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Operation Mongoose: Explosive Cigars and Seashells

Fidel Castro, communist leader of Cuba in 1961

Operation Mongoose was an extensive covert operation carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the early 1960s and was authorized by then-sitting United States President John F. Kennedy. The operation was drafted in 1961 and fully went into effect after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. The Bay of Pigs Invasion was a military landing operation covertly financed and led by the United States to attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro and the Cuban government. The main reason behind the United States' rapid persistence into a regime change in Cuba was that it occurred during the height of the Cold War, in which relations between the Soviet Union and the United States were at an all time low. The world was on the brink of nuclear war and the United States did not want the Cuba - Soviet Union relationship continue to develop at the doorstep of the United States, in which a potential missile attack could easily be launched.

The details of Operation Mongoose were released by the Church Commission in the Senate and investigative journalists in 1975 who were tasked with investigating abuses by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), National Security Agency (NSA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The presidential order signed by JFK gave the agency authorization to create a group of exiled Cubans to manage oppositional propaganda programs to Castro to grow a movement in the country, create an intelligence gathering network inside of Cuba, and to develop a paramilitary organization within Cuba to train and lead resistance groups against the Castro regime. The CIA also famously developed several different plans of destroying the public image of Fidel Castro in his speeches by utilizing several tools to damage his appearance and vocals. There were several plans also drafted to assassinate Fidel Castro. The following were some of the proposed plans.

Fidel Castro's boots in Havana, Cuba circa 1957

One of the plans proposed by a bioorganic chemist was to spray an LSD compound inside of Fidel Castro's broadcasting studio in the heart of Havana, Cuba to cause him to hallucinate. This would cause Castro to appear unfit to lead Cuba in the eyes of the people while he would give his famous rambling speeches. The CIA also came up with the idea of contaminating Castro's boots. Castro would leave his boots outside of his hotel room door whenever he traveled outside of the country so that they would be shined for the next morning. The CIA proposed that they could dust the inside lining of the boots with thallium salts, which would cause Castro's beard to fall out. The plan was successfully tested on animals, but eventually scrapped due to Castro canceling the trip in which they planned to execute it on.

Cohiba: a private cigar brand created by Cuban officials following assassination attempts of Fidel Castro

There were other plans proposed by the CIA and the United States government in which they would be directly involved with the assassination of Fidel Castro. Perhaps the most documented method of attempting to assassinate Castro was through the use of explosive cigars. One of the proposed plans was to plant a box of explosive cigars in a place where Castro would visit during his United Nations trip in which opening the cigar box would cause a large enough explosion to instantly kill Fidel Castro. An assassination attempt was almost carried out by a Cuban double agent in which he would offer a cigar to Castro that was laced with a deadly toxin that would cause death within seconds. The cigars were created and passed along to the Cuban double agent, but he failed to carry out the plan.

Scallop seashell, similar to the appearance of the proposed explosive seashells

Fidel Castro often visited the beaches and oceans in Cuba and enjoyed to scuba dive. This also created an operational venue and opportunity for another assassination plan. In 1963, the Technical Services Division (TSD) of the CIA was asked to construct a seashell filled with explosives to be planted on Varadero Beach in Cuba, which was very frequently visited by Castro. The idea was to construct the explosive seashell to appear colorful and unique in appearance to cause Castro to want to inspect it further before subsequently exploding in his face. The assassination plan was effectively canceled after it failed operational review.

During a time when World War 3 was very close to beginning, the United States wanted to do everything possible to increase national security and effectively destroy communism to which they felt was a danger to the world. While the ideas and true motives behind the United States government are highly controversial during the time, there is no denying that clandestine operations are still utilized by many major countries around the world.

The CIA has been involved in many controversial operations throughout its history, to include the controversial assassination attempts of a country's leader. In 1976, United States President Gerald Ford signed an executive order prohibiting assassination attempts of other world leaders. To the people who condemn the actions of the CIA during this time, think about other controversial intelligence agencies such as Mossad (Israel) or the FSB (Russia) who may have engaged in more egregious and violent operations. How far would you go to protect your country? What is the line that shouldn't be crossed?

Maybe explosive cigars and seashells are a little too far-fetched.


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