Inspector General's Bay of Pigs Report

Text of Ward Warren Essay


[Warren, Ward W.] "Inspector General: Master of All He Surveys." Periscope 22, no. 2 (1998): 6-7.

In the commercial world, an auditor is someone who comes in after the battle and bayonets the wounded. In the federal government, this function is carried out by Inspectors General. Lyman Kirkpatrick's survey on the Bay of Pigs exemplifies an Inspector General at the top of his form. In the short space of six months following the failed invasion of Cuba, the CIA's Inspector General produced a voluminous report on what went wrong and what should be changed to make it go right in the future. The resultant document is destined to take its place in that pantheon of important literature that everyone has heard of but no one has ever read, like the National Budget, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and the Bible. In the meantime, the report will be used as the basis for reams of misinformation and mis-analysis concerning the uses and the value of intelligence and covert action. For what it[']s worth to those few who will read the report as opposed to the headlines about it, the following is a fulcrum to be used to leverage a modicum of accuracy regarding the Bay of Pigs and the Inspector General's report.

The search for accuracy regarding the CIA's operation to topple Fidel Castro should start with a reading of Richard Bissell's response to the IG report. DCI John McCone sent James Killian, Chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, both the IG report and Bissell's apologia along with a note that said the truth lay somewhere in between. The Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, General Charles P. Cabell, had it right when he maintained that the IG report reflected some of the bitterness that Lyman Kirkpatrick carried from his debilitating polio and from his jealousy toward bureaucratic competitors. By the same token, the Bay of Pigs destruction of Bissell's heretofore charmed career as progenitor of the high-flying U-2 spyplane, the CORONA satellite program, and the even higher flying Operations Directorate (DD/P) of the CIA must have emotionally influenced his response. Both tell only that side of the story that supports their positions, not an unexpected event within bureaucratic institutions.

The merits of the respective presentations must await more leisurely study and analysis, but the initial news reports confirm DDCI Cabell's warning at the time that the IG report [was written], "In unfriendly hands, it can become a weapon unjustifiably to attack the entire mission, organization, and functions of the agency." The story of Kirkpatrick's machinations with the report and his attempted use of it to further his ambitions with both John McCone, the DCI designate[,] and the Kennedy administration is too well known to need detailed explanation here. Kirkpatrick's report was unnecessarily harsh because he wanted to be selected as DCI to implement the reforms that followed from the dereliction he identified with the Bay of Pigs. In the event, his ploy failed and the Agency was left with an exaggerated tale of incompetence that would give aid and comfort to the enemy, whoever he might be. That is the reason it was hidden for thirty six years, not simple refusal to face the implications of the report by Agency management. The new DCI, John McCone, perhaps the most morally motivated Director in the Agency's history, ordered the destruction of all but one of the twenty published, and also ordered the incarceration of the remaining report in the DCI's safe. The idea that McCone would have done this out of ignoble motives is too absurd to be pursued further. He clearly saw the report as an unwarranted and inaccurate intrusion on the conduct of the organization he had been chosen to lead. He did not hide it simply to protect the CIA's reputation, but to protect the CIA's ability to continue to conduct covert operations and espionage.

But if the issue of competence or its absence is too complex for a quick expatiation, at least two elements of the Bay of Pigs fiasco have not received sufficient notice. How much credence should have been given to the potential resistance to Castro that the invasion might inspire? Kirkpatrick's report derided the expectation that the people would rise up against Castro saying there was no evidence of this potential opposition. This is nonsense. Common sense would indicate that at least a latent opposition existed if only within the families that had suffered punishment under Castro, and the prospect of a successful coup by Cubans supported by the United States would have brought out the disaffected and opportunists alike. Should we wait until public opinion polls show a certain level of dissatisfaction before we commit to covert operations against a regime that threatens our national security? The one current possibility, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, does not allow public opinion polls. Neither did Castro for good reason. Vladimir Lenin did not take a poll before staging his coup d'etat against the Romanov regime. He simply assumed public discontent would rally enough support to bring him success. He was right as were the CIA estimates of potential Cuban support. Unfortunately, the invasion never generated a strong enough expectation of success to bring out that support. This does not, however, impugn the assumption that it was there.

In fact, the Bay of Pigs planners knew that organized resistance was present in Cuba, but did not want contact between the resistance and the invasion brigade. Counterintelligence chief, James Angleton, decreed that such contact would carry too great a risk of compromise and give the Castro forces advance warning of the invasion. The invasion force carried extra ammunition and weaponry, however, to arm the expected volunteers from the silent disaffected minority (or perhaps majority) that it was hoping to inspire. This gives the lie to Kirkpatrick's comment that the invasion force did not plan for an uprising. The plan might have been deficient, hurried, incomplete, and in the end unfulfilled, but there was a plan.

Further derision from Kirkpatrick and other commentators fell and continues to fall upon the concept of plausible denial in conjunction with the Bay of Pigs invasion. As Tim Weiner of The New York Times wrote,

"Plausible denial" - the ability of the United States to lie convincingly about its role in the invasion - became a pathetic illusion," the report said.

But plausible denial is not about the ability to lie convincingly. It's about the ability to continue to maintain relations between two countries each trying to undercut the security of the other. The United States is not very good at plausible denial. President Eisenhower, with his streak of Kansas rectitude, admitted his responsibility for the U-2 overflights of the Soviet Union when he should have blamed it on a rogue intelligence or military organization. This reflects well on Ike's honesty and character, but dissembling or plausible denial would have allowed his summit meeting with Nikita Krushchev to avoid cancellation. President Kennedy made the same mistake when he accepted responsibility for the Bay of Pigs when he should have blamed it also on a runaway intelligence and military community. Kennedy did eventually fire his intelligence chief, Allen Dulles, but he did it for failure at the Bay of Pigs rather than for overreaching his authority as Director of Central Intelligence. Plausible denial was realistic at the Bay of Pigs and remains a mainstay of diplomatic relations today. The Soviet Union organized a media campaign to convince the world that the United States was responsible for unleashing AIDS on Africa in an attempt to commit genocide on the African nations. The campaign was conducted through surrogate media outlets like Blitz in India. Both the Indian Government and the United States both knew what was going on, but plausible denial allowed the countries to maintain diplomatic relations. American support of mujahidden in Afghanistan was also well known but plausibly denied, thus allowing the Russians and the Americans to avoid going to war with each other. Other examples of the benefits of plausible denial are too numerous to continue recounting. No one in Cuba or the CIA expected plausible denial to stand up in court. It was meant for diplomatic use only. Unfortunately, the concept was not always fully understood even by many of those involved in the Bay of Pigs who should have known better. This led to some steps to reinforce plausible denial that were not necessary and that decreased the chances for success. Would those who accept the criticism of plausible denial in the Kirkpatrick report also renounce it for a campaign of support to the Kurds in Iraq if such were to be undertaken? The question answers itself.

Tim Weiner's article in The New York Times on February 22nd justifies John McCone's decision to hide Kirkpatrick's report. Weiner says,

The report, written by the C.I.A.'s inspector general, Lyman Kirkpatrick, after a six-month investigation, is a record of bungling by the best and the brightest and makes for chilling reading.

Weiner should put on a sweater and recognize that the report and its author do not represent the vessel of absolute truth. In May of 1961, Paul Chretien, a speaker of consummate persuasiveness and appeal, traveled to the CIA's training center to explain to the Junior Officer Training class that the operation had failed because air power had not been forthcoming at the request of our Ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson. The class was persuaded and had to be restrained from launching an immediate attack on the New York offices of the Ambassador. Thirty years later, however, one member of the class was still wowing internal CIA audiences with a line to the effect that any operation that required Adlai Stevenson to show backbone was doomed from the start. From a standing start, the truth never has a chance against well packaged mendacity. Chretien might have been nicer about than Kirkpatrick, but he just as wrong. Bureaucracies and institutions in and out of government make mistakes and occasionally, even worse, blunders. The Edsel, for example, was a Ford Motor blunder. Yalta was a blunder for the Roosevelt administration. Afghanistan was a Soviet Union blunder. The Bay of Pigs was a CIA blunder, but Kirkpatrick's report is a misleading description of the causes and the lessons of that blunder. It should not be used as a definitive history of the event or as a bludgeon against the CIA or covert action without balance. Intelligence is too important to national security to suffer from the blighted ambitions of a rampant inspector general, even one as respected as Lyman Kirkpatrick.

[Used by permission of the author]

Return to CIA 1998 Bay of Pigs