Adlai Stevenson
unwittingly repeated
the CIA cover story for
air strikes on Cuba
4: A Deniability Debacle

On April 15 at the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson rose to defend his country from charges by the Cubans that the planes attacking the island received U.S. support. He derided the allegations as being "without foundation," and said that the planes "to the best of our knowledge were Castro's own air force planes and, according to the pilots, they took off from Castro's own air force fields." In addition, Stevenson displayed a photo of one of the planes and pointed out its Cuban markings.

As David Phillips, the CIA's propaganda chief, monitored the events at the U.N., he was shocked by Stevenson's statements. As he later wrote: "As I watched Stevenson defend the deceitful scheme a chill moved through my body. What had we done? Adlai Stevenson had been taken in by the hoax! Had no one bothered to tell our Ambassador at the United Nations of the deception involved in the air strike?" In fact, Stevenson had not been briefed on the plans, and was later enraged to find that he had repeated the CIA cover story before the international community.

Within a day, it became apparent that the planes could not have been from the Cuban air force, and as the exile brigade landed at the Bay of Pigs on April 17, U.S. denials of involvement with the operation lay in ruins.

After the invasion, Kennedy appointed a small, secret commission to evaluate the causes of failure at the Bay of Pigs. Among their conclusions was a statement on the challenges of conducting a secret war: "A paramilitary operation of the magnitude of Zapata [a code-name for the operation] could not be prepared and conducted in such a way that all U.S. support of it and connection with it could be plausibly denied."

Next: The Brigade Hits the Beach

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