The Bay of Pigs: In defense of Truth and History – Part VI
By Diego Trinidad, Ph.D.
The last conspiracy theory remaining is the one that refuses to go away. Indeed, it seems that it becomes more entrenched with each passing year. Even some of my close friends share this belief. That the CIA—intentionally—planned and executed the Bay of Pigs invasion to fail, with the hidden purpose of consolidating the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro’s regime. This is an article of faith for all true believers. As such, it is truly impossible for anyone to rationally disprove that belief and I certainly cannot. However, for those who believe, I have one question: Qui Bono? This is the old Latin legal question meaning, who benefits? True believers cannot answer the question—they never have and they never will. Therefore, for the purposes of this essay, that conspiracy theory is laid to rest in front of history.
Finally, the time has come to assign responsibilities for what happened. There is no question that the CIA must bear a heavy burden for what happened and why. The planners, specifically Bissell, were stuck in 1954 and the successful Guatemala operation. Most of the agents involved in that adventure, led by Bissell also, were part of the Bay of Pigs team. They failed to recognize the important differences between Cuba and Guatemala and did not adjust the plans to this new situation. The plan evolved, as has been mentioned, going from a small operation with 50 men infiltration teams, to a plan that eventually included 600 men (eventually up to 3,000) and an overt invasion of a foreign country. A military operation of this kind was well beyond the scope of the CIA, but not until three months before the landing was to take place was the Pentagon even consulted as to the feasibility of the plan. The Pentagon gave it very unenthusiastic support and basically washed its hand off of it. But it became a self-sustaining situation with many vested interests involved. Critical thinking stopped. The invasion took on a momentum of its own. And as its scope and size grew, it became impossible to apply the concept of plausible deniability. How could a full-scale invasion with a small army of over 1,200 infantry and four tanks, a mini navy of at least seven transport ships and several landing craft, an air force of 16 B-26 bombers and several C-46 and C-54 cargo planes, and even a “foreign relations department” with ties to Guatemala and Nicaragua, be launched without U.S. involvement? It could not, and the whole world knew the U.S. was involved. In the end, the obsession with plausible deniability sank the entire operation.
But there were extremely serious operational errors made, beginning with the faulty photographic analysis of the results of the only bombing raid on April 15. Instead of half the FAR planes destroyed, there were 11 planes left, including the deadly T-33 jets, which the CIA discarded as unimportant and did not even know they were armed with cannons and rockets. The crucial Río Escondido ship, with most of the airplane gasoline, ammunition and communications gear for the Brigade was sunk by one T-33. The CIA also made a mistake with the analysis of the landing area, confusing reefs with “algae” and then refusing to listen to reports to the contrary from people familiar with the area.
The transport ships were old and unreliable and the crews were inexperienced. The landing craft were not suited for landing in the designated area. Even things as basic as the wrong fuel mix for outboard engines, which resulted in delays and even the inability of some of the Brigade to land. Some of the CIA trainers in the Guatemala training camp were arrogant, some even detested the Cuban exiles they were training, although in general, all the CIA personnel were committed to the success of the operation. Indeed, ten pilots from the Alabama National Guard eventually flew some of the B-26 on the last day of the invasion, when everything was lost and they knew they were going to their death. Four of the ten Americans died, two in a fiery crash in the water, two others surviving a forced landing on the island but killed by Cuban militia. In short, the CIA personnel, from Bissell down to Esterline and Hawkins, and to Grayston Lynch and Rip Robertson, who actually landed on Cuban soil before any members of the Brigade did, believed in the operation, believed in the importance of bringing the Castro regime down, believed that they were contributing to winning the Cold War. And most importantly, they all believed the U.S. military would go in after the Brigade, especially when things began to unravel and failure was a very real probability. But they were all wrong. Kennedy kept his word that under no conditions would the American military forces intervene in Cuba.
Richard Bissell must be specifically singled out as the most responsible, expect for one person. Bissell became so engrossed with the idea of the invasion and with toppling Castro, that he lost sight of any critical thinking whatsoever at the end. As well, he became more and more enamored with the CIA/Mafia conspiracy to assassinate Castro. He basically conducted the assassination “track” as a dual operation with the invasion of the Brigade. And he may have carried Kennedy along, in the sense that they were both hoping for Castro to be dead by the time the Brigade had landed. That way, all the rest of the “unpleasantness” could be dispensed with. Bissell himself almost admits as much in his Memoirs. And perhaps even more damaging, he admits—and regrets—that he was not more forceful in emphasizing to the president the paramount importance of the bombing raids. Castro’s remaining attack planes must be destroyed or the entire operation would fail. But he did not. Neither did Dulles, who also bitterly regretted it afterwards.
Bissell did not even speak to the President when Dean Rusk offered both him and General Cabell the telephone to speak directly with Kennedy on the night of April 16th.. They both went to see Rusk at the State Department after hearing from McGeorge Bundy at 9:45pm that the president had given direct orders cancelling the dawn bombing raid prior to the Brigade’s landing at the Bay of Pigs. Rusk told them: “At the present time, political requirements are over-riding”. They continued to plead for a reinstatement of the dawn raids and meanwhile, a call from Colonel Hawkins, the Brigade’s military advisor, came in. He had just learned of the cancellation order and was livid, He predicted that unless the bombing raid went on as planned, the Brigade’s supply ships would be sunk and the entire invasion would fail. He begged Bissell to change the president’s mind. Whereupon Rusk called the White House and spoke with Kennedy, who again refused to change his mind. Rusk passed the phone first to Cabell, then to Bissell. They both refused to speak with the president. That was the invasion’s last gasp. Bissell cannot possibly be forgiven for allowing the invasion to go on under the circumstances. At the very least, he should have resigned on the spot. But he did not. For that, he must answer to history.
– To be continued –