Intrepid terrorists could get maximum bang for their buck on “Black Friday.” A few well-placed bombs and the carnage would easily shame 9/11’s.
Indeed, on Nov. 17, 1962, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI cracked a terrorist plot by Fidel Castro’s Cuban agents that targeted not only Macy’s in New York City but also Gimbels, Bloomindale’s and Grand Central Station with a dozen incendiary devices and 500 kilos of TNT. The holocaust was set to go off the following week, the day after Thanksgiving.
A little perspective: The March 2004 Madrid subway blasts, all 10 of the explosions that killed and maimed almost 2,000 people, used a grand total of 100 kilos of TNT. Castro and Che’s agents planned to set off five times that explosive power in the three biggest department stores on Earth — and on the year’s biggest shopping day. Thousands of New Yorkers — probably mostly women and children given the date — were to be incinerated and entombed.
Castro and Che Guevara planned their murderous act just weeks after Nikita Khrushchev foiled their plans for an even bigger massacre during the Cuban Missile Crisis. “If the missiles had remained,” Guevara confided to The London Daily Worker the following month, “we would have used them against the very heart of the U.S., including New York City.”
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Castro and Guevara’s Manhattan bomb plot was far from irrational. They were no suicide bombers — not by a long shot. Some Cuba-watchers speculate that Castro wanted to blast Manhattan to heat things up again, to rekindle all those thrills he’d experienced the previous weeks during the missile crisis.
Given the temper of the times, he knew his Soviet sugar daddies would be implicated, too. The United States might retaliate. Then Castro might get what he’d dreamed about and tried to provoke a few weeks earlier: an intercontinental nuclear exchange.
Millions dead in the United States. Millions dead in the Soviet Union. And almost certainly, millions dead in his own Cuba. But Castro himself would be nowhere near harm’s way. Alexander Alexeyev, the Soviet ambassador to Cuba during the missile crisis, reports a fascinating — if unsurprising — datum about those days. While Castro was begging, threatening, even trying to trick Khrushchev into launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the United States — ranting and yelling and waving his arms about grabbing his Czech machine gun and “fighting the Yankee invaders to the last man!” — a “fearful” (Alexeyev’s term) Castro was also making reservations with Alexeyev for a first-class seat in the Soviet Embassy’s bomb shelter. Thus he’d emerge into the smoldering rubble and millions of incinerated bodies and realize his lifelong dream: his name stamped in history as the gallant David against the Yankee Goliath.
Castro’s agents for his Thanksgiving bomb plot were members of the Cuban mission to the United Nations working in concert with members of the Fair Play For Cuba Committee, an outfit that became much better known a year later when member Lee Harvey Oswald really racked up some headlines.
At the time of the Manhattan terror plot, the committee also included among its members, CBS correspondent Robert Taber, who conducted Castro’s first network television soft-soaping on Aug. 30, 1957, along with The Nation magazine co-owner Alan Sagner. In 1996 President Clinton appointed Sagner head of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Despite his lust to destroy them, on visit after visit to New York, city’s best and brightest welcomed Castro as the second coming of the Beatles at Shea Stadium. On his 1996 visit for instance, the despot who abolished private property, transplanted Stalin’s penal and judicial system and stole 5,911 businesses worth (at the time) $2 billion from U.S. stockholders, he was delighted to find a lavish luncheon thrown in his honor by the Wall Street Journal.
Yet had those detonators gone off the day after Thanksgiving in 1962, 9/11 might be remembered as the second deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Humberto Fontova is a Cuban-American author, blogger and political commentator.