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“Risky Business” JFK and Castro - 1963. January, 1963, Rene Vallejo (Castro’s personal physician and confidant) broached the possibility of re-establishing.

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Presentation on theme: "“Risky Business” JFK and Castro - 1963. January, 1963, Rene Vallejo (Castro’s personal physician and confidant) broached the possibility of re-establishing."— Presentation transcript:

1 “Risky Business” JFK and Castro - 1963

2 January, 1963, Rene Vallejo (Castro’s personal physician and confidant) broached the possibility of re-establishing diplomatic relations with the US prisoner release representative William Donovan Donovan was invited to Cuba, on a private visit with his wife, for extended private conversations with Fidel Castro Donovan wrote a confidential memo to Secretary of State Dean Rusk and a communication to CIA Director McCone. Castro’s outreach was referred to President Kennedy – JFK directed no conditions should be set that Castro could not fulfill and that “flexibility” was in order Donovan returned to Cuba in April - when back in the US he was debriefed by the CIA, including CIA Director McCone. McCone met with JFK and characterized Castro’s tone as mild, frank and conciliatory. He also commented that in asides, Vallejo had told Donovan that Castro realized a viable Cuba (and Cuban economy) required a rapprochement with the US

3 Castro and Lisa Howard At the end of April 1963, Castro had recorded a personal interview with ABC news reporter Lisa Howard; it aired on May 10 In the interim, Howard was interviewed by the CIA and Helms circulated a memorandum to McCone and a number of Agency and Administrative heads including RFK - Helms noted Howard’s offer to serve as an intermediary Over time a number of individuals including Helms and McGeorge Bundy acted to neutralize Howard (identified in a message from Castro as his designated liaison with the White House) In May, at a Special Group meeting (with considerable frustration over the lack of covert success against Castro), McNamara remarked that it might be necessary to “buy off Castro,” ending the American embargo in exchange for Castro breaking his ties to the Soviet Union

4 RFK privately advised JFK that word of a Castro dialog could lead to a Congressional move to impeachment JFK’s interest in a dialog was frustrated by political concerns but also by opposition from Bundy as well as McCone and Helms In a response to Helm’s May 1 memo, McCone responded "Lisa Howard report be handled in the most limited and sensitive manner," – " no active steps be taken on the rapprochement” Lisa Howard had become a person of interest (and concern) at the highest levels of the Agency as well as Bundy However, available Agency files suggest no immediate interest in Castro’s own personal liaison - Rene Vallejo Opposition to the Outreach

5 September, 1963, Lisa Howard’s friend William Attwood (an advisor with the US delegation at the UN) read an article on Cuban relations by Howard. Attwood volunteered his services to establish a Castro back channel through the Cuban UN delegation. That approach was endorsed by Averill Harriman, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs & Adlai Stevenson Harriman commented in his endorsement that “....unfortunately, the CIA is still in charge of Cuba. Attwood proposed a dialog based on US priorities - the departure from Cuba of Soviet military personnel, a cessation of subversive Latin American activities by Cuba and a general Cuban policy of non-alignment Contact would be made with an acquaintance of Attwood, Carlos Lechuga, a Cuban UN delegate. The contact would be socially initiated through Lisa Howard. Opposition to the Outreach

6 “Castro would go along….” September 24 - Attwood had met with President Kennedy and received his approval to proceed; he had also met socially with Lechuga at a cocktail party at Lisa Howard’s apartment. Lechuga suggested that Attwood himself come to Havana for direct talks with Fidel November 11, Vallejo called Lisa Howard - he stressed the need for absolute security about the private communications. He also said Castro would go along with any arrangements for the meeting Only Castro and Vallejo would be present at the talks and that no one else –specifically Che Guevara – would be involved Howard’s home served as a communications center - a series of telephone calls were made between Attwood and Vallejo as well as Howard and Vallejo. Vallejo told Lisa Howard that that they would like to have a US official meet directly with Castro In consideration of security they would pick up the delegate in Mexico, using a private plane. The individual would be flown to Castro’s private retreat near Veradero Beach

7 JFK Going It Alone November 5 - the Special Group endorsed a Castro contact working though Attwood at the U.N. Helms opposed action advising it would be better to delay and study “all possible angles” before any further contacts Caution was also expressed by Bundy who suggested a Vallejo meeting in the US instead, he also stated that Cuba would have to make major concessions JFK remained serious – proposing Attwood give up his UN position to serve as a personal intermediary November 18, 1963 President Kennedy delivered an address on Cuba. It contained language suggesting that if Cuba were to drop its Soviet relationship and stop Latin American subversion “everything is possible.” His speechwriter has stated the wording was specifically intended to signal Castro on JFK’s personal interest in normalizing US/Cuban the relations

8 CIA On the Sidelines JFK had taken the Agency largely out of the loop by September, 1963 The dialog had evolved into one strictly between the President and unofficial intermediaries such as Howard, Attwood, Lechuga and Vallejo The CIA, clearly not a fan of rapprochement, was not an active participant, not privy to private conversations from Howard’s apartment, from the United Nations building, of the calls to Cuba … or, were they? NSA monitoring paid special attention to telephone conversations not only from the embassies themselves but also from taps placed on diplomatic staff’s residential telephones NSA also intercepted calls to Havana, and performed extensive data collection on private communication to and from Cuba ….not to mention James Angleton and his special collection resources known to include electronic bugs and wire taps on foreign diplomats

9 They Must Have Known Schlesinger and Atwood both come to feel it likely that “the exchanges between Washington and Havana had leaked” Atwood had been instructed to maintain extreme secrecy over the whole matter…but “with hindsight, there were two glaring security loopholes…The National Security Agency intercepted calls to Havana, and US intelligence agencies reaped a harvest of information from that activity” Arthur Schlesinger now says, ‘I think the CIA must have known about this initiative…They had all the wires tapped at the Cuban delegation to the United Nations” October, 1963 for the first time Vallejo became a subject of intelligence interest at the highest level of the Agency. Mexico City station provided background information on Vallejo to the CIA Chief of Western Hemisphere In a follow up communication from the CIA Directors’ Office to Mexico City, more background on Vallejo was provided and the use of the Miami station’s Cuban Intelligence assets against Vallejo was discussed

10 Trickle Down? Attwood himself later addressed the possible consequences of information on the JFK – Castro outreach being leaked through and within the CIA: “If the CIA did find out what we were doing, this would have trickled down to the lower echelon of activists, and the Cuban exiles more gung-ho CIA people who had been involved in the Bay of Pigs … I can understand why they would have reacted violently…this was the end of their dreams of returning to Cuba and they might have been impelled to take violent action.”


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