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2021 Documents in Review: Earliest Known CIA Plot to Assassinate Raul Castro

December 10, 2021
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The National Security Security Archive is winding-up 2021 by highlighting the most important documents from our most popular postings. This week we’re looking back at the declassified Top Secret January 17, 1975, CIA memorandum, “Questionable Activities”, which was originally published in the Archive’s April 16, 2021, posting, CIA Assassination Plot Targeted Cuba’s Raul Castro.

The posting examines the earliest known CIA assassination plot against leaders of the Cuban revolution. In the 1975 plot, high-level CIA officials offered the pilot of a chartered Cubana Airlines plane carrying Raul Castro, brother to Fidel Castro, and other leaders of the Community Party of Cuba, “payment after successful completion of ten thousand dollars” to “incur risks in arranging accident” during the flight from Prague to Havana. The Cuban pilot, Jose Raul Martinez, who the CIA had earlier recruited as an intelligence asset, “asked for assurance that in the event of his [own] death the U.S. would see that his two sons were given a college education.” “This assurance was given,” his CIA handler in Havana, William J. Murray, reported. But after the pilot left for Prague, the CIA Havana station received an urgent cable from CIA Deputy Director of Plans, Stacy Barnes, to rescind the assassination plot – but were unable to further contact the pilot. 

Today’s document, a declassified January 17, 1975, TOP SECRET memorandum, was filed by William Murray with the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General. The document, which was declassified as part of the JFK Assassination Records Act and initially appeared in John Prados’ Digital National Security Archive collection, CIA Covert Operations II: The Year of Intelligence, 1975, details how Martinez agreed to “take a calculated risk but limited the possibilities which could pass as an accident.” Upon his return from Prague, Martinez was debriefed and reported, “he had no opportunity to arrange an accident such as we had discussed prior to his departure.” A lucky coincidence given the CIA had rescinded the plan.

This “accident plot” was obliquely described in the special Senate Committee report on Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders, published  in 1976 after an investigation into CIA covert actions led by Senator Frank Church. The Church Committee report identified the plot as “the first action against the life of a Cuban leader sponsored by the CIA of which the Committee is aware”, but the Committee withheld—or perhaps was denied—key details, including that the would-be assassin was a pilot and the “accident” would involve a civilian airliner.

Check back next week for more!

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