The plan was simple: overthrow Fidel Castro. On March 17, 1960, President Eisenhower signed a National Security Council directive approving a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) proposal for covert action against Castro’s regime. The execution of this proposal ultimately led to the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
The CIA proposal, known formally as “A Program of Covert Action Against the Castro Regime,” called for the development of a guerilla force comprised of Cuban refugees (“Operation 40”) and the training of a Cuban paramilitary force (“Alpha 66”). The plan also included the placement a covert intelligence organization within Cuba and the creation of a radio station to broadcast into Cuba.
The roots of Castro’s regime trace back to General Fulgencio Batista’s 1952 coup against President Carlos Prio. Batista forced Prio into exile in the United States. Castro’s revolutionary 26th July Movement emerged in the vacuum and eventually succeeded in overthrowing Batista’s government in the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Although the Eisenhower administration expressed recognition of Castro’s government, it grew increasingly wary of Cuba. The revolutionary government strengthened diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and allowed the Communist Party to operate freely within the country.
Meanwhile, anticommunism took a “central position” in the Eisenhower administration. Amidst growing concerns that Cuba would eventually pose a threat to the U.S. if left unchecked, Eisenhower ended diplomatic relations and suspended trade with Cuba in 1961. John F. Kennedy succeeded Eisenhower as President of the United States, and under his leadership the CIA launched a “definitive strike” in April 1961. The Bay of Pigs invasion was disastrous for the U.S., as the 1,400 American-trained Cuban refugees were outnumbered and surrendered to Castro’s forces after less than 24 hours of fighting.
U.S. efforts to overthrow Castro persisted, setting the stage for the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 that strained relations even further between the U.S., Cuba, and the Soviet Union. Tensions between the U.S. and Cuba have continued through multiple decades and administrations. In 2014, Barack Obama and Raul Castro announced intentions to reestablish diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. It remains to be seen where the dust will settle as steps continue to be made toward restoring political and economic interactions between the two countries.
On March 10, 1983 then US-President Ronald Reagan proclaimed that the United States would not be signing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which opened for signature in December 1982. In his Proclamation, Reagan justified his decision by pointing to the US’s discontentment with the Convention’s seabed mining regime enshrined in Part XI of the UNCLOS. He deemed the regime to be unfavourable to US interests, as it was not entirely based on free-market principles, in that it provided for technology transfer obligations benefitting developing countries and conferred considerable powers regarding the allocation of resource rights upon a central international agency, the International Seabed Authority (ISA).
The US and other industrialized nations continued their opposition to Part XI beyond March 1983, and were successful in advocating for a renegotiation of the respective provisions of the UNCLOS. In July 1994, the US eventually joined several other states in signing an international agreement on the implementation of Part XI, which diminished the powers of the ISA and based Seabed mining on market-principles consistent with WTO rules. Despite these developments, and the UNCLOS being one of the most universal international treaties with 168 contracting parties, the US has still not ratified the UNCLOS. However, the US largely recognizes the Convention as customary international law.
I zoom into the pixelated image of a neighborhood in Bayanoun, a district located in the Northern district of Syria, northwest of Aleppo. Deep in my investigation, I repeatedly watch a video of destruction of this town by airstrikes and use online research tools to attempt to geolocate and verify the video. In the process, I am transported to war-torn Syria. In reality, however, I am safely ensconced in Berkeley, California, at Berkeley Law School’s new Human Rights Investigations Lab.
The Berkeley Human Rights Investigations Lab
Berkeley’s Human Rights Investigations Lab, the world’s first university-based open source investigations lab, launched last semester. Through a partnership with Amnesty International, The Berkeley Lab seeks to bring attention to human rights abuses through human rights reports and journalistic projects. It also seeks to gather evidence of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes for future prosecutions.
The Berkeley Lab is training students to join the Digital Verification Corps by teaching them how to verify hundreds of hours of video footage and photographs of human rights abuses and war crimes from around the world – including Syria, Darfur, and Yemen. Students are also using open source methods to gather evidence of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes for national and international criminal courts. These open source investigators access this information through software, data sets, and tools, as well as legal processes, such as Freedom of Information Act requests.