The Bay of Pigs & Operation J/M-Wave
Inside the CIA’s Miami Training Camps by Jorge Varona (1977)
All four of the former agents I talked to had joined the CIA either before or during the Bay of Pigs training period. Two were in the invasion; and two were in the Cuban underground. One of them said: “I don’t know when they will need me again”.
When Cuban exiles began arriving in the United States in 1959 many thought the best way to go back to their country was a war in which a powerful ally was needed. The ally was there in the form of a sympathetic United States government which sponsored the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion – an invasion which had an end result, the consolidation of the government of Prime Minister Fidel Castro.
Cubans in general have had a dichotomous attitude toward the United States: traditionally Cubans have distrusted the “Colossus of the North” while expressing great admiration for American political stability and know-how. The failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion was easily blamed by many on the inexperience and ‘lack of guts’ of the late President John F. Kennedy; the disgruntled exiles, however, kept alive their hopes of getting control of their homeland by joining up with an arm of the government which was sympathetic and powerful: The Central Intelligence Agency.
Not all Cubans who fought against Castro were CIA followers, but those days in the camps in Guatemala had seen strong friends grow between the trainees and the CIA instructors. When the invaders came back, many gravitated to the US Army and others stayed close to the intelligence community in the Miami Area.
CIA recruitment of operatives and agents began even before Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown. Watergate burglar Frank Sturgis has admitted he was recruited to work for the CIA while he was ferrying weapons to Cuban rebels under the direction of former Cuban president Carlos Prio Socarras. The CIA maintained a large network of operatives on the island nation up to the 1961 U.S. sponsored invasion, when most of them were arrested and neutralized by the Cuban secret police (known as G-2). Those agents who were not caught had to go into hiding, and were, for the most part, neutralized. Only a small hardy group survived and still may be working today.
But it is the Miami based CIA groups, the ones functioning in Miami that grew and were used by American intelligence to form an intelligence network which extended through Latin America and Europe in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Following the Bay of Pigs invasion, the CIA began a recruitment drive in Miami among Cuban exiles and trained many of them in the commando raid tactics which were used in the 18-month period between the invasion and the October 1962 missile crisis.
Following the crisis, CIA Cuba activities became more covert, since the ‘understanding’ reached by American President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev precluded any direct invasion of Cuba. To gather the information in this article; four former CIA agents were interviewed; two of these were Principal Agents who acted under direct orders from the CIA. CIA headquarters were located at the J/M-WAVE, a number of offices buildings and warehouses located at the University of Miami’s south campus. J/M-WAVE operated under the guise of Zenith Technological Services, an electronics firm which was supposed to have been engaged in doing weapons research for the Department of Defense. Even though The Company has denied it, Sturgis confirmed he was involved in assassination plots against Castro and other Latin leaders, many of these operations were hatched from J/M-WAVE.
All agents interviewed had first come in contact with the CIA either before or during the Bay of Pigs training period. Two participated in the invasion and two were members of the Cuban underground. They will be known only by their first names since they do not wish to compromise their lives. One of them said “I do not know when they will need me again”.William R. Amlong described the CIA Miami operation in the March 9, 1975 Miami Herald as “the largest anywhere in the world outside of the Langley Headquarters in Virginia”. During the height of the CIA Cuban operation over 400 officers of the CIA connected with propaganda, paramilitary and infiltration operations worked out of there. At this headquarters, the activities of more than 1,500 Cuban Exile operatives were coordinated. These operatives according to ‘Rolando’, one of the agents, operated freely in Miami, Venezuela, Colombia, Chile, Spain, France, West Germany and Italy.
With the conclusion of the missile crisis and the return of the Bay of Pigs invaders to American soil, the CIA operation began to enter the infiltration and harassment of Cuba phase in which small teams went to Cuba to deliver radios, explosives, and weapons to underground elements. This was the apogee of the Cuban operation, which lasted with official sanction until early 1965, when Lyndon Johnson brought his own political clout to the White House.
The recruitment of Cuban Exiles was described by the agents as follows: Immigration and Naturalization Service authorities screening exiles would tip off the CIA as to whom they though could be an effective agent. Local exiles already working for the CIA would in turn go to visit them and invite the new arrivals to visit one of the many safe-houses that “La Compania” had in Miami. One of these was the Old Revolutionary Council house just north of downtown Miami. The CIA tried to recruit farmers and fisherman who knew the coast and who could help the infiltration teams get into Cuba without being seen. Training began with classes in Miami, where the recruits began learning about tactics and weapons. These classes were usually held at the house of the Principal Agents. Most of the time the CIA tried to have the Cuban PA’s very visible in from of the Cuban recruits in order to gain their confidence.
Those recruits who would actually become agents and not just operatives would be sent up for further training at Eglin Air Force Base in Pensacola, Florida (where, perhaps not coincidentally, the Watergate burglars would be imprisoned in 1974). Some of the training in guerilla warfare took place in the Okeefenokee Swamp in the Florida panhandle and southern Georgia. The recruits stayed for one month at this base. From here the recruits went to several bases near the CIA headquarters in Virginia, where they received further training in commando tactics, raids and weapons. Training at these bases lasted for a month.
According to ‘Roland’: “From here we were taken in closed planes to another base. We did not know where this base is. There we took training in explosives and demolition”. This type of training was held regularly until at least 1968.
At least two of the agents confirmed about 300 men received training in demolitions. The training varied while some were taught demolition on dry land, others learned all about underwater charges. This phase of operation ceased in large scale right after Lyndon Johnson took over in 1965. The 1965-1968 period saw an increase in the infiltrations for the purpose of gathering intelligence and rescuing agents inside Cuba. It is also believed that in this period some more of the assassination plots against Castro were hatched in Miami. While official U.S. policy at the time was one of ‘hands off’ Cuba, local authorities often looked the other way when Cuban Exiles, especially CIA agents or operatives, were caught breaking the neutrality laws.
“I remember when we caught one of these guys who had a lot of explosives and weapons in his house” said a former Dade County policeman who is now self-employed. “The Feds came in and took everything we had, saying that they were going to draw up federal charges against this man. They took everything, the weapons, the explosives, everything. We told them that we needed something so that we could bring our own charges against the man (who was active in anti-Castro activities) and federal agents left the State Attorney a case of hand grenades. Well, as it turned out, there was no regulation in Dade or Miami covering possession of hand grenades, so we had to let him go.”
Since Cuba could not be the object of a massive CIA operation, the Cia began using the recruited exiles to check on pro-Castro activity in Europe and Latin America. Already well known is the manhunt of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in Bolivia, in which at least 2 of the agents interviewed participated in minor roles. Exiles also participated in the covert propaganda work in Chile which helped to defeat Salvador Allende in 1964.
The CIA operation in Miami was divided into ubiquitous cells. Normally, one cell did not know what the other was doing, in case one of the groups was caught in Cuba. There was also another reason for this: usually members of one cell were political enemies of another cell. There were cells of people connected with former President Prio, other cells consisted of former allies of Batista, and other cells were comprised of former members of Castro’s revolutionary army. Men who would normally not be able to work together because of irreconcilable political conflicts worked this way together. This way, with Machiavellian precision, the CIA did for exiles what they could never do: band together to fight Castro.
The same political division was used by the CIA to keep any of the groups from reaching a position of relative strength. A good example of this was the campaign of vituperation against Manolo Ray, a liberal center-left former Castro minister who headed a powerful and popular exile group. Ray was accused of being a ‘Fidelista sin Fidel’ or one who liked the revolution but hated Castro, and his campaign lost much influence over the affair.
The CIA usually kept informants as members of most groups and managed to control even the most fanatical nationalists. As the anti-Castro activity began to be more closely controlled with the election of Richard Nixon in 1968, the CIA kept on its payroll a ‘secret police’ in Miami, which numbered anywhere from 200 to 300 Cuban Exiles. Men like Watergate burglar Eugenio Rolando ‘Muscalito’ Martinez belonged to this group. The CIA and some of the agents claim the group was officially disbanded in 1972, though most of the men remained on retainer as ‘consultants’. Martinez was still collecting $100-a-month from the CIA when he was caught in the Democratic National Headquarters. Members of this group trained at the J/M-WAVE facility. Others took training courses at the ‘School of the Americas’ in Fort Gulick at the Panama Canal Zone.
In Miami the cloak-and-dagger activities of the CIA quickly became mixed up in the narcotics traffic since many of the operatives were dealing heroin and marijuana. These dealers had what amounted to official protection because of the work they did. Part of the official protection the CIA had in Miami extended to the Miami Police Departments and also to the Dade County Sheriff’s office. Former Miami Police Chief Bernard Garmire provided some of the official protection the CIA operatives needed. This extended to having the CIA operatives keep a close eye on independent Anti-Castro groups; they usually busted their members when it appeared they were about to execute freelance raids on Cuba. During the 1972 Republican and Democratic National Conventions in Miami Beach, CIA operatives infiltrated most anti-Castro groups and often set them off against each other or against left-wing groups protesting the convention.
The CIA also sponsored front companies which served as support for the Company. An example of this is the Hialeah Egg Factory in which many of these operatives worked, among them Jose Antonio Prat, who mysteriously ‘killed himself’ in Miami in early February of 1976. One of the front men of the factory is a retired CIA agent known as Richard ‘El Americano’ who spent 12 years in Castro’s dungeons for espionage.
Up to 60 of these front companies grew around Miami; often they had names similar to real companies and would even sell similar products. Unsuspecting calls to them would invariably bring excuses about ‘not having the material available’. The receptionists would lie about the whereabouts of salesmen and even to credit ex-employees confirming former employment and salaries. Many of these corporations were not officially registered with the state of Florida but were seldom ever prosecuted or brought to the public’s attention.
The same is true of a number of used car lots which opened up in Miami and were run by some of the Cuban Exiles in the 1960s. U.S. Representative William Lehman, a used car dealer in North Miami, told the Rockefellar Commission that he believed there was some unfair competition from the CIA because their dealerships undersold the market. Cuban Exiles who normally worked other jobs preferred to work this way and were paid directly, to seldom sell a few cars while plotting Anti-Castro activities in air conditioned offices.
Although the CIA activities slowed down in 1972, along with the agents claim that recruitment has stopped altogether, a legacy has remained in Miami. The trainees did not quite stop working after the CIA cooled them down. Many set up their own training schools and as late as 1973, they kept training other exiles in the use of weapons and explosives. A paramilitary Parachute Club, the ‘Golden Falcons’ was the place where Humberto Lopez Jr., the convicted terrorist and Rolando Otero Hernandez, another terrorist now in Chile, first joined together and learned about bomb making under the CIA.
At a small office near SW I Street on 22 Avenue, CIA operatives trained in explosives and booby traps by the special forces taught young Cubans how to handle most weapons in the American military as well as Russian and Eastern European weapons. Training in booby-traps and grenades were held under the direction of Conrado Rodriguez. Usually the classes were well illustrated with weapons and taught by four expert marksmen. Even though many agents have claimed to stop these activities, men like Max Gorman Gonzalez are still reluctant to speak with reporters, afraid of compromising their business relationship with the CIA. It is interesting to note that while Frank Sturgis claims to have stopped the CIA activities, he was seen training the Exiles on how to recruit among their own for forces in Angola.
“When Bernard Barker, one of the Miami Watergate burglars, entered federal prison, he encountered an old Bay of Pigs comrade jailed for violating US neutrality laws in a freelance raid against Cuba. Chico, as he was nicknamed complained that America wasn’t what it used to be…”
In Hialeah, the Egg Factory is still working and the Power Chemical and Paper Corporation still operates with salesmen doubling as agents. At 1800 NW River Drive, CIA operatives are still recruiting forces to fight in Angola as early as the Spring of 1976.
– The Green Chazzan