Cuban assassination plots involving exploding seashells and poisoned swimsuits. Bounties on the heads of high-profile communists. A secretive investigation that tracked John F. Kennedy’s assassin into Mexico.
As scholars, journalists and the merely curious on Friday pored through a tranche of nearly 3,000 newly released secret documents related to the 35th president’s assassination, there were few if any major plot twists about what happened that day in Dallas in 1963.
Instead, the files — which include secret FBI memos, handwritten notes from top White House officials, and CIA field reports — tell the story of America’s paranoid underworld in the 1960s, where shadowy figures chased secrets at home and abroad and hatched plots to change the course of history.
The records shine a light into America’s covert operations during a turbulent period that included the Kennedy administration’s disastrous attempts to overthrow communist revolutionaries in Cuba, records which were examined by investigators to see if those operations somehow played a role in inspiring Kennedy’s assassination.
Some records provide insight into investigators’ hunt for details involving the only suspect ever officially identified, Lee Harvey Oswald. One newly released FBI file shows how agents tracked Oswald’s bus trip to Mexico City in October 1963.
The most tawdry accounts only loosely involved Kennedy’s assassination, focusing instead on the U.S. government’s own plots to kill foreign government leaders and politicians.
One top-secret White House document detailed a proposal to create “Operation Bounty” to assassinate prominent Cuban communists — suggesting up to $20,000 to kill communist informers, up to $100,000 for Cuban government officials, and a morbidly cheeky two cents for the death of Fidel Castro.
Some ideas to assassinate Castro included using the Mafia, which displeased Kennedy’s brother, U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, “because at that time he felt that he was making a very strong drive to try to get after the Mafia,” one 1975 document stated.
That document alludes to the existence of a 1967 memo from then-FBI director J. Edgar Hoover titled “Central Intelligence Agency’s Intentions to Send Hoodlums to Cuba to Assassinate Castro.” Hoover’s memo stated that one CIA-offered payout for the Mafia killing Castro wasn’t two cents, but $150,000, and noted skeptically that one Mafia member was “using his prior connections with CIA to his best advantage.”
As a result, Robert F. Kennedy “issued orders that CIA should never again take such steps without checking with the Department of Justice.”
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