The day after Barack Obama announced his recognition of Fidel Castro's Cuba this week, readers of U-T San Diego were greeted with another first: the paper's own rapprochement with the Communist dictator.
"President Barack Obama’s surprise announcement Wednesday that the U.S. and Cuba would seek to normalize relations after a 55-year chill — and after 18 months of secret negotiations assisted by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis — is a gamble worth taking," the paper opined in a Thursday morning editorial.
Calling the nation's nearly six-decade covert battle against Castro a "chill" might be considered more than a bit of an understatement, conveniently obscuring the key roles that the newspaper's antecedents under previous ownership — the San Diego Union, Evening Tribune, and the Copley News Service — all played in a deadly intelligence war waged by the Central Intelligence Agency on behalf of a succession of U.S. presidents, beginning with Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.
The story broke back in August 1977, in a Penthouse magazine exposé, by one-time San Diego investigative reporter Joe Trento and Dave Roman, of Union-Tribune publisher Jim Copley's alleged connection to some of history's darkest espionage and assassination plots.
As Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame noted in October, 20 1977’s Rolling Stone, "According to Trento and Roman, Copley personally volunteered his news service to then‑president Eisenhower to act as 'the eyes and ears' against 'the Communist threat in Latin and Central America' for 'our intelligence services.'
“James Copley was also the guiding hand behind the Inter‑American Press Association, a CIA‑funded organization with heavy membership among right‑wing Latin American newspaper editors."
The Penthouse story related that "The current Latin American editor for [Copley News Service], William Giandoni, a former psychological warfare officer, admitted that he not only tried to join the CIA in 1950 but also actually fed information to CIA operative William Kelly in 1961 concerning the coming Bay of Pigs invasion."
"In addition to placing stories for the CIA, Copley News Service acted as the 'eyes and ears' for the CIA when it came to reporting on what other publications might be picking up on agency activities in Latin America," the pair wrote.
"For example, Giandoni repeatedly reported to Kelly on his trips to Central America and Guatemala prior to the Cuban Invasion. The CIA in turn informed Giandoni that it was training Cuban exiles for an invasion of Cuba and that 'the invasion would come in the spring.'
"Contrary to popular belief, it was not the New York Times that first learned of the exile invasion," the story said. "It was the San Diego Union."
"Unlike the Times, however, it did not take a personal request from President John Kennedy to keep the Copley News Service from distributing the story."
"Giandoni gladly acceded to the CIA's request for secrecy, writing stories which downplayed the idea that any invasion was in the works at all, " the pair reported.
"Giandoni's 'courtesy' to the company was rewarded in a big way. Thanks to the CIA, Copley reporter Charles Keely won the Raymond Clapper Memorial Award for warning the world that the Soviet Union had troops and nuclear tipped rockets in Cuba. Keely was given the story by CIA operatives."
The Penthouse piece added that "One man identified as a CIA member was
David Clement Hellyer, who was [Copley News Service's] first Latin American editor. According to CIA sources, Hellyer was an operative for the CIA and OSS for a decade before he joined [Copley News Service] in 1953.
"David Atlee Phillips, the former chief of the Western Hemisphere division for the agency... told Penthouse, 'I can't talk about Dave Hellyer.'
"Hellyer also refused to comment one way or the other on his role within the agency. Today he works as an editorial consultant in Del Mar, Calif and says only this: 'I will not confirm or deny your charges. I have nothing to say about them.'"
Kennedy's assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963, has been variously attributed to either pro or anti-Castro forces. Five days after Kennedy was shot, on November 27, the FBI took a call from a San Diego man who posited a related theory.
"Russell Ross Farrell, Commander, United States Naval Reserve (Retired), 1327 Diamond Street, Pacific Beach, California, advised that he was a medically-retired Commander, U. S. Navy Reserve, who had been a legal officer in various commands in the Dallas and San Diego areas over the past 15 years," said an official report of the call that the government released many years later.
"After his retirement, he said that he had been in an anti-communist movement sponsored by the Copley Press in San Diego, a chain of newspapers in the Southwest, in which connection he held anti-communist meetings and showed the movie "Operation Abolition" before various groups.
"He advised on November 27, 1963, that he had become convinced during this latter association that the persons of 'far right' persuasion who were associated in this endeavor were so strongly anti-Kennedy and anti-administration in their views, that he now actually believes it possible that they had had a hand in the assassination of Kennedy and the murder of [accused assassin Lee Harvey] Oswald.
"He stated he had heard conversations and seen correspondence from such persons as Major General Walker, Retired Chief of Staff; Admiral Radford; H. L. Hunt, prominent Dallas millionaire who publishes 'Lifeline', an anti-communist publication; James Copley of the Copley Press; and others, that convinced him that these persons were so violently anti-administration as to be capable of anything."
But the retired Navy man later had a change of heart. He called back, saying, "he had come to realize that he had been irrational; that he actually had no evidence or concrete reason for the view he had expressed; and that he did not wish to carry it any further."