How much was the life of a Cuban communist worth in 1962? Depending on their rank within the party and the government, it could be worth up to a million dollars.
But there was one for which the CIA would only pay two cents: Fidel Castro.
The CIA considered giving rewards to those who murdered informants, officers, foreign communists and members of the Cuban government in a plan called “Operation Bounty,” detailed in one of the 2,800 documents declassified Thursday by the National Archives, related to the investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
“Operation Bounty establishes a system of financial rewards, commensurate with the position and stature, for killing or delivering alive known communists,” notes a 1975 investigation of the CIA’s plans to overthrow or assassinate Castro known as “Operation Mongoose.”
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The aim was “to provice inducement to Cuban citizens to overthrow the Cuban Communist Regime; to put pressure on Cuban Communists by creating distrust and disunity,” according to the original by the Pentagon presented on Jan. 30, 1962, to Gen. Edward Lansdale, who coordinated the special group heading the operation.
For killing an informant, the CIA would pay between $5,000 and $20,000, and for a department head, up to $57,000. Foreign Communists operating in Cuba were more valuable and their assassination could be rewarded with $97,000. But the big prize was set aside for those who killed members of the Cuban government, for which the agency would pay as much as a million dollars.
The CIA would send the news to Cubans through leaflets, but before paying the rewards the agency wanted “conclusive” evidence of death, such as a Communist Party membership card.
It is not clear why this particular operation was not interested in the assassination of the Cuban leader, but the CIA launched other plans to eliminate Castro, although an early intelligence report, in October 1961, concluded that it was “wishful thinking” to think that the death of the Cuban leader would change the scenario in Cuba, since the country had quickly become a police state.
The CIA got creative as it tried to figure out how to eliminate the Cuban ruler: a poisoned diving suit; shot with telescopic rifles from an airplane, or with poison pills in his meal, (a plot that involved the Mafia), among others.
“The question of assassination, particularly of Fidel Castro, was brought up by Secretary [of Defense Robert] McNamara at the meeting of the Special Group (Augmented) in Secretary [of State Dean] Rusk’s office on 10 August” 1962, Lansdale wrote in a memo. But the CIA lied to the State Department about its support for Cuban exile plans to assassinate Castro when exiles Rolando Cubela and Ramón Tomás Guin Díaz were arrested in Cuba in 1966.
“The Agency was not involved with either of those two men in a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro,” the deputy director of the CIA at the time, Richard Helms, wrote to Rusk. Both Cubela and Guin, however, had been recruited by the CIA.
Another 1979 report declassified on Thursday about the CIA’s plans to assassinate Castro, with the participation of the Mafia and anti-Castro exiles, analyzes in detail the operation carried out by AMLASH, the CIA’s codename for Cubela.
Members of the special group that coordinated Operation Mongoose also considered sabotage operations against the Cuban government or even false-flag attacks to justify military intervention.
“We could develop a Cuban Communist terror campaign in the Miami area, in other Florida cities and even in Washington,” the Operation Mongoose document says. “The terror campaign could be pointed at Cubans refugees seeking haven in the United States. We could sink a boatload of Cubans en route to Florida (real or simulated.) We could foster attempts on lives of Cuban refugees in the United States... Exploding a few plastic bombs in carefully chosen spots.”
At the height of the missile crisis in October 1962, the CIA also considered actions such as blowing up a bridge in the western Cuban province Pinar del Rio; an attack on warehouses in the port of Isabela in the central province of Las Villas; a grenade attack on the Chinese embassy in Havana or burning tankers in Havana Bay or Matanzas Bay.
Anther document declassified in its entirety discussed the possibility of sabotaging Cuban agricultural production “by the introduction of biological agents which would appear to be of natural origin.”
Some of these ideas, like the plan to pay for the assassinations of Communists in Cuba, were never put into practice but were skillfully exploited by Castro for decades to mobilize the Cuban people against the “imperialist threats” and justify internal economic failures .
There are still documents that were not declassified on Thursday at the request of the CIA and the FBI.
President Donald Trump had announced on Twitter that his administration would allow the release of the latest collection of documents related to the Kennedy assassination, but at the last minute Trump gave the security agencies six months to review the remaining documents and decide which are still too sensitive to be made public.
One of the CIA’s concerns was that the documents could reveal too much about the Mexican government’s collaboration with the CIA in the early 1960s. The declassified documents show that the Mexican authorities collaborated with the surveillance of the Cuban and Soviet embassies in Mexico City.
It is clear from the documents that the U.S. had a source within the Cuban embassy in Mexico, that the embassy was wiretapped, and that the CIA tried to withhold those recordings from the Warren Commission — the first to investigate the Kennedys assassination — for fear of revealing the agency’s sources and methods.
All indications are that the CIA had another source inside the Cuban embassy in Canada. According to that source, when the news of Kennedy’s death broke, the reaction of the Cuban ambassador was “one of happy delight.”
Then he was got a diplomatic cable telling him to “cease looking happy in public.”
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres