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manner.




109
Throughout the summer of 1963, there were endless discussions of
sabotage”which targets to strike, what kind of explosives to use,
whether the strike should come from inside Cuba or outside it, whether
local volunteers or paid agents should be used. But even while the CIA
hawks were plotting their campaign of sabotage, a group of Kennedy
administration doves, including UN Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, were
working on another track. Attached to Stevenson's UN mission in New
York was William Attwood, who had previously served as U.S.
ambassador to Guinea in West Africa. Attwood had met Castro and spent
considerable time with him on a number of occasions while practicing
his earlier profession as a journalist. A Guinean diplomat had told him of
a recent meeting with Castro in which the Cuban leader had expressed
his dissatisfaction with his status as a Soviet satellite and was looking
for a way out. The diplomat told Attwood of Castro's receptiveness to
changing course and moving toward nonalignment. Attwood received a
similar message from another friend, Lisa Howard.
As the CIA continued to plot sabotage missions, President Kennedy
began to explore Castro's apparent olive branch. He approved a quiet
approach by Attwood to Dr. Carlos Lechuga, Cuba's ambassador to the
UN, using ABC's Lisa Howard as a go-between. On September 23, a
small party was arranged at Howard's New York City apartment and both
Lechuga and Attwood were invited. The diplomatic matchmaking was
successful. "Lechuga hinted that Castro was indeed in a mood to talk,"
Attwood said later in a secret memorandum. "Especially with someone he
had met before. He thought there was a good chance that I might be
invited to Cuba if I wished to resume our 1959 talk." Robert Kennedy
thought the idea had some merit but was against Attwood traveling to
Cuba; he saw the trip as "risking the accusation that we were trying to
make a deal with Castro." Kennedy preferred that the meeting take place
either in New York, during a visit by Castro to the UN, or in a neutral
country, such as Mexico.
Howard, continuing in her role as unofficial intermediary, mentioned
Attwood to Major Rene Vallejo, a Cuban surgeon who was also Castro's
right-hand man and confidant. On October 51, Vallejo called Howard,
telling her that Castro would very much like to talk to Attwood anytime
and appreciated the importance of discretion to all concerned. Castro, he
said, would therefore be willing to secretly send a plane to Mexico to pick
up Attwood and fly him to a private airport near Veradero where Castro
would talk to him alone. The plane would fly him back immediately after
the talk. In this way there would be no risk of identification at Havana
airport.
Vallejo sent a further message to Attwood, through Howard, on
November 11. "Castro would go along with any arrangements we might
want to make," Attwood wrote in a memorandum. "He specifically


110
suggested that a Cuban plane could come to Key West and pick up the
emissary; alternatively they would agree to have him come in a U.S.
plane which could land at one of several 'secret airfields' near Havana.
He emphasized that only Castro and himself would be present at the
talks and that no one else”he specifically mentioned [Che] Guevara”
would be involved. Vallejo also reiterated Castro's desire for this talk and
hoped to hear our answer soon."
But President Kennedy insisted that before any U.S. official travel to
Cuba, Vallejo or some other Castro representative come to the United
States to outline a proposal. He also demanded absolute secrecy
concerning the discussions. "At the President's instruction I was
conveying this message orally and not by cable," McGeorge Bundy told
Attwood, extremely worried about a leak or a written record. He added in
a memorandum for the record, "The President hoped he [Attwood] would
get in touch with Vallejo to report that it did not seem practicable to us
at this stage to send an American official to Cuba and that we would
prefer to begin with a visit by Vallejo to the U.S. where Attwood would be
glad to see him and to listen to any messages he might bring from
Castro."
Attwood passed the message through Howard to Vallejo, and a few
days later they spoke together on the telephone for the first time. One
Friday, he sent a memorandum to the White House detailing the
conversation. "Vallejo's manner was extremely cordial," Attwood noted.
"He said that 'we' would send instructions to Lechuga to propose and
discuss with me 'an agenda' for a later meeting with Castro. I said I
would await Lechuga's call."
But President Kennedy did not see Attwood's memorandum. At the
moment it arrived he was traveling in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.


That Friday, November 22, 1963, was much like any other day at
NSA. In the early morning hours, Cuban intercepts from the ferret ship
USNS Muller had ricocheted off the moon and down to NSA. The
backlogged Cuban analysts and cryptologists of B Group were only now
putting out translations of messages intercepted weeks earlier. One of
those was a report by a Cuban official on the country's internal problems
with rebels. "I believe that the approaching Presidential elections in the
United States will strengthen reactionary forces from within and
without," said the worried official. "Therefore, there is a need for a strong
gorilla [sic] collar around Cuba."
In the courtyard in front of the main building, a powerful yellow steam
shovel was scooping up tons of dirt for the large basement of the new
nine-story, 511,000-square-foot headquarters tower as the agency
continued to expand. Other heavy equipment was clearing dense


111
woodlands for more than 1,200 new parking spaces.
In Room 1W040, the cover for the next edition for the NSA Newsletter
was being laid out. It was a drawing of Santa Glaus jumping out of a
fireplace, with the headline "Sixth NSA Annual Family Christmas
Program, Dec. 8, 2:00 PM." A line of employees, getting ready for the
weekend, was forming at the NSA Federal Credit Union, which had grown
to 5,647 members. At 11:30 A.M., in Room 1W128, the NSA Sun, Snow
and Surf Club was holding its second annual Ski Fashion Show. As part
of the show, the main lobby of the Operations Building contained a large
display of the latest skis, boots, and other equipment. Later that night,
the NSA Drama Club was scheduled to present the rueful comedy The
Pleasure of His Company at the Fort Meade Service Club.
That Friday was slow in the NSA Sigint Command Center. The duty
officer logged some messages in; Sergeant Holtz arrived at ten o'clock to
pick up a few tapes; at 1:30 P.M. a Strategic Air Command surveillance
mission codenamed Brass Knob sent a preflight message. Five minutes
later, couriers assigned to secretly collect cables from Western Union and
the other communications companies over the weekend were briefed.
Then, at 1:36, a bulletin flashed over the radio. Don Gardiner of the
ABC radio network cut into a local program to report that President
Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. NSA Director Gordon Blake was sitting
at his desk in his third-floor office when he heard the news. At the White
House, crowded around a large circular table in the West Basement's
staff mess, the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board was deep
in debate following a late lunch. Across the Potomac, General Maxwell
Taylor and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were meeting in the Pentagon's Gold
Room with the commanders of the West German Bundeswehr. Down the
hall in his E-Ring office, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara was
discussing the $50 billion budget with a half-dozen aides.
At the CIA, Director John McCone was finishing lunch with a small
group of fellow spies in his private dining room. His deputy, Marshall
Carter, was quail shooting at the Farm, the secret CIA training facility on
the York River near Williamsburg, Virginia. "When this monstrously
terrible thing happened," Carter wrote several days later, "we returned at
once. . . . He was a great and good and totally dedicated, totally selfless
man”our national blessing is that President Johnson is too."
At fourteen minutes past two, General Blake sent out a message
alerting all NSA stations and listening posts. Twenty-two minutes later
he sent out another message over NSA's restricted communications
links. "President Kennedy is dead." At the eavesdropping base at
Kamiseya in Japan, the operations center suddenly went quiet. George
Morton stopped what he was doing. "Thousands upon thousands of miles
away," he later said, "someone had shot my commander-in-chief. I could



112
not believe it. Neither could anyone else." In South Africa, NSA's spy ship
the USNS Valdez was docked in Capetown. One of the crewmembers,
Dave Ball, who had once served as a cook for President Kennedy, held a
moving memorial service.
As the world mourned, NSA continued to eavesdrop. Immediately after
the assassination, NSA initiated a large-scale manual and computer
review of all available signals intelligence information, including all traffic
between the United States and Cuba. At the time, NSA was intercepting
about 1,000 messages a day worldwide. Suspected assassin Lee Harvey
Oswald's name was entered into the computer search. A short time later,
additional names provided by the FBI from Oswald's address book were
added. At the same time, between twenty-five and fifty analysts manually
reviewed all traffic between Cuba and New Orleans and Cuba and Dallas,
and some traffic between Cuba and Russia.
Fifteen hundred miles to the south, Navy intercept operators,
monitoring both Cuban and "Soviet Forces Cuba" communications,
listened in as Cuban military forces were placed on high alert. "A state of
alert is ordered for all personnel," said the intercepted message. "Be
ready to repel aggression." A message intercepted from the Polish
embassy in Havana indicated that "military units are being relocated"
and a new military draft was called. Intercepts flooded in from other
listening posts. Mexico, Venezuela, and Colombia also suddenly went on
alert. One foreign ambassador in Havana cabled home a report of a large
movement of troops, adding a note about Castro: "I got the immediate
impression that on this occasion he was frightened, if not terrified."
From early intercepts of Cuban diplomatic communications, it was
clear that, far from being involved, Castro's people were as mystified by
the assassination as the rest of the world. "The assassination of
Kennedy," said one message from Havana to its embassy in Mexico City,
"was a provocation against world peace, perfectly and thoroughly
planned by the most reactionary sectors of the United States." An
intercept of a message from Brazil's ambassador to Cuba back to his
Foreign Office indicated that Cuban officials "were unanimous in
believing that any other president would be 'even worse' " than Kennedy.
Many of the intercepts to and from foreign embassies in Washington
were acquired as a result of secret agreements between NSA and the
major U.S. telecommunications companies, such as Western Union.
Under the NSA program codenamed Shamrock, the companies agreed to
illegally hand over to NSA couriers, on a daily basis, copies of all the
cables sent to, from or through the U.S. This was the preferred method of
communications for most of the foreign diplomatic establishments in
Washington and New York. Highly secret messages were sent the same
way, but written in code or cipher. The NSA's Vint Hill Farms Station
eavesdropped on those diplomatic facilities that used their own high-


113
frequency equipment to communicate. Still other intercepts flowed into
NSA from the agency's worldwide listening posts.
In the hours and days following the assassination, a wide variety of
intercepts poured into NSA. The diplomatic wires were heavy with
speculation about America's future and details concerning preparations
for the funeral. Shortly after the assassination, NSA intercepted a
message between Chile's ambassador to Washington and his Foreign
Ministry in Santiago. "In diplomatic circles," he noted, "it is believed that,
in the absence of other Democratic figures of the first rank who could
aspire to the presidency in the November 1964 election, the present
Attorney General becomes, with the death of President Kennedy, the first
choice to succeed him for the presidential term which will begin in
January 1965." He added, "News has just arrived that at 1438 [2:38
P.M.] (Eastern time) Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office as President
of the United States before a federal district judge."
Egyptian diplomats speculated that Kennedy was assassinated as a
result of his stand on racial equality. Dutch intercepts showed
uncertainty over whether foreign ambassadors would be invited to the
funeral. The Argentine ambassador told Buenos Aires that the
assassination "will considerably weaken in the next few months the
international policy of the West, particularly with regard to the USSR."
He then said, for NSA, the worst words imaginable. "I shall continue to
report via air mail." A listening post eavesdropping on Turkish diplomatic
communications picked up a comment by the American ambassador to
Turkey fixing blame for the murder. "After signing the register which is
open in the American Embassy [in Ankara] on the occasion of the death
of Kennedy, I saw the [American] Ambassador. He is of the opinion that
Russia and Cuba had a finger in the assassination."
The United Nations was also an important target for NSA. In a
message transmitted back to the Middle East, a delegation of
Palestinians blamed the assassination on a Jewish plot: "Behind the
mysterious crime is a carefully plotted Zionist conspiracy. The late
President was likely to win the coming presidency elections without
supplicating the Zionist sympathy or seeking the Jews [sic] vote. Aware of
the fact that their influence and power in the United States are based
upon the Jews vote, the Zionists murdered the courageous President who
was about to destroy that legend of theirs. His assassination is a warning
to the rest of the honorable leaders. Reveal their conspiracy to the
supreme judgement of the world. Be careful, you are the hope of the
Palestinians." Likewise, the Italian ambassador to Syria cabled Rome
saying that the government in Damascus saw Zionism behind the
murder.
A diplomat in Leopoldville, in Congo, reported: "Certain ill-intentioned
persons are rejoicing over the death of the President of the United States


114
of America, considering that grievous event a sign of victory for them."
The Argentine ambassador to Budapest reported that the Hungarian
people "were deeply touched," and that the government attributed the
killing to "fascist elements inspired by racial hatred." The Polish
ambassador to the United Nations expressed his concern to Warsaw over
the "alarming . . . anti-Communist hysteria that has been turned on."
The day after the assassination, intercept operators picked up a
statement by Castro: "In spite of the antagonism existing between the
Government of the United States and the Cuban Revolution, we have
received the news of the tragic death of President Kennedy with deep
sorrow. All civilized men always grieve about such events as this. Our
delegation to the Organization of the United Nations wishes to state that
this is the feeling of the people and of the Government of Cuba." This was
a generous statement, considering that Kennedy had spent the past two
years waging a secret war against him and that CIA agents had plotted
his murder.
In the aftermath of the assassination, Meredith K. Gardner, one of
NSA's top Soviet codebreakers, was assigned to examine a number of
items taken from assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and suspected to contain
codes or ciphers. The Warren Commission, charged with investigating
the assassination, was particularly intrigued by a Russian novel, Glaza
Kotorye Sprashivayut ("Questioning Eyes"). Oswald had apparently cut
eight letters out of page 152. But this was too little to go on. "The manner
of perforating only a few letters," wrote Gardner, "does not conform to
any known system. . . . We believe, nevertheless, that it is most likely
that the letters were cut out for some purpose related to Oswald's
photographic experiments."
Oswald's Soviet-made portable radio receiver was also examined,
"with negative results." Also, wrote Gardner in his internal NSA report,

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