"Ultimate Sacrifice" reveals for the first time in any book that JFK was the target of an assassination plot during his long motorcade in Tampa, Florida, on November 18, 1963, four days before Dallas. The Tampa plot -- and its many parallels to Dallas -- has remained hidden because of the battles John and Robert Kennedy were waging against Fidel Castro and the Mafia in 1963. The Kennedys had a top-secret "Plan for a Coup in Cuba" designed to overthrow Castro on December 1, 1963, and JFK's activities on November 18, 1963, were part of that plan. Hours after JFK's Tampa motorcade, the president was scheduled to give a major speech on Cuba in Miami, intended to assure the coup leader in Cuba of JFK's support. Several lines in JFK's speech had been provided by the CIA, whose code-name for their supporting role in the coup plan was "AMWORLD," a name only recently declassified.
The Kennedys pursued their coup plan because Castro had not allowed the UN inspections for weapons of mass destruction that were part of JFK's agreement with Russian leader Khrushchev to end the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Kennedys had attempted secret negotiations with Castro in the fall of 1963, but those were not producing results. So, working with Cuban exiles close to Robert Kennedy such as Enrique "Harry" Ruiz-Williams and Manuel Artime, the Kennedys continued their plans for a coup, which we call "C-Day" for convenience.
In 1963, C-Day (AMWORLD) was different and far more advanced than any previously-disclosed coup plan (AMTRUNK) or the CIA's own Castro assassination operations that had not been authorized by the Kennedys. Those included a plot with mid-level Cuban official Rolando Cubela (AMLASH) run by CIA officials Richard Helms and Desmond FitzGerald. Other unauthorized CIA Castro assassination plots in the fall of 1963 included the CIA-Mafia plots with mobster Johnny Rosselli, who worked closely with David Morales, Chief of Operations at the CIA's huge Miami station.
In the days and weeks before Dallas, Robert Kennedy had a committee making contingency plans for dealing with the possible "assassination of American officials" if Castro uncovered the coup plan and decided to retaliate. However, the real danger was from the Mafia bosses Attorney General Robert Kennedy was prosecuting in the largest war against organized crime America had ever seen. Tampa godfather Santo Trafficante, Carlos Marcello -- godfather of Louisiana and east Texas (including Dallas) -- and Johnny Rosselli's Chicago Mafia family were specific targets. As Marcello told an associate, he intended to end Robert Kennedy's crusade against them by killing JFK. These three Mafia bosses infiltrated and compromised the Kennedys' C-Day coup plan, as part of their plot to kill JFK. They realized linking JFK's death to C-Day/AMWORLD would eliminate any chance of a truly thorough investigation, because of national security concerns.
The Tampa plot would be the second Mafia attempt to assassinate JFK in November 1963; the first had taken place in Chicago on November 2, 1963. JFK had cancelled his Chicago motorcade and trip at the last moment, after a serious threat emerged which had been kept secret at the time. The gunmen were not apprehended, but an unusual ex-Marine named Thomas Vallee -- who had several parallels to Lee Harvey Oswald -- was briefly detained. "Ultimate Sacrifice" also details the role of Chicago law enforcement official Richard Cain, a "made" member of the Mafia and associate of Rosselli, whom CIA documents confirm had learned about C-Day. Shortly after the Chicago threat, a Miami police informant obtained information about an upcoming attempt on JFK from far-right extremist Joseph Milteer, whom the book links to a man working for Carlos Marcello. The attempt on JFK in Trafficante's Tampa was apparently meant to be blamed on a young man named Gilbert Policarpo Lopez, whom the book notes had more than a dozen parallels to Oswald in 1963. Among them were links to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, being a former defector, a tie to Russia, getting into a fight over seeming pro-Castro sympathies, and an unusual trip to Mexico City. Lopez would be secretly investigated by the FBI, CIA, and Warren Commission staff after JFK's assassination, though the book makes it clear he was only a patsy.
-- Lamar Waldron
Chapter 56: November 18, 1963: The attempt to assassinate JFK in Tampa
By late Sunday, November 17, or early Monday, November 18, 1963, the Secret Service was extremely concerned that an attempt would be made to assassinate JFK during his motorcade in Tampa, Florida. This threat, detailed here for the first time, has not appeared in any previous book. Information about the threat was confirmed by Tampa's police chief at the time, J. P. Mullins; by a high Florida law-enforcement official involved in security for JFK's motorcade; and by Secret Service agents such as Abraham Bolden. Secret Service documents about the Tampa attempt were destroyed "in an apparent violation of the JFK Act" in 1995, according to the JFK Assassinations Records Review Board. (1) We had first informed the Board of the Tampa attempt just a few weeks earlier, after finding what appear to be the only two articles about it which briefly surfaced in two Florida newspapers in the days after JFK's death (no articles about the threat appeared while JFK was still alive). One small article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on November 23, and part of that article was excerpted in a small article in the Miami Herald on November 24. However, by that time "the FBI, Secret Service, and local officers declined to discuss the matter," and no further articles appeared in either paper.(2)
This plot to kill JFK was different from the minor threats reported against JFK in Tampa in May 1963 and October 1963 (the latter involving a businessman named John Warrington, who had nothing to do with the serious threat). (3) The Tampa threat was not revealed to the Warren Commission or any of the later government committees that investigated aspects of JFK's assassination, until we brought it to the attention of the Review Board in 1995. The House Select Committee on Assassinations had a few documents which in retrospect did concern the serious Tampa threat, but since the HSCA had not been officially informed of that threat, they apparently assumed that those documents only applied to the Joseph Milteer threat.
One of the two surviving small articles mentions "a memo from the White House Secret Service dated Nov. 8 [that] reported: 'Subject made statement of a plan to assassinate the President in October 1963. Subject stated he will use a gun ... Subject is described as white, male, 20, slender build, etc.'" That memo -- cited in a November 23, 1963, article in the Tampa Tribune -- may no longer exist in Secret Service files. The suspect's description in the memo matches either Gilberto Lopez (described by the FBI "23, 5 7, 125 lbs. ... fair complexion") or Lee Harvey Oswald far better than the initial description that would be issued in Dallas four days later, after JFK was shot, which put out a lookout for a thirty-five-year-old man. The article also quoted Mullins as saying that there were two people involved in the threat, and "he did not know if the other two may have followed" JFK "to Dallas." (4) Just as in Chicago, there were two suspects on the loose prior to a JFK motorcade -- only this time, on this day, there could be no cancellation if JFK were going to convey a convincing image of strength to the C-Day coup leader in Cuba.
More information about the threat comes from Secret Service files that still existed in the late 1970s. Some of those found by a Congressional investigator "made it clear that the threat on Nov. 18, 1963 was posed by a mobile, unidentified rifleman shooting from a window in a tall building with a high power rifle fitted with a scope." There are two highly unusual things about the information in that Secret Service memo. First is how closely the timing and wording in that memo matches a long-secret internal CIA memo from November 19, 1963, in which Desmond FitzGerald "approved telling [Rolando] Cubela he would be given ... high powered rifles w/scopes" in a weapons cache. As noted earlier, providing those weapons would have been the job of David Morales, who was also in position to know about the plot of Rosselli and the other mob bosses to kill JFK. One can only imagine the reaction of FitzGerald and Helms if JFK had been killed in Tampa by the type of weapon they were going to provide to Cubela -- or how they felt when they heard how JFK had been shot in Dallas with a "high powered rifle" with a scope, at the very moment their agent was meeting with Cubela in Paris.
Second, even when one of the Secret Service agents who wrote the memos was shown a copy, Congressional investigators say he "experienced difficulty in recalling detailed information of any kind" and had "virtually complete loss of memory," saying he "had 'no recall' of these facts even when his own recollection was refreshed by his own memoranda." (5) Just like the Chicago attempt, information about Tampa would be covered by an intense veil of official secrecy. Secret Service agent deFreese was willing to admit to Congressional investigators that "a threat did surface in connection with" JFK's Florida trip and "there was an active threat against the President of which the Secret Service was aware in November 1963 in the period immediately prior to JFK's trip to Miami made by 'a group of people.'" However, he focused only on the Miami part of JFK's trip, not on Tampa. (6) In the 1990s, the Secret Service agent who drove the car immediately behind JFK in Tampa (and Dallas), Sam Kinney, told researcher Vince Palamara that the threat that day had "something to do with organized crime" and "one of the unions." (7) Santo Trafficante controlled organized crime in Tampa and most of south Florida, and, as we know now, Teamster head Jimmy Hoffa was backing Trafficante's plot to kill JFK.
In his first interview about the subject since 1963, former Tampa Police Chief J.P. Mullins confirmed the existence of the plot to us in 1996. He indicated that it wasn't a far-right threat that was based on the Milteer information, which he didn't recall having been shared with the Tampa police. Chief Mullins also said that they had not been told about the recent Chicago plot to kill JFK. However, when given the full names of the two men linked to Gilberto Lopez whose last names were Rodriguez and Gonzales, Mullins thought they sounded familiar, but he couldn't say for sure. He recalled that no suspects were arrested that day, but said that if a suspect wasn't taken "into custody on some legal pretext, they'd keep them under surveillance," echoing what happened to Vallee and the other suspects in Chicago. He said that since "they were worried about the guy who fit the description in the newspaper" article, it was more likely that suspects "were kept under surveillance." He said that "the Secret Service gave us names to watch for, and our own Intelligence Unit had names to watch for," but Oswald's name "wasn't on any [watch] list."(8)
Mullins described Trafficante as "their main mobster," and he said that in general they "tried to keep the heat and surveillance on him," which eventually caused Trafficante to spend more time in Miami, away from Tampa. Mullins was familiar with Trafficante's attorney, Frank Ragano. Mullins had become police chief again just weeks before JFK's motorcade, after having been replaced for a time by Chief Neil Brown, whose Senate testimony from September 1963 we cited earlier. Mullins had a good reputation for being honest and against the Mafia. He had been acting chief in 1958 and full chief in 1960, before being dropped back to number two under a new mayor. When the mayor changed again, Mullins became chief again. However, local politics would cause back-and-forth changes in the Tampa Police Department's leadership that would eventually lead to the files about the Tampa threat being destroyed. Under Mullins, the Tampa PD had "huge files on Trafficante" (with a code like "CI-60," because they began in 1960), and files on the Tampa JFK attempt. But eventually, another official told us that a new Tampa mayor and his new police chief had those files "destroyed ... so they couldn't be subpoenaed" by any of the JFK investigating committees.(9)
Regarding the Tampa motorcade, Mullins said a "Secret Service agent told him it was the President's longest exposure in the US -- the only one longer was in Berlin." JFK's motorcade was scheduled to go from MacDill Air Force Base to Al Lopez Field, then to downtown Tampa and the National Guard Armory, then to the International Inn, and finally back to MacDill. According to an article about the motorcade, "the Tampa police alone supplied 200 of the department's approximately 270 uniformed force." In addition, "four hundred men from federal law enforcement agencies such as the US Air Force also saw duty," including "law enforcement officers from the state, six counties, and the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater." (10) With a total of six hundred trained professionals guarding JFK, it's clear how serious the security concerns were.
One of those other officials also spoke to us about the Tampa threat. Chief Mullins was eighty-two when we spoke to him, but he was still alert, and he recalled the key points of that historic day. But he felt that this other individual might remember more, since he was several years younger than Mullins, and he suggested that we talk to him. Mullins vouched for this official's honesty and integrity, which we were able to confirm, along with the official's position in 1963. The official was active in the fight against the Mafia in Florida, so he would prefer to remain anonymous. This high Florida law-enforcement official was "convinced there was going to be a hit in Tampa" against JFK on November 18, 1963.
Like Mullins, the Florida official said that he and his agency hadn't been told about the Chicago attempt. The official recalled that one of the three places that especially concerned the Secret Service was a bridge, though he didn't understand why at the time. Once we informed him that Chicago newsmen had told a former Senate investigator that the Chicago plot involved a "planned assassination attempt from one of the overpasses," the official said he finally understood the Secret Service's concern about the bridge. (11) The other two places the Secret Service was concerned about were "a place where gangsters hung out" and the Floridian Hotel (sometimes referred to as the Grand Floridian).
Photo by Chris Barrows
Chief Mullins had told us that the Floridian Hotel was a special problem, because "it was the tallest building in town at the time" -- and yet JFK's motorcade had to make a hard left turn right in front of it. That would slow the motorcade to a crawl in front of a tall, red-brick building with dozens of unguarded windows, in the days when hotel windows weren't sealed shut. Mullins said for the other tall buildings -- he recalled a couple of "bank buildings" in particular -- "his men went through looking for anything unusual" and would sometimes "leave an officer posted [there]." However, as the tallest hotel in town -- with a great view overlooking JFK's motorcade route -- the hotel was going to be packed with visitors on Monday, November 18, making security extremely difficult. Aside from all the windows, there was all the luggage that could contain weapons, and in those days using an alias or fake ID to register was incredibly easy. So Mullins said he depended on hotel staff to keep him abreast of any suspicious or strange people. (12) The Florida official confirmed Mullins's account, but still thought the hotel would have been an ideal place from which assassins could shoot at JFK.
The Florida official recalled being briefed about the minor threat regarding the jailed businessman, but said it was different from the main threat, which he implied was connected at the time somehow to Cubans or the local chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC). He said anti-Castro groups were not that big in Tampa, because Castro was relatively popular and had many supporters who weren't Communists. He said the Tampa police received no security help from Cuban exiles, in the way Harry Williams and some other exiles had assisted in Miami. Mullins said that a group of anti-Castro Cubans had "asked for a permit to demonstrate during JFK's motorcade, but" Mullins "turned them down." Instead, the exiles were content to run an ad in Monday's newspaper condemning JFK.
The high Florida law-enforcement official identified the full name of a man linked to Gilberto Lopez and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, who "was watched closely in conjunction with JFK's visit." The man's last name was "Rodriguez." The official was aware of Gilberto Lopez -- whom he called "Gilbert" -- and "thought he was an informant" for some agency. However, he didn't connect Lopez at the time to the JFK threat; that would come later, after JFK's death, when the FBI and others began investigating Lopez.
It's unclear when Bobby Kennedy learned about the Tampa threat; but on Monday morning, November 18, it is clear that he certainly had a lot on his plate. After dealing with Harry and Artime the previous day, he would be anxious about how the C-Day coup leader would receive the special message for him in the speech JFK was giving in Miami that night. In addition, Bobby's war against the Mafia was reaching a crucial stage. Richard Mahoney wrote that "on Monday, November 18, the last week of the trial to deport Carlos Marcello for good began" and "Bobby was monitoring it closely." There would be meetings later in the week with many of his Justice Department prosecutors, to map out strategy against Trafficante and other mob bosses. Also, Monday had seen the first of a major five-part series in the New York Times about the ties between the Mafia, Hoffa's Teamsters, and Las Vegas. The Times's investigation had been supported by Bobby, who had provided crucial information and quotes. Bobby was no doubt aware that in a separate story, the previous day's Times had spotlighted the Mafia ties of one of JFK's potential rivals, when it reported that "Sen. Goldwater admits association with Willie Bioff, labor racketeer slain in 1955 and Gus Greenbaum, gambler slain in 1958," ties that are "divulged in forthcoming book 'The Green Felt Jungle' by Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris." Bobby would have known that both the Bioff and Greenbaum murders had ties to Johnny Rosselli. Somewhere amidst all those items on Bobby's agenda would have been the news of the Tampa threat. Bobby of course knew about the Chicago threat and cancellation, as well as the Cuban Contingency Planning. He also knew how important that Monday's events were to JFK and to C-Day, but it's not known what -- if any -- advice he gave to JFK about the Tampa threat. All that is known is what JFK did in response to the threat.
The Florida official confirmed that "JFK had been briefed he was in danger." (13) However, JFK knew that he couldn't afford to cancel another motorcade so soon after Chicago without raising suspicion. Plus, he couldn't afford to appear weak on the day that he needed to project an image of strength and confidence, along with the message written for the C-Day coup leader in Cuba. Canceling the motorcade simply wasn't an option. JFK was set to use the same limousine he was scheduled to use in Dallas, the SS-100- X, but he knew that the "bubble-top" occasionally used during inclement weather wasn't bulletproof; also, using it wouldn't send the message he wanted (any photos of his motorcade would be sent to the coup leader). So JFK decided to proceed with the motorcade as planned, in an open car.
JFK must have been under enormous stress, and it showed. The Secret Service had told the Florida official that JFK was not well, and he told us that that was quite evident. At least the first stop was MacDill Air Force Base, which was very secure, with newspapers saying that "more than half of the 150 Air Police were detailed to the President's visit." (14) While there, JFK had his "secret session" with the Strike Force Commander, as well as with commanders of the Tactical Air and Continental Army units brought in from Virginia for the session. (15)
While JFK was at the secure military base, the Secret Service and other agencies tried to ensure JFK's safety on his upcoming motorcade through downtown Tampa. The Miami Secret Service office had police informant William Somersett call Joseph Milteer at his Georgia home, just to make sure that he was there and not in Tampa. As Mullins would later tell the Tampa Tribune for their small article following JFK's death, "Tampa police and Secret Service agents scanned crowds for a man who had vowed to assassinate the President here." (16) One of the few surviving Secret Service documents about the Tampa motorcade -- since it was provided to Congressional investigators -- says that "underpasses [were] controlled by police and military units, [while the] Sheriff's office secured the roofs of major buildings in the downtown and suburban areas." (17) According to the St. Petersburg Times, a local dignitary in the motorcade "recalls that 'it was weird being in the motorcade and we commented at every overpass [that] there were police officers with rifles on alert.'" (18)
The main motorcade would last about forty minutes, and would make the left turn in front of the Floridian Hotel at approximately 2:30 P.M. before going over a bridge to the Armory, where JFK would give another speech. JFK didn't have Jackie accompanying him, as she would in Dallas, and it must have been very tense being alone and aware that assailants were at large among the teeming crowds. Tampa was considered the Deep South at that time; but, as in Dallas, the crowds were large and enthusiastic for JFK. To aid with security and scan the throngs, two Secret Service agents, Don Lawton and Charles Zboril, rode on the back of JFK's limousine much of the time.
Photos of the Tampa motorcade show that for much of it, JFK stood up in the limousine. It certainly made for great photos, but it also made him an easy target. It's unclear whether he was doing that to send a message, whether it was because of his back problems, or whether he didn't want the Secret Service agents towering over him much of the time. Regardless, it was a courageous thing to do under those tense circumstances. A man later recalled for the St. Petersburg Times that he remembered "how concerned everyone was when [Kennedy] stood up in the car as he rode through the streets of Tampa." (19)
One can only imagine what JFK must have thought when "someone from the crowd threw" a "small, cylindrical red item "at the motorcade" that "landed with a 'thud' on the hood of the Secret Service follow-up car. Thinking it could be a lethal stick of dynamite, Agent Emory Roberts pushed the object forcefully off the hood" of the follow-up limo. As noted by researcher Vince Palamara, when they realized that the object was a "'Powerhouse' candy bar ... Roberts and the other agents shared a laugh." (20)
In contrast to the concern about the threat, accounts of the day say "it was the kind of day the Chamber of Commerce prays for: blue skies, balmy breezes, lots of sunshine," which sounds very much like the way it would be in Dallas four days later. JFK made it past the Floridian without incident and gave his speeches at the Armory and, later, the International Inn for the United Steelworkers Union. After one speech, newspaper reports say that "as soon as the President finished his talk, he surged out into the crowd, which immediately engulfed him. The Secret Service men with him went crazy." (21)
In spite of the pressure he must have been under, from both the threat and his packed schedule, JFK remained gracious, with the charm that had captured much of the nation. According to one account, when JFK walked into the International Inn he "was immediately spotted by a bellboy who yelled, 'This way, Mr. President.' Kennedy immediately went over and shook hands with several bellboys and clerks at the desk." (22) As his time in Tampa drew to a close, back at MacDill, a member of the Tampa police motorcycle detail told the St. Petersburg Times that "Chief of Police J.P. Mullins introduced each of us to the President,'" who was no doubt grateful that he had survived the motorcade unharmed. (23)
JFK didn't realize that just as in Chicago, someone in law enforcement in the TampaSt. Petersburg area was feeding information to the mob bosses involved in the assassination plot. This mob lawman actually had a position very similar to that of Richard Cain. According to the high Florida law-enforcement source, the mob's lawman was not a "made" member of the Mafia like Cain, but openly boasted of his ties to the Mafia and was feeding information to Trafficante at the time. The Florida official thought it likely that the mob lawman could have tipped Trafficante off that the threat had been uncovered. Later, the Florida official heard rumors that the hit for Tampa had been cancelled because some of the older dons in the local Mafia had worried that killing JFK there would bring down too much heat on their operations. (24) Of course, Trafficante would have also known that there was still one more chance to kill JFK, in Marcello's territory of Dallas.
After JFK's death, the Florida official tried to run down reports of Jack Ruby being in Tampa, but couldn't confirm anything. He later came to believe that Frank Fiorini had had some type of involvement in the JFK assassination. His agency eventually had an "inches-thick file" on the motorcade security preparations and the JFK assassination investigation, though it was later destroyed, as was the information that the Tampa police had compiled under Chief Mullins. (25)
Mullins said they provided much information to the FBI at the time of the Tampa threat. Those documents have never surfaced in declassified FBI files. After Gilberto Lopez became a suspect in JFK's assassination, the FBI documents released about him to date don't even answer such basic investigative questions as whether Lopez was at work on the day JFK was in Tampa. In contrast, files from the Tampa FBI office reviewed at the National Archives contain many pages of transcripts of bugged telephone calls involving casual Tampa acquaintances of Lopez. These imply a much more intense FBI interest and investigation than the declassified Lopez documents indicate. (26)
Chicago Secret Service agent Abraham Bolden told us that he had been told about the Tampa threat. (27) It makes sense that the Chicago office would be told, in light of the very similar threat there just sixteen days earlier. It would be logical to check the Tampa details and suspects against those in Chicago, but no Secret Service documents about that have been uncovered. In fact, no Secret Service documents about the main Tampa threat have ever been released, aside from a few references in reports by HSCA investigators in the late 1970s. Even those were always assumed by the investigators to refer only to Joseph Milteer, since the HSCA was never told about the main Tampa threat. In fact, Milteer himself commented on the aborted hit to Miami police informant William Somersett, after JFK's death. Somersett told investigators that Milteer "said that Kennedy could have been killed" on his trip to Florida, "but somebody called the FBI and gave the thing away, and of course, he was well guarded and everything went 'pluey,' and everybody kept quiet and waited for Texas." (28)
Once in Miami, JFK was ready to give his important speech to the Inter-American Press Association, with its special message to the C-Day coup leader. JFK said:
"The genuine Cuban revolution, because it was against the tyranny and corruption of the past, had the support of many whose aims and concepts were democratic. But that hope for freedom was destroyed.
"The goals proclaimed in the Sierra Maestra were betrayed in Havana. (29)
"It is important to restate what now divides Cuba from my country and from the other countries of this hemisphere. It is the fact that a small band of conspirators has stripped the Cuban people of their freedom and handed over the independence and sovereignty of the Cuban nation to forces beyond the hemisphere. They have made Cuba a victim of foreign imperialism, an instrument of the policy of others, a weapon in an effort dictated by external powers to subvert the other American republics.
"This, and this alone, divides us.
"As long as this is true, nothing is possible. Without it, everything is possible. Once this barrier is removed, we will be ready and anxious to work with the Cuban people in pursuit of those progressive goals which a few short years ago stirred their hopes and the sympathy of many people throughout the hemisphere.
"No Cuban need feel trapped between dependence on the broken promises of foreign Communism and the hostility of the rest of the hemisphere. For, once Cuban sovereignty has been restored, we will extend the hand of friendship and assistance to a Cuba whose political and economic institutions have been shaped by the will of the Cuban people." (30)
The audience received JFK politely; but, as we noted earlier, Richard Goodwin told us that it really wasn't JFK's type of audience. But unknown to Goodwin, the audience that JFK really wanted to reach was ninety miles away, in Cuba. Now, JFK, Bobby, and Harry would have to see if the message had been what the C-Day coup leader wanted to hear.
The following day's headlines are notable both for what they say and what they don't say. First, several newspapers seem to pick up very well on what JFK had been trying to get across -- in some cases, almost too well. For example, the November 19, 1963 Dallas Times-Herald headlined their UPI story with "Kennedy Virtually Invites Cuban Coup." The story said that in his Miami speech the previous day, "President Kennedy all but invited the Cuban people today to overthrow Fidel Castro's Communist regime and promised prompt US aid if they do. Kennedy's encouragement of a Cuban coup was contained in a major foreign policy speech. ... The President said it would be a happy day if the Castro government is ousted."
Some other newspapers also had provocative headlines based on the same UPI story, saying "Kennedy Encourages Cuba Coup" and "Says US will Aid in Ouster." (31) While headlines like those ensured that the coup leader in Cuba would get the intended message, they made JFK's carefully crafted words almost too clear. However, most newspapers were more restrained in their headlines and stories. The New York Times, for example, headlined theirs a more restrained "Kennedy says US will aid Cuba once Cuban sovereignty is restored under a non-Communist government." (32)
The headlines on November 19, 1963 were also notable for what they lacked: any mention of the main Tampa threat. Even in the local Tampa-area newspapers, there was no mention of it. We confirmed this by scanning microfilm of every edition on that day and those that followed (in the early 1960s, newspapers sometimes went through three or more editions each day). No story about the main Tampa threat appeared while JFK was alive.
Concerns about the Tampa threat had been broad enough that surely it must have caught the attention of some reporters. Even if only a few dozen of the six hundred officials and officers helping with security knew anything of substance about the threat, it's difficult to imagine that one wouldn't have told a journalist or reporter. Especially since the motorcade had gone so well, it would be logical for some official to boast about the good job dealing with the threat, or even more logical for officials to widely publicize the description of the two suspects who were at large. But neither happened, probably for the same reason that there was no publicity about the four-man Chicago threat, even though several Chicago newsmen knew about it at the time.
For Bobby Kennedy and the other officials working on C-Day, there were too many other considerations to allow the threat to be publicized. The possible Cuban connection that our high Florida law-enforcement source was told about shows how any public investigation could bring unwanted attention to any connections that pro-Castro or anti-Castro suspects might have. If pro-Castro suspects were publicly announced or uncovered, would the C-Day coup leader worry that Castro had uncovered his role and was retaliating? What if an investigation accidentally uncovered exiles working for Artime or one of the other C-Day exile groups? That could also lead to embarrassing questions from the media at a critical time. As was probably a consideration in the Cuba Contingency Planning, any further investigations of the Tampa threat were probably done very quietly and in secret, and any news and publicity about it was avoided.
In hindsight, the tragedy in such an approach is apparent. If the Dallas police had known about Tampa, they no doubt would have prepared their security very differently. Even if they'd only been informed after the assassination, at least they would have investigated the case far differently. If the public had known what almost happened in Tampa, they would have been even more skeptical of the official version of events in Dallas. Most of all, if the Tampa threat had been exposed in the press, it's hard to imagine that the mob bosses would have proceeded with basically the same plan just four days later.
There were only faint echoes of the events of November 18, 1963 in the days to come. On November 19, the CIA took advantage of JFK's message for the C-Day coup leader by using it to encourage their AMTRUNK agents in Cuba. They sent one of them a secret message "asking that he tune into Radio Americas a Voz del Jercito Rebelde all nights except Sundays" because it "would carry two major guarantees from U.S. govt. Program was designed to inspire rebel army to unite and rise in coup against Fidel." (33) Apparently, the broadcast was going to include JFK's speech or a report about it. As mentioned earlier, on November 22 in Paris, a CIA agent would tell Rolando Cubela (AMLASH) that the crucial part of the speech had been meant for him.
The following day, the first of two small newspaper articles finally slipped through in the Tampa Tribune. Quoted earlier, it apparently caught the attention of other reporters. The following day in the Miami Herald, an article quoted a small part of the Tribune article and tried to advance the story. But "when asked to comment on published reports that the Secret Service had alerted local authorities that an assassination attempt might be made on Mr. Kennedy when he visited here last Monday," they only "drew a 'no comment'" from officials. (34) No further stories about the threat appeared in either paper, even though both papers were filled with many other stories about JFK and the assassination for weeks to come.
We noted earlier the stonewalling that Congressional investigators faced from the Secret Service about the threat in the late 1970s, and the document destruction that occurred after we first told the JFK Assassination Records Review Board about Tampa. In addition, the Review Board's Final Report stated that "the Secret Service 'was a very difficult agency to work with,' said a Board member ... 'they seemed to believe that terrible things would happen if they released documents.'" Another staff member told the Board, "Some agencies were more cooperative than others. Secret Service was the most difficult. They were a brick wall. They destroyed records after the law was passed." (35) We feel that this shows how sensitive C-Day, and the security precautions to protect it and its participants, were -- not just in 1963, but for decades to come. Unfortunately, the secrecy at the time -- which was not just the responsibility or decision of the Secret Service, but which must have had the approval of JFK and Bobby -- allowed the mob bosses to regroup and try once more, in Dallas.
Excerpted with permission from "Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK." By Lamar Waldron with Thom Hartmann. Carroll & Graf Publishers.