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The invasion of Cuba by Miami-based exiles was expected to ignite widespread opposition within the island and lead to the overthrow of Castro.Funded, trained and armed by the CIA, the operation was placed under the command of CIA officer Richard M. If the operation was almost doomed from the outset because it was based on flawed intelligence (especially the belief that a majority of the population would support an armed revolt against Castro), then it was unquestionably doomed by the choice of Bissell.However, the level of trust was understandably low.Acknowledging this American anxiety, Khrushchev agreed to United Nations on-site verification, but Castro vetoed the arrangement, calling it an “abuse of Cuban sovereignty.” This was a major concern. Aerial photography revealed the presence of mobile nuclear weapons.We spent an afternoon at Zellers, where Cowley picked out attire resembling that worn by Soviet soldiers in Cuba: khaki trousers, plaid shirts and tennis shoes. If anyone asked, they were “agricultural experts.” The Russians in Cuba actually described this clandestine enterprise as “Operation Checkered Shirt.” Cowley advised that I needed camouflage. The owner expected to return in a few months, as soon as the “unpleasantness” with Fidel Castro came to an end.Moscow claimed that all troops had been withdrawn, leaving only a few attachés at the embassy. I was based at the Canadian Embassy on Quinta Avenida, but much of my time was spent in the country—often on poorly identified back roads.
This was the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, when the world came within a hair’s breadth of a nuclear holocaust.
The context extends to the immediate and still-perilous aftermath of that drama in which my miniscule role was played.
Incidental to the story, but relevant to present-day missile rattling, is the memory of how hubris and stupidity almost brought the planet to its worst modern disaster and how, in the end, strength of character and human values on the part of the two foremost protagonists reeled the world back from the edge of the precipice.
Several of my sketches are still marked with extravagant security classifications, but they are now declassified. In defiance of the prime minister, defence minister Douglas Harkness ensured that service co-operation did take place. Kennedy, a wealthy Harvard playboy with a heroic Second World War record in the South Pacific, became president in 1961. Khrushchev broke with the grim Stalinist legacy and introduced some liberal reforms.
Canada’s Department of National Defence has since declassified many of the documents related to my activities in Cuba, but the key bit—which revealed the link between the Canadian government and the U. government and CIA—was found by Don Munton of the University of Northern British Columbia, an academic friend who discovered several of my telegrams (addressed to Ottawa) in the Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. As leaders, neither were intimidated by pugnacious colleagues and as the missile crisis unfolded both understood the stakes and stood down their respective hawks.