The Last Investigation
Part 2 of 2
The Last Investigation
Part 2 of 2
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THE LAST INVESTIGATION
Part 2 of 2
Part 2 of 2
Late in July, I wrapped up a trip to Puerto Rico and flew back into Miami International Airport. I came back with some significant pieces of new information, found a few of the witnesses I had been looking for and had a long and fruitful conversation with Manolo Ray, the head of the anti-Castro organization Veciana had originally joined in Cuba and, later, the founder of JURE, to which Silvia Odio had belonged. I was tried and dragging my way though the Miami Airport when I noticed the headline on the newsstand: Ronald Reagan had chosen Richard Schweiker as his Vice Presidential running mate.
The next morning I was on the line with Troy Gustafson, then Schweiker's press secretary. (With Marston leaving for the U.S. Attorney's job in Philadelphia, Gustafson was taking over as the Kennedy Liaison.) "I imagine you've seen the papers," he said. "Were you flabbergasted?" That was a good word. "We all were," he said. "Only Schweiker and Newhall knew about it since Tuesday. Schweiker was on vacation in New Jersey when he got the call from Reagan's campaign manager who said he wanted to meet him in Washington. The Senator and Newhall kicked it around and decided it was the last chance for the moderate wing of the part. Schweiker's really psyched up about it."
I wondered what it meant in terms of Schweiker continuing with a Kennedy assassination investigation. "I don't know," Gustafson said. "I haven't had a chance to discuss it with him. I know he really has a sincere passion for it but I think a lot will depend on what happens in Kansas City, whether Reagan and he get the nomination. I feel that between now and then he's going to have a gear down. First of all, he's just not going to have the time. Also, I think he's going to question the propriety of continuing it because it's automatically politicized as soon as he becomes a candidate."
We decided we should continue with the investigation until Schweiker himself called us off it.
By early September, however, the factors had changed. Reagan and he had not gotten the Republican nomination in Kansas City and Schweiker returned to Washington terribly depressed. I've never discussed it with him, but I believe it led him to re-evaluate his role in public life. Then, too, partially as a result of the Schweiker Report, the groundswell for a new investigation into the Kennedy assassination was beginning to take place in the House of Representatives. If that developed, Schweiker had decided he would end his efforts.
One morning I received a call from Sarah Lewis in Schweiker's office. Lewis, an assistant to Gustafson, had been handling a lot of the Washington research end of the investigation. She called to tell me she had just learned that the Retired Intelligence Officers Association was going to have a major two-day conference in Reston, Virginia, in the middle of the month. That was the organization founded by David Phillips just about a year before. It had been an instant success and, within months, claimed a few hundred members. (It would later change its name to Association of Former Intelligence Officers.) David Phillips would, we assumed, be a very visible figure at the conference in Reston. It would be an excellent opportunity for Antonio Veciana to tell us for sure whether or not Phillips could be Maurice Bishop.
David Phillips knew we were coming. At least he knew I was coming. Sarah Lewis had called and made arrangements for three of us to attend the major luncheon on the last day of the conference. The tickets, $6.50 each, would be in my name. Phillips said we could pay at the door.
That morning, I met Veciana at the Washington National Airport. He and his wife had driven his daughter to Tampa, where she was starting college, and he had flown from there. I missed the opportunity of traveling with Veciana, which I always enjoyed. It gave me the chance to chat with him casually and I never failed to get additional insight into the man. I guess I enjoyed also being privet to the fact that this soft-faced, parish middle aged man learning comfortable back in his window seat reading the real estate section of the paper and looking like a well-dressed, mild-mannered business executive was actually one of the most fanatically dedicated anti-Castro terrorists. Occasionally, his perspective would slip through. I recall, for instance, chatting with him on one trip to Washington about he question of whether or not the CIA should be involved in domestic operations. "Oh sure, it must," Veciana said matter-of-factly. "Because then what happens if you see someone passing secrets to the enemy? He must be killed. He must." He turned back to reading his newspaper, as if there could be no argument about that.
Sarah Lewis picked us up at the airport in her red Volkswagen. She was a tall, attractive young woman with short blond hair and a pleasant smile. Her research abilities had led her to an interest in the Kennedy assassination. "Phillips is expecting us," se said, "although I guess he was puzzled by Senator Schweiker's interest in the conference." Veciana smiled.
Reston had been born as a model bedroom community for the Washington bureaucrat, an escape from he blight of the decaying urban core. Times change. Like Philadelphia's Society Hill, downtown Washington is now the class enclave and Reston is a massive suburban sprawl with problems of its own. But it's still oppressively neat, pretty and well-manicured. Close by the Agency's Langley base, Reston is home for a big bloc of CIA employees. The Ramada Inn also fits in. A curving complex of white stucco, the Inn is a large, modernistic structure with its own mini-convention facilities. It took us a while to find it, so we arrived late.
There appeared to be no former spies lurking around the lobby, but a bulletin board directed us to Bankers' Room "B" and "C" down the center hallway. there were two large doors to the double banquet room. The one we came upon first, closer to the lobby, turned out to be to the rear of the room. That was simply because the podium and guest table had been set up at the other end of the expanded room, closer to the second set of doors further down the hallway. A luncheon ticket table, we later learned, had been set up outside the rear door, but by the time we had arrived it was gone and everyone was seated around large round tables in the banquet room. We were thinking about quietly slipping in to the rear of the room when a stocky fellow with a crew cut asked if we were from Senator Schweiker's office by any chance. he said he had been waiting for us and that three seats at Mr. Phillips' table had been kept aside. W apologized for our tardiness and followed him into the room. We could later pay for out tickets by mail.
It was noisy with chatter, the cacophony of tableware and the bustle of waitresses. It was a very large crowd in a large room. We wound our way single file through a curveway of packed tables until we came to the one in the far corner of the room farthest from the door. I was ahead of Sarah Lewis and Veciana. I immediately recognized Phillips sitting with his back toward us. I wanted to be in a position to see his face and to look at his eyes when he first saw Veciana, thinking I could perhaps catch a glint of recognition. The fellow leading us tapped Phillips on the back. Phillips jumped up[, whirled around, looked directly at me and, smiling, extended his hand as he introduced himself. I watched his eyes as I shook his hand, told him my name and said, simply, that I was with Senator Schweiker's office. His eyes never left my face, although Sarah Lewis was directly behind my right shoulder and Veciana was standing alongside her. Phillips never even glanced at them.
I immediately turned and said, "I'd like you to meet Sarah Lewis...." Phillips smiled a greeting and shook her hand. "....and this," I said, "is Antonio Veciana." Phillips smiled a quick greeting at Veciana, shook his hand and immediately turned back to me. "I'm glad you could come," he said, "and I'm delighted that Senator Schweiker is showing an interest, but I must admit I don't quite understand why you're here." He said it very cordially and with a nice smile, then quickly added, "...but, of course, you're most welcome." He gestured to the three empty chairs across the table.
It all happened with such speed I was taken aback by the quickness of it. I thought I would be able to tell, keen observer that I deemed myself, if Phillips had exhibited even the slightest hint of having recognized Veciana. Not only did Phillips not display that slightest hint, but his eyes moved on to and off of Veciana so quickly -- in the flash of a brief handshake -- that Veciana almost became a nonentity. Strange, too, when I thought about it later, was that Phillips, when he rose and turned to greet me, did not even momentarily glance at the two people standing immediately behind me, not even at the pretty girl over my right shoulder. Was David Phillips a very honest man or a master of deception? I thought, not considering that perhaps I was making an arbitrary distinction.
We sat down opposite Phillips at the three places that had been reserved for us. I sat on Veciana's left, Sarah Lewis on his right. Between Phillips and I were his wife, Gina, a pleasantly attractive woman who, I later learned, was a former secretary at the CIA, and, sitting on her right, a United Press International reporter, a bluff, red-faced fellow just back from 21 years as a foreign correspondent. Revelations about the CIA's use of the press and the fact that the Agency actually had working journalist on its payroll hadn't emerged yet and it never crossed my mind to be suspicious of this fellow. Not even when he casually asked if I were attending the luncheon for any specific reason. I sad no, I was working for Senator Schweiker and I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet and talk with David Phillips.
As soon as Veciana sat down, he reach into his breast pocket, pulled out his glasses, put them on, folded his arms across his check and began studying David Phillips. Inwardly I cringed. Subtle he wasn't. For almost the entire luncheon, Veciana remained in the same position: Leaned back in his chair, arms folded across his chest, staring at Phillips. Occasionally he picked up his fork and dabbled at the food on the plate in front of him, then he would lean back again, fold his arms and look at Phillips. It obviously made Phillips very nervous. His hands were shaking noticeable. He appeared to deliberately not look at Veciana and remained in animate conversation with both his wife and the fellow to his left, a retired Navy officer, I believe.
The table was very large and the room was noisy and so, at one point, when Phillips learned over the two people between us and said something to me, it was difficult to hear him. I thought he asked, again, about what particular interest Senator Schweiker might have in a conference to retired intelligence officers. I said that, really, it just gave me the opportunity to meet him and that we were working on something we thought he might be able to help us with. I suggested that after the luncheon, perhaps, we could talk about it. He nodded his head and smiled, but because of the din level I wasn't sure he caught everything I said. He turned back to chatting with the fellow on his left. Veciana kept staring at him.
I kept glancing at Veciana, trying to get a reaction. I didn't want to appear too obvious by engaging him in a whispered conversation, but the suspense finally got to me and I learned towards his ear and whispered, "What do you think?" Veciana looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and turned back to staring at Phillips.
I decided to survey the crowd. Perhaps, I thought, I might stumble upon someone who looked even closer to the Maurice Bishop sketch than Phillips. I don't know what I expected in terms of what a gathering of spies would look like, but this group looked more like a crowd of college professors. A lot of studious pipe-puffers. And more women than I expected. I guessed that most of them were, or had been, intelligence analysts. That, in fact, is what most CIA employees do.
When the guest speaker was introduced, I turned in my chair and put my back to Phillips. Veciana moved only sideways and, I noticed, kept glancing back at him. The guest speaker was a Lieutenant General Samuel V. Wilson, the newly appointed head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. A handsome, broad-shouldered soldier with wavy hair and a ruddy complexion, he wore a chest-full of colorful ribbons topped with the blue Combat Infantryman's Badge. He had seen some action.
Polished, articulate, smoothly dramatic, General Wilson was out of the give'em-hell-Patton school of military speakers. His speech was a model for the occasion. It was an aggressive defense against the attacks then being launched against the intelligence community. It was an us- against-them speech. They don't realized how good we are, how sophisticated and modern our technology is; they don't appreciate the tremendous accomplishments we've had; they don't know of our successes or how often we've saved this country from possible disaster. But we are not going to take this criticism lying down; we are not going to let them forget how much they need us; we are going to show them how tough we can be.
On the last point, General Wilson told a story that, as they say in show biz, brought the house down. He told of being called to testify before the House Select Committee on Intelligence. (That Committee, unlike the Senate's, had refused to be fed its research and had issued a devastatingly critical report on the sensitive area of the intelligence community's cost- effectiveness.) General Wilson noted that the Committee was chaired by "the Honorable Otis G. Pike, the Congressman from Suffolk County, New York." He dripped a measure of acid cynicism over each slowly enunciated syllable. the audience chuckled appreciatively.
On the appointed day of his testimony, General Wilson said, he decided to arrive at the hearing room early to assess the situation, "as any good intelligence officer would." He sat down at the table and opened his briefcase. The TV cameras and the lights were being set up. He began shuffling through his papers when "the Honorable Otis G. Pike the Congressman from Suffolk County, New York" entered the room. The Congressman had decided to arrive a bit early also, said the General, and went directly to his big, black, high-backed Committee Chairman's seat in the center of the rostrum above him. For a fleeting moment, said the General, he felt almost as if he were in a traffic court, but as he sat there shuffling through his papers, with the TV lights now bright on him and "the Honorable Otis G. Pike, the Congressman from Suffolk County, New York," looming from the rostrum above him, it brought to mind the story of this little old lady he knew back in his hometown of Hill, Virginia.
It seems, said General Wilson, that this little old lady had a lifelong fear of visiting the dentist. She possessed an ungodly, horrific apprehension of the drill invading her mouth. She never went to the dentist in h er life. But one day, with advancing age and worsening teeth, her pain overcame her fears and she found herself leaning back in the dentist's chair. And as the dentist came towards her, loomed over her and was about to put the whirling drill into her mouth, he suddenly stopped cold. His eyes widened and his face froze in shock. "Madam," he finally managed to gulp, "may I ask you, please, why you have such a firm grip on one of the most sensitive parts of my anatomy?" And, General Wilson said, as he sat in the Committee hearing room with "the Honorable Otis G. Pike, the Congressman from Suffolk County, New Your," looming above him, he thought of that little old lady's reply to that dentist: "Well, doctor, we're not going to hurt each other now, are we?"
A loud round of laughter and a spontaneous burst of applause indicate that this audience very much appreciated the General's point.
When General Wilson finished his speech, the audience gave him a standing ovation. I stood and clapped also. It was a helluva speech. Veciana stood but didn't clap. Probably because the General didn't say anything about the need to kill Castro. During the ovation, I took the opportunity to lean to Veciana and ask, "Is he Bishop?" Veciana removed his glasses and put them back in his packed. "No," he said slowly shaking his head, "it is not him." He paused for a moment, then added, "Well, you know, I would like to talk with him." I said I would try to arrange that. What I had in mind, once I got the confirmation that he wasn't Maurice Bishop, was to approach Phillips and directly ask him for his help. I thought I'd tell him some of the details and show him the composite sketch. I had brought a copy with me in a plain brown envelope.
Phillips, however, was too fast for me. By the time I turned around he had already shot out the back door. Then I realized that as president of the association, he probably wanted to thank his guest speaker and had ran ahead so he didn't get caught in the crowd at the rear of the room. I quickly ran toward the rear door, beckoning Veciana and Sarah Lewis to follow me.
The hallway was already jammed but I could see Phillips talking with General Wilson at the front door. I began trying to push my way against the flow of the crowd until I notice that Phillips, having shaken the General's hand, was moving back down the hall toward me as he chatted with another member. "Excuse me, Mr. Phillips," I said as I stopped him, maneuvering him to the edge of the flow and against the wall. "I'd like you to meet Antonio Veciana." I turned but Veciana wasn't there. I thought that he and Lewis had been directly behind me but hey had gotten caught in the crowd. It was now obvious to Phillips that I wanted to bring him and Veciana together. "Well, as you know," I said, turning back to Phillips, "I'm with Senator Schweiker and I thought you might be able to help us with what we've been working on."
"What about." asked Phillips.
"The Kennedy assassination," I said, a bit surprised at the question. Phillips smiled. "I'll be glad to talk with any Congressman, or any representative of Congress...in Congress."
Veciana suddenly appeared at our side with Sarah Lewis directly behind him. "This in Mr. Veciana," I said again. Veciana immediately asked Phillips in Spanish if he had been in Havana in 1960. Phillips answered in Spanish, yes, he was. Did he know Julio Lobo? Veciana asked. Phillips said, yes, he remembered the name. Did he know Rufo Lopez-Fresquet? Phillips said yes, then quickly asked Veciana, "What was your name again?"
"Veciana?" Phillips repeated.
"Don't you know my name?"
Phillips shook his head slowly and, with apparent thoughtfulness, said, "No..." Then he turned to me and asked, in English, "Is he with Schweiker's staff?" Phillips now appeared quite nervous.
"No," I said. "Mr. Veciana has been helping us with our investigation."
I found it strange that he didn't quite understand. "The Kennedy assassination," I said again. "That's why I thought if we could talk, I mean nothing official, just off the record if you prefer, you could be of some help. I thought...."
He interrupted me with a forced smile: "I'll be glad to talk with any Congressman, or any representative of Congress...in Congress." His hands were visibly shaking. Unintentionally, with the push of the crowd behind me, I had forced him up against the wall and it suddenly struck me that we had inadvertently cornered him. "Well, there's an area I thought you might help us with..." I began, thinking I could push a little.
His smile was frozen. "I told you, I'll be glad to talk with any Congressman, or any representative of Congress...in Congress," he repeated. Then, suddenly, he turned testy. "I'm sorry," he said, moving toward an opening, "you've caught me at a very inopportune moment. As you can see, this is all very hectic here and I'm quite busy, so if you'll excuse me...." He kept the smile on his face but I was surprised at how clearly and visibly shaken he appeared.
"No," I said, "I said, "I didn't mean I wanted to talk with you now, but perhaps if I can give you a call...."
This time the smile was gone and with a blatant sigh of exasperation he repeated again, now slowly and in mock rate. "I'll be glad to talk with any Congressman, or any representative of Congress...in Congress. Now, if you'll excuse me..." he pushed his way between us. I retreated, thanked him for having us, told him I enjoyed the lunch and the guest speaker. He smiled again nervously, said we been most welcome and quickly moved away.
Later, since I was not returning directly, we would drop Veciana off for his flight back to Miami alone. On the ride from Reston he remained strangely silent, but so did we all. What had just happened produce a weird effect. I think we were a bit stunned and dared not come to any conclusions about what had just happened until we mulled it over. What I recall most clearly now is when we were walking back to Sarah Lewis' car in the parking lot immediately after leaving Phillips. It was a beautiful day, very bright after having been inside. Veciana didn't say a word. His face was expressionless.
"He's not Bishop?" I asked again.
Veciana continued looking straight ahead as he walked. "No, he's not him." A long silence. "But he knows." He knows? "What do you mean, he knows?" I asked. "He knows," Veciana repeated, without further explanation.
As we were waiting for Sarah to unlock the door of her Volkswagen, Veciana turned to me and said, "It is strange he didn't know my name. I was very well known." That's funny, because I was thinking exactly the same thing.
For the next three months I thought a lot about what happened that day. I saw Veciana only once or twice during that period and talked occasionally with him on the telephone. He seemed not to want to discuss the incident in detail. Once, when I did bring up David Phillips' name, he said again. "He knows." When I asked, "You mean he knows who Maurice Bishop is?" Veciana nodded his head. "He knows," he said. "I world like to talk with him more." I assumed than that he meant that if he could talk with Phillips at length we would be able to solicit some clues from him about the real Maurice Bishop. I knew, from Phillips' reaction from our request to have an informal discussion with him, that was impossible.
In October, Schweiker concluded he could no longer justify being involved in an investigation of the Kennedy assassination as a lone senator. Also, he was disappointed at not having been appointed to the new Senate Permanent Committee on Intelligence, the formation of which came out of the recommendation of the Select Committee. (on the surface, by the way, the formation of that Permanent Committee appeared to be a victory for those who wanted more control over the intelligence community. It wasn't. There had been four permanent Senate committees with oversight responsibilities for intelligence activity. The Select Committee's report indicated that the intelligence agencies hand these committees in their pocket and that the committees had neglected their responsibilities. Nevertheless, the intelligence community's power bloc in the Senate would not permit a new wider-powered. Permanent Committee on Intelligence to be formed unless the majority of its members came from the old oversight committees. Schweiker was cut out, even though it was his fellow Pennsylvania Republican, Minority Leader Hugh Scott, who helped select the members of the new committee.)
There were two key factors which forced Schweiker to wrap up his investigation of the Kennedy assassination. One was the announcement by Senator Daniel Inouye, the chairman of the Permanent Committee on Intelligence, that the new body would continue the investigation of possible intelligence community involvement in the Kennedy assassination begun by the Select Committee. Schweiker didn't believe that it actually would, but because Inouye had made the public announcement, it left Schweiker without foundation. (Schweiker was right; the new committee made a few cursory moves than dropped the subject.) The other factor was the indication that the House of Representatives was finally being pressured into conducting its own Kennedy assassination investigation. The independent researchers had been pushing for it for years and were later joined by those who thought the Martin Luther King assassination also required a valid investigation. They were getting nowhere until Coretta King, the widow of the slain civil rights leader, went directly to the Speaker of the House and said, "I would like to know what really happened to Martin."
Years ago, in reviewing a book about he Warren Commission for a small magazine called Minority of One, critic Sylvia Meagher wrote: "there are no heroes in this piece, only men who collaborated actively or passively -- wilfully or self-deludedly -- in dirty work that does violence to the elementary concept of justice and affronts normal intelligence."
It didn't take long for those who examined the final report of the Warren Commission and its volumes of published evidence to conclude that its investigation was deficient. Considering the Commission's resources and the opportunities it had at the time to do a thorough investigation, its failure was, indeed, a "violence to the elementary concept of justice." Its legacy was a burning scission in this country's psyche.
Finally, on September 17th, 1976, the U.S. House of Representative passed House Resolution 222 which established a Select Committee "to conduct a full and complete investigation and study of the circumstances surrounding the assassination and death of President John F. Kennedy..."
The politicians may have given it legal status, but the mandate came from deep within the conscious of a nation fed up with the deceptions and confusions spawned in the wake of the assassination.
When the Select Committee finally expired more than two years later, it performed the tasks it assigned itself with -- to use the phrase it so favored in its final report -- "varying degrees of competency."
What it did not do was "conduct a full and complete investigation."
What it did not do was respond to or even consider its higher mandate by attempting to pursue the priorities of truth with unmitigated vigor. In that failure, it, too, committed violence to something basic in the democratic system.
What the House Select Committee did do -- with a high degree of competency -- was conduct a political exercise.
The select Committee on Assassinations was born in the septic tank of House politics. To many members it was simply a necessary device politically inexpedient to oppose. Early in 1975, two Congressman had each introduced their own bills to reopen the Kennedy assassination. A fiery Texan named Henry B. Gonzalez, who had been a passenger in the Dallas motorcade, included in his bill probes also into the murder of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. A respected Virginia veteran lawmaker, Thomas N. Downing, introduced his bill when he developed serious doubts about the Warren Commission Report. Both bills were stuck in the Rules Committee for more than a year, until the Black Caucus put pressure on the House Leadership. The bills were then merged and the resolution passed.
The seeds of dissension were early sown. Traditionally, the author of a resolution establishing a select committee is named chairman of the committee. Downing, however was a lameduck congressman who had not sought reelection in 1976. His term would expire three months after the new Committee was formed. Gonzalez, on the other hand, was a barroom- brawling Mexican-American not especially respected by the House power brokers. Thus, despite Downing's lameduck status, House Speaker Tip O'NEILL named him chairman of the Selected Committee. That really burned Gonzalez.
The first month of the Committee's life was harbinger of what was to come. It immediately mired itself in internal squabbling. Downing's first choices as the Committee's chief counsel and staff director was Washington attorney Bernard Fensterwald, an early Warren Commission critic who had established a research clearing house and lobbying operation called the Committee to Investigate Assassinations. Although, after Gonzalez objected to him, Fensterwald withdrew himself from consideration, a story appear in the Washington Star headlined: "is Fensterwald a CIA Plant? - Assassination Inquiry Stumbling." It was later learned that material for the story had been leaked from Gonzalez's office.
Downing and Gonzalez finally got together in early October and settled on Philadelphia's Richard Sprague as the Committee's chief counsel. Sprague had gotten national attention with his successful prosecution of United Mine Workers President Tony Boyle for the murder of UMW reformer Joseph Yablonski. In Philadelphia, where as First Assistant District Attorney he had run up a record of 69 homicide convictions out of 70 prosecutions, Sprague was known as tough, tenacious and independent. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind when I heard of Sprague's appointment that the Kennedy assassination would finally get what it needed: a no-holds-barred, honest investigation. Which just goes to show how ignorant of the ways of Washington both Sprague and I were.
Early in November, Sprague had lunch with Senator Schweiker in Washington. He knew, of course, of the work of Schweiker in Washington. He knew, of course, of the work of Schweiker's Senate Intelligence subcommittee, but Schweiker also filled him in on the files his personal staff had compiled. In those files was a fat stack of informally written memos reporting what I had dug up in the field over the past year. Included were rough notes of the Antonio Veciana and Maurice Bishop area of the investigation. Schweiker, anxious to help Sprague as much as possible, arranged to turn over some of these personal staff files to him. In a letter to Sprague accompanying them, Schweiker noted: "Because of my concern for the personal safety of some of the individuals who came forth to my staff, neither my staff nor I have publicly divulged their names. I strongly urge that this confidentiality continue to be respected..."
When he took the job, Sprague had done so with the stipulation that he would have complete authority to hire his own staff and run the investigation as he saw fit. He proposed setting up two separate staffs, one for Kennedy and one foe King. He insisted on handling both cases as if they were homicide investigations.
In the annals of the John F. Kennedy assassination, it was a novel approach. And, judging from the reaction of many Congressman, it was a far too radical approach. Especially since Sprague was obviously serious about it, as indicated when he said he needed a staff of at least 200 and an initial annual budget of $6.5 million and then refused to guarantee that would do the job. Sprague hadn't settled into his shabby Washington office in the rat-infested, yet-unrenovated former FBI Records Building when the attacks against him began.
In December, Sprague called me and asked me to come to Washington to talk with him. When I got there I found that he had turned over the material Schweiker had given him to Deputy Chief Counsel Bob Tannenbaum, a veteran homicide attorney Sprague had recruited from the New York District Attorney's Office. Tannenbaum reviewed the material and suggested that Sprague ask me to join the staff. I told Sprague I would if I could be free to pursue those areas in which I had the most background and considered the most potentially productive, especially that of intelligence agency involvement with the anti-Castro exiles in Miami. He said I could. I also suggested to Sprague that a more efficient investigation could be run if most of the investigators left Washington and operated out of field offices in Dallas, New Orleans and Miami. It was those cities which generated the most evidentiary reports in the original FBI investigation. Sprague agreed and asked one of his assistants to check into the availability of government offices in each city.
I remember having lunch with Sprague and a few of his staffers that day in Washington. I talked about some of the things I had worked on with Schweiker and what I thought needed to be done. But Sprague, despite the fact that he had been on the job for more than two months, seemed still less occupied with the substance of the case than he did with other problems. He had gotten critical blasts played large in the press from a few congressman after word got around that the Committee would probably use such investigative devices as lie detector tests, voice stress evaluators and concealed tape recorders. Some lawmakers, including a couple of right-wing military establishment supporters, suddenly expressed their grave concern for individual rights and said that Sprague was threatening to trample on the civil rights of people he would investigate. At lunch that day, I commented to Sprague about the heat he seemed to be taking.
Sprague shook his head. "You know, I don't understand it. I've never been in a situation like this before where I'm getting criticized for things I might do. It's nonsense, but I don't know why it's happening."
I would not find out what was happening in Washington until much later. I was arranged that I would officially join the Committee as a staff investigator on January 1st, 1977. I returned to Miami and got immediately to work renewing the contacts and sources I had let lapse over the previous few months. I had accumulated file cases of documents and background material which I use to begin structuring an investigative plan. After talking with Sprague, I was now certain he planned to conduct a strong investigation and I was never more optimistic in my life. I remember excitingly envisioning the scope and character of the investigation. It would include a major effort in Miami, with teams of investigators digging into all those unexplored corners the Warren Commission had ignored or shied away from. They would be working with squads of attorneys to put legal pressure on to squeeze out the truth from recalcitrant witnesses. There would be reams of sworn deposition, the ample use of warrants and no fear of bringing prosecutions for perjury. We would cut our way through the thickets of false leads and misinformation and attack the purveyors of self-serving distortions. We would zero in on the hottest evidence and work day and night pursuing its validity. We would have all sorts of sophisticated investigative resources and, more important, the authority to use them. The Kennedy assassination would finally get the investigation it deserved and an honest democracy needed. There would be no more bull shit.
Little did I know it was only beginning.
What Sprague discovered when he arrived in Washington was that his first order of business was not in setting up an investigation but simply keeping the Committee alive. The Committee had been officially established in September. All congressional committees legally expire at the end of each congressional year and then, if they were mandated to continue under the terms of their originating resolutions, the new Congress reconstitutes them as a matter of course.
As soon as Sprague hit Washington, however, and it became obvious he meant to conduct a true investigation, the flak began to fly. Fueled by some of the press, including the New York Times, talk started circulating that the reconstitution of the Assassinations Committee might not be as "automatic" as it was assumed. The attacks increased when Sprague announced his staff plan and budge. He did not pull either figure out of the air, but analyzed the resources that the Warren Commission had available from it own staff, the FBI, the Secret Service, the CIA and the Justice and State Departments. Sprague figured that the very nature of a truly independent investigation would preclude the use of the investigative forces of those other government agencies, especially since some of them would be under investigation themselves. With a staff of 170 and a yearly budget of $6.5 million, the Assassinations Committee would not have far more than the Warren Commission in resources. (The Commission employed 83 people but used 150 full-time agents from the FBI alone.)
Nevertheless, the budget was used as the focal point for additional attacks on Sprague. HE was accused of being arrogant and disrespectful of congressional protocol. Sprague, they said, had made a "mistake" in coming on so strong. "Several people around here who are familiar with the bureaucratic game told me to first present a smaller budge," Sprague admitted. "They assured me that I could always go back later and plead for more. That's the way they o things in Washington, I was told. Well, I won't play that game." Perhaps Sprague didn't realize the power of the forces he was us against.
On January 2nd, the day before the convening of the 95th Congress, there appeared in The New York Times a major story headlined" "Counsel in Assassination Inquiry Often Target of Criticism." Written by reporter David Burnham, it was an incredibly crude example of the journalistic hatchet job. It reviewed Sprague's 17-year career as a Philadelphia prosecutor strictly in terms of the controversies he had provoked. There is no doubt that Sprague's record has points worthy of valid criticism, but Burnham's piece left out the grays and painted Sprague a heavy black. Even the Philadelphia Bulletin's Claude Lewis, not particularly a Sprague fan, winced at Burnham's blatant cut job. "You can dig up dirt on anyone if you look hard enough," noted Lewis.
Intended or not, Burnham's piece had the effect of a well-placed torpedo. It almost sand the Assassinations Committee. On January 4th, an attempt to get a resolution reconstituting the Committee through by a unanimous-consent voice vote failed. That meant the resolution would have to go through a lengthy bureaucratic labyrinth, including passage through the Rules Committee and a budget review exercise, before the Committee could officially be reconstituted. It would take weeks.
In Miami, unaware of the behind-the scenes details, I was anxious to get rolling. I kept calling Bob Tannenbaum, the boss of the Kennedy side of the investigation. "Bob, I think it's initially important to coordinate my area with what the rest of the staff id doing," I said. "I imagine the staff is already organized into teams, but I think it's important that a program for constant communication between teams and field investigators be developed." I suggested I first come to Washington to get a better idea of staff organization. Tannenbaum agree. He was a guy in his early 30s very big beefy but fit - a former Columbia University basketball star and student radical who, rising quickly in New York DA Hogan's office, became the epitome of the quick- thinking, fast-talking prosecutor. Tannenbaum didn't want me to know how chaotic the mess was becoming in Washington. "Let me work things out on this end," he kept saying, "and we'll plan on getting together. Stay loose."
Stay Loose? We were suppose to be rolling on perhaps the most important investigation in history, one of incredible scope and depth, and why the hell weren't we moving?
In the next several weeks, my confusion and frustration multiplied. Even now, one can view the series of events in Washington and the behavior of some of the characters during that period as simply outrageous, unbelievably stupid and/or breathtakingly asinine. Yet, when you consider what happened in the end, the ultimate fate of Sprague and the Assassinations Committee, one wonders if all along there wasn't a preordained pattern to the course of events.
On February 3rd, the House voted to reconstitute the Assassinations Committee. Temporarily. Still under sharp attack by certain conservative lawmakers suddenly turned civil libertarians, the Committee was, as the Washington Star put it, "given less than two months to justify its existence under conditions that...make it almost impossible to develop new evidence." The House, in keeping the Committee alive, provided only a maintenance budget, just barely enough to cover the reduce salaries of its staff. (Everyone had taken a 40% pay cut while waiting reconstitution.)
In Miami, I was keeping myself busy, but without the guidance of a structured investigative plan all I could do was continue a scattergun approach to the leads. I continued checking out Veciana's story, pursued Bishop possibilities, dug into the activities of Santos Trafficante, Normie Rothman and other Organized Crime figured and their possible contacts with Jack Ruby, continued research into the CIA's role in anti-Castro activities and went on meeting with my sources and contacts. More and more, when fresh information or a new lead would come in, I found myself saying, "That seems worth checking. As soon as we get some help down here and this thing gets organized, I'll get back to you. ...Oh, yeah, just a few problems in Washington. They'll get ironed out. We're beginning to get organized now."
I didn't realized that the chaos was just beginning. About a week after the Committee was temporarily born again, I received a call from Bob Tannenbaum. "Well," he sighed, "World War Three has started in Washington. It's Gonzalez versus Sprague. You wouldn't believe it. Gonzalez is taking back his stationary." His what? "Let me read you a letter. It's dated February 9th, 1977. 'Dear Dick. Until the Select Committee is properly organized and its rules established, a number of steps are necessary. Accordingly, I hereby request and direct that you provide me at the earliest practical time, but no later than noon Friday, February 11th, your written assurance as given verbally to the Committee yesterday that, failing to recommend necessary reductions in force, you guarantee compliance with the financial limits imposed on the Committee. ...Owing to an evident inability of the Committee in past times to adequately control the use of its letterhead and franked materials, and in the absence of any present controls on such materials, you are directed to return to me immediately any and all letterhead material bearing my name. You are reminded that no expense or financial obligation whatever may be made in my name, nor shall any vouchers or other commitment obligating the Committee to expend funds be made without my prior knowledge and personal, specific and written authorization...'"
Since all congressional committees use the postal franking privileges of its chairman, and every expense voucher, travel order and most directives and requests to other government agencies are made under the chairman's signature, what Gonzalez was doing in effect, was virtually stopping the operation of the Committee.
Gonzalez had been furious at not being named chairman of the Committee when it was originally formed. He automatically stepped into the post, however, when Downing retired, and the new Congress convened in January. (It was, of course, something of a Catch 22 position since the Committee, not yet reconstituted, was officially nonexistent.) Gonzalez, however, wanted more than just the title. He wanted control and power to stack the staff with his own people. Sprague wasn't about to give him that.
In December, Gonzalez had told sprague that, under the formula in the Congressional Rules, the Committee could operate with a budget of $150,000 a month until it was officially reconstituted. On the basis, Sprague began beefing up his original start-up staff with new additions, all of who were put on the payroll January 1st. I was in that group. Gonzalez, however, had been mistaken about the Committee's budget. The rules actually permitted it only $84,000 a month in expense while it waited reconstitution. When Gonzalez was called on the carpet by the Rules Committee for the budget over-run, he said that Sprague had hired the new staffers without his knowledge or permission.
At a meeting of the members of the Assassinations Committee on February 8th, Gonzalez repeated his charges against Sprague and ordered Sprague to fire the people he had put on the staff on January 1st. Sprague denied he had not told Gonzalez about the hiring and refused to fire anyone. The other Committee members backed Sprague. Gonzalez fumed. The next day he wrote the letter cutting off the staff's resources and demanding the return of his stationary.
"And we just got another note from Gonzalez today," Tannenbaum added. "Listen to this: 'Dear Mr. Sprague. You called me at 10:10 yesterday morning. I was out. I returned the call at 11:30. You were not in. You were at a staff meeting. Your secretary said she would get you if it were important. I said, "I don't know if it's important. I'm returning his call." I hang up. I then met the President of the United States. I am the chairman. You are my employee. Do not forget that.'" Tannenbaum had a problem reading that note to me because he was laughing so hard. T he next day, I received my own letter from Chairman Gonzalez. It was a form letter to all staffers:
"This is to convey to you my profound regret regarding the circumstances which surround your present employment. "There is much confusion, and I want you to understand that I am anxious to rectify this situation.... "It is highly deplorable that the person most responsible for your employment did not advise you of the possible difficulty in getting the Committee reconstituted. "As you know, I was not the chairman during the 94th Congress, but due to errors which have been made under the former chairman, it has been a long and hard struggle getting the Committee reconstituted...and it is only for a very limited basis, through March 31, and for a very limited budge...
"No one likes a reduction in personnel, but...I hope that as soon as possible I will be able to convey to you what the future status of personnel will be with the Select Committee."
Gonzalez did not mention that not one other Committee member had backed him on his demand that some of the staff be fired. Nevertheless, Gonzalez kept on swinging. He went to the Attorney General and emended that Committee staff members, who, while waiting for the investigation to get structured, had begun researching the FBI files, be denied access to those files. (It was probably the first time congressional history that a committee chairman wanted noncooperation.) Next, Gonzalez cut off the long-distance telephone calls, thereby isolating the only investigator -- me -- the Committee had in the field at the time. Sprague later put it succinctly: "Gonzalez went berserk."
Gonzalez finally threw what he thought was his Sunday punch: He fired Sprague. In a hand-delivered letter, Gonzalez charge that Sprague "has engaged in a course of conduct that is wholly intolerable for any employee of the House," and ordered him to vacate his office by 5 p.m. that day. Gonzalez had uniformed Capital Police officers arrive at the staff offices with orders to physically evict Sprague if he wasn't out. But within a couple of hours after Gonzalez had sent the letter, the Committee's 11 members signed their own letter directing Sprague to ignore Gonzalez.
What was suppose to be an investigation into one of the most significant and tragic events in this country's history had turned into, as George Lardner of the Washington Post put it, "an opera bouffe." Editorial cartoonists around the country were having a ball. "Pardon me, is this the offices of the...nice shot...House Assassinations Committee?" asked an elephant character walking in a roomful of stomping, swinging, kicking, brawling lawmakers.
Then Gonzalez took that one step too far. At an open meeting of the Committee, he attacked the second-ranking Democrat, Congressman Richardson Preyer, head of the Kennedy Subcommittee. Judge Preyer, a gray-haired, soft-spoken, Southern gentleman known for his fair- minded, liberal intellect, was one of the House's most respected members. When Gonzalez began flying off the handle, Preyer suggested the Committee adjourn until some problems were ironed out. Gonzalez exploded. "I'm the chairman! I know you want to be chairman and you're trying to get rid of me!" he yelled at Preyer.
According to Bob Tannenbaum, who was there: "Preyer's head actually jerked back. It looked like a shot from the front, but I was really a neurophysical reaction. It was really an embarrassing moment for the old guy." Preyer recovered and said quietly, "I do not seek the chairmanship, nor do I want it. I have a motion that we adjourn." The Committee quickly backed him and the members hurried away -- except for Gonzalez, who held an impromptu press conference at which he called Sprague "a rattlesnake."
The next day I received a call from Tannenbaum. "Preyer and the other members of the Committee are going to House Speaker O'NEILL to ask him to remove Gonzalez from the chairmanship," he told me. "We're down to the final act. IF Gonzalez is not removed, we're leaving. There's no way we can go on with this man. He's gone mad."
As the news filtered down to me in Miami -- through calls made on the WATS line of non- Committee telephones -- I became increasingly dumbfounded. I had read of the scandalous and ridiculous or often just petty behavior of our Washington lawmakers in so-called behind-the-scenes press reports and gossip columns down through the years and I always thought they were exaggerated or overly dramatized. But there I was, with privy to the real inside, and it was actually happening.
Confronted with the unprecedented situation of committee members rebelling against their own chairman -- and a problem fought with untold dire consequences to the House's historical system of power brokerage -- House Speaker Tip O'NEILL waffled. Appearing on a Face the Nation telecast, O'NEILL said he lacked the power to remove a select committee chairman. He also said the Assassinations Committee's problems would probably be worked out and that he believed it would stay in business beyond its March 31st deadline. Cryptically confusing, perhaps, but behind the scenes there must have been some pressure brought on Gonzalez. "They tell us that Gonzalez is going to go,' Tannenbaum reported to me, "but I think the bastards are lying to us. I think what they're really angling for is a trade-off. If Gonzalez goes, then Sprague will have to go." Although it wasn't immediately apparent, Tannenbaum was right about he bastards.
Chairman Gonzalez resigned from his post -- and the Assassinations Committee -- in the first week of March. He then flew home to San Antonio and gave a long, raging "exclusive" interview to hometown newsman Paul Thompson of the Express-News.
The next day I received a call in Miami from Associated Press reported John Hopkins. "Have you ever been in Washington?" he asked. I said sure I've been to Washington, why? "Because Gonzalez gave an interview in Texas in which he claimed you've never been to Washington," Hopkins said. "He said he didn't know what you did in Miami and Sprague wouldn't tell him." Hopkins also told me that Gonzalez claimed that he was forced out of the investigation by "vast and powerful forces, including the country's most sophisticated criminal element." "By the way," Hopkins asked, "do you have any connections with Organized Crime?"
"In that interview," Hopkins said, "Gonzalez claimed you are supposed to have underworld connections."
I had never met Gonzalez and I doubt that he knew anything about me personally. But he did know my name from the list of new staffers whom Sprague had hired. Gonzalez was making assumptions strictly on the basis of my name. That steamed me. I don't think I've been more angry in my life with someone I had never met. That night, if Gonzalez had lived in Miami, I would have blown up his car.
It was nearing the end of March, 1977. Again the Assassinations Committee was due to die unless the House granted it a continuance and approved a budget for it. The resignation of Gonzalez and the appointment of a new chairman, a big, balding, low-key Black Democrat from Ohio name Louis Stokes, finally gave the Committee and its staff the chance to concentrate on the problem of survival. From its birth, the Committee had been forced into a position of having to make survival its priority. It was established in September, 1976, with a token budget and the right to live only until the end of the year. The attacks against it had delayed its being reconstituted for a month, and then it was given another token budge budget and the right to live for only two more month. At each resuscitation, the dictates of continued survival had to be met. The internal feuding naturally exacerbated the situation tremendously.
The investigation of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King? Oh yeah, that's what Congress expected the Committee to be doing while it kept it in a financial armlock and permitted the Committee's own chairman to saw away at its leg. When the question of the Assassinations Committees survival did come before the Rules Committee, its Chairman James Delaney, a Democrat from New York, carped: "I'd like to know if they have anything or if this is just a plain witch-hunt. I don't know if it's a witch-hunt or not." Even House Speaker O'NEILL said at one point he thought the Committee would have to produce "something of a sensational nature" to survive.
All too quickly, the lesson of the warren Commission had been lost. There could be no valid investigation of the Kennedy assassination unless there was a objective, thoroughly structured approach unencumbered by political pressures or lack of resources. But all Sprague and Tannenbaum and the other staff directors could do in the first six months of the Committee's life was concern themselves with political pressures and the question of survival. A structured approach to the investigation could not be formulated. What was needed was eyewash. The Committee had to look good. The Committee had to look as if it were making progress. The Committee had to look as if it were digging up sensational, new revelations. If it didn't, there were too many members of Congress ready to cut off its gonads for not performing.
Under such conditions, it is no wonder that within the Committee staff itself problems began to arise. Tannenbaum was under pressure with Sprague to ward off the attacks from the political front. He was under pressure from having to evaluate and act upon the flood of information gushing in the from army of both legitimate researchers and misinformation purveyors while, at the same time, trying to acquaint himself with the incredibly intricate details of the Kennedy case. He was under pressure from the staff to begin a substantive investigation. And he was under pressure from Congress and the press to come up with sensational revelations.
Tannenbaum became paranoid. He took a small group of staff members into his confidence and distrusted everyone else. He paranoia was reinforced when one staff member was revealed to be feeding Gonzalez reports of Sprague's confidential talks to the staff. That, plus the fact of having to live under a Damocles Sword for six months, produced a good deal of internal squabbling and pretty bickering among the staff members. There were, however, some young staffers who were legitimately concerned about the direction of the investigation and the lack of dialogue concerning the establishment of priorities when and if the Committee got funded. They began writing memos detailing their concerns and urging the implementation of their suggested courses of action. These became known among the staff as "C.Y.A." memos. For "Cover Your Ass."
Isolated in Miami, without authorization or funds to go to Washington to find out what the hell was really going on, I was at least able to function a bit on my own, put up a good front with the people I was talking with and chip away in a random way at the mountain of work to be done. In Washington, the staff of investigators were, for the most part, spinning their wheels. All they could do was handle what came across the transom. Cliff Fenton, the Chief Investigator, was a former top New York homicide detective brought in by Tannenbaum. Like all the other ex-badges from the Big Apple on the Committee, Fenton was a sharp dresser. A hefty, easy-moving fellow, Fenton gave the appearance of being a mellow, rambling' type of guy who spoke with an inevitable chuckle that was indefensible contagious. I often envision him back in Manhattan shuffling easily into the lock-up with a killer in tow, the guy chuckling right along with Fenton as he was led to his cell.
But Fenton was a shrewd, street-wise cop who knew only one way to handle an investigation: By putting men out to investigate. Before Gonzalez cut off authorization to travel, Fenton had sent a few of his men out to take random shots at leads that came in. They came back with enough to convince him that, if he had his way, there would be an investigation heavy with field work. Fenton never got his way. In the beginning, in fact, he had a rough time keeping his men busy in Washington. Accustomed to being on the street, they got itchy inside. But since only one or two had any background familiarity with the Kennedy case, Fenton suggested they spend their time reading the shelves of books that had been written, mostly by Warren Commission critics. It was, however, a case of the blind leading the blind. One of the best circulated around the office was a large, soft-cover volume by Texans Gary Shaw and Larry Harris. It was called Cover-up. It had a lot of pictures in it.
Although the Committee had been in existence for almost six months, it was nowhere close to being able to function as an effective investigative body. I didn't fully realized that until the last days in March, just before the question of its survival would come up again on the floor of the House.
Late Monday afternoon, on March 28th, I received a call from Bob Tannenbaum. The House was scheduled to voter that Wednesday on whether or not to continue the Assassinations Committee. The Committee members as well as the top staff counsel had been spending most of their time lobbying among the individual lawmakers for support. Although many of his fellow congressmen didn't care for Gonzalez, he was a member of the club. Some resent Sprague -- viewed by a least one congressman as "just a clerk" -- for besting Gonzalez in a head-to-head confrontation. That day, Gonzalez himself had been on the floor of the House ranting again about Chief Counsel's insubordination." He had even distributed a "Dear Colleague" letter to every House member urging threat the Committee be dropped. He was thirsting for revenge. I asked Tannenbaum how it looked. "It depends on who you talk to what time of the day." He did not should optimistic. "Anyway, Wednesday is the day. We'll know one way or the other." We talked about the situation for a while and then I told Tannenbaum what I was doing while waiting for the investigation to get organized. I had discovered there was a CIA agent in Dallas named J. Walton Moore. He had been there since the time of the Kennedy assassination and, in fact, was listed in the telephone book down through the years -- except during the period of the Jim Garrison investigation. On the chance that Moore might be Maurice Bishop, I asked a friend of mine, a reporter on a Dallas television station, to have a surreptitious photograph of Moore taken so I could show it to Veciana. (Moore, it turned out, did not look like Bishop. However, the CIA was informed that its agents photograph had been taken. The loose-tongued photographer my friend obtained told another newsman at the station about my request. That newsman, my friend later discovered, happened to be a CIA asset.)
At any rate, I was telling Tannenbaum of my plans to have the photograph taken. I told him that Moore was additionally interesting because he had been in touch with George DeMohrenschildt, the much traveled oil consultant who had befriend the Oswalds as soon as they had returned from Russia. "By the way," Tannenbaum said. "I just got a call from the Dutch journalist, Willem Oltmans. He's the guy I was telling you about."
Tannenbaum had told me about Oltmans but he needn't have. Oltmans had gotten national publicity by appearing on various television interviews and then going to Washington to tell his story to the Committee. He had befriended DeMohrenschildt and claimed that DeMohrenschildt had confessed that he was part of a "Dallas conspiracy" of oilmen and Cuban exiles with "a blood debt to settle." DeMohrenschildt admitted, Oltmans said, that Oswald "acted at his guidance and instruction."
DeMohrenschildt had reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown at the time hew was talking with Oltmans, but he left a hospital in Dallas to travel with Oltmans to Europe to reportedly negotiate book and magazine rights to his story. Then in Brussels, Oltmans claimed, DeMohrenschildt ran away from him and disappeared.
Now Tannenbaum told me that Oltmans had just called him from California. Oltmans said that in tracking DeMohrenschildt he had just found that DeMohrenschildt could be reached at a telephone number in Florida. Tannenbaum gave me the number. That afternoon, I checked out the number. It was listed to a Mrs. C.E. Tilton III in Manalapan. That was a small strip of a town on the ocean south of Palm Beach noted for its wealthy residents. (I would later learn that Mrs. Tilton was the sister of one of DeMohrenschildt's former wives.) I decided it would be best if I could contact DeMohrenschildt directly rather than by telephone. I planned on driving up to Manalapan the next morning. I was excited about he opportunity to talk with DeMohrenschildt and thought it incredibly fortuitous that he should turn up in South Florida.
George DeMohrenschildt had to be one of the most fascinating characters who popped up in the original Warren Commission investigation. Born in Russia in 1911, the son of a Czarist official who later became a wealthy landowner in Poland, DeMohrenschildt received a doctorate in commerce from the University of Liege in Belgium. He came to the United States in 1938 and worked for Shumaker & Co, and exporting firm. He was also, he would later admit, connected with the French intelligence service. In 1945, he went to Texas and got a master degree in petroleum engineering. He then began traveling around the world as a consultant for various Texas oil companies. In 1961, he showed up at a Guatemalan camp being used by Cuban exiles for the Bay of Pigs invasion. At the time, he and his fourth wife were supposedly on a walking tour of South America. DeMohrenschildt also worked for a period as a consultant in Yugoslavia for the International Co-Operation Administration. His salary was paid by the U.S. State Department under an arrangement similar to the one Antonio Veciana would later have as a banking consultant in Bolivia.
DeMohrenschildt's associations were generally on the higher levels of society. His first wife was Palm Beach resident Dorothy Pierson. His second wife was the daughter of a high State Department official. His third wife was Chestnut Hill socialite Wynne Sharples, now Mrs. Peter Ballinger of Villanova. He married his fourth wife, Jeanne LeGon, in 1959 in Dallas. Her father had been director of the Far Eastern Railroad in Manchuria.
Given his background, it seemed strange that DeMohrenschildt would have befriended an apparent working-class drifter like Lee Harvey Oswald. When Gary Taylor, who had been married to DeMohrenschildt's daughter Alexandra, was asked by a Warren Commission counsel if he though DeMohrenschildt had any influence over Oswald, Taylor replied: "Yes, there seemed to be a great deal of influence there." At the end of his questioning, Taylor was asked if he had any further comments that might help the Commission. "Well," he said, "the only thing that occurred to me was that -- uh -- and I guess it was from the beginning -- that if there was any assistance or plotters in the assassination that it was, in my opinion, most probably the DeMohrenschildt's." The Warren Commission did little to explore the contention.
On the morning of March 29th, 1977, I went looking for George DeMohrenschildt in Manalapan. I found the Tilton home sitting on the edge of the ocean highway behind a barrier of high hedges. It look as if it belonged more in New England than Florida, a large, two-story structure of dark cedar shingles and green trim. To the rear were a series of garages with a carriage house above them. I drove directly into the wide yard beside the house. As I got out of the car, there appeared from behind the garage a tall, strikingly beautiful woman. She had smooth olive skin, deep dark eyes and long black hair. Her statuesque body was clad in a clinging black leotard. She was carrying a small towel and glowed with a sheen of perspiration. She had obviously been exercising.
The woman turned out to be DeMohrenschildt's daughter Alexandra. After I introduce myself, she told me that her father was in Palm Beach and that she didn't know how to reach him. She said, however, that she was certain he would be in the evening that and that I could reach him if I called about 8 o'clock. She gave me the telephone number I already had. The only identification I had at the time as a business card with an engraved gold eagle which identified me as a staff investigator for Senator Schweiker's office. I crossed out Schweiker's name and wrote "House Select Committee on Assassinations" above it and gave her the card. She said she would tell her father to expect my call. She was cordial but direct, as if she had taken my sudden appearance there a inevitable.
I would later learned that as I was talking with Alexandra DeMohrenschildt her father was in a hotel room in Palm Beach being interviewed by a freelance writer name Edward J. Epstein. Although the author of Inquest, one of the first books critical of the Warren Commission, Epstein's contacts with the CIA were considered suspicious by many of his fellow critics. In addition, it was known that Epstein was then working under a lucrative contract from Reader's Digest, a publication that had done cooperative projects with the Agency, to write a book that would suggest that Lee Harvey Oswald was an agent of Russia's intelligence service, the KGB.
The drive from Manalapan back to Miami takes about an hour and a half. That afternoon I called Cliff Fenton, the chief investigator, and told him what had happened. I said I would call DeMohrenschildt that evening and probably set up an appointment to see him the next morning. "Fine, Fine," Fenton said. "Well, you just keep on it." He was obviously more occupied with he frantic efforts to keep the Committee alive when it came up for a vote before the House the next day. "This is crazy up here, just plain crazy," he said with his characteristic chuckle. "I have never seen anything like this place."
About 6:30 that evening I received a call from my friend who is the television reporter in Dallas. "Funny thing happened," he said. "we just aired a story that came over the wire about a Dutch journalist saying the Assassinations Committee has finally located DeMohrenschildt in South Florida. Now DeMohrenschildt's attorney in Dallas a guy named Pat Russell, he calls and says DeMohrenschildt committed suicide this afternoon. Is that true?"
The manner in which the Assassination COMMITTEE reacted to the death of George DeMohrenschildt revealed that the Committee -- six months after it was formed -- was still totally incapable of functioning as a investigative body. In reflected six months of political reality and how successful its opponents had been in keeping it distracted and off-balance. DeMohrenschildt may have been one of the most important witnesses in the Kennedy assassination investigation. Within minutes after I confirmed and notified Washington of his death, teams of Committee counsels and investigators could have been descending on the scene to begin in intensive study of what happened, slapping witnesses with subpoenas for later sworn testimony. What happened instead was that to days after the incident, a junior counsel and a recently hired investigator with little knowledge of who DeMohrenschildt even was holed up to help me for a couple of days in my frenetic efforts. If it hadn't been for the quick-thinking moves and assistance of Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Bludworth and then-Detective Chief Dick Sheets in securing some of DeMohrenschildt's documents, the Committee would have gotten no more than what the newspaper reporters did. As it were, no subpoenas were ever served and no testimony ever taken from at least two important witnesses: DeMohrenschildt's daughter Alexandra and author Edward J. Epstein. Epstein who was interviewing DeMohrenschildt just before his death, quickly flew out of Palm Beach before I could question him.)
George DeMohrenschildt and returned to the Tilton home in Manalapan about four hours after I had left it that morning. Alexandra told him of my visit and gave him my card. The assassinations probe. As one of the old guard told Delaware County Congressman and Committee member Bob Edgar: "You guys dumped Gonzalez. I don't know Sprague at all, but if you don't dump him too, you guys are dead in the water." Sensing that feeling, Sprague had early offered to resign if it meant the difference in keeping the Committee alive. Chairman Stokes assured him that would not be necessary and that the Committee would stick with him. Then, in the last hours of the evening before the House vote, Stokes called Sprague to his office. Repeatedly, Stokes reviewed the situation and each time painted it in gloomier terms. Finally, near midnight, Sprague realized that despite Stokes' earlier assurances of supporting him, the ground was being shoveled out from beneath him.
"Do you want me now to resign?" Sprague asked. Stokes put his head down and remained silent. Bristling, Sprague stood up. "Gentlemen," he said, "it's clear it's in everyone's best interest if I resign." He then called his secretary and dictated a two-sentence letter of resignation.
Sprague drove home to Philadelphia at 2 a.m. that evening, about the time I was driving back to Miami from State Attorney Bludworth's office in Palm Beach and wondering what the hell was going on in Washington. By 8 the next morning, while I was again trying to contact someone at the Committee offices in Washington Sprague was on a plane to Acapulco. That day, after four hours of stormy debate, the House voted to continue the Assassination Committee at a budget reduced to $2.5 million for the year.
The key factors that drove Richard Sprague to resign as Chief Counsel of the Assassinations Committee appeared, at the time, to be apparent and on the surface. His proposed use of certain investigative equipment, his demand for a expensive, unrestricted investigation, his refusal to pay politics with Chairman Gonzalez -- all were apparent grounds for the vociferous criticism which, in the long run, was debilitating to the Committee's efforts to get on with its job. However, after his resignation and a brief respite from the turmoil of Washington, Sprague was able to view his experience in a broader perspective.
Shortly after he returned from Acapulco, he was interviewed by Robert Sam Anson of New Times magazine. Sprague admitted that, with the barrages flying at him from all directions, he and the staff had little time to actually investigate. By his reckoning, he said, he spent "point zero one percent" of his time examining the actual evidence. Yet, he told Anson, if he had it to do over again, he would begin his investigation of the Kennedy assassination by probing "Oswald's ties to the Central Intelligence Agency." Recently, I asked Sprague why he had come to that conclusion. "Well," he said, "when I first thought about it I decided that the House leadership really hadn't intended for there to be an investigation. The Committee was set up to appease the Black Caucus in an election year. I still believe that was a factor. But when I looked back at what happened, it suddenly became very clear that the problems began only after I ran up against the CIA. That's when my troubles really started."
In the early months of the Committee';s life, Sprague's critics both in Congress and in the press were not only keeping him busy dodging the shots, they were also demanding that the Committee produce some sensational new evidence to justify its continuance. Sprague, therefore, was forced to take some wild swings at what appeared to be a few obvious targets. One area that very apparently needed closer examination was the CIA's handling of the initial investigation of Lee Harvey Oswald's activities in Mexico City.
According to the information supplied to the Warren Commission by the CIA, a man who identified himself as Lee Harvey Oswald visited the Cuban consulate in Mexico City on September 27th, 1963. (That, by the way, the House Assassinations Committee would later conflictingly conclude, was possibly one of the dates Oswald appeared at Silvia Odio's door in Dallas.) The Agency told the Commission that Oswald had been in Mexico City from September 26th to October 3rd. During the time, said the Agency, Oswald made a number of visits to both the Cuban Embassy and the Russian Embassy attempting to get an in-transit visa to Russia by way of Cuba. The CIA also claimed that when Oswald visited the Russian Embassy he spoke with a Soviet consul who was really a KGB intelligence officer.
It was later learned, however, that CIA headquarters in Washington was not informed of the incident until October 9th, and then told only that Oswald had contacted the Soviet Embassy on October 1st. The CIA station in Mexico City told headquarters that it had obtained a photograph of Oswald visited the Embassy and described the man in the photo as approximately 35 years old, six feet tall, with an athletic build, a balding top and receding hairline.
When the Warren Commission asked the CIA for photos of Oswald taken in Mexico City, the ones it produced depicted the man described in the original teletype -- obviously not Oswald. Notified of this discrepancy, the CIA said simply it had made a mistake and that there were no photographs of Oswald taken in Mexico City. It never identified the man in the photos. In fact, the CIA was able to produce very little hard evidence regarding Oswald's activities in Mexico City. "For example," Commission Counsel J. Lee Ranking complained, "they had no record of Oswald's daily movements while in Mexico City, nor could they confirm the date of his departure or his mode of travels."
Some Warren Commission critics would later interpret the incident as an attempt by certain CIA personnel to falsely link Oswald to Communist connections even before the Kennedy assassination. When Sprague first approached this area, he discovered that the CIA officer in charge of reporting such information from Mexico City at the time of Oswald's visit was former Bay of Pigs propaganda chief David Atlee Phillips.
In the biography, The Night Watch: 25 Years of Peculiar Service (published in 1977), David Phillips spends just a few pages on the Kennedy assassination and the Mexico City incident. He blames the cable discrepancy on a mistake by an underling. He explains the lack of an Oswald photography on the CIA's inability to maintain camera coverage of the Cuban and Russian embassies on an around-the-clock and weekend basis. A seemingly strange deficiency at a period so close to the Cuban missile crisis)
Sprague called David Phillips to testify before the Assassinations Committee in November, 1976. According to Sprague, Phillips said that the CIA had monitored and tape recorded Oswald's conversations with the Soviet Embassy. The tape was then transcribed by a CIA employee who then mistakenly coupled it with a photograph of a person who was not Oswald. Phillips said that the actual recording was routinely destroyed or re-used about a week after it was received.
Sprague subsequently discovered an FBI memorandum to the Secret Service dated November 23rd, 1963. It referred to the CIA notification of the man who visited the Russian Embassy. The memo noted that "Special Agents of this Bureau who have conversed with Oswald in Dallas, Tex., have observed photographs of the individual referred to above and have listened to a recording of his voice. These Special Agents are of the opinion that the above-referred-to individual was not Lee Harvey Oswald."
Sprague was intrigued: How could the FBI agents have listened to a tape recording in November when Phillips said it had been destroyed in October? Sprague decided to push the CIA for an answer. He wanted complete information about the CIA's operation in Mexico City and total access to all its employees who may have had anything to do with the photographs, tape recordings and transcripts. The Agency balked. Sprague pushed harder. Finally the Agency agreed that Sprague could have access to the information if he agreed to sign a CIA Secrecy Agreement. Sprague refused. He contended that would be in direct conflict with House Resolution 222 which established the Assassination Committee and authorized it investigate the agencies of the United States Government. "How," he asked, "can I possible sign an agreement with an agency I'm supposed to be investigating?" He indicated he would subpoena the CIA's records.
Shortly afterwards, the first attempt to get the Assassinations Committee reconstituted was blocked. One of its critics was Representative Robert Michel of Illinois, who objected to the scope of the Committee's mandate. "With the proposed mandate," Michael harped, "that Committee could begin a whole new investigating of the Central Intelligence Agency!" That, says Sprague, is exactly what he intended to do. And that, he also now contends, was the beginning to his end.
Richard Sprague resigned as Chief Counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations on March 30th, 1977 --- six and a half months after its formation. The new Chief Counsel, Professor G. Robert Blakey of Cornell University, was not appointed until June 20th, 1977 -- more than nine months after the Committee was formed. During that entire period, the Committee staff -- contrary to its reports to Congress indicating the "progress" of its investigation -- was going around in circles. Whenever the politics and finances permitted, Chief Investigator Cliff Fenton would send some of his men into Dallas to check out a lead. Even with such a snapshot approach, the fact that more often than not they returned with evidence that hadn't previously been known or information from a witness who hadn't previously been interviewed, indicated that the Kennedy case was still, despite the years, ripe for a basic street-level investigation. But without a structured approach, with an apparatus to analyze and chart the raw data and indicate the direction of the next step, the Committee was running in place.
Deputy Chief Counsel Bob Tannenbaum had been to Miami Beach on his honeymoon. His image of his Miami based investigator was of a guy in reflecting glasses sitting around the pool at the Fontainebleau, sipping a daiquiri and watching the bikinis go by. I did that, I told him, only on sunny days. Actually, I had long ago decided to move out on my own . Regularly, I sent lengthy memos detailing developments in the various areas I was looking into. Any day now, I kept telling myself, the investigation would begin and my raw date would be structured into the big picture to produce action and direction. Eventually, as the file copies of my memos grew thicker and the response from Washington grew thinner, I began getting the feeling I was being a pain in the ass. I would later learn that both Tannenbaum and Fenton were secreting most of my memos away in the back of their file drawers, fearful of information form them leaking out and each privately doubtful that nay real investigation would every start.
Finally, in the middle of April, I was authorized to take my first trip to Washington since I had officially joined the Committee. I was treated like a envied celebrity, the lucky guy out in the field who kept riding through the thicket of flying arrows while the rest of the staff had been pinned down at the fort. As I was being taken through some basic bureaucratic process -- and finally getting an official identification badge -- Tannenbaum was holding a staff meeting. He returned to tell me that the staff had decided that I was the most important person on the staff in terms of any real investigating the Committee had done thus far. That was a very significant comment on the Committee's progress.
Actually, the staff was in sorry shape. It had lived on the brink of the abyss for too long. Morale was horrendous and bitching was rife. Many of the junior counsel complained to me that Tannenbaum treated them like children. Tannenbaum complained to me that many of the junior counsel were children. "They can't figure out a thing for themselves," he moaned. Of course, the enforced wheel-spinning for so many months had gotten to every one. No matter what they did to keep themselves busy, they knew that, until they were officially authorize to go on and a new chief counsel appointed to lead the way they were, in fact, just keeping themselves busy. To many, however, the pits of frustration were reached when Tannenbaum ordered the staff to outline the 26 volumes of Warren Commission evidence and testimony -- an exercise of meaningless redundancy.
After Sprague departed and it eventually because apparent that he wouldn't fill the chief counsel slot, Tannenbaum's attitude deteriorated. He hung on however, until Blakey settled in and then found himself a job at the Justice Department. (He's now in private practice in California.) But before he left, Tannenbaum got me what he had been promising for along time: a little help in Miami.
The Miami branch of the Assassinations Committee became a two-man operation when Al Gonzalez moved down from New York in August. A former cohort of Chief Investigator Fenton's on the N.Y.P.D., Gonzales had retired as a top detective and then worked for a while for the New York State commission investigating the Attica riot. When Castro made his first visit to the United Nations in early '60s, Gonzalez was picked to be his special bodyguard. Al was a native New Yorker and not of Cuban heritage, but Fidel took a liking to him, instead he remain at his side, put his arm around him and invited him to be his personal guest in Cuba. Castro called him "El Grande." Al was about 6'4" and weight about 270. I felt a little more secure in Little Havana after Al joined me.
Although I had kept in touch with Antonio Veciana after the closing of Schweiker's investigation, I called him on New Year's Day, 1977, as soon as I had officially joined the House Select Committee on Assassinations. I told him that Schweiker's office had turned my files over to the Committee and that I was not working for it. I said I thought the new House Committee would be much more effective than the old Senate Committee because it would have more resources and be very independent. It was my first day on the job. We chatted a bit and then Veciana asked if I knew that he had been called back to Washington to appear before the new Senate Permanent Committee on Washington to appear before the new Senate Permanent Committee on Intelligence. I hadn't known. "I was three days in Washington," Veciana said. "They asked me a lot of questions. There were different people there now and I think some were with the FBI. They asked me not only about the Kennedy assassination but also about the Cuban cause here in Miami, about the bombings here and what was going on."
I asked whether he was questioned again about Maurice Bishop. "yes, a little," he said. "They showed me some more pictures, but they were not Bishop." We chatted a bit more and then I said that I would be back in touch shortly, as soon as the Committee got organized -- any day now. "Well, if I can help you, don't hesitate to call," he said. From his initial leeriness, Veciana's feelings about me and obviously grown to one of some trust. Two week later that trust was almost shattered.
The call came from late on a Friday afternoon Troy Gustafson in Schweiker's office. "Veciana's cover has been blown," he said. "The whole story is going to be in Jack Anderson's column next Wednesday." I almost felt the blade burning deep into my back. It was a very personal reaction. Someone, somewhere had betrayed me.
Gustafson told me he had just gotten a call from reporter George Lardner at the Washington Post. Lardner had seem the advance mail copies of two Jack Anderson columns which the Post was scheduled to run the following Wednesday and Thursday. Although Veciana's name was not mentioned -- Anderson called him "mysterious witness Mr. X" -- the columns detailed his entire relationship with a "Morris" Bishop. "Morris" was the erroneous way I had spelled Bishop's first name on my initial rough notes of my interviews with Veciana. Anderson obviously had copies of those notes. I was furious. I was furious at the leak and at Anderson. My old journalistic appreciation of a news scoop went out the window. Didn't Anderson have any regard for Veciana's life? Lardner, who had covered the Kennedy assassination and the intelligence community for years, had immediately recognized "Mr. X" as being Veciana. Anderson had clearly pinpointed him as the founder of Alpha 66 and the organizer of the Castro assassination attempts in 1961 and 1971. Every Cuban exile in Miami could easily identify Veciana as that person. Now Anderson was clearly marking him as a tool of the CIA and a man who, in turn, had secretly used his fellow exiles as tools of a government which, in the end, had also betrayed them. Bombs had gone off in Little Havana for less reason than that.
If Anderson had copies of my original rough interview notes, they could have only come from one of four sources: From me, from Schweiker's office, from the Senate Intelligence Committee or from the House Assassinations Committee. The weight of motivation fell heavily on the last. The Committee had just failed to be automatically reconstituted and it was scheduled to clear its first key hurdle, the House Rules Committee, the following week. Certain Congressman were crying for evidence of its effectiveness. Anderson's column about the coup of "congressional investigators" undercovering a "Mr. X" who met with Oswald could be the kind of publicity boost that might push the Rules Committee into positive action.
Seething with anger, I called Tannenbaum. I was taken aback at what appeared to be his genuine reaction of shock at the news. He swore that the leak did not come from him or from Sprague. In fact, he, Sprague was at that moment meeting with Schweiker and probably hearing about the Anderson columns for the first time from the Senator himself. "I really think this is an attempt to sabotage us," Tannenbaum said. "We had already gotten word that certain Senators are trying to zing us and the Senate Committee is not being cooperative at all."
In the end, I could not conclusively prove to myself where Anderson had gotten copies of my rough notes. I knew for sure that they hadn't come from me or from Schweiker's office. In speaking with the staff counsel on the Senate Intelligence Committee who had recently interviewed Veciana, I was assured that they hadn't come from him either. "It's extremely damaging here," he said, "and I think blows any chance of ever getting to the bottom of the thing. Also, you know we're not going to be able to deal with the Miami Cuban community at all now. Once you blow your sources down there you're cooked." That I was well aware of and it increased my fury. There was no assessing the damage the leak could produce in my effectiveness as an investigator. Why would any of my sources trust me now? Why should Veciana ever again believe he could tell me anything confidentially? Why should be continue to cooperate at all?
Setting up a meeting with Veciana to tell him about the coming Anderson columns was one of the most difficult things I ever had to force myself to do. He could accuse me of betraying him and I could not prove to him that I didn't. Veciana's reaction, however, was not directed against me. An expression of heavy concern crossed his face and it became obvious as we started to talk about it that he was extremely worried about the reaction among his close associates in the anti- Castro movement. I got the impression that he once again had become active and that his effectiveness was based on their long trust in him. "It is very bad for me," he said. "It is good that I am going away for a while." He had previously scheduled a lengthy business trip to California.
Veciana and I spent the evening conjecturing about the source of the leak. He told me that he still trusted me personally and believed that I wouldn't have broken his confidence. At first he leaned toward the Senate Committee as the source because in his recent call to Washington he had been questioned by some men whose agency association he wasn't told. "Yet," he said, "the Senate and Schweiker had my information for almost a year and it was not leaked. I think maybe it was the House Committee."
I eventually had to come to agree with him. In questioning Tannenbaum further he admitted he had briefed at least six of the twelve members of the Assassination Committee on the details of the Veciana story and that copies of the rough notes were put into the file system. That meant that entire staff could have had access to them. Tannenbaum, however, expressed the feeling that perhaps it was the CIA itself which engineered the leak in order to damage the Committee's credibility. "Well, if so, it was damn successful," I said. But Tannenbaum was not nearly as agitated about the incident as I and repeatedly tried to calm me down. "Well, at least Veciana's name wasn't mentioned," he said, "and at least your name wasn't mentioned. So considered the bright side and perk up a little bit. Think of the problems I have up here, and we're not even in business yet. At least you're down there in the Sunshine State. By happy, man. Hang in there!"
I hung in there, but to me the leak to Jack Anderson of the Veciana story was another jolt from the black cloud of political priorities which overhung the Assassinations Committee from the beginning. The risk to Veciana's life wasn't considered, the damage to my effectiveness as a Committee investigator wasn't considered and the perhaps irreparable harm it did to substantiative progress in the investigation itself wasn't considered. Only the of the survival Assassinations Committee mattered. I would have to remember that, I told myself at the time, in dealing with my confidential sources in the future. As long as I was working for Congress, I could never again asked them for their implicit trust..
Months later, Bob Tannenbaum himself, after he had submitted his resignation and called together his closest staff associates, gave us these final words of farewell advice: "The one thing you have to remember about this town is to stick together and watch your ass."
I did not meet G. Robert Blakey, the new staff boss of the House Assassinations Committee until just before Bob Tannenbaum resigned late in July of 1977. Between Sprague's departure and Blakey's arrival, Tannenbaum finally had the opportunity to attempt some structuring of an investigation. Various special projects -- such as accumulating the list of Dealey Plaza witnesses, arranging autopsy and ballistic studies, preparing photo analysis and beginning file research -- were beginning to keep the staff busy. In New Orleans, a crucial area because of Oswald's contacts there with anti-Castro Cubans. Chief Investigator Fenton borrowed from that town's police department two street-wise cops to become, with Al Gonzales and I in Miami, the Committee's only other "outside" investigators. (The New Orleans duo was an odd couple: Bob Buras was a tough ex-Marine, serious, scripture-quoting, born-again Christian; L.J. Delsa was an amiable, beer-guzzling, former undercover narc with excellent contacts in the French Quarter. Strangely, they clicked together and were early hard working and enthusiastic. They got themselves in trouble later when they gave a witness a lie-detector test without authorization. They made the mistake of thinking they were conducting a real investigation.)
Late in June, I received a call from Tannenbaum. "I'm going to give you an investigative plan," he said. "I'm getting it together now." I said that was great but suggested that, first, the staff should be divided into teams and the investigative areas defined. "Yeah, that's what I'm going to do," Tannenbaum said. "Blakey starts officially on Friday and I want you to come up next week to meet him. Meanwhile, I tried to talk to him about it but instead he gave me this little book he wrote called Techniques in the Investigation and Prosecution of Organized Crime. He told me, "When I talk about an investigative plan, I want you to know my lingo.' Then he hands me this cockamamie book."
The next week I was in Washington sitting in Tannenbaum's office when Blakey struck his head in the door. "Come in, Bob," Tannenbaum Called. "we're just getting a briefing of the Miami situation." Actually, Tannenbaum had been telling me about a job interview he had that afternoon at the Justice Department. Blakey strolled in, introduce himself, slouched in a chair, leaned back and put his scruffy brown loafers up on Tannenbaum's desk. Damn if he didn't look like a real Ivy League professor. He wore a baggy, pin-striped gray suit, button-down blue Oxford shirt and an archaic green slim-jim tie. He wasn't a big man, but his light paunch, soft pale face and receding hairline made him look older than his 41 years. Under heavy, gray-flecked brows, he had strikingly clear blue eyes. He exuded a casual self-confidence and as I told him about what we were doing in Miami, he expressed a keen interest. He asked particularly about Santos Trafficante and his involvement in the areas I was investigating. He then began talking about his days with the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the Justice Department. "You want to hear something ironic?" he said. "My last meeting with Bobby Kennedy was on November 22nd, 1963. He was running late fora luncheon appointment and had to hurry off. He said we'd finish up when he returned. He never returned. At lunch he got word of his brother's death in Dallas."
My first impressions of Bob Blakey where that he was very self-assured and very knowledgeable in the ways of the Washington bureaucracy. And it was obvious that he knew how to take over an operation because the first thing he did when he arrived was nothing. That, as they tell you in the military, is exactly what a new commander should o when he is assigned a unit: Do nothing but walk around, look around, listen carefully and ask question. The, when you move for control, do it firmly and with hesitation.
Despite his soft-spoken, academically casual and sometimes even whimsical demeanor (he invaded the home of some staff researchers on Halloween Eve dressed as Cont Dracula), Blakey turned out to be a very cunning intellectual strategist who took quite pride in h is ability to manipulate both people and situations. His foil was the man he brought in to replace Tannenbaum as Deputy Chief Counsel in charge of the Kennedy "task force." (That was the inflated term used to identify each of the Committee's sub-staffs. Inexplicable, the Martin Luther King task force had more investigators.) Gary Cornwell, a 32-year-old Justice Department prosecutor out of the Kansas City Organized Crime Strike Force, was a cocky, stocky, stumpy Texan who exuded a brash pragmatism. He talked fast, loud and Texan, smoked pipes and big cigars, drove a Datsun 280Z, wore cowboy boots and appreciated both hard rock and Willie Nelson. I had to like the guy. But, contrasts in character that they were, both Blakey and Cornwell viewed their roles as staff director with the House Select Committee on Assassination in the same limited perspective: they were the hired hands of the Congressional Committee members and the priorities of their job were governed strictly by the desires of those members.
By the time Bob Blakey was offered the position as Committee Chief Counsel (a few nationally-known figures, including former Watergate prosecutor Archibold Cox and former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, had reportedly refused it), the public tumult the Committee had endured has convinced most of the most of the members that they were trapped in a no-way-to-win situation. They couldn't get out of it without losing some political face, but hey could get it over with as soon as possible. When Chairman Stroke offered Blakey the job, he told him that he definitely wanted the Committee's business wrapped up within its to-year life span and final report done by the end of the 1978 Congressional year.
The two-year limitation was an arbitrary and artificial one that, somewhere along the line, because written in stone. Dick Sprague admitted to some of the blame. "When I first came to Washington," he later told Gallery Magazine writer Jerry Policoff, "I was asked how long it would take. My response was, to properly investigate murder you can never put a time limit on it. If you ask me what I think ought to be the time to get the job done, my estimate would be two years. But if you've got an outside limit, and people who are being investigated know that, they can stall you for that length of time and defeat the investigation."
Sprague's fear of delaying tactics was based on solid historical precedent. That's exactly what the CIA pulled on the Warren Commission. When the Commission was pressing the Agency regarding some information about its Mexico City operations, an internal memorandum written to then-Deputy Director Richard Helms noted: "Unless you feel otherwise, Jim (Angleton) would prefer to wait out the Commission on the matter...." (Angleton was the long-time chief of the CIA's Counter-Intelligence Division which, strangely enough, was the unit handling the Agency's dealing with the Warren Commission.)
At his first general staff meeting late in August, 1977, the new Chief Counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations pointedly announced that he had taken the job with the stipulation and the promise to Chairman Stokes that the staff would finish its investigation and produce a report by December 31st 1978.
There would be absolutely no possibility, Blakey said, that the Committee would be extended beyond time. And with that pronouncement, I suddenly got a revealing insight into Bob Blakey's character. It also indicated how he viewed the importance of John F. Kennedy's assassination in the large, historical context. He said nothing incongruous about accepting a basic and crucial limitation in conducting "a full and complete investigation" of one of the most important events in this country's history.
At the time, I really didn't believe Blakey. I felt that once we started rolling, once we started accumulating evidence that demanded further investigation, well, then Blakey, with the backing of the staff, would stand up to the Committee and the Committee would stand up to Congress and Congress would be forced to give us more time and money. The Kennedy assassination was just too important. We had to go all the way.
It was also at the initial staff meeting the at Blakey established what he considered the peripheries of the Committee's operations. In clear, simple and carefully defined terms reminiscent of a Pol Sci I lecture to a class of frosh, he explained the differences between the function so a legislative body and the goals of a law enforcement agency. Our primary duty, he pointed out, was not to conduct a criminal investigation. We were limited by the powers and privileges granted to Congress by the Constitution. Our investigative power were merely an auxiliary of the legislative function. We were not out to produce indictments. We had no legal sanction to arrest or imprison anyone. Our goals were to gather evidence to be presented at public hearing and, after that, produce a final report.
There was no doubt that Bob Blakey knew what he was about. Not only was it apparent now that the staff would finally get truly organized, but organization itself would be the essence of its being. That became even more obvious when I was called back to Washington a few weeks later for another general staff meeting. By that time every staff member had received newly arrived Deputy Consul Cornwell's bey first memorandum. It said, if full: "Attached hereto is copy of House Resolution 222. Please familiarize yourself with this document." That, of course was the resolution that had created the Committee almost one year before. At the time, many staffers -- especially the youthfully cynical junior counsels -- took Cornwell's premier memo as silly and gratuitous. But Cornwell was laying the very first block in what both he and Blakey took to be their ultimate goal: To build a record. That was the accent of the second general staff meeting. It dealt with informational processing and staff procedures, rules and regulations, the standardization of operations and documentation production.
I remember returning from Washington after that meeting feeling as if I had just been blanketed with a heavy, stifling shroud of regulations and procedures. The investigators had been given a lengthy memorandum entitled "Investigative Techniques and Procedures." Blakey called it "a summary of specific guidelines." Among the points listed under "Travel" were: "Call the office every day between the hours of 10:00 and 12 noon." And: "Be sure to stay at a reputable hotel."
An even lengthier directive distributed to all staff members was "General Operating Procedures." Attached to it were sample forms for an Outside Contact Report, a Document Log, a Routing Slip, an Investigation Interview Schedule and other standardized report. Illustrative of the type of detailed control Blakey institute was this:
(9.) All correspondence intended for transmittal to anyone outside of the staff will first be discuses (orally, or with the aid of a rough draft, as the case may require) by the staff attorney, researcher, or investigator with his immediate supervisor, (the Assistant Deputy Chief Counsel, Chief Investigator, or Assistant Chief Researcher) and then will be typed in final form, proofed and (if appropriate) signed. The completed letter ready for mailing, together with all supporting documents will then be submitted, first, to the staff member's immediate supervisor, and ultimately to the Deputy Chief Counsel for review. When approved by the Deputy Chief Counsel, the letter will be delivered by the Deputy Chief Counsel's secretary to Security for copying. Unless otherwise specifically authorized, two copies of each such piece of correspondence will be made in all cases except Agency requests, where three copies will be made. One copy will be treated as an "original document," and one copy will be treated as a "working copy" and returned to its author (See Document Handling procedures below.) With respect to Agency requests, the third copy will be delivered to the Chief of Legal Staff for filing in the Agency Requests File. The original (signed) letter will be delivered to the Chief Counsel for approval (and/or signature), and then mailed by the Chief Counsel's secretary.
Although I recognized the point of such detailed procedures and, in fact, felt the staff was in dire need of organizational control, it bothered me that Blakey seemed far more concerned about he character of the record of the investigation then he was with the character of its substance. My concern deepened when, just prior to the staff meeting, Cornwell called me into his office and told me he wanted to talk to me about the nature of my report.
When I started investigating the Kennedy assassination with Senator Schweiker, he was not concerned with formal reporting procedures. He was interested in my spending my time developing information that might help resolve the case. I was in almost daily telephone contact with other staffers in his office who were working the case. I also regularly sent informally written reports detailing and analyzing the information I was coming up with. Although not required, I felt those were necessary to give Schweiker a basis for evaluating the information, put it in perspective and provide a groundwork for discussing where we were and where we were going. Facts can sometimes be misleading. They are, as critic Dwight MacDonald said, like marbles which take on different hues and tones according to the light in which they are viewed. they often are, but don't necessarily have to be, related to the truth---especially in the case of the Kennedy assassination which, over the years, has become a field of study in itself. In my written report, I attempted to use my background and knowledge of the case to give Schweiker a broader perspective of the information we were developing. When I joined the House Committee, I thought such analytical reports would be especially useful since there was no other investigator with my experience in the case.
Now Cornwell told me to stop them. "I want your reports to be strictly factual," he said. "Just give us the information. I don't want any of your analysis going into the record." I objected. That, I said, would require ignoring the validity of the source of the information. In Miami, where we are dealing with so many Cubans and soldiers of fortune who are notorious disseminations of misinformation, to report their droppings as gospel would produce a misleading record. "All right," Cornwell said, "if you want to analyze the information put int on separate yellow paper and I'll tell the mail room not to log it in." that didn't quite answer the point of my objection, but I came to refer to the procedure as the "Yellow Paper Ploy."
On the plan flying back to Miami after the staff meeting on procedures, I tape recorded a note of my feelings at the time: "For the first time, I'm beginning to understand what it's really like to work in Washington. Blakey obviously knows what's important here. And what's important is not what you do, but how what you do looks while you're doing it, how it looks after you did it, and how it will eventually look in relation to how everything else you did looks. It's a funny house of mirrors. But I'm very concerned about the importance given to reports and procedures. It's clear, in talking with the other investigators, it produces an aura of restrictiveness, like we're going into the game chained to the bench. It's instant frustration. Yet we can't say the hell with it and walk off the court. Then we lose before we start and nothing would get accomplished. Maybe how we look will be important in the long run."
There is no doubt that, in the long run, Blakey produced a record that looks impressive. In its final published reports, a compilation of the Committee's legal memoranda alone took a separate hefty volume of 925 pages. And the Committee turned over to the National Archives more than 800 boxes of files -- many times more than the Warren Commission produced. That, of course, looks impressive, but the substance of those files won't be available for public scrutiny for 50 years. I don't know whether or not Blakey knew it was in the works or whether or not he, behind the scene, had anything to do with it, but just prior to the Assassinations Committee's expiration, the House promulgated a new regulation automatically restricting all records not publicly released by any committee. The Assassinations Committee's files would, of course, be valuable to independent researchers who wanted to continue investigating the Kennedy murder. They would be even more informative if they included the collection of memos I kept in my file marked "Yellow Paper Poly."
This is not the whole story of the operations of the House Select Committee on Assassinations as produced under the direction of its Chief Counsel G. Robert Blakey. That's a composite of the activities of several dozen persons, a few of whom were actually trying to find out what happened in Dallas on November 22nd 1963. This, rather, is the story of how the leader so the Committee early decided not to fulfill the Congressional mandate "to conduct a full and complete investigation." It's the story of how the Committee was structured, its priorities set, its investigative force employed and its final report written so as to conceal that fact.
It is also the story of how, after the decision was made to not fulfill its Congressional mandate, the Committee had to distort its conclusion concerning a crucial, perhaps critical, area of evidence so as not to invalidate the thrust of its final report. And so, in the end, it's the story of how the American people were mislead by their own government.
By the end of its first year of operation, the Assassinations Committee was beginning to slowly roll forward. With the exception of those in the administrative, legal and documents handling sections, the staff was divided into five major "Teams." Each team had two or three attorneys, researchers and investigators. The "outside" investigators in New Orleans and Miami were at the disposal of all the teams. Each team had more than one area of investigation. In Miami, AL Gonzalez and I worked mostly with Team 2, which had the Organized Crime and Jack Ruby areas, and with Team 3, which had Anti-Castro Cubans and New Orleans.
Bob Blakey spent the first few months on the job as Chief Counsel and Staff Director establishing administrative processes and procedures, cracking up the record-building machinery and formulating what he called "working relationships" with other government agencies. He did, however, at an early staff meeting, outline the Committee's specific goals and direction. For the first few months, he said, each team would review its areas of investigation thoroughly. He called it "foraging." The second phase, he said, would than entail defining the priority "issues": that is, deciding the crucial questions in each area. ("Issue" was the favorite word, I discovered, among Washington lawyers. They used it to mean "question." The third phase would be the concentrated investigation of those key questions. Then would come the public hearings and writing the final report.
It all made a good deal of sense and it finally appeared that a real investigation might be getting under way. However, when Blakey began concerning himself with the substance of the case, an indication of his attitude towards the various methods of investigation became clear. Compared to his interest in the empirical aspects of the investigation -- what the investigators on the street were actually coming up with -- he spent a disproportionate share of his time looking after the scientific examination of the evidence. He had the academician's view of scientific evidence having what he called the "greatest reliability." That's undoubtedly why so much time and money was spent on such things as neutron activation analysis, acoustics studies, ballistic and trajectory analysis and other scientific studies. But science, like statistics, can lie and two scientists often read the same results in opposite ways. It happened, for instance, with the panel of forensic pathologists when one eminent doctor totally disagreed with the findings of his eminent peers.
Another critical defect Blakey largely dismissed was that some of the evidence being scientifically evaluated couldn't be authenticated as being the original evidence. The chain of custody could never be proven in any court. In fact, the state of security in which some of the evidence was kept was illustrated in 1972 when it was discovered that someone had stolen into the National Archives' security area and taken President Kennedy's brain and a set of microscope tissue slides that might have conclusively shown which way the fatal bullet came from. Although hits have come from the Kennedy family that Robert Kennedy wanted the brain in order to properly bury his brother's body, that doesn't explain the theft of the tissue slides as well. And stored in the same security area were other crucial pieces of physical evidence, including the photos and x-rays which the Committee used to corroborate the single bullet theory. The Committee concluded that the photos and x-rays are authentic, yet one of its own photo consultants, Robert Groden is now claiming to have found signs of forgery in this evidence.
Another question of authenticity involves the bullet fragments subjected to neutron- activation analysis and whether or not they were the same fragments tested in 1964. those are only a few of the questions the critics are now asking. There will be many more, each putting another crack in Blakey's theory of scientific evidence having the "greatest reliability." My own early impression was that Blakey's initial leaning toward putting wight on scientific analysis was partially the result of his lack of confidence in the investigative staff. Although Blakey was eventually able to stack the staff counsel positions heavy with people he hired himself -- Cornell Law grads and individuals with backgrounds in prosecuting Organized Crime -- most of the investigative staff had already been hired by the time he arrived. And because former Chief Counsel Sprague had viewed the Kennedy assassination as a homicide case, almost all the investigators were from the ranks of police homicide squads, the largest number from New York. Unfortunately, the bulk of Blakey's past associations, as a Justice Department attorney and a major mahout in the anti-Organized Crime fraternity, had been with law enforcement personnel of more sophisticated breeding, mostly FBI agents and Internal Revenue specialists. Now here he was on the Committee stuck with a bunch of street cops. The way in which Blakey eventually structured the investigation indicated that he thought little of the potential effectiveness of his investigative staff. Whether he was right or just manifesting intellectual arrogance will never be know. Neither will it be know if the investigators would have come up with more substantial results if they had been left to conduct an investigation in their own way. They were never given a chance.
In Miami, and working still pretty much on our own, Al Gonzales and I were making progress in seeking links between what we considered the potentially hottest leads, those involving the association of anti-Castro activists with intelligence operatives. Then suddenly from Washington came a ripple which forewarned of a new strategy directive from Blakey. It came with a call from Edwin Lopez, one of the young researchers on Team 3, the anti-Castro unit. Lopez, a very bright guy attacking his new job with youthful fervor, was one of the small group of law school students Blakey had brought from Cornell. Out of New York's Puerto Rican barrio, Lopez was a brilliant free spirit who wore long curly locks, an infectious smile, baggy jeans and flip-flops. He was only 21 but he looked 16. Lopez told me that Team 3 had a major meeting with Deputy Chief Cornwell that morning. "I think we may have some problems," Lopez said. "In our discussion with him, Gary craftily manipulated the conversation around to Miami. Then he asked, 'What the hell are those guys doing down there? Someone call Fonzi and ask him to answer the question in 20 words or less.' So I raised my hand and said that I could answer the question in five words: 'Trying to solve the case.' Then he said, 'Well, those guys are running around down there and they're never going to come up with anything we can resolve in time. I've got to bring them into our framework.'" Lopez, who was a little fellow with a soft whisper of a voice, sounded very concerned. "To tell you the truth," he said, "that really shocked me. I couldn't believe he didn't know what you guys are doing down there.."
I couldn't believe it either, and didn't. I knew Cornwell had to be aware of exactly what we were doing if he read the reports -- both formal and on yellow paper -- which were flowing across his desk. I also didn't believe he wasn't well aware of the importance of Miami. What the critics had come to call "the Cubanization of Oswald" is one of the major mysteries of the Kennedy case. Although he assumed a pro-Castro public posture, Oswald's contacts were mostly with anti-Castro activists. Miami was the heart of anti-Castro activism and the headquarters of the groups with which Oswald had contact. Cornwell knew that very well, along with the specifics of what we were pursuing. I wondered what he meant when he talked about bringing the Miami investigators 'into our framework."
Shortly afterwards, Al Gonzales and I were called back to Washington for another major meeting. Eddie Lopez met us at the airport, a dour expression on his usually grinning countenance. "No one is very happy around here," he said. "There has been a new operating procedure directive. Cliff Fenton has had to call all his investigators back from Dallas and they have been hanging around the office now for more than two weeks. Blakey and Cornwell have told us that everything will stop until we develop what they call the 'Key issues.' By that they mean questions which can be resolved by June. By then, they said, the investigation must be over because we have to prepare for the public hearings and then the final report"
I couldn't quite gasp what Lopez was saying. Either I didn't want to believe it or I was hung up on the basic incongruity of developing "key issues" resolvable by June. Lopez said that the general staff meeting was scheduled for the next afternoon, but I was too anxious to wait. With a few members from Team 3 and Chief Investigator Fenton, we arranged a meeting with Cornwell that morning.
The Assassinations Committee staff worked out of what is now called House Annex No. 2, the former FBI Records Building, just southwest of the Capitol. (It was undergoing renovation for the entire two years of the Committee's life and rats scurrying down the hallways and from office to office became such a frequent sight that staffers took to yelling at them for not wearing security identification cards.) Cornwell had a large corner office with leather chairs and couches and a long conference table in front of his big desk. One set of windows had a bleak view of a grimy stone viaduct which carried the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks around the southern edge of the city. The other set offered a more inspiring vista: The impressive grandeur of the three main House office buildings set on the incline of Independence Avenue and, looming above their white marble massiveness, the golden dome of the Capitol.
Cornwell said he thought we had foraged enough. "I have the feeling," he said, "that if we go on the way we are we would have a great deal more information but, come time to write the report, we'd be no further along than we are now in terms of reaching conclusion. You have to remember that our ultimate goal is to get a report written." What he and Blakey did not want, Cornwell said, was a report that would cause the public to say, "You mean we spent $5 million on that?" They did not want a report that would have the Committee concluding, in effect, that if it had so much more time and so much more money it might come up with some definite answers. Therefore, Cornwell said, in order for the report to reach some definite conclusion, the character of the investigation would now change. The investigation would now be structured around what he called "linchpin" issues. Those issues, he said, would necessarily have to be selected with certain criteria. There would be no broad, encompassing questions to which we probably wouldn't find the answers -- or knew we would not find the answers within the scope of our time and resource limits.
That was the key. We only had so much time and so much money remaining before we had to get out a report. So, Cornwell said, we were not going to come up with any issues the answer to which would likely be, if we had more time and money we might find the answer. We must remember, Cornwell said, that Congress gave us a job to do and dictated the time and resources in which to do it. "That's the legislative world," Cornwell said. "Granted, it may not be the real world, but it's the world in which we have to live."
With his hint of a Texas drawl and his talent to articulate his thoughts quickly, Cornwell had a prosecutor's ability to exude reason and rationality regardless of what he was saying. I remember sitting slouched in that big leather couch, scribbling some notes and waiting for what he had just said to sink in. Then suddenly I piped up: "Realistically, that doesn't make any sense!" I almost yelled, as if it had just dawned on me. Cornwell let go a loud whoop of a laugh. "Reality is irrelevant!" he yelled back with a big grin. "Com'on, Gary, I'm serious," I said. "Are you telling us that we won't be able to pursue any questions in this case, regardless of how important we think they are, unless we know we can thoroughly investigate them in a few months?" "I am serious," said Cornwell. "And I'm not being flip when I say reality is irrelevant here. I told you, this is not the real world we're dealing with, this is the legislative would. We have to live with it."
Bill Triplett, the then-leader of Team 3, was a soft-spoken, pipe-puffing young attorney whose career had been almost entirely in government and thousands more were in other buildings all over Washington, and in New York and Philadelphia and Boston and Chicago and Los Angeles and million of other were going about their daily business all over the country a that very moment, and I saw myself -- myself within this small group of individuals sitting in this office -- sitting there making decisions about something that a part of the history and maybe the future of those people. I don't know why that awesome thought struck me them, but I remember that it did. And I remember thinking that I should be feeling a certain satisfaction, a touch of special pride in being there, sitting there in that office, having a role in something as historically significant and important as the Kennedy assassination investigation.
But I didn't. If felt, rather, a certain uneasiness, I were being a part of something devious. I'm not sure what those people out there expect, but it crossed my mind that what we were doing in that office was planning to deceive them. Those people out there thought we were investigating the assassination of President Kennedy. We were planning to get out a report.
By the time of the general staff meeting the next afternoon, all the teams in the JFK task force had gotten the word of the new investigative approach. Cornwell had held special conferences with each team. The meetings was held in one of the large conference rooms on the fourth floor, above the staff offices, yet it still felt crowded with a few dozen people jammed into it. Cornwell sat at the head of a long conference table, a big cigar in h is mouth, looking tweedy in a brown path jacket. His chair was tilted back and his boots characteristically up on the edge of the table. Blakey, in an uncharacteristic candy yellow corduroy suit, stationed himself against the wall behind Cornwell.
The room quickly grew still when Cornwell called for attention. "Allllright," he drawled. "I understand there's been a lot of bitching about the procedures we've instituted, so we'll let anyone who has any critical comments to make speak up." He puffed on his cigar, put a Cheshire grim on his face and slowly looked around the silent room. One of the document clerks raised her hand and said she had a complaint about the new system to getting copies made. There was a discussion about that, and then someone else complained about another administrative wrinkle. Finally, Cornwell, with that mischievous grin on his face and mock disappointment in his voice, said, "Gee, I thought someone would raise the big issue." "All right," John Hornbeck piped up from in back of the room, "I'll raise the big issue." Hornbeck was the leader of Team 2, the Organized Crime unit. Sandy-haired and ruddy-faced, he had the open, ingenuous style of a Doonesbury good guy and impressive credentials as an Organized Crime prosecutor in Denver. (He would eventually resign early, disgusted with what he called the "craziness" of Washington, and flee back to his mountain home and his horses.) "The big issue," Hornbeck said, "is whether this investigation is going to be conducted in terms of restricted issues, in terms of getting out a report, or is it going to be a true, wide-ranging investigation?"
That summed it up. Cornwell answered it by repeating what he had told the individual teams: We were done foraging; we were not living in the real world, we were living in the legislative world; we had to get the report out. Then Blakey spoke up. "Listen," he said, "I've laid this all out to you form the beginning. I said we would spend the first months looking at the entire spectrum of the case and defining our goals. Well, we reached the point where we must start moving on the report. Our main priority is the report. Now you may say I'm trying to cover my ass, but you don't have to worry about me covering my ass because I know how a report should be written. I know how to make a report look good. But I want more than that. I also want the report to be good. I just don't see a conflict in setting the investigation now boiled down to certain basic issues and in attempting solving the case."
If he believed that, Blakey was perhaps the only one in that room who didn't see the conflict. I looked toward Chief Investigator Cliff Fenton sitting in a corner. He was leaning forward, his hands clasped between his knees, his eyes staring down at the floor, his head slowly moving back and forth. He was in a tough spot. His investigator would not be able to get back out until each team developed its key issues and got them improved by Cornwell and Blakey. Then a specific "investigative plan" -- detailing who would be interviewed and then --- had to be drawn up from the issues and that approved. It would be weeks before the investigators could get back on the case.
Confined to Washington, the leads they had been developing in Dallas left dangling, the investigators began growing stir crazy. There are only so many coffee breaks a man can take a day. "(Geesus," one researcher told me, "I expected any minute they would break out a deck of cards.") Fenton tried to keep up a good front and maintain their morales, but he was seething within himself. One day he burst into Blakey's office: "what are you doing to me?" he demanded. "Those are professional people out there! This is damn embarrassing to me." Blakey calmed him down, but the attitude of the investigators degenerated to the point where Fenton was forced to call a special meeting. He sat at the head of the table with a smile on his face. "All right, all right," he said in his easy chuckling way, "I got to admit that I've never seen an investigation conducted like this. But that don't mean it won't work." In response, there was a general snort. "All I'm saying," Fenton continued, "is that we got to give it a chance. I don't want anyone around here starting to feel they are just working for the money. Just because we've never seen it done this way before, that don't mean it won't work. Try to remember that."
"The way it looks to me," said Clarence Day, a homicide veteran from Washington, "is that this investigation is over." There was a loud murmur of affirmation from the rest of the guys. "Well, I've got to admit," Fenton chuckled, "I'm sort of flabbergasted. In fact, I'm totally flabbergasted. But, between us I can tell you now we've been promised something. We've been promised that as soon as we're done with these issues business at the end of May, while everyone else is buy with the public hearings and getting the report don, we'll be able to continue the investigation and cover it in any way we want. We got a promise on that. SO that if anyone comes up with something that doesn't fit into the issues, just let me know and I'll make sure we get to it when we start moving the way we should be. OK?"
That seemed to lift a bit the depression that had hung over the group when the meeting started, although it did end with an extemporaneous chorus of a popular song at the time: Take This Job and Shove It.
I remained in Washington to help the anti-Castro team formulate its issues. I quickly became obvious that each team had to limit not only the type of question it could investigate, but also the number of questions. Since time was slowly slipping away, the "full and complete" investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy would have to boil down to a five-moth effort.
For the next few weeks, the staff worked late into the night to develop issues that contained priority questions and still fit into the limitations of the criteria. Some teams could do that easier than others. The teams handling the ballistics and autopsy projects, for instance, knew the questions they were going to ask their panels of experts.
The anti-Castro area was one of the toughest in which to develop questions which could be fully explored in a limited amount of time. Yet Oswald's association with anti-Castro Cubans was one of the key mysteries of the Kennedy assassination. The progress we had been making in Miami was opening more doors, may of them marked "CIA" and there was no assurance that continuing investigation would only lead not to answer but to more questions. In that, Blakey and Cornwell were right. Yet, if those questions were relevant to an answer to the Kennedy assassination, how could they be ignored? That was the circle we kept coming back to as the team attempted to develop acceptable issues.
The first question I tried to get approved was the one by experience in investigating the case had dictated as a priority: Was there an intelligence agency connection through anti-Castro Cubans and Oswald to the Kennedy assassination? That, I knew, would never pass muster because of the investigative approach and effort it would require. By the nature of its operations, an intelligence agency doesn't leave authentic tracks. One had to look for patterns. The issue I wanted to pursue involved the patterns of verified misinformation -- almost all linking Oswald to Castro -- which were born in Miami immediately after the assassination. That, I figured, would also give me the opening to pursue the Veciana story, since Bishop had asked him to help develop a phony story through his cousin in Castro's intelligence service.
Cornwell rejected the issue. I was back in Miami when Eddie Lopez broke the news. "Cornwell said that issue wouldn't prove anything," Lopez told me. "He said all it would do is raise the question of whether or not an intelligence agency was monitoring Oswald for one reason or other and after the assassination was trying to disassociate from him. So I said to Gary, 'But don't you see how much closer we'd be if we could prove that?' And he said, '"Closer" is not good enough. We can't put "closer" into a report.'"
In the end, in concocting an anti-Castro issue that would get approved, I believe we fell into the trap that Blakey, wittingly or unwittingly, had set. Other teams also wound up in the same trap. It sprung from our attempt to conspire to structure a question that would be vital, be answered within the time and resources limitations and, concomitantly, be broad enough to permit the widest scope of investigation. For instance, one of the approved issues for Team 3 was this: Was Lee Harvey Oswald associated with any actively militant anti-Castro groups which possessed the capability, motive, and resources to assassinate the President? I initially thought that would open the most doors for Gonzales and me in Miami. We found, however, that although the issue was broad, we remained bound by the "investigative plan" that was imposed upon it. As a result of having to cover the issue adequately enough to provide material for the final report, we couldn't pursue any one part of it in depth. Investigators working other issues found themselves with barely time enough to touch all the bases. Examples abound. In our case, for instance, the investigative plan required finding at least three leaders from each selected anti-Castro group. asking them about any possible contact with Oswald, accepting their answers without further corroboration and then moving on to the next group. On every team, the investigation was rife with superficial contacts. Yet, in the end, the report's conclusions were drawn from them.
One tends to search for analogies in order to provide a comprehensive whys of what happened. Was the Assassinations Committee a circus with a multitude of rings, some out front and some behind the grandstands, all of which it spun frenetically for a while in a virtuoso display of razzle-dazzle, before it folded its tent and left behind an empty field of matted grass in patterns every undecipherable? Or was it simply a politically-inspired drama in true Catch 22 genre, the story of a hapless unit whose vital investigative mission got inextricable tangled in the misguided demand to maintain a detailed log of that mission? Strange, isn't it, that such outrageous analogical suggestions would form in the mind of a staff member looking back on the experience?
At the time, of course, we simply had mixed feelings about what was happening. At least something was happening. Those of us who were abroad the Committee when its sails flapped in irons for a year while political torpedoes skinned its hull fell enormously grateful that we were at last moving in some direction. Blakey had sailed us into much smoother waters. Oh sure, over coffee in the basement cafeteria or late drinks at the Market Inn we speculated about the dark sides of Blakey's possible motivations, but, at the time, most of us basically felt that he was doing the job as he legitimately thought it should be done. At the time, there was no reason to suspect otherwise.
Besides, Bob Blakey was a nice enough guy. A Notre Dame grad, a good family man with seven children, a man who had always worn a white hat in the war against the bad guys. Intellectually, his brilliance justified his hint of arrogance, but he was easy to talk with, had a good sense of humor and knew when to listen. I liked him. In fact, although I objected to the limitations imposed on the investigation, I early wound up defending Blakey.
Immediately after coming aboard, Blakey imposed a curtain of silence on the staff, forbidding anyone from talking to outsiders about details of the Committee's operations. I thought it was a good idea, considering some of the previously distorted press criticism. However, as staff discontent grew, leaks began to occur. I learned, for instance, that freelance writers Scott Malone and Jerry Policoff were preparing a scathing article about Blakey for New Times magazine. They were blasting Blakey for returning $425,00 of first-year Committee funding to the Treasury despite staff members feeling that the investigation was pulling punches for lack of funds. They hit him for firing an excellent researcher under the false guise of "poor work quality" when the researcher's only sin was being too close to certain critics. They charged Blakey with being suspiciously cozy with the CIA and making agreements with the Agency that severely restricted the staff's use of intelligence information. They accused him of Machiavellian scheming in inviting key critics in as consultants and then forcing them to sign non-disclosure agreements in an attempt, they said, to pre-empt future criticism. And, perhaps worst of all, they claimed Blakey was really a wolf in sheep's clothing. Malone and Policoff had discovered that Blakey once filed an affidavit in support of a libel suit brought against Penthouse magazine by an alleged racket-connected Nevada resort and gambler Moe Dalitz.
I remember telling Policoff that, despite my journalistic reverence for freedom of the press, it somehow bothered me that the piece was going to run. Policoff, considered one of the more moderate and level-headed of the independent researchers, was becoming convinced that Blakey was a devious character with sinister motives. "I just can't buy that," I argued. "Whether or not he's making the right decision is a point that can be argued, but I believe he's sincere when he explains his reasons for them. Besides, what do you accomplish by attacking Blakey now? You'll only be hurting the work of the Committee. We may not be doing everything right or as well as we should be, but we are doing them. We're the only game in town."
Shortly after the critical article appeared, a rumor started spreading that Blakey had been offered a top job in the Justice Department when he wrapped up his Committee work. Suddenly that rumor burst into a real flame ignited by what became known as "the Ortiz manuscript" lap.
About six months prior, Al Gonzales and I had interviewed a Miami attorney who represented a Puerto Rican named Antulio Remirez Ortiz. The tip had originally come through Blakey himself from an assistant U.S. Attorney who had worked in Miami. Ortiz, as he called himself, was in a Federal prison serving a sentence for having hijacked a plane to Cuba in 1961. Castro had released him from Cuba in 1975 and he voluntarily surrender to the FBI when he returned to the United States.
Ortiz had an incredible story. While being held in Cuba, he said, he was assigned to work around the headquarters of the Cuban DGI, its intelligence service. As such, he claimed to have the opportunity to surreptitiously check his own files. In searching for them, he came across a neighboring file marked "Oswaldo/Kennedy." Ortiz said that file revealed that President Kennedy had been killed by a "hit team" from Moscow.
While in prison in the United States, Ortiz had produced a manuscript of his adventures, including the discovery of the Kennedy file. His Miami attorney had a copy of that manuscript, written in Spanish, which he was in the process of trying to market through a New York literary agent. With the permission of Ortiz, who was in a prison on the West Coast, the attorney gave us a copy of the a manuscript. Gonzales took the manuscript home that evening and read it. I called him the next morning. "Al," I said, "drawing on your fathomless depth of investigative experience as well as your capacious repository of factual knowledge, what is you assessment of the manuscript's substantive merits?" "Bull shit," said Al.
I agreed and, in fact, after checking further on Ortiz's background, thought it possible he may have had some association with American intelligence. (he served in the U.S. Army, went to Cuba to help smuggled arms to Castro before the Revolution and once worked for a major defense contractor in California.) Nevertheless, on our next trip to Washington, Gonzales turned the manuscript over to Blakey and suggested that he give it to research Eddie Lopez for a word- for-word translation before we make any decision whether or not to check Ortiz's story further. Gonzales thought Lopez would have a better grasp of Ortiz's Puerto Rican Spanish idiom.)
Some time later, I asked Eddie Lopez about the Ortiz manuscript. He didn't know what I was talking about. No, he said, he had never received a manuscript from Blakey to translate. I thought that was strange, but made a mental note to check with Blakey about it. I didn't have to. Late one Sunday evening, I received they only telephone call I ever got from Bob Blakey. There was a very nervous edge to his voice. "Talk to me," he said. "Tell me everything you know about how we came in contact with he Ortiz manuscript."
At the moment, it was not very fresh in my memory, but I eventually pieced together the details. "All right," he said, "I just wanted to refresh my own recollection about it. I'll tell you why I asked." He said that on Friday afternoon one of columnist Jack Anderson's legmen had called him to check out a rumor. The rumor, Blakey said, was that he had sold out to the CIA in return for a high Justice Department post. An example of the sell out, he said, was the fact that he had turned the Ortiz manuscript over to the CIA. Blakey asked if I heard any such allegations. I told him I had not. "Well, anyway," he said, "if you hear it, it ain't true." He laughed.
What Blakey didn't specifically acknowledge to me that evening was that he actually had, in fact turned over the Ortiz manuscript to the CIA. He did admit it when, subsequently, someone on the staff asked him directly. He claimed that he did so because the CIA had linguists who could do a more expert translation of the Ortiz idiom than Lopez could. Maybe so, but I thought it was just a plain dumb thing to do.
Nevertheless, perhaps because I though the Ortiz manuscript was worthless, the fact that Blakey had given it to the Agency didn't bother me that much. I was more concerned with the valid aspect of the investigation and Blakey's concern with them. The restricted issues approach was a very disturbing but, even then, I was ready to accept Blakey's rationalization of it because of two key factors: first, as restrictive as the approach was, it still permitted the staff investigators to get out in the field and do some original digging. Secondly, as the Chief Investigator had told us, Blakey had promised that once the issues part of the investigation was wrapped up in June the investigators would have a free rein in delving into the evidence they thought, from their experience in the field, would be the most fruitful. As long as Blakey left the door open, I was willing to withhold any critical judgment of his motivations.
By early in June, another characteristic of the selected issue approach was becoming apparent. The nature of the issues selected so narrowed the breadth of the investigation that, in most areas, when it became obvious that the investigative pan was not going to be fully completed, it didn't really matter. The report cold still be written simply on the basis of the effort made. Conclusion could be drawn about what the whole road was like from a quick trip down one section of it. Whether or not that was a factor in what happened next, probably only Bob Blakey knows. All the staff knew at first was that there was rumor of a momentous change in the wind.
At the time, Al Gonzales and I were in Caracas. We were there primarily to talk with a witness who could not be omitted from the investigative plan: Dr. Orlando Bosch, the best known and the most violent of anti-Castro terrorist. Bosch was being held in custody by the Venezuelan government for blowing up a Cubana Airlines plane and killing 72 persons. The "issue" questions we were to ask Bosch was whether or not Lee Harvey Oswald had any association with him or his group. Both Gonzales and I felt we were going through the motions: Bosch was not under oath and under no constraint to tell the truth. Without the time or resources to check on whatever he said, we felt we were mere conveyors for the record of whatever lies or propaganda he wanted to get out.
Nevertheless, sitting in our hotel room one evening near the end of our stay, both Gonzales and I were felling elated about what we had accomplished in Caracas. We had found and talked with two important witnesses, individuals Antonio Veciana had named as being involved with him in the planning of the Castro assassination attempt in Chile in 1971. They had denied such involvement, as we had expected they naturally would, but in contradictory detail they had impugned their own denials and proved that Veciana was telling the truth. (we would later corroborate that with documentary evidence) At any rate, Gonzales called Washington to tell Cliff Fenton the news of our progress. When he hung up, he didn't look too happy. "It's hitting the fan again up there," he said. "Cliff said that Blakey just discovered that there was some kind of miscalculation in the way they were keeping the financial records and that the Committee is running way the hell over our budget." "What's that mean," I asked, "that they can't afford to bring us home?" "No such luck," said Gonzales. "Cliff thinks that maybe Blakey is going to use that as an excuse to make some staff cuts."
Fenton was right on target, At a special staff meeting shortly afterwards, Blakey went into a long explanation of what had happened. He and Tom Howarth, the Committee's Budget Officer, had just spent days going over the books and they were astounded at what they discovered, he said. The budget projections they had made were way off base. There were no mistake, but because of the unprecedented character of the Committee's operations, there were no yardstick formulas to accurately project costs on a phase basis. Now there was no way that the final phases of the Committee's work -- specifically, the public hearing and the report writing -- could be completed with major budget cuts. Some of the staff, announced Blakey, would have to be let go.
Al Gonzales and I couldn't get back to Washington until after the massacre. In the weeks between Blakey's announcing the staff cut and the actual naming of those fired, morale and work production plummeted to near zero. "You can imagine what it's like up here," one of the secretaries told me when I called. "The general attitude is, why I should do anything if I'm going to be fired. Everybody is feeling just terrific."
A small group of jokesters had taken to posting on the bulletin board obviously phoney memos from Chief Counsel Blakey whenever things had begun to reach the edge of absurdity. The announced staff cuts had produced the latest posting, a parody of Blakey's passion for scientific analysis. The memo announced that a decision had been made on the specific individuals to be let go. The decision was made, the memo said, on the basis of careful deliberation and consultation with a panel of experts who had established the proper scientific postulated for the decision. The memo concluded: "All Leos, Cancers, Pisces and Tauruses and hereby dismissed."
When the real firings did come, no one was laughing. In fact, some were shocked at the character of the cuts: Of the 25 staffers selected to be given their walking papers, the majority of them were investigators. (In its final records, the Committee's personnel statistics are misleading. After the firings, the drop in the number of the payroll amounted to about 20 percent, but because of accumulated vacation time, many staffers remained don the payroll but were not working. in June, before the cut, the Committee employed 118 persons; in the end, only 83 staffers remained. Of those, four were Kennedy assassination investigators.)
Chief Investigator Fenton took the massacre of his staff with a good deal of bitterness. "It's a catastrophe," he told me. "They really bagged me. They kept promising me that we would be able to swing the way we wanted after we finished the work plan at the end of June. That's why I kept telling everybody whenever they started bitching that this wasn't real investigation, 'All right, just finish the work plans, just finish the work plans.' But if they had told me the whole investigation was going to be over in June , well, you know, we would've tried some slippin' and sliding' and tried to get a few things done. Now suddenly everything's off. they checkmated me."
In the cut, I lost my partner in Miami. Al Gonzales was especially angry because he thought we were making progress and he didn't believe Blakey's announced reason for the cut. In addition, he had moved his family from New York and was looking to buy a house. "I knew it was coming," he kept saying. "They really didn't want an investigation." When we finally got to Washington, Deputy Chief Cornwell called Gonzales and I into his office for a private conference to try to assuage Al's obvious bitterness.
Cornwell had a little nervous smile on his face. Gonzales is a very big man, normally very gently and very quiet, but his heavy-lidded eyes had a way of narrowing and exuding a seething inner intensity when he was angry. Consuming the chair in which he sat, he looked less like a detective than an Hawaiian sumo wrestler. "I just want to tell you fellas want I told everyone else," Cornwell said, "because I don't want you to be upset by all this or take it personal."
He was on a trip, Cornwell said, when he got a call from Blakey that the Committee was in a financial jam. Blakey told him that he had just gone over the books and discovered it. Cornwell said that when he returned, he decided the situation boiled down to a single issue: Was Blakey telling him the truth about the books or did he have other motivations in cutting the staff? Cornwell claimed he decided to review the books himself and found that Blakey was right, something had just gone wrong in keeping track of the budge.
Gonzales sat and listened and said nothing, his eyes still angry slits. Cornwell sounded sincere. "Al, I just want you to know if there was any way we could have kept on the staff just one more guy, you would have been it. You've been doing a helluva job and I want you to know we appreciated it and I don't think you should personally feel bad about it." Cornwell tried a conciliatory grin.
Gonzales sat silent for a moment then said, very softly: "I feel like I've been screwed."
If there had been an air of unreality to the Assassinations Committee's operations until then, after the decimation of its investigative staff there were periods that struck me as almost hallucinatory. I specifically recall a meeting in Cornwell's office shortly after Dick Billings joined the Committee.
Billings was a bearded, lean and swarthy fellow whose slouched expression and easy, casually disheveled demeanor marked him as a professional writer. He was hired by Blakey to be the Committee scribe. Billings was a pro's pro. He recently toil for a series of congressional committees, but he had spent years as an editor and writer for Life magazine and, as such, had acquired some background in the Kennedy assassination. He had been in charge of one aborted attempt by Life to conduct its own Kennedy probe and had covered much of Jim Garrison's investigation in New Orleans. He also, significantly, been bureau chief of Life's Miami office in the early '60s, when anti-Castro activity had been at its height. He knew many of the Cuban exiles and soldiers of fortune with who I was dealing in Miami.
By the middle of June -- at about the time the Committee's five-month-old "investigative plan" was being folded up -- Billings had produced his first proposed outline of the Committee's final report. It reflected Billings' initial encounter with the issues approach and the investigative plan: It was disjoined and confused. There was no way Billings could have pulled together a comprehensive, sensible overview of the Kennedy assassination from the grab bag the impossible talk of crating a comprehensive, honest report from the crazy-quilt of selected issues. Billings just shook his head, shrugged his shoulders and wondered how we had ever gotten into such a position. The waiter brought us fortune cookies with tea after the meal. the little green slip inside mine said, "toil is the sign of fame." That's what I was afraid of. Billings cracked his cookie, rad the fortune slip and immediately closed his eyes, slapped his forehead and let out a long mock groan. I asked him what it said. He handed me the slip without comment. I said: "The gods who were smiling when you were born are now laughing."
Between the firing of most of the investigative staff in June and the end of December, the officially scheduled demise of the Committee, Bob Blakey directed his attention almost totally to tow things: The public hearings and the writing of the report.
From the very first briefing he gave the staff, Blakey placed tremendous importance on the public hearings. That was an early indication of exactly how very knowledgeable, astute and experienced he was in the ways of Washington. Blakey's attitude and preparatory posture toward the public hearing were, for me, revelatory. I had always assumed that Congressional public hearing were for the public. I early assumed, in the case of the Assassinations Committee, that our public hearings would be a tremendous opportunity to present to the American people the first objective overview of the Kennedy assassination. It would be a presentation that cut through the years of confusion and misinformation, that laid out all the evidence as we discovered it and asked the most troubling questions, whether or not we had the answers. If the hearing had a political purpose, as I saw it, it would be to arouse the public to demand complete answers and to marshall the government's resources to produce a firm and final conclusion to one of the most significant events in our country's history. In my mind, the public hearings had something to do with knowledge and truth and the basis of the democratic system of government. You know, all those platitudes you learned in American civics class in high school.
Washington has its own civics lessons. I learned that Congressional public hearings are not for the public but for Congress. They are designed to provide the Committee members with as such exposure as possible, give the public the impression that its congressman are serious about what they're doing and that they have not been squandering the taxpayer's money. Hearings are primarily designed, in other words, to be politically rewarding.
If the public hearings of the House Select Committee on Assassinations had revealed to the public an indication of what the Committee had been doing for the preceding year and a half, it would have fit continuity-wise, as they say in TV-land, between Saturday Night Life and Dallas (the soap opera, not the city). They didn't. The committee's public hearings were cleverly structured to set up the American public for the Committee's final report.
Then, again, my particular disappointment in the public hearing came as a result of my own intention to use them in my special areas of interest. Although the issues may have been restricted and the investigation limited, I felt the hearings till provided an exceptional opportunity to make what we had been doing worthwhile. There was no doubt in my mind that the Silvia Odio incident and the revelations by Antonio Veciana were incredibly significant. There was also no doubt in my mind that if the American people had the opportunity to see and listen to Odio and Veciana and form their own judgment of their credibility, their understanding of the Kennedy assassination case would be enhanced multifold and that, perhaps, would be a step on the way to the truth and valid conclusion. If the testimony of Odio and Veciana could be presented fully and in proper context -- that is, in terms of its relationship to the activities of the anti-Castro Cubans and the intelligence community -- there could be no more important two witnesses.
The public hearings on the Kennedy assassination were scheduled for September, 1978. Chief Counsel Blakey turned his attention to prepared for them almost immediately after he joined the Committee more than a year before. Memoranda concerning staff procedure in conducting hearings begin pouring forth as early as November, 1977. Blakey knew exactly what he was doing.
My impression at the time, however, was that until just several weeks before the hearings on hard decision had been made about which witnesses would be called. I discussed that recently with a Senior Counsel staffer named Jim McDonald. The hiring of McDonald was an indication of how much weight Blakey was giving to the presentation of the hearing. McDonald, a former Organized Crime consultant to Florida Governor Reubin Askew, had just joined a prestigious Miami law firm. Blakey convinced him to delay taking his new job for at temporary duty stint with the Committee. Blakey promised him he could leave shortly after the public hearing. McDonald, a former FBI agent, was a clean-cut, boyish-appearing, bright and articulate trial attorney. Blakey felt he would look good on television.
Although McDonald was with the Committee only five months, during that time, as a result of staff attorney attrition, he was in charge of two key teams: Team 2 ( the Organized Crime unit) and Team 3 (the anti-Castro Cuban unit). That gave him a special insight.
"When I got to Washington," McDonald recalled, "none of the staffers had a focus on what the hearings were going to be about. And as the summer dragged on we began to realize that we didn't have a heck of a lot of present at a public hearing. I remember that was the big topic of discussion in each team: What are we going to put on that's meaningful? What new evidence could be present? We didn't want to trot out the old Warren Commission stuff. Then sometimes in July, I guess, Blakey and Cornwell got together and we were all handed an outline of exactly what the hearings would contain."
According to the original outline of the public hearing, it appeared that the area of anti- Castro Urban activities would at least get a proportional share of public exposure. "Under that area are listed Odio and Veciana," McDonald told me at the time, "but I'm wondering if that's going to be misleading. I'm afraid the impression may come from their appearance that the Committee is trying to link anti-Castro Cubans to the assassination. There's no evidence to that." I agreed. In fact, I pointed out, the Veciana incident indicates that Oswald's association was not with anti-Castro Cubans but with the intelligence community.
From the outline, that appeared to be a sensitive area. The possibility of Oswald's association with the Central Intelligence Agency was obviously going to be handled in a circuitous way, as a part of the presentation concerning the performance of the Federal agencies' response to the Kennedy assassination.
Nevertheless, I was well please with the proposed structure of the hearings as far as my area was concerned because, prior to the calling of the witnesses, is allowed for an introductory background narrative to be read by Blakey. I arranged with McDonald that I be the one who would write not only the individual introductions for Odio and Veciana but also the background narrative that would introduce the whole anti-Castro Cuban area of the investigation. The American people would be able to grasp the significance of Odio's and Veciana's testimony in its proper context. I couldn't ask for more.
McDonald and I worked closely in preparing for this aspect of the public hearings. We both felt we had only one major problem: To convince Silvia Odio to testify publicly. After meeting her and talking with her, McDonald had concluded that she would make an impressively credible witness. In fact, McDonald himself and developed a witness in Dallas, Dr. Burton Einspruch, who corroborated that Odio had told him prior to the Kennedy assassinating of the mysterious visit by Oswald and his two companions. That's the kind of evidence a trail attorney appreciate.
Silvia Odio had never been the most eager witness. The FBI had originally discovered her only coincidentally and her subsequently handling by the Warren Commission had left her distrustful and cynical. Down through he years she had hidden from the Kennedy researchers, refused to cooperate with the few who found her and even turned down large sums of money from checkbook journalist. Remarried now with teenage children and a beautiful new home, she had been fearful that any publicity about her relationship with the Kennedy assassination would wreck havoc on the life of stability she had struggled so hard to achieve. More, because she recognized the significance of her testimony, she was terrified for her safety.
It took ma a while to cultivate Silvia Odio's trust. "I know you won't betray me," she said. When I first met her, as an investigator for Senator Schweiker, I could honestly promise her confidentiality and sincerity of purpose. Now I was no longer in control. I knew the last thing in the world she wanted was public exposure. Yet she was an educated and intelligent woman instilled with certain principles and, because of her Cuban experience, a deeper belief in the democratic system than most natural-born Americans. I thought I could convince her that now, with the direction I saw the Committee heading, it was more important than ever that she testify publicly.
"I have been dreading that you would call," she said when I telephoned. News of the Committee's upcoming hearings had been in the media. "Please don't let them call me for public hearings. I'm not ready for it to upset my whole life again." Well, I said, Jim McDonald is coming down next week and perhaps we can have lunch together and talk about it. She had met McDonald and liked him. "But why do I have to do it?" she asked. "You have the story, the FBI has the story, I have repeated it so many times before. You have my sworn statements and you and Jim spent four hours taking my deposition. Why must I have to be brought before the TV cameras? I have a family and I'm frightened for them. One of the reasons I've been cooperative is because I wanted to avoid that. If the Congressmen want to see me privately, I'll be glad to see them privately. Tell me, please, please tell me why I have to go through it all over again? Why?"
My problem was that I understood her fears very well and had a tough time giving good answers to her questions, but she eventually agreed to have lunch with McDonald and I the next week. As a matter of formality, McDonald was bringing down subpoenas for both her and Veciana, but the last thing I wanted was to force Silvia Odio to testify. If I couldn't convince her to come to Washington voluntarily, I would not be a part of any legal cohesion.
When I approached Antonio Veciana, He also was reluctant to make a public appearance. Although our personal relationship was sill good and he had accepted with equanimity his loss of anonymity with the appearance of the Jack Anderson columns, his view of the Committee's motives changed drastically when Blakey and the Congressman officially visited and questioned Castro in Cuba. It is difficult to describe the depth of Veciana's anti-Castroism, but he had been out of prison for more than a year now and, I was convinced, intensively back in anti-Castro operations with his exiled cohorts. (Today, I've come to conclude, that Veciana is among a small power group, like the little-known generals who control the Pentagon, in the continuing war against Castro. The group plans strategy for penetration and counterintelligence operations on the highest levels and its successes have been quietly effective, given the state of the present economic and political conditions in Cuba.)
"Well, of course I will go because I must go," Veciana said when I asked him to testify at the public hearing. "But I have already given three times sworn statements about Bishop, twice before the Senate Committee and once before the House Committee. they already have my sworn statements. I cannot change my sown statements. So what good it for me to go to Washington again? I am not going to change my sworn statement."
I assured Veciana we did not want him to change his sworn statements and that his appearance before the Committee would indicate that his testimony was being given a good deal of credibility. In fact, I told Veciana, Chief Counsel Blakey himself would declare to the American people that Veciana's story appeared credible. I said that because I had already written Blakey's introductory narrative. At any rate, from his experience with government, Veciana knew he couldn't avoid the Committee's command request.
"Jim, I think we're going to have problems with Silvia," I told McDonald when I called. "It's going to take all your persuasive abilities as a trial attorney to convince her."
"Leave it to ol' Jim," said McDonald, never short of confidence or enthusiasm.
The Miamarina is in Bayfront Park in downtown Miami. It is a port to call for yachts form around the world. A large circular restaurant sits at the core of its finger piers and from its elevated patio, against a backdrop of palms and blue sky, luncheon diners can survey the rows of salty sailing craft rolling restlessly on their lines, the siren song of their slapping halyards an elixir for dreamers. It was a lousy spot to try to convince someone to go to Washington. Jim McDonald and I spent a couple of hours there telling Silvia Odio why we thought her public appearance before the Assassinations Committee was so important. McDonald did most of the talking. I thought Odio kept raising objections that were much too valid, so I kept relatively silent. Nevertheless e finally convinced her the American people had the right to hear her story as she presented it, not as the Warren Commission had distorted it.
"All right, I'll go," she finally said. "But only because any sensational revelations and had opted to drop their planned live coverage. Not even Blakey's personal impassioned pleas to their top executives could induce them to change their minds. Only the public radio network covered the hearing live, but not on a full time basis. An attempt was made to jiggle the public's attention by calling as witnesses known figures such as Governor and Mrs. John Connally, Marina Oswald, former CIA Director Richard Helms and ex-President Gerald Ford, but their testimony provided little of lasting interest and no new revelations.
The last week of hearings, dealing with conspiracy theories, would hopefully grab a little more attention. Yet, in the scheduling, it was obvious where the accent would be: One day was devoted to what Blakey termed "flaky" theories, such as the contention that Kennedy was shot by an "umbrella man" wielding an assassinating device hidden in an umbrella; one day was scheduled for the anti-Castro Cuban area; and three days were to be devoted to the possible connections of Organized Crime to the assassination.
Chief Investigator Cliff Fenton came into Miami on the morning of the day I was scheduled to leave for Washington and the last week of the hearings. He brought with him a subpoena for Organized rime figure Santo Trafficante, a gentle-looking little old man who lived in North Miami. ALTHOUGH his link to the assassination was tenuous, the appearance of Trafficante was planned to give the Committee's last week of hearing a final shot of media "sex appeal."
Fenton brought to Miami with him, however, not only Trafficante's subpoena but some lousy news for me. there would be no witnesses called in the anti-Castro area. A day was being lopped off the last week of hearing -- Friday is not a day when Congressman like to hand around Washington very late in the afternoon -- and the presentation of the Organized Crime area was being allotted more time. I was directed to tell Silvia Odio and Antonio Veciana to cancel their trips to Washington.
My reaction was not favorable. I was, to put it mildly, a bit disturbed. Not to worry, I was told, because although no witnesses would be called, there would still be a public presentation of the anti-Castro Cuban area and Blakey would still read the narrative detailing the stories of Odio and Veciana. In fact, when I got to Washington, I was told, I could revise the narrative and odd to the detail.
When I informed Veciana about he change in plans, he was, naturally, confused. "I don't understand," he said. "Why did they make me a subpoena and now they say they don't want me?" He was a man trained to look for hidden motives and mirror images in the course of events and his suspicions were very fined turned. I told him what I had been told: The Committee had run out of time, but his story would still be presented in narration. Extra time was needed to present the Organized Crime aspect of the investigation. He found my explanation inadequate. "I think there is more to it than that," he said. His thinking at the time was obviously clearer than mine. (Veciana would later tell me that he had inside sources in the Miami FBI office. These sources told him that the FBI had a confidential informant who said that Veciana was a Castro agent. The FBI told that to the Committee, Veciana claimed, and that's why he was not called. It was the informant, said Veciana, who was the real Castro agent. I was never able to check that out, but knowing Blakey's reverence for FBI information, that scenario wouldn't surprise me.)
Silvia Odio did not take the news the way Veciana did. After McDonald and I had convinced her that her testimony was needed for the sake of lofty ideals and principles, she had been experiencing a good deal of emotional stress trying to prepare herself to face public exposure for the first time.
"My God, this is incredible," she said when I told her. "After all the hell I've been putting myself through." She paused, unable to express the depth of her reaction. "I feel a tremendous anger," she finally said softly. "Well, this is the end for me. I don't want to have anything more to do with any more investigations or anything that has to do with the government at all. Of course, I'm glad in a way that I don't have to go through he public exposure, but now I really know that they don't want to know. They don't really want to know because they don't have any answers for the American public. They should never have started this charade in the first place."
Her anger, she said, was not directed at me, but perhaps, in part, it should have been. I listened without being able to answer her. In my gut, I felt she was right.
In retrospect, weighing the impression of that last week of the Assassinations Committee's public hearing, the overwhelming accent on the possibility of Organized Crime being involved in the murder of President Kennedy is incredibly clear. And, again in retrospect, it clearly appears to have been deliberate scheme to set up the American public for what was coming in the final report. The findings of the acoustic tests -- dictating the conclusion of a conspiracy as a result of more than three shots being fired -- were known prior the public hearings. Blakey then had to pin the conspiracy somewhere.
An interesting point is that most of the members of the Committee's Organized Crime team never bought Blakey's theory. "I remember that as being a constant battle at our meetings," former Team leader Jim McDonald recently recalled. "Most of us on the team felt we never made the link. Maybe Blakey's O.C. consultant Ralph Salerno made the link, but that's Ralph Salerno. The team never made the link. But at our meetings it was obvious that Blakey wanted that. He wanted to make the link more than anything else."
Blakey, strangely enough, seems to have made the link well before the acoustic results dictated the need for a specific conspiracy theory. "When Blakey sold me on joining the Committee," McDonald remembers, "we had a long discussion over the phone. this was in late February. He was intimating he had some new evidence and h e finally asked, 'well, who do you think killed Kennedy?' I said I didn't know. And he said, 'Think. think about it.' And I guessed, 'Castro? Cuban exiles? I really don't know.' 'Think!' he said. 'What's so obvious?' By that time I was just confused. Finally he blurted out, 'Organized Crime kill Kennedy!'"
In addition to the strong accent on the possibility of an Organized Crime conspiracy, the Committee's public hearing had another significant characteristic. Although they purported to cover the area -- it was so declared in the press release -- the hearings never truly delved into most of the evidence regarding the possibility of a connection between Lee Harvey Oswald and the Central Intelligence Agency. Blakey acknowledged a reason for that and it has to do with the arrangement he had made with the CIA in order to gain access to its files. One of the stipulations was that all information that the Committee obtained from the CIA and wanted to release in its final report would be reviewed by the CIA prior to its release. At that time, Blakey contented, the Committee could argue its case on a point-by-point basis. Blakey admitted he didn't want to present any information in the public hearings which might lead to a premature skirmish with the Agency.
My own experience indicated that Blakey learned over ridiculously, maybe even suspiciously, backwards in has caution. When I finally got to Washington during the last week of the public hearings, I immediately set about expanding the details in the anti-Castro area narrative that Blakey was scheduled to present. Now, with Odio and Veciana not being there, I was more intent than ever that their stories got told to the public. If Blakey presented it properly, I thought it might still have some impact. I wrapped it up and put it into the system. the night before it was to be presented, I thought I would check the final typed draft. Neither Cornwell nor Blakey had indicated they had any points they wanted to discuss. In checking, however, I noticed that a very significant fact had been eliminated from the Veciana narrative, one that went directly to a point in his credibility.
Specifically, what had been edited out of Veciana's story was the fact that the State Department confirmed his employment by the United States Government when he was working under the Agency for International Development as a bank consultant in La Paz, Bolivia, and that his application for the job had been accepted and approved with his signature. That indicate that someone had obviously pulled some strings for him and added credibility to his contention that his AID job was just a cover for the counterintelligence work he was doing on behalf of Maurice Bishop.
I went into Blakey's office and asked him whey that part of the narrative was eliminated. Blakey said it was because, at this point, he didn't want to get into a hassle with the CIA. The big battle with the CIA< he said, would come after the final report was written, when we would be able to get in a knock-down-drag-out fight with the Agency over what information should be released. that, I told Blakey, was totally irrelevant in this case because this particular bit of information did not come from the CIA. This was information that was developed when I worked for Senator Schweiker. It was not even information that came through the Senate Intelligence Committee. It was information that I had brought to the Assassinations Committee myself. And it was not classified in any way.
Blakey pretended to miss my point. "Well, in any case," he said, "we've just got too much to do to get into a hassle with the Agency at this point." He quickly dismissed me and turned to other staffers waiting to see him.
The next day, when it came time to present the anti-Castro Cuban narrative and the stories of Silvia Odio and Antonio Veciana to the American public, Blakey turned to Congressman Stokes and said: "Mr. Chairman, in light of the time pressures that Committee is operating under today, I would like to ask permission that the narration on the anti-Castro Cubans be inserted in the record as if read."
Today I think back to something Silvia Odio said when she was expressing her rage and frustration at suddenly being told she could not directly tell h er story to the public. "I know I won't be able to sleep now for days," she said. "I had put this thing out of my mind years ago, but then it was brought up again and this time I thought for a good purpose. Now I'm angrier than I have ever been in my life." there was nothing I could say. Finally, she said softly: "Please don't think I'm angry at you. I'm not angry at you. I know they way you feel. But we lost. We all lost.
At the conclusion of its public hearings, the House Select Committee on Assassinations had been in existence for more than tow years. Officially, it had but three more months of life. During that time, its dwindling staff, characterized by a numb and glassy-eyed determination to simply finish its job, worked on the various area summaries for the final report. In those last months, Blakey's preoccupation was with the results of the acoustics tests. A police radio tape of the sounds in Dealey Plaza when Kennedy was shot had been analyzed by an expert. In a conference with Blakey and Cornwell the evening before his scheduled appearance at the public hearings, Dr. James E. Barger had held strong to the opinion that there were at least four shots recorded on the tape. That meant a conspiracy. Blakey was ecstatic that the hearings would finally have the media sex appeal the Congressman so appreciated. The next day, however, put under pressure in the public spotlight and feeling very much alone as the only witness testifying on the matter, Dr. Barger toned down his conclusion to a "50-50 chance" of a fourth shot. Cornwell stomped back to the offices from the hearing room cursing a blue streak and yelling as if he had been personally betrayed. Blakey's administration flunkie, Charlie Mathews, threw his arms in the air and shouted, "He didn't testify to what we paid him to testify to!"
There was not doubt that the tape recordings, as analyzed, indicated that more that three shots were fired, likely even more than four. Blakey finally had the hook on which to hand his Organized Crime conspiracy theory and he wasn't about to let it slip out of his hands. With the hiring of auxiliary experts and additional field tests in Dallas, the Assassinations Committee was finally able to conclude that there was a "95 percent probability" that a fourth shot was fired from the grassy knoll. Ignoring the fact that such a conclusion impugned the validity of so much of the physical evidence on which it had spent a couple of hundred thousand dollars scientifically analyzing, the Assassinations Committee published a final report which quiveringly declared threat " President John F. Kennedy was probably assassinated as the result of a conspiracy." Thus spake the Congressman, and dutifully closed up shop, while G. Robert Blakey, fat pre-arranged publisher's advance in hand, went back to Cornell to write a book about the whole story.
This is not the whole story. This, in a broad brush stroke, is why and how the Assassinations Committee went in the direction it did. It is that important part of the story which explains what was happening while a critical area of evidence was being given token consideration. A credible witness, Antonio Veciana, had alleged that an intelligence operative who used the name of Maurice Bishop was associating with Lee Harvey Oswald immediately before President Kennedy was assassinated. that was evidence in the realm of the Committee's mandate. It was not hard evidence and it was not corroborated, but it was, nevertheless, evidence. It was evidence seeded with potential significance from any concluding viewpoint, positive or negative. It was evidence that screamed for attention. It was evidence that, by any standard of evaluation, demanded that an intensive, undeviating Committee effort be devoted to its investigation.
It never happened. The early political and organizational chaos, the establishment of priorities not related tot he substance of the case, the subsequent restrictions imposed upon the selection of key issues, the diffusion and then decimation of investigative resources, the predisposition to concentrate on the area of Organized Crime -- all were factors which dictated the Assassinations Committee's ultimate handling of and its conclusion about the revelations of Antonio Veciana.
And so, because it did not honor its mandate to conduct "a full and complete" investigation in this glaringly important area, the Committee had to distort the facts in its final report in order to justify its conclusion -- and cover is ass.
For $5.6 million, the American people should have at least gotten the bare facts.
On September 20th, 1976, I wrote an informal memorandum to Senator Richard Schweiker detailing exactly what happened when Antonio Veciana, Sarah Lewis and I met David Atlee Phillips at the luncheon meeting of the Association of Retired Intelligence Officers in Reston.
The memo eventually became Document No. 013455 in the files of the House Select Committee on Assassinations.
It begins: "Instead of finally resolving anything, the confrontation between Veciana and David Phillips on Friday in Reston only raised a lot more questions in my mind...." And it concludes: "I must admit I have some strange feelings about all this. As you know, as a result of having spent so many hours with him and going over his story in such detail...I'm convinced that Veciana is telling us the truth about his contacts with Bishop, but now, for the first time, I have some doubts abut Veciana's credibility when it comes to Phillips...."
The memo noted that Veciana's attitude appears to have changed from when I first met him six months prior, largely as a result of his getting deeply involved again in the intrigues of Miami's anti-Castro strategists. It then speculates: "Veciana may now feel that it won't pay to identify Bishop and, in fact, if Bishop knows he can do it as any moment, he might find that an incentive to want to get back into action with Veciana to keep him from doing so. they may both feel that they can wait for all this to blow over, even if it's a year or too...."
Confirmation of Veciana renewing his strategic role in anti-Castro activity came a few months later when an informant told me that Veciana had taken a secret mission to Latin America to deliver an explosive device. Another indication came when the FBI told Veciana that it had information that an assassination attempt was going to be made on his life. Veciana, declaring Castro the perpetuator of the plan, publicized the warning and thus, he calm, aborted the attempt. Another attempt, this time without warning, would come later. At any rate, Veciana himself would eventually tell me that he very definitely hope Maurice Bishop would get beck in touch with him.
As for David Atlee Phillips -- of all the people in the world -- it was incredible how the pieces of his character and career fit into the puzzle named Maurice Bishop. As first discovered by Senator Schweiker himself, the composite sketch of Bishop was a very close likeness of Phillips. In additional, a few specific details revealed by Veciana long before the name of David Phillips popped up late an impression on me. One was the very unusual physical characteristic that both Bishop and Phillips shared in the dark, weathered ellipses under this eyes. the other was Veciana's assumption that Bishop was a Texan. David Phillips grew up and still has family living in Fort Worth.
Early in 1977, a fascinating autobiography appeared in the nation's bookstores" The Night Watch - 25 Years of Peculiar Service. Its author was David Atlee Phillips. It was, of course, written and in production long before it was known that Antonio Veciana had revealed the existence of Maurice Bishop. It would be misleading to characterize any published work by a competent intelligence agent as 'revealing," especially one written by an expert in counterintelligence and propaganda, one whose life work was in creating mirror images, false postures and shadow characters. And David Phillips does, indeed, have a reputation among his peers of being an expert in what he does. His book, however, does provide certain relevant benchmarks.
David Atlee Phillips was born on Halloween, 1922. in Forth Worth, Texas. His father died when he was five, leaving his family a portfolio of oil stocks, lifetime membership in the country club he founded and a house on the fourth green. The stocks collapsed in '29, but young David's mother went to work and sent him off to William and Mary in Virginia. Phillips paints himself as a bit of a Fitzgeraldian party boy who, in less than a year, is back home plodding through Texas Christian University for a while and then selling cemetery lots.
More than anything else, however, David Phillips wanted to be an actor. he spent a couple of years bumming around New York in the effort, but his road to glory was detoured by World War II, a stint in a German prison camp and a daring escape. He tried again after the War with more success, joining a couple of touring road shows fora while. (Whenever possible during his Agency career, in whatever city he was stationed, Phillips would invariable start or join a little theater group.)
In 1948, Phillips married his first wife, an airline stewardess and, with a $200-a-month stipend from a producer's option on a play he wrote which was never produced, he had his bride decided to go to Chile to live cheaply.
Life in Chile was made easier, Phillips says, because both he and his bride could speak the language. He had studies it casually in college and seriously while visiting Mexico. One of the reasons he was recruited by the CIA< Phillips notes, was because he spoke fluent Spanish.
At first, Phillips tried play writing, attended classes at the University of Chile and joined a local theater group. Then came the opportunity to buy a small newspaper, The South Pacific Mail and, with borrowed money, some secondhand presses for commercial printing. It was the purchase of the presses by the American, Phillips says, which attracted the interest of the CIA's chief of station in Santiago. Phillips was recruited to be a "part-time" agent at $50 a month. His salary was deposited in a Texas bank after going through a financial cover company in New York.
Eventually, Phillips was sent by the Agency to New York for special training. He reveals the depth of cover which the CIA impresses upon its deep cover recruits" "...my training officer...took me to a brownstone in the East Seventies. It was a CIA safe house for training overseas personnel who were undercover, or anyone whose job was os sensitive that he was not allowed to visited Washington or the Agency training retreat in nearby Virginia. There were other agents in the safe house, but I never saw them. When I want to the john my instructor would check first to be sure it was not occupied by another student."
Phillips' three-week training session appears to have been a model from which Maurice Bishop drew Antonio Veciana's training program. Initially, he was taught the tools of the basic trade craft, how to conduct surveillance and counter surveillance, set up clandestine meetings, employed deception techniques and run "dark alley" operations. Phillips was then told he had the qualifications the Agency looked for in a propaganda specialist and his training thereafter concentrated on the techniques of propaganda and political action. Phillips describes it as a "freshman course." He notes: "It was some years later before I graduated into the more esoteric graduate schools of trade crafts."
David Atlee Phillips thus began his journey into what would eventually e the deepest realms of CIA machinations and, from there, up the ladder of it bureaucracy to the highest operational echelons. His known successes, some of which are detailed in his book and some only obliquely brushed against, were mainly in the area of propaganda, psychological warfare and counterintelligence.
Strangely enough, from being apart-time recruit in Chile, Phillips was selected by the Agency to play an important role in over throwing the Leftist Jacob Arbenz regime in Guatemala. He helped set up a clandestine radio station in Mexico -- the Voice of Liberation -- pretended to be broadcasting from within Guatemala and orchestrated a crescendo of false reports about legions of rebels which didn't exist and major battles which never took place. Under such a propaganda barrage, the Arbenz government fled the country before real bullets could fly. Phillips would later term the technique, which he would use again in his career, as "the big lie."
It was during the Guatemala operation that Phillips made some of the Agency contacts and close associations which would endure through his career. Among them was E. Howard Hunt. In his autobiography, Phillips describes Hunt as being "friendly, anxious to help me and considerate." Phillips' kind characterization of Hunt is in marked contrast to the published and unpublished opinions of many of his CIA colleagues, most of who refer to Hunt with less than admiration. (In his own book, for instance, former CIA Deputy Director Ray Cline says he considered Hunt eccentric and terms him a "Zealot.") Phillips would work very close to Hunt during the planning of the Bay of Pigs invasion and in other less visible operations in the future.
Although Phillips regularly moved up the CIA ladder, he spent most of his career in the field, giving him a flexibility and freedom of movement a deskbound Washington officer would not have. Even when headquartered in Washington as propaganda chief of the Bay of Pigs operations, Phillips regularly flew into Miami where his subordinates supervised the activities of various front groups. he played a major role in the Agency's WerBell III, the assassination weapons expert, was a mysterious by very prominent figure. Aside from a year and a half stint in Lebanon, Phillips' entire career was spent fighting Communist infiltration in the Caribbean and Latin America. Most of the time his sights were on the one man who represented the greatest Communist threat the hemisphere had ever known: Fidel Castro.
There were certain segments of Phillips' career which attracted my attention. IN a now frayed and yellowing copy of the 1960 edition of the Anglo-American Directory of Cuba, there is listed on page 92: "PHILLIPS, David Atlee (Amer.):...Public relations Counselor, David A. Phillips Associates...." At the time, Phillips was a deep cover operative in Havana posing as a public relations consultant, hobnobbing with media executives and newspaper reporters, launching with Havana's businessmen, ostensibly pitching stories or clients. "My favorite luncheon place," he writes in his book, "was the Fluoridate restaurant in colonial Havana." Once he saw Hemingway there.
Phillips admits that after he hung up his shingles as a public relations counselor, "No one rushed the door in any event, nor did I solicit clients." Phillips does, however, also admit that he did eventually wind up with at least one client with which he briefly worked a trade for French lesson: The Berlitz language School.
In his book, Phillips discussed very little of what he actually id in Havana as a covert operator, but does say that he "put in a full day for CIA," and that he "handled" agents.
Another aspect of Phillips' career which interested me was his tour of duty in Mexico City. In terms of its relationship to the Kennedy assassination, Mexico City was significant not only because of Oswald's visit to the Cuban and Russian Embassies there, but also because of the number of false reports that followed out of there immediately following the assassination.
From 1961 through the fall of 1963, Phillips was Chief of Covert Action in Mexico City. Just prior to the Kennedy assassination, he was made Chief of Cuban Operations. In those jobs his main activities were in propaganda, dirty tricks and counterintelligence. His main focus was on maintaining a watch on Castro's intelligence agents, many of who worked out of the Cuban Embassy. Phillips had to know, for instance, that one of Castro's ranking intelligence officers stationed in the Embassy was Guillermo Ruiz, the cousin of Antonio Veciana.
The Assassinations Committee's first Chief Counsel Richard Sprague had run into what, for him, became a dead-end when he attempt to probe into what David Phillips did in monitoring Lee Harvey Oswald's actions in Mexico City. After G. Robert Blakey became Chief Counsel, an arrangement was made with the Agency to give Committee staffers who signed the CIA Secrecy Agreement access to previously restricted files. The kicker was that the Agency would have to approve many information obtained from the files prior to publication in the Committee's report. The Committee was interested in a number of questions related to Phillips' activities in Mexico City: Why was CIA headquarters not notified immediately when the Agency's Mexico City station picked up Oswald's contacts with the Cuban and Russian Embassies? Was there, in fact, a tape recording of Oswald's telephone conversations with Russian personnel -- a conversation in which Oswald, Phillips and publicly declared, offered information to the Russians? Did Phillips lie about ever listening to such a tape? Did Phillips lie when he said the tape had been routinely destroyed? Why didn't the CIA have a photograph of Oswald entering the Cuban or Russian Embassies? Who was the man in the photographs the Agency erroneously told the Warren Commission were of Oswald? Did Phillips, ever the professional double deceiver, deliberately set himself up as the patsy in misexplaining the Agency's handling of the tapes and photographs in order to cover a deep secret?
The Assassinations Committee does not answer all those questions in its published final report. Most of its published conclusions are masterpieces of definitive statements conflictingly injected with waffling qualifiers. For instance: "Despite the unanswered questions, the weight of the evidence supported the conclusion that Oswald was the individual who visited the Soviet Embassy and Cuban Consulate." (Italics added.) It dismisses the Agency's handling of the Oswald case prior to the assassination as simply "deficient, and yet admits that "the Committee was unable to determine whether the CIA did in fact come into possession of a photograph of Oswald taken during his visits to the Soviet Embassy and Cuban Consulate in Mexico City, or whether Oswald had any associates in Mexico City."
Unable to determine? That admission reveals more about the Committee's investigation and its relationship to the CIA than do its pages of exposition and conclusion.
The Question of Phillips' veracity is not addressed int he Committee's final report. (In fact, David Phillips is not even mentioned in the final report, although a published appendix volume, cleared by the Agency, does name him and his job assignments.) In one of the footnote references to the report, however, is noted a document entitled :Lee Harvey Oswald, the CIA and Mexico City." It is a 300-page, substantively exhaustive staff report written by two of the Committee's best researchers, Dan Hardway and Edwin Lopez. It remains classified and will not be released to the public.
In the search for the true identity of Maurice Bishop, the more I learned about David Atlee Phillips, the more I was struck by how incredibly well the pieces fit. Aside for the physical similarity to Bishop, Phillips' interests and job assignments were exceptionally relevant to almost everything Antonio Veciana had told me about Bishop. In Havana as a covert operative, involved with the anti-Castro Cuban groups in Miami both before and after the Bay of Pigs, assigned to propaganda and counterintelligence activities in Mexico City when Lee Harvey Oswald visited there -- could such key factors which pointed to David Phillips being Maurice Bishop all be merely coincidental?
Perhaps, if there were enough conflicting factors which mitigated against the possibility. There weren't. to the contrary, there were other aspects of Phillips' career which tended to make the fit tighter. In 1968, for instance, at the suggestion and with the help of Bishop, Veciana got a U.S. Government-salaried job with the Agency for International Development as a banking consultant in Bolivia. It was at that time, said Veciana, that his activities with Bishop broadened to include not only schemes directed specifically against Castro, but also strategies aimed at countering Communism throughout Latin America.
Late in 1967, David Phillips returned to Washington to take on a new assignment as Chief of the Cuban Operations Group of the CIA's Western Hemisphere Division. "Although I would report to the head of the Latin American affairs," he notes in his autobiography, "my responsibilities were worldwide: to keep tabs on Cuban preoccupations in Europe, Africa, Asia and the middle East and in more than twenty countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as to manage CIA espionage operations in Cuba. Professionally, it was a prestigious but demanding assignment." In my own mind, however, the most significant associations in David Phillips' career were those that had to do with Chile.
This from the notes made from a tape recorded interview with Antonio Veciana on March 16th, 1976: "Although all of Bishop's plans against Castro failed, there were other plans, against other people, that didn't fail. He knows -- he says there is no doubt -- that Bishop was involved in the plan to dispose of Allende in Chile. That was one of his job. He knows that by the contacts in Chile that Bishop had. 'All the connections I had in Chile were given to me by Bishop.'"
Part of the plot to assassinate Castro in Chile in 1971, said Veciana, called for the Chilean military bodyguard to capture the assassins before Castro's own forces could kill them. Bishop, said Veciana, made the arrangements for this, an indication of his contacts high in the Chilean military.
In December, 1975, the Church Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities issued a staff report entitled, Covert Action in Chile: 1963-1973. It noted: "Was the United Stated directly involved, covertly, in the 1973 coup in Chile? The Committee has found no evidence that it was. However, the United States sought in 1970 to foment a military coup in Chile; after 1970 it adopted a policy, both overt and covert, of opposition to Allende; and it remained in intelligence contact with the Chilean military, including officers who were participating in coup plotting." (Italics added.)
One of the most interesting facts revealed in the Senate Intelligence Committee report was the huge amount of money available to the CIA operatives in covert action in Chile. Of the total of $13 million the CIA poured into Chile, more than $8 million was spent in the three years between the 1970 election and the military coup which toppled Allende in 1973. Most of that was spent on propaganda and media operations.
The Senate report also noted that the CIA did not consult its Congressional oversight committees, as it was required by law to do, on most of its Chilean covert action projects. Although most were approved by President Nixon's executive oversight group, called the 40 Committee, the Senate report said: "Congressional oversight committees were not consulted about projects which were not reviewed by the full 40 Committees. One of these was the Track II attempt to foment a military coup...."
The chief of the Track II project was David Phillips.
When Phillips testified in executive session before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, he scoffed at Veciana's contention that he was paid $253,000 in cash at the termination of his relationship with Maurice Bishop. Phillips said that was too large a sum of money for the CIA to pay out unvouchered. As Chief of the Agency's Western Hemisphere Division in 1973, he said, "I would have had to know about it."
Veciana claimed that the beginning of the end of his relationship with Bishop came with the discovery of the unauthorized sub-plot to blame Russian agents for the Castro assassination attempt in Chile in 1971. I began to suspect that was only part of the reason when a close associate of Veciana's told me, and Veciana himself later admitted, that he was pushing to continue the efforts to kill Castro with every more daring schemes that Bishop did not approve. That is the reason Veciana initially thought he was put out of action.
Perhaps, however, there is a simpler explanation. In his autobiography, Phillips tells a self-effacing story about an incident which occurred shortly after he took over as Western Hemisphere Division boss -- the highest echelon, by the way, to which a CIA officer can climb without Presidential appointment. One weekend he received a report that a defected CIA officer walked into the Chilean Embassy in Mexico City and offered information about a secret Agency plan. Phillips rushed to his office on a Sunday morning and spent the entire day checking out the report and finally learning that the so-called defect CIA officer was a phony. On Monday morning, he writes, he was gently chastised by the superior, whom he calls "Abe," for not delegating the job of checking out the report to his proper subordinate. "Abe was right," Phillips admits. "I soon found that 95 percent of my time must be devoted to mundane management matters and only a precious few moments to the more interesting development and direction of operations. The Division Chief has to delegate even the most intriguing cases and allow others to enjoy the excitement of running operations."
When David Phillips' book, The Night Watch, was published, it because a fascinating exercise for me to pore over it looking for such clues and hints to the possibility of his being the mysterious Maurice Bishop. Although there are broad revelations that Phillips couldn't easily have concealed in an autobiography, the book was cleverly constructed to be as little informative as possible about the details of his many covert actions. Phillips is, of course, an overtly loyal CIA officer. Yet the question that the book as a whole evokes, more in essence than in substance, is whether or not it is, in itself, a charade, or merely a reflection of the charade that was his life. I came to suspect that Phillips may, indeed, have been one of the very best covert agents the CIA ever had. Nevertheless, his autobiography may inadvertently contain just one mirror too many, a final reflection of simple duplicity.
Phillips, for instance, portrays himself as a moderate liberal. He proclaims -- albeit, with suspicious gratuity -- that he voted for George McGovern and for Hubert Humphrey when they were Presidential candidates. He also would have his readers believe that he is the processor of a level-headed, moral and philosophical objectivity, a man who claims to have agonized much over the ethical and legal implications of his covert apportions. Yet he reports that his career has been full of Agency honors and rewards for h is repeated successes as a dirty tricks expert and details how he help dislodged even left-leaning governments which have been democratically elected, as in Chile. Moreover, the real David Phillips is closely associated with top figures in the military-industrial complex, as well as with the most hawkish of the nation's right-wing power brokers.
For instance, as previously noted, I discovered his relationship with Clare Booth Luce extends to her board position on the Phillips-founded Association of former Intelligence Officers. That relationship may be relevant here. As those who worked for the Time-Life communications empire can verify, the wife of the late board chairman Henry Luce was an influential figure in the operations of her husband's media giants. I recall talking with former Life correspondent Andrew St. George early in 1976, before I had even heard of the name of David Phillips. St. George told me that one of the many instances in which Life (missing 30)
The last two sentences would come to have special significance for me, although not in the way Phillips intended them.
Phillips does, by the way, admit knowledge of an assassination plot by anti-Castro rebels while he was still a deep cover operative in Havana. He mentions a detail that drew my interest. He says he was asked by his case officer to undertake what he called a "special" mission. He was to approach the group as an American anxious to assist anyone plotting against Castro, find out the details of the plan and report back to his case officer. Phillips says he did, in fact, cultivate one of the conspirators, attended a secret conclave of the group and reported back that he thought the plot would fail. Shortly afterwards, a Castro informant broke up the scheme and several of the plotters were arrested.
Phillips, however noted his thoughts when he was considering the various methods by which he could approach the plotters: "It would be tricky," he writes. "I could approach and cultivate one of the conspirators using a false identity, perhaps in disguise." Disguises, I have learned, do not have to be blatant or sophisticated and are sometimes just subtle enough to avoid instance recognition. But I found it interesting that Phillips should consider a ploy favored by one of his associates. For his disguises on his White House Plumbers operations, E. Howard Hunt had drawn on the resources of the CIA's Technical Services Bureau.
Because his testimony was already on record with the Senate Intelligence Committee and couldn't be brushed aside, because he did fit into the issue plan in an oblique way, and because it was an area I kept pushing, Antonio Veciana was brought to Washington on April 25th, 1978 to testify in private before the House Select Committee on Assassination. David Phillips was scheduled to testify immediately after him. That was not coincidental. Although it was not deliberately stage-directed, the possibility was recognized that Veciana and Phillips might encounter each other in the hallway outside the hearing room.
They did. As I walked out of the hearing room at Veciana's side, I saw Phillips talking amiably with a small group immediately outside the door. He glanced up, saw Veciana, glanced at me and turned back to his conversation. Veciana also spotted Phillips. He leaned over to me and said with a half-smile on his face, "There's David Phillips."
That day, Veciana again testified under oath that David Phillips was not the person he knew as Maurice Bishop. He admitted, however that there was a "physical similarity."
I returned to the hearing room to listen to Phillips testify immediately after I had escorted Veciana out of the building. Most of the questioning concerned his knowledge of Oswald's activities in Mexico City and the validity of his previous testimony. (The Committee staff report which deals with that area remains classified.) Finally, the questioning cam around to Veciana and Bishop.
David Phillips said he never used the name Maurice Bishop. (Although CIA covert operatives have registered pseudonyms, most also use operational aliases with their field contacts. these are not registered and are changed at will.) Phillips also said he did not know of anyone in the CIA who used the name Maurice Bishop. When asked if he knew Antonio Veciana, Phillips cane on strong, his voice exuding a forced restraint, as if he were getting sick and tired of having to put up with such nonsense. He said he had seen Veciana only twice in his life, the second time that very morning as Veciana was emerging from the e hearing room. The first time he met Veciana, Phillips said, was at a meeting of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers in Reston.
I was facing Phillips's right side, sitting at a staff table on a level below the U-shaped Congressional dais. Kennedy Subcommittee Chairman Richard Pryor, the white-haired North Carolina Representative, was president. As I listened I was struck by the tone of credibility in Phillips's voice as he began to speak about an incident with which I was personally familiar.
Phillips said that Veciana was brought to the Reston meeting by an investigator from Senator Schweiker's office but that he was not introduce to Veciana by name. Veciana, he said, was introduce to him only as "the driver." He said that Veciana asked him some questions in Spanish and had the feeling that Veciana did that in order to hear his accent. He did not say what questions Veciana asked him. At the time, he said, he did not know who Veciana was or why Schweiker's office had sent him to the meeting. Later, of course, he said, he read about Veciana in Jack Anderson's column.
I was shocked. An impulse flashed within me to Jump up and shout, "That's is not true!" I had personally introduced Veciana to Phillips twice at the luncheon in Reston once at the table and once in the hallway. In fact, Phillips himself asked Veciana, "What was your name again?" and Veciana told him. And when Veciana asked Phillips if he remembered him, Phillips said no. I was there. Veciana was there. Sarah Lewis was there. It was documented in my reports written immediately afterwards. What was Phillips trying to pull? This was sworn testimony. I was dumbfounded.
Later, I mentioned by reaction to Chief Counsel Bob Blakey. "You know," I said, "David Phillips lied in his testimony." Blakey raised his brows. "Oh, really," he said. "What about?" I told him the details. He listened carefully, thought silently for a moment, gave me a "so what?" shrug and walked away.
Shortly after the Bay of Pigs operation, President John F. Kennedy confided to his advisor Arthur Schlesinger that, after he took office he should not have retained Allen Dulles as CIA Director. "I can't estimate his meaning when he tells me things," said Kennedy. Immediately after he was appointed to the Warren Commission to investigate Kennedy's assassination, Dulles told columnist Murray Kempton he was confident that Commission would find no evidence of a conspiracy.
At an early meeting of the Warren Commission, the transcript of which was marked "Top Secret" until 1975, the members discussed what Chief Counsel F. Lee Rankin called "this dirty rumor" that Oswald may have been an FBI informant.
"This is a terribly hard thing to disprove, you know," said Allen Dulles. "How do you disprove a fellow was not your agent? How do you disprove it?"
The late Congressman from Louisiana, Hale Boggs, then asked" "You could disprove it, couldn't you?"
"No," said Dulles.
"Did you have agents about whom you had no record whatsoever?" asked Boggs.
"The records might not be on paper," said Dulles.
Boggs than asked about an agent who did not have a contract but was recruited by someone from the CIA. "The man who recruited him would know, wouldn't he?" asked Boggs.
"Yes, but he wouldn't tell," said Dulles.
Commission Chairman Earl Warren appeared a bit taken aback by that. "wouldn't tell it under oath?" asked Warren.
"I wouldn't think he would tell it under oath, no," answered Dulles.
It was a revealing admission of a loyal CIA officer's perspective. It was the same perspective held by former CIA Director Richard Helms when he called his conviction of perjury before Congress a "badge of honor."
At the time when the House Assassinations Committee Chief Counsel Bob Blakey was making arrangements with the CIA for access to its files, one staff member raised the question of whether or not in the absence of access to the file system itself, we could tell if the Agency was being honest with us in response to requests for all the files on a particular subject. "You don't think they'd lie to me, do you?" Blakey responded. "I've been working with those people for 20 years."
Of all the factors which dictated the Assassinations Committee's ultimate disposal of the revelations of Antonio Veciana and its conclusion about Maurice Bishop, there was one of pivotal influence: The Committee's relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency.
At one of the first general staff meetings, Blakey revealed what our general strategy would be in dealing with the CIA. It was going to be "realistic," he said. He was in the delicate process of negotiating a "working arrangement" with the Agency, one that would give us unprecedented access to is files. Meanwhile, he said, we have to remember certain very real factors: First, we are a temporary Congressional Investigative entity. We have a limited time to do our job and then we will disappear. The CIA will be around long after we're gone. Our attitude, said Blakey, will be that we are sympathetic to the CIA's overall mission and its continuing role and we will take that into consideration in our dealing with the Agency. For our report, Blakey said, we will keep record of how the Agency complies with our requests for files. the record is what's important.
"The things to do now," said Blakey, "is be nice to the Agency. Ask for things in a nice way. If you have difficulty, deal with them in a nice way, don't buck them head-on at this point. That may result in the battle being lost on the beaches.
Unlike his predecessor Dick Sprague, Bob Blakey saw nothing ludicrous in seeking a "working arrangement" with one of the subjects of the Committee's investigation. Neither did he view House Resolution 222 authorizing the Committee to conduct a "full and complete investigation" in conflict with the CIA's refusal to provide total access to information except on its own terms.
The Committee's arrangement with the Agency for access to its files evolved over several months, most of the steps being negotiated personally by Blakey and CIA Director Stansfield Turner. It ultimately gave every Committee staff member who signed the CIA Secrecy Agreement access to the Agency's classified files. No other Congressional committee had ever reviewed CIA files without the Agency first deleting what it called its "sensitive sources and methods" which identified how the information was obtained. Knowledge of such sources and methods was often more important than the information itself.
Blakey was exceptionally proud of his working arrangement with the Agency and, in a sense, he had a right to be. Although the Agency had final review of what information would be published, the Committee's final report and, more significantly, its appendix volumes were liberally documented with Agency file material. Even now, independent researchers are discovering a cornucopia of new information in that published material which appears to be relevant to the final truth about the Kennedy assassination.
Yet, in the end, Blakey was suckered. Or, more accurately, he suckered himself. Although he pictured himself in periodic reports to the staff as aggressively snipping at the Agency at every instance of evasiveness or recalcitrance, he was, in fact, on that Agency's turf. And being there meant he accepted at least two basic assumption: First, the access to CIA files would provide the Committee with the comprehensive information necessary for certain definitive conclusion; and, secondly, that the CIA files themselves reflected a complete and accurate record of whether or not the Agency or any of its personnel were involved in the Kennedy assassination. Those assumptions are reflected in the Committee's final report.
My own impression was that Blakey all along though he was cleverly manipulating the Agency to his own end. His end was, of course, a heavily-documented final report. After the Committee's report was released, Blakey told a journalist, who was questioning him about he Committee's conclusion concerning Antonio Veciana's revelations, that he had been certain CIA files which were not shown to anyone else on the Committee's staff. that makes me wonder who was manipulating who.
Bob Blakey's reverence for the CIA as an institution permitted the Agency to impose its priorities on the Committee's function. And the CIA's priorities did not have anything to do with a desire to determine the facts of President Kennedy's assassination. the Committee's relationship with the CIA -- especially in terms of it pursuit of the mysterious Maurice Bishop -- totally ignored the insights provided by Allen Dulles' admission to the Warren Commission and the perspective revealed by convicted perjurer Richard Helms.
I vividly recall an informal discussion I had, before the Committee's investigation GO underway, with a former high-ranking CIA officer who, after he retired to Florida , slowly began viewing the Agency in a different light. He said that the CIA's response to the Committee would be "predictable." It would react the way it has always reacted to every crisis and/or investigation: A "talk force" of key personnel would be formed to "handle and contain" the inquiry. He cited the Agency's response to both the Rockefeller Commission and the Church Committee as examples. He said the "clandestine mentality" that is drilled into the CIA operatives until it is instinctual would permit most of them to commit perjury because, in their view, their secrecy oath supersedes any congressional witness oath. He said he doubted that the CIA would be totally candid with the Committee despite its Congressional authority. "You represent the United States Congress," he said, "but what the hell is that to the CIA?"
"...what the hell is that to the CIA?"
I think of that when I recall what subsequently occurred in the pursuit of Veciana's revelations, and I think of the incredible admission that is buried in the Committee's final report -- an admission which almost totally negates its investigative conclusions about he CIA:
"...the Agency's strict compartmentalization and the complexity of it enormous filing system...have the...effect of making congressional inquiry difficult. For example, CIA personnel testified to the Committee that a review of Agency files would not always indicate whether an individual was affiliated with the Agency in any capacity. Nor was there always an independent means of verifying that all materials requested from Agency had, in fact, been provided."
In July of 1977, two moths after he had written his first column about Mr . X" and his revelations concerning "morris" Bishop, Jack Anderson brought the subject up again.
Wrote Anderson: "The Central Intelligence Agency had no comment last my when we quoted from House investigative files that the CIA was in contact with Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on the eve of the John F. Kennedy assassination.
"...The CIA though maintaining official silence, reacted to our story in an internal memo. He have obtained a copy of the memo.."
"This memo..is addressed to the CIA's Deputy Director for Operations. It states: 'The Jack Anderson column of 6 May 1977 alluded to "the CIA man, Morris Bishop," in Dallas.... The CIA did not have contact in Dallas with Lee Harvey Oswald.... We have run exhaustive traces to identify Morris Bishop with success. The name Morris Bishop has never been used as a registered alias or pseudonym nor has anyone with the name ever been employed by the CIA.'"
It was not until March 2nd, 1978, that the House Select Committee on Assassinations finally got around to officially asking the CIA to check all its files and index references for a Maurice Bishop. On March 31st, 1978, the CIA informed the Committee that its Office of the Inspector General, its Office of the General Counsel, its Office of Personnel, and the Deputy Directorate of Operations had no record of a Maurice Bishop.
And a file search of David Phillips' files did not indicate that he had ever registered the alias of Maurice Bishop.
I was the only staff investigator on the House Selected Committee on Assassinations with a journalistic background. As such, I was particularly mindful of Blakey's early directive that all the activities of the Committee, classified or not, be kept confidential. Some of my best friends were journalists and I was in touch with them regularly. In addition, some of them had been doing important and very effective research into the Kennedy assassinating themselves and were excellent sources of information. For that reason, I refused to restrict my contacts with them. Blakey knew that, and I knew that he knew that, so I was particularly careful not to leak any Committee information. (I later discovered that Blakey himself was the source of many published leaks.)
One of the journalists with whom I was in regular contact was a tall, husky young freelancer named Scott Malone. Malone had stirred Blakey's ire by being obnoxiously pushy while questioning him about a piece of New Times magazine and Blakey had declared him a persona non grata to the Committee staff. But Malone was a good digger and a hustler and he helped put together a BBC-produced syndicated television special on the Kennedy assassination. One day, while working on that, he wound up in Miami to interview Robert McKeown.
In the mid-'50s, McKeown had a successful business in Cuba, was forced out by Batista and was eventually arrested in Texas with a house full of arms and munitions he was planning to smuggle to a mountain rebel name Fidel Castro. Actually, he was a front for former Cuban President Carlos Prio, with whom Frank Fiorini Sturgis also worked. After the Kennedy assassination, the FBI discovered that Jack Ruby had once contacted McKeown to ask him for a letter of introduction to Castro. McKeown has since given a variety of reasons for Ruby wanting the introduction. He was said that Ruby wanted to sell Castro a shipment of jeeps. He has also said that Ruby was interested in obtaining the e release of some friends Castro had imprisoned. And, in an interview I had with him while I was working for Senator Schweiker, McKeown said that Ruby had access to a load of slot machines hidden in the mountains of New Mexico. McKeown would also later claim he was visited by Oswald. McKeown is now an old man, sickly and in need of money. The last time I saw him he said Mark Lane was going to get him a big book contract.
At any rate, I met Scott Malone for lunch one day on Lincoln Road to find out if Robert McKeown had revealed anything new to him. He hadn't. After lunch, Malone casually mentioned that McKeown told him he had met a fellow at his bridge club who used to be involved in anti-Castro activities in some way back in the early '60s. Malone thought the fellow might be os some help to me and gave me his name. This had occurred prior to the hacheting of the investigative staff and Al Gonzales was still working with me in Miami. Gonzales tracked McKeown's friend to a small apartment in Coral Gables and one morning, when we were in the neighborhood, we dropped in on him. We wouldn't have been so casual about it if we had known how important he was going to be.
In the report I eventually wrote, he was given the name of Ron Cross, for a variety of reasons. Cross, we discovered, worked as a case officer out of the CIA's JM/WAVE station during the heyday of its anti-Castro activities. He handled some Cuban exile labor units and helped in organizing a militant group that, although not near the size and effectiveness of Alpha 66, was one of the most active. Early in his career, posing as American businessman with financial connections, Cross had pulled an operational coup by infiltrating Castro's mountain stronghold before the big barbudo seized power. There Cross ran into my old pals, the ubiquitous freelancer Andrew St. George (who confidentially asked Cross who he was "really" working for) and daring gunrunner Frank Fiorini Sturgis.
Cross, retired from the Agency since 1964, was a thin, tanned, soft-spoken fellow, friendly in a casual way. Although we had spoken to other cooperative former CIA officers, he surprised me with his thoughtful candidness. Then, at the end of our long first meeting with him, he volunteered that he was a member of Alcoholic Anonymous. "I want you to know that," he said, "in case someone happens to remark, 'Oh, I know that old drunk.' Well, once a time ago I was an old drunk." Both he and his wife, an attractive dark-haired woman who seemed particularly attentive to him. said the stress of intelligence work had cause the problem. I was impressed with Cross' admission, but I later learned that excruciating honesty is a requisite to being a successful member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Cross was a gold mine of information. He provided us not only with exquisite details about he operations of the group he handled, he also gave us a broad insight into the structure and activities of the JM/WAVE station, including the duties and relationships of the station's top personnel. He mentioned, for instance the E. Howard Hunt occasionally came by the headquarters. ("He would come in, puff on his pipe and look down his nose at the case officers.")
Both Gonzales and I held back in asking him certain key questions for fear of revealing what we knew. We were leery. Stumbling on Cross, we both quickly deduced, was a stroke of dumb luck. In terms of our main areas of interest, he was a man who had been in the right place at the right time. But we wanted to check him out a bit more before we opened up with questions which could provide the basis of misinformation feedback. Trusting souls we never were.
We did, however, ask him about David Phillips. Sure, Cross said, he knew Phillips. Working through the JM/WAVE case officers, he said Phillips coordinated the propaganda operations of all the Cuban exile groups and Agency was running. Phillips, he said, worked mostly out of Washington at the time but flew in and out of Miami frequently. On a daily basis, Cross said, the officers worked with Phillips's direct subordinate at the station, a fellow who use the name of Doug Gupton.
Over the next few weeks, both Gonzales and I were in frequent touch with Cross as we attempted to check out the validity of both the information he gave us and the man himself. He appeared to be straight. We then decide to test him in an area of major interest. One day Gonzales called him and told him we were working on something that required confirmation of the pseudonyms or aliases used by certain CIA officers who had worked out of the JM/WAVE station. He threw three name at Cross: one was "Bishop", another was "Knight," and the third was the true name of an officer who had actually worked out of the Havana station.
Off the top of his head, Cross said, he believed that "Bishop" was the name used by David Phillips, "Knight was a name that E. Howard Hunt occasionally used and, he said, we must be mistaken about the third name alias because that was the true name of a fellow he known in Havana.
Cross said, however, that within the next few days he would be talking with a few of the Cuban exile agents he had worked with and, in just chatting with them about the old days, perhaps his memory would be refreshed enough to give us a more definite answer.
Several days later, Al Gonzales decided to drop in for a chat with Cross to see if his memory had been refreshed. Well, Cross said, it had been a bit. He said now he was "almost certain" that David Phillips had use the name of "Maurice Bishop," but he still was not definite about whether Hunt had used the "Knight" alias. He was sure, however, that the third name was a true name.
That surprised us. We had not given Gross Bishop's first name.
There was another interesting fillip to what Cross had revealed. In his memoir, Give Us This Day, E. Howard Hunt anoints the "Propaganda Chief" of the CIA's anti-Castro operations -- "an officer who had worked for me brilliantly on the Guatemala Project" -- with the pseudonym of "Knight." In his own autobiography, David Phillips admits that Hunt is referring to him and, flipping the mirror a few times, he adds: "Bestowing the name of Knight was the ultimate accolade -- people who have worked in CIA will recall that pseudonym belonged to one of the Agency is most senior officers, a man Howard idolized."
In Thomas Powers' biography of Richard Helms, The Man Who Kept the Secrets, the "man Howard idolized" is of course, reveals to be his boss, the former CIA Director. Those who know E. Howard Hunt have no doubt that, in actuality, Hunt himself would have occasionally donned the pseudonym of his idol. Such are the games some operatives play.
Over the next few weeks, we continued to check into Cross himself. We spoke with a number of Cuban exiles who had worked with him and others who had known him. We found no discrepancies in anything he had told us. I felt, however, that I should once again confirm his recollection about Maurice Bishop. One day, after a lengthy conversation about other areas of the JM/WAVE operation, I off-handedly said, "oh, by the way, we're still checking into some of the cover names that were used at the time. Do you recall Al Gonzales asking you about 'Knight' and 'Bishop'?"
Yes, Cross said, as a matter of fact, he had been giving it some thought. He said he was fairly sure now that Hunt did use the Knight alias. He also said he was now "almost positive"
that David Phillips used the name of Bishop. The reason he was sure about that, he said, was because he had been thinking about when he worked with Phillips' assistant at the JM/WAVE station, that young fellow named Doug Gupton. Cross said he recalled now often discussing special field and agent problems with Gupton and Gupton at times saying, "Well, I guess Mr. Bishop will have to talk with him." Cross said, "And, of course, I knew he was referring to his boss, Dave Phillips.
If Al Gonzales and I had known for a fact that Ron Cross had been a retired employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, we would not have been able to interview him for weeks, perhaps months, after we actually did. As part of aft Blakey's "working arrangement" with the Agency, it was agreed that the Assassinations Committee staff would permit the CIA to clear and arrange all interviews with both its present and former employees. That, of course, permitted the a Agency to keep track of exactly the Committee's investigation was going in that area. Almost every interview of a current employee was conducted at CIA headquarters and there was always an Agency liaison present to monitor it. Because the restrictions of its Secrecy Agreement were waived in interviews with the Committee, the CIA agency made no attempt, as far as- I'm aware, to limit the information its employees could divulge. Neither am I aware of an instance where the Agency deliberately attempted to stall in complying to requests for interviews. It just took time for the paper work to travel through the Langley bureaucracy. In fact, once it reached the CIA the battle was almost over. Getting the request through the disjointed, misgeared connections of the Assassinations Committee's own machinery was fraught with all sorts of often terminal hindrances and delays. Well, what the hell, everyone was busy in Washington, especially the fellows at the top, and if we fellows down in the field wanted to conduct an investigation I guess we really could have done it without bothering everybody up there.
Perhaps that explains why it was more than six months after the revelations provided by Ron Cross that the Assassinations Committee got around to interviewing the man who called himself Doug Gupton. Although Gupton was recently retired from the Agency, the interview was arranged at CIA headquarters. Gupton acknowledged that he had worked at the Miami JM/WAVE station when Cross said he had and that his immediate superior was David Phillips. He also acknowledged that he worked with Ron Cross on a daily basis. Explaining his working relationship with David Phillips, Gupton said he was in contact with him regularly in Washington by telephone and by cable. Phillips also visited Miami It quite often," he said.
Gupton said, however, that Phillips was actually in charge of two sets of operations. Gupton's set of operations was run out of Miami, he said, and he kept Phillips informed of them. Phillips ran another set of operations personally out of Washington and, Gupton said, Phillips did not keep him briefed about those, so he didn't know anything about their specifics or what contacts Phillips used. Gupton did believe, however, that Phillips used many of his old contacts from Havana in his personal operations.
When asked if he knew whether or not either E. Howard Hunt or David Phillips ever used the cover name of."Knight," Gupton said he did not know. When asked if David Phillips ever used the cover name of "Maurice Bishop," Gupton said, "I don't recall. When told that Ron Cross said that he specifically remembered Gupton referring to David Phillips as "Mr. Bishop," Gupton remained silent for a moment, looked down at his lap and said, "Well, maybe I did. I don't remember."
Gupton was then shown the composite sketch of Maurice Bishop. No, he said, it didn't look like anyone he knew.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations issued 542 subpoenas for individuals to appear before it or provide material evidence. It actually took sworn testimony in depositions, at public hearings or in executive session from 335 witnesses. Despite the significance of their statements, the Committee never questioned Ron Cross or Doug Gupton under oath.
Near the end of his testimony before the Assassinations Committee in April, 1978, David Phillips has been shown the composite sketch of Maurice Bishop. Since I had not had the chance to show it to him at Reston -- especially after his abrupt refusal to answer further questions following his encounter with Veciana -- I assumed it was the first time he had seen the sketch. Phillips put on his glasses and studied it for a moment. Slowly he nodded his head. "It does look like me," he said. He paused for a moment and, with a whimsical smile, added, "Actually, it looks more like my brother." When asked, he said his brother was a lawyer in Texas.
It was about a month later when I received a call from Leslie Wizelman. A researcher on the Organized Crime team, she was one of the bright young Cornell Law students Blakey had brought to Washington with him. "I have a neat story to tell you," she said. "I'm going down to Texas next week, so today I called the Tarrant County Crime Commission in Fort Worth just to see if they had any files that might be helpful. I wanted to speak to the director and asked the secretary what his name was. She said Mr. Edwin Phillips. Well, it immediately struck me that it might just be David Phillips' brother. He wasn't there but he called me back later. He was real friendly. While I was asking him if he had files on the specific individuals we were interested in, I kept wondering how I could ask him if he was David Phillips' brother. He was very nice and he thought he had some files that might help us and he'd be more than happy to cooperate. Then he said, 'I think I should tell you that I'm David Phillips' brother, someone your Committee has spoken with. He asked if I knew that. I admitted I was wondering about it. Then he said that he makes it a point to keep up with what the Committee is doing and that his brother David, after he testified, asked him to search his Crime Commission files to see if he had anything on CIA activities in Dallas or on a Maurice Bishop. He said he did and, of course, he didn't find anything. Now that's some kind of a coincidence, isn't it?"
That was, indeed, some kind of coincidence. I could not forget that much of David Phillips' career was involved with the dissemination of misinformation and that he was an expert at it, still, his comment about his brother looking more like Maurice Bishop than he did intrigued me. An effective investigative body would have checked that out immediately, if only just for the record. But this was the Assassinations Committee and I knew no one would do it if I didn't do it myself. Although there were a number of witnesses in Dallas I wanted to interview because of their Miami connections, my requests for travel authorization to Texas kept getting bogged in the bureaucracy. In addition, other priorities in the Organized Crime area were pressed upon me, including searching for old time mob figures who might pass away before we could officially interview them. Chief Investigator Cliff Fenton kept saying he eventually wanted all his investigators to go to Dallas, just for the record. When the issues plan was wrapped up, he said, we would flood the place. But then came the mass firings and in the end there were only four of s left and it is hard to flood a place with four guys.
By the end of July, 1978, with the investigative staff a remnant of its former self, junior and senior counsels and researchers were frantically flitting around the country in an attempt to fill most of the obvious gaps in the investigative plan. The idea was to get a contact, sworn deposition or an interview of record. The quality of the interview or the substantive potential of the information solicited didn't matter. Anyway, the investigation was over. So if someone was going to California, for instance to interview a witness for his team's issue, he was also asked to interview other witnesses for other teams' issues regardless of whether or not he was familiar with that area of the investigation. And, more often than not, he wasn't. There are a number of interview reports from this period, now locked-in the National Archives, which indicate that the interviewer really didn't know what the bell his questions really meant and couldn't follow up a significant answer when he got one.
"This is ridiculous," Jim McDonald told me one day. "They've got me taking depositions and interviewing all these people in Dallas and you're the guy with the background on a lot of them. You've got to go to Dallas with me. I'm gonna insist on it."
So in the final months of the life of the Assassinations committee, the only remaining investigator who had not yet officially been on the scene of the crime got to visit it. (I had, of course, been to Dallas before I joined the Committee, but that didn't count on the Committee's record.) I told Leslie Wizelman I was going. "Oh, good," she said, "you can drop in on Edwin Phillips and ask him if he has those Crime Commission files ready for me yet. He them, was supposed to have them by the end of June but every time I call he tells me they're not quite complete yet. You can pick them up for me if they're ready. Besides, you'll enjoy meeting hem. He's really friendly.
I had been to Dallas and Dealey Plaza several years before and I remember being struck mostly by the compactness of the assassination site. Someone once termed it an ideal shooting gallery. The way Elm Street curved and slowly sloped towards the underpass, the extraordinary abundance of cover and camouflage in the grassy knoll areas, the numerous positions for enfilade fire in the northern perimeter of tall buildings, all seemed to be factors which weighed heavily against the site being thrust into history through a series of coincidences. That is it, this is where it had to be. That is what screams at you when you stand in Dealey Plaza. I felt it on my first visit and I felt it again. But now, as I stood in the street on the spot during a momentary lull in the flow of traffic, I felt more. Here was where a man was killed. It struck me that those who controlled what was going on in Washington had somehow forgotten that and what we were supposed to be doing about it.
I spent a few days in Dallas helping staff counsel Jim McDonald with witness depositions, most of which had to do with Jack Ruby. I did, however, get to talk with a few people I had wanted to meet, including the retired Colonel Sam Kail, one of the individuals in the American Embassy in Havana in 1960 to whom Maurice Bishop had referred Veciana.
Kail, a trim and tanned ex-infantryman, was affable and appeared casually cooperative. He said he remembered Veciana calling him in 1976 and asking him about Maurice Bishop. He said he didn't remember Veciana visiting him at the Embassy in Havana, but, as military attache, he had "hordes" of Cubans streaming through his office with all sorts of plans and plots. "I think it would be a miracle if I could recall him," he said.
Kail also said, however, that some CIA officers attached to the Embassy would frequently use his name without telling him. Sometimes they posed as him, he said, and Cubans would come into the Embassy, ask for Colonel Kail and then tell him he wasn't the Colonel Kail they had met.
As military attache, Kail said, his main function was in intelligence. After the Bay of Pigs, he was assigned to an Army detachment in Miami debriefing Cuban refugees. Asked about he relationship with the CIA's covert JM/WAVE station, Kail said, "I suspect they paid our bills." Kail said, however, that he had no contact with David Phillips and had never met him.
The fact that Kail was operating in the intelligence area was, I thought, important in terms of Veciana's credibility about his early contacts with Maurice Bishop. Significant also was Kail confirming again what Veciana had initially told me he specifically remembered: Kail did go home to Dallas for Christmas in 1960. the details make a difference.
There was so much to do in such a short time in Dallas I did not think I would have the opportunity to meet Edwin Phillips. At the last moment, however, an urgent call from Washington for an interview report of witness who, someone discovered, would have been a gap in the investigative plan if left uncontacted, took me to Forth Worth. The witness, who had been a friend of the Oswald's, was outside my investigative area and not someone I knew a lot about. And not having with me the background files and records which I would usually check before approaching a subject, meant that the interview would necessarily be brief, strictly for the record and embarrassingly superficial. That's how bad things got at the end.
It was late in the afternoon when I called Edwin Phillips' office in Fort Worth. His office, unpretentiously utilitarian was in downtown Fort Worth, in the Electric Service Building, a stolid- looking older structure. His secretary, a matronly woman with pale skin, rosy cheeks and an impeccably neat permanent, was friendly and charming and we chatted amiably while I waited in the anteroom to his office for Phillips to finish a telephone conversation. Another secretary, a thin young woman with a pleasant face, smiled a greeting as she passed and exchanged pleasantries. Leslie was right, I thought, this was a friendly place.
Edwin Phillips greeted me effusively was he emerged from his office. "Well, well, it sure is s pleasure to see you," he said, "you come right on in now." He shook my hand and guided me into his office. He was obviously older than David Phillips, shorter, punchier and more jowly of face. There was no doubt that they were brothers, but Edwin Phillips' resemblance to the Maurice Bishop sketch was in no way as close as his brother's
In his high-backed black leather chair, surrounded by the old-fashioned scrolled-mahogany furniture, attired in a conservation dark suit and vest, Edwin Phillips reminded me of a down- home Texas politician, fast-talkin', drawlin,' back-slappin' friendly and sharp as an ol' hoot-owl. I didn't get a chance to do much explaining. I said I happened to be in the area and I dropped by really for only two reasons. The first was that Leslie Wizelman had asked me to check on the files and see if they were ready yet.
Phillips hemmed and hawed a bit and said well, yes sir, he had gotten together the files and they were right here somewhere, as he began rummaging and flipping through the piles of papers on his desk, but he hadn't a chance to organize they yet and he wasn't about to give them to Leslie in the mess they were in, no sir, but he was gonna get to them right soon now and he'd have them ready for her in another week or two for sure. "Now that Leslie, she is a might fine little gal," he said. "Ah admire her, ah do. And ah respect her, an' ah respect the work she's doin', but ah toll' her as soon as she walk in here, ah toll' her, you know ahem David Phillips' brother, an' you people have been talking' to David and, well, David's my younger brother an' ah always kinda looked after David...."
Edwin Phillips said that David had called him and told him about his testimony before the Committee, told him what had happened and how the Committee had gotten him mixed up with this fellow Maurice Bishop. He said David told him that he was shown a sketch of this Maurice Bishop and when he saw it his mouth just dropped, he was so surprised at how much of a resemblance there was. "But David told me," said Edwin Phillips, "that he said the sketch looked more like me than him." He laughed. "Ah told David that ah resented his taking advantage of our fiduciary and fraternal relationship." He laughed again. "You know, ah always kinda looked after David."
Well, I said, that was the other reason I came by. Being that I was in the neighborhood, I thought he might just get a kick out of taking a look at the sketch himself. I thought he might be interested in seeing it, I said, and I just happened to have it with me.
Phillips seemed genuinely delighted. "Well, that's mighty nice of you," he said. "Ah do appreciate your thoughtfulness." I reached over and handed him the sketch. He leaned forward in his chair and looked at it closely. "Ah am astonished!" He almost shouted. "Ah am astonished! Why that is amain'! That certainly does look like David." He kept studying the sketch and shaking his head In amazement. "Well, now," he said, "ah gonna kid David about that. That does look a lot more -like David than it does me, don't it now?"
Well, I admitted, there is a resemblance. Edwin Phillips couldn't get over it. He went on about how David told him about this Cuban fellow who said he saw this Maurice Bishop with Oswald and how the Committee had asked David about it. I got the strong impression that David Phillips had briefed his brother in exceptional detail about his testimony.
Edwin Phillips thanked me again for dropping by, said it was mighty nice of me to go out of my way. Well, I thought he would Just get a kick out of seeing the sketch, after what David said about it resembling him and all. He was laughing and chatting about that as he escorted me out of his office and then, as we passed his secretary, began telling her the story and why I had come by. "Would you mind showing my secretary the sketch?" he asked. Not at all, I said as I pulled it out of my briefcase again.
His secretary put on her glasses and studied the sketch. "Ah was just telling' this gentleman how astonished ah was," said Edwin Phillips. His secretary just shook her head in amazement. "That's David," she said simply. "That's David."
"Come take a look at this," Phillips called to the younger secretary at the other desk. "This is my daughter Beth," he said introducing her, "let's see what she thinks. Does that look more like David or more like me?" Beth moved behind her father to get a better look at the sketch. "Why that's Uncle David," she said. "That is Uncle David." They were all shaking their heads and laughing now at the incredible coincidence that the sketch should so much resemble David Phillips. It sure struck them as mighty funny. It struck me as funny, too. To tell the truth, I found myself chuckling almost all the way back to Dallas.
David Phillips has always been a man of action. In his book, The Night Watch, he details how very much he regretted having to spend more time behind the desk as he moved up the Agency's ranks. He loved being on the operational end of the dirty tricks business, playing the covert action games, surreptitiously spinning hidden wheels to orchestrate a series of "coincidences" which would bring about a counterintelligence objective. He tells the story, for instance, of so successfully setting up a top Cuban intelligence officer in Mexico City that even Castro himself came to believe the man was involved in private illegal activity and recalled him to Cuba. The CIA awards he received indicate that there were many other successful dirty tricks Phillips doesn't mention in his book.
Until I casually dropped in to visit his brother Edwin in Forth Worth, David Phillips could have assumed that the Assassinations Committee had ceased its efforts to identify Maurice Bishop. He had been questioned under oath, Antonio Veciana had been questioned under oath, and the CIA had checked its files and declared that no agent or officer had ever officially used the name of Maurice Bishop. My visit to his brother signaled Phillips that the Committee had not dismissed the possibility that he was the person Veciana claimed he saw with Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas in 1963.
Shortly after I returned from Texas)I went to Washington for a series of meetings concerning the preparation of the final Committee report. A researcher named Dan Hardway greeted me as I walked into the office. Hardway was another of the sharp young Cornell Law students who, to Blakey's distress, had evolved into the staff's Young Turks. He and Ed Lopez were working on what would eventually turn out to be a revealing 300-page report which would, in the Committee's final volumes, be relegated to a footnote as "a classified staff study, Lee Harvey Oswald, the CIA and Mexico City."
"Hey," Hardway called in his mellifluous West Virginny twang, "we got an interview comin' up at the-Agency you might be interested in." Hardway said that in the course of his file research he had uncovered the existence of a deep cover operative he thought he would like to talk with. The guy turned out to have worked so deep cover and been involved in such sensitive operations that the CIA was reluctant to let the Committee interview him. Pushed a bit, the Agency relented, but insisted on special security measures for the interview, including limiting the number of Committee staffers who could see him.
"Turns out this fella worked with Dave Phillips quite a bit," Hardway said, "and probably was a good friend of his. Got any questions you want me to ask him?"
Yeah, I did, but the fella -- who will- here be named Bart Henry -- turned out to be a closer friend of Phillips than Hardway suspected -- so close, in fact, that he might have revealed
something special about the bond that exists among covert operatives. Bart Henry said he had been a CIA agent for almost 20 years and that he specifically worked very close to David Phillips -- in fact on a "day-to-day" basis -- on Cuban operations between 1960 and 1964. Fe said he thought of Phillips as one of the best agents the CIA ever had, characterized him as an excellent intelligence officer," and admitted he was "a personal friend."
When Henry was asked if he knew an individual named Maurice Bishop, he shocked his interviewers by saying that he did. When asked to explain his relationship with Bishop, Henry said: "Again, Mr. Bishop was in the organization but I had not personal day-to-day open relationship with him. Phillips, yes; Bishop, no. I knew them both."
Strangely, however, Henry couldn't describe Bishop's physical characteristics. He said he had only seen him "two or three times" in the "hallway or cafeteria" at CIA headquarters in Langley. The times he saw Bishop, Henry said, was between 1960 and 1964 when he himself was in Cuban operations, although, he said, he did not know if Bishop also worked in that area. Henry said he thought Bishop worked in the Western Hemisphere Division and that he had a position "higher than me." When pushed for further detail, Henry could not be more specific.
If he did not know Bishop, Henry was asked, how did he know that the person he saw at CIA headquarters was, indeed, Maurice Bishop. His answer: "Someone might have said, 'That is Maurice Bishop and it was different from Dave Phillips or ... guys that I know."
The interview went on into other areas and then, just before it ended, Henry was shown the composite sketch of Bishop without being told who it was. No, he said, it didn't remind him of anyone he recognized.
I reviewed the transcript of the interview with Bart Henry several times. There were, from my own knowledge, obviously questionable contentions. First of all, having worked at Langley and having just glimpsed the surface mechanisms of its rigid security procedures and felt the weight of the dull silence in its hallways, I doubted very much that Maurice Bishop would have been so casually pointed out by name. Especially not so in the Agency's special cafeteria reserved for covert operatives. The contention rubbed against the Agency's "need-to-know" secrecy rule. In fact, David Phillips himself reveals in his autobiography how for years he assumed that the then-Chief of Counterintelligence, James Angleton, was a person once pointed out to him in the hallway at headquarters and then, when he was assigned to work for Angleton, was quite shocked to be introduced to someone else.
In further review of Bart Henry's transcript, however, I was struck by something much more fascinating: In answering questions about Maurice Bishop, he repeatedly mentioned David Phillips' name in the same sentence. Henry wanted us very much to know that, yes, he knew Maurice Bishop and he knew David Phillips and they were two different individuals.
Confirmation about my suspicion of Bart Henry's objective would come a few weeks later, following another surprising development in the search for Maurice Bishop.
About a week after the interview with Bart Henry, young senior counsel named Bob Genzman happened to be on the West Coast taking a deposition from former CIA Director John A. McCone. McCone, a wealthy former shipbuilder, had been appointed by President Kennedy in 1961 and was in the post when Kennedy was killed. Genzman's team was not working the anti-Castro area and he subsequently was not intimately familiar with the details of the Veciana revelations about Maurice Bishop, but he knew enough, in running down a list of names for-- McCone to respond to as a matter of record, to include Bishop's. Here's the way Genzman's questions and McCone's answers were recorded in the deposition:
Q: Do you know or did you know Maurice Bishop?
Q: Was he an Agency employee?
A: I believe so.
Q: Do you know what his duties were in 1963?
Q: For instance, do you know whether Maurice
Bishop worked in the Western Hemisphere Division or whether he worked in some other division of the CIA?
A: I do not know. I do not recall. I knew at the time but I do not recall.
Q: Do you know whether Maurice Bishop used any
A: No; I do not know that.
When Genzman returned to Washington he told me how surprised he was at McCone's positive response to the Bishop name. "I only wish I were more familiar with the details of the Bishop story so I could have asked M him more specific questions," he said, "but he didn't seem to remember much else. I got the impression he just somehow recalled the name from his days at the Agency and that was about it. I believed him."
Initially, I found it difficult to fit McCone's recollection of the name of Maurice Bishop -- and that was basically all he really remembered -- into the model of the evidentiary structure which seemed to be emerging. Then, as I dug deeper, the role of John McCone himself appeared to provide a perspective.
David Phillips obviously didn't appreciate the appointment of McCone as CIA Director. In his book, he describes McCone as an "outsider" without experience in clandestine operations. "In his first appearances at Langley," Phillips writes, "he left an impression of austerity, remoteness and implacability."
Although McCone was the Director of the CIA, the old boy fraternity of operational insiders obviously kept him in the dark about some of the Agency 's activities. Richard Helms, McCone's Deputy Director of Plans, the "dirty tricks" department, has since admitted he never told McCone about the Agency's working relationship with the Mafia to kill Castro. Yet Helms claimed, in his testimony to a Senate Committee in 1975, he felt a special loyalty to McCone, who had given - him the DDP job, and that he felt "close to him." Helms knew that McCone, a strong Catholic, had expressed a moral abhorrence of assassination plots.
Although there is nothing in the Agency's own records to support the contention, there is enough independent evidence to suggest that the CIA or some of its operatives acting "unofficially" were involved in other plot to kill Castro, plots which the Agency today claims it had nothing to do with. The initial raison d'etre of Maurice Bishop's relationship with Antonio Veciana was to assassinate Castro.
Could it have been that Director McCone was told of Maurice Bishop without being told the specific nature of his operations? Could that account for what appeared to be McCone's vague familiarity with the name?
Having gotten the surprising confirmation of the existence of a Maurice Bishop from both John McCone and Bart Henry, the Assassinations Committee asked the CIA to once again search its files for any references to a Maurice Bishop. Chief Counsel Blakey said he also wanted a written reply from the Agency indicating whether an individual using either the true name or pseudonym of Maurice Bishop has ever been associated in any capacity with the CIA.
Less than two weeks later, the Committee received reply from the Agency. The results of its file search for Maurice Bishop, said, were again negative. "No person with such, a name has a connection with the CIA," said the reply. "Quite frankly," it added, "it is our belief -- from our earlier check, reinforced by this one -- that such a man did not exist, so far as CIA connections are concerned."
It was later revealed, however, that the CIA went beyond just another checking of its files. It, too, it turned out, was puzzled by the responses the Committee had received from its two former employees, John McCone and Bart Henry. On October 19th, 1978, Chief Counsel Blakey received a letter from the Agency's chief liaison with the Committee:
"This is to advise you that I have interviewed Mr. McCone and a retired employee [Bart Henry] concerning their recollections about an alleged CIA employee reportedly using the name of Maurice Bishop.
"We assembled photographs of the persons with the surname of Bishop who had employment relationships of some type with the CIA during the 1960's, to see if either Mr. McCone or the employee would recognize one of them.
"Mr. McCone did not feel it necessary to review those photographs, stating that I should inform you that he had been in error .... "The employee continues to recall a person of whom he knew who was known as Maurice Bishop. He cannot state the organizational connection or responsibilities of the individual, not knowing him personally, and feels that the person in question was pointed out to him by someone, perhaps a secretary. He is unable, however, to recognize any of the photographs mentioned above .... "It should be noted that the employee's statements to the effect that it is usual for employees to use aliases at Headquarters is in error ....
"In summary, Mr. McCone withdraws his statements on this point. The employee continues to recall such a name, but the nature of his recollection is not very clear or precise..." That, to me, was an astonishingly revealing letter. The Agency had obviously gone to John McCone and told him that there was no official record of a Maurice Bishop in its files and McCone, who had only a vague recollection of the name to begin with and no ulterior motivations, simply said, in effect, O.K., boys, I guess I was wrong. Bart Henry, on the other hand, couldn't very well back down from his contention. He had a personal friend to consider.
What should have been just getting started. was ending. What should have triggered a reinvigorated, intensive investigative effort was allowed to simply become part of the record. The dozens of witnesses who could have been called, the associates who were in the right place and time and operations, were not; the pressures which could have been applied, the polygraph and stress tests used, the operational files and vouchers analyzed, were not; the full resources and awesome powers that a Congressional committee could have brought to bear on an area of evidence of possibly overwhelming potential, were not.
I was taken out of Miami as a staff investigator, assigned to Washington as a team leader and told to coordinate the writing of the anti-Castro team's part of what was supposed to be the final report. There were only three months left in the official life of the Assassinations Committee and, as Blakey himself said, cynically parroting the Warren Commission's chief counsel near the end of that investigation, "This is no time to be opening doors."
I kept trying. Before I left for Washington, I had a long discussion one evening with Antonio Veciana. His attitude towards the Committee had turned very negative. That was largely the result of Blakey and the Congressional Committee members having visited Fidel Castro in Cuba. Veciana was strongly opposed to any kind of dealings with Castro and he viewed the Committee's visit as an extension of President Carter's efforts at the time to normalize relations with Cuba. Veciana now felt his aims and the aims of the U.S. Government were in conflict. He had earlier announced to Al Gonzales and me that he would no longer cooperate with the Committee. We dutifully reported that, but he remained, in fact, very cooperative with us as a result of our personal relationship with him. Our reports reflect that.
My belief in Veciana's story had grown firmer. Although there were, of course, key points not corroborated, the accumulation of details which checked out was now, I felt, irrefutable confirmation. Nevertheless, there was one detail which had not yet been check out. I had not given it priority because it did not relate to the question of Maurice Bishop's identity, just his existence. It concerned the woman who Veciana said had served as an intermediary when Bishop wanted to contact him and couldn't locate him in Miami. Veciana said he had always let this woman know when he went out of town and how he could be reached. He had instructed Bishop to contact her at such time for his location.
I considered the fact that Veciana had mentioned the existence of an intermediary a point towards his credibility. He initially told me he did not want to reveal her identity because he did not want to get her involved in the investigation, since she had never met Bishop and could not identify him. At the time, there was a good deal of other evidence related to Bishop's existence that had to be checked out, so I didn't push him on it.
Now, however, in the last month's of the Committee's life, I saw the direction it was going and the handwriting on the wall. It appeared to me that an effort might be made to
dismiss Veciana's story entirely. I thought, therefore, just to toss another log on the pile, I could convince Veciana to give me the name of the intermediary so that I could talk with her.
He was reluctant. She lived in Puerto Rico, he said, she had a family now and a good job and he was afraid that she might get involved in a lot of publicity she didn't need. I told him I would consider it a personal favor, that it was important to me to know who she was. Well, he said, in that case, he would have to ask her first. He was going to Puerto Rico within the next few weeks and he would talk with her about it. I asked Veciana to call me in Washington after he did.
Shortly afterwards in Washington, I received a call not from Veciana but from Tony Summers. An Englishman, Summers had also been involved in the production of that BBC-produced television special on the Kennedy assassination. He had discovered Veciana through the Jack Anderson column and, having gotten a book contract from McGraw-Hill, Summers had begun to spend a good deal of time with Veciana. An excellent investigator and an exceptionally personable fellow, Summers had also struck it off well with Veciana.
"I think I have some information that might be of some help to you," Summers said when he called. "I have managed to goad Veciana into revealing the name of his intermediary. He didn't want to, of course, but I began telling him that I thought the information he was providing was balderdash. He's very sensitive, you know, about his credibility, so he told me her name and asked me not to contact her directly without his clearing it first. I thought you ought to know."
Summers said he didn't have the time to check out the woman himself, what with his book deadline, but thought the Committee would want to. Most outsiders, including many journalists and independent researchers who had kept calling me with information, hadn't realized that the Committee's investigation had virtually come to a screeching halt months before. I thanked Summers and told him I would follow up.
Although Summers had not gotten the woman's current location in Puerto Rico he had gotten enough for me to track her down in a couple of days of digging, at u the most. Still, I was sensitive about my relationship with Veciana and did not want to go behind his back. Besides, I felt her cooperation was contingent on his approval. I called him and asked about his progress with the woman. "She is very afraid," he said. "She feels she was not involved in anything and she is afraid there would be a lot of publicity that would hurt her family and cause her trouble in her job. I told her then, well, if she will just talk to you and if you can guarantee her there will be no publicity and she will not have to come to Washington, would she do that? She said O.K., she will just Mr talk to you if you can guarantee that. Do you want to talk with her?"
I did, indeed, want to talk with her but I was not going to lie to Veciana. I had learned my lesson about making promises that the Committee would all too easily ignore. I told Veciana that I couldn't give him or her any guarantees, but I would check with my superiors to see what I could do.
I remember walking with some excitement into Deputy Chief Counsel's Gary Cornwell's office. "I think I can-locate the intermediary who can confirm the existence of Maurice Bishop," I said. "All I need is a couple of days in Puerto Rico and a promise that she won't get any publicity or be called to Washington."
Cornwell looked at me initially with some surprise and excitement himself and then, at the latter part of my proposal, burst into a loud guffaw: "N way!" he shouted. Then he turned serious. "Besides." he said, "it's too late. We don't have t he time or the money. How far along are you on the report?"
Another effort that was made in those last months of the Committee's life involved the discovery of another individual to whom, Veciana said, Bishop had referred him at the American Embassy in Havana. His name was Smith and, initially, Veciana recalled, his first name as "something It was like Ewing. It was difficult for Veciana to pronounce. I was puzzled, however, when I spoke with several persons who land found had been connected with the U.S. Embassy and found that no one remembered a Ewing Smith. Then one day a photograph appeared in the newspaper of the State Department official President Carter had named as the new director of Cuban affairs. His name was Wayne Smith. It occurred to me that the Spanish visualization of the pronunciation of Wayne may have led Veciana to remember it incorrectly. I was right. When I showed Veciana the photograph he remembered Wayne Smith as one of the individuals Bishop had suggest he talk with at the Embassy about aid for his anti-Castro activities.
Wayne Smith, I subsequently discovered was a vice consul and third secretary, at the U.S. Embassy in Havana at the time Veciana claimed he met him there. (He is, in fact, currently back in Havana as chief of the U.S. Interest Section.) Educated in-Mexico City, Smith has spent most of his career on assignment in Latin America.
I thought it was important to interview Wayne Smith, even to take a sworn deposition for the record, but I was again told that the Committee's investigation had long ended and it was time to get out the report. I was particularly disappointed because I had also discovered that Wayne Smith, when he was stationed in Havana in 1960, had belonged to a little theater group composed mostly of Americans living in Cuba at the time. Among the amateur thespians in that same group was a public relations counselor named David Atlee Phillips.
The final volume of the report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, the one entitled, "Findings and Recommendations," was written after the official demise of the Committee, and after all but a chosen few of the staff had departed. It was written under the strict direction of Chief Counsel G. Robert Blakey. The volume contains 686 pages. Less than two and a quarter pages are devoted to Antonio Veciana and Maurice Bishop. The name of David Atlee Phillips is not mentioned.
The conclusions in the Committee's final volume stand in stark contrast to the findings in the staff report I had written before I left Washington. That report, painstakingly written as objectively as possible, said that, although "no evidence was found to discredit Veciana's testimony," and that although "there was some evidence to support it," nevertheless, "no definite conclusions could be drawn as to the identity or affiliations" of Maurice Bishop.
The Committee's final report dismisses Veciana's allegations completely. It said the Committee found "several reasons to believe that Veciana had been less than candid,"
and then listed four of those reasons:
"First, Veciana waited more than 10 years after the assassination to reveal his story.
"Second, Veciana would not supply proof of the $253,000 payment from Bishop, claiming fear of the Internal Revenue Service.
"Third, Veciana could not point to a single
witness to his meetings with-bishop, much less with Oswald.
"Fourth, Veciana did little to help the Committee identify Bishop."
Every one of those reasons is deliberately misleading. Three of them contain blatant distortions of the facts, and one is asinine. To claim that Veciana "waited" more than 10 years ignores the circumstances of his initially telling as the story. He did not approach me, I approached him. He insisted on absolute confidentiality. Until 1973, he had no desire to jeopardize his relationship with Maurice Bishop, who for years had been a loyal and powerful ally. His revelations came as a result of his fears at that time and in an effort what he then felt to create defenses against what he then felt would be future actions against him. His prison sentence had given validity to those fears. Immediately after the Kennedy assassination, when he had opportunity to reveal the story to a U.S. Customs agent he suspected of being with the CIA, he felt he was being tested, since he himself was trained as an intelligence operative. "That was a very difficult situation because I was afraid," Veciana explained. (The Committee never interviewed that Customs agent, even though he rebuffed its Chief Investigator in a telephone request; I was denied travel authorization to California when I wanted to try.) Conversely, to claim that Veciana "waited" more than 10 years to reveal his story, implies an ulterior motivation to give the Committee false information. The fact that the Committee did not consider the significance of that, if it were at all credible,, simply multiplies the Committee's dereliction of its mandate.
Veciana did, initially, refuse to supply proof of the $2531,000 payment from Bishop when asked in his formal hearing before the Congressional members of the Committee. He did claim fear of the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, that's why, before he agreed to speak with me two years before, he had request assurances that nothing he told me would be held against him. The Committee refused to grant him immunity from the IRS. When pushed under oath, however, Veciana told the Committee that he would tell me what he did with the money. The Committee refused that arrangement. The Committee's report ignored the facts that he initially voluntarily told about the payment and that he was a professional accountant who could have kept it well hidden if he had wanted to.
For the Committee to implicitly expect, as a requisite for believing Veciana, that there should have been witnesses to his meetings with Bishop, is simply stupid. One would have to conclude that the Committee acquired absolutely no knowledge of basic intelligence operations during the two years of its existence, which was supposed to include an investigation of the intelligence agencies. (Conversely, to ignore the intelligence operative patterns in Lee Harvey Oswald's activities -- including his possession of a subminiature Minox camera and photos of military installations -- makes the Committee's expectations regarding Veciana's meetings with Bishop patently more ridiculous, and its report conclusions regarding Organized Crime involvement more bizarre. Even if the report had been written by Mario Puz it would be tough to believe the Mafia issues its hit men Minox cameras.)
Finally, the claim that Veciana did little to help the Committee identify Bishop, implies a lack of cooperation which is simply not true. Although at one point, Veciana announced he would no longer cooperate with government that was dealing with Castro, numerous subsequent reports attest to the point that he did. In fact, he already to testify at a public hearing before the Committee shoved him aside.
In addition to resting on such tortured rationality, the Committee's conclusions are tainted by its inability to dismiss blaring pieces of contradictory evidence. For instance, it noted that the CIA "insisted that it did not at any time assign a case officer to Veciana."
That, the Committee decided, might be tough for the public to swallow without a fine-print footnote, yet it wanted to avoid chewing on the CIA. The result was a lumpy evasiveness: "The Committee found it probable that some agency of the United States assigned a case officer to Veciana, since he was the dominant figure in an extremely active anti-Castro organization. The Committee established that the CIA assigned case officers to Cuban revolutionaries of less importance than Veciana, though it could not draw from that alone an inference of CIA deception of the Committee concerning Veciana...."
Nothing, however, attests more vividly to the incongruity of the Committee's conclusions than the fact that, in the end, it was forced to impeach the testimony of both Antonio Veciana and David Phillips.
This, too, it relegated to a footnote: "The Committee suspected that Veciana was lying when he denied that the retired CIA officer was Bishop. The Committee recognized that Veciana had an interest in renewing his anti-Castro operations that might have led him to protect the officer from exposure as Bishop so they could work together again. For his part, the retired officer aroused the Committee's suspicion when he told the Committee he did not recognize Veciana as the founder of Alpha 66, especially since the officer had once been deeply involved in Agency anti-Castro operations." And on that footnote, all 686 pages of the House Select Committee on Assassinations' final report collapsed.
With the official expiration of the Committee in December, 1978, I returned to Miami spent and depressed. Blakey had asked me to stay on but I refused. I had no idea of what was going to happen to the staff reports that were produced on Antonio Veciana, Silvia Odio and the other areas of anti-Castro activity, and, truthfully, I didn't bare. I kept thinking of what critic Vincent Salandria had told me in Philadelphia more than three years before: "They'll keep you very, very busy and ' eventually, they'll wear you own."Just before I left, the remnants of the anti-Castro team had given me a farewell gift which, the note that came attached to it said, would be useful if I ever decided to write about my Committee experiences. It was a well-worn whitewash brush.
Occasionally, I would get a call from Washington from one of the remaining staffers asking me about a detail in my area of investigation. Eventually I was told that the original "final" report was being scrapped and an entirely new one written. One day I got a call from the Committee's Chief Legal Counsel Jim Wolf. A tall, quick-smiling redhead, Wolf was one of the brighter attorneys on the staff, the guy who had told Blakey, after the Committee had scuttled former Chief Counsel Dick Sprague, that he'd be crazy to take the job. "I told him, l' said Wolf, "that it was like the owners of the Titanic giving a guy a call and saying, 'Hey, our ship is sinking, we need a new captain."'
I asked Wolf how the report was progressing. "Oh, not too good," he said. "There's just so much to get done. The morale here is at rock bottom. Hardly anyone talks to anyone else, we just write all day long." He said the pay extension that Blakey had arranged through the House Speaker's office was running out. I asked what happens then. "I guess what we don't finish," Wolf said, "we just leave out."
I did, of course, remain in touch with both Antonio Veciana and Silvia Odio. Although I had initially approached them as an official investigator, I maintained a personal rapport with them simply by being honest about what the Committee was doing in terms of its handling of them as witnesses. They were both, of course, very interested in what the Committee's final report would say about their testimony.
It was several weeks after the Committee's report was released in July of 1979 before I was able to get a copy of its concluding volume. Meanwhile, I had obtained a copy of the staff reports I had written in both the Veciana and Odio areas of the investigation. These reports contained the details of the evidence we had dug into and straight conclusions based on that. Because I felt an obligation to let both Veciana and Odio know what my conclusions were after dealing with them for more than three years, I gave them each copies of my a staff report and promised them I would also get them copies of the Committee's final report as soon as it was available. Meanwhile, I told them, I was interested in their reaction to the staff report.
One evening several days later, the telephone rang with a call from a friend in Little Havana. His voice was tense. He said Veciana had just been shot. In the head. He was driving home from work and someone ambushed him, fired four shots at him. No, Veciana was not dead, the friend said, but that was all he knew.
I quickly placed a flurry of calls to find out what happened. Yes, it was true, someone had tried to assassinate Veciana. He was in the hospital but he was all right. The hit man had been a bad shot, but a piece of one ricocheting bullet had caught Veciana in the side of the head. Later in the evening I reached one of his daughters who had just returned from the hospital. He was lucky, she said, it was not a serious wound.
Ana Veciana, the oldest daughter, had recently graduated from college and was working as a novice reporter for the Miami News. A few days after her father was shot, she wrote a story about it and it was beautiful. Her family, she said, has come to accept the fact that they must live with danger, but they have refused to live with fear. Fear is the mind killer. Her family, she said, has chosen to live with pride. "My American friends never understood the politics or the violence that comes with Latin politics," she wrote. "To this day I have not been able to explain, but only to describe, the passion Cubans feel for the freedom that's taken for granted in this country." She was very proud of her father's vociferous anti-Castroism, she said, and has come to accept what she termed "the aberrations from normal life."
"But fear?" she wrote. "Never. The fear we know, if it can be rightly called that, is the fear many others are not fortunate enough to experience.
"I fear that we may have forgotten why we are here.
"I fear that we have grown complacent and smug.
"I fear the satisfaction that comes from having three cars in the driveway and a chicken in every pot, and knowing we can say what we damn well please without valuing that freedom.
"That's what I fear."
About a week after Veciana was shot, I received a call from him. He was out of the hospital, he was fine and walking about. It was only a slight wound near the left temple. "My wife said it was higher I might have to wear a toupee," he said laughing. The reason he called, he said, was because he had read the staff report and he wanted to talk with me and show me some papers.
The next evening, I drove down to see Veciana. I did not park my car in front of his house. He had a small bandage on the side of his head and another one on his right arm. He was pale but appeared in good spirits. He took me back outside to show me the bullet holes in the pick-up truck he was driving when he was shot. He was coming home late, he said, from the marine supply business he sometimes helps manage with some relatives. Normally, he takes different routes home, but this was the one he used the most. He made a left-hand turn into a street and saw a brown station wagon parked on the corner facing him. He noticed a lone figure sitting in it, but gave it only a glance and didn't get a good look at him. Then he heard a loud noise and felt a sharp blow on the side of his head. The front vent window exploded on the second shot. "Then I knew' that it was an attempt on my life," Veciana said matter- of- factly. The third shot ripped through the door at his ribs, was deflected by the door's interior mechanism passed in front of his stomach, burned across his right arm and tore out the other side of the truck and into an open field. The fourth shot produced a spiderweb of cracks as it the front windshield.
Veciana showed me the bullet holes and explained them with a sense of amused wonderment. It's funny I'm still alive, isn't it? That was his tone. I heard absolutely no muted note of fear. What fear there was a around was in me as I stood there in the eerie shadows of the lone street lamp and looked at the size of the holes the .45 caliber slugs had made in the truck. The first shot had gone completely through the outside rearview mirror producing as it emerged an ugly flower of jagged metal. I suggested to Veciana that we continue our talk in his house.
I asked him who he thought was trying to kill him. "It was a Castro agent," he said with certainty. Have you ever considered,"'I asked, that it could be anyone else?" He looked at me and smiled. "No,," he said. "It is Castro. I am sure of.
Our talk eventually turned to 'the staff report I had previously left with him. Yes, he said, he had read it carefully and that's why he wanted to talk with me. There are certain things in it, he said, that question his credibility. His credibility is very important to him because he in still gathering evidence to overturn his narcotics conviction, even though he had served the sentence.
What bothered him, Veciana said, was the denial the two individuals in Caracas, Lucilo Pena and Luis Posada, that they were involved with him in the Castro assassination attempt in Chile in 1971. "Sure they were with me," Veciana said. "They are not telling the truth." To prove that to me, he said, he had asked a friend who had just come from Caracas to bring some papers that would prove it. He would also give me the name of an individual in Miami who could corroborate it. He did, and he gave me copies of the documents. We talked for a few hours in detail about other points in that report and I slowly began to realize that Veciana was not an going to bring up the one key doubt I had expressed about his credibility. In the report, I said specifically that I had doubted his credibility when he told me that David Phillips was not Maurice Bishop. In our discussion now, Veciana was letting that pass.
We had come to the point of a close but odd relationship, Veciana and I. I had told him I understood his position and he said he appreciated that. "You know,"he said, "I have given sworn statements.11 I knew what he meant. But that evening as we talked I was moved to take advantage of the certain camaraderie that had developed between us. "Tony," I said, "I am not going to put you on the spot, but I would like to ask you just one question and I would like you to be totally honest with me because the answer that you give me is very important to me.
His face got very serious and his dark eyes stared suddenly at me without expression.
"I know that you feel you have a mission in life," I said, "and I want you to know that I respect that and all the things you must do to be faithful to that mission. Believe me, I do not want to interfere with it. "He nodded his head. "I understand," he said softly. "You know that I believe what you have told me," I went on. "I believe you about everything. Except when you told me that David Phillips is not Maurice Bishop."
His eyes never moved, his expression never changed as I spoke. "Now," I said, "I would like you to tell me this one time very truthfully: Would you have told me if I had found Maurice Bishop?"
A slow smile crossed Veciana's face as he let out his breath. He put his head down and scratched his forehead, obviously: taking time now to think carefully. Then he looked up with that half-smile still on his face. "Well, you know," he said, "I would like to talk with him first." That was his answer. I looked at him for a moment, then laughed. Veciana nodded his head and laughed with me.
An excellent outsiders critique of the Assassinations Committee's final report was written by Carl Oglesby in Clandestine America, the Washington newsletter of the independent Assassination Information Bureau:
"To sum up. This report has serious shortcomings. It pulls its punches. It insinuates much about the Mob and JFK's death which it then says it doesn't really mean. It is alternately confused and dogmatic on the subject of Oswald's motive. It tells us it could not see all the way into the heart of CIA or FBI darkness, yet assures us that we are secure. Its treatment of the technical evidence in the crucial areas of shot sequencing and the medical evidence is shallow and unconvincing.
"Yet still we say that this report, over-all, is strongly positive. It has moved the Dealey Plaza conspiracy question out of the shadows. It has boldly nailed the thesis of conspiracy to the church door of orthodox political opinion."
Oglesby is right, of course. But this was the last investigation and, somehow, I expected more. I am not alone. There is not one investigator -- not one -- who served on the Kennedy task force of the Assassinations Committee who honestly feels he took part in an adequate investigation, let alone a "full and complete" one. In fact, most of them have bitter memories of the limitations and direction imposed upon them.
So after all these years and all those spent resources after the last investigation -- what the Kennedy assassination still sorely needs is an investigation guided simply, unswervingly by the priority of truth. Why should that be? Is it unrealistic and impractical to desire, for something as important as the assassination of a President, an investigation unbound by political, financial or time restrictions? A devotion to realistic and practical goals has never been a requisite to the sustenance of democratic principals. Truth has always been.
Yet this was the last investigation. Chief Counsel Bob Blakey himself said it at his very first staff meeting. He is a very meticulous and very conservative lawyer. If he had been around at the time of the American Revolution, no doubt he would have been a Tory. His allegiance, first and foremost, is to the standing institutions of government. Again and again, he emphasized the legislative restraints inherent in the nature and scope of a Congressional probe. His vision never rose above that. He never considered a higher mandate. He never considered the Kennedy assassination as a special event or as a possible manifestation of internal corruption within the very institutions he was so bent on protecting. He never considered using his position to demonstrate a loyalty to principals higher than those institutions. He never considered his mandate to conduct a "full and complete" investigation as coming from the American people, never considered rallying the public will to stand with him in the demand for the complete truth about the assassination.
In fact, Blakey recently revealed, in an interview with DIR radio in New York, the limitations of his perspective. "What the public wants," he said, 'land what the public can get are two different things.... The notion that somehow people outside of Washington can come into Washington and do great and noble things in Washington without understanding the place, is just nonsense."
Bob Blakey was fond of telling the staff, whenever anyone would start pushing to investigate an area that threatened to go beyond the limitations he imposed, that we would just have to accept the fact that we were going to leave loose ends. "Life has loose ends," he would say. On such rhetoric were compromises constructed.
After the disdainful treatment she received at the hands of the Assassinations Committee, Silvia Odio, whose testimony stands as the strongest witness to a conspiracy, finally permitted English freelancer Tony Summers, then producing a syndicated television documentary about the Kennedy assassination, to film an interview in silhouette. As he relates in his book, Conspiracy, Summers asked her why she was now prepared to talk, after refusing press approaches for so long. Odio was silent for a long moment. Then she said: "I guess it is a feeling of frustration after so many years. I feel outraged that we have not discovered the truth for history's sake, for all of us. I think it is because I'm very angry about it all -- the forces I cannot understand and the fact that there is nothing I can do against them. That is why I am here."
Bob Blakey never felt what Silvia Odio feels. He never felt the frustration and anger that lives within her, the outrage that the truth has not yet been discovered after so many years. I will always remember what she said to me when I told her that the Committee had changed its mind about permitting her to tell her story to the American people. Her words echo now in my mind as a soft shroud over the years of my investigative sojourn through the Kennedy assassination:
"We lost too," she said. "We all lost."