Skip PBS navigation bar, and jump to content.
Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS


The Film & More
Special Features
Online Poll
Shock Year: 1968
RFK's Enemies
What If?

Timeline
Gallery
People & Events
Teacher's Guide

spacer above content
RFK's Enemies

  Communism | Fidel Castro | Jimmy Hoffa | Lyndon B. Johnson


Fidel Castro with his soldiers, April 1961. In April 1961, Cuba went from a concern to a major problem for the Kennedy administration. The Cuban Communist regime's continued presence -- and growing dependence on the Soviet Union -- made the island, just 90 miles off the Florida coast, a clear threat to U.S. security. Then the embarrassing failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion made it a personal matter between the Kennedys and Fidel Castro.

No one took it more personally than Bobby. "After the Bay of Pigs, John Kennedy becomes increasingly skeptical about how to deal with Castro," says historian Robert Dallek. "Bobby Kennedy is, in essence, the point man for trying to find a way to topple Castro."

To distance his brother from the mess and yet address the problem aggressively, Robert Kennedy personally oversaw the covert Operation Mongoose. Its goal was to harass, overthrow, and possibly kill the Cuban dictator.

Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson sitting in a meeting. Sam Halpern was the executive officer of Task Force W, the Central Intelilgence Agency team charged with carrying out Operation Mongoose. He describes working on the project:

[Robert Kennedy] was always pushing. No matter what you came up with, no matter what we thought up, wasn't good enough... We went berserk, honestly, trying to satisfy this guy's dreams of what an intelligence service is supposed to do. And we couldn't satisfy him, ever...

We did... propaganda, of one type or another. We tried some bits and pieces of sabotage... It didn't mean a damn thing. Didn't bother [Castro], it caused us a lot of headaches, a lot of trouble and a lot of money...

We were involved in things like... possibly making [Castro] sick... We even had one guy come in with an idea of making his beard fall out. And I looked at the guy, I sent him out of my office, I said go away. But you know, when you get pressure from the White House to do something... everybody comes up with all the crazy ideas in the world...

Bobby Kennedy wanted things blown up. So we blew things up...

[We] were working jointly [with the U.S. military], to try to... infiltrate the Cuban military, to get some military officers to, in effect, have a coup or a revolt or something. All kinds of things were tried. All kinds.

-- Sam Halpern, former CIA executive officer

page created on 7.1.04
Site Navigation

Special Features: Online Poll | Shock Year: 1968 | RFK's Enemies
What If?

RFK Home | The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline
Gallery | People & Events | Teacher's Guide

American Experience | Feedback | Search | Shop | Subscribe | Web Credits

© New content 1997-2004 PBS Online / WGBH



RFK American Experience