30+ Years of Freedom of Information Action

Bombing of Cuban Jetliner 40 Years Later

Published: Oct 6, 2016
Briefing Book #202


Edited by Peter Kornbluh and Yvette White

For further information, contact:
Peter Kornbluh: 202.374.7281 and nsarchiv@gwu.edu

Colgate Toothpaste Disguised Plastic Explosives in 1976 Terrorist Attack

Confessions, Kissinger Reports, and Overview of Luis Posada Career Posted

National Security Archive Calls on Obama administration to Release Still-Secret Documents

Bombing of Cuban Jetliner 40 Years Later

Washington D.C., October 6, 2016 - On the 40th anniversary of the mid-air terrorist bombing of a Cuban civilian airliner over the Caribbean, the National Security Archive today called on the Obama Administration to declassify all remaining intelligence records on Luis Posada Carriles to shed light on his activities, provide historical evidence for his victims, and offer a gesture of declassified diplomacy towards Cuba.

Toward that goal, the Archive today reposted documents implicating Posada Carriles in that terrorist crime and identifying still secret records to be declassified.

Posada illegally entered the United States in the spring of 2005; he was subsequently prosecuted for immigration fraud in Texas but acquitted. He currently lives freely in Miami.

During the secret talks in 2013 and 2014 between White House officials and representatives of Raul Castro that led to the restoration of diplomatic relations, the Cubans repeatedly raised the issue of Posada's presence in the United States.

Among the documents reposted is an annotated list of four volumes of still-secret records on Posada's career with the CIA, his acts of violence, and his suspected involvement in the bombing of Cubana flight 455 on October 6, 1976, which took the lives of all 73 people on board, many of them teenagers.

The National Security Archive, which has sought the declassification of the Posada files through the Freedom of Information Act, again called on the Obama administration to release all intelligence files on Posada. "Now is the time for the government to come clean on Posada's covert past and his involvement in international terrorism," said Peter Kornbluh, who directs the Archive's Cuba Documentation Project. "His victims, the public, and the courts have a right to know."

The documents originally posted in 2006 included four sworn affidavits by police officials in Trinidad and Tobago, who were the first to interrogate the two Venezuelans – Hernan Ricardo Lozano and Freddy Lugo – who were arrested for placing the bomb on flight 455. (Their statements were turned over as evidence to a special investigative commission in Barbados after the crime.) Information derived from the interrogations suggested that the first call the bombers placed after the attack was to the office of Luis Posada's security company ICI, which employed Ricardo. Ricardo claimed to have been a CIA agent but later retracted that statement. He said that he had been paid $16,000 to sabotage the plane and that Lugo was paid $8,000.

The interrogations revealed that a tube of Colgate toothpaste had been used to disguise plastic explosives that were set off with a "pencil-type" detonator on a timer after Ricardo and Lugo got off the plane during a stopover in Barbados. Ricardo "in his own handwriting recorded the steps to be taken before a bomb was placed in an aircraft and how a plastic bomb is detonated," deputy commissioner of police Dennis Elliott Ramdwar testified in his affidavit.

The Archive also released in 2006 three declassified FBI intelligence reports that were sent to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger after the bombing. The updates, classified "secret" and signed by director Clarence Kelly, focused on the relations between the FBI legal attaché in Caracas, Joseph Leo, Posada, and one of the Venezuelans who placed the bomb on the plane, to whom Leo had provided a visa. One report from Kelly, based on the word of an informant in Venezuela, suggested that Posada had attended meetings in Caracas where the plane bombing was planned. The document also quoted an informant as stating that after the plane went into the ocean one of the bombers placed a call to Orlando Bosch, the leading conspirator in the plot, and stated: "a bus with 73 dogs went off a cliff and all got killed."

Another State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research report to Kissinger, reposted today, noted that the CIA had a source in Venezuela who had overheard Posada saying "we are going to hit a Cuban airplane" and "Orlando has the details" only days before the plane was blown up off the coast of Barbados.

Both Bosch and Posada were arrested and imprisoned in Venezuela after the attack. Posada escaped from prison in September 1985; Bosch was released in 1987 and returned to the United States illegally. Like Posada, he was detained by immigration authorities; over the objections of the Justice Department, which determined he was a threat to public security, the first President Bush's White House issued him an administrative pardon in 1990.

Still-secret intelligence documents cited in the file review first posted in 2006 suggest that the CIA assigned several cryptonyms to Posada when he was working for them, first as an operative and trainer in demolitions and later as an informant based in the Venezuelan secret police service DISIP. In 1965 he was assigned the codename "AMCLEVE-15." In 1972 he "was given a new crypt CIFENCE-4," according to a still-unreleased CIA document, and later referred to as "WKSCARLET-3."



House Select Committee on Assassinations, LUIS POSADA CARRILES, ca. 1978

In 1978, investigators for a special committee investigation into the death of President John F. Kennedy conducted a comprehensive review of CIA, FBI, DEA and State Department intelligence files relating to the life, operations and violent activities of Luis Posada Carriles. The committee examined four volumes containing dozens of secret memos, cables and reports, dating from 1963 to 1977, relating to Posada's employment by the CIA, his efforts to overthrow the Castro government, his transfer to Venezuela, and his involvement in the bombing of Cubana flight 455. Investigators for the committee were able to take notes on the documents and compile this list, which was declassified by the CIA as part of the Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board work in the late 1990s. The annotated list of documents represents a rare but comprehensive overview of Posada's relations with U.S. intelligence agencies and his career in violence. The National Security Archive is seeking the full declassification of documents through the Freedom of Information Act.

State Department, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Memorandum, "Castro's Allegations," October 18, 1976

The first report to Secretary of State Kissinger from the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research on the bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455 details Cuba's allegation that the CIA was involved in the bombing and provides an outline of the suspects' relationship to the U.S. The report notes that a CIA source had overheard Posada prior to the bombing in late September 1976 stating that, "We are going to hit a Cuban airliner." This information was apparently not passed to the CIA until after the plane went down. (This document was originally posted on May 18, 2005.)

FBI, Letter to Kissinger, [Regarding Special Agent Leo], October 20, 1976

This report to Secretary of State Kissinger from Clarence M. Kelly, director of the FBI, explains the association between Joseph S. Leo, Special Agent and Legal Attaché in Caracas, to the suspects of the Cubana Airlines Flight 455 bombing. Investigators found Leo's name among the possessions of Hernan Ricardo Lozano, one of the suspects implicated in the bombing. The report notes that there were at least two contacts between Lozano and Leo in the weeks leading up to the bombing.

FBI, Letter to Kissinger, [Regarding Contact with Bombing Suspects], October 29, 1976

The second report to Secretary of State Kissinger from Clarence M. Kelly, director of the FBI, provides additional information regarding the relationship between Special Agent Leo and the Cubana Airlines bombing suspects. The report details Leo's contacts with Lozano and Posada going back to the summer of 1975, and notes that Leo suspected Posada and Hernan Ricardo Lozano of acts of terrorism, but still granted Ricardo's request for a visa to the United States.

FBI, Letter to Kissinger, [Regarding Ricardo Morales Navarette], November 5, 1976

A third report to Secretary of State Kissinger from Clarence M. Kelly, director of the FBI, relays information from a confidential FBI source that the bombing of the Cubana Airlines flight was planned in Caracas, Venezuela by Luis Posada Carriles, Frank Castro, and Ricardo Morales Navarrete. The source states that the group had made previous unsuccessful attempts to bomb Cuban aircraft in Jamaica and Panama. Shortly after the plane crashed, bombing suspect Hernan Ricardo Lozano telephoned Bosch stating, "a bus with 73 dogs went off a cliff and all got killed." The source also states that anti-Castro Cuban exiles working with the Chilean National Directorate for Intelligence (DINA) carried out the assassination of Orlando Letelier in Washington, DC on September 21, 1976.



Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of National Security, October 27, 1976, [Randolph Burroughs deposition regarding Hernan Ricardo Lozano and Freddy Lugo]

Assistant Commissioner of Police of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, Randolph Burroughs' report notes that Hernan Ricardo Lozano and Freddy Lugo checked into the Holiday Inn Hotel near the airport in Port-of-Spain under the names Jose Garcia and Freddy Perez on the day of the crash. Burroughs' report also states that Hernan Ricardo Lozano and Freddy Lugo originally said that they knew nothing about the Cubana airlines plane crash when he approached them for questioning at their hotel on the morning of October 7, 1976.

Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of National Security, October 27, 1976, [Oscar King deposition regarding Hernan Ricardo Lozano and Freddy Lugo]

Corporal Oscar King of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service attended the interviews with Freddy Lugo and Hernan Ricardo Lozano. His statement records Lozano saying that Freddy Lugo boarded the plane with two cameras and that on his arrival in Barbados he only had one camera. Lozano further states that he is sure that the bomb was inside of the other camera.

Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of National Security, October 26, 1976, [Gordon Waterman deposition regarding Hernan Ricardo Lozano and Freddy Lugo]

Trinidad and Tobago Senior Superintendent of Police Gordon Waterman's written deposition attests to statements made by Hernan Ricardo Lozano and Freddy Lugo while the two were detained by the Criminal Investigation Department in Port-of-Spain. According to Waterman's report, Lozano states that he and Lugo are paid members of the CIA. (He later retracted that statement.) Prior to admitting that he and Lugo bombed the plane, Lozano tells Deputy Commissioner Ramdwar, "If you use your police brain, it would be clear to you who bombed the plane."

Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of National Security, October 26, 1976, [Dennis Elliott Ramdwar deposition regarding Hernan Ricardo Lozano and Freddy Lugo]

Trinidad and Tobago Deputy Commissioner of Police Dennis Ramdwar led the inquiries regarding the crash of Cubana Airline Flight 455. In his written statement he notes that Freddy Lugo initially denied knowledge of the crash. Eight days later, Lugo tells Ramdwar that he is convinced that Lozano placed the bomb on the aircraft. He states that Ricardo told him twice that he was going to blow up a Cubana aircraft as the two were headed to the airport prior to the bombing. In a separate interview, Lozano gives Ramdwar details of how a "certain chemical is filled in a tube of Colgate toothpaste after the toothpaste is extracted" to construct the bomb.