THE INVISIBLE GOVERNMENT
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
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
Defense Intelligence Agency
the National Security Agency
Air Force Intelligence
Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research
the Atomic Energy
the Federal Bureau of
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
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
Dulles, "...has given Intelligence a more influential position in
our government than Intelligence enjoys in any other government of
the world." 
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
* 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
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