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If at First You Don't Succeed: Killing Castro

What exactly did Castro do to make the CIA attempt to kill him with exploding clams?

The United States has always been embarrassed by the communistic tendencies of its swarthy neighbor, Cuba, and had a healthy contempt for Cuba's dictator Fidel Castro. Over the years there have been some historically prominent attempts to unseat Fidel (U.S. government-supported Cuban expatriates tried to invade Cuba with disastrous consequences in the Bay of Pigs fiasco), and also some historically neglected ones. In a fit of diplomatic self-righteousness, Senate hearings following Watergate probed into "Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders" in 1975. These are neatly summarized in Jonathan Vankin and John Whalen's 50 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time (recently expanded to 60, you're much more likely to find this edition). The complete list:

In August 1960, the earliest attempt had the CIA's Office of Medical Services dose some of Castro's cigars with a virulent toxin; they were then slipped into his private stash during a trip to the United Nations. No luck. About the same time the New York Police Department learned the CIA aborted similar plans with cigars loaded with, yes, explosives.

The CIA's Technical Services Division planned to lace Castro's cigars with a super-hallucinogen (perhaps BZ), to embarrass him publicly by causing a wild acid trip during a public appearance.

The CIA also planned to embarrass Fidel by sneaking thallium salts into Castro's shoes; thallium salts are a "potent depilatory that would cause his beard, eyebrows, and pubic hair to fall out... like a follicle deprived Samson."

Upon learning that Castro enjoyed scuba diving, the Technical Services Division purchased a diving suit and contaminated the regulator with tuberculosis bacilli. Vankin and Whalen tell us that "Nothing if not scrupulous, they also treated the suit itself with fungus spores that would cause the rare skin disease, madura foot." An American lawyer negotiating for the release of Bay of Pigs prisoners was supposed to give Castro the suit, but unfortunately a shuttle diplomat decided to give Fidel an uncontaminated suit instead and spare the U.S. from a potential diplomatic brouhaha.

Undaunted and still intrigued with this scuba diving idea, Technical Services hatched a plan to place an exploding conch shell at one of Castro's favorite diving spots. This was scrapped as being too unwieldy and impractical, as even the most casual observer might have suspected foul play.

In his autobiography Shadow Warrior, former CIA operative Felix Rodriguez claims he tried to travel to Cuba three times on sojourns to assassinate Castro. Vankin and Whalen detail: "In 1987, asked by the Iran-Contra committee whether he took part in the CIA's attempt to poison Castro's favorite smokes, Rodriguez replied indignantly, 'No sir, I did not. But I did volunteer to kill that son of a bitch in 1961 with a telescopic rifle.'"

And in the grandest vision of all, Vankin and Whalen describe a false prophet: "Perhaps the most visionary proposal came from the fertile mind of General Edward Lansdale, who supervised the Kennedy Administration's covert war on Castro. The general hoped to spark a counterrevolution by spreading the word to devout Cuban Catholics that the Second Coming was imminent and that Castro was none other than the anti-Christ. At the appointed hour, Christ, Himself, would surface off the shores of Cuba aboard an American submarine as star shell flares illuminated the heavens. In a pique of Cold War rapture, it was hoped, the Cubans would rise up and spontaneously overthrow their satanic leader."

In the war against communism, the American government contemplated invoking no less a figure than Jesus Christ. John Wayne would have been proud.


  1. Jonathan Vankin and John Whalen. 60 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time. Citadel Press, 1996.

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