Brian Latell has been a Latin America and Caribbean specialist for more than four decades. During his 35 years of service in the CIA and the National Intelligence Council, he advised White House and other ranking American officials and members of Congress on Latin American developments. He teaches, lectures, consults, and writes, especially on Cuba, and has frequently advised US and foreign government policy making organizations and leaders.
He is the author of Castro’s Secrets: The CIA and Cuba’s Intelligence Machine, After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro’s Regime and Cuba’s Next Leader and After Fidel: Raul Castro and the Future of Cuba’s Revolution. Dr. Latell has published opinion and feature articles in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Miami Herald, Time, New York Daily News, the Washington Quarterly, and other major publications in North America, Europe, and Latin America. He has been employed by television networks as a Cuba news consultant and commentator.
From 1990-1994 Dr. Latell served as National Intelligence Officer for Latin America, the highest ranking position for the region in all of the US intelligence agencies. From 1994-1998, he was Director of the CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence.
He taught history and American foreign policy at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service for 26 years as an adjunct professor. Later, from 2006 until 2015 he was Senior Research Associate at the University of Miami. Currently, he is Adjunct Professor at the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy of Florida International University.
In 1985-1986 he was a Senior Associate at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and published extensively, including a timely monograph, Mexico at the Crossroads. For three years he was Senior Associate in the Americas Program of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He was a two term member of the board of directors of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO). In the late 1960s he served as a US Air Force intelligence officer.
Dr. Latell (History, Georgetown University) is the recipient of numerous academic and professional awards, including the CIA’s Distinguished Intelligence Medal.
Notes on Dr Latell’s presentation
David Scott introduced our guest speaker, Dr. Brian Latell, who is a Latin America and Caribbean specialist and who served 35 years in the CIA and the National Intelligence Council, advising White House and other ranking American officials and members of Congress on Latin American developments. Perhaps the greatest moment of tension in the 2nd half of the 20th century occurred when a hostile power began installing missiles less than 500 km from a major US city. This set the stage for the abiding hatred of each other by two world leaders: the Cuban leader Fidel Castro and John F. Kennedy. One of them survived and one of them didn’t. It was due in large measure to the incredible intelligence apparatus set up by Castro that he and his regime were able to survive from the Bay of Pigs on. Our speaker today spent his entire career working for the CIA, America’s intelligence network. He was focused on Latin America, especially Cuba. At the end of his career, Brian Latell was the most senior CIA person with that responsibility. His book
Castro’s Secrets: The CIA and Cuba’s Intelligence Machine is exciting, yet an objective analysis of how Castro operated. Gentlemen, I give you Brian Latell.
Thank you, David. I’m delighted to be here in Vancouver. I was here some years ago with my wife and we love your city and province. I’m here because of David Scott and David Wilson. We met at a luncheon in Miami some months ago and I told them I would be in Vancouver in August. I’d like to tell you first about what’s going on in Cuba today. I know many of you have been there and many of you will be going soon. The United States finally established diplomatic relations with the Castro brothers, a year ago. It was very controversial in many places, especially Miami, where I have a university lodgement. Overall, it was very popular with the American people. The American people were generally ready for this change after so many years. Diplomatic relations between our two countries were severed in 1961 and they were not restored until a year ago.
So, now, have we buried the hatchet with the Cubans? Are we on a clear course toward a really, really fine, friendly relationship? No. No, we’re not. The economic embargo is still in effect and the American Congress, at least the current American Congress, has zero interest in lifting or removing any more of the provisions of the embargo. Obama has done a good job of lifting and removing many provisions of the embargo that his Executive authority allows him to do. But still there are many, many very stringent restrictions imposed by law and those restrictions can only be lifted by an act of Congress. The current Congress is not in the mood to do it.
But on the Cuban side, there isn’t any greater interest, either, in making the relationship even more perfect. Fidel Castro is still alive. He’s going to be 90 years old here in a very short time. In a week or so, he’s going to have his 90th birthday. He’s intransigent. He does not want to have a good relationship, a normalized relationship, with the United States. He still has some influence behind the scenes. You know he’s been out of power for 10 years, almost to the day. 10 years ago he left power and his younger brother Raul, not much younger at 85, runs Cuba with the same kind iron fist as Fidel did.
Let me tell you a little about what is going on in Cuba today. The visit by President Obama was historic. It was the first time an American President had visited Cuba since I think the 1920s. Obama’s visit was a huge, unqualified success from the perspective of almost everybody except the Cuban leadership. Obama delivered a really splendid speech. I think he organized the speech and delivered it with the younger generation of Cubans in mind. And he appealed to the younger generation of Cubans to aspire to human rights and to freedoms and to democracy in a way that really challenged the old guard leadership under the Castro brothers. As Obama delivered the speech in Havana, and it was televised live, Raul Castro was standing about 6 feet away, glowering. He was pretty furious as he was getting the translation in his earphones. Obama’s speech was extremely well received in the US. I talked to Cubans in Miami across the entire ideological spectrum from Cubans who are very pro President Obama and rapprochement with Cuba to Cubans that are absolutely intransigent and recalcitrant and refuse to admit that there should be any improvement in relations with these grotesque monsters the Castro brothers. But across that entire spectrum of opinion from right to extreme left, there was unanimity amongst everyone I spoke with, Obama’s speech was brilliant and the Cuban people seemed to be receiving it in the same way.
Obama is probably more popular with the Cuban people than either of the Castro brothers. Imagine that. There’s also a very good and obvious reason for it. About 60-65% of Cubans today are dark skinned with African ancestors. They are just amazed and happy that we in the US have elected and re-elected this man with an African father. So Obama is popular in Cuba. The Cuban leadership under Raul and Fidel sort of hovering in the background in his convalescent quarters was outraged and indignant. And Raul behaved very poorly in the press conference that he had with Obama. He behaved very angrily. He snapped angrily at a couple reporters who challenged him. And Obama just stood there gracefully and basked in the success that he was having.
The Cuban government held their Communist Party Congress a month after Obama’s visit in April. Many of us thought they would begin to implement some significant political changes, especially in the leadership, but they didn’t. Raul continues to be the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, 85 years old. His 2nd Secretary, the number two man in the Communist Party, who has been in that post now for quite a few years, he was confirmed in that position, so he continues being number 2. He’s a little bit older than Raul. He’ll soon be 86. Most of the top leaders who have any real influence and power with the Castros are in their late 70s and 80s. All of the generals who have any power are elderly men, many in their upper 80s. The leadership is stagnant and the economy is stagnant, because the Castros at this party Congress did not announce any new economic reforms. Not allowing greater free enterprise. They’re not willing to be more flexible around attracting foreign investment. But, Raul Castro – and this is one of the 2 things to watch over the next 2 years – has said that he will step down in early 2018. What will he step down from? He’ll step down from the Presidency of Cuba. This is a man who is the President of the Council of State, the President of the Council of Ministers, and therefore the Head of State, he’s the only four-star general in Cuba. He goes around frequently wearing his military army uniform, wearing his four stars on his shoulders. And he is the head of the Communist Party, the First Secretary of the Communist Party. He says he’s going to step down as President, but he hasn’t said he’s going to step down as head of the Communist Party. That’s the position that really calls the shots. The President really responds to the head of the Communist Party. So, what’s going to happen? He’s 85. Is going to step down from all of his positions, even give up his military rank? It doesn’t seem that way. The elderly leadership is extremely worried about the Pandora of democracy getting out of the bottle. They’re worried that Obama attracted so much enthusiasm from the younger generation and from Afro-Cubans. The leadership is just hunkering down. Battening down the hatches. Not willing to make any more significant changes because they’re worried about the destabilizing repercussions.
The other thing to watch is when we have a new Congress in Washington next January, will the new Congress be significantly different than the Congress we’ve had recently? Possibly. If it is significantly different, will there be a strong movement, a majority movement in both houses of our Congress to finally end the economic embargo. So those are the two things to watch over the next two years. Will Raul surrender some, all or any of his power? Will the new American Congress eliminate the economic embargo? I don’t know the answer to either.
What about Fidel? Here’s this man just about to celebrate his 90th birthday. By the way, he’s been lying about his age since he was a teenager but unlike most people, like Hollywood stars, who pretend they are younger, he pretends to be a year older. He’s really going to be 89, by the way. He’s a remarkable character. He was brought out by the hardliners in the Communist Party Congress back in April and read a statement. Read it fairly well. He was halting and his speech was slurred but it was understandable and he made it very clear that he is completely opposed to the process of rapprochement with the United States. He doesn’t want better relations with the US and he was very critical of President Obama, because he knew how much of a rift Obama has potentially created within Cuban society.
Now this Fidel Castro is the same man who for just about 50 years governed Cuba with an iron hand, from January 1959 until he stepped down 10 years ago. He governed Cuba with an iron hand. He held many, many titles over the years. Prime Minister and President. He held various ministerial positions and insisted on various titles. One of the titles he liked the most was Commandante, or Commander. The role that he liked the most, that he coveted the most, was the least known of all of the roles that Fidel Castro played during his decades in power. That role was he was Cuba’s supreme spymaster. We don’t often think of a President or a Prime Minister in a modern nation who is simultaneously running the ins and outs, the details of foreign intelligence operations. Your Prime Minister doesn’t do that, I’m sure. And President Obama doesn’t do that either. Churchill in World War II played a heavy role in running intelligence operations. But what I’m trying to explain about Fidel Castro is really remarkably different by orders of magnitude. Fidel Castro insisted on knowing the identities of all of Cuba’s best spies and agents. When influential Americans were recruited to spy for Cuba, he liked to meet with them. They would be brought to Cuba covertly and they would go to one of his places, his office or his residence, and they would secretly meet with Fidel and he would congratulate them and applaud them and he would tell them, Continue doing what you’re doing! It’s so good for Cuba. You’re helping us to defeat Yankee imperialism.
I worked with one of those spies. Her name was Anna Montes. She worked at the Pentagon and she was maybe Fidel’s premiere spy during the 1980s and 1990s. And I worked with her, often sat across the table with her and never suspected that she was a spy. That’s one of my great regrets. I should have seen through it, because you know the truth is that I never trusted her. But I didn’t realize why I didn’t trust her. She wasn’t working for us; she was working for Fidel.
Fidel had a spy in Washington in earlier years before the late 1980s. The spy was compromised by 1987. I’ll tell you why. This was a very high level American government official, possibly working at the CIA. I never learned his identity, or her identity, probably a him. I never learned his identity, but my source tells me that he probably was working either at the CIA or at the Pentagon. He was such a high level spy that he was handled by Fidel Castro personally. It was Fidel Castro who had a Cuban who would go meet with this American spy, probably here in Canadian cities, or Mexican cities, in third country locations. This Cuban would meet the American spy and the Cuban would go back and sit with Fidel and explain to Fidel everything he got from the spy and then Fidel would say, ok, the next time you see him, I want you to ask him this and this, here’s a list of more requirements I want you to ask. And don’t tell anybody else about this. Nobody else needs to know. Not the Minister not the head of the intelligence service because I’m the head of the intelligence service, de facto.
The Cuban intelligence service was so good it’s really one of the best in the world. It has been for many, many years. I rank it up there among the 4 or 5 best intelligence services anywhere. I won’t give you the list because you might be offended if I don’t put Canada right up there. The Cubans have been extraordinary practitioners in some of the toughest intelligence disciplines. I’ll name two: counterintelligence and double agent operations. The Cubans ran about 4 dozen Cubans who were recruited by the CIA to spy on Cuba. They were rewarded with salaries and some of them with bonuses. One of them reportedly, if you can believe the Cuban government about this, was actually given a medal by the CIA Director, Bill Casey, Ronald Regan’s really hardline CIA Director. But the Cuban wasn’t really working for the CIA at all; he was working for Fidel Castro. Almost 50 double agents! There’s almost nothing in modern spycraft that compares to that kind of monstrous, massive deception and the CIA, I hate to admit it, was totally taken in for a number of years.
A lot of these Cubans passed the polygraph exam. Some of them passed the polygraph two or three times. The Cubans are really good at passing the polygraph. This Anna Montes, she’s not Cuban but Puerto Rican, but she passed the polygraph. She was trained by the Cubans in how to pass the lie detector test. I’m telling you all of this, first of all, to emphasize how good the Cuban intelligence service is and still is, and the main reason it has been so good is that the supreme spymaster, Fidel Castro himself, made sure that he built up a spy service to rival the CIA.
How do we know about all these double agents? If they were fooling us year after year, how am I able to tell you this story? How did we learn about it? Well, that’s the genesis of my book, Castro’s secrets. There was a Cuban intelligence officer. His name is Aspillaga. He defected in May of 1987. He defected in Vienna and began to be debriefed by CIA officers in various places in Europe. Some of the first things he started to tell them were, you know, that agent you have that works in such and such ministry, he’s a double agent. And you know that other guy that works over in the Transportation Institute, he’s a double agent, too. And you know that Italian guy, who you got to be a spy for you, the Italian business man in Havana, he’s a double agent; he’s working for Cuban intelligence. The CIA officers who are hearing this are about falling off their chairs, and gradually they hear 48 or 49 are double agents. Aspillaga had the entire list. He was a counterintelligence officer.
Well, Aspillaga also revealed a lot of other Cuban intelligence operations. There was an American woman, she used to love to go down to Cuba to cut sugar with the Venceremos Brigades. Remember them? A lot of hippies who would go down and cut cane with the Cubans and join in the rallies and join in the happy speeches about happy communism and a lot of them were recruited by Cuban intelligence. This American woman became a professor at an East Coast university. Aspillaga told me this story I’m going to share with you. She was recruited and in her classroom. I have an idea which university, but I’m not sure. She would play some very important roles for Cuban intelligence. She would pine to her students about how great Cuba was and how terrible America was and how terrible our policy is toward Cuba, and she would assess and spot students of hers who might be attractive for the Cuban intelligence service. There was a young Hispanic man, a student in one of her classes and she worked on him and worked on him and he became more and more attracted to the teachings of the Cuban revolution and her teachings. When she considered him to be ripe for a recruitment pitch by Cuban intelligence, she encouraged him to travel with her to a third country where, Nicaragua, under the Sandinista government, a very friendly government to Cuba. She took the student with her there and handed him over to her case officer, the Cuban intelligence officer who was her control. She handed this student off to the Cuban and he recruited the young man. And what were his instructions to the young man? We’re going to teach you how to beat the polygraph and we hope you’ll get a job at the CIA. Well, he might have succeeded, except that this defector I told you about, Aspillaga, knew about the case and he told us at CIA. He knew just enough about the identity of the student that we were able to block it right there.
I interviewed Florentino Aspillaga several years after his defection. I had already written one book about Cuba and he had heard about me. I think he read my first book. And he agreed to meet with me. We arranged clandestine meetings. I told him I was interested in writing a book about Cuban intelligence and him. He never asked me for anything. He never asked me for any compensation, he never asked me for any part of my royalties, nor for anything. He just wanted me to tell his story and he wanted his story told to the world. That had not happened before. He had been living with a new identity somewhere in the United States since his defection in 1987. I think I interviewed him for about 15 hours over 2 or 3 different meetings. I recorded the meetings and someday I will donate the recordings to the archives at Stanford University. Aspillaga told me all these stories that I’ve just shared with you about all the double agents and the woman spy and the other spy that I mentioned that was the high level spy that Fidel himself was case officer for. But very early in my first debriefing of Aspillaga, he told me something that literally knocked me off my chair, because I had never heard it before. He said you know, Brian, on the morning of Nov 22, 1963, I was working in my little communications shack, he was a communications intercept officer, he was very young, and he was working in this shack on the north coast of Cuba to the west of Havana and he said I received orders that morning, Nov 22, 1963, to focus all of my intercept and communications equipment on Texas. I said what time was this? Kennedy was shot at 12:30 Central Time on that day. He said it was 9:00 or 9:30 in the morning. I said do you mean that someone above you in Cuban intelligence was expecting something dire to happen in Texas that morning? He said, Brian, I’m absolutely convinced that Fidel Castro knew that shots were going to be fired at Kennedy. And that’s when I thought, well, I have to pursue this. I was very sceptical.
I explain in the book in considerable detail all of the due diligence I did, all of the screening and searching. I tracked down about a dozen other defectors from Cuban intelligence and talked to all of them and a lot of their stories are in my book too. I couldn’t find anyone who could corroborate the story that Aspillaga told me that morning. But I did find a good deal of other evidence that’s strongly suggestive that Fidel Castro knew that there was going to be something that was going to happen to Kennedy.
There was another defector that told the CIA that Castro had lied the day after the assassination, when he delivered a speech in Cuba that said, “We knew nothing about this. We knew nothing about this Oswald person. We had no knowledge.” Well this defector came out a little bit later – another totally reliable defector from Cuban intelligence – he said Castro lied, everybody in Cuban intelligence was talking about it that day. I was at headquarters and everyone was talking about Oswald. We knew about Oswald. Castro lied. Now there are several other sources I’ve identified that corroborated that Fidel knew and lied. I can’t tell you that Fidel himself is responsible for Oswald shooting Kennedy, I can’t go that far, but Fidel knew.
There was a really successful FBI counterintelligence operation that was run for years mostly against the Soviets, against the Kremlin. It was called Operation Solo. This was strictly FBI. It was a couple of brothers that had been born in Russia. The Childs brothers. Morris and Jack Childs. Maybe you’ve heard of them. There’s a good book about Operation Solo. All you need to know about the Cuban part of it is in my book, Castro’s secrets. The younger brother, Jack was totally trusted in the Kremlin and in Havana by Castro. He and Morris were leaders of the American Communist Party and they had been essentially lifelong Communists, but Jack one morning was recruited on the streets of New York by some FBI agents and it was what we call a cold pitch. They just walked up to him in the streets of New York City and approached him and said, “We’re from the FBI, we’d like to talk to you”. A cold pitch generally is just rejected, repudiated out of hand, but Jack surprised them. He said, “Well, where the hell have you guys been all this time!? I’ve been waiting for you to get in touch with me. I hate this Communist bullshit.” So, Jack became a totally trusted agent of the FBI, his brother Morris too. Jack went to Cuba in May of 1964 and met with Fidel. Fidel spent several hours with him. I have the transcripts of what they talked about. The most remarkable thing that came out of this conversation with Fidel was this. After talking to him about a number of other things, Fidel said to him, “What do you think about the Kennedy assassination? Do you think that that guy Oswald did it all by himself?” Weeks before the assassination, Oswald went to Mexico City and consulted with Cuban officers, mostly with Cuban intelligence officers. Most of that is well documented. Fidel then said, “You know, while Oswald was leaving our embassy down in Mexico City in September of 1963, you know what he said. He said, I’m going to kill Kennedy.” Most of these things I’m telling you never properly reached the Warren Commission. Some of it was sent to the Warren Commission but distorted. J. Edgar Hoover distorted the story that I just told you about Jack Childs. Operation Solo was really a remarkable thing and the Childs brothers were totally, totally reliable. I interviewed FBI officers who worked with them and they assured me, Brian, we never had the slightest doubt. They were working for us for a couple of decades. We never had the slightest doubt. And I found some documents at the national archives that substantiated that. Now, what was Castro’s motive? Why would he lie? I guess he lied because he knew Oswald wanted to kill Kennedy and he knew that Oswald had met with a number of Cuban intelligence officers at the Cuban embassy in Mexico City and they probably encouraged him.
Now Castro knew also that the CIA and the Kennedy brothers were shooting for him. There were plots. You know there were plots. This is well known. There were assassination plots that were developed in the CIA and Castro knew. I’m going to tell you a little bit about the plot that was the most serious and also the most historically interesting. Most serious because the plot was developing and ripening in the summer and fall of 1963 and Castro knew that the Kennedy brothers were behind it. Especially Robert Kennedy. And Robert Kennedy would not do something like plot with the CIA on Castro’s assassination without the President’s approval. Castro said this and this is an exact transcript of what he said in meeting with journalists in Havana in September 1963. I’m going to read it to you exactly as he said it and there’s no doubt about the authenticity of this.
We are prepared to fight them and answer in kind. US leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they will not be safe. US leaders would be in danger if they helped in any way attempt to do away with the leaders of Cuba.
It was a threat and it was a warning. Castro was trying to tell the Kennedy brothers through this public statement I know that you’re plotting my death. You should be aware that I am capable of retaliating. I was able to get a document declassified from the CIA only last year. I had wanted to get it to use it in the book, but it’s not in the book because I didn’t get it until recently. This is a Columbian-American journalist who reported this. He was a Spanish speaker. His report that came out about a day later in all of the news media. His report was held up by the Cuban government, by their censors for about 12 hours. And the Cuban government officials poured over it, including that statement. And I’m convinced that given his keen interest in everything in this area that Fidel Castro himself reviewed it and approved it and said let it go out, let the world know what I said, that I issued this warning or this threat. I think it was both a warning and a threat.
So now you’re wondering, how did Fidel know? How did he know that the Kennedy’s were trying to kill him? This is a fascinating story and not a story that you get from Aspillaga because Aspillaga didn’t really know about this. There was a Cuban, who is still alive that I interviewed in Miami when I was writing the book. His name is Rolando Cuebela. A known assassin. He had assassinated a top military leader in a previous dictatorship in Cuba, the Batista Dictatorship. He murdered this man in cold blood. The CIA knew it. So this Cuebela had blood on his hands. He was a known assassin. He started getting the word to the CIA that he had decided that he hated Castro, that he was no longer on Castro’s side. He was an enemy of the Cuban Revolution and wanted to kill the Cuban leader. Those were words from heaven for the CIA in 1963, which was under unrelenting pressure from the Kennedy bothers, especially Bobby Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was much too elegant to get down in the dirty about this sort of thing, but Bobby Kennedy had no scruples or reservations at all about working very closely with the CIA to eliminate Fidel Castro. The Kennedys were so humiliated by Castro at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 that they wanted revenge.
So, this Rolando Cuebela was recruited by the CIA and they knew that he had blood on his hands, that he was already a killer and that he could assassinate in cold blood. They knew that he was a high ranking official in the Cuban government, that he was a Commandante, the highest military rank. He had served as a guerrilla with Fidel. He had a beach house adjacent to one Fidel used to on the weekends. If he was at the beach house, he could just walk across the sand and take him out. At least the CIA thought so. He was recruited, mostly in European countries. He got some training in France. He got training in demolitions. I have some photographs that were declassified of him doing demolitions work. The CIA took him down to an American Air Force base, when we had an air force base in France before De Gaulle I guess closed it down. They trained him in secret writing so that when he went back to Cuba he could communicate clandestinely with the Agency.
But you look back on it as I did when I wrote the book and there are all kinds of red flags that this guy was not reliable. He never used the CIA secret writing. He never really communicated with the CIA. He never really shared any valuable information with them. But the CIA continued under pressure from Bobby Kennedy to work with him with the objective of eliminating Fidel. Cuebela finally said to the CIA in October of 1963, you know, I think I trust you guys and I know that you’re representing high levels of the US government, but I need higher level assurances about this. I want to meet with a high level American official who can assure me that this is truly American government policy to eliminate Fidel. I interviewed the CIA officer who was Cuebela’s case officer, Nestor Sanchez. Sanchez said to Cuebela, Well, maybe I can arrange something. Did you have someone mind in particular? He wanted to talk to Bobby Kennedy. He wanted to get Bobby Kennedy’s personal directions to kill Castro. Well, I think some in the CIA were anxious to have Bobby Kennedy secretly meet with him, but saner heads prevailed and instead of Bobby, a very senior CIA official went in Bobby Kennedy’s place. A man who was distantly related to the Kennedy’s. A man who was very, very strong, powerful, senior and very close to the Kennedy’s. He lived in Georgetown and was involved in the whole social scene with Jack. This man’s name was Desmond Fitzgerald. When I was a very young officer, I knew Desmond Fitzgerald and I was in awe. He was such an impressive man. Desmond went to Paris with Nestor Sanchez translating and met secretly with Cuebela and assured Cuebela that this was indeed US policy.
So Cuebela requested a sophisticated unusual assassination weapon and the CIA went right about work on that. They came up with one. Nestor Sanchez was given the assignment of delivering the weapon to Cuebela. So Nestor flew to Paris and carried the weapon with him in his suit. It wasn’t a long arm rifle, obviously. It wasn’t a glock/pistol. So Nestor traveled to Paris with the weapon on his person. He got through Customs with no problem. Met in a CIA safe house with Cuebela, the assassin and he’s instructing Cuebela on how to use the weapon and he took it out of his pocket. It was a Papermate pen. He said to Cuebela, It goes like this, when you press it, it won’t be an ink cartridge that comes out, it will be a syringe. You load the syringe with a certain poison and when you see Fidel, you just poke him and the poison will be so potent that even a light scratch on his skin should be lethal. The drama of this story is so amazing. The phone rang. It was a CIA safehouse. Nestor Sanchez answered it since it was a controlled phone. He answered and Desmond Fitzgerald was on the other line in Washington. Nestor call of the operation. Jack Kennedy has just been shot to death in Dallas. The same day. A coincidence? A bizarre coincidence? I guess. But the end of the story, which I bet you’ve all figured out by now is that Rolando Cuebela was a double agent. He was working for Fidel. He was never really working for the CIA. He was working for Fidel. He was Fidel’s personal double agent penetrating the CIA. It was Fidel who wanted to be assured that the Kennedys themselves were behind the assassination plotting. Once he was assured of that, his hatred and fear of the Kennedy’s just grew and grew. In my book, I track down quite a few sources. If you read the book and you get to that chapter toward the end of the book you’ll see that there really can’t be any reasonable doubt that Cuebela was a double agent working for Fidel. I even had a defector who told me exactly that, that he had seen evidence of it in documents in Havana.
I can’t tell you, I won’t tell you that I think that Fidel himself had any direct personal responsibility for Kennedy’s death, but I think he knew that Oswald was going to shoot at Kennedy that morning.
Q & A
Question: Is there any Cuban connection to Robert Kennedy’s assassination?
Answer: I don’t know of any. I haven’t really had the chance to thoroughly investigate it as I did these other stories, but I don’t know of any reason to think that was the Cubans. It could have been that Sirhan Sirhan who killed Robert Kennedy, you recall, in June of 1968, certainly Fidel hated Robert Kennedy because he knew that Robert was the main instigator of the plot against Fidel though a series of cut outs going back to Cuba. Sure it is possible. He could have possibly not have even known that he was working indirectly for the Cubans. Certainly it’s possible, but I don’t know of any evidence.
Question: Was Jack Ruby a Cuban Agent?
Answer: I don’t think so and I don’t think that he had any responsibility at all for the Kennedy assassination. He killed Lee Harvey Oswald two days after Kennedy’s death. I’m very critical of parts of the Warren Commission. There were many omissions and many flaws in the Warren Commission Report, especially regarding the Cuban angle. I think they had Jack Ruby about right. They basically exonerated Jack Ruby. He passed a polygraph test… I don’t think so.
Question: My wife and I spent a week in Cuba and visited the Embassy. At that time it seemed from the conversations I was having that the Americans that were in Cuba were dealing somewhat through the Canadian Embassy.
Answer: I wouldn’t be surprised. We had friends at the British Embassy too, because we didn’t have an embassy, obviously. But during that time in Cuba, there were Americans in Cuba. That started in about 1978 or 1979, when Jimmy Carter became President in 1977, he opened what’s called an Interests Section. There was a US diplomatic mission that moved into the old Embassy building. Yes we had diplomats there. But until then we didn’t. From 1961 until 1978 we had no diplomats. By the way, I didn’t tell you that the Cuban intelligence service did some pretty effective penetrations here in Canada. They’ve operated with great success here in Canada. That’s a story for another day.
Question: How did Obama get permission to land his big jet and make that speech in Cuba?
Answer: Maybe they miscalculated and shouldn’t have agreed to it. Raul is not nearly as astute or he’s not as great a chess player as Fidel. You could argue that Raul made a pretty serious mistake in allowing Obama to come and deliver that speech and to have that joint press conference where Raul just performed so abysmally. Yeah, you could certainly argue that.
Question: I understand Canada was involved in the process that resulted in the improving of relations between the US and Cuba?
Answer: I don’t know. I’ve been out of government now for quite a few years. I understand Pope Francis was very involved. I think the answer to your question is yes, because there were clandestine meetings in Ottawa, between Cuban and US officials and one of those Cuban officials, I’m told was Raul Castro’s son. The CIA didn’t do this. The State Department and the White House arranged these meetings and they would have done it with the cooperation, I’m sure, of your service.
Question: Where did the Cuban intelligence service get their expertise? Did they have links with the KGB or Chinese intelligence? Where was their intelligence from?
Answer: They got a lot of tutorials from the KGB and a lot of useful instruction from the East German Stasi. But the Cubans, as Cubans do, improvised brilliantly to make their intelligence service work the way it should for Cuba. But they had a lot of tutorials and a lot of help from the Russians and East Germans. Not the Chinese.
Question: If the new Congress lifts trade restrictions or the embargo is that going to make any difference?
Answer: For the Cubans it probably will. One of the restrictions that hurts them the most is that they cannot become members of any of the international financial institutions, the IFIs, the World Bank and all of those big institutions with lots of money. It’s part of the embargo legislation that the US members of those organizations that they must always vote against Cuban membership. If they could get access to those institutions, they would sure like it. If the embargo were totally lifted and all restrictions were gone, foreign investors from many other countries would be much happier about going into Cuba. Right now if the French or the Spanish go into Cuba and let’s say they start manufacturing something. They can’t sell whatever the product is in the US. Cuban goods can’t come to the US with some very, very limited exceptions. So yeah, it would be a benefit to the Cubans and their economy right now is in terrible shape.
Question: Given the degree of penetration that you’ve told us about, is it perhaps reasonable to assume that Senator McCarthy may not have exaggerated the degree of Communist penetration of the State Department?
Answer: I’m not so familiar with the McCarthy era. Clearly he greatly exaggerated. There are different schools of thought about McCarthy and his allegations. He was correct to some extent, but he greatly exaggerated. He really did some onerous things. But there was a State Department officer serving a life sentence his name is Kendall Myers, he and his wife was Gwendolyn spied for Fidel, they were greeted by Fidel. They went secretly to Havana. They met with Fidel as I told you earlier, he just loved to meet with his favourite spies. Especially if they were spying on Americans. And he met with them and Kendall Myers was quoted maybe during his trial, he said, Oh, Fidel was just marvellous. We had the most marvellous meeting with him and Kendall Myers got some kind of Cuban government decoration for betraying his country as a State Department officer, unlike Anna Montes, I think he got a life sentence. She’ll be getting out of prison in another 10 years. Way too early in my opinion.
Question: Are the Americans able to invest in Cuba? Will there be an increase in tourism investment in Cuba? And can you speak to the US election?
Answer: There’s some European investment. I just read that the French are going to be getting a contract to remodel the Havana airport, which is really quite a disaster. There’s a small firm in Alabama. I think it’s the first American firm that’s going to be doing any kind of investment in Cuba. They’re going to be investing in a small tractor assembly operation. The restrictions from the embargo, the legislation is pretty strict. Foreign companies Spanish and Mexican companies are into the hotel and tourism business and of course Canada, Sherritt, has a big interest in mining. The money there has depreciated because the price of nickel is down so low, so Sherritt is not doing very well. And by the way, some Canadian investors have been thrown into jail in Cuba allegedly for corruption. The advantage right now is distinctly in Hilary Clinton’s court. Given the peculiarities of our electoral system, the Electoral College, she or the other guy will need 270 Electoral votes. She’s pretty well guaranteed, unless there’s a political earthquake in the next couple of months, she’s pretty well guaranteed to win California, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, and other states that will give her 240 Electoral votes. So she’s pretty well guaranteed that base. So she just needs 30 more. So, if she wins Florida and Virginia, she’ll win. And she’s favoured in both Florida and Virginia, because in Florida and Virginia and New Mexico and California, there are very, very large numbers of Hispanic voters and they are overwhelmingly are opposed to the Republican candidate because they think building a wall along the US-Mexico border is an outrage. So overwhelmingly, the Hispanic vote is going to go to Mrs. Clinton.
Question: Other than a mutual dislike of America, what advantage was there for Pierre Trudeau and Fidel Castro to form almost a personal relationship?
Answer: They were very close. I know Castro’s personality very well and don’t know Trudeau’s very well so let me do some speculating. I would imagine that they would have a lot of personality traits that were similar. Fidel is a narcissist and Pierre was very proud of himself… I don’t want to get into your politics… I think for Pierre it was a way to poke the US and assert the Canadian independence of the United States, of the big power. And it was probably heartfelt, that he felt that the American policies toward Cuba, including the assassination plots, the embargo, the Bay of Pigs and all of those things that it was American imperialism, trying to crush a small neighbouring country. So, I think it was sincere as well as personality driven. I think that Fidel was just delighted to take advantage of it.
Question: Is there any complicity by the CIA in the failure of the Warren Commission? How clean is the CIA in terms of in terms of politics?
Answer: The CIA held back some of the most important information that the Warren Commission should have received. The Warren Commission was never told about the assassination plots against Fidel Castro. It did not know that this defector I told you about who said Fidel lied. They weren’t told about that. The Warren Commission wasn’t given the full story. Only a very, very abbreviated version of the Jack Childs story, about Oswald saying I’m going to kill Kennedy. The Warren Commission really didn’t get that either. If they had received all of those things and others. There are several other items of evidence in the book. If the Warren Commission had been given all of those things, maybe they would have seriously investigated the possibility of a Cuban hand in Kennedy’s death. But you know what I think the bottom line is? I think the new President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson put a lid on the whole thing. I think he told Hoover at the FBI and McCone and Helms at the CIA. I think Johnson got the word to the ambassador in Mexico City who was really convinced that Castro was involved. I think that Johnson got the word out through the top levels of the administration. Leave it alone, we don’t need to know if the Cubans were involved. He didn’t want to go to war with Cuba and Russia. So, I think the buck stopped with Lyndon Johnson. I think he put the lid on it. The Warren Commission really was operating in the wilderness in many ways. You know it’s only recently in the last year or months, this year, that it’s been revealed that John McCone, who was the CIA director in 1963, that he lied, that he knew about the assassination attempts against Castro, even though he testified once that he didn’t. Now it turns out that he did know. A CIA historian, going through old CIA records, actually revealed that, that McCone lied and that McCone was operating under instructions to keep a lid on the whole thing. Now, is the CIA clean? Yeah, I think so…
Question: You haven’t mentioned Garrison, the prosecuting attorney in the Warren Commission.
Answer: I had some proximity to all of that. My wife, now deceased, was living in New Orleans during that period and she was a very, very good friend of Clay Shaw. Clay Shaw was the man that Garrison said was responsible somehow for Kennedy’s death. When all of this broke, Clay Shaw was one of my wife’s best friends in the French Quarter and she visited him frequently to give him support as he was defending himself against the outrageous ridiculous charge by Garrison because Garrison did not have an iota of evidence. And once it went to a jury trial, the jury went to a verdict within about 30 minutes and exonerated Clay Shaw and Jim Garrison lived in pretty severe disgrace after that.
Question: The Castro brothers and their colleagues do a pretty good job of maintaining that society, through a few periods of letting dissidents out of the country. 1.5 million have left and they’re still leaving. What’s your prediction? Is it going to crumble like the Berlin wall? Is there in fact a group of younger people, perhaps only in their early 1970s, who will be able to maintain this?
Answer: I can’t answer that. It is a very tough and efficient dictatorship. They stifle any dissent. They stifle dissenters. They encourage dissenters to leave the country and come to the US. We have them in multitudes in Miami. You know we’re receiving as many as 60,000 to 70,000 Cubans per year in the US. 20,000 per year are from an agreement that Clinton and Castro reached back in the mid-1990s. The rest come from a variety of other ways. We’re receiving huge numbers and that’s an escape valve for those dissenters, and that’s been true since the very beginning of the revolution. We’re very happy to have the contributions that the Cuban people have made to our multicultural society but no, the dictatorship is very rough, very tough and it’s probably going to have to end the way that the Soviet Union ended. It’s going to have to come from within. There will have to be a leadership shake up, maybe by some younger Cubans. But after the Castro brothers are gone, you can almost see on the horizon, the advent of change.
Question: Is Raúl’s son a contender for the Cuban leadership?
Answer: Many think that he is. I don’t. I’ve written about him. You can probably find it online. When I was at the University of Miami I was writing something called the Latell Report and one of my issuances last year was about Alejandro Castro Espín, Raul Castro’s only son. I wrote about him and my judgment after interviewing people and seeing speeches is that no, without his father protecting him, he would probably not last too long in a senior position. I might be wrong. He might be much smarter than I give him credit for. He’s probably going to be promoted. He’s a Colonel in the Intelligence Ministry. He’ll probably be promoted to General pretty soon. He might be added to the Politburo of the Communist Party, at least the Central Committee, but I don’t think he will and I don’t think that any of Fidel’s sons are contenders either.
Question: Is there anything to the conspiracy speculation that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t the only shooter and that there was another shooter on the grassy knoll?
Answer: I agree with the Warren Commission conclusion that Oswald was the only person shooting at Kennedy that morning, that there weren’t any other assassins at least none who were shooting at Kennedy that morning. I don’t think there were any Cuban government people or agents other than Oswald who were shooting at Kennedy. I think the Warren Commission got that pretty right, but what they didn’t have, what they completely neglected, because of the cover up in the US government in the Executive branch was all of the aspects of the Cuban connections.