|Florentino Aspillaga in an undisclosed location |
circa 1995 (© RTV Marti)
The Cuban defector Florentino Aspillaga, TOUCHDOWN in CIA parlance, died from heart disease at age 71 last month. On October 23, Miami-based Radio TV Martí broke the news with the ersatz statement that he was the head of the Cuban Intelligence Services (CuIS) in Czechoslovakia. The former CIA desk analyst Brian Latell had already aggrandized him beyond all modes of reason as being a key witness for proving Fidel Castro’s foreknowledge of the JFK assassination.
The Jaimanitas Story
Dr. Latell heard about it straight from the horse’s mouth in 2007 and brought it up in his book Castro’s Secrets (Macmillan, 2012, 2013). Aspillaga also revealed having told the CIA the whole story in 1987 during his after-defection debriefing.
To believe Aspillaga, on November 22, 1963, the barely 16-year-old Cuban counterintelligence ingénu Aspillaga would have been busy monitoring CIA Headquarters and its station JM/WAVE in Miami from a listening post at Jaimanitas, a small beach town near Castro’s main residence, dubbed as Point Zero, seven miles west of Havana. Around 9:30 am (EST) Aspillaga would have received the order “to stop all CIA work” and to redirect the antennas “toward Texas.” He was told he must report back immediately “if anything important occurs.” A few hours later, he “began hearing broadcasts on amateur radio bands about the shooting of President Kennedy in Dallas.” The teenage radio wave hunter inferred: “Castro knew. They knew Kennedy would be killed.”
It’s hard to swallow that Castro would have resorted to a radio counterintelligence prodigy or any other means of electronic intelligence (ELINT) to learn something that would have been instantly available through mass media. In 1963, info about anything occurring in Dallas during the JFK visit simply meant broadcast reports interrupting soap operas on the three national TV networks, and radio stations giving breaking news furnished by reporters covering live.
Aspillaga was in fact a self-defeating storyteller. He told Dr. Latell: “It wasn’t until two or three hours later that I began hearing broadcasts on amateur radio bands about the shooting of President Kennedy.” [emphasis added] Radio amateurs must have just been chatting about what the commercial media had already reported. Moreover, a unique witness had given conclusive evidence against Aspillaga in 1963.
French journalist Jean Daniel wrote a first-hand account in his article “When Castro Heard the News” (The New Republic, December 7, 1963). As Kennedy’s emissary, Daniel was talking with Castro in Varadero Beach the very day of the assassination. After a phone call by Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós, Castro got all the news “from the NBC network in Miami.” Daniel also recounted Castro was utterly shocked and turned to him saying—about the plans for rapprochement—that everything was going to change. Which contradicts Aspillaga’s story.
Autopsy of an Outright Lie
On November 18, 2013, Dr. Latell was the main speaker for a lecture entitled “Castro and the Kennedy Assassination”. It was held at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami. He felt sure about “Aspillaga’s most sensational revelation” because he had read it in both the English and Spanish versions of Aspillaga’s unpublished memoirs. Apparently, Dr. Latell did not realize that the talking source is the same source writing in English and also the same source writing in Spanish.
The CIA did not come forward with the Jaimanitas story to the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB). The Agency Release Panel responded to a FOIA request on June 28, 2013, that “the CIA can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence” of JFK-related records in Aspillaga’s debriefing. Even so, the latter is not to be found among the documents—either declassified or withheld—from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). A very strage set of affairs if Latell is correct about Aspillaga.
After 25 years and 13 medals in CuIS, Aspillaga had risen to the rank of Major when he took advantage of his first noteworthy assignment abroad in order to defect to the West. In November of 1986, he flew to a third-rate CuIS post in Bratislava (the capital of Slovakia, then part of Czechoslovakia) under the cover of an official from Cubatecnica, a state company in charge of Cuban workers abroad. Then, on June 7, 1987, Aspillaga crossed the border into Austria.
His case was included in the Historical Dictionary of Sexspionage (Scarecrow Press, 2009) by British historian Rupert Allason, pen name Nigel West, because of an intimate relationship incidental to it. Aspillaga defected along with a teenage girl named Marta. The CIA station chief in Vienna, James Olson, thought this was Aspillaga’s daughter, but she turned out to be his girlfriend.
Anyway, the walk-in Aspillaga fits better into James Olson’s definition of a “let’s cut a deal kind of guy.” In return for handing over documents stolen from the first-rate CuIS station in Prague and being squeezed by CIA and FBI debriefers, Aspillaga got a deluxe resettlement package in the United States.
In 2012, Dr. Latell wrote that “the CIA cryptonym assigned to [Aspillaga] remains classified [and] constitutes a private, inside-Langley boast of just how highly the CIA had scored against Cuban intelligence”. Latell was again aggrandizing Aspillaga. In fact, in Olson’s book Fair Play (Potomac Books, 2006) the reader knew Aspillaga was codenamed TOUCHDOWN. But the CIA score was pathetic. Aspillaga furnished the intel that, if not all, then most of the Cuban agents recruited by the CIA from 1960 onward were working for Castro.
The Sound of Silence
In July and August 1987, Aspillaga gave interviews to Radio Marti, which were reported by Associated Press, The New York Times, Time Magazine, and others. There was not a single reference to the Jaimanitas story, but a lot about Castro:
- He had a home in each of Cuba’s provinces, a fleet of yachts, and even a Swiss bank account for his personal whims.
- He had four children luxuriously living and studying in Moscow, although only his first-born son, Fidelito, was officially acknowledged.
- He used Panamanian General Manuel Antonio Noriega to send arms to Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras and Colombia, as well as to acquire U.S. high technology items and to traffick in drugs.
In June 1988, Aspillaga referred to Castro 69 times during a radio interview with Tomas Regalado (WQBA, Miami). But there was not one reference to Kennedy. Aspillaga remained silent about Castro’s foreknowledge of the JFK assassination even when Georgie Anne Geyer interviewed him in Washington, on April 14, 1988, for her book about the untold story of Castro (Guerrilla Prince, Little, Brown and Company, 1991).
On September 19, 1988, news came from London that Cuban diplomat Carlos Manuel Medina had fired shots at Aspillaga. He said that Aspillaga had tried to strong-arm him into defecting. After the shooting, Medina and the Cuban Ambassador, Oscar Fernandez-Mell, were expelled. However, Aspillaga went again to Regalado and, on October 7, WQBA twice broadcast an interview in which he asserted: “I have never spent a moment anywhere in England.” Aspillaga also boasted for the fun and revelry of gullible Cuban exiles in Miami: “Castro will not fall, we will kick him out.”
Apart from Dr. Latell, only former CIA case officer Bob Baer dared to broach Aspillaga’s testimony about “Castro knew it” his hallucinatory TV series “JFK Declassified: Tracking Oswald” (History Channel).