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.
Goss hearings may get tense in run-up to election. A18
The 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 unclear.
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 US shores in the middle of the Cold War.
Details of Goss's career remain shrouded by four decades of secrecy.
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
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 Goss was in the region.
It also sent a then-obscure Argentine wanderer, Ernesto ''Che" Guevara, hurrying to Mexico City. There Guevara met and joined up with Castro's guerrillas as they returned to Cuba in 1956 to start the revolution.
Goss arrived in Mexico City only a very few, if eventful, years later.
Haiti -- just off of Cuba's eastern tip -- was governed by the famously brutal dictator Francois ''Papa Doc" Duvalier.
The Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, was torn with political turmoil, a struggle between backers of the populist President Juan Bosch and his conservative foes.
Jittery about the example of nearby Cuba, the United States invaded the island with thousands of troops in 1965.
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 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. Cuba had no other embassies in Latin America.
That monitoring allowed US officials to photograph Lee Harvey Oswald entering the Soviet Embassy in Mexico City not long before he assassinated John F. Kennedy.
Cuba, meanwhile, was openly trying to spread revolutions around the hemisphere -- with the notable exception of Mexico. US espionage helped track down 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, causing many Mexicans to give up hope of reforms. It is not clear whether Goss was involved in following that event. He apparently left the region in the late 1960s for London.
During a 1970 trip to Washington from his home in London, Goss collapsed in his hotel room, suffering from a mysterious blood infection that affected his heart and kidneys. Goss survived but his career as a field operative was over. He retired from the CIA in 1971.