|December 5, 2005|
Excerpts from Ultimate Sacrifice: A New Take on the Murder of JFK
A BUZZFLASH GUEST
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FOR MORE THAN FOUR DECADES since his death in 1963, John F. Kennedy has captured the imagination of the American people. Myth and conjecture have swirled around JFK, his political legacy, his family, and its multiple tragedies. Admirers and critics have examined every detail of his life and work, gradually lifting one veil after another to shed new light on his presidency, from his maneuvering behind the scenes during the Cuban Missile Crisis to his personal weaknesses. Nonetheless, the secret with the most profound and catastrophic effect on America has remained hidden. Ultimate Sacrifice reveals this secret for the first time, transforming the history of the Kennedy years and providing the missing piece to one of the great puzzles of post-war America: the true circumstances behind JFK’s assassination on November 22, 1963.
Seventeen years ago, Thom Hartmann and I began writing a book about the battles of President Kennedy and his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, against the Mafia and Fidel Castro. Drawing on new information and exclusive interviews with those who worked with the Kennedys, in addition to thousands of recently declassified files, we discovered that John and Robert Kennedy had devised and were executing a secret plan to overthrow Fidel Castro on December 1, 1963.
“The Plan for a Coup in Cuba” (as it was titled in a memo for the Joint Chiefs of Staff) would include a “palace coup” to eliminate Castro, allowing a new Cuban “Provisional Government” to step into the power vacuum, and would be supported by a “full-scale invasion” of Cuba by the US military, if necessary. The “Plan for a Coup in Cuba” was fully authorized by JFK and personally run by Robert Kennedy. Only about a dozen people in the US government knew the full scope of the plan, all of whom worked for either the military, the CIA, or reported directly to Robert. The Kennedys’ plan was prepared primarily by the US military, with the CIA playing a major supporting role. Input was also obtained from key officials in a few other agencies, but most of those who worked on the plan knew only about carefully compartmentalized aspects, believing it to be a theoretical exercise in case a Cuban official volunteered to depose Fidel.
Unique and different from any previously disclosed operation, the Kennedys’ “Plan for a Coup in Cuba” is revealed in this book for the first time. The CIA’s code name for their part of the coup plan has never surfaced in any book, article, or government investigation. Officially declassified in 1999, “AMWORLD” is the cryptonym the CIA used for the plan in its classified internal documents. Since the overall coup plan was under the personal control of Attorney General Kennedy, who did not use a code-name for it, we call it “C-Day” in this book, a name entirely of our own invention. Its evocation of D-Day is intentional, since the Kennedys’ plan included the possibility of a US military invasion.
C-Day was undoubtedly one of the most secret covert operations in United States history. In its secrecy, however, lay tragedy. Even though the Kennedys’ coup plan never came to fruition, three powerful Mafia dons—Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, and Johnny Rosselli—learned of the plan and realized that the government would go to any lengths to avoid revealing it to the public. With that knowledge, the three mob bosses were able to assassinate JFK in a way that forced the truth to be buried for over forty years.
Marcello, Trafficante, and Rosselli undertook this extraordinary act of vengeance in order to halt the Kennedy administration’s unrelenting prosecution of them and their allies. The Kennedy Justice Department had vigorously pursued Marcello, even subjecting him to a brief, nightmarish deportation. Once he returned, Marcello hated the Kennedy brothers with a deep and vengeful passion. The two other Mafia bosses suffered similar pursuit, and eventually Marcello, Trafficante, and Rosselli decided that their only way to avoid prison or deportation was to kill JFK. Our investigation has produced clear evidence that the crime bosses arranged the assassination so that any thorough investigation would expose the Kennedys’ C-Day coup plan. They were confident that any such exposure could push America to the brink of war with Cuba and the Soviet Union, meaning that they could assassinate JFK with relative impunity.
They did not carry out the act themselves, but used trusted associates and unwitting proxies. The most widely known are Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald, who were both in contact with associates of Marcello, Trafficante, and Rosselli in the months before the assassination. Reports in government files show that Oswald and Ruby knew about parts of the Kennedys’ plan and even discussed it with others.
Robert Kennedy told several close associates that Carlos Marcello was behind JFK’s death, but he couldn’t reveal what he knew to the public or to the Warren Commission without C-Day being uncovered. As this book shows, RFK and other key government officials worried that exposure of the plan could trigger another nuclear confrontation with the Soviets, just a year after the Cuban Missile Crisis.
None of the seven governmental committees that investigated aspects of the assassination, including the Warren Commission, were officially told about the Kennedys’ C-Day plan. However, over the decades, each successive committee came increasingly close to discovering both the plan and the associates of Marcello who assassinated JFK. We were able to piece together the underlying story by building on the work of those committees, former government investigators, and revelations in four million documents that were declassified in the 1990s. Key to our efforts were new and often exclusive interviews with many Kennedy insiders who worked on the coup plan or dealt with its consequences, some of whom revealed aspects of JFK’s assassination and the coup plan for the first time. They include Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Press Secretary Pierre Salinger, and the Kennedys’ top Cuban exile aide, Enrique “Harry” Ruiz-Williams. Their inside information allows us to tell the story, even though a 1998 report about the JFK Assassinations Records Review Board confirms that “well over a million CIA records” related to JFK’s murder have not yet been released. NBC News’ Tom Brokaw confirmed on his September 29, 1998 broadcast that “millions” of pages remain secret and won’t be released until the year 2017.
By necessity, Ultimate Sacrifice examines this complex story from several angles. Part One documents every aspect of the Kennedys’ C-Day plan and how it developed, beginning with the Cuban Missile Crisis. Though it is widely believed that JFK agreed not to invade Cuba in order to end the Cuban Missile Crisis in the fall of 1962, Secretary of State Rusk told us that the “no-invasion” pledge was conditional upon Castro’s agreement to on-site UN inspections for nuclear weapons of mass destruction (a term that JFK first used). Historians at the National Security Archive confirmed that because Castro refused such inspections, the pledge against invasion never went into effect. Consequently, in the spring of 1963, John and Robert Kennedy started laying the groundwork for a coup against Fidel Castro that would eventually be set for December 1, 1963.
Robert Kennedy put the invasion under the control of the Defense Department because of the CIA’s handling of 1961’s Bay of Pigs disaster. The “Plan for a Coup in Cuba,” as written by JFK’s Secretary of the Army Cyrus Vance with the help of the State Department and the CIA, called for the coup leader to “neutralize” Cuban leader “Fidel Castro and . . . [his brother] Raul” in a “palace coup.” Then, the coup leader would “declare martial law” and “proclaim a Provisional Government” that would include previously “selected Cuban exile leaders” who would enter from their bases in Latin America. Then, at the invitation of the new government, after “publicly announcing US intent to support the Provisional Government, the US would initiate overt logistical and air support to the insurgents” including destroying “those air defenses which might endanger the air movement of US troops into the area.” After the “initial air attacks” would come “the rapid, incremental introduction of balanced forces, to include full-scale invasion” if necessary. The first US military forces into Cuba would be a multiracial group of “US military-trained free Cubans,” all veterans of the Bay of Pigs. Upon presidential authorization, the US would “recognize [the] Provisional Government . . . warn [the] Soviets not to intervene” and “assist the Provisional Government in preparing for . . . free elections.”
This “palace coup” would be led by one of Castro’s inner circle, himself a well-known revolutionary hero. This man, the coup leader, would cause Castro’s death, but without taking the credit or blame for doing so. The coup leader would be part of the new Provisional Government in Cuba, along with a select group of Cuban exiles—approved by the Kennedys—who ranged from conservative to progressive. The identity of the coup leader is known to the authors, and has been confirmed by Kennedy associates and declassified documents. However, US national security laws may prevent the direct disclosure of past US intelligence assets even long after their deaths, so we will not directly name the coup leader in this book. Since we have no desire to violate national security laws or endanger US intelligence assets, we will only disclose official information that has been declassified or is available in the historical record.
We have uncovered historical accounts of Cuban leaders that have been long overlooked by the public or are in newly released government files. For example, a formerly secret cable sent to the CIA director on December 10, 1963—just nine days after the original date for the C-Day coup—reports “Che Guevara was alleged to be under house arrest for plotting to overthrow Castro,” according to “a Western diplomat.” Newly declassified documents and other research cast Che’s growing disenchantment with Fidel Castro in a new light. These revelations include Che’s secret meetings with three people close to the Kennedys, followed by yet another house arrest after a CDay exile leader was captured in Cuba.
The Kennedys did not see C-Day as an assassination operation, but rather as an effort to help Cubans overthrow a Cuban dictator. A June 1963 CIA memo from one of Robert Kennedy’s Cuban subcommittees of the National Security Council explains the Kennedy policy as “Cubans inside Cuba and outside Cuba, working” together to free their own country. Nor was C-Day an attempt to install another US-backed dictator in Cuba, like the corrupt Batista regime that had been overthrown by Castro and many others on January 1, 1959. The Kennedys’ goal in 1963 was simply a free and democratic Cuba.
As several Kennedy associates told us, the only man who knew everything about C-Day was Robert Kennedy, the plan’s guiding force. Secretary of the Army Cyrus Vance was one of the few military leaders who knew the full scope of C-Day while the plan was active. The others were generals the Kennedys especially trusted, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Maxwell Taylor and General Joseph Carroll, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). High CIA officials involved in C-Day included CIA Director John McCone, Deputy Director for Plans Richard Helms, Desmond FitzGerald, and key field operatives like David Morales and David Atlee Phillips. Most high US officials didn’t know about C-Day prior to JFK’s assassination. There is no evidence that Lyndon Johnson was told anything about C-Day prior to JFK’s death. Likewise, no evidence exists showing that Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara knew about C-Day before JFK’s assassination. Dean Rusk told us he did not learn about the actual C-Day plan until soon after JFK’s death. There is no evidence that Edward Kennedy was told about the plan. Documents and sources indicate that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had no active role in C-Day, although he may have learned a great deal about it from field reports. The Secret Service was even less informed about C-Day, which no doubt hindered their actions when serious threats seemingly related to Cuba surfaced against JFK in the weeks before C-Day.
However, officials ranging from Dean Rusk to hawkish Air Force Chief of Staff General Curtis LeMay were needed for the planning of C-Day, so the Kennedys used a shrewd technique that let those officials participate in planning for C-Day while keeping them in the dark about the plan itself. Rusk, LeMay, and others were simply told that all the planning was needed “just in case” a coup happened in Cuba. Officials like Rusk and LeMay were generally aware of other CIA efforts against Castro in the fall of 1963, such as the CIA’s AMTRUNK operation, which looked for disaffected Cuban military officers. Some US officials also knew about a CIA asset named Rolando Cubela, a disgruntled mid-level Cuban official who the CIA code-named AMLASH. However, unlike AMWORLD—the CIA’s portion of C-Day—neither of those operations reached high in the Cuban government or was close to producing results in the fall of 1963. The Kennedys’ “just in case” technique allowed extensive planning to be done for all facets of the military invasion and the post-coup Provisional Government without revealing C-Day or the coup leader’s identity to most of those doing the planning. If the C-Day coup had actually occurred, Rusk and the other officials not privy to the full plan would nonetheless have been fully prepared for its aftermath, with plans they had already approved and helped create.
While such tightly compartmentalized secrecy kept C-Day from becoming widely known within the government and protected C-Day from public exposure, it also contributed to JFK’s death. In 1963, the public would have been shocked to learn that two months before JFK was shot in Dallas, US officials under the direction of Robert Kennedy began making contingency plans to deal with the “assassination of American officials.” In the event of an assassination (expected to happen only outside the US), these contingency plans would have mandated certain security measures, and, as this book documents, such principles would be applied to and responsible for much of the secrecy surrounding the JFK assassination.
Robert Kennedy and the others making the contingency plans were concerned only about possible retaliation by Castro for C-Day. They failed to consider the threat from others the Attorney General had targeted, especially Mafia bosses Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, and Johnny Rosselli. The Kennedys and key aides had gone to great lengths to keep the Mafia out of C-Day. The CIA’s earlier efforts with the Mafia to assassinate Castro—which began in 1959 under Vice President Richard Nixon—had complicated the Kennedys’ intense prosecution of the Mafia. Without telling the Kennedys, the CIA was continuing to work with the Mafia on plots against Castro in the fall of 1963, which helped to allow associates of Marcello, Trafficante, and Rosselli to infiltrate the plans for C-Day.
In Part II, we will show how—and why—mob bosses Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, and Johnny Rosselli worked together to penetrate the Kennedys’ C-Day plan and assassinate JFK. In 1963, Carlos Marcello was America’s most ruthless and secretive Mafia boss, completely free of FBI wiretaps. From his New Orleans headquarters, he ruled a territory that included Louisiana, Mississippi, and parts of Texas and Alabama. Marcello’s Mafia family was the oldest in North America, able to stage major “hits” without needing the approval of the national Mafia organization, and his associates had a long history of targeting government officials who got in their way. The Kennedys had pursued Marcello since 1959, even before JFK was elected president. Recently declassified FBI documents confirm that just a few years before his own death, Carlos Marcello confessed on three occasions to informants that he had had JFK killed.
Tampa godfather Santo Trafficante was Marcello’s closest Mafia ally. Trafficante’s territory included much of Florida, as well as parts of Alabama, and his organization provided a major conduit for the French Connection heroin trade, whose primary routes included New York City, Texas, New Orleans, Georgia’s Fort Benning, Montreal, Chicago, and Mexico City. The Internet magazine Salon noted that Trafficante “had been driven out of the lucrative Havana casino business by Castro and” that he “had been recruited in the CIA” plots with the Mafia to kill Castro months before JFK became president. Like Marcello, Trafficante later confessed his involvement in JFK’s assassination.
Johnny Rosselli, according to his biographers, also claimed to know what had really happened in Dallas, and he sometimes worked with both Trafficante and Marcello. Rosselli was the Chicago Mafia’s point man in Hollywood and Las Vegas, and his close friends included Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe. Internal CIA reports admit that they recruited Rosselli and Trafficante for their own plots to assassinate Castro prior to JFK’s election in 1960. Unknown to the Kennedys, Rosselli was continuing in that role in the fall of 1963.
Jack Ruby met with Rosselli just weeks before JFK’s assassination, had met much earlier with Santo Trafficante, and had numerous ties to Carlos Marcello, according to government investigators. Ultimate Sacrifice reveals new information from Pierre Salinger—a member of the Kennedys’ first organized crime investigation team—that just weeks before Jack Ruby shot Oswald, Ruby received a large payoff in Chicago from someone working for a close ally of Marcello and Trafficante. Ruby also made surprising comments that wound in up the Warren Commission’s files but not in their report. Just weeks after Ruby’s arrest for shooting Oswald in 1963, an FBI document quotes Ruby as talking about “an invasion of Cuba” that “was being sponsored by the United States Government.”
Ultimate Sacrifice shows how Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, and Johnny Rosselli were able to keep their roles in JFK’s death from being exposed because they had infiltrated C-Day. Long-secret government files confirm that ten men who worked for the mob bosses had learned about CDay. Five of those ten actually worked on C-Day, giving the Mafia chieftains a pipeline directly into C-Day and the plans for keeping it secret. Less than a dozen trusted associates of the mob bosses were knowingly involved in the hit on JFK.
Though Mafia hits against officials are rare, the Mafia families of Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, and Johnny Rosselli had killed officials who threatened their survival. Nine years earlier, Santo Trafficante’s organization had helped to assassinate the newly elected Attorney General of Alabama because he was preparing to shut down Trafficante’s operations in notoriously corrupt Phenix City. In 1957, associates of Marcello and Rosselli assassinated the president of Guatemala, a murder that was quickly blamed on a seemingly lone Communist patsy who, like Lee Harvey Oswald, was then killed before he could stand trial. Just nine months before JFK’s murder in November 1963, Rosselli’s Chicago Mafia family had successfully assassinated a Chicago city official, using an associate of Jack Ruby.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) found in 1979 that Marcello and Trafficante had had the means and the motive to assassinate JFK. Before the HSCA could question Rosselli, he “was kidnapped, murdered, dismembered, and sunk” in the ocean in an oil drum that later surfaced. But the CIA didn’t tell the HSCA about AMWORLD or other aspects of C-Day, so the HSCA couldn’t uncover exactly how Marcello and Trafficante did it or Rosselli’s role in working with them. Newly declassified files, many unavailable to the HSCA, show that Marcello, Trafficante, and Rosselli penetrated C-Day and used parts of it as cover to assassinate JFK.
By using the secrecy surrounding C-Day, the mob bosses could target JFK not only in Dallas, but also in two earlier attempts, one of which is revealed in this book for the first time. They first attempted to kill JFK in Chicago on November 1, 1963, and then in Tampa on November 18, before succeeding in Dallas on November 22. Since Chicago was home to Rosselli’s Mafia family, Tampa was Trafficante’s headquarters, and Dallas was in Marcello’s territory, the risk was shared between the three bosses. While the Chicago attempt—thwarted when JFK canceled his motorcade at the last minute— was briefly noted by Congressional investigators in the 1970s, the attempt to assassinate JFK during his long Tampa motorcade has never been disclosed in any book or government report. It was withheld from the Warren Commission and all later investigations, even though the Tampa plot was uncovered by authorities and revealed to JFK before he began his motorcade —which he continued, despite the danger.
With C-Day set to begin the following week, JFK planned to give a speech in Miami just hours after his trip to Tampa, a speech that included a message written to the C-Day coup leader in Cuba that promised him JFK’s personal support. Canceling the Tampa motorcade simply wasn’t an option for JFK or Bobby, even though the motorcade would reportedly be the longest of JFK’s presidency, slowly making its way past teeming crowds and many unsecured buildings. Our interviews with officials from Florida law enforcement and the Secret Service, supported by newspaper files and declassified CIA and FBI documents, reveal that the Tampa attempt to kill JFK shares a dozen striking parallels to what happened in Dallas four days later. They include a young male suspect who was a former defector with links to both the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and Russia, just like Lee Harvey Oswald. As in Dallas, JFK’s Tampa motorcade also included a hard left turn in front of a tall red-brick building with many unguarded windows—a key site that officials feared might be used by snipers to target JFK.
John and Robert Kennedy kept the Tampa assassination attempt secret at the time, and Robert Kennedy kept it secret until his death in 1968. The Secret Service, FBI, CIA, and other agencies have similarly maintained silence about it, as well as keeping secret other information about the assassination that might have exposed the Kennedys’ C-Day coup plan. In November 1994, the authors first informed the JFK Assassination Review Board about the Tampa assassination attempt. The Review Board had been created by Congress in 1992 and appointed by President Clinton soon after, to release all the JFK records. But just weeks after we told the Board about the Tampa attempt, the Secret Service destroyed their records for that time period. That does not implicate the Secret Service or the FBI or the CIA (as an organization) in JFK’s assassination. As the book shows, officials were forced into such cover-ups because the Mafia bosses had tied the potentially destabilizing C-Day plan to their attempts to assassinate JFK in Chicago, Tampa, and finally Dallas.
Within hours of JFK’s assassination, Robert Kennedy suspected that someone linked to Marcello and Trafficante, and to C-Day, was involved in his brother’s death. The afternoon of JFK’s death, Robert Kennedy revealed his suspicion to Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Haynes Johnson, who was meeting with C-Day exile leader Enrique “Harry” Ruiz-Williams. Evan Thomas, author of a biography of Robert Kennedy and a Newsweek editor, said “Robert Kennedy had a fear that he had somehow gotten his own brother killed” and that his “attempts to prosecute the mob and to kill Castro had backfired in some terrible way.” It has been publicly known only since 1992 that Robert Kennedy told a few close advisers that New Orleans mob boss Marcello was behind JFK’s assassination, as we confirmed with Kennedy aide Richard Goodwin. Salon received additional confirmation of Mafia involvement from Robert Kennedy’s former press secretary, Frank Mankiewicz, who conducted a secret investigation of JFK’s death for Robert.
Goodwin and Mankiewicz are just two of over a dozen associates of Robert Kennedy who either heard his belief in a conspiracy in his brother’s death or who believe in a conspiracy themselves. Among them are Justice Department prosecutors Ronald Goldfarb, Robert Blakey, and Walter Sheridan, as well as Robert’s first biographer, Jack Newfield. Others include JFK’s CIA Director John McCone, the President’s personal physician at his autopsy Admiral George Burkley, and JFK aides Dave Powers, Kenneth O’Donnell, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. This book adds to that list Pierre Salinger and Robert’s top Cuban exile aide “Harry” Ruiz-Williams, plus another Kennedy aide who worked on C-Day. Most of those associates of Robert Kennedy point to a conspiracy involving Carlos Marcello or his close allies.
In suspecting that C-Day was such a powerful weapon, history has proven the Mafia bosses correct. JFK’s death threw the whole US government into turmoil, but the intelligence agencies were especially frantic: Their numerous and extensive anti-Castro plots were so secret that they needed to be kept not only from the Congress and the public, but also from the Warren Commission.
Although many Warren Commission findings were discredited by later government investigators, Evan Thomas recently told ABC News that the commission achieved its real purpose. He said that after JFK’s assassination, “the most important thing the United States government wanted to do was reassure the public that there was not some plot, not some Russian attack, not some Cuban attack.” As a result, Thomas concluded, “the number one goal throughout the upper levels of the government was to calm that fear, and bring a sense of reassurance that this really was the work of a lone gunman.”
President Lyndon Johnson and the Warren Commission were also under tremendous time pressure: With Johnson facing an election in less than a year, the Commission had to assemble a staff, review and take testimony, and issue their final report just ten months after JFK’s death. “There was a cover-up,” Evan Thomas confirmed to ABC News, explaining that in the Warren Commission’s “haste to reassure everybody, they created an environment that was sure to come around and bite them.” He emphasized that Earl Warren, Lyndon B. Johnson, J. Edgar Hoover, and others were not covering up a plot to kill JFK, as some have speculated. Instead, they covered up “for their own internal bureaucratic reasons—because Hoover wanted to keep his job, and because Bobby Kennedy didn’t want to be embarrassed, or the CIA didn’t want to have the public know they were trying to kill somebody,” like Fidel Castro.
It was not until 2004 that Joseph Califano, assistant to Secretary of the Army Cyrus Vance in 1963, briefly hinted at the sensitive operation that Robert Kennedy had managed and had withheld from the Warren Commission. Califano wrote: “No one on the Warren Commission . . . talked to me or (so far as I know) anyone else involved in the covert attacks on Castro. . . . The Commission was not informed of any of the efforts of Desmond FitzGerald, the CIA and Robert Kennedy to eliminate Castro and stage a coup” in the fall of 1963.
Since Robert Kennedy knew more about C-Day than anyone else, his death in 1968 helped to ensure that C-Day stayed secret from all later government investigations into the assassination. The anti-Castro operations of the 1960s that were hidden from the Warren Commission only started to be uncovered by the investigations spawned by Watergate in the 1970s: the Senate Watergate Committee (which took secret testimony from Johnny Rosselli), the Rockefeller Commission, the Pike Committee, and the Church Committee. More details about those CIA plots were uncovered by the House Select Committee on Assassinations in the late 1970s, though many of their discoveries weren’t declassified until the late 1990s by the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB). C-Day, far more sensitive and secret than any of those anti-Castro plots, was never officially disclosed to any of those seven government committees.
The military nature of C-Day also helps to explain why it has escaped the efforts of historians and Congressional investigators for forty years. The CDay coup plan approved by Joint Chiefs Chairman General Maxwell Taylor was understandably classified TOP SECRET when it was created in 1963. But twenty-six years later, the Joint Chiefs reviewed the coup plan documents and decided that they should still remain TOP SECRET. The documents might have remained officially secret for additional decades, or forever, if not for the JFK Assassination Records Review Board, created by Congress in the wake of the furor surrounding the film JFK. After efforts by the authors and others, the Review Board finally located and declassified some of the C-Day files just a few years ago. However, someone who worked with the Review Board confirmed to a highly respected Congressional watchdog group, OMB Watch, that “well over one million CIA records” related to JFK’s assassination have not yet been released. The C-Day documents that have been released show just the tip of the iceberg, often filled with the names of CIA assets and operations whose files have never been released, even to Congressional investigators.
Part Three of Ultimate Sacrifice shows how C-Day affected history and continues to impact American lives. It provides a new perspective on LBJ’s operations against Cuba, and how they impacted the war in Vietnam. Ultimate Sacrifice casts Watergate in a whole new light since it involved a dozen people linked to various aspects of C-Day.
On a more personal level, Ultimate Sacrifice also solves the tragedy of Abraham Bolden, the first black Presidential Secret Service agent, who was framed by the Mafia and sent to prison when he tried to tell the Warren Commission about the Chicago and Tampa assassination attempts against JFK. His career and life ruined, Bolden has spent the last forty years seeking a pardon. Now, new information from the CIA and other sources shows that the man behind Bolden’s framing was an associate of Rosselli and Trafficante, someone linked to JFK’s assassination who had penetrated C-Day while working for the Mafia.
JFK made the ultimate sacrifice in his quest to bring democracy to Cuba using C-Day. Instead of staying safely in the White House, he put his own life on the line, first in Tampa and finally in Dallas. It has long been known that JFK talked about his own assassination the morning before he was shot. He commented to an aide about how easy it would be for someone to shoot him from a building with a high-powered rifle. Just hours earlier, JFK had demonstrated to his wife Jackie how easily someone could have shot him with a pistol. We now know the reason for JFK’s comments, since he knew that assailants from Chicago and Tampa were still at large, and that he himself was getting ready to stage a coup against Castro the following week.
John Kennedy once said: “A man does what he must—in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers.” He didn’t just mouth the slogan that Americans should be willing to “pay any price” and “bear any burden”—he paid the highest price, making the ultimate sacrifice a leader can make for his country. JFK had always been obsessed with courage, from PT-109 to Profiles in Courage to his steely resolve during the Cuban Missile Crisis. So it’s not surprising that he died as he had lived, demonstrating the courage that had obsessed him all his life, and making the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
Until 1988, we had no more interest in the JFK assassination than the average person—but the twenty-fifth anniversary of the JFK assassination spawned numerous books and articles, many of which focused on evidence that a conspiracy was involved in JFK’s death. The only question seemed to be: Which conspiracy? Conspirators included anti-Castro forces, elements of the CIA, and the Mafia. We started to look more closely at what had already been published about the assassination. We felt that a book focused solely on Bobby Kennedy’s battles against the Mafia and against Castro in 1963 might also yield some interesting perspectives on the JFK assassination. We expected the research to require reading a dozen books, looking at a few hundred documents, and trying to interview some Kennedy associates—something that might take a year at most. That was seventeen years, dozens of sources, hundreds of books, and hundreds of thousands of documents ago.
We started by looking at the work of the six government commissions (the Review Board had not yet been created) and focused on areas that previous writers hadn’t been able to fully explore. When we compiled all that data into a massive database, we realized that their findings weren’t mutually exclusive at all—in fact, when their data was grouped together, it filled in gaps and told a coherent story. Putting all their data together didn’t make the conspiracy bigger, as one might have expected. It actually made it smaller, since it became clear—for example—that one conspirator could be a Cuban exile, a CIA asset, and also work for the Mafia. However, we were stymied because much key information was still classified, much of it involving anti- Castro operations and associates of godfathers such as Carlos Marcello. We needed to find someone who knew the information and would talk, or some type of document the government couldn’t classify top secret—a newspaper, for instance.
Our first break came the day we discovered an article in the Washington Post dated October 17, 1989 about the tragic death of Pepe San Roman, the Cuban exile who had led the Kennedys’ ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion. One sentence caught our attention: It said that in 1963, Pepe’s brother had been “sent by Robert Kennedy to Central American countries to seek aid for a second invasion” of Cuba. We were puzzled. A “second invasion” of Cuba in 1963? Surely it must be wrong. None of the history books or government committees had ever mentioned a US invasion of Cuba planned for 1963. But a check of newspaper files from the summer and fall of 1963 uncovered a few articles confirming that there had been activity by Kennedy-backed Cuban exiles in Central America at that time.
In January 1990, we arranged to interview JFK’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk. When we asked him about the “second invasion” of Cuba in 1963, he confirmed that indeed there were such plans. They weren’t the same as the CIA-Mafia plots, which he only learned about later. Nor were they the CIA’s assassination plot with a mid-level Cuban official named Rolando Cubela. Rusk described the “second invasion” as a “coup” and said that it wasn’t going to be just some Cuban exiles in boats like the Bay of Pigs, but would involve the US military. Rusk indicated that the “second invasion” plans were active at the time JFK died in November 1963 and that the plan was personally controlled by Bobby Kennedy, but that he, Rusk, hadn’t learned about it until just after JFK’s death.
We theorized that there might be some connection between JFK’s assassination and the second invasion of Cuba. We asked ourselves why Bobby would cover up crucial information about his own brother’s murder—especially if he thought Marcello was behind it. What could be more important than exposing his brother’s killers? Well, during the Cold War, one thing that would be more important than the death of a president would be the deaths of millions of Americans in a nuclear exchange with the Soviets. Revealing such a plan after JFK’s death, just a year after the tense nuclear standoff of the Cuban Missile Crisis, could have easily sparked a serious and dangerous confrontation with the Soviets. That fear could explain why so much about JFK’s assassination had been covered up for so long. At the time, this was a very novel hypothesis, but we agreed that it made sense in light of what we had uncovered so far.
Slowly, over the next few years, we found scattered pieces of evidence. For example, at the National Security Archive in Washington, we found a partially censored memo from one of Bobby Kennedy’s secretive subcommittees of the National Security Council that discussed “Contingency Plans” in case Fidel Castro retaliated against the US by attempting the “assassination of American officials.” The memo was written just ten days before JFK’s assassination, and talked about “the likelihood of a step-up in Castro-incited subversion and violence” in response to some US action. The document had been declassified a year after the HSCA had finished its work, and had never been seen by any of the government commissions that had investigated the assassination.
We were shocked when Dave Powers, head of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston and a close aide to JFK, vividly described seeing the shots from the “grassy knoll.” Powers said he and fellow JFK aide Kenneth O’Donnell clearly saw the shots, since they were in the limo right behind JFK. Powers said they felt they were “riding into an ambush”—explaining for the first time why the driver of JFK’s limo slowed after the first shot. Powers also described how he was pressured to change his story for the Warren Commission. We quickly found confirmation of Power’s account of the shots in the autobiography of former House Speaker Tip O’Neill (and later, from the testimony of two Secret Service agents in the motorcade with Powers and O’Donnell).
Months after talking with Powers, we made another startling discovery: a planned attempt to kill JFK during his Tampa motorcade on November 18, 1963. It was mentioned in only two small Florida newspaper articles, each in just one edition of the newspaper and then only after JFK was killed in Dallas. Nothing appeared at the time of the threat, even though authorities had uncovered the plot prior to JFK’s motorcade. It was clear that someone had suppressed the story.
We decided to pursue Cuban exile and Bay of Pigs veteran Enrique Ruiz-Williams, who had been interviewed by former FBI agent William Turner in 1973. Williams had told Turner that he had been working on the plan with high CIA officials in Washington—something rare for Cuban exiles—on November 22, 1963. The timing was right, since Rusk had told us that the coup/invasion plan was active when JFK died. A former Kennedy aide confirmed Williams’s connection to Bobby and the CIA to William Turner. We eventually found Harry Williams, and in a most unlikely place: the snowy mountains of Colorado, about as far from the tropical climate of his native Cuba as one could imagine. Thoughtful and highly intelligent, he quickly grasped that we had done our homework and already knew many of the pieces of the puzzle—just not how they all fit together. Then in the twilight of his life, he wanted to see the truth come out, as long as the spotlight was kept away from him.
By the end of our second interview on that first trip, Harry had given us a detailed overview of the Kennedys’ secret plan to overthrow Castro on December 1, 1963 and how it was connected to JFK’s assassination. We finally understood how associates of Marcello, Trafficante, and Rosselli had learned of the plan and used parts of it against JFK—forcing Bobby Kennedy and key government officials into a much larger cover-up, to protect national security. After getting the overview of C-Day from Harry—and more details from the Kennedy associates he led us to—we were able to make sense of previously released documents that had baffled investigators for decades. In 1993 we gave a short presentation of our discoveries at a historical conference in Dallas that included top historians, journalists, and former government investigators. Some of those experts were able not only to get additional documents released by the Review Board, but also to provide us with additional information that they had previously uncovered. In 1994, a brief summary of our findings was featured on the History Channel and in Vanity Fair. In November 1994, we gave the Review Board written testimony about our discovery of the Tampa assassination attempt and the Kennedys’ C-Day “Plan for a Coup in Cuba in the Fall of 1963” (the quote is from our actual submission). Three years later, in 1997, the Review Board located and released a trove of documents confirming what Harry had told us about CDay, including the first declassified documents from fall 1963 entitled “Plan for a Coup in Cuba.” It was only in 1998, after the Review Board had finished its work and submitted its final report to the president and Congress, that we learned that the Secret Service had destroyed records covering the Tampa attempt just weeks after we first revealed it to the Review Board.
It took us fifteen years to uncover the full story, bringing together all these files and obscure articles in one place—and that was only because we were able to build on decades of work by dedicated historians, journalists, and government investigators. We also had the help of almost two dozen people who had worked with John or Robert Kennedy, who told us what files to look for and gave us the framework for C-Day, especially Harry Williams. Now we can tell the full story in much more detail, quoting directly from hundreds of government documents from the National Archives. These files, many quoted for the first time, verify everything Kennedy insiders had told us, long before most of those files were released. The files support what we said publicly over ten years ago, to the Review Board, to the History Channel, and in Vanity Fair. Some of the very records that prove C-Day’s existence also show connections between C-Day and JFK’s assassination, and how C-Day was penetrated by the associates of Mafia bosses Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, and Johnny Rosselli.
The secrecy surrounding the Kennedys’ fall 1963 coup plan—and the Mafia’s penetration of it—created most of the continuing controversies about the JFK assassination. Was Lee Harvey Oswald an innocent patsy, an active participant in the conspiracy to kill JFK, or a participant in a US intelligence operation that went awry? As we lay out the evidence about C-Day, and how the Mafia used it to kill JFK, it will answer that and other questions that have long baffled historians, investigators, and the public.
All the secrecy that shrouded C-Day in 1963, and in the decades since, has had a tremendous impact on American life and politics. While much of the ensuing cover-up of C-Day and its links to JFK’s assassination had a legitimate basis in national security, we also document which agencies covered up critical intelligence failures that allowed JFK’s assassination to happen. Since C-Day was never exposed, and its lessons never learned, its legacy has continued to harm US relations and intelligence. Ultimate Sacrifice shows how the ongoing secrecy surrounding C-Day and the JFK assassination has continued to cost American lives.
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1. Army copy of Department of State document, 1963, Record Number 198-10004-10072, Califano Papers, Declassified 7-24- 97. CIA memo, AMWORLD 11-22-63, #84804, declassified 1993.
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Thom Hartmann and Lamar Waldron
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Thom Hartmann is a progressive talk radio host and writes, among other things, the "Independent Thinker Book of the Month" reviews for BuzzFlash. Lamar Waldron is an Atlanta-based writer and historical researcher.
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