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From Ballooning to Twittering: Same Method, Assumptions and Purpose But Different Technology

p>The US-American aggression against Cuba

Below the reader will find a document that is not unique when it comes to US policy toward the Cuban government.

The document shows one of the first attempts at “informing the Cuban people”. The effort was idiotic then, as similar efforts continue to the present. In early 1960s, the United States had numerous clandestine radio stations broadcasting into the island. Radio Swan was the first – begun on May 17, 1960 [on the first anniversary of the Cuban Agrarian Reform Law] from a small island off Honduras. The station was set up, its programs, personnel, and equipment were all paid for by the CIA. The station would be recognized by Americans today because it was an early precursor of the hate-radio programs that can now be found all over the United States. [1]

Radio Swan used to broadcast from an island off the Honduras coast

Although it tried to give the appearance that it was a private effort by Cuban exiles, in fact, US commercial products were advertised, free of charge. There were dozens of other shortwave and medium range stations doing the same. But not everyone had a shortwave in Cuba. So the US government came up with other efforts.

Thus, the invention of operation counterrevolutionary balloons!

What is really important about the document below is what it reveals about the implicit and explicit guidelines that are inherent features of US operations against the island:

- First, hide the fact that it is a US sponsored and organized clandestine operation that has the intention of organizing an opposition and overthrowing the Cuban government.

- Second, use Cuban exiles and others, as if to show that this is an effort by others, independent of the United States government.

- Third, make sure that the Cubans involved show no independence at all.

- Fourth, try to convey to the world that this is an independent operation by Cubans who seek to get information into the hands of ill-informed Cubans on the island.

-Fifth, depend on private contractors to do some of the work: contract the vessel, contract the balloon companies, contract technical studies, produce a set of messages and then use Cubans to cover your tracks.

Sound familiar?

The technology and the means have changed, but the rest continues to be the same. Thus, US policy on Cuba has gone from helium balloons to Twitter, BGANs, et al. Of course, the private contracting also continues. It is accompanied by mad schemes, hubris and a disregard for international law.

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SUBJECT: Operation MONGOOSE – Propaganda Balloon Operations Plan
Memo to Brig. Gen. Lansdale, dated 17 September 1962
Subject: Request for Approval to Establish a Propaganda Balloon Delivery Capability


To establish a seaborne propaganda balloon launching facility for the infiltration of anti-CASTRO, anti-Soviet propaganda into Cuba.


1. Helium-inflated balloons will be launched at night from a foreign Flag ship in international waters at least two miles off the coast of Cuba. The ship will avoid the use of United States ports to the extent practicable and will particularly avoid the Miami area. The ship will be chartered by a Cuban exile sponsor respected by and politically acceptable to a broad segment of the Cuban exile community. He will also have the private financial means to establish the facility without causing questions in the exile community as to how the funds were raised. He will be well known to all anti-CASTRO groups and above partisan politics. The Agency has selected a candidate who meets the above particulars. Although he has not yet been approached to undertake such an operation, he has in the past Indicated a willingness to collaborate with the United States in support of anti-CASTRO activities. After the proposal is accepted by the sponsor, arrangements will be made for the sponsor to charter the proper type of vessel. He will also be placed in contact with a cleared firm that specializes in balloon technology. A commercial contract will then be drawn between the firm and the sponsor in which the firm agrees for a specified fee to provide and install balloon launching equipment on the ship, and train the members of the crew and other personnel in balloon launching techniques. In addition, the firm will agree to provide the balloons, helium and others supplies on a regular basis to the sponsor. For the secure and efficient conduct of the operation, the sponsor will deal only with the one cleared commercial firm. All supplies required for the operation are commercially available. The helium which is produced at a plant [BLACKED OUT] will be loaded on the vessel in Galveston, Texas or some other Gulf port. The legal aspects involved in loading helium on board of a foreign flag ship in a US port are being studied by the Legal Counsel’s office and will be taken into consideration when the final arrangements are formalized.

Radio Free Europe propaganda drop via balloons, from the same period

2. The Cuban sponsor either personally or through his delegate will establish contact with all politically acceptable anti-CASTRO Cuban exile groups believed to have some assets or following in Cuba and offer the facility for their use. Within the above framework, priority shall be accorded the Cuban Revolutionary Council (CRC). In order to avoid contributing to division within the CRC, the means of communication shall be made available to the CRC as an entity and not to any of its components individually, except in unusual cases which will be agreed upon at the working level.

3. The sponsor will set certain guidelines (provided by the Agency) which must be met by the contributing groups if their propaganda is to be delivered by balloon. Upon receipt of the propaganda, provided it meets the specified guidelines, the sponsor will assume responsibility for its delivery.

Every effort will be made by the Agency to insure that the guidelines are met, but it may not be possible in view of the extent of Cuban exile participation.

a. The following themes will be emphasized:
(1) Return of the Revolution to its original acceptable aims.
(2) The betrayal of the Revolution by CASTRO and the Communists.
(3) Expose the contradictions between promises and performance.
(4) The takeover of Cuba by Soviet Bloc Communists.
(5) Appeal to the masses to cooperate with the resistance.
(6) Call upon the population to commit specific acts of administrative harassment, passive resistance and simple sabotage to thwart the actions of the Communist regime and generally promote the “gusano libre** {free worm) symbol, which has become synonymous with resistance to the CASTRO regime.

b. Within the stated limitations, the following types of propaganda will be rejected:
(1) Propaganda which attempts to interpret U. S. policy regarding the liberation of Cuba or a specific Latin American country’s policy , regarding the liberation of Cuba.
(2) Propaganda which is directed at or which will contribute to the petulant quarreling amongst or between Cuban exile or resistance groups.
(3) As far as practicable, the propaganda will be prepared upon the initiative of the Cuban exile groups. If necessary to keep the propaganda offensive moving, the Agency will through its contacts with exile groups and cleared Cuban exiles, assist the offensive by providing timely ideas, themes, news items and technical assistance. Propaganda may also be prepared for Soviet and other Bloc personnel stationed in Cuba.
(4) The Cuban sponsor and perhaps a person designated by him will be the only non-American in direct contact with the agency on this project. The Cuban sponsor will be responsible for chartering a foreign flag vessel with the necessary crew to carry out the operation. The ship’s basic crew will be augmented by a meteorologist, two radio operators, and one radar tracker.

The Agency will assist the sponsor to obtain the ship, crew and specialists. The training necessary for the conduct of the operation will be provided by a cleared commercial firm which specializes in balloon technology. Contact will be maintained by an Agency official who will be in direct contact with the Cuban sponsor or his representative. The Cuban sponsor and his representative will be the only persons witting of U.S. Government interest.


Technical studies have been made which confirm the feasibility of balloon operations in this area. A launching vessel would cruise at night in a westerly direction approximately ten miles off the northern coast of the country. The balloons would be carried over Cuba by the low altitude easterly trade winds which prevail in that area. Meteorological studies indicate that the easterly trade winds in the Caribbean are among the most constant of any area in the world. Balloons can be launched at the rate of twenty per hour per station with a four pound pay load per balloon. Four stations will afford a launching capability of eighty balloons per hour. As presently planned the target for at least the first launching is the Matanzas-Havana area.

Depending on the type of paper used as well as the format and size of the leaflets, it is estimated that each balloon can deliver on target a payload of between 2,000 and 4,000 copies of a given leaflet. Assuming two balloon launching operations per month and the release of approximate 500 balloons per operation, it is estimated that between 2,000,000 and 4,000,000 leaflets can be dropped over Cuban targets each month. In addition, a wide variety of novelty Items such as “gusano libre” pins, toy balloons in the shape of the “gusano libre”, small plastic phonograph records, decals, stickers, etc. are readily available. The number of these which can be delivered on target during a launching operation will, of course, depend upon the weight and size of such items.


It will cost approximately $50,000 to establish the balloon launching capability. This includes the purchase of launching, communications, and meteorological equipment and the training of personnel to conduct these operations. It will take a minimum of two months to establish an operational capability. Subsequently, it will cost $22,000 per month for the first six month period to launch 1,000 balloons per month exclusive of the propaganda material to be delivered. Each balloon ready for launching, including the balloon itself, timer, ballast and helium, but exclusive of the propaganda material to be delivered, costs approximately $15.50. The one-time cost of outfitting of the chartered vessel is estimated at approximately 310,000. The recurring monthly costs for operation of a type of vessel as will be required for this operation amounts to approximately $11,000.


Regardless of the launching facility used or the attribution of sponsorship, charges of U. S. involvement, tacit approval, or outright sponsorship will undoubtedly be generated. It is possible, particularly if the propaganda balloon missions have the desired impact in Cuba, that the Government of Cuba will react strongly and bring charges against the U.S. before the United Nations, or other regional and international forums. Judging from past experience with Communist reactions in other areas of the world, the Cubans will probably accuse the United States of harboring and abetting criminals who violate Cuban air space with propaganda balloons causing a menace to aviation, burning cane fields, injuring children, and damaging buildings and homes. It is the view of the Operations Group (MONGOOSE) that these charges can be handled.

To reinforce the cover and weaken the anticipated Cuban Government’s charges after the first balloon operation, the sponsor will be urged to hold a press conference or press interview outlining his effort to help the anti-CASTRO cause and pointing out the technical features of the operation which renders the operation relatively harmless to individuals or property.

* I would like to thank Saul Landau, Ned Sublette and John Kirk for their useful comments.

[1] Ned Sublette brought this similarity to my attention.