"Let us therefore proclaim our gratitude to Providence for manifold blessings—let us be humbly thankful for inherited ideals—and let us resolve to share those blessings and those ideals with our fellow human beings throughout the world."
-John F. Kennedy
The opening quotation is cited from John F. Kennedy's Proclamation 3560 titled Thanksgiving Day, 1963. It is a bold address, not just to the United States but to the World, speaking of upholding ideals of the country's forefathers of which Kennedy claimed "we must seek every day to emulate." The Proclamation finishes asking that God continue to guide and sustain "unfinished tasks of achieving peace, justice, and understanding among all men and nations and of ending misery and suffering wherever they exist." It's key achievement was the establishment that every fourth Thursday of November would be officially recognized as a day of Thanksgiving, but with language of World peace and issuing justice beyond borders, it served a much larger purpose.
The darkest shadow of President Kennedy's administration is undeniably the increased tensions between the U.S., Cuba, and the involvement of the Soviet Union. The botched Bay Of Pigs Invasion attempt under newly sworn-in President Kennedy's consent left an early scar on what would continue to be a tense and stressful distraction lingering beyond the shores of Florida. After the failure of the rather direct military approach under the guidance of the Central Intelligence Agency left the United States embarrassed on the World stage, and relations with Cuba and the Soviet Union disintegrating into what would become the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, J.F.K. would be inspired by a more fictional approach to overthrowing Fidel Castro.
On November 30th, 1961, precisely a week after Thanksgiving day that year, "Operation Mongoose" or "The Cuban Project" was authorized by the President. It was feared that Cuba could act as a headquarters for Communist operations inside the United States, and throwing the Communists from power in the island country had become an administration priority. This new secret project aimed to inspire a Cuban revolution that would, if successful, bring to fruition a U.S.-friendly government. The goal was October 1962. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, brother to the President, claimed full control over operations despite initial requests that the Secretary of Defense be responsible.
A large influence on the founding of this new secret operation came from an inspired source: Ian Fleming. During World War II, Ian Fleming served for the British as a strategist, devising inventive ways to effectively and efficiently handle the needs of British Intelligence. His most notable idea was Operation Mincemeat, in which a corpse dressed up as a British Major with fake Allied-invasion plans was thrown into the ocean, washed up on shore, and found by Nazi-allied Spanish soldiers. The news eventually made its way to Nazi leadership, who were initially skeptical. Not wanting to take any risks, they adjusted their defensive strategy to the fake invasion plans. It was enough of a distraction make the Allied invasion of Sicily a success.
Ian Fleming went on to become a very accomplished author, writing 14 James Bond stories that eventually would inspire 23, and counting, official films. His fifth Bond novel, From Russia, with Love happened to make John F. Kennedy's top ten list of favorite novels in 1961. One of the most radical proposals during Operation Mongoose came from a meeting between Ian Fleming and J.F.K. in 1960. The author jokingly proposed abusing the superstitions of the Cubans through religious propaganda. His idea was to project a giant cross into the night sky from Gauntanamo Bay, as it would keep the Cubans looking up and distract them. Air Force General Edward Lansdale, who helped lead The Cuban Project's operations, adopted this idea into a plan that called for propaganda to be issued of the second coming of Christ, while simultaneously advertising Fidel Castro as the anti-Christ. The plan was never authorized for action.
Ian Fleming's fictional spy continued to influence J.F.K. throughout Operation Mongoose. When first meeting the commander of the CIA team assigned to carry out the propaganda, Kennedy asked the overweight and alcoholic William Harvey, "So you're our James Bond?" Continuing to belittle poor efforts by the CIA team, he would often ask questions like "Why can't you get things cooking like 007?" Kennedy's desired "boom and bang" approach towards overthrowing Cuba was almost directly pulled from the pages of the fictional espionage exploits of James Bond. The sexy spy appeal of Ian Fleming's character was used by the CIA to attempt to cover up the dirty tricks and often immoral tactics being used in Cuba. Ironically enough, there is an account that Assistant Deputy Director for Plans for Operation Mongoose Tracy Barnes loved the Bond novels so much, he would hand them out to family members and colleagues as gifts on Thanksgiving. It is also apparent that President Kennedy and many other members of his administration would swap copies of the novels and use them as guides for brainstorming tactics against Cuba.
Diamonds Are Forever, the fourth novel in the Bond series, is directly cited as an inspiration. In the story, Bond weighs two choices; the first is to wait for opportunity to arise and take action, and the second is to instigate the opportunity himself. He chooses the second option. This supposedly influenced the guerrilla tactics, and some would argue terrorist-like propaganda actions of the CIA in Cuba. The goal was to force an uprising rather than wait for one to naturally occur. The fact that there is plentiful documentation of a fictional character directly inspiring CIA operations under President Kennedy is somewhat astonishing.
Throughout 1962, multiple minor sabotage and intelligence operations took place on the Communist island. The goals of the Operation were to disillusion the population of the power of Castro, inevitably rallying support for a second attempt at a U.S. invasion. The project would slow from a stream of missions to a trickle as the Kennedy brothers navigated the potential Armageddon that had become the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962. The Soviet Union's attempts at arming the Cuban island with Nuclear weapons at the front door of America changed the definition of the word tense to "sweaty finger resting on the 'fire' button of an entire arsenal of World-ending super weapons." It was a situation in which the Kennedy's propaganda games were temporarily put on hold to avoid being the noise that wakes the big nuclear Russian bear.
As the Missile Crisis passed, operations in Cuba intensified. With the Soviet Union's full support, Castro was going to be an even tougher target for the U.S. to take down. Previously radical ideas now fell into executed missions, ranging from attempting to sicken Castro with a toxin that would cause his signature beard to fall out, to assassination attempts with poison-tipped pens, sounding like pages from an original Ian Fleming adventure. The CIA also began targeting power and food supplies, railways and storage facilities, and plotted over 600 different methods of assassinating Fidel Castro. President Kennedy's only desired outcome would be the surrender of the Communists.
There is no clear-cut official ending to Operation Mongoose, as it remained a secret until the mid-1970's and evidence suggests that covert operations were still being carried out as recently as 1989. Nonetheless with no major changes in the political landscape of Cuba in decades, Operation Mongoose was, or continues to be, a monumental failure and only deepens the dark shadow of a catastrophic handling of the Cuban nation and its people looming over the CIA and the Kennedy administration.
"Yet, as our power has grown, so has our peril."
-John F. Kennedy's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, 1963
Justin Westbrook is a 20-year-old General Manager of a Jimmy John's sub shop in North Carolina, and spends his spare time watching James Bond movies, thinking about going to college, and participating in "the internet."
Top photo: "The First Thanksgiving" (1914), by Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, Sean Connery on the set of Ransom, photo-edited by the author; Missile strike map: History.com; From Russia, with Love dust jacket: pulpinternational.com; Newspaper headline: ken-canedo.blogspot.com