Longform

Revelation 19.63

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Kennedy was incensed at Fernandez-Rocha's brashness so soon after the near-nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union had been defused. "The refugees," the president told his advisors, "are naturally trying to build up the story in an effort to get us to invade [Cuba]." He ordered the CIA to rein in the young exiles, and within 24 hours Richard Helms summoned Fernandez-Rocha to Washington.

The 49-year-old deputy director spent the better part of a day grilling Fernandez-Rocha and, according to the CIA's minutes of that meeting, concluded that the new missile allegations were not altogether reliable. Helms rebuked the Directorate for going public -- on national television no less -- but softened the reprimand by adding that he wanted to forge a "reasonable collaboration" with the DRE. He understood their disappointment with U.S. policy, he said. He confided that he was promoting a new agent in Miami who would be "personally responsible to me" for the success of the relationship.


For this sensitive task Helms selected an up-and-coming political-action officer, George Efythron Joannides, who had been transferred to Miami earlier that year and was working as deputy chief of psychological warfare operations against the Castro government. With a staff of 24 and a budget of $2.4 million, he ran his clandestine activities out of a ramshackle office building in then-rural South Dade that was known to CIA hands by its aquatic code name: JM/WAVE station. Joannides reported to station chief Theodore G. Shackley, who was overseeing one of the CIA's largest operations in the world, with an annual budget of more than $50 million, more than 100 leased vehicles, several thousand Cuban agents, and 300-plus American employees.

Joannides was 40 years old then, a native New Yorker who had attended City College and St. John's University School of Law in Queens. Recruited for the CIA in 1951, he'd spent eleven years in Greece and Libya, confounding communists and influencing local politicians. He was a cosmopolitan man, fluent in French and Greek, competent in Spanish. He wore tailored suits, spun bilingual puns, and enjoyed Greek pastries. He and his wife, Violet, and their three children lived in suburban anonymity on SW 65th Avenue in what is now the Village of Pinecrest.

Luis Fernandez-Rocha, now a doctor at Mercy Hospital, recalls his initial meeting with "Howard," as the CIA man called himself. Howard spoke confidently, with a New York accent, and wore an ornate pinky ring. In Fernandez-Rocha's view he compared favorably with the DRE's previous handler, Ross Crozier. "[He] was a great human being, but he was a sergeant," Fernandez-Rocha says. "When I was dealing with this guy Howard, I was talking to a colonel."

Howard was always available, Fernandez-Rocha adds. The agent would meet him anywhere from "three times a week to once every two weeks. We used to have a cup of coffee at a Howard Johnson's on U.S. 1."

The relationship was complicated. While the DRE was financially dependent on the CIA, its leaders publicly vilified Kennedy for his actions regarding Cuba: the Bay of Pigs defeat followed by a missed opportunity to topple Castro during the missile crisis. When the president came to Miami on December 29, 1962, to welcome returning Bay of Pigs prisoners at the Orange Bowl, DRE leaders stayed away in disgust.

In the spring of 1963, the Directorate's military section continued to plan raids on island targets, drawing up an elaborate scheme to destroy the Nazabal sugar mill in central Cuba. They sent word of the operation through Joannides to Richard Helms, according to a declassified CIA cable, but Joannides emphasized the CIA's opposition, and the raid never took place. The Kennedy White House, wanting no return to the tensions of the missile crisis, then cracked down hard on Cuban Miami. In April 1963 the Immigration and Naturalization Service issued an administrative order forbidding 25 of the most militant exile leaders from leaving Dade County without permission. On the list were DRE secretary-general Fernandez-Rocha, military-section leader Chilo Borja, and propaganda chief Juan Manuel Salvat, the group's corpulent, hot-tempered mastermind.

The exiles didn't obey the order. "We worked with the CIA," recalls Salvat. "We never subordinated ourselves to them." Nor did the Directorate's members try to hide their anger. Joannides walked a fine line -- trying to discourage the group's military ambitions while encouraging their propaganda campaigns and intelligence-collection efforts. But by the summer of 1963, the DRE harbored an "extremely bitter animosity" toward Kennedy, according to Ross Crozier, Joannides's predecessor. In fact they were scarcely less hostile to the president than to Castro.

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Jefferson Morley