Killing Castro: Code Name AMLASH

Nearing the fiftieth anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, the question of possible Cuban government involvement in the president’s death has never been adequately investigated. Details of the Cubela plot have been gleaned from the half million pages of declassified CIA documents related to the Kennedy assassination at the National Archives. But since official Cuban archives are shut tight, the rest of the story cannot be told.


By Brian Latell | November 20, 2013

Fidel Castro knew that the CIA was trying to kill him. There was no doubt; his sources were reliable. “For three years,” he told investigators from the House of Representatives in 1978, “we had known there were plots against us.”

The history of Kennedy era attempts against Castro’s life is well known. There were several plots and bizarre schemes, two featuring Mafia kingpins, ones involving incendiary cigars, an explosive sea shell, and a poisoned diving suit. But the most promising of the killing plans ripened in a Paris safe house fifty years ago last month.

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. Cubela 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 October 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. Still in Paris, on October 11 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,” Sanchez 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. On-island agent reports undermined his veracity. He had refused to be polygraphed. The secret writing method he was taught to use when in Cuba was never employed. As a source of intelligence in Havana he was all but mute. And, could Cuban counterintelligence have failed to track him? French security had done just that.

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 on October 21 that the meeting with Cubela was scheduled for October 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.

The Warren Commission knew nothing of the Cubela plot and did not attribute a single, compelling motive for the assassination to Lee Harvey Oswald. So, it was not aware that Castro had powerful motive to retaliate or that he had threatened American leaders that September. “If they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders,” he said publicly, “they themselves will not be safe.”

Among the Warren commissioners only former CIA director Allen Dulles is known to have been aware of early plots against Castro. So, they could not have known either what has come to light in recent years from Cuban sources and declassified documents. Rolando Cubela was a double agent working for Fidel Castro.

It was the Cuban leader who instructed his agent to demand the meeting with Robert Kennedy. He knew the CIA leadership had him in their crosshairs. Now he also confirmed that Robert Kennedy was at the top of the assassination chain of command. It was not unreasonable to conclude that the president was also involved.

Nearing the fiftieth anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, the question of possible Cuban government involvement in the president’s death has never been adequately investigated. Details of the Cubela plot have been gleaned from the half million pages of declassified CIA documents related to the Kennedy assassination at the National Archives. But since official Cuban archives are shut tight, the rest of the story cannot be told.

Fidel Castro for decades has dissembled, falsely denying any prior knowledge of Oswald, while pumping out distracting smoke screens and casting groundless suspicions on alleged CIA and Cuban exile assassins. But it is now high time for the Cuban regime to come clean, to release relevant documents and allow former officials who may have knowledge of Oswald’s relations with Cuban intelligence officers finally to speak out.


Brian Latell, Ph.D., is a distinguished Cuba analyst and a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami. He has informed American and foreign presidents, cabinet members, and legislators about Cuba and Fidel Castro in a number of capacities. He served in the early 1990s as National Intelligence Officer for Latin America at the Central Intelligence Agency and taught at Georgetown University for a quarter century. Dr. Latell has written, lectured, and consulted extensively. He is the author of the book, After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro’s Regime and Cuba’s Next Leader. His new book, Castro’s Secrets: The CIA and Cuba’s Intelligence Machine, was published in April 2012 by Palgrave-Macmillan. Dr. Latell is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.