If John Glenn had crashed in 1962 during the first U.S. orbital spaceflight, Kennedy administration officials, under a plan called Operation Dirty Trick, planned to blame the disaster on Fidel Castro and use it as an excuse to retaliate against Cuba.
This was just one of many American strategies aimed at toppling Castro revealed Tuesday with the release of 1,500 pages of long-secret Cold War documents. Among them were plans to distribute doctored photographs showing an obese Castro "with two beauties in any situation desired"; numerous plots to provoke an excuse for invading Cuba, and a scheme to encourage defections by dropping paid airline tickets to Mexico City from the skies over Havana.
The documents also revealed that just a month before President Kennedy's assassination, the CIA, Defense Department and State Department agreed on a plan to encourage Castro's downfall through a coup. The plan included provisions for secretly sending a "special team" of CIA agents into Cuba. Frequent reports--never proved--have claimed that Castro ordered Kennedy's murder in retaliation for such provocations. It has long been known that the U.S. considered covert actions to overthrow Castro, but Tuesday's disclosures provided unknown details.
The documents were released by the U.S. Assassinations Review Board, which reviews papers dealing with the Kennedy assassination and releases those that do not endanger national security. These came from the files of Joseph A. Califano Jr., who served as general counsel to the Army secretary and later as a chief aide to President Johnson, and from the papers of several chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
None of the schemes is known to have come to fruition. In the Glenn mission, the plan called for providing "irrevocable proof that, should the Mercury manned orbit flight fail, the fault lies with the Communists, et al., in Cuba; this would be accomplished by manufacturing various pieces of evidence which would prove electronic interference."
In March 1962, the documents show, the joint chiefs proposed creating a "Remember the Maine" affair by blowing up an American ship in Guantanamo Bay and blaming the Cubans. The suggestion was not taken.