Review: Castro’s Secrets – The CIA and Cuba’s Intelligence Machine

4 Star, Country/Regional, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Intelligence (Government/Secret)
Amazon Page

Brian Latell

4.0 out of 5 stars Three for Accuracy, Five for Details, On Balance a Four,May 3, 2012

I was reviewing this book here at Amazon as I went, but lost patience with it as other priorities emerged, and deleted my review as it was incomplete. I have gone over the book again. In comparison with all that I have read from other non-fiction sources, and what I know personally from service in the Latin American Division including service under Nestor Sanchez, I give this book a three for accuracy, a five for interesting details that are useful to the larger mosaic, and a four over-all.

Right up front I have misgivings:

1) The vaunted prime source for the author gave up stories but no names. This is immediately suspect.

2) The author claims CIA had four dozen agents in Cuba that proved to be doubles. I strongly suspect the actual number is under two dozen.

3) The author exaggerates the value of the Cuban penetrations of the US, particularly the DIA analyst.

4) The author exaggerates the importance of the Cubans being able to defeat the polygraph. The US Government and CIA especially are the last to admit that the polygraph is largely worthless. My personal preference is for the new NoLie technology that is 95% accurate if not slightly better, while the polygraph is at best 64% accurate on naive subjects that have anxiety indicators, and not at all useful against Arabs, Chinese, and others who have mastered blandness.

Beware — Amazon has a very ugly tendency to offer people the Kindle version by default and NOT show other editions, something I find both unethical and annoying. You have to search for the title and the word “hardcopy”. Having said that, I praise the publisher for pricing this book fairly, and Amazon for taking another chuck off the price. At $20 with shipping, this is a BARGAIN.

I was a clandestine case officer and handled one of the Cuban defectors in the 1980’s (not named in the book, resettled to the USA, a very very rare thing). I also had two classmates exposed on Cuban national television after all the double-agents led them into video traps.

Right up front I can tell the author is wrong on one thing and perhaps mistaken on the second.

01 Oswald did not kill Kennedy. Oswald was a CIA patsy. Below I list several books on this point, every day the evidence mounts that JFK was killed with LBJ’s tacit consent, by a mix of the Texas rich, New Orleans crime, the FBI, and CIA trained and equipped Cuban exiles angry over the Bay of Pigs, not realizing that CIA led JFK into a trap and knew it would fail beforehand.

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters
Someone Would Have Talked: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Conspiracy to Mislead History
A Farewell to Justice: Jim Garrison, JFK’s Assassination, and the Case That Should Have Changed History
Mary’s Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace

02 On the defectors, I am very skeptical that any of them actually blew Castro’s double-agents. Certainly not in time to help my two classmates-extremely competent officers whom I continue to admire. Castro’s intelligence has been running rings around the tontos utiles (useful idiots) for decades, generally from after Che Guevarra’s demise in Bolivia. Today, working with money from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, they are doing some very interesting things across the continent, most recently shutting the US and Canada out of a new regional organization, CELAC (i.e. OAS without the two annoying northern countries).

I certainly recommend this book. I know for a fact that in the 1980’s several Senators and Representatives were on the payroll of countries hostile to the United States. That was when I started to realize just how corrupt our Congress was, never imagining that we would see the say when all but a tiny handful are traitors to the public interest.

The author is unique, the book is unique, but the reality is that the book is a CIA-approved version of reality, and probably, at best, 60% of the picture, if that.

Some false notes:

1) On the one hand, the author stresses how all Cuban defectors have to go deep under cover to avoid Cuban assassination teams, at the same time that he lauds the Cubans for their excellence-best in the world-on the street. Then he accepts at face value to hardly credible stories about how Aspillaga survived two assassination attempts that I consider high theater. Tontos útiles, ¡presten atención!

2) The author claims to be absolutely certain Aspillaga was genuine, and goes on about the varied and deep methods CIA used to ensure this. So what about the “four dozen” double-agents that CIA did NOT detect?

3) The author claims DGI was riddled with corruption. This may well be true, I do not have the breadth of sources that he does, but this does not feel right. The DGI officers I knew overseas were superb professionals, true believers, and I just do not see the ones I knew being corrupt in the manner that the author offers without much in the way of evidence.

4) The claims about the US “neutralizing” the DGI in the aftermath of the Aspillaga defection are in my view laughable. The author also fails to mention some very considerable successes that the Soviets and the Cubans (who *do* work together) had against the US.

5) I greatly enjoy the author’s account of where the DGI is very very good, and am then shocked when he presumes to suggest that the Cubans are not good at code-breaking. Really? This from the country with the most advanced high tech health industry in the Western Hemisphere?

6) I lose patience with the author’s assertion of page 42 that the DGI exists exclusively to target Americans. This is outright foolishness. The DGI has been steadily chipping away at US influence across Latin America, not by targeting los tontos utilies, who shoot themselves in the head on a regular basis, but rather by targeting indigenous key personnel. In my view CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, i.e. OAS without the Canadians or Americans) is a triumph for the DGI and for Casto’s diplomats as well as the Cuban military and Cuban science, technology, and cultural as well as commercial outreach ventures.

Chapter 3. The two so-called “big stories” on Fidel as a diabolical monster are pedestrian. It is also at this point that I note that the book completely avoids mention of the Kennedy-Khruschev back channel striving for peace in spire of their respective generals. I have a note “this is our best shot at slandering Castro?”

Chapter 4. Claims Atlee Phillips and other CIA case officers of the era were pro-Castro. Page 66, fascinating observation that DGI monitored who CIA was developing (toward recruitment) in foreign capitals, then they got there first, made the recruitment, so when CIA finally made the pitch, a) it was a cake walk and b) they were recruiting a double-agent already under DGI control. Author exaggerates the importance of the Russian illegals in US in 2010. Author suggests that Chavez of Venezuela was recruited by DGI and trained in Cuba. I know from serving in Venezuela that the Soviets and Cuba have had the run of the place for some time, and that the US has been complacent and careless in not recognizing that in Venezuela the US was being played, perhaps more so than in other Latin American countries.

Chapter 5. This is a fascinating chapter with a great deal of information that is new to me, including passing references to the closeness of Angleton to Israel, the size of Ted Shakley’s JMWAVE operations (largest Navy in the Caribbean, 600 CIA, 1000 contractors, in touch with 15,000 Cubans one way of another….but also including Shackley’s admission that such assets as CIA had in Cuba were at the NCO and “food handler” level. The rest of the book is at worst a hit job on the Kennedy brothers, and at best a CIA version of half the story. As with the Kennedy-Khruschev back channel, the author either does not know about, or is unwilling to include, the fact that there was also a back channel between Kennedy-Castro, and if Kennedy had not been assassinated in Dallas, he was planning to not only disengage from Viet-Nam, but also moderate the relationship with Castro. There are a couple of truly astonishing quotes in this chapter, including on page 102 the author’s conclusion, based on a CIA record of a meeting, that President Kennedy was “complicit in acts that constituted a deliberate and massive campaign of international terrorism.” The author accepts at face value his primary source’s claim that Castro knew in advance that JFK would be assassinated in Dallas.

Chapter Seven is a mess. The author has either not ready anything of substance about the JFK assassination and the now conclusively known facts that Oswald was a patsy, tested negative for gunspower residue, and was standing in the door (photo now available) when JFK went by and was assassinated), or the author’s book is part of an on-going CIA covert operation to muddy the CIA role in the JFK assassination. On balance I think the author is simply too quick to accept “blessed” interpretations of events, and has forgotten how to be an independent analyst able to capture his own sources outside the CIA. There is nothing in here about how Oswald was a Marine doing SIGINT on Okinawa, and the fact that he was sent to make a scene in Mexico.

What *is* valuable is the account of Castro’s direction to re-enact the Kennedy assassination with his own snipers on island, ultimately concluding-as those of us who read broadly now know-that Oswald could not have killed Kennedy.

This chapter also overlooks or fails to mention decades of DGI work with students and labor.

As a general statement, I find this book a phenomenal “benchmark” of names, dates, and places that can be useful to others. As the author himself notes, the day will come when Castro’s records become public, and I believe at that time we will learn that US counterintelligence failed across the board, Cuban counterintelligence did extremely well, and as it is said about CIA adventures in Laos, (I recollect from memory): “we spent a lot of money, got a lot of people killed, and in the end, have nothing to show for it.”

My more or less complete list of books on intelligence that I have reviewed, all reviews leading back to their Amazon page, is easily found by searching for the phrase below:

Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Intelligence (Most)

For anyone seeking to understand the long dirty relationship between the US and the South, I recommend the following books:

Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent
SAVAGE CAPITALISM AND THE MYTH OF DEMOCRACY: Latin America in the Third Millennium
War is a Racket: The Antiwar Classic by America’s Most Decorated Soldier
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’

There are many more-generally CIA has done great evil, and in overturning the governments of Guatemala and Iran in the 1950’s, set the stage for the persistent growing antipathy toward the US and what I now regard as a half century of unilateral militarism, predatory capitalism, and virtual colonialism. What has been done in our name and at our expense has been disgraceful-a consistent preference for dictators and elites over the public interest of our own public or the indigenous public.

My two master lists of reviews are easily found below.

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Positive)

Worth a Look: Book Review Lists (Negative)

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