The People of the CIA … Milan Miskovsky: Fighting for Justice
On Christmas Eve in 1962, more than 1,000 prisoners taken during the Bay of Pigs invasion were granted a holiday miracle: their freedom. The prisoners would not have been released as soon had it not been for the skilled negotiating of Milan “Mike” Miskovsky, who served as a CIA lawyer during some of the most tumultuous years for the United States.
From the Forest to the Court Room
Miskovsky was born on May 11, 1926, in Chicago. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a master’s in forestry in 1949. For the next two years, Miskvosky worked for the U.S. Forest Service in the woods of Idaho, Montana, and Washington state. He was transferred to Washington, D.C., in 1951.
Soon after arriving in the District of Columbia, Miskovsky was hired by the CIA as an analyst of forestry resources in the Eastern Bloc. Miskovsky continued his education at George Washington University, and after graduating in 1956 with a law degree, he joined the CIA’s legal office, eventually becoming the Agency’s assistant general counsel. Little did Miskovsky know that he had an exciting career as a CIA lawyer ahead of him.
Negotiating Powers’ Release
On May 1, 1960, U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union. He was captured immediately. The Soviets recovered the cameras and film from the crash site and began interrogating Powers. In August 1960, Powers was tried and convicted of espionage against the Soviet Union. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
As an Agency lawyer representing the U.S. government, Miskovsky worked to negotiate a trade with the Soviets: Francis Gary Powers for Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. Working through New York lawyer James Donovan, who handled the face-to-face negotiations with Soviet representatives in Germany, Miskovsky proved himself to be a skilled negotiator in the case.
Their efforts paid off, for on February 10, 1962, Powers was released and traded for Abel. He walked across Berlin’s Glienicke Bridge, passing Abel in the middle, and met U.S. officials on the other side.
Freedom for the Bay of Pigs Prisoners
In April 1961, a 1,400-man force of Cuban-American exiles called Brigade 2506 launched an invasion of Cuba. Their goal was to overthrow the communist government of Fidel Castro. Brigade 2506 landed at the Bay of Pigs on Cuba’s southern coast where they were quickly defeated by the Cuban military. More than 100 members of Brigade 2506 were killed, and nearly 1,200 were captured.
Miskovsky was again asked to help negotiate the release of the prisoners. He worked closely with U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and Donovan during these negotiations, which lasted nearly a year. Finally, Castro agreed to release the prisoners for $50 million in food, medicine, and humanitarian aid. Castro and Donovan signed the agreement on December 21, 1962. The prisoners were released just in time to celebrate Christmas with their families and friends in the United States.
Fighting for Equality
After leaving the Agency in 1964, Miskovsky worked for the Federal Maritime Commission and Treasury Department. In 1968, he became director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which provides legal aid to victims of civil rights abuses. Miskovsky directed an inquiry into the underlying causes of the 1967 race riots for the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, also known as the Kerner Commission.
Miskovsky continued to practice law until he retired in 2003. He died of lung cancer on October 15, 2009, at his home in Washington, D.C.
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