By Brian Latell, CTP.ICCAS@Miami.edu
Fidel Castro knew that the CIA was trying to kill him. There was no doubt; his sources were reliable. “For three years,” he told congressional investigators in 1978, “we had known there were plots against us.”
The most promising of them ripened in a Paris safe house 50 years ago. Rolando Cubela, known in CIA by the cryptonym AMLASH, had the starring role. A veteran of the Castro brothers’ guerrilla war, he was already an accomplished assassin. He held high military rank, knew the Castros, and frequented a beach house next to one that Fidel used. Cubela was recruited by the CIA, trained in secret communications and demolitions techniques. He insisted he wanted to kill Fidel. That was music to the ears of top CIA officials.
On Oct. 5, 1963 he met with his agency handler in a CIA safe house in a Paris suburb near Versailles. Nestor Sanchez had a stellar career in covert operations, spoke fluent Spanish, and had taken over the AMLASH case a month earlier. The Cuban told Sanchez he was not interested in “unimportant tasks;” he wanted “to undertake the big job.”
But first he needed assurances. He demanded a meeting with a senior Kennedy administration official — but not just anyone. He wanted face time with the president’s brother, attorney general Robert Kennedy. Sanchez cabled CIA headquarters that Cubela wanted to be sure of American support “for any activity he undertakes” against Castro.
“We must be prepared to face the request,” he wrote. He knew he was urging something extremely dangerous. Cubela was proposing to entangle both Kennedy brothers in a murder conspiracy targeting Castro. If the demand were rejected, Sanchez warned, Cubela might bolt.
Caution should have overwhelmed at that juncture. There were already many reasons to doubt Cubela’s bona fides. Nevertheless, it was decided at CIA headquarters, probably in consultation with Robert Kennedy, that a senior agency official would meet Cubela as the attorney general’s representative.
Desmond FitzGerald delighted in the task. A CIA nobleman, East Coast socialite, and friend of the attorney general, he would go to Paris and provide the needed assurances. He intended to impress the Cuban, cabling Paris that the rendezvous should be staged as impressively “as possible.”
Sanchez reported back to FitzGerald that the meeting with Cubela was scheduled for Oct. 29. This unlikely pair — the moody Cuban spy and the elegant FitzGerald, Bobby Kennedy’s understudy — sat side by side and talked in the safe house. Sanchez translated.
Cubela was satisfied that the man who called himself James Clark was indeed a top American official close to Robert Kennedy. Almost no record of their meeting has survived, but it is known that Cubela spoke repeatedly of his need for an assassination weapon.
CIA made good on its commitment. Sanchez returned to Paris, and on November 22, 1963 met again secretly with Cubela. He brought with him a preposterous murder weapon: a pen fitted within a syringe that could be filled with poison and used to inoculate Castro.
In one of the strangest twists of modern history, Sanchez was explaining the device as the sun was setting in Paris. He took a call from FitzGerald in Washington: President Kennedy had just been shot in Dallas.
Read more here: JFK assassination: What did Castro know?