Enrique (Harry) Ruiz-Williams was the son of the head engineer and general manager of the largest mining company, was born in Cuba in 1922. After being educated at the Colorado School of Mines he became a successful businessman.
In 1958 Ruiz-Williams began working to overthrow Fulgencio Batista. This included providing Che Guevara with "food, dynamite, trucks, tractors, a lot of things." However, the authorities became aware of Ruiz-Williams's political sympathies and left the country in December 1958.
Ruiz-Williams returned to Cuba after Fidel Castro gained power in January 1959. According to Larmar Waldron, the author of Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK (2005) Ruiz-Williams "soon became disillusioned with the violence and repression of Castro" and moved to the United States. Ruiz-Williams joined with Manuel Artime, Tony Varona, Rafael Quintero, Aureliano Arango and Jose Cardona to establish the Movement for the Recovery of the Revolution (MRR Party).
In March 1960 Richard Bissell had drafted a top-secret policy paper entitled: A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime (code-named JMARC). This paper was based on PBSUCCESS, the policy that had worked so well in overthrowing President Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. In fact, Bissell assembled the same team as the one used against Arbenz: (Tracy Barnes, David Atlee Phillips, David Morales, Jake Esterline, Rip Robertson, E. Howard Hunt and Gerry Droller Frank Bender). Added to the team was Desmond FitzGerald, William Harvey and Ted Shackley. In August 1960 Dwight Eisenhower authorized $13m to pay for JMARC.
John F. Kennedy was given a copy of the JMARC proposal by Bissell and Allen W. Dulles in Palm Beach on 18th November, 1960. According to Bissell, Kennedy remained impassive throughout the meeting. He expressed surprise only at the scale of the operation. The plan involved a 750 man landing on a beach near the port of Trinidad, on the south coast of Cuba. The CIA claimed that Trinidad was a hotbed of opposition to Castro. It was predicted that within four days the invasion force would be able to recruit enough local volunteers to double in size. Airborne troops would secure the roads leading to the town and the rebels would join up with the guerrillas in the nearby Escambray Mountains.
At a meeting on 11th March, 1961, Kennedy rejected Bissells proposed scheme. He told him to go away and draft a new plan. He asked for it to be less spectacular and with a more remote landing site than Trinidad. Bissell now resubmitted his plan. As requested, the landing was no longer at Trinidad. Instead he selected Bahia de Cochinos (Bay of Pigs). This was 80 miles from the Escambray Mountains. What is more, this journey to the mountains was across an impenetrable swamp. As Bissell explained to Kennedy, this means that the guerrilla fallback option had been removed from the operation.
As Allen W. Dulles recorded at the time: We felt that when the chips were down, when the crisis arose in reality, any action required for success would be authorized rather than permit the enterprise to fail. In other words, he knew that the initial invasion would be a disaster, but believed that Kennedy would order a full-scale invasion when he realized that this was the case. According to Evan Thomas (The Very Best Men): Some old CIA hands believe that Bissell was setting a trap to force U.S. intervention. Edgar Applewhite, a former deputy inspector general, believed that Bissell and Dulles were building a tar baby. Jake Esterline was very unhappy with these developments and on 8th April attempted to resign from the CIA. Bissell convinced him to stay.
On 13th April, John F. Kennedy asked Richard Bissell how many B-26s were going to be used. He replied sixteen. Kennedy told him to use only eight. Bissell knew that the invasion could not succeed without adequate air cover. Yet he accepted this decision based on the idea that he would later change his mind when the chips were down. The following day B-26 planes began bombing Cuba's airfields. After the raids Cuba was left with only eight planes and seven pilots. Two days later five merchant ships carrying 1,400 Cuban exiles, including Ruiz-Williams, and other members of the MRR arrived at the Bay of Pigs.
According to Nestor T. Carbonell, Ruiz-Williams "fought bravely" until he was "blown into the air by an enemy shell... he was hit by more than seventy pieces of shrapnel. Both of his feet were smashed and he had a hole near his heart and a large one in his neck." Haynes Johnson, the author of The Bay of Pigs, Ruiz-Williams was taken to a field hospital. Soon afterwards, Fidel Castro made a visit to the hospital. The badly wounded Ruiz-Williams "recognized him at once. He groped under his thin mattress and tried to reach a .45 pistol he had concealed there earlier in the afternoon." Ruiz-Williams pointed the gun at Castro and pulled the trigger but it was empty. Castro asked Ruiz-Williams what he was trying to do, kill me?" Ruiz-Williams replied "That's what I came here for. We've been trying to do that for three days."
In April 1962 Castro released sixty of the most seriously wounded of those who took part in the Bay of Pigs operation. This included Ruiz-Williams. He then worked closely with Robert Kennedy in order to negotiate the release of the rest of the prisoners. William Turner claimed that Williams was very close to Kennedy: "Harry Williams was a Kennedy kind of man, tough and liberal and ferociously anti-communist. He is burly, round-faced, and handsome; he combines the geniality of a Lions Club toastmaster with a tough-minded singleness of purpose."
Richard D. Mahoney has argued that "throughout the summer of 1962, amid Republican flak for attempting a trade with the enemy... Robert Kennedy worked with Ruiz-Williams... to get the talks with Castro going again." Eventually they were successful and on 24th December 1962, 1,113 prisoners were released. Nestor T. Carbonell has pointed out that President John F. Kennedy "invited the Bay of Pigs brigade chiefs to his villa in Palm Beach. There, flanked by Jacqueline Kennedy and her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill... the President greeted Manuel Artime and the others, including Ruiz-Williams".
In his book, Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK (2005) Larmar Waldron discloses details of a "Plan for a Coup in Cuba" that was authorized by John F. Kennedy and run by Attorney General Robert Kennedy. The Central Intelligence Agency code name for their supporting role in the the coup was AMWORLD. According to Waldron, the CIA arranged for a leading figure in the Cuban government to arrange the assassination of Fidel Castro.
Waldron and Hartmann argue that the death of Fidel Castro was to be followed by an armed invasion of US military-trained Cuban exiles. These men would have been veterans of the Bay of Pigs operation. The coup leader would then join a coalition government made up of Enrique Ruiz-Williams, Manuel Artime, Juan Almeida, Manolo Ray and Tony Varona.
The authors of Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK (2005) argue: "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."
Ruiz-Williams was a major source for this C-Plan story and came under attack from some historians after the book was published. They also objected to the idea that Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, and Johnny Rosselli were involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. For example, Jefferson Morley argues: "Their exhausting, massive account, grounded in new CIA and Army records, valuably fleshes out Russo's portrait of RFK's secret campaign to oust Castro. But their theory about how that ties into the assassination itself is conjectural. They inflate tenuous links between Oswald and organized-crime figures and presume that the Mafia had a bureaucratically savvy leadership. To attribute the gunfire in Dallas and the alleged subsequent cover-ups to the ingenuity of thuggish crime bosses like Jimmy Hoffa, Johnny Roselli and Santo Trafficante Jr. has the feel of a deus ex mafia , wrapping up a complicated story too neatly."
David Talbot has argued: "While the authors' thesis is provocative, it is not convincing. The Kennedys undeniably regarded Castro as a major irritant and pursued a variety of schemes to remove him, but there is no compelling evidence that the coup/invasion plan was as imminent as the authors contend. But according to Waldron and Hartmann, though the exceedingly ambitious coup/invasion plan was supposedly just days away from being implemented when Kennedy was assassinated, key U.S. military officials like Defense Secretary Robert McNamara had still not been told about it. The idea that the Kennedys would seriously undertake such a risky operation without the participation of their defense secretary, a man they trusted and admired more than any other Cabinet member, defies reason."
Enrique Ruiz-Williams died on 10th March, 1996.
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 Cubanexile 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 C-Day exile leader was captured in Cuba.
In Ultimate Sacrifice, researchers Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann propose a novel variation on the Mafia conspiracy theory. They report that Bobby Kennedy sought to orchestrate a "palace coup" in Havana on Dec. 1, 1963 - which the authors refer to as "the Kennedys' C-Day plan," "a name entirely of our own invention" that they use alongside actual terms from the time, doing their credibility no favors. Mafia crime bosses, they contend, learned of this plan and killed Kennedy, using Oswald as their patsy, knowing that the crime could not be investigated lest it reveal Bobby's secret scheme.
Their exhausting, massive account, grounded in new CIA and Army records, valuably fleshes out Russo's portrait of RFK's secret campaign to oust Castro. But their theory about how that ties into the assassination itself is conjectural. They inflate tenuous links between Oswald and organized-crime figures and presume that the Mafia had a bureaucratically savvy leadership. To attribute the gunfire in Dallas and the alleged subsequent cover-ups to the ingenuity of thuggish crime bosses like Jimmy Hoffa, Johnny Roselli and Santo Trafficante Jr. has the feel of a deus ex mafia , wrapping up a complicated story too neatly.
Amid the grief and speculation that followed the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, a story emerged of an aborted plot to kill the president four days earlier as he rode through the streets of Tampa.
Now, a new book about the assassination attempts to detail the Tampa plot, joining the litany of literature about that fall day in Dallas.
In 900 pages, Ultimate Sacrifice, released Friday, offers a new twist on an old conspiracy theory, with Tampa figuring prominently.
At its core is the notion that the killing was an organized crime hit instigated, in part, by a local Tampa mobster, the late Santo Trafficante Jr.
Authors Lamar Waldron and Thom Hartmann argue that a trifecta of Mafia dons - Trafficante in Tampa, Carlos Marcello in New Orleans and Johnny Roselli in Chicago - was responsible for killing Kennedy to halt Robert Kennedy, then attorney general, from further Mafia prosecutions. The theory isn't new.
Yet this book also alleges that the government was forced to cover up Mafia involvement in the assassination to protect a top secret plan to stage a coup in Cuba called C-Day. Mob associates had infiltrated the secret project, according to the authors' interviews with Harry Williams, a Cuban exile who said he organized C-Day for Robert Kennedy.
The book's central premise is that federal investigators couldn't implicate the Mafia dons in the assassination without casting light on the planned coup and threatening national security.
More interesting for local readers, the book also claims that Trafficante was behind an attempt to kill Kennedy during his visit to Tampa on Nov. 18, 1963.
Trafficante allegedly called off the attack after an informant alerted law enforcement a few days before the visit, according to the book.
"Of course, Trafficante would have also known that there was still one more chance to kill JFK, in Marcello's territory of Dallas," according to Ultimate Sacrifice.
Plans for the would-be Tampa assassination resembled the Dallas assassination, according to the book. The Tampa gunman would have fired from a window of the Floridan Hotel, then the tallest building in the city. (In Dallas, Lee Harvey Oswald was accused of shooting from a window on the sixth floor of a book depository.)
Kennedy and his entourage of limousines and squad cars wound their way along 20 miles of Tampa streets that day.
Thousands of spectators flanked the route.
The motorcade was expected to slow for a left turn at the Floridan Hotel. (In Dallas, Kennedy was shot while the motorcade slowed to make a left turn.)
The book even names a patsy, a Cuban named Gilberto Policarpo Lopez who was allegedly poised to take the fall in Tampa, unbeknownst to him, according to the authors' interviews with Lopez's wife.
Waldron said he based his reporting of the Tampa plot on interviews with former Tampa police Chief J.P. Mullins, a confidential law enforcement source and a Chicago Secret Service agent, Abraham Bolden.
Mullins has since died.
Waldron also combed records at the Miami Police Department, the agency that got the tip about the assassination plan.
"It's groundbreaking because it reveals the Tampa attempt for the first time in any book, and it tells the complete story of the Tampa attempt," said Waldron, who researched the book for 17 years with the help of Hartmann.
Ultimate Sacrifice is Waldron's first book, although he has written extensively about the Kennedy assassination and Robert Kennedy over the past decade.
The Tampa assassination threat was reported in a story in the Tampa Tribune that ran Nov. 23, the day after Kennedy was shot in Dallas. But details were vague, and there was no follow-up.
An entire 300 pages of Ultimate Sacrifice is dedicated to explaining what could have motivated Trafficante and the other Mafia bosses to kill the president, as well as their efforts to get involved in Robert Kennedy's alleged scheme to overthrow Fidel Castro. Trafficante's interest in getting rid of President Kennedy and invading Cuba was tied to getting back casinos he had lost in Havana when Castro took over and his role in the narcotics trade, according to the book. The authors pulled much of their Trafficante information from unclassified documents, other books and Williams.
A Tampa native, Trafficante was reputed to be a top mob boss, taking over in Tampa from his father in 1954. His name was mentioned in connection with at least four mob hits, he was linked to gambling and drugs, and he faced bribery, racketeering and tax evasion charges over the years. But Trafficante never spent a night in a U.S. jail.
He kept modest homes in Tampa and North Miami Beach, and died in 1987 in a Houston hospital where he had gone for heart surgery.
In 1989, his former attorney, Tampa lawyer Frank Ragano, published a book in which he said Trafficante had confessed to him in 1987 that he had had something to do with the Kennedy assassination. Ragano repeated the claim during sworn testimony he gave to the Assassination Records Review Board in 1997. He has since died. Local Trafficante experts said they were skeptical of this latest book reporting Trafficante's involvement in the assassination, having never seen evidence supporting such a theory.
"In all the research I've done on the matter, I've never heard of such things," said Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent Ken Sanz, who is working as a consultant for a book in progress on Trafficante. "Never. And quite frankly, it's fresh on my brain."
Waldron and publisher Carroll & Graf of Avalon stand by the reporting in the book, citing thousands of pages of documents, many of which were recently declassified. "It was critical to our credibility that we had to prove C-Day and provide context for how the mob did it," said Charlie Winton of Avalon. The book went on sale at bookstores nationwide on Nov. 18, the anniversary of the planned Tampa assassination attempt.
Every Nov. 22 we are haunted by the unquiet ghost of John F. Kennedy, and last week's anniversary of his assassination was no exception. As usual, none of the flurry of press reports taking note of the mournful occasion shed any new light on what remains the greatest unsolved mystery of the 20th century. The national dialogue about the case remains stuck where Oliver Stone's explosive 1991 film "JFK" and Gerald Posner's bestselling 1993 rebuttal, "Case Closed," left it. Stone's dark dream, peopled by sinister government officials and demons from the underworld, had the virtue of channeling the deepest fears of the American public, a consistent majority of which continues to believe JFK was the victim of a conspiracy. Posner's book, which mounted a game defense of the lone gunman theory in the face of a growing body of contrary evidence, had the virtue of simplicity and calming reassurance.
Though you wouldn't know it from following the media coverage, there have been new developments in the case during the past dozen years - many of them sparked by the thousands of once secret documents released by the government as a result of the furor around Stone's film. (Millions of other pages remain bottled up in agencies like the CIA, in defiance of the 1992 JFK Assassination Records Collection Act.) Some of this recently unearthed information is now beginning to appear in new books, including "Ultimate Sacrifice," this year's most highly touted JFK assassination book.
Written by two independent researchers who spent 17 years on the book - former science fiction graphic novelist Lamar Waldron and Air America radio host Thom Hartmann - the book arrives in a blaze of publicity about its provocative conclusions. Columnist Liz Smith excitedly announced that the book was the "last word" on the Kennedy mystery.
The "revelations" in "Ultimate Sacrifice" are indeed as "startling" as the book jacket promises. The authors contend that before he was killed, President Kennedy was conspiring with a high Cuban official to overthrow Fidel Castro on Dec. 1, 1963 - a coup that would have been quickly backed up by a U.S. military invasion of the island. The plot was discovered and infiltrated by the Mafia, which then took the opportunity to assassinate JFK, knowing federal law officials (including the president's brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who was in charge of the Cuba operation) would be blocked from pursuing the guilty mobsters out of fear that the top-secret operation would be revealed.
While the authors' thesis is provocative, it is not convincing. The Kennedys undeniably regarded Castro as a major irritant and pursued a variety of schemes to remove him, but there is no compelling evidence that the coup/invasion plan was as imminent as the authors contend. By 1963, after the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion and the heart-thumping nuclear brinksmanship of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedys were in no mood for any high-stakes Cuba gambits that had the potential to come crashing down loudly around them. Before they entertained such a risky venture, they would have thrashed out the idea within a circle of their most trusted national security advisors - a painful lesson they had learned from the Bay of Pigs fiasco, a closely held plot that JFK had been steamrolled into by his top two CIA officials, Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell.
But according to Waldron and Hartmann, though the exceedingly ambitious coup/invasion plan was supposedly just days away from being implemented when Kennedy was assassinated, key U.S. military officials like Defense Secretary Robert McNamara had still not been told about it. The idea that the Kennedys would seriously undertake such a risky operation without the participation of their defense secretary, a man they trusted and admired more than any other Cabinet member, defies reason. (For the record, McNamara himself has firmly rejected the notion that JFK was plotting a major Cuba intervention in late 1963, in an interview I conducted with him earlier this year for a book on the Kennedy brothers.)
The Kennedy administration was in the habit of churning out a blizzard of proposals for how to deal with the Castro problem, most of which the president never formally endorsed. It seems that Waldron and Hartmann have confused what were contingency plans for a coup in Cuba for the real deal. In fact, an exchange of government memos in early December 1963 between CIA director John McCone and State Department official U. Alexis Johnson that was released under the JFK Act - and apparently overlooked by the authors - specifically refers to the coup plot as a "contingency plan." On Dec. 6, 1963, Johnson wrote McCone, "For the past several months, an interagency staff effort has been devoted to developing a contingency plan for a coup in Cuba... The plan provides a conceptual basis for U.S. response to a Cuban military coup." The key words here are, of course, "contingency" and "conceptual basis" - neither of which suggests anything definite or fully authorized.
Waldron and Hartmann rely on two key sources for their theory about the coup plan (which they refer to as "C-Day," a code name they concede is entirely their own creation, adding to its chimerical quality) - former Secretary of State Dean Rusk and a Bay of Pigs veteran named Enrique "Harry" Ruiz-Williams, Robert Kennedy's closest friend and ally in the Cuban exile community, both of whom they interviewed before the two men's deaths. But, according to Rusk, he only learned of the coup plan after the Kennedy assassination from sources within the Johnson administration. And considering the legendary antipathy between Bobby Kennedy and Johnson loyalists like Rusk, who often portrayed the Kennedy brothers as fanatical on the subject of Castro, this testimony must be viewed with some skepticism.
Ruiz-Williams, on the other hand, was very friendly with Bobby, phoning him on a regular basis and joining the Kennedy family on ski trips. But his belief that a Kennedy-backed assault on the Castro regime was imminent might be a case of wishful thinking. While Bobby's romantic nature did open his heart to brave anti-Castro adventurers like Ruiz-Williams, RFK's hardheaded side always dominated when it came to protecting the interests of his older brother. And Bobby knew that as the 1964 election year loomed, his brother's main interest when it came to Cuba was keeping it off the front pages. That meant making sure the volatile Cuban exiles were as quiet and content as possible, which is why Bobby was working aggressively to encourage anti-Castro leaders to set up their operations in distant Central America bases, with the vague promise that the U.S. would support their efforts to return to Havana.
At the same time, the Kennedys were secretly pursuing a peace track with Castro, to the fury of the CIA officials and exile leaders who found out about it, seeing it as another blatant example of Kennedy double-dealing and appeasement. Waldron and Hartmann play down these back-channel negotiations with Castro, writing that they were failing to make progress. But the talks, which were spearheaded by a trusted Kennedy emissary at the U.N., William Attwood, were very much alive when JFK went to Dallas.
The authors further undermine their "C-Day" theory by refusing to name the high Cuban official who allegedly conspired with the Kennedy administration to overthrow Castro. They decided to withhold his name out of deference to national security laws, they write, a puzzling decision considering how long ago the Kennedy-Castro drama receded into the mists of history from the center stage of geopolitical confrontation. "We are confident that over time, the judgment of history will show that we made the right decision regarding the C-Day coup leader, and that we acted in accordance with National Security law." This flag-waving statement will surely win the hearts of anonymous bureaucrats in Langley, but it will only alienate inquisitive readers.
While bowing to "national security," Waldron and Thomas cannot help themselves from heavily implying who the Cuban coup leader was - none other than the charismatic icon of the Cuban revolution, Che Guevara, who by 1963 was chafing under Castro's heavy-handed reign and pro-Soviet tilt. If all the authors' winking and nodding about Che really is meant to point to him as the coup leader, this raises a whole other set of questions, not least of which is why the Kennedys would possibly regard the even more incendiary Guevara as a better option than Castro.
If C-Day is a stretch, the second part of the book's argument -- that the Mafia assassinated Kennedy with complete government immunity, using their inside knowledge of the top-secret plan to escape prosecution -- is even harder to swallow. Waldron and Hartmann portray a group of mobsters so brilliant and powerful they are able to manipulate national security agencies and frame one of their operatives, Lee Harvey Oswald; organize sophisticated assassination operations against JFK in three separate cities (including, finally, Dallas); and then orchestrate one of the most elaborate and foolproof coverups in history. Think of some awesome hybrid of Tony Soprano and Henry Kissinger.
It is true that Santo Trafficante, Carlos Marcello and Johnny Rosselli - the three mobsters whom the authors accuse of plotting JFK's demise - were cunning and cruel organized crime chieftains. And they hated the Kennedys for allegedly using their services and then cracking down on them. But even they lacked the ability to pull off a brazen regicide like this by themselves. And if they did, "national security concerns" might have been enough to stop investigators like Waldron and Hartmann, but never Bobby Kennedy, whose protective zeal toward his brother was legendary. All the attorney general would have had to do was explain the national security concerns in the judge's private chambers, and once the coup plan was safely under wraps, his prosecutors would have been free to take the gloves off and go after his brother's murderers.
We appreciate the serious coverage of "Ultimate Sacrifice" in Salon.com, but there are several assertions and omissions in the review written by David Talbot that we'd like to address.
"Ultimate Sacrifice" presents evidence from thousands of pages of declassified documents that John and Robert Kennedy planned to stage a coup against Castro on Dec. 1, 1963, and that the plan was infiltrated by three Mafia bosses (from the mob families that controlled Chicago, Tampa and Dallas). The Mafia chiefs then used parts of the coup plan, including some U.S. intelligence assets, in their plot to kill JFK - first trying in Chicago, then Tampa, and finally Dallas - in a way that forced a coverup to protect national security, and the coup plan. The documentary evidence is backed up by accounts from almost two dozen Kennedy associates involved in aspects of those events, and their aftermath.
The most glaring omission in Talbot's review was not addressing or even mentioning AMWORLD, the CIA's code name for their supporting role in the Kennedy coup plan in 1963. AMWORLD is a major focus of the book. "Ultimate Sacrifice" not only reveals this recently declassified operation for the first time, but documents that it was withheld from the Warren Commission and later congressional investigating committees.
AMWORLD, which began on June 28, 1963, was an integral part of the Kennedys' plan for a coup in Cuba and it's impossible to consider one without the other. Coup planning began in January 1963 as a slow-moving, bureaucratic exercise, and the plan was only in its fourth draft by June 1963. But that month, planning began in earnest after the real opportunity for a high-level coup arose. After the CIA created AMWORLD, millions of dollars began to be devoted to the coup plan. From that point forward, coup planning proceeded rapidly, demonstrating that it had become a live operation. By September 1963 the "Plan for a Coup in Cuba" was in its 13th draft, and the rapid pace accelerated further, continuing through November of 1963. (After JFK's death, the CIA kept the AMWORLD code name, but without the involvement of Robert Kennedy and other key figures, the plan changed radically.)
The most important of our five sources who actively worked on the coup plan was the Kennedys' top Cuban exile aide, Enrique "Harry" Ruiz-Williams (who asked us to always call him "Harry"). Talbot acknowledged in his review that Harry was close to RFK, but says that Harry's "belief that a Kennedy-backed assault on the Castro regime was imminent might be a case of wishful thinking." That's not what the evidence demonstrates. Harry's account - and that of the others - is backed up by many declassified coup plan and AMWORLD documents that talk about them and the operation. High-level AMWORLD documents from November 1963 say that "all US plans (were) being coordinated through" Harry and he had been "so named by Robert Kennedy."
By Nov. 22, 1963, millions of dollars had been spent on the coup plan, hundreds of Cuban-American troops had been trained, U.S. assets were going into Cuba, and everything was ready. As noted in the book, a long-overlooked Washington Post article confirms that Harry's work "had reached an important point" by November 22, when Harry "participated in the most crucial of a series of secret meetings with top-level CIA and government people about Cuba." Harry and other Kennedy associates told us he was going into Cuba the following day, to await the Dec. 1, 1963, coup - a date consistent with what we were told by others who worked with RFK on the coup plan and which is contained in an AMWORLD memo from JFK's CIA director.
Talbot seems skeptical of the coup plan because JFK's Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told him he didn't know about a "major Cuban intervention" in late 1963. Talbot also questions the credibility of Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who first told us about the coup plan in 1990. However, Talbot didn't mention that Rusk gave an on-the-record confirmation of the coup plan to Anthony Summers for Vanity Fair in 1994, three years before the first "Plan for a Coup in Cuba" documents were declassified. Rusk even explained to Summers why the Kennedys pursued the coup plan and secret peace negotiations with Castro at the same time, saying, "It was just an either/or situation. That went on frequently," though Rusk told Summers that in doing so, "the Kennedys 'were playing with fire.'"
As the book explains, we have only identified a dozen people so far who were fully informed about the coup plan prior to JFK's death, and McNamara wasn't one of them. Evidence indicates the only military figures who were fully informed include Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Maxwell Taylor, Defense Intelligence Agency chief Gen. Joseph Carroll, and Secretary of the Army Cyrus Vance. Rusk told us he only learned about the coup plan after JFK's death. Still, Rusk and his subordinates - and other officials - had helped to shape the coup plan while JFK was alive, having been told it was being developed in case the CIA found a powerful Cuban official willing to stage a coup against Castro. That's why Talbot was in error when he wrote we must "have confused what were contingency plans for a coup in Cuba for the real deal."
The coup plan was so serious that in the days and weeks before Dallas, Robert Kennedy had a secret committee making plans for dealing with the possible "assassination of American officials" if Castro found out and tried to retaliate. The same people working on those plans were also working on the coup plan and AMWORLD. While Talbot didn't mention those plans in his review, we did include a Nov. 12, 1963, document from that committee in our excerpt, which Salon was kind enough to run.
Our book cites documents totaling thousands of pages from the National Archives, which we encourage people to view for themselves. A reader of Talbot's review might get the impression that we pieced together our story of AMWORLD and the "Plan for a Coup in Cuba" from the documents released in the mid- to late 1990s, but that is not correct. Starting in 1990, we were told about the coup plan and the CIA by Dean Rusk and other Kennedy associates, long before any of the documents were released. We made public presentations about the coup plan and the CIA's role in it beginning in 1993, at historical conferences, on the History Channel, and in Vanity Fair, to draw attention to the documents that remained unreleased. When the coup plan documents finally started being declassified in 1997, they included the same people and phrases ("Plan for a Coup in Cuba") we'd been using for years.