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The "Bay of Pigs Thing"

On June 23, 1972, six days after the arrests of the "burglars" who broke into the Watergate hotel, President Nixon's taping system captured a conversation on what would come to be known as the "smoking gun tape."

[CIA officer E. Howard] "Hunt knows too damn much", Nixon told his chief of staff H.R. "Bob" Haldeman. He instructed Haldeman to approach Richard Helms of the CIA and have the Agency intervene with the FBI's investigation of the Watergate break-in. Nixon told Haldeman to tell Helms that "it's likely to blow the whole Bay of Pigs thing which we think would be very unfortunate for CIA and the country at this time, and for American foreign policy."

Helms refused to use CIA to obstruct justice, but Haldeman in his memoirs wrote that Helms was unnerved and had shouted back at him "The Bay of Pigs had nothing to do with this. I have no concern about the Bay of Pigs."

What was going on? The Bay of Pigs nominally refers to the failed 1961 invasion of Cuba by CIA-backed Cuban exiles, something that was hardly a secret. The phrase was clearly a coded one; Haldeman later wrote that he believed the two men were "actually referring to the Kennedy assassination."

Perhaps more plausibly it was a reference to plots to kill Fidel Castro; there are indications that the assassination of Castro was planned to coincide with the exile invasion, something that might tie the two things in Nixon and Helms' minds. The reference that revelation would be bad for "American foreign policy" makes this interpretation particularly plausible.'

In post-911 America, with drone strikes now commonplace, it is hard to remember just what a national scandal it was in the 1970s when CIA assassination plotting was finally revealed. The lead volume in the Church Committee's 14 published reports was solely devoted to the topic.

The story of the Watergate "burglars," among whom numbered prominent Cuban exiles like Bernard Barker, still contains unanswered questions, among them the ultimate meaning of the message passed by Haldeman about the "Bay of Pigs thing" and exactly what Hunt knew "too damn much" about.

For more on this story, see this Watergate introductory essay which includes links to essays, published volumes of the Congressional investigations, and other primary source materials.

Listen to the June 23 conversation:
Part A:  audio  transcript
Part B:  audio transcript
Part C:  audio  transcript

See all Watergate Audio.

Other resources of interest include Howard Hunt's later statements regarding the Kennedy assassination and a memo written by researcher Paul Hoch about the CIA and the Warren Commission, which contains discussion of the "Bay of Pigs" reference. See also discussion of this and related issues at jfkfacts.org.

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