2. Swine Screw: The Bay of Pigs
The previous screw up might arguably be the dumbest CIA mess up, but the Bay of Pigs probably goes down with the most colossal failure. At the start of 1959 Fidel Castro overthrew the American backed government in Cuba and declared the island a socialist state. The American government wasn’t happy, and neither were many powerful Cubans who had lost their wealth and property during the revolution.
The then nascent CIA, however, was already getting to work on a plan that would see Castro pushed from power. In 1960, the CIA came up with a plan: arm Cuban-Americans and exiles, give them some boats, and let them invade. In theory, this ground assault would also be supported by an air campaign.
The CIA began training its army at various training centers across Latin America. Mostly, people of Cuban descent were piped out of Florida, trained, and then sent back to Florida. The State Department was refusing to permit any militias to be trained on U.S. soil, so they had to be trained out of state.
Somehow, these roughly 1,500 troops in the militia force were going to overpower Cuba’s army. Seems absurd, right? Well it turns out that the CIA actually had ulterior motives. Many within the CIA believed that if the invasion failed (and many spooks did believe it’d fail), President Kennedy would go ahead and provide American troops for support.
They never disclosed this to Kennedy, of course, and they also silenced doubts over the plan. Kennedy, meanwhile, never had any intention of getting American troops involved. This colossal miscommunication set the Bay of Pigs invasion up for failure from the get go.
While the CIA was drunk at the wheel, their Cuban intelligence counterparts were actually doing a good job of gathering information. They knew that an invasion was coming because many of the CIA’s militants liked to blab their mouths. The USSR knew even more, and many believe they knew the date, which they would have surely shared with their Cuban counterparts.
Either way, on April 14th, the invasion fleet departed Florida under the cover of darkness. They were in route to the Pay of Pigs, where they’d secure a beachhead, and an airstrip so American bombers could support them. The next day, American supplied, dissident piloted B-26 bombers painted to look like former Cuban government planes launched several attacks, destroying and damaging various Cuban assets.
Two days later, on April 17th, the Bay of Pigs invasion began. Two days after that, it was all but over. Immediately, the invaders were beset by strong resistance. Meanwhile, Cuba’s tiny air force managed to sink most of the invaders supply ships, resulting in a huge loss of equipment. All the while, the American military stood by and watched the disaster unfold.
Some hoped that the Cuban citizenry, which had largely supported the Cuban revolution, would rally to the invaders. That didn’t happen. Others hoped that Cuba’s response would be disorganized and lackluster. Instead, the Cuban military used its vastly superior numbers to quickly overwhelm the invaders.
Over a hundred invaders were killed, with Cuban forces suffering similar losses. Over 1,200 invaders were captured, and outside of establishing a small beach head for about a day, the CIA-trained troops managed to accomplish essentially nothing. Kennedy refused to commit more resources, and one of the CIA’s earliest big operations went down as a disaster.
On a side note, just a month before the Soviet Union sent nukes to Cuba the CIA released a report expressing doubt that the Soviets would make such a move. Of course, just a few weeks later the world was on the brink of nuclear war.