- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2004

MEXICO CITY — There was plenty for a young CIA officer to do when Porter J. Goss, almost fresh out of Yale, arrived in Latin America in the early 1960s.

The eight-term Republican congressman nominated Tuesday to head the CIA apparently spent most of his career as a clandestine operative in the region, with postings to Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, though the dates for his service in each country remain vague.

Cuba was the dominant issue. Its 1959 revolution — at first a broadly based movement to topple a dictator — was sharply veering toward the left, putting a major Soviet ally just 90 miles off U.S. shores in the middle of the Cold War.

Details of Mr. Goss’ career remain shrouded by four decades of secrecy. Neither he nor the CIA have given any but the sketchiest description.

Mr. Goss apparently joined the CIA just out of Yale, where he earned a degree in ancient Greek in 1960.

He worked in Miami, which was becoming a magnet for Cuban emigres. Some were recruited by the CIA and trained for what turned out to be one of the agency’s greatest disasters: the 1961 invasion of Cuba that was crushed by Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs.

A year later, the world narrowly averted nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis involving the United States and Soviet Union.

During a 2002 interview with The Washington Post, Mr. Goss joked that he performed photo interpretation and “small-boat handling,” which led to “some very interesting moments in the Florida Straits.” He acknowledged he had recruited and run foreign agents.

The Bay of Pigs plan had been inspired partly by a successful CIA-backed overthrow of Guatemala’s populist government in 1954. That helped set off Guatemala’s 34-year civil war, which was growing as Mr. Goss worked in the region.

It also sent a then-obscure Argentine wanderer, Ernesto Guevara hurrying to Mexico City. There “Che” Guevara met and joined up with Mr. Castro’s guerrillas as they returned to Cuba in 1956 to start the revolution.

Mr. Goss arrived in Mexico City a few years later. Mexico was both Cuba’s closest friend in the Americas and one of the CIA’s great playgrounds.

It was the only country in the region to snub Washington’s calls to cut ties with Mr. Castro’s government. But it also allowed CIA operatives to watch flights to and from Cuba, as well as the Soviet and Cuban embassies in the Mexican capital.

That monitoring allowed U.S. officials to photograph Lee Harvey Oswald entering the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City not long before he assassinated John F. Kennedy.

As Cuba was openly trying to spread revolutions around the hemisphere, U.S. espionage helped track down Che Guevara’s rebel band in Bolivia in 1968. He was captured and killed.

Mexico, meanwhile, was growing turbulent itself. The government preached a populist, sometimes quasi-socialist politics, but largely cooperated with the United States and crushed leftist dissent.

A few scattered radicals took up arms and became guerrillas in the cities and mountains in the 1960s. They grew greatly in number after the government’s security forces massacred student demonstrators in 1968 just before that year’s Olympics.

Mr. Goss apparently left the region in the late 1960s for London. During a 1970 trip to Washington, he collapsed in his hotel room, suffering from a mysterious blood infection that affected his heart and kidneys.

He survived but his career as a field operative was over. He retired from the CIA in 1971.


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