Friday, July 6, 2012
Castro, JFK & Oswald: Menage a Mort?
Latell is one of the foremost foreign experts on Cuba. He followed Cuban affairs in intimate detail as a CIA intelligence analyst and National Intelligence Officer for Latin America from the early 1960s until his retirement from government in 1998. His writings on that country are must-reading for anyone with a serious interest in modern-day Cuba. His 2007 book After Fidel is a fascinating study on the two brothers who have led the Cuban revolution for over half a century. Latell's contributions to our knowledge of Fidel Castro and his enduring political system, in short, are invaluable.
"I have been waiting more than 35 years for this book," writes former U.S. senator Robert Morgan. In terms of a detailed unclassified study of Fidel's foreign intelligence agency, the DGI, he's spot on. In five years of researching for Castro's Secrets, the author did in-depth interviews with a dozen DGI defectors, most living under aliases, as well as a number of ex-CIA ops officers who had carried out the Kennedy administration's covert programs to destabilize and turn out the Castro regime. These programs by and large ranged from the unrealistic to the ludicrous -- e.g., killing Castro with an exploding cigars and sea shells. All were miserable failures. The policy side of the administration appeared to pay scant attention to what analysts like Brian Latell were writing about the durability of the revolution. And the analysts were kept in the dark about covert actions. Latell's original research brings forth new details and revelations of the Kennedy-Castro blood feud. But his insights on the creation of and surprisingly outstanding tradecraft of the DGI is a bonanza for scholars of Cuban espionage on which there is but skimpy public information. "They outperformed us by any objective measure," one former FBI agent told Latell.
Latell's treatment of the DGI's formation and operations occupies the first half of the book. The second half focuses on the Kennedy assassination and a possible Oswald-Cuban connection. So, Castro's Secrets essentially is two books in one. And here is where I digress with Latell. By devoting the final five chapters of his eleven-chapter book to a drawn-out and tendentiously speculative treatise on Oswald, JFK and Fidel, he dilutes the value of his study on Cuban intelligence with sensational assassination hypothesizing, heavily dependent on the claims of one DGI defector, Florentino Aspillaga Lombard. Latell is entitled to his assertion that Fidel Castro's "most despicable" decision in his half-century as Cuba's leader was to "stand aside, build an elaborate alibi, lie and dissemble, launch decades of disinformation pointing at others, all the while maintaining a conspiracy of silence about the murder of John F. Kennedy." But he could have distilled this into a single long chapter, while filling out the DGI story with additional case studies, such as those of Ana Montes, Ken and Gwendolyn Myers and the Wasp network. This would have made for a more serious study and a more worthy contribution to our knowledge of Cuban intelligence and espionage.
That said, as one who endured the blunt force of the renamed DGI, the Dirección de Inteligencia, during service as a U.S. diplomat in Cuba, I find Latell's books, articles and writing style valuable, entertaining and thought provoking. I eagerly look forward to Mr. Latell's next book.