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The 6 craziest CIA plots to kill Fidel Castro

The Trump administration released a ton of previously classified documents Thursday around the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy, and somehow a bunch of details around the attempted assassination of another world leader of that era were released too.

Part of the document dump is a memo that outlines the way the Kennedy administration tried to kill Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Its subject line reads “ORGANIZED CRIME, ASSASSINATIONS, FOREIGN LEADERS,” and it reveals the CIA had some very wacky schemes for taking him out.


Even the CIA itself seemed to acknowledge the plots weren’t great. Indeed, the author of the memo, one of the lawyers for the commission set up by President Gerald Ford to investigate CIA activity in 1975, said the outlandish nature of the ideas indicated the CIA needed more oversight.

“An analysis of the involvement in the CIA in plots to attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro illustrates the development of larger schemes out of smaller schemes, and also illustrates how important it is to have adequate internal and external controls on the agency,” the document reads.

None of the schemes worked, and Castro died at age 90 of natural causes last November.

Here are six of the craziest ways the U.S. tried to kill the Marxist firebrand:

Two Cuban exiles

In May of 1975, two Cuban exiles were flown into Cuba by the CIA. The CIA apparently then airdropped “Springfield rifles with telescopic sights” to help the agents along.

The plan fizzled.

Botulism pills and killing guinea pigs

“Phase I” of the CIA’s plans involved “poison botulism pills,” to be delivered by the mob.

One of the generals involved “checked out the pills on some guinea pigs ‘because I wanted to be sure they worked,’” the report reads.

The CIA tried to pass the pills to a “Cuban assent” who “got scared” in Castro’s presence and couldn’t go through with the plan, and then to someone who worked at a restaurant that Castro liked — but Castro stopped going there as soon as the pills got to the restaurant.


“Our belief is that Castro was extremely well-informed on what was going on,” the report says.

The mob-hired gunman

The CIA was in touch with a bunch of mobsters — including a “known hoodlum in the Chicago area,” another in Miami, and several in Cuba. And the CIA was going to pay $150,000 to a gunman hired by a mobster to take Castro out.

Only six people ever knew about this plan while it was happening, according to the document.

This all led J. Edgar Hoover, the controversial FBI director at the time, to send a memo to Attorney General Robert Kennedy titled “Central Intelligence Agency’s Intentions to Send Hoodlums to Cuba to Assaissinate Castro.”

And Robert Kennedy, the attorney general at the time and the president’s brother, wasn’t thrilled about this plan. “Attorney General Kennedy stated that the CIA should never undertake the use of mafia people again without first checking with the Department of Justice,” the report says, “because it would be difficult to prosecute such people in the future.”

Contaminated skindiving suit

After the mob hits failed, the CIA got pretty creative.

One CIA agent involved testified later on that “he was vaguely aware of some of these schemes, which he called ‘hairbrained.’”

While it’s possible that none of these plans were ever actually attempted, there was a plan to give Fidel a poisoned wetsuit.

“It was known that Fidel Castro liked to skindive,” the report reads. “The CIA plan was to dust the inside of the suit with a fungus producing madera foot, a disabling and chronic skin disease, and also contaminating the suit with tuberculosis bacilli in the breathing apparatus.”


“Booby-trap spectacular seashell”

The CIA was really into taking Castro out while he was diving. They figured they’d try to lure Castro toward a beautiful, enormous seashell — which would be loaded with explosives and blow him up when he got close.

They determined, though, that there was “no shell in the Caribbean are large enough to hold a sufficient amount of explosive which was spectacular enough to attract the attention of Castro.”

A coup with a “pellet pen”

A high-ranking Cuban that the CIA was in touch with thought there was no good way to topple the government and get “the internal revolt, a coup, underway” was to “neutralize” the “the top leadership.”

And this guy wanted the CIA to get him some spy gear to get the job done. ‘He had in mind some sort of a pellet pen or anything that was not a hand weapon that he could carry with him’ into any conference with Castro,” the report says.

The CIA didn’t make him a pellet pen, but they did make a ballpoint pen with a poison needle.