Operation Tilt

Operation Tilt (Bayo/Pawley Mission)

In the winter of 1962 Eddie Bayo (Eduardo Perez) claimed that two officers in the Red Army based in Cuba wanted to defect to the United States. Bayo added that these men wanted to pass on details about atomic warheads and missiles that were still in Cuba despite the agreement that followed the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Bayo's story was eventually taken up by several members of the anti-Castro community including Nathaniel Weyl, William Pawley, Gerry P. Hemming, John Martino, Felipe Vidal Santiago and Frank Sturgis. Pawley became convinced that it was vitally important to help get these Soviet officers out of Cuba.

William Pawley contacted Ted Shackley at JM/WAVE. Shackley decided to help Pawley organize what became known as Operation Tilt or the Bayo-Pawley Mission. He also assigned Rip Robertson, a fellow member of the CIA in Miami, to help with the operation. David Sanchez Morales, another CIA agent, also became involved in this attempt to bring out these two Soviet officers.

On 8th June, 1963, a small group, including William Pawley, Eddie Bayo, Rip Robertson, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez, John Martino. Richard Billings and Terry Spencer, a journalist and photographer working for Life Magazine, boarded a CIA flying boat. After landing off Baracoa, Bayo and his men got into a 22-foot craft and headed for the Cuban shore. The plan was to pick them up with the Soviet officers two days later. However, Bayo and his men were never seen again. It was rumoured that he had been captured and executed. However, his death was never reported in the Cuban press.

Primary Sources

(1) Nathaniel Weyl, Encounters With Communism (2003)

In 1963, John Martino came to me with a fascinating story. He had attended a meeting in Palm Beach at which a Cuban who used the nom de guerre of Bayo claimed that the Soviets had deceived President Kennedy and that Russian missiles were still in Cuba. Bayo said he knew this because two of the Soviet officers guarding these clandestine missiles had defected, were being hidden and guarded by the remnants of the anti-Castro underground and were desperately anxious to tell their story.

I was told that this was an emergency. The Russians could be captured by Castro's forces at any time. John Martino said that their Cuban protectors could get them safely to the northern coast of the island and thence by boat to some agreed-upon rendezvous point in the Bahamas if we acted immediately.

Martino added that Bayo and the other Cuban patriots would have nothing to do with anyone from the CIA because they believed that the Agency had betrayed them at the Bay of Pigs.

Could I get a yacht, designate a time and place to meet on some remote Bahamas island, get there and bring the Russian officers to the American mainland? If it was to be done, it must be done immediately.

(2) Richard D. Mahoney, Sons and Brothers: The Days of Jack and Bobby Kennedy (1999)

After having shilled the project around reactionary circles Florida, Martino and Bayo pitched the idea to Pawley, who in turn took it to JM/WAVE chief Ted Shackley. Pawley told Shackley that he had gotten a call from the chief counsel to the Senate Intenal Subcommittee, Jay Sourwine, promising that chairman James O. Eastland of Mississippi would launch hearings if the Soviet officers were sprung. When Shackley learned from Pawley that Martino was involved, he was not pleased. He called Martino a "lowlife." Shacklley nonetheless signed on. The operation was a long shot but, if it panned out, a career maker. It might also serve to rehabilitate Shackley's demoted mentor. Bill Harvey. CIA headquarters at first balked at the proposal, having been sufficiently embarrassed by renegade heroics by the Cuban exiles. Then Senator Eastland telephoned Ambassador Pawley to inform him, incredibly enough, that John Martino, a Mafia operative, had personally briefed him on the mission, called Operation Red Cross. The CIA gave Shackley the go-ahead.

It is possible Rosselli and Martino actually believed in the Bayo-Pawley mission. It is equally possible that they were developing an elaborate alibi for another murderous contingency. On June 4, the day before the mission was to be launched, Martino and Bayo told an astounded Pawley that they had agreed to let Life magazine cover the raid in exchange for $15,000. Loren Hall, a Trafficante associate later investigated for his contact with Oswald in Dallas, claimed that the Mafia, not Life, had in fact put up the $15,000.

On June 5, Pawley's yacht, the Flying Tiger II, towing a smaller craft, set sail for its rendezvous point off the coast of Oriente province. Three days later, Pawley himself, accompanied by the ever-ready Rip Robertson, a Life photographer, Bayo, and nine other raiders boarded a CIA flying boat. (Pawley was so suspicious about the intentions of Bayo and his raiders that he locked them in the center cabin during the flight.) OffBaracoa, Cuba, they joined up with the yacht. Robertson passed out a full complement of arms to the fighters before they piled into the 22-foot craft and headed for the Cuban shore. The plan was to meet up with the Flying Tiger II two days later with the Soviet officers in hand. But Bayo and his comrades were never heard from again. Station chief Shackley later determined that the Soviet defection story had been cover for a "free-lance strike" by Bayo and the others. A review of Cuban army documents relating to the capture or killing of anti-Castro raiders, research done in June 1997, revealed no record of Bayo.

But the Bayo-Pawley mission fit nicely with Rosselli's later claim that President Kennedy was assassinated by an anti-Castro sniper team sent in to murder Castro, captured by the Cubans, tortured, and redeployed in Dallas. Through the handiwork of Rosselli's assistant, John Martino, the CIA, Lift, Pawley, and Senator Eastland were all variously implicated.

(3) Nathaniel Weyl, Encounters With Communism (2003)

The Bayo operation has been covered in several article and books. It has been a hunting ground for conspiracy theorists, such as Peter Dale Scott (Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, University of California Press), who suggest that the Bayo affair was linked to the Kennedy assassination.

We know now that the defecting Soviet colonels never existed, that there were no Russian missiles left in place in Cuba, that the Bayo story was a hoax.

What happened to the Cubans who were offloaded from the Flying Tiger, heavily armed with ClA-supplied weapons? We know that the Pawley yacht weighed anchor ten miles to sea from the port of Baracoa in Oriente Province on the night of June 8, 1963. Three CIA people kept machineguns trained on Bayo and his Cuban commandos as the latter piled into the speedboat that was to take them to shore (Warren Hinckle and William W. Turner, Deadly Secrets, p. 194). Weapons were aimed at the Cubans because the CIA considered the possibility that they were Castro agents and that the operation was an ambush.

The commandos vanished into the night. Pawley saw to it that a Catalina flying boat search the skies for them until a week had elapsed. The generally accepted theory is that their secret purpose had been to get modern arms with which to kill Castro, but that they had been intercepted and killed or captured in a firefight. A year or so after the tragedy, Bill Pawley told me he believed that the men never landed. When they boarded the speedboat, he warned them that it was dangerously overloaded and urged them in vain to take rubber rafts aboard. Pawley heard a large freighter pass between the Flying Tiger and the shore. He believed that the Cuban boat was swamped in the freighter's wake and that the men drowned.

Was their secret purpose to get CIA arms with which to kill Fidel Castro? This is the conclusion researchers have arrived at, but it seems to me illogical. When I was approached to find a yacht and meet the defectors at sea, there was no mention of sending armed commandos ashore. Nor did I have any access to assault weapons nor did Martino have any reason to imagine I would be willing or able to supply them.

The source of guns was the CIA and Bayo and his companions had made it abundantly clear that they distrusted the agency and wanted to have nothing to do with it.

The conclusion I draw is that Bayo's initial plan was to land two or three mysterious people in Florida, to allege that they were Soviet colonels and spread the story of missiles still in Cuba to influence the American presidential elections. The purpose would have been to defeat Kennedy since many Cubans believed he had betrayed them and their cause.

Would any such imposture have been promptly detected and exposed? Or would continuing uncertainty and suspicion have poisoned the air for the young President?

When the plan mushroomed to comprise a Cuban commando force, heavily armed by the CIA with weapons, none of which was, of course, of U.S. origin, plans may well have changed. Assassination? Mere havoc and sabotage? We will probable never know.

(4) Larry Hancock, Someone Would Have Talked (2003)

Rip Robertson... was brought back into CIA operations for the Bay of Pigs commanding the supply ship Barbara J and leading exile frogmen onto the beach. Robertson later became affiliated with JM WAVE operations and was the officer who debriefed John Martino upon his release (Florence Martino identified someone she knew only as "Rip" making numerous visits to their house). Robertson died in 1970, supposedly of the aftereffects of malaria contracted during service in Vietnam.

In addition to Bayo, Pawley, Martino and Robertson, the expedition was accompanied by Dick Billings, a LIFE staff writer obtained through the Pawley-Luce connection. Billings would later head the LIFE team in Dallas which purchased the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination, as well as Marina Oswald's story rights (neither of which saw public exposure under LIFE auspices). Much later. Billings was hired by Robert Blakey, the second head of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, as editorial director for the final report of the HSCA.

(5) Gaeton Fonzi, The Last Investigation (1993)

One of the first leads Schweiker asked me to check came from a source he considered impeccable: Clare Boothe Luce. One of the wealthiest women in the world, widow of the founder of the Time, Inc. publishing empire, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, former Ambassador to Italy, successful Broadway playwright, international socialite and longtime civic activist, Clare Boothe Luce was the last person in the world Schweiker would have suspected of leading him on a wild goose chase.

Yet the chase began almost immediately. Right after Schweiker announced the formation of his Kennedy assassination Subcommittee, he was visited by Vera Glaser, a syndicated Washington columnist. Glaser told him she had just interviewed Clare Boothe Luce and that Luce had given her some information relating to the assassination. Schweiker immediately called Luce and she, quite cooperatively and in detail, confirmed the story she had told Glaser.

Luce said that some time after the Bay of Pigs she received a call from her "great friend" William Pawley, who lived in Miami. A man of immense wealth-he had made his millions in oil-during World War II Pawley had gained fame setting up the Flying Tigers with General Claire Chennault. Pawley had also owned major sugar interests in Cuba, as well as Havana's bus, trolley and gas systems and he was close to both pre-Castro Cuban rulers, President Carlos Prio and General Fulgencio Batista. (Pawley was one of the dispossessed American investors in Cuba who early tried to convince Eisenhower that Castro was a Communist and urged him to arm the exiles in Miami.)

Luce said that Pawley had gotten the idea of putting together a fleet of speedboats-sea-going "Flying Tigers" as it were-which would be used by the exiles to dart in and out of Cuba on "intelligence gathering" missions. He asked her to sponsor one of these boats and she agreed. As a result of her sponsorship, Luce got to know the three-man crew of the boat "fairly well," as she said. She called them "my boys" and said they visited her a few times in her New York townhouse. It was one of these boat crews, Luce said, that originally brought back the news of Russian missiles in Cuba. Because Kennedy didn't react to it, she said she helped feed it to Senator Kenneth Keating, who made it public. She then wrote an article for Life magazine predicting the missile crisis. "Well, then came the nuclear showdown and the President made his deal with Khrushchev and I never saw my young Cubans again," she said. The boat operations were stopped, she said, shortly afterwards when Pawley was notified that the U.S. was invoking the Neutrality Act and would prevent any further exile missions into Cuba.

Luce said she hadn't thought about her boat crew until the day that President Kennedy was killed. That evening she received a telephone call from one of the crew members. She told Schweiker his name was "something like" Julio Fernandez, and he said he was calling her from New Orleans. Julio Fernandez told her that he and the other crew members had been forced out of Miami after the Cuban missile crisis and that they had started a "Free Cuba" cell in New Orleans. Luce said that Fernandez told her that Oswald had approached his group and offered his services as a potential Castro assassin. He said his group didn't believe Oswald, suspected he was really a Communist and decided to keep tabs on him. Fernandez said they found that Oswald was, indeed, a Communist, and they eventually penetrated his "cell" and tape-recorded his talks, including his bragging that he could shoot anyone because he was "the greatest shot in the world with a telescopic lens." Fernandez said that Oswald then suddenly came into money and went to Mexico City and then Dallas. According to Luce, Fernandez also told her that his group had photographs of Oswald and copies of handbills Oswald had been distributing on the streets of New Orleans. Fernandez asked Luce what he should do with this information and material...

A year later, in December of 1976, when I was about to start working for the Assassinations Committee, I stumbled across some other fascinating facts related to Clare Boothe Luce's tip to Senator Schweiker. That was when I learned, for instance, that her "great friend" in Miami, William Pawley, was a longtime associate of the CIA. Never an official spook, Pawley was nonetheless a member of the Old Boys network and was especially close to CIA Director Allen Dulles. He had helped transform his Flying Tigers into one of the first CIA proprietary airlines, Civil Air Transport, and had set up for the Agency a front called the Pacific Corporation as an offshoot of the Tigers. He had been involved in the CIA's overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala and he had backed more than one Castro assassination attempt. Pawley once told a Miami reporter: "Find me one man, just one man who can go it alone and get Castro, I'll pay anything, almost anything." But Pawley was not just a backer of exile groups, he wanted to be a participant, and I came across a bizarre story about one of his secret excursions to Cuba.

Early one morning in the summer of 1963, a 65-foot luxury yacht named the Flying Tiger II slid away from its dock behind a mansion on Miami Beach's Sunset Island and headed for Cuba. The yacht belonged to Pawley. Aboard were three CIA paramilitary operatives; a cache of heavy firearms and explosives was locked in its stateroom. The yacht was scheduled to rendezvous off the coast of Cuba with an amphibious aircraft, a Catalina PBY, provided by the CIA. Aboard the aircraft were Pawley; a fellow named John Martino, who had worked for Mob bosses in Havana's casinos and had been imprisoned by Castro; Life magazine's Miami bureau chief Richard Billings (the same fellow who would later become the Assassinations Committee's chief writer); Billing's photographer, Terrence Spence; a daring Alpha 66 veteran Cuban infiltrator named Eduardo ("Eddie Bayo") Perez; and a raiding party of eleven CIA-trained Cuban exiles. The aim of the mission was for Eddie Bayo and his exile party, using a small, high-speed boat provided by the CIA, to sneak ashore, capture two Russian military technicians from a Cuban missile site and bring them back to the United States. Then, using the documentation that Life magazine's staffers would provide, a major press conference would proclaim that here was living proof that Soviet missiles were still in Cuba. The mission was a tragic failure. Radio contact with Bayo and his raiding party was lost and they were never heard from again. The Flying Tiger II and Pawley returned to Miami and Life never wrote a story about the mission.