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JFK's Biggest Secret Revealed -- But Will Congress Keep History from Repeating Itself?

The US government has finally made available to the public the biggest secret of JFK's presidency: In November 1963, JFK was secretly working with the #3 official in Cuba -- Commander Juan Almeida, head of the Cuban Army -- to stage a "palace coup" against Fidel Castro. Even today, the CIA currently lists Almeida as the #3 official in Cuba, just behind Raul Castro. The fact that Almeida remained unexposed and high in the Cuban government for decades is a primary reason that over four million pages of JFK assassination files were kept secret until the late 1990s.

Almeida's revelation removes the last legitimate reason for keeping any of the JFK files secret. Even though their release was required by the 1992 JFK Act -- passed unanimously by Congress, due to the efforts of Senators like John Kerry and Christopher Dodd -- "well over a million CIA records" about the assassination remain secret until 2017. The Secret Service admitted destroying key records in 1995, three years after the law was passed, an incident that has never been investigated by Congress. And in late September 2006, a federal judge ignored the JFK Act when he threw out a lawsuit by a Washington Post reporter seeking files about Oswald, which the CIA had lied about withholding from the 1978 House Select Committee on Assassinations (which included then-Congressman Dodd).

Recently declassified files show that in addition to protecting Almeida, agencies from the CIA to the FBI to Naval Intelligence also withheld information to hide their own intelligence failures and domestic surveillance operations, as well as to protect the reputations of their own agencies and key officials. Santayana said, "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." That is certainly true in this case since, as the following examples show, that is true in this case since all the secrecy has impacted US domestic and foreign policy for decades, and continues to do so.


  • The JFK-Almeida coup plan (codenamed AMWORLD by the CIA) came about because of the failure to resolved the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. As JFK's Secretary of State Dean Rusk revealed to us -- and files later confirmed -- JFK's pledge not to invade Cuba never took effect because of Fidel's refusal to allow "UN inspections" for "weapons of mass destruction" that were part of JFK's deal with the Soviets to end the crisis. JFK, not Bush, was the first president to use those terms -- and to suffer tragic consequences because problems with such inspections led to an attempt to overthrow a foreign dictator.


  • The JFK-Almeida coup failed because it was infiltrated by three Mafia bosses targeted for prosecution by Attorney General Robert Kennedy (who played the leading role in managing the coup plan for his brother). The Mafia chiefs -- banned by the Kennedys from the coup plan, and from reopening their casinos in Cuba -- infiltrated the CIA's portion of the coup plan, and used parts of it to kill JFK in Dallas. This forced key US officials -- RFK, LBJ, and J. Edgar Hoover -- into a cover-up to protect Almeida and prevent a possible nuclear confrontation with the Soviets, a cover-up which continued for decades.


  • The Mafia bosses infiltrated the JFK-Almeida coup plan using contacts established during Richard Nixon's first "October Surprise," in 1960. The CIA admits it was working with the Mafia chiefs at that time, in an attempt to assassinate Fidel just before the 1960 election between Nixon and JFK. Unknown to JFK, the CIA continued using the Mafia bosses in their own anti-Castro operations into October and November of 1963, giving the mobsters a way to infiltrate JFK's coup plan with Almeida.


  • Robert Kennedy knew who killed his brother, and even told associates about the leading role of New Orleans godfather Carlos Marcello. But RFK couldn't tell the Warren Commission or the public -- or even allow a thorough investigation -- without endangering Almeida and risking World War III. The FBI finally got a detailed confession from Marcello in 1985 when he was in prison, thanks to a trusted FBI informant deemed credible by a Federal judge. But the FBI and the Reagan-Bush Justice Department withheld it from the public. They also refused to prosecute Marcello for numerous crimes the godfather confessed to on hundreds of hours of tapes generated by a court-authorized bug in his prison cell. This allowed Marcello to go free, after he was released from prison on a technicality. All of those 1985 tapes are still being withheld more than a decade after the godfather's death.


  • The JFK-Almeida coup plan -- and the Mafia's infiltration of it -- was withheld from the Warren Commission and at least six Congressional Committees, and some of those involved are still active in politics. Current Senator Arlen Specter was the Warren Commission attorney who dealt with two JFK aides who said they were pressured to alter their testimony about seeing shots from the grassy knoll "for the good of the country."


  • A dozen veterans of the JFK-Almeida coup plan -- and the Mafia's infiltration of it -- were involved in Watergate, though it was withheld from Congress and Justice Department prosecutors (including Ben-Veniste, later a member of the 9-11 Commission). At that time, Robert Bennett -- now a Senator from Utah -- had employed one of those veterans and was feeding information to Bob Woodward to protect the CIA.


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  • Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were key officials in the Ford Administration -- and George H. W. Bush was CIA Director -- when information about the Mafia's infiltration of the JFK-Almeida coup plan was withheld from the Senate Church Committee (including Gary Hart and Walter Mondale) and Congress's Pike Committee.


  • Several veterans of the JFK-Almeida coup plan later surfaced in Iran-Contra, during the Reagan-Bush Administration. Some were involved with then-US Ambassador John Negroponte, currently the National Intelligence Director. But relevant information about the JFK-Almeida coup plan and the Mafia's infiltration of it was withheld from the Iran-Contra Committee (co-chaired by Lee Hamilton, later a member of the 9-11 Commission), and Senator John Kerry's Subcommittee on Narcotics.


  • Even after Kerry and Dodd helped to spearhead the 1992 JFK Act, the CIA and other agencies continued to withhold key information. US military and CIA veterans of the JFK-Almeida coup plan began a new outreach to high Cuban military officials in the mid-1990s. While those in the US military seemed sincere, this outreach would also allow the CIA to claim the 1963 files couldn't be released because the same people were still involved in the same type of active, ongoing operation.


  • In the 1990s, numerous US coup attempts against Saddam failed for the same basic reason the JFK-Almeida coup plan failed (and one even resulted in an assassination attempt against President George H. W. Bush). Likewise, several of the key intelligence failures by the Bush Administration, the CIA, and the FBI in the months before 9-11 mirror those in declassified files about the 1963 intelligence failures that preceded JFK's assassination. But because of all the secrecy, those failures were never exposed. The lessons of history couldn't be learned, so the same agencies kept making the same mistakes -- and history kept repeating itself.

That will continue to be the tragic case, unless the public demands that Congress no longer allow the agencies and the courts to ignore the 1992 JFK Act. It's not just a partisan issue. Rep. Christopher Shays was the first member of Congress to acknowledge the files that are still being withheld, in the March 14, 2006 hearings of his National Security Subcommittee. Now that the US government has declassified Commander Almeida's secret work for JFK, there is no legitimate reason to withhold the "well over a million CIA records" and not to investigate the files the Secret Service and other agencies admit destroying.

As for Almeida, both RFK and the CIA were certain he was sincere in 1963 and not a double agent, and the evidence backs that up. Fidel only learned about Almeida's work for JFK in 1990, after which Almeida disappeared for several years. Fidel allowed him to rejoin the Cuban government because now -- as in 1963 -- he is one of the highest Black officials in Cuba, an important consideration in a country where some estimate that seventy percent of the population is of African descent. Almeida's family is safe because after RFK and the CIA helped them leave Cuba on a pretext in the fall of 1963, they never returned to Cuba to live.

Because Almeida's family and his work for JFK have been officially declassified, we can now tell the full story of the JFK-Almeida coup -- and its penetration by Marcello -- in the new, updated trade paperback edition of our book Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK. As it details, there was not a large conspiracy that killed JFK -- none of those named in this article were involved, except Marcello -- but there was a big effort to protect Almeida and to cover-up information that could harm the reputations of agencies and key officials.

With the publicity surrounding the release of the JFK-Almeida coup plan, this may be America's last chance to get the files JFK released before the year 2017 (when all the files are supposed to be released). With every member of Congress -- and a third of the Senate -- up for re-election, is there any reason to vote for a candidate who doesn't want to see the law enforced and all the JFK files released?

Lamar Waldron

Lamar Waldron

Lamar Waldron has co-authored two books (with Thom Hartmann) about the JFK assassination and its aftermaths, the most recent being “Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination”  (2012).  Waldron’s most recent book is "Watergate: The Hidden History" (2013).

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