Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Good Shepherd: CIA Secrets or Hollywood Sizzle?

Bay of Pigs

Fidel Castro
Fidel Castro

*The movie begins on April 16, 1961, the day before the CIA's failed attempt to topple Fidel Castro by launching a surprise invasion into Cuba. A confident Wilson (Damon) is stunned when the CIA-trained exiles are defeated in less than 72 hours and he quickly concludes that Castro's forces were tipped-off. Wilson spends the rest of the movie searching for the traitor who gave Castro and his Soviet military advisors the name of the beach where the invaders were destined to come ashore. He's guided by clues in an envelope slipped under his door. They include grainy black-and-white photographs of a couple making love and a doctored tape recording of their pillow talk.

Matt Damon as Edward Wilson
Matt Damon as Edward Wilson

Fact: After the blotched invasion, the White House asked General Maxwell Taylor to investigate what had gone wrong. His report, which was delivered in June 1961 to President John F. Kennedy, placed blame entirely on the CIA. Among other things, the general said CIA officials had mistakenly believed Cubans would join the invaders in rising-up to overthrow Castro. (A mistake CIA analysts would repeat prior to the US invasion of Iraq.) Taylor also reported that the Soviet Union and Cuba had known about the attack in advance. Initially, the CIA-trained, Cuban exile leaders were blamed for leaking the invasion date. A CIA official told General Taylor that the Cubans had "no conception whatsoever of security." The official added: "I've never encountered a group of people that were so incapable of keeping a secret."

General Maxwell Taylor
General Maxwell Taylor
However, portions of Taylor's 1961 report that had been kept classified for national security reasons were finally made public in April 2000, and they revealed a more disturbing story. The disclosed paragraphs revealed that the Soviet Union had first learned about the invasion on April 9th eighteen days before it happened. Because the CIA was worried that its Cuban invasion force couldn't keep a secret, the agency didn't tell the exile leaders the date for the invasion until April 12th three days after the Soviets had already learned about it. This meant the leak had not come from the Cubans, but was from someone inside the CIA. The source of that leak has never been identified.

Jacob Esterline
Jacob Esterline

James Angleton was not in charge of the invasion as The Good Shepherd suggests. The CIA operations chief who oversaw the invasion was Jacob D. Esterline. As head of counterintelligence, Angleton might have been asked to investigate how the Soviets learned about the invasion in advance, but he would not have taken part in planning the attack or known about it beforehand.

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