Our Spy in Mexico

At the height of the Cold War in the 1960s, Mexico City was teeming with intrigue. Agents of the United States, the Soviet Union and Cuba jostled one another for information and influence. Writes Gus Russo in his book “Live By The Sword”: “This megalopolis had become the most spy infested in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world.”

June Cobb, from a Parade Magazine article
A photograph of June Cobb from an August 1962 profile in Parade magazine.

So the CIA dropped yet another spy into this mix: June Cobb, who was described as a Mata Hari of American espionage or a female James Bond. In fact, she was the genuine article, a spy who made a difference with inside reporting of what Cuban leader Fidel Castro and his Soviet handlers were up to. How crucial were her insights? We don’t really know because they have been classified.

That is to be remedied this October when the National Archives is scheduled to release 221 pages on her activities, part of some 3,600 documents relating to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963. If he chose, President Trump could block the release, but he has shown considerable interest in theories of the assassination.

June Cobb did not intend to be a spy. Born in Oklahoma, she escaped the flatlands to study at the University of Mexico, where she met a young Columbian and joined him on an adventure in the jungles of Ecuador. But when he started growing poppies for opium, she had second thoughts. So on to New York, where she encountered Fidel Castro on his first visit to the city. A romantic idealist, she was swept away by the ardent revolutionary, later acknowledging, “I suppose you can call me a sucker for lost causes.”

A striking blue-eyed blonde, she turned heads, and one of them was Castro’s. He brought her back to Havana as his translator and public relations assistant. There she flourished until Castro became more authoritarian and moved closer to the Soviet Union. The Kennedy Administration also took notice of a rival superpower showing up on a nearby island and launched a number of projects to undermine or assassinate Castro, who said he would respond in kind.

At that point a disillusioned June Cobb used the excuse of a medical appointment to go to New York and contact the CIA. It was a perilous decision, but there was no stopping her, even though she was under intense scrutiny in Cuba. Then a fellow American working for Castro was charged with treason and executed. That was enough. She abandoned Cuba, and the CIA assigned her to Mexico, where she came upon Lee Harvey Oswald, Kennedy’s future assassin, meeting with Cubans and Soviets. This alarming news somehow eluded the official Warren Commission report, which concluded Oswald acted alone in killing the President.

In October, barring blockage, we will learn more about the Kennedy assassination and June Cobb. According to Politico’s Philip Shenon, she has sought neither fame nor fortune and at 90 can’t be found. But she has a story to tell.

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