Many historians have described the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion as a fiasco and blamed the CIA for much of the failure.
The agency had different view, saying critics were unfair. The CIA’s staff historian, Jack Pfeiffer, wrote five volumes about the operation. All five volumes have been declassified.
Excerpts from Volume 4 are below:
President Kennedy inherited the anti-Castro program which had been initiated formally and on 17 March 1960 by President Eisenhower and handed over to the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of State for implementation. Following his own initial interest in the developing program, President Eisenhower’s personal involvement dropped off sharply by the late summer of 1960. Following the November elections, however, there was a resurgence of interest on the President’s part, and it was clear that he favored the planned use of the Cuban exile force which was being supported by the US Government. President Eisenhower, however, deferred to the incoming administration rather than authorizing implementation of the paramilitary plan.
By the time that the new President was sworn in, what had been planned in the spring of 1960 as a program to infiltrate the necessary experts, expertise, and supplies to develop the strength of anti-Castro elements inside Cuba had been abandoned as a result of effective security measures developed by Castro. By early fall 1960, CIA’s revised plans called for an air supported, amphibious invasion by a force of no less than 600 troops, and more likely by 1,200-1,500 men.
The Agency backed the Frente Revolucionario Democratico (FRD), the most active and vocal of the many Cuban exile organizations, as the group with the best prospects for unifying the anti-Castro elements in the US. Under Agency guidance the FRD was to promote financial support from the business community in the New York City area; and, in the Florida area, the FRD was developed as the focal point for the recruitment of the Cubans who would form the 2506 Brigade. The Cuban community in Miami and Dade County, Florida, was a hotbed of anti-Castro politics of all degrees from improbable intellectualizing to strident calls for direct and immediate US intervention–particularly if US forces would oust Castro and then turn the country over to “them”.
As polemicists and publicists, the Cubans were developing a talent for directing political pressures at points where they believed there was the most to gain. Both local politicians and congressional representatives were quite aware of these lobbying efforts against the Castro government.
For good or ill, Castro himself was widely known in the US; and the media sought by whatever means to uncover the “secret” war plans which were being developed for his overthrow.
By the late fall of 1960 when the concept changed from developing
a guerrilla potential to the creation of an amphibious invasion force, the US Government’s plan to maintain “plausible deniability” of its anti-Castro involvement had the impenetrability of the emperor’s new clothes. The overt recruitment efforts in Miami by the FRO, the general inability of Cubans– particularly the leaders of the numerous exile factions–to retain confidentiality, and persistent pursuit of leads by local and national media made a mockery of attempts to deny that training bases had been established in Guatemala and that the Agency was the mechanism being used by the US Government to support the anti-Castro exiles.
Upon assuming office, President Kennedy inherited a paramilitary contingent in training with aircraft (bomber/ground support and transports) and an infantry brigade which probably had the heaviest concentration of firepower in the Caribbean basin, if not in all of Latin America. To insure the success of the planned landing on a hostile shore, US Army Special Forces trainers, USAF and Air National Guard pilot instructors and mechanics, and pilot instructors from CIA
were assigned to, or volunteered for, the project. In addition to CIA and the Department of State, Kennedy almost immediately ordered that the Department of Defense, under its new Secretary, Robert McNamara, become a more active – participant in CIA’s paramilitary planning for the overthrow of Castro and the installation of a government which would be anti-Communist and, preferably, pro-US.
Whether the new Administration believed in the program which was jointly evolved–a moot point after the collapse of the invasion when political reputations were being protected at all cost–it became obvious almost immediately following his inauguration that the President was going to have to make some decisions on Cuban policy. Pressures to use the Brigade came not only from the Agency, which had been conducting training activities since June 1960, but also from the Government of Guatemala which provided the air and ground training sites for the Cubans and from the Government of Nicaragua which had agreed to the use of Puerto Cabezas as the operational base for launching the invasion of Cuba.
Whatever else concerned the Kennedy administration during the period between 22 January 1961 when the principal cabinet members first were briefed by CIA on the details of the anti-Castro plan until the evening of 16 April 1961 when–after consultation with Secretary of State Rusk–the President cancelled the D-Day air strike, the planned anti-Castro operation was a burr under its saddle and could not be wished away. The increasing concern about the problem improved cooperation between the Agency and the Department of Defense, and DOD’s support for the operation increased as JCS evaluations indicated that the chances for success were greater than for failure. On the other side, the Department of State and influential elements in the White House hoped that the confrontation might be avoided completely, but that if it did come it would be with minimum risk–particularly domestic political risk and negative international repercussions.
With the collapse o£ the invasion, and the almost immediate request by President Kennedy for General Maxwell Taylor to investigate the operation, the remaining linkage between the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations would be shattered almost completely. It was this investigation which, even more than the formal transition of administrations on 20 January 1961, ended any remaining doubts about the need for, or desirability of, worrying about the policies of the previous incumbent.
At the time that he was asked to serve President Kennedy in April 1961, Taylor was, perhaps, the most Universal Man of the 20th Century–decorated soldier and military commander in heroic mold, engineer, linguist, teacher, author, diplomat, and business executive. As head of the committee to review the Cuban operation he saw himself as the impartial judge assigned to insure that the record of events was presented in as unskewed a manner as possible in view of the parochial interests of the other committee members: Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s concern for the Oval Office; Admiral Arleigh Burke’s for the welfare of the JCS and the military; and Allen Dulles’s for CIA. Taylor’s background should have made it possible for him–more so than for any other member of the committee–to render objective judgments on controversial issues. It is apparent from the record of testimony of the witnesses before the committee that, although Taylor did redirect or soften some of the more blatantly obvious attempts of Attorney General Kennedy to discredit witnesses from the military or the intelligence service, his strongest tilts were toward deflecting criticism of the White House.
At the conclusion of the testimony of the witnesses, it was clear that Burke and Dulles, the latter a particularly strong figure in the Eisenhower administration, were headed for the elephants’ burial ground–thanks to Robert Kennedy’s denigration of them and their Agencies and, in no small part in the case of Dulles to his abysmal performance as a witness. Even before the testimony of the Taylor Committee witnesses ended, Dulles and Burke were nattering at each other over the matter of degree to which the Navy’s representatives had been taken into the full confidence of the Agency regarding the anti-Castro plan. By the end of 1961, both men had retired from government service.
All witnesses testifying before the Taylor Committee had interests to protect, but it was evident before the close of the hearings that those military officers who had been involved in the anti-Castro project from early on risked career damage if, during their testimony, they suggested that the modifications to the operational plans made by the White House or its staff might have had any negative effect on the outcome of the invasion. Intimations to this effect made by military or CIA witnesses were immediately cried down or cavalierly dismissed as irrelevant by Robert Kennedy.
With the conclusion of the Taylor investigation, there was a period of mistrust of both CIA and the JCS by the new President; and he turned to his inner circle for guidance which previously would have been sought from the Agency or the Department of Defense. General Taylor performed in such acceptable fashion that he was recalled to active duty and into the elite inner circle to become president Kennedy’s military adviser and subsequently Chairman of the JCS.
It was in this atmosphere of doubt and questioning of the old administration’s experts and tolerance for witnesses of the new that the Taylor Committee would be pushed to reach its conclusions as quickly as possible. After his mea culpa and acceptance of responsibility for the operation, the President and his less than squeaky clean coterie escaped
all blame for the invasion’s failure; but CIA has continued to bear the full brunt of responsibility for the “fiasco” at the Bay of Pigs.
This volume presents the first and only detailed examination of the work of, and findings of, the Taylor Committee to be based on the complete record. In the examination of the procedures followed, identification of the sins of commission and omission by committee witnesses, and in raising questions about the choice of witnesses, it is hoped that
there will be a better understanding of where the responsibility for the “fiasco” truly lies.
Related: Volume 5