In the summer of 1975, congressional staffer Loch Johnson was searching through classified papers at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas, when he came across something he couldn’t believe — a covert plan by the US military to deploy biological weapons against Cuba.
This was more than Johnson was bargaining for, even though he was at the archive looking for files related to covert actions directed against Cuba. By July 1975, the Watergate hearings had finished, and three separate, high-level investigations were underway — all aimed at revealing covert and possibly illegal activities of US intelligence agencies, including assassination.
Johnson was working as top aide to Sen. Frank Church (D-ID), chair of the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, the so-called “Church Committee.” The American public knew that their government had a tense relationship with Cuba, especially with its feisty leader, Fidel Castro. The US had unsuccessfully underwritten a Cuban-exile paramilitary invasion at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 — a disaster in every sense. And just a year later, the world came to the brink of nuclear apocalypse after a showdown with the Soviet Union over nuclear missiles it had placed in Cuba.
What the public was not aware of then, and would only discover in later decades, was that the CIA had attempted all manner of assassination plots against Castro, in addition to widespread sabotage actions — such as burning sugarcane fields and blowing up power plants — with the goal of undermining Cuba’s Communist government.
Photo credit: Periódico ¡ahora! / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Some of the assassination plots were exotic — a poisoned diving suit, an exploding shell, an exploding cigar, poison pills, and an exploding pen. One of the more startling revelations was that the CIA had been working closely with the Mafia in its efforts to eliminate Castro.
But that’s not what shocked Johnson that day.
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