Assassination attempts on Fidel Castro

The United States' Central Intelligence Agency made numerous unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro during his time as the president of Cuba.

Fidel Castro during a visit to Washington, D.C., shortly after the Cuban Revolution in 1959.


Following World War II, the United States became secretly engaged in a practice of international political assassinations and attempts on foreign leaders. For a considerable period of time, the U.S. Government officials vehemently denied any knowledge of this program since it would be against the United Nations Charter. On March 5, 1972, Richard Helms, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director, declared that "no such activity or operations be undertaken, assisted, or suggested by any of our personnel."[1] In 1975, the U.S. Senate convened the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities chaired by the Senator Frank Church (D-Idaho). The Church Committee uncovered that CIA and other governmental agencies employed a so-called tactic of "plausible deniability" during decision-making related to assassinations. CIA subordinates were deliberately shielding the higher-ranking officials from any responsibility by withholding the full amount of information about planned assassinations. Government employees were obtaining tacit approval of their acts by using euphemisms and sly wording in communications.[2]

Early attemptsEdit

According to CIA Director Richard Helms, Kennedy Administration officials exerted a heavy pressure on the CIA to "get rid of Castro."[2]: 148–150  It explains a staggering number of assassination plots, aiming at creating a favorable impression on President John F. Kennedy.[3]: 25  There were five phases in the assassination attempts, with planning involving the CIA, the Department of Defense, and the State Department:[3]: 24–25 

  • Prior to August 1960
  • August 1960 to April 1961
  • April 1961 to late 1961
  • Late 1961 to late 1962
  • Late 1962 to late 1963

According to columnist Jack Anderson, the first CIA attempt to assassinate Castro was part of the Bay of Pigs Invasion operation, but five more CIA teams were sent, the last apprehended on a rooftop within rifle range of Castro, at the end of February or beginning of March 1963.[4][5] Attorney Robert Maheu, who was working as a CIA cutout at the time, was identified as the team leader, who recruited John Roselli, a gambler with contacts in the Italian American Mafia and Cuban underworlds. The CIA assigned two operations officers, William King Harvey and James O'Connell, to accompany Roselli to Miami to recruit the actual teams.[6]

Mafia engagementEdit

According to the CIA documents, the so-called Family Jewels that were declassified in 2007, one assassination attempt on Fidel Castro prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion involved noted American mobsters Johnny Roselli, Salvatore Giancana and Santo Trafficante.[7]

In September 1960, Momo Salvatore Giancana, a successor of Al Capone's in the Chicago Outfit, and Miami Syndicate leader Santo Trafficante, who were both on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list at that time, were indirectly contacted by the CIA about the possibility of Fidel Castro's assassination. Johnny Roselli, a member of the Las Vegas Syndicate, was used to get access to Mafia bosses. The go-between from the CIA was Robert Maheu, who introduced himself as a representative of several international businesses in Cuba that were expropriated by Castro. On September 14, 1960, Maheu met with Roselli in a New York City hotel and offered him US$150,000 for the "removal" of Castro. James O'Connell, who identified himself as Maheu's associate but who actually was the chief of the CIA's operational support division, was present during the meeting.[8] The declassified documents did not reveal if Roselli, Giancana or Trafficante accepted a down payment for the job. According to the CIA files, it was Giancana who suggested poison pills as a means to doctor Castro's food or drinks. Such pills, manufactured by the CIA's Technical Services Division, were given to Giancana's nominee named Juan Orta.[9] Giancana recommended Orta as being an official in the Cuban government, who had access to Castro.[10][11][12]

Allegedly, after several unsuccessful attempts to introduce the poison into Castro's food, Orta abruptly demanded to be let out of the mission, handing over the job to another unnamed participant. Later, a second attempt was mounted through Giancana and Trafficante using Dr. Anthony Verona, the leader of the Cuban Exile Junta, who had, according to Trafficante, become "disaffected with the apparent ineffectual progress of the Junta". Verona requested US$10,000 in expenses and US$1,000 worth of communications equipment. However, it is unknown how far the second attempt went, as the assassination attempt was cancelled due to the launching of the Bay of Pigs Invasion.[11]

On October 26, 2017, declassified documents revealed that US Attorney General Robert Kennedy hesitated to recruit the Mafia in assassination attempts on Castro due to his push against organized crime.[13]

Later attemptsEdit

The Church Committee stated that it substantiated eight attempts by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro in 1960–1965.[2]: 71  Fabián Escalante, a retired chief of Cuba's counterintelligence, who had been tasked with protecting Castro, estimated the number of assassination schemes or actual attempts by the Central Intelligence Agency to be 638, a project code-named Executive Action, and split them among U.S. administrations as follows:[14][15]

CIA Director Richard Helms with President Lyndon B. Johnson

Some of them were a part of the covert CIA program dubbed Operation Mongoose aimed at toppling the Cuban government. The assassination attempts reportedly included cigars poisoned with botulinum toxin, a tubercle bacilli-infected scuba-diving suit along with a booby-trapped conch placed on the sea bottom,[16] an exploding cigar (Castro loved cigars and scuba diving, but he quit smoking in 1985),[16][17] a ballpoint pen containing a hypodermic syringe preloaded with the lethal concoction Blackleaf 40,[16] and plain, mafia-style execution endeavors, among others.[18] There were plans to blow up Castro during his visit to Ernest Hemingway's museum in Cuba.[19]

CIA Director George H. W. Bush meeting with President Gerald Ford

Some of the plots were depicted in a documentary film entitled 638 Ways to Kill Castro (2006) aired on Channel 4 of the British public-service television.[20] One of these attempts was by his ex-lover Marita Lorenz, whom he met in 1959. She agreed to aid the CIA and attempted to smuggle a jar of cold cream containing poison pills into his room. When Castro learned about her intentions, he reportedly gave her a gun and told her to kill him but her nerves failed.[16][21] Some plots aimed not at murder but at character assassination; they, for example, involved using thallium salts to destroy Castro's famous beard,[3]: 30  or lacing his radio studio with LSD to cause him disorientation during the broadcast and damage his public image.

When Castro travelled abroad, the CIA cooperated with Cuban exiles for some of the more serious assassination attempts. The last documented attempt on Castro's life was in 2000, and involved placing 90 kg of explosives under a podium in Panama where he would give a talk. Castro’s personal security team discovered the explosives before he arrived.[22][17][16]

Castro once said, in regards to the numerous attempts on his life he believed had been made, "If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal."[16][23]

The CIA in 1962 considered a plan called "Operation Bounty," which would have involved dropping leaflets over Cuba offering financial rewards to the Cuban population for the assassination of various individuals, including $5,000 to $20,000 for informants, $57,000 for department heads, $97,000 for foreign Communists operating in Cuba, up to $1 million for members of the Cuban government, and only $0.02 for Castro himself, which was meant "to denigrate" him in the eyes of the Cuban people. The top secret document which revealed the plan, which was never put into practice, was one of 2,800 related to the federal investigation of the Kennedy assassination, which were released as scheduled in October 2017.[24][25]


Besides attempts on Fidel Castro, the CIA has been accused of involvements in the assassination of such foreign leaders as Rafael Trujillo, Patrice Lumumba and Ngo Dinh Diem.[26] The Church Committee rejected political assassination as a foreign policy tool and declared that it was "incompatible with American principle, international order, and morality."[2]: 1  It recommended Congress to consider developing a statute to eradicate such or similar practices, which was never introduced. Instead, President Gerald Ford signed in 1976 an Executive Order 11905, which stated that "No employee of the United States government shall engage in, or conspire in, political assassination."[27]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Pape, Matthew S. (2002). "Can We Put the Leaders of the "Axis of Evil" in the Crosshairs?". Parameters, US Army War College Quarterly. XXXII (3): 64.
  2. ^ a b c d "Alleged Plots Involving Foreign Leaders", U.S. Senate, Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, S. Rep. No. 755, 94th Cong., 2d sess. PDF Archived September 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b c Escalante, Fabián (1996). CIA Targets Fidel: Secret 1967 CIA Inspector General's Report on Plots to Assassinate Fidel Castro. Melbourne, Vic., Australia: Ocean Press. ISBN 1875284907.
  4. ^ Anderson, Jack (June 18, 1971), "6 Attempts to Kill Castro laid to CIA", Washington Post: B7
  5. ^ Allen, Nick (March 19, 2012). "Fidel Castro 'knew Lee Harvey Oswald would assassinate John F Kennedy'". ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved June 24, 2018.
  6. ^ Blanton, William, ed. (February 15, 1972), Memorandum for the Executive Director, Subject: John Roselli, George Washington University National Security Archives Electronic Briefing Book No. 222, "The CIA's Family Jewels"
  7. ^ Snow, Anita (June 27, 2007). "CIA Plot to Kill Castro Detailed". The Washington Post. Washington, D.C. AP. Retrieved November 22, 2014.
  8. ^ Trying to Kill Fidel Castro. The Washington Post, June 27, 2007.
  9. ^ Juan Orta,, accessed on October 29, 2013.
  10. ^ Holland, Steve and Sullivan, Andy (June 27, 2007) CIA tried to get mafia to kill Castro: documents. Reuters.
  11. ^ a b "Family Jewels". CIA Archive, pp. 12–19
  12. ^ Johnson, Alex (June 26, 2007). "CIA opens the book on a shady past." NBC News,
  13. ^
  14. ^ Brown, Stephen Rex (November 26, 2016) Fidel Castro survived over 600 assassination attempts, Cuban spy chief said. NY Daily News
  15. ^ Escalante Font, Fabián [es] (2006). Executive Action: 634 Ways to Kill Fidel Castro. Melbourne: Ocean Press. ISBN 1920888721.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Fidel Castro: Dodging exploding seashells, poison pens and ex-lovers. BBC (November 27, 2016)
  17. ^ a b Campbell, Duncan (November 26, 2016) Close but no cigar: how America failed to kill Fidel Castro. The Guardian
  18. ^ Epstein, Edward Jay (January 2000). "The Plots to Kill Castro". George Magazine. 5: 60–63.
  19. ^ Corn, Davis and Russo, Gus (March 26, 2001). The Old Man and the CIA: A Kennedy Plot to Kill Castro? The Nation.
  20. ^ Campbell, Duncan (August 3, 2006). "638 ways to kill Castro". London: The Laura Nuessbaum. Retrieved August 16, 2006.
  21. ^ Aston, Martin (November 23, 2006). "The Man Who Wouldn't Die". Radio Times.
  22. ^ MacAskill, Ewen (May 5, 2017). "The CIA has a long history of helping to kill leaders around the world". The Guardian. Retrieved January 3, 2019.
  23. ^ "The Castropedia: Fidel's Cuba in facts and figures". The Independent. January 17, 2007. Archived from the original on May 14, 2008. Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  24. ^ "The CIA offered big bucks to kill Cuban communists. For Fidel himself? Just two cents". Miami Herald. October 27, 2017. Retrieved October 28, 2017.
  25. ^ "The US government planned to drop leaflets in Cuba encouraging people to kill Fidel Castro for just 2 cents". Business Insider. October 27, 2017. Retrieved October 28, 2017.
  26. ^ Johnson, Boyd M., III (1992). "Executive Order 12,333: The Permissibility of an American Assassination of a Foreign Leader". Cornell International Law Journal. 25 (2): 406.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  27. ^ Executive Order No. 11,905, 3 C.F.R. 90 (1977).