WASHINGTON -- One of the abiding mysteries of American politics in the last century -- the assassination of the beloved young President John F. Kennedy in 1963 -- never comes to any rational conclusion. The questions have remained so devilishly unanswered for so long that most Americans don't waste much time on them any longer.
But every once in a while, someone pops up out of nowhere with another piece of the puzzle. At first you don't want to believe it, but then it makes too much sense to deny it.
The latest information comes from a brilliant new book by longtime Cuba-watcher for the CIA Brian Latell, called non-mysteriously, "Castro's Secrets: The CIA and Cuba's Intelligence Machine." This unique book not only traces Fidel's extraordinary intelligence service and its acts against the U.S., but it also analyzes America's -- and especially the overeager Kennedy boys' -- attempts to kill Castro.
There have long been loads of indicators that the Cuban president, at the most, could have had Kennedy killed, or at the least, wanted him dead. Latell, in writing this book, did lengthy interviews with Florentino Aspillaga, one of the highest-level Cuban intelligence defectors ever. It was Aspillaga's job in the '60s to monitor radio communications between CIA agents and infiltration teams -- and he was brilliant at it.
But on the day Kennedy was assassinated, and ONLY this day, Latell writes, headquarters ordered Aspillaga to cease all tracking of the CIA. He was to redirect his antennas from Langley and Miami toward Texas, to listen to ham radio and other transmissions, and if anything important occured, to inform his superiors immediately. About four hours later the shots rang out in Dallas. Aspillaga's conclusion, Latell summed up: "They knew Kennedy would be killed ... Fidel knew."
Latell, not a writer to let things fall where they may, questioned Aspillaga, in exile in America, over and over again. But Aspillaga was Latell's Cuban compatriot in precision spying, and the story remained the same. The requirement to track the CIA was removed for only that one day. Aspillaga refused to retreat from his judgment that Castro knew 100 percent that Kennedy was going to be shot. You don't have any doubt, Latell persisted. No, no, no, Aspillaga replied.
This revelation of the four hours in Castro's tracking hut had, of course, to have the other parts of the puzzle of Kennedy's death brought together for it to make sense.
In one of my own interviews with Castro, in 1966, I asked him casually how he liked John Kennedy. Oooh, Fidel said, getting a kind of smile on his face that is so squarely false that only a mother could believe him, this is the kind of man I can work with.
I knew he hated the Kennedy brothers -- and vice versa. Bobby Kennedy, particularly, was doing everything in the encyclopedia to kill Fidel; the Americanos had waged the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. Fidel and Raul versus John and Bobby: They brought out the worst in each other.
Even more, Lee Harvey Oswald, who did kill JFK, was enchanted with Cuba and had threatened at the Cuban consulate in Mexico City to kill the American president. At the same time, the Mafiosi from the time of Presidente Batista before Fidel were suddenly welcome again in Cuba -- negotiating for their old casinos, paying off Fidel and making only God knows what promises to him. All of these Mafiosi knew Jack Ruby, of course, who killed Oswald.
Brian Latell himself does not believe that Fidel or his men were the ones who actually killed Kennedy. He is proposing a more nuanced but hardly less heinous possibility that has never been broached before, he says in the book. He believes that Castro and a small number of Cuban intelligence officers were complicit in Kennedy's death, but that their involvement fell sort of an organized assassination plot.
I am perhaps less subtle. In my biography of Fidel, "Guerrilla Prince: The Untold Story of Fidel Castro" (1991), I wrote: "There are simply too many 'accidents' not to assume that there could have been some Castro involvement (in Kennedy's death)." And I recalled how, in the investigations of the assassination afterward, no less a man than Lyndon Johnson had slipped and told broadcaster Howard K. Smith, "Well, Kennedy tried to get Fidel Castro, but Fidel Castro got Kennedy first."