Excerpt from The Kennedy Men by Laurence Leamer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Kennedy Men


by Laurence Leamer

The Kennedy Men by Laurence Leamer X
The Kennedy Men by Laurence Leamer
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2001, 912 pages

    Oct 2002, 928 pages


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These CIA leaders were for the most part sophisticated men who were not terrified by words like "socialist" and "social democrat," so-called progressives who seemed to want the same world that the president wanted. One of the president's favorites, and his putative choice to become the next director when sixty-seven-year-old Dulles retired, was Richard Bissell, the CIA director of covert operations. An economist, Bissell was an accomplished man who had come into government during the New Deal as a protégé of the liberal Chester Bowles in the Office of Price Administration. Fifty-year-old Bissell had developed the U-2 program, which, until the Russians shot down Francis Gary Powers in 1960, had been indispensable in getting accurate information about Soviet defenses and missile sites.

Dulles described a Cuba that had become "for practical purposes a Communist-controlled state" in which there was "a rapid and continuing buildup of Castro's military power, and a great increase also in popular opposition to his regime." For months the United States had underwritten a series of covert actions, including sabotage, infiltration, and propaganda, while training an insurgent guerrilla force in Guatemala. Most of this Kennedy already knew before the election, and he had learned the rest immediately afterward when Dulles briefed him.

The tweedy, pipe-smoking CIA head explained that there was a renewed urgency to these efforts. The Soviet Union was shipping tons of munitions to the island. Cuban pilots had gone off to Czechoslovakia to train. Castro was steadily garroting his people's liberties until soon the populace might hardly have the strength to rise up, and his agents were provoking revolution throughout Latin America. As the agency realized the magnitude of the challenge, the program of covert actions kept expanding: from the original $4.4 million the year before Kennedy took office, the budget for fiscal year 1960/61 grew to more than $45 million.

Kennedy had met with Eisenhower on the day before the inauguration, when the Republican president had bequeathed his covert Cuba program and admonished his successor to push on with the plans. These were no longer guerrilla infiltrations that Dulles was proposing to the new president, however, but a major amphibious invasion seeking to establish an impregnable enclave that would set off an uprising across Cuba, or at least be a symbol of resistance that would grow until finally the whole island was rid of Castro and his Marxist regime. The Republican president had never authorized an invasion that might involve American troops. Kennedy was being asked to authorize a far more dangerous venture than the one that Eisenhower had signed on to, and far beyond anything the Republican president had authorized the CIA to attempt during his two terms in the White House. The CIA was hoping that its paramilitary force and its agents on the island would foment a "continuing civil war," setting brother against brother in the streets and fields of Cuba, a struggle in which the United States or its Latin surrogates could then intervene and play savior.

On January 4, 1961, before Kennedy was inaugurated, Colonel Jack Hawkins, the head of the CIA's paramilitary staff, prepared a crucial memo outlining what the United States would have to do for the operation to be successful. Hawkins was a poster-handsome marine officer who had fought on Iwo Jima and at the Yalu River in the Korean War and was on the fast track to become a general. Hawkins knew little about Cuba or intelligence and was depending on what the agency told him about Cuban realities. "My belief from the intelligence provided by the CIA was that the place was ripe for revolt," said Colonel Hawkins. "As it turned out, the CIA intelligence was hugely wrong, based largely on Cuban émigrés in Miami saying things that would promote their cause."

Hawkins's CIA plan called for the brigade to liberate a small area, then to dig in, waiting for "a general uprising against the Castro regime or overt military intervention by United States forces." If the Cubans did not rise up against Castro, a provisional government would be established on the small territory and "the way [would] then be paved for United States military intervention aimed at pacification of Cuba."

From The Kennedy Men by Laurence Leamer. Copyright Laurence Leamer 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, William Morrow.

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