The CIA recruited a former FBI agent to approach two of America’s most-wanted mobsters and gave them poison pills meant for Fidel Castro during his first year in power, according to newly declassified papers released Tuesday.
Contained amid hundreds of pages of CIA internal reports collectively known as “the family jewels,” the official confirmation of the 1960 plot against Castro was certain to be welcomed by communist authorities as more proof of their longstanding claims that the United States wants Castro dead.
Communist officials say there have been more than 600 documented attempts to kill Castro over the decades. Now 80, Castro has not been seen in public since handing power to his younger brother Raul while recovering from intestinal surgery last July. But in a letter published on Monday, the elder Castro claimed without providing details that President Bush had “authorized and ordered” his killing.
And while Cuban government press officials didn’t return a call seeking reaction Tuesday, the release of the newly declassified CIA documents had already been noted in state media.
“Upon the orders of the White House, the Central Intelligence Agency tried to assassinate President Fidel Castro and other former personalities and leaders,” the Communist Party newspaper Granma said Saturday. “What was already presumed and denounced will be corroborated.”
Other aborted U.S. attempts to kill Castro, who rose to power in January 1959 in a revolution that ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista, have been noted in other declassified documents.
The papers released Tuesday were part of a report prepared at the request of CIA Director James Schlesinger in 1973, who ordered senior agency officials to tell him of any current or past actions that could potentially violate the agency’s charter.
Some details of the 1960 plot first surfaced in investigative reporter Jack Anderson’s newspaper column in 1971.
The documents show that in August 1960, the CIA recruited ex-FBI agent Robert Maheu, then a top aide to Howard Hughes in Las Vegas, to approach mobster Johnny Roselli and pass himself off as the representative of international corporations that wanted Castro killed because of their lost gambling operations.
At the time, the bearded rebels had just outlawed gambling and destroyed the world-famous casinos American mobsters had operated in Havana.
Roselli introduced Maheu to “Sam Gold” and “Joe.” Both were mobsters on the U.S. government’s 10-most wanted list: Momo Giancana, Al Capone’s successor in Chicago; and Santos Trafficante, one of the most powerful mobsters in Batista’s Cuba. The agency gave the reputed mobsters six poison pills, and they tried unsuccessfully for several months to have several people put them in Castro’s food.
This particular assassination attempt was dropped after the failed CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961. The CIA was able to retrieve all the poison pills, records show.