A secret report by Lyman Kirkpatrick, inspector general of the CIA, attributed major responsibility for the Bay of Pigs fiasco to the agency. Upon receiving the report, President John F. Kennedy, who had stated that he was responsible for the defeat, had the tools he needed to make changes.
Richard Helms was named to replace Richard Bissell as deputy director in charge of the sinister covert operations department.
Bissell and Helms agreed to appoint another high-ranking official, William Harvey, as head of a task force. This man, known as the CIA's James Bond, was directed to reinitiate contacts with the Italian American Cuban mafia to assassinate Fidel. It was part of Operation Mongoose, which Edward Lansdale was to organize to strangle the Cuban Revolution, although he would have to use regular U.S. armed forces.
Harvey was known for taking credit for the construction of a tunnel to facilitate anti-Soviet intelligence operations in the divided city of Berlin and for his drinking habits, which had led to his dismissal from the FBI.
Lansdale, who distinguished himself in the Philippines in the 1950's, was moved from his position as head of the CIA in Saigon to Washington, to organize a subversive plan. Graham Greene knew of his work in Vietnam, characterizing him in the person of CIA agent Alden Pyle, in his novel The Quiet American, who conspired on the margins of French colonialism.
The general, introduced as the expression of "American genius" presented a series of measures which, along with the terrorist practices of assassinations, bombings, assaults etc, were intended to "recruit and mobilize the Catholic church and the clandestine Cuban movements, split the regime internally, sabotage the economy, subvert the secret police, destroy crops with chemical or biological agents and change the regime before the mid-term elections to be held in November of 1962." His original contribution was to propose ways to make Fidel's beard fall out, in a famous project revealed in the Senate's Church Committee report.
On orders from Helms and Bissell, Harvey asked Colonel Edwards to put him in contact with mafia leader John Roselli. Their meeting took place in Miami and Harvey suggested that he maintain his relations with Cuban-Americans there, but not to count on Giancana or Maheu. According to Arthur Schlesinger, Attorney General Robert Kennedy knew of the contact made in May of 1962 and said sarcastically to Lawrence Houston, a high-ranking CIA official, when he was told, "I trust that if you try to do business with organized crime, with gangsters again, you will let the Attorney General know." (1)
A second meeting took place in New York and yet another in Miami. Harvey passed on to Roselli a recently developed poison in pill form, to get to Tony Varona. The Cuban had requested explosives, detonators, rifles, hand guns, radios and maritime radio equipment. The shipment was delivered to him also through Roselli.
In 1962, Polita Grau received through Alejandro Vergara Mauri, a functionary in the Spanish embassy in Havana, two Runger pistols with silencers and a bottle of aspirin which contained 500 poison pills. Also included was a letter directing her to attempt to assassinate the central leaders of the Revolution, especially Fidel, Raúl and Che, and to redistribute the poison to other groups.
Along with her brother Ramón, Polita felt very secure, thinking that she enjoyed a kind of immunity given the respect shown her uncle, former President Grau, despite the charges of misappropriation of funds pending since 1948 against him. In one of his characteristic gestures, he had chosen not to leave the country.
Polita held meetings with contacts in a house belonging to Herminia Suárez, where she also stored most of the materials such as the poison, weapons, Minox cameras, radio transmitters and receivers and other equipment for her work received via the embassies. She named Alicia T. Chenique as her second in command while Ramón, for his part, concentrated on recruiting agents and creating networks which could send information to the CIA through him or on their own. They, of course, managed large sums of money.
The group's activities were diverse and its composition broad. Cuban counter-intelligence first detected evidence of the search for information and approaches made to Latin American embassies for asylum. Later came sabotage attempts, but no connection between one event and others had yet been established. The information came from different sources, without any apparent relation as a whole.
Those infiltrating a group close to Polita arrived with alarming information. Plans for an attempt on Fidel's life were moving ahead, with guns and poison.
Nelson González, a veteran of the Sierra Maestra, was one of the leaders of the bureau focused on such attacks. His responsibility was analyzing the scant information available and managing the response. The information soon began to flow more consistently. Polita Grau and her brother Ramón were arrested. It was decided to wait no longer and operations were launched.
The Church Committee report indicates that the CIA later intervened at least three times (1966, 1967 and 1971), protecting Roselli from prosecution on racketeering charges in order to avoid the revelation of his work for the agency. The repercussions of the CIA's relationships with the Italian-American and Cuban-American mafias were dramatically revealed during the 1977 and 1978 House Special Committee investigations into the assassination of President Kennedy. Robert Kennedy had already understood in 1968 that his brother's plans to reorganize the CIA had cost him dearly.