Friday, July 13, 2007

Camelot and Cuba: A Review of David Talbot's Camelot and Cuba: A Review of David Talbot's "Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years"


The following review originally appeared at, the brainchild of journalist and author Max Holland, who serves as the website's editor-in-chief. Don Bohning's deconstruction of David Talbot's book Brothers is laudable and a breath of fresh air in a world so readily accepting of anything cloak-and-dagger, no matter who serves it up. It is also heartening to see that Mr. Holland recognizes the difference between Talbot's superficial fiction and Bohning's bone-deep facts, especially in the wake of Holland's own spin on the events of Dealey Plaza. [See: Max Holland's 11 Seconds in Dallas for a refresher course.] DKM

Max Holland’s Introductory Note: David Talbot’s book on John and Robert Kennedy, Brothers, has garnered almost as much attention as Vincent Bugliosi’s exhaustive book on the assassination of President Kennedy, Reclaiming History. Bugliosi staunchly defends the finding that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed the president, while Talbot is squarely in the camp of those who believe JFK was killed by men breathing together. [1]

Both books cannot be true, so which one is false? Two major reviews of Talbot’s book, one in The New York Times and the other in The Washington Post, were both hedged and overly credulous, written as they were by authors who could not challenge Talbot based upon a superior knowledge of the facts. Washington DeCoded thought it was time to subject Brothers to examination by an author, Don Bohning, with expertise in some of Brothers’ subject matter.

Bohning covered Latin America for The Miami Herald for almost four decades. His first-hand knowledge of the Cuban exile community, the CIA, and their anti-Castro activities from the late 1950s into the late 1970s is probably unrivaled among American journalists. Before and after retiring, Bohning spent 10 years researching the U.S. government’s secret war against Cuba, and in 2005 published a reliable and unsparing book about Washington’s fixation on Cuba from 1959 to 1965.

While Bohning does not address the assassination conspiracy issue head-on, it is reasonable to extrapolate that the defects he identifies in Brothers apply to the book as a whole.

David Talbot believes John F. Kennedy’s assassination was not the deranged act of a lone gunman, but the result of a much larger conspiracy.

Talbot’s prime suspects are identified in Brothers' opening pages: “The CIA, Mafia and Cuba—Bobby [Kennedy] knew they were intertwined. The CIA had formed a sinister alliance with underworld bosses to assassinate Fidel Castro, working with mob-connected Cuban exile leaders.” [2] Consequently, immediately after the assassination of his brother the president, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy began hunting for the responsible party within this trio of possible culprits, according to Talbot.

A central thesis of Brothers is that Robert Kennedy only gave lip service to the U.S. government’s official verdict. While publicly endorsing the Warren Commission’s findings of a lone gunman, RFK believed the assassination was a conspiracy and quietly dedicated himself to identifying those responsible. This quest, in turn, helped fuel his 1968 presidential run, which ended tragically with his own assassination in June of that year. Talbot was a teen-age volunteer in that campaign in which RFK won the California primary, only to be mortally wounded minutes after his victory speech. Undoubtedly, this was a formative moment in Talbot’s life; unfortunately, he shows little evidence of having moved on from a 16-year-old’s starry-eyed view of the Kennedys.

An inextricable sub-theme of Brothers involves the U.S. government’s efforts, beginning in late 1959 under President Eisenhower and persisting until 1965, to rid Cuba of Fidel Castro. Essentially, Talbot contends that unintended consequences from these efforts, or “blowback” in intelligence lingo, precipitated John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

I do not profess to be a student of the Kennedy presidency or the assassination per se, yet I do know something about the U.S. government’s secret war against Cuba. And when it comes to the subject of Cuba and the Kennedys, Brothers is not only a disappointment, but strives to turn that history upside down. Talbot attempts to do this via a familiar tactic: he draws from the recollections of staunch Kennedy friends and insiders, with proven track records of bending the historical record so that it reflects kindly on the Kennedy brothers. But in a new twist, Talbot also dredges up on the most dubious sources imaginable to further his argument.

An example of the latter is Angelo Murgado Kennedy, a Bay of Pigs veteran who claims to have been close to Robert Kennedy. [3] Had Talbot asked any of Murgado’s fellow veterans, he would have heard him described as a “persistent liar,” “a charlatan,” and a man with “no credibility”—and these are the printable comments. [4]

Murgado’s name first surfaced in Joan Mellen’s risible, mind-numbing conspiracy book, Farewell to Justice, in which she defended the indefensible—the 1967-69 persecution of Clay Shaw by an out-of-control New Orleans prosecutor named Jim Garrison. Prior to Mellen’s 2005 book, Murgado had been virtually unheard of amongst the Cuban fighters identified in the rather robust literature about the Bay of Pigs. [5] Yet in Mellen’s book Murgado suddenly appeared as a member of the inner circle—he was part of RFK’s intelligence “brain trust” on Cuba. [6]

Curious about Murgado’s bona fides, right after Mellen’s book appeared I asked Erneido Oliva, the deputy commander of the Bay of Pigs brigade, and the late Rafael Quintero, one of the first Cuban nationals to enlist in the brigade, about Murgado. Oliva and Quintero (who died in October 2006) were both known for having grown close to Robert Kennedy in the aftermath of the debacle. They told me then they had never heard of Murgado. Oliva went further and wrote in an e-mail that Mellen’s description of Murgado as having been part of RFK’s “brain trust” was BS, and spelled it with capital letters. When asked again about Murgado in light of Talbot’s book, Oliva repeated that he had never heard of Murgado until I brought up his name in 2005.

Murgado is not instrumental to Talbot’s tale, but he is exceptionally useful. Through him Talbot buttresses the notion that hard-line Cuban exiles hated President Kennedy, presumably to the point where they were motivated to kill him. Murgado, elaborating on the tale he first told Mellen, was so alarmed by the murderous talk in Miami’s exile community that he approached RFK and offered to keep an eye on the most dangerous exile elements for the attorney general. Murgado told Talbot how he and two other prominent Cuban exiles met with RFK at the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach. “I was thinking we have to control and keep a sharp look on our Cubans, the ones that were hating Kennedy,” Talbot quotes Murgado as saying. “I was afraid that one of our guys would go crazy. Bobby told us to come up with a plan and do it . . . . He was fanatic about his brother, he would do anything to take care of him.” [7]

In the summer of 1963, Murgado’s alleged surveillance work led him to New Orleans, of all places, where he came across a “curious gringo” named Lee Harvey Oswald. [8] Murgado’s team, Talbot writes, “came to the conclusion that Oswald was an FBI informant,” and after returning to Florida the dutiful Murgado reported on his surveillance targets, including “the mysterious Oswald.” [9]

Are we really supposed to find this bunkum credible? To believe Murgado is to believe that Robert Kennedy preferred to entrust his brother’s security to an obscure Cuban exile rather than the one agency actually charged with protecting the president, the U.S. Secret Service. More to the point, Murgado is a former building inspector for the city of Miami who plead guilty in 1999 to accepting bribes in return for zoning favors. [10] Even criminals sometimes tell the truth, of course, but surely Murgado’s word is subject to a big discount, and his claims are not to be believed absent rock-solid corroboration. In place of confirmation, however, Talbot suggests that Murgado should be believed because his story has “not been refuted.” [11]

Everything about Talbot’s credulous use of Murgado can also be applied to Talbot’s use of unproven assertions allegedly made by E. Howard Hunt, the recently deceased former CIA officer most noted for leading the Watergate break-in during the 1972 presidential campaign. Talbot supplies information that was not even directly propagated by Hunt, but comes from his long-estranged son, St. John Hunt, a meth addict for 20 years, meth dealer for 10 of those years, and twice-convicted felon. [12]

St. John Hunt claims to have been privy to a death-bed confession by his father. E. Howard Hunt allegedly recalled that in 1963, he was invited by Frank Sturgis (later, a member of Hunt’s Watergate team) to a clandestine meeting at a CIA safe house in Miami. During the alleged meeting, a group of men discussed “the big event” coming up, which was a plot to kill President Kennedy. Late in the meeting, Sturgis ostensibly asked Hunt, “Are you with us?” [13]

There are only a few problems with this story. Hunt, even when he was still alive, was not known for his veracity. And Sturgis, whom I personally knew quite well in Miami when he went by the name Frank Fiorini, was one source never to be believed or trusted, someone who was rather notorious even in a field brimming with con men and blowhards, most of whom hinted they were working for the CIA. [14]

Another example of Talbot’s creative use of innuendo involves the late Dave Morales, a CIA officer of Hispanic origin who has been frequently linked by conspiracy theorists to President Kennedy’s assassination. Guilt-by-innuendo is a familiar tactic of buffs seeking to associate the CIA with the assassination. It’s exceedingly easy, given that the careers of officers in the clandestine service, like Morales, were shrouded in secrecy. It’s also cost-free. The libel is usually leveled when the target is dead, and like others who have been fingered as complicit, Morales is deceased and cannot defend himself.

Talbot eagerly joins in the well-trod defamation of Morales. “He has been connected to a bloody trail of CIA exploits,” writes Talbot, “from the 1954 Guatemala coup, to the hunting and execution of Che Guevara in 1967, to the violent overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende in 1973. (Morales later stated that he was in the palace when Allende was killed.)” [15]

Having been part of the The Miami Herald’s coverage of both Guevara’s demise in Bolivia and the Chilean coup d’état, I found Talbot’s assertion puzzling since I had never heard of Morales being involved in either of these dramatic events. I contacted Tom Clines, Morales’s friend and CIA colleague in the 1960s at both the JMWAVE (Miami) station and later, in Southeast Asia. Clines stated flatly that Morales was neither involved in Guevara’s capture in Bolivia, nor in Chile at the time of the coup against Allende. [16]

Clines’s denial was seconded by Larry Sternfield, the CIA station chief in La Paz at the time of Guevera’s capture, and someone who most certainly would know if Morales had been involved. Sternfield said during a recent telephone interview that “definitely no,” Morales was not in Bolivia. [17]

Talbot’s thinly-sourced book (given the weighty allegations) provides no citation for the claim that Morales was in Bolivia. With respect to Chile, Talbot cites Anthony Summers’s 2000 book The Arrogance of Power. [18] Since both Talbot and Summers exhibit a similar, elastic definition of the facts, citing Summers is not much of a reference. But it’s actually worse than that.

Summers’s cited sources were Robert Dorff, a novelist and self-styled expert on the JFK assassination, who reportedly once interviewed a childhood friend of Morales; Gaeton Fonzi, who worked for the House Assassinations Committee as an investigator; and Noel Twyman, a retired industrial engineer. [19] Dorff’s work is rightly considered fictional, and his interview amounts to unsubstantiated hearsay. [20] In 1979, the House panel flatly rejected all of Fonzi’s theories about CIA involvement, although that did not stop him from propagating them in a 1993 book, The Last Investigation. In any case, Fonzi does not put Morales in Chile. [21] Twyman’s revelation was contained in a deservedly obscure 1997 book called Bloody Treason. And Twyman’s source for the ostensibly damning allegation about Morales? Well, Twyman simply doesn’t cite a basis for his assertion that Morales’s involvement in CIA activities “included heavy-duty assassination operations such as murdering President Allende of Chile in 1973.” [22]

In this manner history is written, or at least Talbot’s version of it. Allegations never proven in the first place are recycled, as if repeating them enough times will turn them into the truth.

Notwithstanding these problems, there is something more troubling about this book than Talbot’s factual errors, use of innuendo, and credulous reliance on such questionable sources as Murgado and the Hunts. And that is Talbot’s persistent failure to provide the full context of several pivotal events during the height of U.S. efforts to topple Fidel Castro. Via the exclusion of many inconvenient facts, and the misrepresentation of specific events, he leaves the reader with a distorted perception of what actually occurred. The pattern is so persistent it appears to be calculated.

One example concerns Talbot’s rendering of a November 15, 1960, staff meeting of the CIA’s Cuba Task Force, which was charged with organizing what eventually would become the Bay of Pigs invasion the following April. This meeting was held in anticipation of John Kennedy’s first briefing on the agency’s anti-Castro plans, to be conducted in Palm Beach by CIA Director Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell, chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Plans (covert operations).

According to a document first highlighted by CIA historian Jack Pfeiffer, author of a multi-volume, partially-declassified internal history of the Bay of Pigs operation written in the 1970s, by November the Cuba Task Force realized the agency’s initial plan had to be scrapped:

The CIA’s original concept is now seen to be unachievable in the face of the [internal security] controls Castro has instituted. There will not be the internal unrest earlier believed possible, nor will the defenses permit the type [of] strike first planned. Our second concept (1,500-3,000 man force to secure an airstrip) is also now seen to be unachievable, except as a joint Agency/DOD action... [23]

In Talbot’s hands, this one document is transformed from a notable observation by the task force into proof positive that the CIA (Bissell, specifically) knew all along that the operation was destined to fail, but did not level with the president-elect. (Bissell is a key villain in Talbot’s tale, of course, because he was the CIA official who conceived of the agency’s pact with the Mafia). [24] Talbot writes that Pfeiffer’s history “contained proof that Bissell concealed [emphasis added] the operation’s bleak prospects from Kennedy when he briefed him about it for the first time shortly after JFK’s election.” [25]

But any fair rendering of the document in context reveals that the Pfeiffer volume was mute on the very point Talbot claims it proves. Nowhere does Pfeiffer provide evidence, either one way or the other, about what Bissell actually said to Kennedy during the briefing on Cuba. And with all the principals dead, it is impossible to know whether Bissell concealed information from Kennedy as Talbot asserts.

It is quite true that Bissell was later charged with not telling people what they needed to know. This point was made to me repeatedly in extensive interviews and other communications I had with Jake Esterline and Jack Hawkins, the project director and paramilitary chief, respectively, for the Bay of Pigs operation. Several specific instances of Bissell’s uncommunicativeness up and down the chain of command were described in my book, The Castro Obsession. But whether that occurred during this briefing of President-elect Kennedy, at which Allen Dulles was also present, I have no idea. It’s unlikely that anyone does, certainly not Talbot.

It’s worth remembering, too, that Kennedy’s briefing occurred at a time when the concept of what would eventually become the Bay of Pigs invasion was undergoing major changes. (Pfeiffer, the CIA historian, entitled the part in which the document is cited “Changing Concepts”). Members of the Cuban Task Force expressed varying opinions about the success of the covert project at different points in time, and plans were adjusted accordingly. But no one involved in the planning believed that it was an utterly hopeless and futile exercise six months before the invasion actually occurred, and that Bissell systematically kept this internal estimate secret from the president-elect. It is disingenuous of Talbot to claim, categorically, that this one document provides proof that Bissell concealed information about the viability of the operation from Kennedy. [26]

Another striking example of how Talbot tweaks the facts to suit his bias pertains to a controversial episode that occurred in the period immediately before the Bay of Pigs landing, the reported call for the brigade to “mutiny” if the covert operation were called off at the last minute. In Talbot’s telling there is nothing murky or unknown about this episode. Rather, it was indicative of a CIA that was scarcely under the White House’s control. As Talbot puts it, in early April, Bissell sent a very different message to the military leaders of the Bay of Pigs brigade in their Guatemala training camp. They were informed that “there are forces in the administration trying to block the invasion” and if these “forces” succeeded, the brigade leaders were to mutiny against their U.S. advisors and proceed with the invasion. This stunning act of CIA defiance would provoke a public furor when it was later revealed by Haynes Johnson in his 1964 book about the Bay of Pigs. [27]

Johnson, then a 33-year old reporter with the Washington Star, wrote the first detailed book on the Bay of Pigs, one based upon extensive research and interviews with four of the top brigade leaders. And the mutiny anecdote did provoke a stir when The Bay of Pigs: The Leaders’ Story of Brigade 2506 was published in 1964. But at no point did Johnson suggest that Bissell sent the mutiny message (if, in fact, such a message was sent at all). And in the four decades since Johnson’s book first appeared, no evidence has surfaced to show that Bissell did what Talbot alleges, notwithstanding Talbot’s flat assertion.

I investigated this episode quite carefully for my own book on the covert war against Cuba. While there is little doubt something happened along these lines, the episode remains murky and the full truth will probably never be known. The story, as it originally appeared in Johnson’s book, was based on the recollections of several Cuban leaders interviewed for the book: José Pérez San Román, the brigade’s commander; Erneido Oliva, its deputy commander; and Manuel Artime, political representative of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, which was to be installed as the new government once the invasion succeeded.

According to Johnson, in early April, a “Colonel Frank” (not Bissell) told the Cuban exiles that “There were forces in the administration trying to block the invasion, and that Frank might be ordered to stop it.” [28] Frank then suggested the Cubans prepare to mutiny if the operation were canceled; they should ostentatiously take their CIA advisers in custody, and proceed with the invasion as planned. “It cannot be determined what bosses, if any, gave Frank such instructions,” Johnson wrote. “But Artime, San Román and Oliva never doubted that he was speaking for his superiors.” [29]

“Colonel Frank” was in reality U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Frank Egan, the chief American trainer in Guatemala, where the Cuban force was being whipped into shape for the invasion. Erneido Oliva was the only one of the three brigade leaders involved who is still alive. During my research, he provided me with a copy of his unpublished memoirs, which describe this episode. Oliva recounted the story in essentially the same way Johnson reported it, without any more clues about what “forces” in the administration were opposed to the invasion, and who Frank was speaking for. To this day Oliva remains convinced that Egan was not acting on his own, but has no idea who else might have been involved.

In 2001, when I raised the matter with Marine Colonel Jack Hawkins, the invasion’s paramilitary chief, he flatly rejected the notion that anyone back in Washington— including, specifically, Richard Bissell—authorized Egan to speak in such terms. Egan, who died in 1999, refused a request from Pfeiffer to be interviewed for the CIA’s internal history while it was being prepared in the 1970s. In fact, Egan’s only direct remarks about this incident came during his May 1, 1961, testimony before the board of inquiry into the Bay of Pigs presided over by General Maxwell Taylor, JFK’s senior military adviser at the time.

At one point, Egan was asked, “What would have happened if the operation had been called off after the first part of April?” His answer, spoken three years before Haynes Johnson’s account appeared, confirmed—but in reverse—the notion that the Cubans might ignore the wishes of their sponsor, and boldly take matters in their own hands. “It would have depended upon the posture [the Cubans] were in at the time,” responded Egan. “If it had been called off after they were actually on the way, they would have taken over. They said that as a friend, we want you to direct all your people not to resist if this comes about, because we don’t want anybody to get hurt. Consequently, I had all our people turn in their side arms.” [30]

When Johnson’s book was published in 1964, creating the controversy, the CIA let it be known that “Colonel Frank” (though unnamed) “denie[d] absolutely that he ever said U.S. authorities were to be ignored.” The army officer reportedly said that the exiles’ imperfect command of English had led to a misunderstanding. Former DCI Allen Dulles was also reported to be “furious” over the allegation that such instructions were ever conveyed to the Cuban leaders. [31]

A third possibility was injected into the record in the mid-1970s when CIA historian Pfeiffer interviewed the late Jake Esterline, the CIA’s project director for the Bay of Pigs. Pfeiffer quoted Esterline as speculating that Guatemala’s Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes and Nicaragua’s Anastasio Somoza Debayle might have wanted to make known their interest in providing the logistical support essential for the invasion if Washington backed out at the penultimate minute. For ample reasons of their own, both rulers were cooperating fully with the covert operation to depose Castro.

Only one thing seems clear given these conflicting, and by-now unresolvable accounts. There was no message from CIA headquarters to the Cuban exiles in the field suggesting that they gird themselves to defy the Kennedy administration, and prepare to stage a half-phony mutiny in order to see the invasion through. Talbot’s assertion to the contrary is dubious and certainly unproven.

Talbot’s tendentious rendering of this episode points to what is the single greatest defect of Brothers. Talbot is firmly in the CIA-as-rogue-elephant camp, a school of thought embraced by Kennedy acolytes and apologists once the depth of covert activity directed against Castro from 1961 to 1963 first became documented in the mid-1970s. No amount of evidence matters to Talbot if it contradicts his perspective of a lethal, out-of-control CIA. Simultaneously, Talbot blows all out of proportion other events in order to suggest that the Kennedys’ attitude toward Castro was not as deadly as it appears. Indeed, if Talbot is to be believed, rapprochement between Washington and Havana was just around the corner but for the CIA’s unredeemable cold warriors.

Thus, Brothers devotes five pages to the highly publicized but initially-secret meeting in August 1961—four months after the Bay of Pigs—between Richard Goodwin, a Kennedy White House aide, and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the Argentine-born Cuban revolutionary. Neither Castro—as he said at a 2002 conference in Havana—nor Kennedy knew in advance of the meeting in Uruguay, and it was largely a media kerfuffle. Nothing ever came of it except a box of Cuban cigars for Goodwin, who passed them onto Kennedy.

Talbot goes on to identify Goodwin as a “benign influence in White House foreign policy councils.” [32] Oddly, nowhere does the reader learn that just after the Bay of Pigs debacle, Goodwin had been named head of a new task force dedicated to Castro’s downfall. The government-wide, overt and covert program that resulted, Operation MONGOOSE, might be called many things, but hardly benign. When it was unveiled at a November 3, 1961 meeting at the White House, less than three months after Goodwin’s celebrated encounter with Guevara, Robert Kennedy’s handwritten notes of the meeting, which reflected his own deep involvement in the planning, stated that “My idea is to stir things up on island with espionage, sabotage, general disorder, run & operated by Cubans themselves with every group but Batistaites & Communists. Do not know if we will be successful in overthrowing Castro but we have nothing to lose in my estimate.” [33]

Eleven months later, the world came very close to a direct superpower clash of arms, if not a conflict that could easily have involved tactical, theater, or even intercontinental nuclear weapons. Operation MONGOOSE, far from being risk-free as Robert Kennedy would have it, was a key factor in Havana’s acceptance of Soviet missiles on Cuban soil, with nearly catastrophic consequences for everyone concerned. But rather than identifying the grave consequences of the Kennedys’ fixation, Talbot focuses on the trivial aspects of policy.

“There is no denying that Cuba’s revolutionary government was a major focus for the brothers,” writes Talbot. “But it was not simply a morbid one. John Kennedy had an intellectual and even playful curiosity [emphasis added] about the Cuban experiment and its leaders that would eventually lead him to explore openings in the cold wall that had been erected between the two nations.” [34] “Intellectual and playful curiosity” hardly seems an apt description of the White House’s attitude toward Castro’s Cuba, given the fact that a president named Kennedy initiated, and an attorney general named Kennedy oversaw, a new covert program approved in June 1963 to precipitate Castro’s overthrow.

After refusing to acknowledge the nexus between MONGOOSE and missile crisis, it is not surprising that Talbot ignores completely this subsequent effort, which spoke openly of liquidating the “Castro/Communist entourage” and eliminating the Soviet presence in Cuba prior to the November 1964 election, lest the GOP try to blame JFK for communism 90 miles off the coast of Florida. [35] As before, assassination of Fidel Castro himself was an integral element of this plan, though that aim was a tightly-held, compartmented secret. What was referred to as the “possible death of Castro” could hardly have been more central to the Kennedys’ scheme, as evinced by the fact that Robert Kennedy “personally managed the operation on the assassination of Castro,” as Richard Helms explained to Henry Kissinger in 1975, just before the CIA’s darkest secrets began to be officially exposed. [36] Instead of conveying accurately the complexity of what happened, Talbot insists the CIA was insubordinate. [37]

Despite its deep, even egregious, flaws, Brothers is a book worth reading, but not necessarily for the reason intended by Talbot. His book is more about the continuing inability of a generation to come to grips with the Kennedys, and much less about the brothers themselves. Brothers, in other words, is best understood as the latest in a long series of efforts to obfuscate what happened in the early 1960s, if not turn that history on its head. Talbot’s book is a less sophisticated version of the kind of tortured history about the Kennedys and Cuba that the late Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. once produced. Yet even Schlesinger knew better than to insinuate that elements of the U.S. government were involved in JFK’s assassination. There has been only one honest and candid appraisal of the Kennedy/Cuba nexus by a Kennedy insider, Harris Wofford’s 1980 book, Of Kennedys & Kings.

Lest readers wonder where I’m coming from politically, I am a lifelong Democrat who voted for Jack Kennedy in 1960 and would have voted for him again in 1964, had I the opportunity. I likely would have voted for Robert Kennedy in 1968 had he won the nomination. While the Warren Commission’s findings had their flaws, I still accept the panel’s conclusion of “a lone gunman” being responsible for President Kennedy’s assassination. I would change my mind if convincing evidence were forthcoming, but I have yet to see any.

George McGovern, the former senator and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, was my academic adviser and instructor during my first two years at a small Methodist college in South Dakota. He probably did more than any single person to shape my political worldview, introducing me in his classes to such journalistic muckrakers as Lincoln Steffens and Ida Tarbell, as well as such magazines as The Nation and The New Republic. In 1961, President Kennedy named McGovern a special assistant and the first director of the Food for Peace program. In the White House and later in Congress, McGovern became close to Robert Kennedy.

I remain in occasional touch with McGovern, and spoke with him briefly after he gave a lecture in Jupiter, Florida shortly before my book was published in the spring of 2005. I mentioned that it was coming out and told him that it was “pretty hard on the Kennedys.” His response: “When it comes to Cuba, it deserves to be.”


About the Author: Don Bohning began working on The Miami Herald’s Latin America desk in the spring of 1964, became its editor in 1967, and retired in 2000. During his 41 years with the Herald, he won numerous journalism awards, including the Maria Moors Cabot Prize in 1974 for contributions to inter-American understanding. He is the author of The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations Against Cuba 1959-1965 (Potomac Books, 2005).


[1] A recent issue of TIME magazine featured a direct debate (of sorts) between Talbot and Bugliosi. David Talbot and Vincent Bugliosi, “The Kennedy Assassination: Was There a Conspiracy?” TIME, 19 June 2007.

[2] Talbot, Brothers, 6, 12.

[3] Murgado reportedly changed or added “Kennedy” to his name after RFK’s assassination in 1968. For some unexplained reason, Talbot refers to him only as “Angelo Murgado,” and leaves off the “Kennedy”—perhaps to make Murgado appear less ridiculous.

[4] Descriptions supplied to author via e-mail, June 2007. Due to the fractious rivalries still existing within the exile community, none of Murgado’s brigade colleagues were willing to be identified by name. But one was in the same paratroop battalion as Murgado.

[5] The two standard works on the Bay of Pigs are Haynes Johnson, with Manuel Artime, José Pérez San Román, Erneido Oliva, and Enrique Ruiz-Williams, The Bay of Pigs: The Leaders’ Story of Brigade 2506 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1964), and Peter Wyden, Bay of Pigs: The Untold Story (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1979). Angelo Murgado Kennedy appears in neither book, an omission that is particularly striking with respect to the former. According to reliable sources, RFK actively encouraged and cooperated with Haynes Johnson’s effort, to the point where the attorney general helped arrange interviews with all the key Cuban exiles.

[6] Joan Mellen, A Farewell to Justice: Jim Garrison, JFK’s Assassination, and the Case That Should Have Changed History (Washington, DC: Potomac Books, 2005), 378.

[7] Talbot, Brothers, 11-12.

[8] Ibid., 179.

[9] Ibid., 179-180.

[10] Manny Garcia, “Former Miami Zoning Inspector Pleads Guilty,” Miami Herald, 13 October 1999.

[11] Talbot, Brothers, 180.

[12] St. John Hunt’s attempt to cash in on his father’s notoriety was recently exposed by Erik Hedegaard in “The Last Confessions of E. Howard Hunt,” Rolling Stone, 21 March 2007.

[13] Talbot, Brothers, 405.

[14] In 1975, Sturgis testified under oath before the Rockefeller Commission that “at no time did he engage in any activity having to do with the assassination of President Kennedy.” Commission on CIA Activities within the United States, Report to the President (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1975), 253. Talbot, incidentally, implies without actually saying so that Sturgis was a CIA operative. The Rockefeller Commission stated categorically that “Sturgis was not an employee or agent of the CIA either in 1963 or at any other time. He so testified under oath himself, and a search of CIA records failed to discover any evidence that he had ever been employed by the CIA or had ever served it as an agent, informant or other operative.” Ibid., 252. Talbot supplies no evidence to contradict this finding.

[15] Talbot, Brothers, 398-399. Even if Morales was in Chile at the time, it is most unlikely he would have been in La Moneda, the presidential palace, with the building under bombardment by the Chilean military as the coup unfolded. Talbot also refers to Allende being “killed” during the coup. An official Chilean inquiry, the results of which were generally accepted, even by Allende family members, determined he had committed suicide.

[16] Telephone Interview with Clines, 12 June 2007. Clines also repudiated a statement attributed to him that is posted on Spartacus Educational, a left-wing, British-based website of often questionable veracity, e.g., that “Morales helped Felix Rodriguez capture Che Guevara in 1965 [sic].” Guevara was captured and killed in 1967.

[17] Telephone interview with Sternfield, 13 June 2007.

[18] Talbot, Brothers, 446.

[19] Anthony Summers with Robbyn Swan, The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon (New York: Viking, 2000), 587.

[20] Apart from “The Dorff Report,” a short-lived and now-defunct newsletter, Dorff’s only written contribution to the assassination literature is a self-published novel, 22 Days Hath November, which comes highly-praised by Fonzi.

[21] Gaeton Fonzi, The Last Investigation (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1993), 382-383. The House panel flatly rejected Fonzi’s unsubstantiated theories re CIA complicity, finding in 1979 that “The Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency were not involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.” House Select Committee on Assassinations, Final Report (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1979), 2.

[22] Noel Twyman, Bloody Treason: On Solving History’s Greatest Murder Mystery, The Assassination of John F. Kennedy (Rancho Santa Fe, CA: Laurel Publishing, 1997), 438-439.

[23] Jack Pfeiffer, “Official History of the Bay of Pigs Operation: Volume 3, Part III: Changing Concepts,” 7, Box 1, CIA Miscellaneous, JFK Assassination Records Collection, National Archives, College Park, Maryland. Talbot errs in attributing declassification of Pfeiffer’s report to the National Security Archive. Although that non-profit organization has done yeoman’s work in getting documents about U.S. covert operations declassified, the Pfeiffer volume cited was discovered at the National Archives by David M. Barrett, a political science professor at Villanova University (and member of Washington DeCoded’s editorial board). Barrett located the Pfeiffer volume while conducting research for his book, The CIA and Congress, and posted it on his website in 2005.

[24] Talbot’s portrait of Bissell reflects another factual error on his part. Talbot erroneously describes Bissell as “the principal architect of the Arbenz coup,” who “would reassemble the key members of his Guatemala team for the Bay of Pigs operation.” Talbot, Brothers, 44. Frank Wisner, who headed the Directorate of Plans in 1954, was in complete command of the Guatemalan operation, code-named PBSUCCESS, which resulted in deposing President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. As Bissell himself wrote in his posthumously published memoir, “Some historical accounts of the Guatemala operation have attributed a larger role to me than I actually played. For the most part, I served as either a liaison or troubleshooter . . . ” Richard M. Bissell, Jr., with Jonathan E. Lewis and Frances T. Pudlo, Reflections of a Cold Warrior: From Yalta to the Bay of Pigs (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996), 90.

[25] Talbot, Brothers, 47.

[26] Curiously, instead of quoting from the Pfeiffer volume itself, which is readily available, Talbot cites a Miami Herald article about the multi-volume history. And even this news article contained a paragraph—not mentioned by Talbot—underscoring the uncertainty about what Kennedy was actually told. “Historians say it is unclear whether CIA Director Allen Dulles and his deputy [Bissell] passed this assessment along three days later, at Kennedy’s post-election national security briefing in Palm Beach—and whether changes were made as a result of the finding.” Carol Rosenberg, “Bay of Pigs Plotters Predicted Failure,” Miami Herald, 11 August 2005.

[27] Talbot, Brothers, 46.

[28] Johnson, Bay of Pigs, 75.

[29] Ibid., 76. It bears mentioning that the episode was not given any additional credence in Peter Wyden’s widely acclaimed 1979 history of the Bay Pigs operation.

[30] Seventh meeting of Taylor Commission, 1 May 1961. Egan’s comments are contained only in the fully declassified (22 March 2000) version of the Taylor Commission and not the earlier and heavily redacted version, entitled “Operation Zapata: The Ultrasensitive Report and Testimony of the Board of Inquiry on the Bay of Pigs,” edited by Luis Aguilar and published in 1984 by University Publications of America.

[31] Jack Raymond, “Books on CIA and Bay of Pigs Disturb Officials,” NYT, 8 June 1964.

[32] Talbot, Brothers, 64.

[33] U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of The United States, 1961-63, Volume X, Cuba 1961-1962 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1997), 666.

[34] Talbot, Brothers, 60-61.

[35] U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of The United States, 1961-63, Volume XI, Cuban Missile Crisis and Aftermath (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1996), 828.

[36] Ibid., 794, and Memorandum of Conversation between President Ford and Secretary of State/National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, 4 January 1975, Gerald R. Ford Library. For an article that puts this memo in context, see Why RFK Shunned the Inquiry into His Brother’s Assassination.

[37] Talbot, Brothers, 229.