Just south of the Miami Metro Zoo lies a small road leading to the University of Miami’s South Campus, a university owned-property that many do not know exists. If that’s not enough mystery for you, guess what the property formerly housed? The CIA. It served as a 1960s CIA headquarters known as JM WAVE.
When World War II broke out, the U.S. government decided to clear this 2,107 acre-property, which was then a swamp, to build the Richmond Naval Air Station. But in 1945, when a Category 4 hurricane destroyed the naval base, the property became up for grabs.
With an upsurge in student enrollment during the 1946-1947 school year, then-President Bowman Foster Ashe was searching for a place to house hundreds of male students. Thus, the university bought a three-year lease on the land.
On Nov. 1, 1946, classes began at South Campus for 1,100 male students, primarily freshmen. There were recreational, housing and dining facilities along with a bookstore and a business office on the campus. Many students grew tired of the secluded location though, which prompted the university’s 1948 decision to use the land for research purposes only.
UM later decided to lease several unoccupied buildings of South Campus to the CIA, who named the new headquarters JM WAVE. This station was used for Operation Mongoose, a mission aimed at training Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro. Operation Mongoose was a response and second attempt at the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion by Brigade 2506.
“We were to attack certain parts of Cuba and continue the attack until we took over Cuba,” said Maximo Cruz, former brigade member and president of the Bay of Pigs Museum and Library.
During the Bay of Pigs Invasion, many brigade members were killed or captured. Ultimately, President Kennedy negotiated the release of the survivors.
“After we were liberated, we did have members become heavily involved in Operation Mongoose,” Cruz said.
Operation Mongoose was not a full-fledged invasion like the Bay of Pigs but instead focused on sabotage and propaganda.
The CIA needed a headquarters close to the enemy, so Bob Reynolds, then-deputy chief of the Cuba task force in Washington D.C., was asked to create the Miami JM WAVE station.
“He negotiated a deal with UM President Henry Stanford because the South Campus was an isolated location with a bunch of abandoned buildings,” said Don Bohning, former reporter for The Miami Herald and author of The Castro Obsession.
In his book, Bohning writes that JM WAVE became the largest CIA operation aside from its headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
Ted Shackley eventually took over for Reynolds as head of the station. Under his leadership, JM WAVE had 400 agents and 300 to 400 front companies throughout the Miami area. At these “company” locations, operatives were trained. The businesses ranged from airlines and merchant shipping to hunting camps and marinas. The JM WAVE headquarters itself also had a front company named Zenith Technological Enterprises, Inc. Though they were fronts, the agents ran the businesses like any other venture.
“The business operations certainly contributed to a healthy economy in Miami,” Bohning said.
Most UM students were completely unaware of the CIA happenings on South Campus since the majority of classes were held in Coral Gables. Don Crarreau, a 1961 UM alum and former Richter Library reference librarian, said students who took classes at the South Campus generally studied things that the majority did not, such as agriculture.
“We never heard anything about the JM WAVE,” Crarreau said. “It’s not something [the university] would advertise.”
In June 1964, David Wise and Thomas B. Ross blew the whistle on JM WAVE’s front business, Zenith Technological Enterprises, Inc., in their book The Invisible Government. The agency had to change its company name to Melmar Corporation in order to resume normal activities.
After countless unsuccessful missions, however, the CIA decided to shut down the JM WAVE station. In The Castro Obsession, Bohning explains that the station also believed that their cover had eroded through the years, thus jeopardizing its security.
Although the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Miami Metro Zoo and UM South Campus are all now occupants of this once secret-filled land, the government still owns a piece of the property. Michael Hall, the executive director of Gold Coast Railroad Museum, said over the museum fence resides land occupied by the Department of Defense.
Hence, though the JM WAVE station no longer exists, the happenings within and around South Campus, which requires special clearance to visit, remain a mystery yet to be solved.