Crazy Castro, or should I say crazy CIA?

The CIA, as you all know from watching one too many spy movies, has always had a thing for wacky plans to assassinate or damage world leaders in some way. This is especially true for that pesky Fidel Castro, who has been a thorn in their side for all too many decades.

CNN has compiled a little report on some of the funnier ways that the CIA has tried to get that varmint, and I have to say it’s some damn good reading. This only covers1960-1965, and I can only suppose that as technology grew more advanced so did the ridiculous things that they had planned. But we probably won’t know for another 30 years or so, when more material becomes de-classified.

For ease of reading, I’ll re-post the list, but you should do some googling of your own to see if you can find any others.

Aerosol attack on radio station Discussion was held on a scheme to contaminate the air of the radio station in Havana where Castro broadcast his speeches with a chemical that produces reactions similar to LSD. Nothing came of the idea.

• Contaminated cigars A vague scheme involving a box of cigars treated with a chemical intended to produce temporary personality disorientation or, perhaps, cause his beard to fall out. The source was the late Jake Esterline, the CIA’s project director for what became the Bay of Pigs. While vague on his recollections about the intended effect of the cigars, Esterline said he was positive they were not lethal.

• Depilatory A scheme involving thallium salt, a chemical used by women as a depilatory, placed in his shoes. The idea was to cause Castro’s beard to fall out, thus damaging his image.

• Gambling syndicate — Phase I (August 1960 – May 1961) A complicated assassination plot initiated by Richard Bissell, involving Mafia figures Sam Giancani, Santos Trafficante and Johnny Rosselli, who had contacts remaining in Havana from pre-Castro days. It was timed to coincide with the Bay of Pigs invasion, although Bissell, head of CIA covert operations at the time, never bothered to tell either Esterline, the Bay of Pigs project director, nor Marine Col. Jack Hawkins, the project’s paramilitary officer. Poison pills were to be delivered to Havana and delivered to a contact inside a restaurant frequented by Castro. No one knows if the pills ever got to Havana. It was called off after the Bay of Pigs.

• Gambling syndicate — Phase II (Late 1961 – June 1963) The same plot involving Mafia figures and poison pills was reactivated in early 1962 as part of the period of Operation Mongoose, the post-Bay of Pigs program to unseat Castro. The pills were given to Tony Varona, a prominent Cuban exile, through Johnny Rosselli, another Mafia figure. Varona then asked for arms and ammunition as well, which were passed to him by the Miami CIA station. The inspector general’s report indicates uncertainty as to whether the pills ever made it to Cuba.

Schemes in early 1963

• Skin-diving suit This plot was hatched at the time New York Attorney James Donovan was negotiating with Castro for the release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners. It called for Donovan to present Castro with a skin-diving suit dusted inside with a fungus that would produce a disabling and chronic skin disease and contaminating the breathing apparatus with the bacterium that causes tuberculosis. The skin-diving suit already had been bought but was abandoned when it was learned Donovan already had given Castro a skin-diving suit on his own initiative.

• Booby-trapped seashell The idea was to take an unusually spectacular seashell that would catch Castro’s attention, load it with an explosive triggered to blow when the seashell was lifted, and submerge it in an area Castro was known to frequent for skin-diving. The plan progressed so far that Desmond Fitzgerald, then head of the CIA’s Cuban operations, bought two books on Caribbean mollusks. It was later decided the scheme was impracticable for a variety of reasons, among them that a midget submarine to have been used in placing the seashell had too short an operating range.

• Project Amlash-Rolando Cubela Cubela, whose code name was Amlash, was a member of Castro’s inner circle from the beginning. He had become disenchanted and made contact with the CIA as early as 1961. Nestor Sanchez, his CIA case officer, was meeting with Cubela in Paris when President Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963. Sanchez provided Cubela that day — at Cubela’s request — a poison pen-syringe to be used either on Castro or on himself, in case of a failed attempt. Nothing happened. As CIA covert operations against Castro began winding down, the Agency put Cubela in touch with Manuel Artime, the exiled chief of a 300-member, CIA-funded exile guerrilla army operating for Central America. The joint Artime-Cubela plan was for Cubela to assassinate Castro when he gave his annual July 26, 1965, speech at Varadero, a beach resort on Cuba’s north coast. The assassination would coincide with a seaborne invasion by Artime’s forces with the presumed support of several Cuban army officers in the area. The operation was canceled in late June 1965 after it became compromised.


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