226. Paper Prepared in the U.S. Government1
REVIEW OF CURRENT PROGRAM OF COVERT ACTION AGAINST CUBA
I. The Current Situation in Cuba
During 1963 the situation in Cuba steadily worsened. The economy continued its decline and Castro was not able to halt the downward curve. Hurricane Flora intensified Cubaʼs economic problems. Disillusionment and apathy among the great majority of the population continued to grow, and enthusiasm was increasingly restricted to a hard core. As popular support waned, coercion and terror were employed more and more to maintain the regimeʼs control. Castroʼs drive to convert Cuba into a standard communist prototype caused increasing disillusionment among his original followers. His stature in the eyes of many Cubans and Latin Americans suffered with the realization, in the aftermath of the October missile crisis, that Cuba had been a pawn and Castro a dupe of Soviet policy.
Despite extraordinary efforts, Castro has not been able to stop acts of defiance against his regime. Guerrilla activity, although scattered and uncoordinated, continues. Spontaneous acts of sabotage are common throughout the island. At great risk refugees still elude his security forces and sea patrols to escape from Cuba. In this atmosphere, externally mounted raids against Cuban targets have added to Castroʼs sense of frustration and helped sustain hope among the many Cubans disillusioned with his regime.
During 1963 Cubaʼs international situation seemed almost as bad as the domestic. Although chinks appeared in the wall, the U.S. policy of economic and diplomatic isolation of Cuba was holding up fairly well. Soviet-Cuban relations clearly were under strain. Castro scored no foreign policy victories to provide a much needed psychological boost. His major effort to stimulate Castro-type armed uprisings [Page 551] throughout Latin America failed to disrupt the Venezuelan elections of December and netted a potentially embarrassing exposure that Cuba had shipped arms clandestinely to Venezuela. These internal and international trends and developments brought Cuba to a low point during 1963.
Within the past few weeks, however, five developments have given the Castro regime an important political-psychological lift. They are:
- The realization in the Cuban Government that the continuing high sugar prices in the world market have enabled Cuba to expand its convertible currency reserves from about $20 million to almost $100 million during the year.
- The Soviet-Cuban trade protocol for 1964, signed on January 11, and the Khrushchev assurances of January 22, demonstrated a Soviet willingness to maintain its aid and trade program at a very substantial level and to support Cuban sugar prices.2 The protocol calls for Cuban-Soviet trade to increase by 22 per cent over 1963. Soviet exports, about 40 per cent of which will be on credit, will increase by at least 10 per cent.
- The distinct possibility that the United States policy of economic and diplomatic isolation of Cuba may not be able to stand in the face of increasing pressures from Western countries to expand trade with Cuba, extending credit if necessary. The British bus deal, with payment spread over a five-year period, is an important political and psychological triumph for Castro. Its erosive effects on potential Cuban suppliers are already clear.
- The recent rioting and violence in Panama, in which Castro had some hand, will inject new revolutionary fervor into Castroite activities. In addition, Panama and its aftermath will take the play away from the incident of the Venezuela arms cache.
- The revolt in Zanzibar, in which Castro also had a hand, is bound to impress Latin America as well as other unstable areas with the length of Fidelʼs arm and the potency of his doctrine.
These recent developments have provided the upward political and psychological thrust Castroʼs regime badly needed. He now has a firmer base for his repeated claims that Cuba has survived the full brunt of a major United States effort to destroy the Cuban revolution, claims likely to impress many Latin Americans as well as Cubans. In addition, Castro now has the possibility of producing some tangible evidence that his regime can restore forward momentum in the economy. Consequently, the general position of the Castro regime is much improved over that of three or four months ago.[Page 552]
II. Current U.S. Policy and Programs
The ultimate U.S. objective is the replacement of the present government in Cuba by one fully compatible with the goals of the United States.
To attain this objective, we are trying, by exerting maximum pressure through all means short of the use of military force, to create a degree of disorganization, uncertainty and discontent in Cuba which will (a) predispose elements in the military and other power centers of the regime to bring about the overthrow of the Castro/Communist group and the elimination of the Soviet presence in Cuba; (b) weaken the base for subversion in the Hemisphere; and (c) assist in convincing the Soviets that they are backing a losing and expensive horse.
In order to create the optimum situation just described, we have been carrying out a program of integrated, mutually reinforcing and mutually dependent courses of action. These comprise:
A. The economic, political and psychological isolation of Cuba from the free world
- Denial of free-world markets and sources of supply to Cuba: We have undertaken a variety of overt and covert activities designed to reduce free-world trade with Cuba and, especially, to deny Cuba access to commodities critical to its economy. Proposals for expanding and intensifying these activities are now being presented. The execution of these additional measures depends basically on a decision to incur the considerable political costs and risks that are entailed.
- The reduction of free-world shipping in the Cuba trade: We have maintained diplomatic pressure on free-world nations to reduce and eventually eliminate their ships in the Cuba trade. We have denied U.S. financed cargoes in U.S. ports to ships in the Cuba trade (NSAM 220, as amended).3 To the same general end, we have employed existing legislation, and the threat of additional legislation, restricting economic and military assistance to countries with ships in the Cuba trade.
- The reduction of free world, and the containment of Soviet Bloc, air service to Cuba: We have maintained diplomatic pressures on free-world countries having, or wishing to establish, air service to Cuba. We are invoking recent legislation denying assistance to countries whose ships and aircraft carry commodities to and from Cuba. In addition, we have exerted diplomatic pressures on free-world countries to deny their facilities to Soviet Bloc and Cuban airlines serving or trying to serve Cuba, or harass such airlines.
- The limitation of free-world diplomatic relations with Cuba: As opportunity has offered, we have exerted pressure to persuade free-world countries to break diplomatic relations with Cuba or to prevent the establishment of such relations with Cuba.
- Efforts to undermine the Castro image abroad and to frustrate Cuban attempts to enhance that image: By means of diplomatic, propaganda and covert measures we have endeavored to demonstrate the weakness, failures and betrayals of the Castro regime.
B. Defense against Castro-Communist Subversion
- Within Cuba: As indicated above, all our efforts to bring about disorganization, uncertainty and discontent in Cuba are intended to weaken the Cuban base for Castro/Communist subversion.
- Multilateral: We have sought, through the OAS, to obtain general Latin American recognition of the seriousness of the subversive threat and approval of recommendations of measures to limit travel to and from Cuba, and the transfer of funds and propaganda. At the present time, we intend to expand and intensify this effort through actions to be taken by the OAS on the basis of the Venezuelan complaint against Cuba. Beyond the activities in the OAS, we have made special efforts with the Central American countries and Panama to have them tighten controls on the activities and movement of subversives, to develop inland and inshore surveillance capabilities, to create effective intelligence organizations and to establish a system of intelligence exchange.
- Bilateral: Through training, material assistance and exchange of intelligence, we have worked to improve the internal security capabilities of individual countries.
- Unilateral: In addition to multilateral and bilateral measures, we have continued to maintain our surface patrols in the vicinity of Cuba, to improve our own communications systems and to develop our own intelligence capabilities against subversive activities.
C. The reduction and eventual elimination of the Soviet military presence in Cuba
We have maintained diplomatic pressure on the Soviets to continue troop withdrawals and we have warned the Soviets that we will not tolerate the use of Soviet forces in Cuba to suppress popular uprising.
D. The collection of intelligence
We have maintained and improved our overt and covert collection of intelligence to meet not only U.S. strategic requirements but also operational requirements connected with our covert activities within [Page 554] Cuba. We have maintained periodic high-level overflights supplemented on a few occasions by low-level flights. We have warned the Soviets and Cubans against interference with these flights.
E. Covert operations to weaken and undermine the Castro Regime
A detailed discussion of the covert elements of our program appears in Section III.
As stated above, all these courses of action interact and are interdependent. For example, our covert economic denial operations are designed to reinforce and be reinforced by our overt measures of economic pressure. Both types of activities directed against the economy are intended to aggravate existing economic difficulties and thus to increase the level of disaffection not only in the popular mass but particularly in the power centers of the regime. This disaffection enhances our ability to establish meaningful contact with figures in the military and other power centers and to develop intelligence sources. This disaffection is in turn intensified by the evidence of vulnerability to outside attacks provided by the success of covert sabotage and harassment activities. By the same token, the failure or elimination of one of these mutually supporting courses of action jeopardizes the others and thus compromises the entire program.
Through 1963, these courses of action were having a measurable positive impact. We are now confronted, however, by a series of developments, described in Section I, which threaten to arrest or even reverse our forward movement. The situation is particularly acute with respect to the maintenance of our economic pressures. This fact makes this review of our covert operations particularly timely and important.
III. Concept of the Covert Action Program
The CIA covert action program aims at maintaining all feasible pressures on Cuba and at creating and exploiting situations in Cuba calculated to stimulate dissident elements within the regime, particularly in the armed forces, to carry out a coup. The objective of the coup would be to remove the Castro/Communists from the regime and to eliminate the entire Soviet presence from Cuba. Recognizing that the U.S. is engaged in a race against time with Cuba and its Soviet ally to obstruct the consolidation of Castroʼs regime at home and to prevent him from achieving his ambitions in Latin America, we set the time frame for this program at about eighteen months from June 1963.
As originally conceived and approved in June 1963, the covert action program was based on the assumption that U.S. policy precludes a military invasion or a full blockade of Cuba which could lead to a confrontation with the Soviet Union. In addition, the covert action program was and is predicated on the thesis that its chance of success would depend heavily on a sustained and intensive effort in other sectors, [Page 555] particularly the overt economic denial and political isolation programs, by all elements of the United States Government. Thus, the inter-action of the overt and covert effort against Cuba is regarded as a vital and irreplaceable factor if there is to be any hope of accomplishing the overall mission.
CIAʼs integrated covert action program consists of the following interdependent courses of action:
- Covert collection of intelligence to meet U.S. national security requirements and to support current and planned covert operations. It should be noted that clandestine maritime operations are an integral part of intelligence collection.
- Propaganda actions to stimulate low-risk simple sabotage and other forms of active and passive resistance against the regime.
- Economic denial actions in support of government-wide overt official U.S. economic isolation measures.
- Exploitation and stimulation of disaffection in the Cuban armed forces and other power centers of the regime to encourage these elements to carry out a coup against the Castro/Communist factions. CIA is identifying, contacting and attempting to establish channels of communication with these individuals.
- General sabotage and harassment as an economic weapon and as a stimulus to internal resistance. As an economic weapon, it is designed to supplement and support the overall economic denial program by damaging economically important installations and to add to Castroʼs economic problems by forcing him to divert money, manpower and resources from economic to internal security activities. As a stimulus to resistance, sabotage and physical harassment operations provide visible and dramatic evidence of the existence and capability of organized resistance against the regime. To the extent that these operations are successful, they also demonstrate to the Cuban population and elite groups the vulnerability of the regime to militant action. It is recognized that no single act of sabotage by itself can materially affect the economy or stimulate resistance, but we believe that the cumulative psychological and political impact within Cuba of sustained sabotage operations is a necessary element in the accomplishment of our mission.
Support of autonomous anti-Castro Cuban exile
groups. These operations are intended to provide a
deniable activity, a means of supplementing and expanding our
covert capability and a means of taking advantage of untapped
political and resistance resources of the exile community. The
program now includes two autonomous groups whose credibility as
to autonomy is strengthened by the facts that:
- They are led by men whose prominence and status in the Cuban exile community makes plausible their access to funds, equipment and manpower quite independent of the U.S.;
- Both are based in the Caribbean area outside of U.S. territory;
- Both have natural, willing allies in power in several Latin American countries;
- Both are Cuban and employ Cuba nationals exclusively;
- Every item of financial and logistic support has been handled in a manner as to provide maximum protection against proof of CIA or U.S. participation;
- The initial aim of these operations is to strengthen the will to resist by increasing the tempo of subversion and sabotage largely maintained until now by CIA; the eventual aim is to take the fight from the coastline to the interior of Cuba;
- The disadvantage of our autonomous operations is that it is necessary to accept a lower order of efficiency and control than would be considered acceptable in CIA-run operations.
Of the foregoing inter-locking courses of action, items (1) and (2) are in train and no policy problems regarding them are expected. Item (3) is the subject of another paper which is being presented for concurrent consideration. Item (4) is the essence of our program and is dependent for its success on the results of all other overt and covert courses of action. Item (5) has been the subject of continual review since the inception of the program and is the primary subject of this paper. Consideration of Item (6) (autonomous operations) should take place with a discussion of sabotage and harassment (Item 5). These latter two items are discussed in more detail in Section V below:
IV. The Sabotage Program in Retrospect
We know of at least 80 acts of internal sabotage and 60 armed clashes between Cuban security forces and insurgents since 1 June. Insurgency and sabotage inside Cuba are not part of a coordinated program; they are acts of individual or small group defiance. They are stimulated by many factors, and no one factor can be assigned entire credit. Sabotage incidents, which include a high proportion of sugar cane burnings, have a tendency to be seasonal, a fact which further obscures statistical analysis. Although it is true that from a low point in sabotage incidents during the summer of 1963 there was a heavy increase during the fall (following the commencement of our raiding activity), we believe that clearer light is shed on the effects of our harassment program by the statements of witnesses of varying points of view within Cuba and by the acts of the Cuban regime itself.
Since 1 August 1963, five sabotage raids have been attempted.4 All were successful. There was substantial damage to the target; all participants [Page 557] were safely recovered and the plausible deniability of the operations was not compromised.
The lack of proof of U.S. involvement did not prevent Castro from charging the CIA with responsibility. Indeed, almost every act of defiance against his regime has been credited to the Agency.
Castroʼs emotional reactions to real or rumored security threats point up his acute sensitivity to internal resistance and suggests that he feels his regime to be far from secure from external threats. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, has reacted to the sabotage raids with much less vigor and bluster than we anticipated. Their only sharp reaction, aside from the expected propaganda, followed a series of air raids during August and September sponsored by Cuban exile groups operating from Florida and for which the Agency had no responsibility. They did no real damage, but they did demonstrate that the Cuban air defense system could be breached, and they added substantially to the psychological impact of our first two raids.
[Here follows a detailed discussion of the results of the covert program.]
V. Impact of Cessation of Sabotage Operations
Because of the visible and dramatic nature of sabotage operations, their cessation would soon be noted by all interested parties to and observers of U.S./Cuban relations. The cessation of these raids, however disclaimable by the U.S. the raids themselves may be, would probably be interpreted in Latin America and certainly inside Cuba as a switch of U.S. policy from one of discreet encouragement and support of aggressive action against the Castro regime to one of “coexistence” and eventual accommodation with a Castro/Communist Cuba. Without constant and visible signs of offensive action against Cuba, a weakening process would be set in motion which could well lead the countries of Latin America to draw their own conclusions from these indicators and embark on accommodation policies of their own. Those governments in Latin America already threatened by Castroites in their own countries are likely to be subjected to even stronger domestic pressures.
As this belief spreads, Western European and other free world countries eager to trade with Cuba will come to feel that they may safely ignore and evade, to an even greater extent than they do now, U.S. appeals for the economic and political isolation of Cuba. An important additional economic effect would be the release into normal economic activity of manpower and funds now tied up in defense against raids.
Finally, and most important, this development in time is bound to have a severe demoralizing effect on the internal resistance against Castro. The Cuban exile community and particularly its militant and [Page 558] articulate elements would be acutely sensitive to a cessation of raids and can be expected to react vociferously. Judging from past experience, we can expect a new surge of domestic political agitation on the part of the numerous Cuban exiles who have political connections within the U.S.
In the event that it is decided to terminate CIA-controlled sabotage and harassment operations, it cannot be assumed that the autonomous groups, despite the greater deniability of their actions, could take over entirely the mission of furnishing proof of visible resistance to Castro and inspiring internal elements to take the personal risks necessary to set a coup in motion. Autonomous groups are as yet untested in their capability to conduct successful sabotage and harassment operations on a sustained basis. It is unlikely that in the next months the autonomous groups will develop the ability to match CIA-controlled operations, either in quantity or quality.
If sabotage and harassment operations were to be terminated for the autonomous groups as well as for the Agency, its support to the autonomous groups must also be terminated completely as otherwise we would not be in a position to insure that they would discontinue raids and sabotage. Such termination would compound the effects of the cessation of our own raids, particularly in those areas in the Caribbean where the autonomous groups have been most active.
VI. The Residual Program
In the event it is decided to abandon the core of the covert program, we will be obliged to fall back on essentially overt courses of action which are already operating but which can be refined and intensified, provided the political risks and costs are judged acceptable and we receive adequate cooperation from our allies.
A. Action against free-world economic ties with Cuba
Because of the recent erosion of our efforts in this sector and the clear intention of the Cubans and Soviets to expand Cuban economic relations with the free world, a series of recommendations to intensify this course of action has been made and is now being presented. The basic issue in the recommendations is our ability and willingness to incur the political costs and risks that heightened economic pressure would involve. Even if the recommendations are adopted completely, we could have no real assurance that our attempts to curtail Cuban-free world economic ties would be successful. On the other hand, if the actions and commitments included in the recommendations are not adopted, it is a near certainty that, under present circumstances, our economic pressures will be reduced to ineffectiveness. In any case, it must be clearly recognized that no amount of economic pressure can by itself bring down the Castro government, at least as long as the Soviets [Page 559] are prepared to subsidize the Cuban economy. The curtailment and disruption of Cuban economic ties with the free world can only contribute, and then only over time, to the creation of the optimum situation we are trying to develop. The effectiveness of this contribution would be at least sharply impaired by the relaxation of the pressure created by covert operations. Beyond these considerations, we can never have assurance that a foreign government cooperating in the economic program will not pull out and virtually collapse the program. Entire or even important reliance on economic pressure as a substitute for the covert program would be to deliver the fate of our policy into the uncertain hands of governments which do not share our convictions and sense of priority with respect to Cuba.
B. OAS Action
As a result of the Venezuelan charges against Cuba arising from the arms cache discovery, we have been considering a series of measures which we would seek in the OAS. It should be noted that the atmosphere for OAS adoption of strong measures has deteriorated as a result of the Panamanian crisis.
The measures which we have been studying include:
A break in diplomatic relations
The principal effects of this measure, which would mean action by five countries, including Brazil, Chile and Mexico, would be to provide rather dramatic evidence of Castroʼs isolation and to deny the Cuban regime subversive facilities offered by its remaining missions in Latin America. The measure would meet heavy resistance from Mexico, Chile and particularly Brazil.
A break in economic relations
Although this would have little practical effect economically, it would have some utility as a means of moral pressure on other free-world countries trading with Cuba.
A break in air and surface communications
Over time this would lead to a reduction in the Cuban ability to move subversives to and from Latin America. It would be useful as a means of moral pressure on other free-world countries having, or wishing to establish, air services with Cuba. On the negative side it would mean the temporary loss of intelligence facilities and would have an adverse effect on Cuban exile morale by closing an existing escape route for persons inside Cuba.
Approval for cooperative surveillance measures against movement of arms and men
The single most damaging OAS action to Castro would be an authorization for the use of force in connection with the movement of arms and men. The chances of getting a politically acceptable majority [Page 560] for such use was estimated to be less than even before the events in Panama and the prospects have diminished since then. Such OAS action would almost certainly dramatize the Cuban issue domestically and internationally. At the present time, it appears that the surveillance system which might be authorized by the OAS would involve the use of force only in the territorial waters of the countries for which the offending shipments are destined. Thus the question of OAS authorization for the use of force on the high seas will not arise.
Condemnation of the Castro regime
This would be a pro forma action, with only limited psychological force.
Reaffirmation of previous OAS measures on controlling Cuban-based and supported subversion
This would be of value as a means of reinforcing a general effort in this sector (see C below). It is, however, a purely defensive measure.
In sum, this series of OAS measures would certainly be helpful and would constitute important multilateral progress. The actions, however, are primarily psychological and defensive.
C. Increased efforts against subversion
We can probably increase and expand our multilateral, bilateral and unilateral efforts to increase the ability of Latin America to resist subversion. Such efforts are purely defensive and external to Cuba. No certain results can be guaranteed. In any case, if the Cuban base were to be strengthened by the relaxation of covert pressures or by the weakening of economic pressures, we will be fighting against increasing odds.
D. Increased psychological and propaganda efforts
We can intensify our measures in this sector, including major policy declarations on Cuba by the President and other senior officers of the Government. The efficacy of such efforts is entirely dependent, however, upon the substance behind them. A propaganda offensive would be productive only if there were credible evidence that our words were being accompanied by successful actions in other sectors.
The residual program set out above is substantially weaker than the present program. Accordingly, the prospects for attaining our ultimate objective of replacing the Castro/Communist regime, which have been by no means certain even under the present program, would be very measurably diminished under the residual program. The elimination of the core of the present covert program, especially if accompanied [Page 561] by a rejection or failure of the proposed expanded means of economic pressure, would raise in sharp terms the question of the need to examine the two basic alternatives: the use of force or accommodation.
That the covert program be continued in at least its present form and scope.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Cuba, Intelligence, Covert Program, 1/64–6/65. Secret; Sensitive. No drafting information appears on the paper, but an April 6 memorandum from Joseph W. Scott to U. Alexis Johnson indicates it was prepared by Desmond FitzGerald, Chief of the Western Hemisphere Division, Directorate of Plans, Central Intelligence Agency; John H. Crimmins, Coordinator of Cuban Affairs, Department of State; and Joseph Califano, Assistant Deputy Secretary of Defense for Cuban Affairs, in response to a request by McGeorge Bundy. (Department of State, INR/IL Historical Files, 5412 Special Group/303 Committee Records) According to Scottʼs memorandum the paper was drafted on January 24.↩
- Castro paid an unofficial visit to the Soviet Union January 13–22, at the end of which Khrushchev announced that the two nations had concluded a trade agreement that would guarantee Cuban income against fluctuations in world sugar prices.↩
- National Security Action Memorandum No. 220 is printed in Foreign Relations, 1961–1963, vol. XI, Document 277.↩
- Annex I contains a brief review of these operations. [Footnote in the source text. Annex I is attached but not printed.]↩