CIA Declassifies Bay Of Pigs Report
By Craig Nelson
Associated Press Writer
February 23, 1998

One of the Cold War’s most secret documents the CIA’s scathing internal investigation into the 1961 Bay of Pigs debacle is finally out, and there is little wonder why the spy agency has guarded it so jealously.

The 150-page report, released after more than three decades in the CIA director’s safe, blames the disastrous attempt to oust Fidel Castro not on President John F. Kennedy’s failure order air strikes to back the invaders, but on the CIA’s incompetence, arrogance, and ignorance.

"The fundamental cause of the disaster was the agency’s failure to give the project, notwithstanding its importance and immense potentiality for damage to the United States, the top-flight handling which it required", said the report, obtained by The Association Press on Saturday.

The fiasco at the swampy, mosquito-ridden inlet on Cuba’s southern coast was a watershed for the spy agency, puncturing the air of invincibility it had acquired with its success in helping topple Iran’s president in 1953 and Guatemala’s leader in 1954.

It was also a major foreign policy disaster for the Kennedy administration, tarnishing its Camelot sheen and reducing its 43-year-old president to tears on April 19, 1961, when the magnitude of the disaster became clear.

"How could I have been so stupid", Kennedy later told his advisors.

While the defeat sobered Kennedy, it also hardened his determination to get rid of Castro. Within months, his administration would step up plans to assassinate the Cuban leader, with some schemes involving Mafia figures whose business interests in the Caribbean island were shut down after Castro took power in 1959.

The top secret document, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request late last week, criticized almost every aspect of the CIA’s handling of the invasion: misinforming Kennedy administration officials, planning poorly, using faulty intelligence and conducting an overt military operation beyond "agency responsibility as well as agency ability."

Few of the CIA personal helping train and equip 1,400 Cuban exiles for the invasion spoke Spanish, yet "the agency reduced the exiled leaders to the status of puppets." Some CIA agents "treated the Cubans like dirt."

Despite U.S. news articles linking the United States with a plan to invade Cuba, the project went forward under the "pathetic illusion" of deniability, the report said.

Castro’s forces easily turned back the assault at the Bay of Pigs, killing 200 rebel soldiers and capturing 1,197 others, who were later turned over to U.S. authorities.

In the aftermath, many CIA officials and Cuban exiles said Kennedy’s failure to approve air strikes to back up the sea born rebels doomed the invasion.

But the October 1961 report, by CIA Inspector General Lyman Kirkpatrick, placed the blame directly on CIA leaders, saying they had "failed to advise the President, at an appropriate time, that success had become dubious and to recommend that the operation therefore be canceled.

The report’s so outraged CIA officials that all but one of the 20 copies produced was destroyed.

"In unfriendly hands, it can become a weapon unjustifiably (used) to attack the entire mission, organization, and functioning, of the agency, "CIA deputy director C.P. Cabell wrote in a Dec. 15, 1961, memorandum.

For years, the sole remaining copy of the report sat in a safe in the CIA director’s office. It was released late last week in response to a FOIA request by the National Security Archive, a non-profit group in Washington.

Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the Archive, said tardy disclosure of the report had deprived the public of key information about the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.

"Had it been declassified years ago instead of hidden in secrecy, it would have changed the public debate over covert operations against Cuba as elsewhere," he said.

While the report is a withering account of institutional hubris and incompetence, it also portrayed the human cost of the debacle.

As Castro’s soldiers closed in around the invaders and it became clear there would be no air strikes, the exile force’s commander became desperate, according to messages to the command ship offshore that are quoted in the report.

"Why has your help not come?" he asked.

Soon came the final message: "Am destroying all equipment and communications. Tanks are in sight. I have nothing to fight with. Am taking to woods. I cannot--repeat--wait for you."

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