CIA Issues Declassified Bay of Pigs Report — with a Disclaimer

CIA SealMany years after the event, the CIA had an in-house historian, Jack Pfeiffer, write a five-volume secret history of the Bay of Pigs invasion, and has previously declassified four of the five volumes. The draft fifth volume, which reviews the CIA Inspector General investigation from a 20-years-later perspective, was never revised or approved before the death of the historian drew a curtain on the project. The reasons that the CIA never pursued the completion of this report may be debated. Our opinion is that this volume reflects an opinion which lost out at HQ, the opinion that they key decisions leading to the failure of the operation were not errors made by the CIA in-house staff whom the IG report blamed for the failure, but the ratcheting restrictions on air strikes and air support, which were imposed for political reasons by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.

This position was, iFlag_of_Brigade_2506n official Washington where the Kennedys are beatified if not sanctified outright, a question of canon law: heresy in the first degree. Yet, the IG report (which the historian is criticising here), took such a partisan pro-Kennedy position as to assume the President (a combat veteran) and Attorney General were unaware of the need for air superiority over the beachhead.

Referring to the cancellation of the D-Day air strike by President Kennedy on the evening of 16 April 1961, the Inspector General’s survey placed more blame on the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, General Cabell, and the Deputy Director of Plans, Mr. Bissell, than on Mr. Kennedy and Secretary Rusk–even suggesting that perhaps the President “may never have been clearly advised of the need for command of the air in an amphibious operation like this one.” (This, of course, was the position taken by Robert Kennedy during the hearings.) It was not that the President had not been advised, it was simply a case that he and Rusk apparently did not want to risk international criticism of the US.1

Cabell and Bissell, of course, were men whose opinion carried no weight with the Kennedy crowd: unlike JFK and the entire Cabinet, neither was a Harvard man (although Bissell was a Yalie).

SS Houston (and the invaders' ammo supply) goes up in flames, destroyed by Cuban aircraft preserved by last-minute cuts to the rebel air strikes.

SS Houston (and the invaders’ ammo supply) goes up in flames, destroyed by Cuban aircraft preserved by last-minute cuts to the rebel air strikes.

The two principal obstacles to success were RFK and Dean Rusk, and the historian spares Rusk not a bit:

During the meeting in Rusk’s office on the night of 16 April 1961, General Cabell clearly spelled out that unless the brigade aircraft were permitted the strike on the morning of D-Day–particularly the attack on the three air fields which contained the remaining combat aircraft–the Brigade’s shipping probably would be lost and resupply of the beachhead would be impossible. Similarly, at 0430 hours on the morning of the 17th when Cabell went to Rusk’s home and got permission to telephone Kennedy at Glen Ora to ask for naval air cover in lieu of the cancelled air strike, the criticality of control of the air over Cuba should have been obvious even to the slow witted.2

The CIA was required to release this document by legislation; it prepends a cover letter essentially rubbishing the document.

Follow-on consequences: abandoned, out-of-ammo rebels are bound by Castro militia. JFK would ransom them for millions.

Follow-on consequences: abandoned, out-of-ammo rebels are bound by Castro militia. Castro would sell the survivors of his camps back to JFK — for millions he’d use to export his revolution.

We’re still absorbing the material in this report, but one interesting facet is the “Battle Report” drafted by a former newspaperman, Wallace R. Deuel, based on the story of the landings as told by one of the two CIA case officers with the landing force (who were under orders not to land themselves; Grayston Lynch was a former Special Forces officer, and the other case officer, “Rip” Robertson, was a Marine, both veterans of amphibious combat in WWII).

The IG’s diary contains no further reference to the Deuel report, but a 29 September 1961 Memorandum for the Record from Robert D. Shea–a member of the IG inspection team–read in part as follows:.

In June 1961, Deuel, formerly a well-known foreign correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, was requested to write the story of the invasion. He did this in about three weeks, chiefly by debriefing Grayson [sic) Lynch, who is not a “word man.” The result was a 52-page article entitled “The Invasion of Cuba: A Battle Report,” dated 4 July 1961, of which we have a copy. The request to do this job, which was transmitted to him by Mr. Kirkpatrick, resulted from a suggestion made by Admiral Burke, or another of the Joint Chiefs, in the presence of General Taylor, the DCI, and J.C. K[ing], that the true story should be written and published in order to counteract the untrue accounts that were circulating. A copy of the article was sent to General Taylor, who forwarded it to State and DOD for clearance. State’s reply, under date of 6 September 1961, was that they were against circulating this sort of article and disapproved of the contents. Deuel said that he is glad that the article was thus killed, as he felt that it was somewhat fuzzy, due to the fact that lit was not slanted for any particular magazine.3

One of the great disappointments is that the author’s questions for former CIA Director Allen Dulles, outlined in Appendix D of the report (beginning on p. 156), were apparently never asked and answered. Many of these questions remain.

Some of the rebels' small arms, most of which were clearly of US military origin.

Some of the rebels’ small arms, most of which were clearly of US military origin. Here, M1919A6 Browning .30-06 machine guns. In the left background, you can see the barrel of a .50 M2HB.

Why would an in-house CIA Inspector General (former operations officer Lyman Kirkpatrick) narrow the focus of his report to focus only on in-house screwups (which were, Pfeiffer agrees, considerable)? Pfeiffer suggests it was a great CIA tradition, to wit, a tawdry Headquarters backstabbing:

Both [IG staffer Kenneth] Greer and [CIA Historian Wayne G.] Jackson indicated that the IG’s survey took the form that it did because Kirkpatrick wanted Bissell’s job. This apparently simplistic view probably was basically at the heart of the matter. By focusing exclusively on internal CIA affairs, the failure of the Bay of Pigs operation could be laid on Mr. Bissell. Had the IG’s investigation taken cognizance of the changes imposed on the plan by the White House and the Department of State, Bissell would lOok to be less the villain. At risk of venturing into psychohistory, a part of the explanation of why Kirkpatrick wanted Bissell’s job is that he believed (perhaps correctly) that if he had not become physically handicapped when his career was in its ascendency, he would have been named DDP before Bissell.4

Kirkpatrick fell victim to polio in 1952, ending any prospects of advancement on the clandestine side of the house; at the time of the Bay of Pigs IG report he’d been IG for eight years and badly wanted the Deputy Director, and ultimately, Director, chair.

But yeah, you can see why the Agency was reluctant to release this, and had to be forced.

The five volumes of the Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation include:

  1. Air Operations, March 1960-April 1961;
  2. Participation in the Conduct of Foreign Policy;
  3. Evolution of CIA’s Anti-Castro Policies, 1951-January 1961;
  4. The Taylor Committee Investigation of the Bay of Pigs;
  5. [draft] CIA’s Internal Investigation of the Bay of Pigs.

All these documents, and more besides, are online in the CIA’s electronic reading room. We leave finding them (which can be a challenge in the scavenger’s hoard that is the electronic reading room) as an exercise for the reader. We have provided an OCR’d version of Volume 5 (the one we downloaded from CIA was not OCRd, perhaps they have corrected that by now) for your convenience.

Notes

  1. Pfeiffer, p. 33.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Pfeiffer, pp. 88-89.
  4. Pfeiffer, pp. 91-92.

Sources

Pfeiffer, Jack B. Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation: DRAFT Volume V,  CIA’s Internal Investigation of the Bay of Pigs.

13 thoughts on “CIA Issues Declassified Bay of Pigs Report — with a Disclaimer

  1. Desertrat

    I remember a joke making the rounds after the Bay of Pigs debacle. RFK reached into a coat pocket and pulled out a reminder note: “Don’t forget air support!”

  2. Daniel E. Watters

    Here is an interview with Col. Juan Lopez de la Cruz (US Army) focusing upon his Bay of Pigs experience.

    https://vimeo.com/26978104

    Col. Lopez’s antics as a military advisor in El Salvador in the early 1980s inadvertently led to Colt killing Springfield Armory’s original attempt at introducing an AR-15 rifle line. It also resulted in Federal criminal charges against Lopez and Springfield’s Dennis Reese.

    I can provide further links if you are interested. It seems timely now that Springfield has just reintroduced their AR-15 line.

      1. Daniel E. Watters

        Most of my research has been on the AR-15 side of the issue, but I have seen several old newspaper articles online regarding the Lopez/Reese issue. This was followed up by David Reese (Dennis’ brother) and Springfield’s fraternal twin Rock Island Armory getting indicted by the Feds for illegally transferring new production full-auto M60. It seems that RIA was recycling serial numbers from transferable SMG receivers bought from Class 2 Manufacturers and Class 3 Dealers.

    1. Kirk

      Huh. I never thought I’d hear about this case, again, but… Here it is.

      I only ever heard stuff around the very edges of this incident, but what I heard made it really clear that the prosecution was something ginned up by a left-wing bunch of dimwits who were looking for loose ends around the time of Iran-Contra, and found this. The guy I knew who was talking about it was pissed that a.) Springfield had glommed into the contract in the first place, not expecting them to produce decent guns (kinda like the Bushmaster contracts with various Iraqis), and that b.) the surrounding crap with Reese and Lopez put his Salvadorans out in the woods without new weapons. That being his primary motivation, he didn’t have much good to say about either Lopez or Reese.

      I forget how they finally did get new rifles into the hands of the Salvadorans. What they’d initially been given were Vietnam bring-backs that hadn’t even been through an arsenal rebuild program, which pissed him off. Supposedly, the weapons that came back in via the Sandanista regime, the ones that SOF proudly pictured in that photo of the semi-trailer truck filled with Vietnamese-sourced M16s… Those were in better shape than the ones we’d initially transferred down there. There were a lot of folks who were working in El Salvador in that time frame who weren’t exactly pleased about the level of support we were giving them, or their Salvadoran troops. Every one of the SF guys I knew were universally pissed at the restrictions they had to operate under, contemptuous of the state department, and ready to pool money to have the various left-wing assholes preventing their work from going forward to be assassinated.

      1. W. Fleetwood

        I was working in El Salvador in the early 80s. The received wisdom was that the usual suspects in Congress had put limits, not just on the total dollars available but specific limits on what could be spent on each type of equipment, so much on rifles, so much on radios, so much on socks, etc. etc. And no transfer of earmarked funds, thank you very much. The temptation to get more “almost as good but a lot cheaper” rifles rather than fewer “brand spank’n new” sometimes proved irresistible. That was also the explanation given for the year or so when there was (Shades of early Vietnam.) one cleaning kit for every ten rifles. FWIW.

        Wafa Wafa, Wasara Wasara.

  3. W. Fleetwood

    I had the privilege of knowing and working with two veterans of the Bahia de Cochinos operation. They were two of the finest men I’ve ever known. They had adopted the USA as their new country and continued the fight for the rest of their lives. They’ve both passed on now but the flag of the Brigada is still waiting to be flown in a free Havana.

    Wafa Wafa, Wasara Wasara.

    1. RLTW

      And thanks in no small part to our current regime, that flag will be waiting even longer still.

    2. Hognose Post author

      Yep. There was a standing offer to the survivors of OCS in the branch of choice, a thanks-for-trying from a grateful nation.

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