CIA roped in mafia to kill Castro

(The Guardian)
Updated: 2007-06-28 06:56
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WASHINGTON: The CIA conspired with a Chicago gangster described as "the chieftain of the Cosa Nostra and the successor to Al Capone" in a bungled 1960 attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro, according to declassified documents published by the agency yesterday.

The disclosure is contained in a 702-page CIA dossier known as the "Family Jewels" compiled at the behest of then agency director James Schlesinger in 1973.

According to a memo written at the time, the purpose of the dossier was to identify all current and past CIA activities that "conflict with the provisions of the National Security Act of 1947" - and were, in other words, illegal.

The dossier covers operations including domestic surveillance, kidnapping, infiltration of anti-war movements, and the bugging of leading journalists.

But its detailed information on assassination attempts against foreign leaders is likely to attract most attention.

The plot to kill Castro, whom the US government at the time considered a threat to national security and a stooge of the Soviet Union, begins quietly and sinisterly in August 1960.

The documents released yesterday describe how a CIA officer, Richard Bissell, approached the CIA's Office of Security to establish whether it had "assets that may assist in a sensitive mission requiring gangster-type action. The mission target was Fidel Castro".

Following the meeting, Bissell employed a go-between, Robert Maheu, and asked him to make contact with "gangster elements". Maheu subsequently reported an approach to Johnny Roselli in Las Vegas. Roselli is described as "a high-ranking member of the 'syndicate'."

The CIA was careful to cover its tracks. According to the dossier, Maheu told Roselli that he (Maheu) had been retained by international businesses suffering "heavy financial losses in Cuba as a result of Castro's action. They were convinced that Castro's removal was the answer to their problem and were willing to pay the price of $150,000 for its successful accomplishment".

Roselli in turn led the CIA to a friend, known as Sam Gold. In September 1960, Maheu was introduced to Gold and his associate, known as Joe.

Gold was in fact Momo Salvatore Giancana, "the chieftain of Cosa Nostra (the mafia) and the successor to Al Capone". Joe was actually Santos Trafficante, the mafia boss of Cuban operations.

At a meeting at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, Gold suggested that rather than try to shoot or blow up Castro, "some type of potent pill that could be placed in Castro's food or drink would be much more effective".

He said a corrupt Cuban official, named Juan Orta, who was in debt to the syndicate, would carry out the poisoning. The CIA supplied "six pills of high lethal content" to Orta but after several weeks of abortive attempts, Orta demanded "out" of the operation.

"The project was cancelled shortly after the Bay of Pigs episode" in 1961, the dossier says.