Desmond Fitzgerald

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Desmond Fitzgerald

Birthdate: (57)
Death: July 23, 1967 (57)
Virginia, United States (heart attack while playing tennis)
Immediate Family:

Son of Harold Fitzgerald and Helen J. Fitzgerald, LNU
Ex-husband of Marietta Peabody Tree
Father of Frances Fitzgerald
Brother of Eleanora Fitzgerald

Occupation: Deputy Director, CIA, Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Desmond Fitzgerald

Desmond FitzGerald (June 16, 1910 – July 23, 1967) was an American Central Intelligence Agency deputy director, who planned three different assassinations of Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

He was educated at St. Mark's School in Southborough, Massachusetts and Harvard University and served as a member of the Office of Strategic Services in the Far East in World War II. He participated in the campaign to retake Burma from the Japanese.

After the war, he worked as a lawyer in New York City, where he was active in fighting corruption. He was friends with Frank Wisner, who persuaded him to join the CIA's Far East Division as an executive officer. He arranged for over 200 agents to be parachuted into China, 101 of which were killed or captured.

He was based in Taiwan during the Korean War, and then became CIA station chief in the Philippines and Japan. Eventually, he became head of the Far Eastern Division.

In 1962, during the John F. Kennedy administration, he became chief of the Cuban Task Force. He personally was involved in three plots to assassinate Castro, working with Rolando Cubela Secades, a senior Cuban government official also known as AMLASH. In 1964 FitzGerald succeeded J.C. King as CIA Western Hemisphere Division chief.

He was the first husband of Marietta Peabody, they were married September 2, 1939, and father of Frances FitzGerald, a journalist in the Vietnam War.

He died of a heart attack while playing tennis in Virginia.


Desmond FitzGerald was born in 1910. Educated at St. Mark's, Massachusetts and Harvard University, he served as a member of the Office of Strategic Services in the Far East during the Second World War. He joined General Joe Stilwell and took part in his campaign to recapture Burma from the Japanese.

After the war FitzGerald worked as a lawyer in New York City. He became active in the Republican Party and helped establish the Committee of Five Million, an organization that investigated political corruption in the city. FitzGerald had been friends with Frank Wisner since before the war. Wisner persuaded him to become executive officer of the Office of Policy Coordination's Far Eastern Division. OPC was the espionage and counter-intelligence branch of the Central Intelligence Agency.

One of FitzGerald's tasks involved arranging for over 200 agents to be parachuted into China. In a two year period 101 were killed by local peasants and another were captured and imprisoned. He also purchased $152 million worth of foreign weapons and ammunition for guerrilla groups that never existed in China.

Based in Taiwan he organized covert operations during the Korean War. Later he became CIA station chief in the Philippines and Japan. Eventually he became head of the CIA's Far Eastern Division (1957-1962). During this period he worked closely with Colonel Edward Lansdale.

In 1962 FitzGerald was appointed Chief of the Cuban Task Force. John F. Kennedy was determined to overthrow Fidel Castro. He created a committee (SGA) charged with overthrowing Castro's government. The SGA, chaired by Robert F. Kennedy (Attorney General), included John McCone (CIA Director), Alexis Johnson (State Department), McGeorge Bundy (National Security Adviser), Roswell Gilpatric (Defence Department), General Lyman Lemnitzer (Joint Chiefs of Staff) and General Maxwell Taylor. Although not officially members, Dean Rusk (Secretary of State) and Robert S. McNamara (Secretary of Defence) also attending meetings.

Robert Kennedy put FitzGerald under a lot of pressure to arrange the assassination of Fidel Castro. CIA agent, Sam Halpern, later claimed that "Bobby Kennedy was a bad influence on Des. He reinforced his worst instincts." Thomas Parrott, the secretary of SGA, claimed that FitzGerald had trouble dealing with Kennedy: "He was arrogant, he knew it all, he knew the answer to everything. He sat there, tie down, chewing gum, his feet up on the desk. His threats were transparent. It was, "If you don't do it, I tell my big brother on you."

FitzGerald also became concerned when John F. Kennedy invited Tony Varona to the White House. As FitzGerald pointed out, Varona had been recruited by Johnny Roselli to kill Fidel Castro. As Evan Thomas pointed out: "to bring an assassin into the Oval Office was hardly the way to preserve plausible deniability."

FitzGerald personally organized three different plots to assassinate Fidel Castro. This included working with Rolando Cubela, a senior official in Castro's government. He was given the codename AM/LASH and reported to JM/WAVE. However, Joseph Langosch, of the Special Affairs Staff, suspected that Cubela was a "dangle" (a double agent recruited by Castro to penetrate the American plots against him". This idea was reinforced when Cubela refused to take a lie-detector test.

In September, 1963, Cubela had a meeting with the CIA in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was suggested that Cubela should assassinate Fidel Castro. According to a CIA report Cubela asked for a meeting with Robert Kennedy: "for assurances of U.S. moral support for any activity Cubela under took in Cuba." This was not possible but FitzGerald, now Chief of the Cuban Task Force, agreed to meet Cubela. Ted Shackley was opposed to the idea as he was now convinced that Cubela was a double-agent.

FitzGerald and Nestor Sanchez met Cubela met in Paris on 29th October, 1963. Cubela requested a "high-powered, silenced rifle with an effective range of hundreds of thousands of yards" in order to kill Fidel Castro. The CIA refused and instead insisted on Cubela used poison. On 22nd November, 1963, FitzGerald handed over a pen/syringe. He was told to use Black Leaf 40 (a deadly poison) to kill Castro. As Cubela was leaving the meeting, he was informed that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.

On 7th April, 1964, the SGA officially brought an end to the sabotage operations against Cuba. John McCone, director of the CIA, stated that President Lyndon B. Johnson had abandoned the goal of overthrowing or "eliminating" Castro. However, FitzGerald continued to work with Cubela who was now put in touch with Manuel Artime. They met for the first time on 27th December, 1964. At the Madrid meeting Cubela again asked for a FAL rifle and silencer. A CIA report suggests that a "Belgian FAL rifle with silencer" was given to Cubela on 11th February, 1965.

On 17th June, 1965, FitzGerald was appointed as as head of the Directorate for Plans. For days later the CIA sent out a cable to all stations directing termination of all contact with Cubela and his associates. It stated that there was "convincing proof that entire AMLASH group insecure and that further contact with key members of group constitutes menace to CIA operations against Cuba as well as to the security of CIA staff personnel in western Europe." The CIA had been informed that one of Cubela's associates was having secret meetings with Cuba intelligence.

Eladio del Valle had also told the CIA that Cubela was secretly in league with Santo Trafficante. It is claimed that FitzGerald came to the conclusion that Trafficante was feeding back information to Fidel Castro in the hope of recovering his gambling dynasty.

Richard Helms became director of the Central Intelligence Agency in June, 1966. He immediately put FitzGerald under pressure to sack Tracy Barnes. The following month FitzGerald told Barnes his CIA career was over. FitzGerald told his friend, Thomas Parrott: "It was the hardest thing I ever did"

In January, 1967, FitzGerald discovered that Ramparts, a left-wing publication, had discovered that the CIA had been secretly funding the National Student Association. FitzGerald ordered Edgar Applewhite to organize a campaign against the magazine. Applewhite later told Evan Thomas for his book, The Very Best Men: "I had all sorts of dirty tricks to hurt their circulation and financing. The people running Ramparts were vulnerable to blackmail. We had awful things in mind, some of which we carried off."

This dirty tricks campaign failed to stop Ramparts publishing this story in February, 1967. As well as reporting CIA funding of the National Student Association it exposed the whole system of anti-communist front organizations in Europe, Asia, and South America was essentially blown.

FitzGerald became increasingly concerned about the mental state of James Angleton, the CIA's counterintelligence section. FitzGerald was convinced that Angleton was suffering from paranoia. He was also concerned by his excessive drinking. However, FitzGerald failed to get support from Richard Helms and Angleton held onto his job.

Desmond FitzGerald died of a heart attack while playing tennis in Virginia on 23rd July, 1967.

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Desmond Fitzgerald's Timeline

June 16, 1910
October 21, 1940
Age 30
July 23, 1967
Age 57
Virginia, United States