THERE ARE two governments in the United States today. One is visible. The other is invisible.

The first is the government that citizens read about in their newspapers and children study about in their civics books. The second is the interlocking, hidden machinery that carries out the policies of the United States in the Cold War.

This second, invisible government gathers intelligence, conducts espionage, and plans and executes secret operations all over the globe.

The Invisible Government is not a formal body. It is a loose, amorphous grouping of individuals and agencies drawn from many parts of the visible government. It is not limited to the Central Intelligence Agency, although the CIA is at its heart. Nor is it confined to the nine other agencies which comprise what is known as the intelligence community:

  • the National Security Council

  • the Defense Intelligence Agency

  • the National Security Agency

  • Army Intelligence

  • Navy Intelligence

  • Air Force Intelligence

  • the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research

  • the Atomic Energy Commission

  • the Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Invisible Government includes, also, many other units and agencies, as well as individuals, that appear outwardly to be a normal part of the conventional government. It even encompasses business firms and institutions that are seemingly private.

To an extent that is only beginning to be perceived, this shadow government is shaping the lives of 190,000,000 Americans. Major decisions involving peace or war are taking place out of public view. An informed citizen might come to suspect that the foreign policy of the United States often works publicly in one direction and secretly through the Invisible Government in just the opposite direction.

This Invisible Government is a relatively new institution. It came into being as a result of two related factors: the rise of the United States after World War II to a position of pre-eminent world power, and the challenge to that power by Soviet Communism.

It was a much graver challenge than any which had previously confronted the Republic. The Soviet world strategy threatened the very survival of the nation. It employed an espionage network that was dedicated to the subversion of the power and ideals of the United States. To meet that challenge the United States began constructing a vast intelligence and espionage system of its own. This has mushroomed to extraordinary proportions out of public view and quite apart from the traditional political process.

By 1964 the intelligence network had grown into a massive, hidden apparatus, secretly employing about 200,000 persons and spending several billion dollars a year.

"The Nationa1 Security Act of 1947," in the words of Allen W. Dulles, "...has given Intelligence a more influential position in our government than Intelligence enjoys in any other government of the world." [1]

Because of its massive size and pervasive secrecy, the Invisible Government became the inevitable target of suspicion and criticism. It has been accused by some knowledgeable congressmen and other influential citizens, including a former President, Harry S. Truman, of conducting a foreign policy of its own, and of meddling deep1y in the affairs of other countries without presidential authority.

The American people have not been in a position to assess these charges. They know virtually nothing about the Invisible Government. Its employment rolls are classified. Its activities are top- secret. Its budget is concealed in other appropriations. Congress provides money for the Invisible Government without knowing how much it has appropriated or how it will be spent. A handful of congressmen are supposed to be kept informed by the Invisible Government, but they know relatively little about how it works.

Overseas, in foreign capitals, American ambassadors are supposed to act as the supreme civilian representatives of the President of the United States. They are told they have control over the agents of the Invisible Government. But do they? The agents maintain communications and codes of their own. And the ambassador's authority has been judged by a committee of the United States Senate to be a "polite fiction."

At home, the intelligence men are directed by law to leave matters to the FBI. But the CIA maintains more than a score of offices in major cities throughout the United States; it is deeply involved in many domestic activities, from broadcasting stations and a steamship company to the university campus.

The Invisible Government is also generally thought to be under the direct control of the National Security Council. But, in fact, many of its major decisions are never discussed in the Council. These decisions are handled by a small directorate, the name of which is only whispered. How many Americans have ever heard of the "Special Group"? (Also known as the "54/12 Group.") The name of this group, even its existence, is unknown outside the innermost circle of the Invisible Government.

The Vice-President is by law a member of the National Security Council, but he does not participate in the discussions of the Special Group. As Vice-President, Lyndon B. Johnson was privy to more government secrets than any of his predecessors. But he was not truly involved with the Invisible Government until he was sworn in as the thirty-sixth President of the United States.

On November 23, 1963, during the first hour of his first full day in office, Johnson was taken by McGeorge Bundy -- who had been President Kennedy's personal link with the Special Group -- to the Situation Room, a restricted command post deep in the White House basement.

There, surrounded by top-secret maps, electronic equipment and communications outlets, the new President was briefed by the head of the Invisible Government, John Alex McCone,* Director of Central Intelligence and a member of the Special Group. Although Johnson knew the men who ran the Invisible Government and was aware of much of its workings, it was not until that morning that he began to see the full scope of its organization and secrets.


* On April 11, 1965, President Johnson replaced McCone with retired Vice-Admiral William F. Raborn, who served only 14 months as CIA director and was in turn replaced, on June 18, 1966, by Deputy Director Richard M. Helms, a career CIA operator.

This book is an attempt, within the bounds of national security, to reveal the nature, size and power of the Invisible Government. It is not intended to be an expose, although much of the material has never been printed anywhere else before. It is an attempt to describe a hidden American institution which the American people, who finance it, have a right to know about.

The premise of this book is that even in a time of Cold War, the United States Government must rest, in the words of the Declaration of Independence, on "the consent of the governed." And there can be no meaningful consent where those who are governed do not know to what they are consenting.

In the harsh conditions of the mid-twentieth century, the nation's leaders have increasingly come to feel that certain decisions must be made by them alone without popular consent, and in secret, if the nation is to survive. The area of this secret decision-making has grown rapidly, and the size of the Invisible Government has increased proportionately.

To what extent is this secret government compatible with the American system, or necessary to preserve it? Will it gradually change the character of the institutions it seeks to preserve? If the American people are to try to answer these questions they must first achieve a greater level of understanding about the secret government itself.

"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves," said Thomas Jefferson, "and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion."

This book is an effort to thus inform the American people. It traces the history of the Invisible Government: how it was created by President Truman and how it has functioned under President Eisenhower, President Kennedy and President Johnson. It discloses how the Invisible Government has operated in Washington to expand and consolidate its power, and how it has operated overseas in attempts to bolster or undermine foreign governments. For beyond the mere gathering of intelligence, the secret government has engaged in "special operations," ranging from political warfare to paramilitary activities and full-scale invasion.

Under certain conditions, and on a limited, controlled basis, such special operations may sometimes prove necessary. But they cannot become so unwieldy that they are irreconcilable with the kind of society that has launched them. When that happens, the result is disaster. This was nowhere better illustrated than on the beaches of Cuba.

Because it has now passed into history and because it is a deeply revealing example of how the Invisible Government works, we shall begin with the story of the Bay of Pigs.

Back to Contents


THE STARS sparkled against the blue-black tropical sky overhead and the warm night air carried as yet no hint of dawn. Mario Zuniga edged his B-26 bomber onto the runway at the edge of the Caribbean Sea.

Only the sound of the twin engines broke the stillness of the darkened airfield at Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua. The tall, thirty-five-year-old Cuban exile pilot sat alone in the cockpit of the big bomber. He would have no co-pilot for this mission. On the nose of his plane the number 933 had been painted in black letters. On the tail, the letters FAR -- the markings of Fidel Castro's air force, the "Fuerza Aerea Revolucionaria."

But Mario Zuniga was not a Castro pilot. He was flying on an extraordinary top-secret mission for the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States Government.

Earlier, the CIA had trundled the bomber out onto the runway and fired a machine gun at it. There were bullet holes in the fuselage now. These were some of the stage props for Zuniga's masquerade. In his pocket he carried a pack of Cuban cigarettes, borrowed from a fellow pilot at the last moment to lend a final authentic touch. In his mind was a carefully memorized story. His destination was Miami International Airport, 834 miles and more than four hours to the northeast.

At a signal, Zuniga took off, his bomber roaring down the 6,000-foot runway. It was April 15, 1961, and perfect flying weather. His mission, upon which hinged the success or failure of the most ambitious operation in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency, was underway.

Beginning at 1:40 A.M., shortly before Zuniga's take-off, eight other CIA B-26s had roared into the night from the same airstrip, their engines straining with the weight of extra fuel and the ten 260- pound bombs they each carried. Their pilots were Cuban exiles, trained and employed by the CIA. Their target was Cuba, and their mission -- to smash Castro's air force before it could get off the ground.

These planes, too, bore a replica of the FAR insignia of Castro's air force. Flying in three formations, under the code names of "Linda," "Puma" and "Gorilla," the eight B-26s were to strike at dawn in a surprise raid. It was to be the first of two strikes at Castro's air bases, to pave the way for the secret invasion of Cuba scheduled to take place forty-eight hours later at the Bahia de Cochinos, the Bay of Pigs. The operation had the approval of the CIA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President of the United States.

Zuniga was to land in Miami shortly after the bombing raid. He was to announce to the world that the attack had been carried out from bases inside Cuba by himself and other pilots who had defected from Castro's air force. In reality, of course, all nine planes had left from Happy Valley, the CIA code name for the air base at Puerto Cabezas. The Nicaraguan Government had secretly agreed to let the United States use the air base and port as a staging area for the invasion.

As he flew northward through the night to Miami, Zuniga had time to go over the prepared story once more in his mind. He had been especially selected by the CIA's American instructors from among the Cuban exile pilots. A CIA agent known simply as "George" had asked for volunteers for a special mission. Three men offered to go. The CIA fired questions at them to test their reactions under stress. Mario was then selected for his intelligence and quick thinking. There followed endless rehearsals of the cover story that Zuniga came to know almost in his sleep. He was instructed not to reveal the truth about his mission, even years afterward.

As his plane carried him toward Florida, Zuniga was flying also toward his wife Georgina, his two young sons, Eduardo and Enrique, and his daughters, Beatriz and Maria Cristina. He had left them behind in the safety of Miami, in an apartment on South West 20th Avenue when he had joined the exiles who were training in Central America to invade their homeland.

To the southeast, the strike force droned onward toward Cuba and the new day. The attack was to be led by Luis Cosme, a wiry, crew-cut former Cuban Air Force and Cubana Airlines pilot who had fled Cuba eight months before. At the controls of the other two planes in Cosme's "Linda" wing were Alfredo Caballero, a stocky twenty-five-year-old, and Rene Garcia. They, too, were Cuban Air Force veterans. Their target was San Antonio de los Banos, the vital military airfield twenty-five miles southwest of Havana.

Jose Crespo, short and handsome, led the "Puma" flight that was to strike at Camp Libertad airfield on the outskirts of Havana. The other two B-26s in Crespo's wing were flown by Daniel Fernandez Mon, Spanish-born and the only bachelor in the flight, and "Chirrino" Piedra, at twenty-five one of the youngest and best-liked of the exile pilots. None of these three pilots or their co-pilots survived the Bay of Pigs. All six men in the "Puma" wing had less than forty-eight hours to live.

Two planes comprised the third, "Gorilla," wing. They were flown by Gustavo Ponzoa and Gonzalo Herrera. Their target was the airport at Santiago de Cuba, in Oriente Province, where Castro had begun his climb to power in the Sierra Maestra five years earlier.

The invasion fleet of half a dozen ships was already steaming toward Cuba under the escort of U.S. warships. Unable to sleep on the crowded deck of the Houston, nineteen-year-old Mario Abril, a private in E Company, 2nd Infantry Battalion of the exile brigade, heard the drone of the bomber fleet overhead.

He looked up and saw the B-26 formation against the night sky. Two months before he had been in Miami, preparing to leave for the training camp in Guatemala. He had told no one of his decision. And yet, when his mother had awakened him on February 26, his nineteenth birthday, instead of the present he expected she gave him a rosary. She had said it was all she could give him.

Now, aboard the Houston in battle dress, the slender youth switched on his transistor radio to hear whether Havana would describe the bombing raids. Tomorrow he would still be at sea. The day after he would face his first trial in battle.

In Washington, Richard M. Bissell, Jr., an urbane, six-foot-four former economics professor, waited anxiously for word of the bombing strike and for news of Zuniga's arrival in Miami. Bissell was the CIA's deputy director for plans (DDP), "plans" being a cover name for covert foreign operations. In intelligence parlance, "black" means secret, and Bissell directed the blackest of the black operators. He was the CIA man in charge of the clandestine Bay of Pigs operation from the beginning. From a secret office near the Lincoln Memorial, across the reflecting pool from the White House, he was linked by high-speed coded teletype circuits to Happy Valley.

On this Saturday, April 15, Bissell's boss, the CIA director, Allen W. Dulles, was in Puerto Rico. He had gone there that day to keep a long-standing engagement to speak at a convention of young businessmen Monday morning. The CIA chief decided that to cancel it would look peculiar and might attract attention. Moreover, Dulles reasoned, his presence in Puerto Rico would be good cover. The public appearance of the head of the CIA in San Juan, rather than in Washington, might divert any suspicion that the CIA was directing the drama which was now unfolding.

Partly for similar reasons, President John F. Kennedy had decided to spend the weekend as usual at Glen Ora, his rented estate in Middleburg, Virginia. At 11: 37 A.M. he spoke at an African Freedom Day celebration at the State Department. Early in the afternoon he got into a helicopter and flew to Middleburg.

The largest secret operation in American history was already beginning. But neither the President of the United States nor the director of the Central Intelligence Agency was in Washington.

At 6:00 A.M. in Havana, it sounded at first like thunder. But then anti-aircraft guns opened up and the sleepy residents of the Cuban capital realized that an air raid was in progress. From their windows and balconies, Cubans could see tracers from the anti-aircraft shells shooting in great arcs across the sky. In Miramar, a suburb near Camp Libertad, early risers watched as the three B-26s in Jose Crespo's "Puma" wing attacked with bombs, machine guns and rockets. Some of the bombs struck an ammunition dump and flames leaped skyward. A series of explosions followed and continued intermittently for forty minutes. Bomb fragments hit the administration building and gouged huge holes in the airport runways. The attack lasted only fifteen minutes, but the guns kept firing for an hour.

Simultaneously, Luis Cosme's "Linda" flight of three B-26s was bombing San Antonio de los Banos. One of Castro's T-33 American-made jet trainers sitting on the end of Runway 11 blew up and some Castro B-26s were caught on the ground.

At Antonio Maceo Airport in Santiago de Cuba, on the eastern end of the island, the "Gorilla" wing destroyed a hangar containing one British-built Sea Fury and two smaller planes. A Cubana Airlines C-47 parked in front of the administration building was also demolished.

Less actual damage to aircraft was inflicted at Camp Libertad by the "Puma" flight. And the exile air force lost its first plane. The B-26 piloted by Daniel Fernandez Mon, mortally crippled in the raid over Havana, wheeled out to sea north of the city and burst into flames. It crashed into the ocean within sight of Havana's Commodoro Hotel. The red-haired bachelor pilot had pleaded for five days to be allowed to take part in the first raid. He was twenty-nine when he died. His co-pilot, Gaston Perez, perished with him. Perez would have celebrated his twenty-sixth birthday in thirteen days.

Now a tiny crack, the first of several things that went wrong, appeared in the carefully polished CIA plans. Jose Crespo, leader of the "Puma" wing, developed engine trouble. He decided he could not make it back to Happy Valley, and nosed his bomber north to Key West.

At 7:00 A.M. Crespo and his co-pilot, Lorenzo Perez, made an emergency landing at the Boca Chica Naval Air Station in Key West, to the consternation of Navy officials there. Key West high schools were to have held an Olympics Day at Boca Chica, with track events, bands and parades, and the public invited. The Navy hastily closed the field without explanation. Olympics Day was canceled. In "Linda" flight, Alfredo Caballero discovered, after dropping his bombs on San Antonio de los Banos, that one fuel tank was not feeding. He headed south and landed on Grand Cayman Island with his co-pilot, Alfredo Maza. It caused another small complication for the CIA. Grand Cayman was British territory.

Shortly after 8:00 A.M. the Federal Aviation Agency control tower at Miami International Airport picked up a mayday distress signal from a B-26 bomber. Mario Zuniga was on the last leg of his cover mission. He called the tower at a point twenty-five miles south of Homestead, Florida, or about twelve minutes from Miami. At 8:21 A.M. he landed, his right engine feathered as if it had been put out of action by gunfire. Zuniga, wearing a white T-shirt and green fatigue trousers, climbed out.

Whisked into Immigration Headquarters and "questioned" for four hours, Zuniga was successfully kept from reporters. Edward Ahrens, the district director of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, solemnly announced that the pilot's name was being withheld to prevent reprisals against his family still in Cuba.

But, oddly, in view of the tight security measures that surrounded Zuniga's arrival, photographers were allowed to take pictures of the unidentified pilot and of his bullet-pocked bomber. Across the nation the next morning, newspapers carried photographs of the mysterious pilot, a tall, mustached man wearing dark glasses and a baseball cap.

Ahrens released a statement from the nameless pilot. Now the CIA's cover story was clattering out over the news wires around the world:

"I am one of the twelve B-26 pilots who remained in the Castro air force after the defection of Pedro Luis Diaz Lanz * and the purges that followed.

"Three of my fellow pilots and I have planned for months how we could escape from Castro's Cuba.

"Day before yesterday I heard that one of the three, Lieutenant Alvara Galo, who is the pilot of the B-26 No. FAR915, had been seen talking to an agent of Ramiro Valdes, the G-2 chief.

"I alerted the other two and we decided that probably Alvara Galo, who had always acted like somewhat of a coward, had betrayed us. We decided to take action at once.

"Yesterday morning I was assigned the routine patrol from my base, San Antonio de los Banos, over a section of Pinar del Rio and around the Isle of Pines.

"I told my friends at Campo Libertad and they agreed that we must act. One of them was to fly to Santiago. The other made the excuse that he wished to check out his altimeter. They were to take off from Campo Libertad at 06:00. I was airborne at 06:05.

"Because of Alvara Galo's treachery, we had agreed to give him a lesson, so I flew back over San Antonio, where his plane is stationed, and made two strafing runs at his plane and three others parked nearby.

"On the way out I was hit by some small-arms fire and took evasive action. My comrades had broken off earlier, to hit airfields which we agreed they would strike. Then, because I was low on gas, I had to go into Miami, because I could not reach our agreed destination.

"It may be that they went on to strafe another field before leaving, such as Playa Baracoa, where Fidel keeps his helicopter."

In New York, Dr. Jose Miro Cardona, the professorial, soft-spoken president of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, could not resist issuing a flowery Latin statement. From his headquarters at the Hotel Lexington, Cardona hailed the "heroic blow for Cuban freedom ... struck this morning by certain members of the Cuban Air Force." He said it came as no surprise because "the Council has been in contact with and has encouraged these brave pilots." Cardona's announcement was a bad move, as events later proved.

Not until 9:00 A.M., three hours after the attack, did the Cuban radio in Havana announce the bombings. But at 7:00 A.M. the Soviet Ambassador to Cuba, Sergei M. Kudryavtsev, an old hand in the KGB, the Soviet intelligence network, was seen hurriedly leaving his official residence in a Cuban military car with two Cuban Army officers. Newsmen were unable to find out where he was going.


But at noon, with militiamen armed with Czechoslovak automatic weapons stalking the streets of Havana, and others posted on roofs, the foreign diplomatic corps was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and told that Cuba had proof that the United States had "directed" the attack. Fidel Castro issued a communique saying he had ordered his United Nations delegation "to accuse the United States government directly of aggression ... If this air attack is a prelude to an invasion, the country, on a war basis, will resist ... the fatherland or death!" He called on U.S. news agencies to "report the truth."

That was no easy task. At Key West, Rear Admiral Rhodam Y. McElroy, the commander of the Boca Chica Naval Air Station, announced: "One of the stolen B-26 bombers that was involved in the blasts against Havana this morning landed here."

At the White House, presidential press secretary Pierre Salinger denied any knowledge of the bombing. He said the United States was seeking information.

Alongside the East River in New York, in the United Nations Building, the drama that had begun at the jungle airstrip in Nicaragua before daylight now moved into the full glare of the world stage.

Raul Roa, the excitable Cuban representative, marched to the speaker's rostrum at the start of the General Assembly session that was meeting on the Congo crisis.

Roa began: "At 6:30 A.M. in the morning, North American aircraft --"

The sharp rap of a gavel, wielded by the Assembly's president, Frederick H. Boland of Ireland, cut off the bespectacled Cuban. Boland reminded Roa that the item was not on the Assembly's agenda. Valerian Zorin, the Soviet representative, then proposed an emergency session of the Assembly's political committee to hear the Cuban complaint. The meeting was scheduled for that afternoon.

At 3:00 P.M. Roa rose to charge the United States with launching a "cowardly, surprise attack" on Cuba with "mercenaries" trained on United States territory, and in Guatemala, by "experts of the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency." Seven persons had been killed and many wounded, he said. The United States, he added, was "cynically attempting" to assert the attack was carried out by Cuban Air Force defectors. Dr. Cardona's statement that he had been in touch with those who did the bombing was in itself a violation of United States neutrality laws, Roa said.

It was an awkward moment for Adlai E. Stevenson, the United States representative to the U.N. (The man who had run twice as the Democratic candidate for President, only to see John F. Kennedy win in 1960, now rose to defend the administration.) Only his closest advisers were aware of exactly how delicate and difficult a position Stevenson was in. Although the idea later gained currency that Stevenson had been totally unaware of the Bay of Pigs operation, they knew the real background:

Initially, Stevenson had become aware of Cuban exile training from newspaper stories. Some time before the invasion, he had expressed some misgivings about these published reports in an informal conversation with President Kennedy, which took place in the White House living quarters. Kennedy assured Stevenson on that occasion that whatever happened, United States armed forces would not be used in any Cuban operation.

A couple of days before the April 15 raid, a high CIA official had come to see Stevenson in New York. He was Tracy Barnes, the CIA man assigned to keep the State Department informed of the Bay of Pigs plans as they progressed.

Barnes, in briefing Stevenson, indicated vaguely that the United States would not be involved in any Cuban exile operation. Barnes talked on about how the Cubans were operating from abandoned airfields; he mentioned the exile (CIA) radio on Swan Island in the Caribbean. Stevenson was aware that Barnes was from the CIA; and the more he listened to Barnes's ambiguous assurances, the more convinced he became that the United States was involved.

Barnes did not mention that an invasion was about to begin over the weekend. Nor did he indicate that one was imminent. As a result, it is possible that Stevenson did not immediately connect the April 15 bombings with the CIA man's briefing of two days earlier. Nevertheless, he chose his words carefully:

Two aircraft had landed in Florida that morning. "These pilots, and certain other crew members," said Stevenson, "have apparently defected from Castro's tyranny."

"No United States personnel participated. No United States Government airplanes of any kind participated. These two planes, to the best of our knowledge, were Castro's own airforce planes, and according to the pilots, they took off from Castro's own airforce fields."

Stevenson then held aloft a UPI photograph of Zuniga's plane. "I have here a picture of one of these planes. It has the markings of the Castro air force right on the tail, which everyone can see for himself. The Cuban star and the initials FAR -- Fuerza Aerea Revolucionaria -- are clearly visible."

"Let me read the statement which has just arrived over the wire from the pilot who landed in Miami," Stevenson said. He then repeated Zuniga's cover story in its entirety.

Steps had been taken to impound the Cuban planes that had landed in Florida, he added; they would not be permitted to take off.

The UN meeting broke up at 4:05 P.M.

Spring is in many ways the loveliest time of the year in the rolling hills of the Virginia hunt country. But on Sunday, April 16, President Kennedy had little time to appreciate it. At his Glen Ora estate in Middleburg, the President was deeply worried. And he did not like what he saw in his Sunday New York Times.

He and his advisers had not anticipated the volume and nature of the publicity that was being given to the bombing raids and to the story of the mysterious "defecting" pilot who had landed in Miami.

Across the nation, the morning papers had played the story of the bombing raids with varying degrees of caution.

Many papers ran the Associated Press lead out of Cuba, which said flatly:

HAVANA, April 15 -- Pilots of Prime Minister Fidel Castro's air force revolted today and attacked three of the Castro regime's key air bases with bombs and rockets..0

But the influential New York Times was not buying the story completely. Tad Szulc's lead story from Miami was carefully qualified. He wondered, for example, how the Cuban Revolutionary Council had advance notice of the flier's defection, since the pilot who landed in Miami said their escape was hasty. Ruby Hart Phillips filed a similar carefully worded story from Havana.

And the Times Washington Bureau this Sunday was trying to reach administration officials at their homes. The bureau was busily putting together a story pointing out "puzzling circumstances." Besides the question of how Cardona knew about the defections in advance, the Times wanted to know why the pilot's name had been withheld in Miami, since pictures were allowed which clearly showed his face and the number 933 on the nose of his bomber.** Furthermore, the Times asked whether Havana would not quickly know the identity of a Cuban Air Force pilot who waltzed off with a B-26 bomber.

Other newsmen in Washington and Miami were asking where the third plane was if three pilots had defected. A reporter in Miami saw the bullet holes but noted that dust and grease covered the bomb-bay fittings of B-26 933 and that the plane's guns did not appear to have been fired. Further, while the B-26s in Castro's air force had plexiglass transparent noses and guns in the wing pods, this B-26 had eight .50-caliber machine guns in a solid nose.

The Bay of Pigs operation was already foundering. What bad occurred was the inevitable collision between the secret machinery of the government and a free press. It was at this point of contact between the Invisible Government and the outside, real world, that the Bay of Pigs plan began to deteriorate. As President Eisenhower had discovered during the U-2 fiasco a year earlier, and as President Kennedy was now finding out, it is an extremely difficult and precarious business for the government to try to deceive the press and the country to protect a covert operation.

In Havana, Fidel Castro exploited the situation for all it was worth. At a military funeral for the "Cuban heroes" killed by the bombing raids, he compared the attack to the raid on Pearl Harbor. He said the Japanese had at least assumed full responsibility for their raid, but "the President of the United States is like a cat ... which throws a rock and hides its hand." Of the pilot's tale, he said, "even Hollywood would not try to film such a story."

But in Miami, Immigration Director Ahrens was sticking to the scenario. He announced that the three fliers who had landed in Florida had been granted political asylum. Ahrens was still silent about their identities, however. "These men don't want their names released," he told UPI, "or any other information about them." ***

Nine B-26s had left Nicaragua. One was shot down, and three had landed, respectively, at Key West, Grand Cayman and Miami. Two pilots were dead. But five of the bombers returned to Happy Valley.

Despite the heavy air losses, the trouble over Zuniga's cover story and the UN debate, Richard Bissell was encouraged by the partial success of the April 15 raid. From the beginning the CIA understood the rather elementary military principle that no amphibious landing can take place without either (1) air cover at the beaches or (2) complete destruction of the opposing air force on the ground.

In the case of the Bay of Pigs, the latter course was chosen. Castro's air force would be destroyed on the ground by the exile B-26 force, so that air cover at the beaches would be unnecessary. Originally, three full-strength strikes by the B-26s were planned. This was cut down to two strikes of moderate strength. The second strike was scheduled to take place at dawn, Monday, April 17, as the 1,400-man exile invasion force fought its way ashore.

The CIA had estimated before the first raid that Castro's air force included at least four T-33 jet trainers, six to eight B-26s and several British Sea Furies, fast propeller-driven fighters. Estimates by the returning exile fliers of how many of Castro's planes were destroyed varied. They claimed they had destroyed twenty-two to twenty-four planes. Pilot claims are often inflated, but Bissell knew that at least a number of Castro's B-26s were destroyed. Hopefully, the next raid, on Monday, would finish the job of demolishing Castro's air force.

But political and foreign policy considerations began to outweigh the tactical plan. The cover story crumbled as Sunday wore on. United States participation was surfacing rapidly. The CIA plan had hinged on the assumption that Zuniga's cover story would hold for at least forty-eight hours. In that event, the second air strike would either seem like the work of the rebelling Castro pilots, or would be overlooked in the general confusion of the invasion.

The CIA reasoned that if the airstrip at the Bay of Pigs could be captured and held, photographs could be released by Tuesday, April 18, showing exile B-26s operating from inside Cuba. This, the CIA assumed, would divert attention from the question of where the bombers had taken off from on April 15 and 17. The problem was to get by with the "defecting" pilots' tale from Saturday to Tuesday. After that, the cover story told by Zuniga would not matter; it would be overtaken by events.

Now the situation had changed radically. All had hinged on the Zuniga story. With that story fast unraveling at the edges, could the President permit another B-26 strike on Monday and still convince the world that somehow a new covey of Castro pilots had defected from the Cuban Air Force? The President decided he could not.

With Allen Dulles in Puerto Rico, Bissell was the CIA's man in charge. At 9:00 P.M. on Sunday, April 16, his telephone rang. It was McGeorge Bundy, the patrician Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs. Bundy had been a student of Bissell's at Yale.**** Now he was calling to instruct Bissell that the President had decided to cancel tomorrow's D-Day B-26 strike against Castro's air bases.

Alarmed by the President's eleventh-hour decision, Bissell and General Charles P. Cabell, the CIA's deputy director, hurried to the State Department to appeal to Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

The air strike was vital to the invasion plan and should be reinstated, Bissell and Cabell argued, otherwise Castro would have jets and other planes to attack the invaders. It was now 10:00 P.M. From his office at the State Department, Rusk telephoned Kennedy at Glen Ora. He told him that Cabell and Bissell were there and believed the strike should go ahead as planned. The President said no. Rusk asked whether Cabell wished to say anything to the President directly, but Cabell declined. Bissell did not talk to Kennedy either. Twelve hundred miles away, the invasion fleet was already approaching the beaches.

In retrospect, some CIA officials felt Bissell should have hopped into a car and driven to Glen Ora to plead with the President; because the operation was secret he would have been able to speak more freely in person than he could have over a telephone wire, and he might have been able to present his case more fully. But it would have been close to midnight before he could have arrived at Middleburg, and D-Day would then have been at hand.

Or Bissell and Cabell might have gotten on the telephone in Rusk's office and pleaded with the President directly at this point. They did not.

Bissell returned to his office from the State Department, and about 11 :00 P.M. he flashed the word to Happy Valley that the B-26s were not to strike at Castro's air bases. Messages flowed back and forth between Nicaragua and Washington, and as it was finally resolved, the bombers were only to try to fly support missions over the beaches. At Happy Valley the change in orders caused dismay and considerable confusion.

So secret was the Bay of Pigs operation that many high officials of the government were not let in on it. Robert Amory, Jr., the CIA's deputy director for intelligence (DDI ), had not been officially informed of the plan even though on this Sunday he was the senior staff duty officer at the CIA. Roger Hilsman, the director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, had also been kept in the dark.


But the Joint Chiefs of Staff, headed by General Lyman L. Lemnitzer, had been consulted and had given their qualified approval. The second as a vital part of the plan that had been approved by the Joint Chiefs. Now that element was being removed by the President, acting in the isolation of Glen Ora; and Admiral Arleigh Burke, Chief of Naval Operations, whose ships were deployed off the Bay of Pigs, did not learn of the cancellation of the second air strike until ten hours later, at 7:00 A.M. Monday.

As the first tense hours of April 17 slipped by, Bissell and Cabell remained in touch with Happy Valley and waited uncertainty for the dawn. At 4:00 A.M. Cabell could stand it no longer. He decided to appeal again to Rusk.

Cabell drove through the darkened capital to Rusk's hotel. (Rusk, Secretary of State for less than three months, had not yet moved into a home in Washington; he had an apartment at the Sheraton Park Hotel on upper Connecticut Avenue.) In Rusk's apartment he again expressed his fears over the cancellation of the air strike. Despite the hour the Secretary of State called the President once more in Middleburg. This time Cabell did speak directly to him. In answer to the CIA official's pleadings, the President's reply was still negative.

The light burned late in Rusk's suite K-608 in the otherwise quiet Sheraton Park. Outside, the capital's streets were deserted as the city slept. A light spring breeze caressed the pale, new green leaves on the trees. In the Bahia de Cochinos the men were now going ashore. But Castro still had planes, and they were about to raise havoc with the exile brigade on the beaches.

It was forty-eight hours since Mario Zuniga had taken off from Happy Valley. The invasion was just beginning. In reality, it was already over.

* Former head of the Cuban Air Force.

** When the Times story appeared the next day, it particularly irritated President Kennedy. He was angered because he felt it had systematically listed flaws in the CIA cover.

*** The names of Mario Zuniga, Jose Crespo and Lorenzo Perez, the three pilots who landed in Florida, April 15, 1961, had not been released by the government as of the beginning of 1964. In actual fact, the pilots flew back to Happy Valley in a C-54 on April 16, and participated in the air operations during the invasion. Zuniga survived, but Crespo and Perez died on April 17. Alfredo Caballero, who had landed on Grand Cayman Island, was flown to Miami, and then to Retalhuleu, the CIA's Guatemalan air base. Through a mix-up, he remained there until April 19, out of action.

**** He had also worked for Bissell in the Marshall Plan from April-September, 1948.

Back to Contents