Terrorism and Civil Society as Instruments of U.S. Policy in Cuba
By Philip Agee
Havana, May 2003.
Condemnation of Cuba was immediate, strong and practically global last month for the imprisonment of 75 political dissidents and for the summary execution of 3 ferry hijackers. Prominent among the critics were past friends of Cuba of recognized international stature.
As I read the hundreds of denunciations that came through my mail, it was easy to see how enemies of the revolution seized on those issues to condemn Cuba for violations of human rights. They had a field day. Deliberate or careless confusion between the political dissidents and the hijackers, two entirely unrelated matters, was also easy because the events happened at the same time. A Vatican publication went so far as to describe the hijackers as dissidents when in fact they were terrorists. But others of usual good faith toward Cuba also jumped on the bandwagon of condemnation treating the two issues as one. The remarks that follow address the human rights issues in both cases.
With respect to the imprisonment of 75 civil society activists, the main victim has been history, for these people were central to current U.S. government efforts to overthrow the Cuban government and destroy the work of the revolution. Indeed regime change, as overthrowing governments has come to be known, has been the continuing U.S. goal in Cuba since the earliest days of the revolutionary government. Programs to achieve this goal have included propaganda to denigrate the revolution, diplomatic and commercial isolation, trade embargo, terrorism and military support to counter-revolutionaries, the Bay of Pigs invasion, assassination plots against Fidel Castro and other leaders, biological and chemical warfare, and, more recently, efforts to foment an internal political opposition masquerading as an independent civil society.
Warren Hinkle and William Turner, in The Fish is Red, easily the best book on the CIA’s war against Cuba during the first 20 years of the revolution, tell the story of the CIA’s efforts to save the life of one of their Batista Cubans. It was March 1959, less than three months after the revolutionary movement triumphed. The Deputy Chief of the CIA’s main Batista secret police force had been captured, tried and condemned to a firing squad. The Agency had set up the unit in 1956 and called it the Bureau for the Repression of Communist Activities or BRAC for its initials in Spanish. With CIA training, equipment and money it became arguably the worst of Batista’s torture and murder organizations, spreading its terror across the whole of the political opposition, not just the communists.
The Deputy Chief of BRAC, one José Castaño Quevedo, had been trained in the United States and was the BRAC liaison man with the CIA Station in the U.S. Embassy. On learning of his sentence, the Agency Chief of Station sent a journalist collaborator named Andrew St. George to Che Guevara, then in charge of the revolutionary tribunals, to plead for Castaño’s life. After hearing out St. George for much of a day, Che told him to tell the CIA chief that Castaño was going to die, if not because he was an executioner of Batista, then because he was an agent of the CIA. St. George headed from Che’s headquarters in the Cabaña fortress to the seaside U.S. Embassy on the Malecon to deliver the message. On hearing Che’s words the CIA Chief responded solemnly, “This is a declaration of war.” Indeed, the CIA lost many more of its Cuban agents during those early days and in the unconventional war years that followed.
Today when I drive out 31st avenue on the way to the airport, just before turning left at the Marianao military hospital, I pass on the left a large, multi-storey white police station that occupies an entire city block. The style looks like 1920’s fake castle, resulting in a kind of giant White Castle hamburger joint. High walls surround the building on the side streets, and on top of the walls at the corners are guard posts, now unoccupied, like those overlooking workout yards in prisons. Next door, separated from the castle by 110th street, is a fairly large two-story green house with barred windows and other security protection. I don’t know its use today, but before it was the dreaded BRAC Headquarters, one of the CIA’s more infamous legacies in Cuba.
The same month as the BRAC Deputy was executed, President Eisenhower, on the 10th of March 1959, presided over a meeting of his National Security Council at which they discussed how to replace the government in Cuba. It was the beginning of a continuous policy of regime change that every administration since Eisenhower has continued.
As I read of the arrests of the 75 dissidents, 44 years to the month after the BRAC Deputy’s execution, and saw the U.S. government’s outrage over their trials and sentences, one phrase from Washington came to mind that united American reactions in 1959 with events in 2003: “Hey! Those are OUR GUYS the bastards are screwing!”
A year later I was in training at a secret CIA base in Virginia when, in March 1960, Eisenhower signed off on the project that would become the Bay of Pigs invasion. We were learning the tricks of the spy trade including telephone tapping, bugging, weapons handling, martial arts, explosives, and sabotage. That same month the CIA, in its efforts to deny arms to Cuba prior to the coming exile invasion, blew up a French freighter, Le Coubre, as it was unloading a shipment of weapons from Belgium at a Havana wharf. More than 100 died in the blast and in fighting the fire afterwards. I see the rudder and other scrap from Le Coubre, now a monument to those who died, every time I drive along the port avenue passing Havana’s main railway station
In April the following year, two days before the Bay of Pigs invasion started, a CIA sabotage operation burned down El Encanto, Havana’s largest department store where I had shopped on my first here visit in 1957. It was never rebuilt. Now each time I drive up Galiano in Centro Habana on my way for a meal in Chinatown, I pass Fe del Valle Park, the block where El Encanto stood, named for a woman killed in the blaze.
Some who signed statements condemning Cuba for the dissidents’ trials and the executions of the hijackers know perfectly well the history of U.S. aggression against Cuba since 1959: the murder, terrorism, sabotage and destruction that has cost nearly 3500 lives and left more than 2000 disabled. Those who don’t know can find it in Jane Franklin’s classic historical chronology The Cuban Revolution and the United States.
One of the best sum-ups of the U.S. terrorist war against Cuba in the 1960’s came from Richard Helms, the former CIA Director, when testifying in 1975 before the Senate Committee investigating the CIA’s attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. In admitting to “invasions of Cuba which we were constantly running under government aegis,” he added:
We had task forces that that were striking at Cuba constantly. We were attempting to blow up power plants. We were attempting to ruin sugar mills. We were attempting to do all kinds of things in this period. This was a matter of American government policy.
During the same hearing Senator Christopher Dodd commented to Helms:
It is likely that at the very moment that President Kennedy was shot, a CIA officer was meeting with a Cuban agent in Paris and giving him an assassination device to use against Castro. [Note: the officer worked for Desmond Fitzgerald, a friend of Robert Kennedy and at the time overall chief of the CIA’s operations against Cuba, and the agent was Rolando Cubela, a Cuban army Comandante with regular access to Fidel Castro whose CIA codename was AMLASH.]
I believe it was a hypodermic syringe they had given him. It was something called Blackleaf Number 40 and this was in response to AMLASH’s request that he be provided with some sort of a device providing he could kill Castro….I’m sorry that he didn’t give him a pistol. It would have made the whole thing a whole lot simpler and less exotic.
Review the history and you will find that no U.S. administration since Eisenhower has renounced the use of state terrorism against Cuba, and terrorism against Cuba has never stopped. True, Kennedy undertook to Khrushchev that the U.S. would not invade Cuba, which ended the 1962 missile crisis, and his commitment was ratified by succeeding administrations. But the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991 and the commitment with it.
Cuban exile terrorist groups, mostly based in Miami and owing their skills to the CIA, have continued attacks through the years. Whether or not they have been operating on their own or under CIA direction, U.S. authorities have tolerated them.
As recently as April 2003 the Sun-Sentinel of Ft. Lauderdale reported, with accompanying photographs, exile guerrilla training outside Miami by the F-4 Commandos, one of several terrorist groups currently based there, along with remarks by the FBI spokeswoman that Cuban exile activities in Miami are not an FBI priority. Abundant details on exile terrorist activities can be found with a web search including their connections with the paramilitary arm of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF).
Reports abound of the arrest in Panama in November 2000 of a group of 4 exile terrorists led by Luis Posada Carriles, a man with impeccable CIA credentials. They were planning the assassination of Fidel Castro who was there for a conference. Posada’s résumé includes planning the Cubana airliner bombing in 1976 that killed all 73 people aboard; employment by the CIA in El Salvador in 1980’s re-supply operations for the contra terrorists in Nicaragua; and organizing in 1997 10 bombings of hotels and other tourist sites in Havana, one of which killed an Italian tourist. A year later he admitted to the New York Times that CANF directors in Miami had financed the hotel bombings. Through the years Posada freely traveled in and out of the United States.
Another of the CIA’s untouchable terrorists is Orlando Bosch, a pediatrician turned terrorist. As mastermind along with Carriles of the 1976 Cubana airliner bombing, Bosch was arrested with Carriles a week after the bombing and spent 11 years in a Venezuelan jail undergoing 3 trials for the crime. He was acquitted in each trial, released in August 1987, and arrested on his return to Miami in February 1988 for parole violation after a previous conviction for terrorist acts. In 1989 the Justice Department ordered his deportation as a terrorist citing FBI and CIA reports that Bosch had carried out 30 acts of sabotage from 1961 to 1968 and was involved in a plot to kill the Cuban Ambassador to Argentina in 1975. After lobbying on Bosch’s behalf by Miami Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Cuban American with close ties to CANF, and by Jeb Bush, Ros-Lehtinen’s campaign manager prior to his election as governor, the elder President Bush, who was CIA Director at the time of the Cubana airliner bombing, ordered the Justice Department in 1990 to rescind the deportation order. Bosch was released from custody and has freely walked the streets of Miami ever since.
Seeing the obvious, that the U.S. government was not taking action to stop Miami-based terrorism, the Cubans opted in the 1990’s to send their own intelligence officers to Florida under cover as exiles to provide warnings on coming terrorist actions. There they infiltrated some of the exile groups and were reporting back to Havana, including information on planned illegal over-flights of Cuba by Brothers to the Rescue.
Still, the Cuban government hoped that the U.S. could be convinced to take action against Miami-based terrorists. So in 1998 Cuba delivered to the FBI voluminous information they had collected on U.S.-based terrorist activities against Cuba. But instead of taking action against the terrorists, the FBI then arrested 10 members of a Cuban intelligence network whose job was to infiltrate the terrorist organizations. Later the 5 Cuban intelligence officers running the network were tried in Miami, where conviction was guaranteed, for conspiracy to commit espionage and for not having registered as agents of a foreign power. They had never asked for nor received a classified government document or classified information of any kind, yet they were given draconian sentences, one of them two life terms. The inhuman treatment of these unbending prisoners ordered by Washington, designed to destroy them mentally and physically and turn them against Cuba, sets world records for sordid, deranged punishment. Demand for their freedom is the main political topic in Cuba today.
Most recently, in declaring an unending war against terrorism following the September 2001 attacks by Al Qaeda and prior to the war against Iraq, President Bush declared that no weapons in U.S. possession are banned from use, presumably including terrorism. But rather than starting his anti-terrorist war in Miami, where his theft of the White House was assured and his election to a second term may depend, he started the series of pre-emptive wars we have watched on television, first Afghanistan and then Iraq, and now he threatens Syria, Iran and others on his list of nations that supposedly promote terrorism. Cuba, of course, is wrongfully on that list, but people here take this seriously as a preliminary pretext for U.S. military action against this country.
Civil Society and the Dissidents
Going back to the Reagan administration of the early1980’s, the decision was taken that more than terrorist operations was needed to impose regime change in Cuba. Terrorism hadn’t worked, nor had the Bay of Pigs invasion, nor had Cuba’s diplomatic isolation which gradually ended, nor had the economic embargo. Now Cuba would be included in a new world wide program to finance and develop non-governmental and voluntary organizations, what was to become known as civil society, within the context of U.S. global neo-liberal policies. The CIA and the Agency for International Development (AID) would have key roles in this program as well as a new organization christened in 1983 The National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
Actually the new program was not really new. Since its founding in 1947, the CIA had been deeply involved in secretly funding and manipulating foreign non-governmental voluntary organizations. These vast operations circled the globe and were targeted at political parties, trade unions and businessmen’s associations, youth and student organizations, women’s groups, civic organizations, religious communities, professional, intellectual and cultural societies, and the public information media. The network functioned at local, national, regional and global levels. Media operations, for example, were underway continuously in practically every country, wherein the CIA would pay journalists to publish its materials as if they were the journalists’ own. In the Directorate of Operations at the CIA’s headquarters, these operations were coordinated with the regional operations divisions by the International Organizations Division (IOD), since many of the operations were regional or continental in nature, encompassing many countries, with some even worldwide in scope.
Over the years the CIA exerted phenomenal influence behind the scenes in country after country, using these powerful elements of civil society to penetrate, divide, weaken and destroy corresponding enemy organizations on the left, and indeed to impose regime change by toppling unwanted governments. Such was the case, among many others, in Guyana where in 1964, culminating 10 years of efforts, the Cheddi Jagan government was overthrown through strikes, terrorism, violence and arson perpetrated by CIA international trade union agents. About the same time, while I was assigned in Ecuador, our agents in civil society, through mass demonstrations and civil unrest, provoked two military coups in three years against elected, civilian governments. And in Brazil in the early 1960’s, the same CIA trade union operations were brought together with other operations in civil society in opposition to the government, and these mass actions over time provoked the 1964 military coup against President Joao Goulart, ushering in 20 years of unspeakably brutal political repression.
But on February 26th, 1967, the sky crashed on IOD and its global civil society networks. At the time I was on a visit to Headquarters in Langley, Virginia near Washington, between assignments in Ecuador and Uruguay. That day the Washington Post published an extensive report revealing a grand stable of foundations, some bogus, some real, that the CIA was using to fund its global non-governmental networks. These financial arrangements were known as “funding conduits.” Along with the foundations scores of recipient organizations were identified, including well-known intellectual journals, trade unions, and political think tanks. Soon journalists around the world completed the picture with reports on the names and operations of organizations in their countries affiliated with the network. They were the CIA’s darkest days since the Bay of Pigs fiasco.
President Johnson ordered an investigation and said such CIA operations would end, but in fact they never did. The proof is in the CIA’s successful operations in Chile to provoke the 1973 Pinochet coup against the elected government of Salvador Allende. Here they combined the forces of opposition political parties, trade unions, businessmen’s groups, civic organizations, housewife’s associations and the information media to create chaos and disorder, knowing that sooner or later the Chilean military, faithful to traditional fascist military doctrine in Latin America, would use such unrest to justify usurping governmental power to restore order and to stamp out the left. The operations were almost a carbon copy of the Brazilian destabilization and coup program ten years earlier. We all remember the horror that followed for years afterwards in Chile.
Fast forward to now. Anyone who has watched the civil society opposition to the Hugo Chavez government in Venezuela develop can be certain that U.S. government agencies, the CIA included, along with the Agency for International Development (AID) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), are coordinating the destabilization and were behind the failed coup in April 2002 as well as the failed “civic strike” of last December-January. The International Republican Institute (IRI) of the Republican Party even opened an office in Caracas. See below for more on NED, AID and IRI in civil society operations.
In order to understand how these civil society operations are run, let’s take a look at the bureaucratic side. When I entered the CIA’s training course, the first two words I learned were discipline and control. The U.S. government was not a charitable institution, they said, and all money must be spent for its exact, designated purpose. The CIA operations officer that I would become is responsible for ensuring this discipline through tight control of the money and of the agents down the line who spend it. Orders to the agents on their duties and obligations are to be clear and unambiguous, and the officer must prevent personal embezzlement of money by an agent, beyond the agent’s agreed salary, by requiring receipts for all expenses and for all payments to others. Exceptions to this rule needed special approvals.
In the CIA, activities to penetrate and manipulate civil society are known as Covert Action operations, and they are governed by detailed regulations for their use. They require a request for money in a document known as a Project Outline, if the activity is new, or a Request for Project Renewal, if an on-going activity is to be continued. The document originates either in a field station or in Headquarters, and it describes a current situation; the activities to be undertaken to improve or change the situation vis-à-vis U.S. interests; a time-line for achieving intermediary and final goals; risks and the flap potential (damages if revealed); and a detailed budget with information on all participating organizations and individuals and the amounts of money to go to each. The document also contains a summary of the status of all agent personnel to be involved with references to their operational security clearance procedures and the history of their service to the Agency. All people involved are included, from the ostensible funding agencies like officers of a foundation, down to every intermediate and end recipient of the money.
In additional to these budget specifics, a certain amount of money without designated recipients is included under the rubric D&TO, standing for Developmental and Targets of Opportunity. Money from this fund is used to finance new activities that come up during the project approval period, but of course detailed information and security clearances on all individuals who would receive such funding is always required. A statement is also required on the intelligence information by-product to be collected through the proposed operation. Thus financial support for a political party is expected to produce intelligence information on the internal politics of the host country.
Project Outlines and Renewals go through an approval process by various offices such as the International Organizations Division, and depending on their sensitivity and cost, they may require approval outside the CIA at the Departments of State, Defense, or Labor, or by the National Security Council or the President himself. When finally approved the CIA’s Finance Division allocates the money and the operation begins, or continues if being renewed. The period of approvals and renewals is usually one year.
Both the Agency for International Development and the National Endowment for Democracy without doubt have documentation requirements and approval processes similar to the CIA’s for project funding in the civil societies of other countries. All the people involved must receive prior approval through an investigative process, and each person has clearly defined tasks. An inter-agency commission determines which of the three agencies, the CIA, AID or NED, or a combination of them, are to carry out specific tasks in the civil societies of specific countries and how much money each should give. All three have obviously been working to develop an opposition civil society in Cuba.
One should note that the high-sounding National Endowment for Democracy has its origins in the CIA’s covert action operations and was first conceived in the wake of the disastrous revelations noted above that began on February 26th, 1967. Two months later in April that year, Dante Fascell, member of the House of Representatives from Miami and a close friend of the CIA and Miami Cubans, together with other Representatives, introduced legislation that would create an “open” foundation to carry on what had been secret CIA funding of the foreign civil society programs of U.S. organizations (e.g., the National Students Association) or of foreign organizations directly (e.g., the Congress for Cultural Freedom based in Paris).
The Fascell idea failed to prosper, however, because of the breakdown of the bipartisan approach to foreign policy that had prevailed since the administration of Harry Truman after World War II. Differences since the late 1960’s within and between the two parties over the war in Southeast Asia, then in the 70’s over Watergate and the loss of the Vietnam war, and finally over revelations of assassination plots and other operations of the CIA by Senate and House investigating committees, prevented agreement and resulted in several years of isolationism. Only the successes of revolutionary movements in Ethiopia, Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Grenada, Nicaragua and elsewhere brought “cold warrior” Democrats and “internationalist” Republicans together to establish in 1979 the American Political Foundation (APF). The foundation’s task was to study the feasibility of establishing through legislation a government-financed foundation to subsidize foreign operations in civil society through U.S. non-governmental organizations.