Sheffield Edwards joined the United States Army and by the end of the Second World War had reached the rank of colonel. He joined the Central Intelligence Agency and was appointed head of the Office of Security. His main task was to protect Agency personnel and facilities from enemy penetration.
In April, 1950 Edwards set up Project Bluebird. This was the creation of teams to check out agents and defectors for the whole CIA. Each team consisted of a psychiatrist, a polygraph (lie detector), an expert trained in hypnosis, and a technician.
In 1953 Allen W. Dulles asked Edwards to investigate CIA officers who had been named by Joseph McCarthy as security risks. This included Cord Meyer and William Bundy, who had been supporters of left-wing causes during the 1930s. Allegations were also made against Frank Wisner, head of Directorate of Plans (DPP). Another CIA agent who was investigated, James Kronthal, committed suicide after being interviewed by Edwards and Dulles. Kronthal, a former Nazi Party member and close friend of Herman Goering, had during the war been caught by the German authorities in a homosexual act with an underage German boy.
In 1960 Richard Bissell and Allen W. Dulles decided to work with the Mafia in a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. According to Bissell, it was Edwards who first suggested the idea. Edwards argued that the advantage of employing the Mafia for this work is that it provided CIA with a credible cover story. The Mafia were known to be angry with Castro for closing down their profitable brothels and casinos in Cuba. If the assassins were killed or captured the media would accept that the Mafia were working on their own.
Sheffield Edwards suggested that Robert Maheu should be approached to organize the assassination. Jack Anderson (Peace, War and Politics: An Eyewitness Account) later claimed that Maheu offered the contract to Johnny Roselli. He in turn arranged for a meeting on 11th October, 1960, between Maheu and two leading mobsters, Santo Trafficante and Sam Giancana. As Maheu pointed out, "both were among the ten most powerful Mafia members" in America. Maheu told the mobsters that the CIA was willing to pay $150,000 to have Castro killed.
On 12th March, 1961, Maheu, and Edwards' assistant, Jim O'Connell, met Roselli, Trafficante and Giancana at the Fontainebleau Hotel. During the meeting O'Connell gave poison pills and $10,000 to Rosselli to be used against Fidel Castro.
Sheffield Edwards died on 15th July, 1975.
The Kronthal case demonstrated just how careless Dulles and Wisner were about their early recruitments. As the CIA investigators later found, Kronthal had led a dark life in the art world, working with the Nazi regime during the war in fencing art stolen from Jews. It was during this period that German intelligence caught him in a homosexual act with an underage German boy. However, his friendship with Herman Goering prevented his arrest and saved him from scandal. Kronthal had every reason to believe the incident had been safely covered up.
When the Soviets took Berlin, they found all of Goering's private files, which included Kronthal's records. When Kronthal replaced Dulles as Bern Station Chief in 1945, the NKVD prepared a honey trap based on the information they had obtained. Chinese boys were imported and made available to him, and he was successfully filmed in the act. "His recruitment was the most well-kept secret in the history of the Agency," James Angleton said. The entire time Kronthal worked for Dulles and Wisner, he was reporting every detail back to Moscow Center. Kronthal was the first mole in the CIA. He served the Soviets for more than five years.
In the winter of 1959-60, however, the CIA still thought it could pull off the invasion (of Cuba). But it thought the odds might be better if the plan went one step further - the murder of Fidel Castro. All the Company needed was someone to do the dirty work for it. Professional killers. A gangland-style hit.
It was then that the CIA conceived the notion to let the mobsters do it themselves. They'd had a grudge against Castro ever since he'd forced them out of the Havana casinos. It was even rumored that Meyer Lansky had put a million-dollar bounty on Castro's head. CIA Director Alien Dulles passed the ball to his deputy director, Richard Bissell. Bissell handed off to the CIA security chief. Colonel Sheffield Edwards. And then I received the call...
Though I'm no saint, I am a religious man, and I knew that the CIA was talking about murder. O'Connell and Edwards contended that it was a war - a just war. They said it was necessary to protect the country. They used the analogy of World War II: if we had known the exact bunker that Hitler was in during the war, we wouldn't have hesitated to kill the bastard. The CIA felt exactly the same way about Castro. If Fidel, his brother Raul, and Che Guevara were assassinated, thousands of lives might be saved.
But in my mind, justified or not, I would still have blood on my hands. I had to think about it. The deal carried a pretty big price tag. I kept thinking about my family. What kind of danger would it put them in? If anything went wrong, I was the fall guy, caught between protecting the government and protecting the mob, two armed camps that could crush me like a bug....
Rosselli's first response was laughter. "Me? You want me to get involved with Uncle Sam? The Feds are tailing me wherever I go. They go to my shirtmaker to see if I'm buying things with cash. They go to my tailor to see if I'm using cash there. They're always trying to get something on me. Bob, are you sure you're talking to the right guy?"
When I finally convinced Rosselli that I was serious, very serious, he sat staring at me, tapping his fingers nervously on the table. I didn't want to pull any punches with the man, so I was totally up-front about the conditions of the deal.
"It's up to you to pick whom you want, but it's got to be set up so that Uncle Sam isn't involved - ever. If anyone connects you with the U.S. government, I will deny it," I told him. "If you say Bob Maheu brought you into this, that I was your contact man, I'll say you're off your rocker, you're lying, you're trying to save your hide. I'll swear by everything holy that I don't know what in hell you're talking about."
Rosselli hesitated at first, but then agreed. Many people have speculated that Johnny was looking for an eventual deal with the government, or some sort of big payoff. The truth, as corny as it may sound, is that down deep he thought it was his "patriotic" duty.
Understand that the world was quite different then. The Cold War was raging. Only months before, Francis Gary Powers had been shot down while flying his U-2 reconnaissance plane over the Soviet Union. The relationship between Washington and Moscow was at an all-time low, with Soviet Premier Khrushchev going so far as to openly call President Eisenhower a liar on several occasions.
Once the decision was made, it didn't take Rosselli long to put his plan into motion. On October 11, 1960, we took off for what would be the first of many trips to Miami. We booked ourselves into the Kenilworth Hotel, selected because Arthur Godfrey did his TV show from there. In Miami, Johnny introduced me to two men who would help us - "Sam Gold" and "Joe." Sam was Johnny's backup man; Joe would be our direct contact in Cuba. These weren't ordinary mob lackeys. Johnny didn't bother to tell me that "Sam" was Sam Giancana, his boss within the Mafia and the chief of its gigantic Chicago operation. Or that "Joe" was Santos Trafficante, former syndicate chief in Havana, and the most powerful Mafia man in the South.
I later learned that Johnny didn't just need a little help from these men, he needed their okay. Trafficante was necessary to get Castro because he had the connections inside Cuba, and Giancana was necessary to get Trafficante, because Trafficante had the stature of a "Godfather," and only a man of equal stature - like Giancana - could approach him for help. Johnny couldn't do it on his own. Both were among the ten most powerful Mafia members - a fact I learned only after seeing their pictures in a magazine soon after meeting them.
The CIA's Sheffield Edwards was supposed to make the contact with the underworld. He approached a former FBI agent and CIA operative, Robert Maheu, who moved at the subterranean level of politics. Maheu knew his way around the shady side of Las Vegas; he had been recruited by billionaire Howard Hughes to oversee his Las Vegas casinos. Happily, Hughes was a friend who owed me a favor. Intermediaries persuaded Maheu to confide in me. He confirmed that the CIA had asked him to sound out the Mafia, strictly off the record, about a contract to hit Fidel Castro. Maheu had taken the request straight to Johnny Rosselli.
Rosselli had a reputation inside the mob as a patriot; he was quite willing to kill for his country. But as he told me, there was an etiquette to be followed in these matters. Santo Trafficante was the godfather-in-exile of Cuba after Castro chased out the mob. Rosselli couldn't even tiptoe through Trafficante's territory without permission, and he couldn't approach Trafficante without a proper introduction. So Rosselli prevailed upon his boss in Chicago, Sam "Momo" Giancana, to attend to the protocol. Since Giancana had godfather status, he could solicit Trafficante's help to eliminate Castro. The project appealed to Giancana who had commiserated with other dons over the loss of casino revenues in Havana. Killing Castro for the government would settle some old scores for the mob, and it would put Uncle Sam in the debt of the Mafia.
Maheu had been ordered to keep a tight lid on the involvement of the US government. The CIA was ready with a cover story that the Castro hit had been arranged by disgruntled American businessmen who had been bounced out of their Cuban enterprises by Castro.
On September 25, I960, Maheu brought two CIA agents to a suite at the Fountainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. Rosselli delivered two sinister mystery men whom he introduced only as Sicilians named "Sam" and "Joe." In fact, they were two of the Mafia's most notorious godfathers, Sam Giancana and Santo Trafficante, both on the FBI's ten-most-wanted list. They discussed the terms of Castro's demise, with Giancana suggesting that the usual mob method of a quick bullet to the head be eschewed in favor of something more delicate, like poison.
The wily Giancana was less interested in bumping off Castro than in scoring points with the federal government, and he intended to call in as many chips as he could before the game was over.
Sheff Edwards told Bissell that he knew just the man for the job. Along with James P. O'Connell, a former FBI agent who was Edwards's operations chief, Edwards had met a mobster, Johnny Rosselli, at a clambake given by Robert Maheu in the summer of 1959. Rosselli was a medium-level hood (he had the concession for the ice-making machines on the Strip in Las Vegas, as well as a number of less legitimate interests in the gambling world). Maheu was a former FBI agent who had done contract work for the CIA (most notably in 1958 arranging for the production of the blue movie of Sukarno and the Russian airline stewardess). Edwards asked Maheu to approach Rosselli about eliminating Castro. The chain of "cut-outs" was intended to distance the CIA: Maheu's cover story was supposed to be that he represented some rich businessmen who saw killing Castro as a first step toward recovering their investments in Cuba.
At lunch with Rosselli at the Brown Derby in Hollywood, Maheu promptly shed his cover and told the gangster that he was working for the CIA. At first Rosselli expressed shock. He couldn't understand why the U. S. government would want him to help. "Me?" he asked. "You want me to get involved with Uncle Sam? The Feds are tailing me wherever I go." Rosselli at the time was under investigation for income tax evasion.
Maheu later wrote that Rosselli agreed to help for "patriotic reasons." Rosselli himself testified before the Church Committee in 1975 that he had "felt an obligation to my government." A more plausible explanation is that Rosselli saw an opportunity to collect a marker. If he was being tailed by the Feds, what could be more useful than to be able to throw his patriotic duty right back at the prosecutor? Maheu told Rosselli that the CIA would pay $150,000 for the job. Rosselli graciously offered to do it for free.