Fidel Castro: The CIA's 7 Most Bizarre Assassination Attempts

Cuba's iconic dictator certainly provided an almost mythical adversary for what became an obsessive, error-prone campaign by the CIA.

Fidel Castro addresses a rally in 1959.Sovfoto/Universal Images Gro/REX / Shutterstock

Fidel Castro survived no fewer than 634 attempts on his life, according to his former secret service chief.

Whether that figure is accurate or not, Cuba's iconic dictator provided an almost-mythical adversary for what became an obsessive, error-prone assassination campaign by the CIA.

The agency's attempts to kill Castro ranged from the calamitous to the comical. Many of them were detailed by the Church Committee, a special Senate subcommittee headed by Decomcratic Sen. Frank Church in 1975.

Following Castro's death Saturday, here are seven of the most remarkable.

1. The Exploding Cigar

Perhaps the most famous attempt to kill Castro came in 1960 when the CIA poisoned a box of his favorite cigars.

Fidel Castro in November 1976.Prensa Latina / Reuters, file

Just a year after Castro seized power, the agency spiked the cigars with a botulinum toxin strong enough to kill anybody who put one in their mouth.

The cigars were delivered to an "an unidentified person" in 1961, according to the subcommittee, but it's unclear what happened to them after that.

Needless to say, they were never chewed by "El Comandante."

2. The Reluctant Cuban

Months earlier, at the end of President Dwight Eisenhower's term, the CIA used a series of middlemen to enlist two gangsters to help with Castro's removal.

The agency was willing to pay $150,000 (at least $1.2 million in today's money), according to the Church Committee's report.

These mobsters were Sam Giancana, the boss of the Chicago mob, and Santos Trafficant, the head of the mob’s Cuban operations. Both of them were members of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.

Giancana suggested that poison pills were more reliable than guns, so the CIA provided six pills of "high lethal content" to a cash-strapped Cuban official who had access to Castro, the subcommittee said.

However, after several unsuccessful attempts the Cuban got cold feet and the plan was abandoned.

3. The Painted Seashell

Undeterred, the CIA tried an even more elaborate plan in 1963.

Intelligence officials thought they could use Castro's love of scuba-diving to topple him. They planned to hide explosives inside a large seashell and paint it with exotic colors to lure the attention of the ocean-loving communist.

Like many others, this idea was "discarded as impractical," according to the committee's report.

4. The Contaminated Diving Suit

The same year, the CIA planned to contaminate one of Castro's diving suits with a fungus that would produce a chronic and debilitating skin disease.

The diving suit, as well as an infected breathing apparatus, was meant to be given to Castro by the American lawyer James Donovan, who had been involved in hostage negotiations with the Cuban leader.

This plan was abandoned after Donovan gave Castro a different suit.

Richard Helms, who would become CIA director, later called the plan "cockeyed" and said the suit never left the laboratory.

5. The Deadly Lover

If many of these attempts have the air of a hammy "James Bond" film, Marita Lorenz was Castro's femme fatale.

Lorenz told Vanity Fair in 1993 that, while she was Castro's lover in late 1959, she was recruited as a contract-agent for the CIA and tasked with assassinating the Cuban leader.

She was given two botulism-toxin pills to drop in Castro’s drink, so her story goes. Just one would kill him in 30 seconds, but she got cold feet.

"I knew the minute I saw the outline of Havana I couldn’t do it," she told Vanity Fair, describing her emotions on landing in the Cuban capital.

Fidel Castro addresses a rally in 1959.Sovfoto/Universal Images Gro/REX / Shutterstock

Even if she had wanted to kill him, she had botched the job. She said she stashed the pills in a cold-cream jar that made them gunky and unusable. In any case, Castro had her rumbled.

"He leaned over, pulled out his .45, and handed it to me," she recounted. "He didn’t even flinch. And he said, 'You can’t kill me. Nobody can kill me.' And he kind of smiled and chewed on his cigar ... I felt deflated. He was so sure of me. He just grabbed me. We made love."

Her story isn't as ironclad as the details uncovered by the Church Committee. But given the CIA's track record it seems far from implausible.

6. The Poisoned Pen

Another CIA that was straight out of "James Bond" was its plan to kill Castro using a hypodermic needle concealed within a pen.

The needle would be so fine that "the victim would not notice its insertion," according to the Church Committee.

Its report said the needle was to be rigged with poison and injected into Castro by a "highly placed Cuban official" who was in discussions with the CIA.

However, the Cuban official "did not think much of the device" and complained that surely the CIA could "come up with something more sophisticated than that?" the committee's report said.

The official also suffered bad timing. He was offered the pen on Nov. 22, 1963, the date of John F. Kennedy's assassination.

The event saw the agency withdraw its support of the attempt on Castro's life and the official never took the pen to Cuba.

7. The Psychedelic Speech

Not all of the attempts were on Castro's life: America's intelligence services initially tried other methods to undermine the leader's public image as a charismatic strongman.

Fidel Castro delivering a speech in 1997.ADALBERTO ROQUE / AFP - Getty Images, file

In 1960, the CIA planned to sabotage Castro's speeches by spraying his broadcasting studio with a chemical that would make him suffer similar hallucinations to LSD.

Other plots included spiking the dictator's cigars with a chemical that would disorientate him, hoping he would smoke one before delivering one of his marathon oratory performances.

They also tried dusting his shoes with thallium salts — which would have made Castro's iconic beard fall out.

Like the hundreds of other plots against Castro, all failed.

The LSD-like substance was abandoned because it was too unstable, the cigars were never smoked, and Castro canceled the overseas trip that would have given spooks the opportunity to dust his shoes.