270. Editorial Note

At a meeting in the White House on November 3, 1961, President Kennedy authorized the development of a new program designed to undermine the Castro government in Cuba. The program was codenamed Operation Mongoose. The meeting that the President called to consider the program convened at noon and lasted until 12:55 p.m. According to the Presidentʼs Appointment Book the meeting was attended, in addition to the President, by Attorney General Robert Kennedy; by Ball, U. Alexis Johnson, Wymberley Coerr, and Robert Hurwitch from the Department of State; by Cabell, Bissell, Amory, and King from the CIA; and by McGeorge Bundy and Goodwin from the White House staff. (Kennedy Library, Presidentʼs Appointment Book) Robert Kennedyʼs handwritten notes on the meeting, which suggest that McNamara, Nitze, and General Edward Lansdale also attended, read as follows: “McNamara, Dick Bissell, Alexis Johnson, Paul Nitze, Lansdale (the Ugly American). McN said he would make latter available for me—I assigned him to make survey of situation in Cuba—the problem and our assets. My idea is to stir things up on island with espionage, sabotage, general disorder, run & operated by Cubans themselves with every group but Batistaites & Communists. Do not know if we will be successful in overthrowing Castro but we have nothing to lose in my estimate.” (Kennedy Library, Papers of Robert F. Kennedy, Attorney General Papers, Handwritten Notes, 11/7/61)

No other record of this meeting has been found, but the decisions that were taken during and following the meeting are summarized in Document 278.

On November 6 Goodwin discussed the meeting in a telephone conversation with Ball:

Goodwin said the Cuban thing discussed on Friday is moving ahead. Ball said Alex had given him a report on Saturday. Goodwin said it was moderating and toning down and assuming a more logical approach to it. The Lansdale problem with CIA will be worked out. Goodwin talked to Bissell and asked he appoint someone to work with Lansdale. On the over-all thing there are two things: the economic part which is non-covert and the diplomatic relations status. Goodwin asked if a memo could be prepared on what has been done and how it is being handled, since it is non-covert. Then he and Ball should talk with them and decide how to work it in the over-all thing. Ball said he would get the work started on this right away. Goodwin asked that it be done in the next couple of days.” (Kennedy Library, Papers of George W. Ball, Subject Series, Cuba, 1/24/61-12/30/62)

According to subsequent testimony before a Senate Select Committee chaired by Senator Frank Church, Lansdale prepared a report, in response to Robert Kennedyʼs instruction, in which he observed that [Page 667] Castro enjoyed considerable popular support in Cuba. Lansdale concluded that if the United States sought to undermine the Castro government, it should adopt a different approach from the “harassment” operations that had been directed against Castro up to that time. In contrast to operations conceived and led by CIA Officials, Lansdale proposed a program in which the United States would work with Cuban exiles who had been opposed to Batista and later became disillusioned with Castro. The objective of Lansdaleʼs proposed program was to have “the people themselves overthrow the Castro regime rather than U.S. engineered efforts from outside Cuba.” Lansdaleʼs concept for Operation Mongoose envisioned the development of leadership elements among Cubans opposed to Castro. At the same time he proposed to develop “means to infiltrate Cuba successfully” and to organize opposition “cells and activities” inside Cuba. Lansdale testified that his plan was designed so as not to “arouse premature actions, not to bring great reprisals on the people there and abort any eventual success.” (Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders: An Interim Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate (Washington, 1975), pages 140-141)

Lansdaleʼs recommendations became the conceptual basis for the Mongoose operation, knowledge of which was carefully controlled and limited. Overall control of the operation was entrusted to a new group established for the purpose, called the Special Group (Augmented), a slightly expanded version of the NSC 5412 Special Group, which oversaw covert operations. The Special Group (Augmented) consisted of the regular Special Group members, McGeorge Bundy, U. Alexis Johnson, Roswell Gilpatric, John McCone, and General Lyman LemNitzer, augmented by Robert Kennedy and General Maxwell Taylor. Although Secretary of State Rusk and Secretary of Defense McNamara were not regular members of the group, they occasionally attended meetings. President Kennedy appointed Taylor as chairman of the group, but Robert Kennedy was the principal motive force within the group and the informal link between the group and the President. General Lansdale was appointed Chief of Operations and coordinated the CIAʼs Mongoose operations with those of the Departments of State and Defense. Within the CIA, the Mongoose operation was run by Task Force W, under the direction of William Harvey, with overall guidance from Lansdale and the Special Group (Augmented). The CIA developed an operational force of approximately 400 people at CIA headquarters and at its Miami Station, and had primary responsibility for the implementation of the Mongoose operation. (Ibid., page 140)