in the history of regime transition management. Yet ironically as we will see later it was Cuba that delivered JFK arguably his most defining and accomplished achievement as president, and restore to some degree his BOP-burnt reputation. The Cuban Missile Crisis (CMC) would also test his mettle as Commander-in-Chief like no president had been before him and possibly none since.
Some background of course is essential to understanding how it all came together—a phrase not entirely appropriate here because as indicated, it all came spectacularly unstuck. Whilst a detailed ‘blow by blow’ is not necessary for the purposes of this exercise, it’s still anything but a short story. The plot was hatched during the Eisenhower administration under Dulles’s direction, and it involved utilizing the expertise of Cuban exiles/expatriates who were mightily miffed at the new Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who had torn up their meal ticket and flushed it down the crapper.
Castro had engineered a popular revolution in 1959 after years of oppressive and corrupt rule by the dictator Eugenico (Juan) Batista, whose regime was very pro-American, pro-capitalist and not very pro-democracy. In fact, it was a very vicious, brutal regime and revolution had been brewing for years. The Cuban exiles hated Castro even more than the Americans hated him at the time, and were eager to get in bed with anyone who would help restore democracy and freedom and their former glory by offing The Beard.
As for Batista, he had earned his rightful place in the (Client) Dictators Hall of Fame, and then some. For his part he and his cronies and the Cuban elites of the time were enthusiastic supporters of American business interests in Cuba, and in particular, the Mob, who essentially owned and ran the island country. They were all making a motza from prostitution, gambling, hospitality and tourism essentially, whilst the general Cuban populace was so far below the poverty line they might as well have been living in the Neolithic Age.
To say the ‘general Cuban populace’ were not happy campers does not even begin to describe the political, economic and social climate at the time. To say the aforementioned Cuban elites turfed out by Castro were not happy campers either is probably stating the obvious. As we will see, these guys continued to massage their ‘hard-ons’ for Fidel for years to come.
Eventually the chickens came home to roost for Batista as it does for most of the client dictators. Like the Shah of Iran and Mobutu Sese Soko in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—to name just a few—the Americans left their hapless ‘client’ up that brown creek without a paddle when it became obvious just how restless the natives were and how little the US could do about it.
But presumably in order to avoid having his ass tarred and feathered by his ungrateful subjects and run out-of-town without so much as a ‘by your leave’, Batista quit his day-time job before it quit him, rode off into the political sunset (like The Lone Ranger he did not wait around for the townsfolk to express their gratitude and say ‘adios amigo’), and consoled himself by filling his burros’ saddle-bags with ‘gringo-green’ and an equally large swag of other looted booty (fine art and antiques), most of which belonged to the Cuban people, and which we can only assume kept him and his brood more or less comfortable in his forced retirement. Better ‘fled’ and ‘fed’, than ‘dead’ and/or ‘red’ one supposes. We’ve heard this story before, and we would all hear it time and again.
Fidel Castro, his brother Raul (another famous political sibling double act), and the budding revolutionary and aspiring counter-cultural poster-boy Chè Guevara (of whom more later), assumed control of the country, eventually kicked out the Americans along with the Mafia, and took over most of the industries and businesses from which they were making “squillions” whilst in the process bleeding the country dry. For the Mob in particular the Golden Goose was cooked. This was a majorly bad development for them, one that would have repercussions for decades to come not just for the organization as a whole, but for everyone, and would eventually lead to the BOP invasion.
— Close, but no Cigar! —
The ironic thing here is that the Americans did have plenty of chances to bring Castro inside the Western tent from the off before the Soviets did. Despite the fact that he had expropriated the property of US corporations (including it has to be said, that of the ubiquitous United Fruit Company, of Guatemalan coup fame), he vehemently denied being a communist.
Nor were there any signs he intended to bunk down with the Soviets. On a visit to America in April that year, Ike refused to even press the flesh with The Beard, despite the fact the US had formally recognised his new government. Big mistake it seemed. The American’s response might as well have been: ‘If we can’t own, pillage and exploit your country and bleed it dry, we don’t want to know about you. Adios Amigo!’ No fries with that then? Apparently not.
Whether Fidel might’ve got into bed with the Soviets or whether he would have responded positively to any American overtures is now somewhat academic. But the truth is that no-one will ever know. Another what-if moment then in the grand American narrative? One thing we do know was that when the Americans ‘passed’ on Cuba, the Soviets didn’t miss a beat and were ‘in like Errol’!
Described by at least one former CIA agent as the ‘perfect failure’, the BOP invasion was a monumental tragedy of mistakes, errors, ‘mission myopia’ and cock-ups. The invasion plan was so ill-conceived that even the normally gung-ho Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCOS, the top military brass) wouldn’t touch it. It was a no-brainer for them apparently, which in and of itself, should have given the more considered decision makers pause for serious concern about not only the operational risks, but the political ones as well.
In fact, just twelve months later though the Chief Flyboy of the US Airforce Curtis Le May and his colleagues on the JCOS began foaming at the mouth and wanted to blow the Soviets and the Cubans back into the aforementioned Neolithic (which as we have noted that after years of Batista’s rule, from a socio-economic point of view is a place they already occupied in any event), and take us all on a trip back in time with them in tow just as many of us were getting comfortable. That wiser heads prevailed this time around is axiomatic. That last sentence is ample proof.
As for the invasion however, with some modification to the original Eisenhower plan, in early April 1961, JFK gave the CIA and the pro-coup, anti-Castro ‘Cubanistas’—who by this time had foam coming out of their mouths —the nod. Presumably this was partly because he and Bobbie had as mentioned a measure of respect for Dulles and his judgment. Make no mistake, this was Dulles’s baby! But the president had to ‘give the green’. Which he did do.
Earlier, in preparation for the invasion, equipment, supplies and materiel had been parachuted into the designated drop-zone by planes operated by Cuban exiles and expatriates who still had a hard-on for Fidel accompanied by CIA mercenaries (that history tells us time and again rarely contribute to the winning of battles let alone actual wars), but much of this logistical support was lost in the swamp close by, apparently unaccounted for in the planning.
And the Americans also cocked up big time by neglecting to take into account that the scheduled date for planned night mission coincided with a full moon, thereby giving the Cuban defense forces a clear view of the proceedings. Worse still, the pre-invasion air support for the counter-revolutionaries was supposed to soften up the Cubans, break their morale, and destroy or render inactive most of the Cuban Air Force. They destroyed only a handful of planes, with only a small number of Cuban civilians ending up as collateral damage.
There would be more ‘collateral damage’ to come, but not on the Cuban side.
In the interests of minimising any blowback—and presumably because he smelt a rat even at this late stage and had become somewhat squeamish about the whole deal—Kennedy had however earlier pulled the pin on any follow-up air support at mission critical points after the invasion began, and effectively left the invaders with their paramilitary peckers swinging in the Bay of Pigs sea-breeze when the ‘rubber hit the jungle road’. They quickly run out of supplies, ammunition and materiel, a mission critical consideration if one was hoping for ultimate success given the scale and ambition of the operation.
Over the next three days, there was intense fighting between the two opposing forces, but before it even started, it was really all over for the invaders bar the shouting of ‘Viva la (Counter) Revolucion!’…and pass the ammunition.
Amazingly, the Americans were apparently tipped off by the Soviets – presumably because they (the Soviets) wanted to give the US pause for thought about any aggressive military ambitions – that Castro was aware of a possible attack and/or invasion. For his part though Castro apparently expected that any invasion would be a full-scale, fully backed military one, not the piddling bunch of deluded right-wing, gung-ho, rag-tag ‘rebel-rousers’ that eventually did do so.
Even more incredibly, the CIA adopted a ‘need to know’ response to this critical piece of information even with the president and his advisors; that is to say, they omitted to tell JFK and Bobbie when there was still ample opportunity to do so, possibly explaining why JFK went ballistic when it all went pear-shaped. In anticipation of such an invasion, Fidel and his little bro’ mobilized all their armed forces and rallied – something at the time Castro was the undisputed master of – any and all the Cuban nationals who could hold a pitchfork or machete and see over the steering wheels of their Ford convertibles and Chevy pickups.
— A Cuban Cult Following —
The invaders were unable to achieve mission critical objectives partly because of earlier foul-ups and eventually were outgunned, outnumbered, out-manoeuvred and out-smarted every which way from Sunday (still three days away).
Having nowhere else to go going forward, the counter-revolutionary minded paramilitarias high-tailed their asses back to the beaches of the Bay of Pigs with a large ‘Cuban cult’ following, but the “cult” eventually caught up with them and presented them with some very limited choices, one of which was not going back to the US in a hurry unless it was in a military issue body-bag. Those that weren’t killed either surrendered or were captured, with many of them later summarily executed mostly by firing squad, or eventually wishing they had been.
A few weeks later, others were traded for several freighters full of tractors and other heavy-duty earth moving equipment! What the BOP refugees/survivors thought of this was anyone’s guess, and it would not be last we’d hear of some of them to be sure. And no doubt the Americans assumed said “equipment” was intended principally to support the noble agrarian based needs of the Cuban proletariat, who with a new sense of their place in the world order, wanted to rebuild their country after years of social and economic decline and just be left alone by the neighbourhood bully. That this might not have proved to be a safe assumption on the US’s part is axiomatic, and we will talk of this in a later episodes.
There are some interesting observations that need to be made about the BOP “fiasco” (as JFK, presumably with all the benefit of hindsight, later defined it.) Before the invasion the Cuban revolution was according to many losing steam, running out of puff. After the invasion and the resulting worldwide publicity, it was unstoppable. Interestingly, one of the reasons why the BOP coup plot was unsuccessful was that the CIA and the American administration believed that the Cuban people would be grateful for being liberated from Fidel and Raul’s tyranny and oppression, but of course history tells us this did not happen. If this sounds familiar, then so be it.
Assumption as they say, is the ‘sum’ bitch-mother’ of all fuck-ups, and one that makes an all too recurring appearance in the enactment of American foreign policy. Indeed, as we will see many times throughout the American narrative, every second closet Marxist and/or left-wing leaning fringe dweller—whether in power already or with aspirations in that respect—from the northern suburbs of Havana to the southern most tip of the South American continent and then some—pulled out all stops to see if they could also emulate the David and Goliath feat of their northern comrades and kick the ‘gringos’ where it really hurts, in the economic, geopolitical, and ideological cojones.
They did this largely by adopting Soviet economic and social principles, and/or by aligning themselves politically with, or being sympathetic to, the USSR and communist/socialist values and sometimes, just like their right-wing counterparts, by discouraging democracy and freedom (as defined by the OED, not the White House or the CIA) with sometimes equally disastrous effects.
And although a story for another time, Cuba would go on to really rub the Doodle Dandie’s noses in the ideological dirt by inviting the Soviets to park some spare medium range ballistic missiles (nukes) on the island country—one located less than 90 miles from the US mainland—thus triggering the scariest stand-off between the two nuclear superpowers, and creating even more sleepless nights for JFK and his dynamic West Wing posse.
The location of the Soviet missiles in Cuba was the most provocative and potentially consequential acts of the Cold War on either side, a big call by any objective measure. A potential Showdown at the OK Corral with nuclear weapons then, one which at first took the wind out of JFK’s sails, an apt metaphor for a president with a well documented passion for outdoor recreational pursuits almost as much of those of the indoor variety as mentioned in an earlier episode. So this is what they wanted all the fucking tractors and earth-moving equipment for? With the able bodied assistance from the spooks at the Company, America had once again bought itself another whole ‘wail o’ whoopass’ down the mountain! It’s a story with which we have all become familiar.
And speaking of cults following, a pertinent and interesting coda herein in relation to Cuba is that a young, unknown and exceedingly photogenic Argentinian medical graduate named Ernesto ‘Chè’ Guevara began his apprenticeship in revolutionary tradecraft by supporting Guzman’s aforementioned reforms in Guatemala (see Part Two). For this reason alone he would have been one of the CIA’s most reviled, and sought after people.
But it was his major role in the Cuban guerrilla movement later on supporting Castro’s fight against the Cuban dictator Eugenico Batista, that he would achieve notoriety with the Langley lads. He would go on to become that most unique of historical figures, that being communist agitator, Marxist revolutionary and anti-capitalist as household name. Or more accurately, he became—albeit posthumously—the first internationally recognized Marxist revolutionary who was his own logo, positioning statement, and brand entity all wrapped up in one. You wouldn’t read about it in the Daily Worker!
After Guevara would later strike out on his own and ultimately die for the ‘cause’ leading—what else—a Marxist revolution, this time in Bolivia, where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid died of a sudden and decidedly fatal attack of lead poisoning attempting to escape Bolivian military forces. In 1967, CIA backed right-wing Bolivian government forces captured Chè.
As in most countries on the South American continent, the Bolivians were enthusiastically supported by the Company who were actively buttressing their government at the time in its effort to hold onto power because Che was tireless in his mission to market the Marxist brand of revolution not just in Bolivia but in any number of Central and South American nations who were willing to listen to him (of which there were never any shortage). And few could shill the revolutionary message better than Dr Che!
Apart from any Bay of Pigs-inspired payback, for this alone, the Langley Lads made it their mission to shut Chè down—that is, terminate him with extreme prejudice by whatever means possible, or better still have someone else do it so they could maintain plausible deniability. Although not widely advertised, it is a regularly employed method for underscoring and enforcing US foreign policy, standard operating procedure as it were. With his jungle-boots still on and revolutionary ‘tude intact, he was later executed, with CIA guys looking on and presumably smacking their lips, grabbin’ their crotches, and high-fiving each other’s asses for a job well done.
Chè was reported to have said to his executioner just prior to his death: “Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man!” All the executioner had to do was pull the trigger to prove him right, and all Ché had to do was make a posthumous cameo on the 6 o’clock news that night to make what turned out to be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy come true. The rest is history. Sort of.
Indeed, if there were ever any more prescient, portentous and potent ‘last words’ spoken by a condemned revolutionary throughout the course of history, off-hand it’s hard to think of any. His death immeasurably enhanced his reputation, status, influence and legend, which for the Langley Lads at the time must have been a bit hard to swallow much less digest. And if they ever thought he’d be forgotten soon after he was consigned to the eternal ether, it would be hard to overstate how much they were proven wrong!
— Soldier of Fortune —
That is to say, how the US and the world in general views Chè and his legacy requires further elucidation. For the Americans, he would’ve doubtless represented the perennial dichotomy between that which defines the concept of “freedom fighter” and that of “terrorist”, even if they always seemed to struggle to identify the differences, even in their own history. This “dichotomy” is one that could be explored in a myriad of situations and circumstances. For his part, Che’s mug became arguably the most recognized and recognisable face on the planet. Modern Revolutionary as political fashion statement!
His unstated brand message was unambiguous, precise, immediate and profound, his image iconic and ubiquitous, and his message as indelible and as strong as ever. Or for some it may just have been a bloody good pic, as Che’s iconically-inclined photogenic qualities were undeniable, even if he just happened to be your next-door neighbour. In any event, in death Chè became a ‘supermodel’ for Marxist and even Maoist revolution, protest, freedom and resistance in every nook, cranny and corner of the Big Blue Ball, with a level of recognition up there with Elvis Presley, Albert Einstein, and possibly even Bono.
As for perennially reproduced images, OK maybe Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, or Chairman Mao might challenge any claim to fame here.
The phrase ‘one picture is worth a thousand words’ could well have been coined with Chè’s visage in mind. Ten billion plus—and counting—T-shirts, coffee mugs, billboards, and wall posters say it all. As I write this, there is a poster of Chè on the wall of the very room I sit in, in this instance a room I’ve never been in before, and one I may never be in again. This is not serendipity! Vive la Revolucion indeed!
And this is without taking into account the reality that possibly every second person on the planet who did art at high school for the past forty plus years probably has a screen print, watercolour, sketch, photo, or charcoal drawing of Che in their storeroom, attic, basement, garage or somewhere in between. Do the math—if you had the licensing rights to his image! Owning the copyright to Happy Birthday or God Save the Queen or the Star Spangled Banner may be marginally more lucrative! The possibilities for revolution would be endless. With that kind of money!
Speaking of licensing rights, here’s the best bit! Chè Guavera’s image is now subject to international intellectual property rights law and therefore requires licensing to use it. The irony here is so thick that whilst you might need a foot-long carving knife to cut through it, you don’t need to be a life-member of Mensa to fully appreciate it. K’ching, k’ching! Although not quite in the true spirit of the phrase, Chè turned out to be a ‘soldier of fortune’ after all, and a lot of people indeed have made a small fortune out of, or at least a steady income from, his image.
Now since around apparently 2002, Chè’s descendants by some accounts are receiving something akin to royalties.
It’s uncertain if the CIA has ever felt a bit ‘shortchanged’ over this deal. After all, it was they who had the biggest hand in the creation of the Chè brand entity in the first place, and did the revolution wherever it went for another forty odd years a big favour that arguably can never be repaid. Maybe this is why the CIA didn’t wear out their winklepickers trying to find Osama bin Laden after 9/11, cause if they did find him they would’ve had to whack him.
Given what happened to Chè it’s reasonable to assume they didn’t want another martyr on their hands on their merry way to winning the war on terror over the next forty years or so. In any event it didn’t matter, it was the US Navy that whacked OBL after all. It does however suggest they may have learned some lessons from the Law of Unintended Consequences (LUC, or ‘blowback’) after all this time, and for this we can only hope.
For their part, there appears to be little evidence any of Che’s descendants, now recipients of such good fortune, are using said windfall for anything other than providing themselves with a version of the good life and not fomenting revolution somewhere in the great old family tradition. What Chè himself would think of all this though is anyone’s guess of course. I imagine he’d probably still take the old school, proletarian view. Viva le revolucion and pass the ammo! Marxist-speak for kick out the imperialist, pillaging, bourgeois, exploitative, capitalist, gringo motherfuckers!
Now the Beatles may or may not have been more popular than Jesus Christ, but Chè arguably went on to become more popular than both of them put together. And while we’re on the subject of the ‘Fab Four’, even if numero uno fabbo John Winston Lennon decided he didn’t want a revolution after all—and might’ve genuinely felt he was doing all he could in any event—at the time Chè couldn’t get enough of them apparently.
“Revolutions” that is! You say you wanna revolution? You’ve come to the right place. Show me your Kalishnikov, and I’ll show you mine! And although he stopped short of schlepping around an AK-47 in his guitar case, even Lennon had changed his revolutionary tune a few years later. Although the CIA and the FBI were onto him when the revolutionary mood finally did take, and were still onto him after the tune cut to fade…..But like Mao, I digress.
It is here regrettably we bring our version of the CIA narrative to an end, although to be fair to the Company, we have only scratched the surface of their ignominious and ignoble history. That said, with everything that is going on in the Middle East as we speak (to say little of where they are currently active on the Big Blue Ball), in another fifty years I expect my grandson will be telling similar tales of derring-do of everyone’s fave spy agency, that is if the world is still intact, and hasn’t ended with a bang.
We can all but hope…can’t we?
End of Part Three….