The Last Investigation
Part 1 of 2
Part 1 of 2
The Last Investigation Gaeton J. Fonzi part 1 of 2
It was very hot in Dallas. That week, in the summer of 1978, there was a heat wave and the temperature had climbed to 106 degrees. I could see the city's fever shimmering from the gray macadam, feel its stifling thickness against my skin. I waited on the south curb on Elm Street for a break in the traffic and then moved out into the center lane. The street is not as wide as it appears in photographs. Right about ...here. I stopped on the spot. I had studied it in both the films and the still photos. I knew it. Right here. Above me rose the dark shadows of the trees and heavy foliage of the grassy knoll. I saw only a stillness there now, a breezeless serenity. On my right loomed the familiar red brick building, flat, insistent, hard-edged, its rows of sooted windows now innocuous and dull. In my mind, I dropped into a well of time and fell against the micro-instant of history. It suddenly struck me: Here was where a man was killed. It was such a simple, clarifying thought. Right here, in an explosively horrible and bloody moment, a man's life ended. that very realization -- a man was killed here -- had been oddly removed from the whirlwind of activity in which I had been involved. A man was killed here, and what had been going on in Washington -- all the officious meetings and the political posturing, all the time and attention devoted to administrative procedures and organizational processes and forms and reports for the record, all the chaotic concern for distorted priorities and, now, all the scurrying about in a thousand directions in the mad rush of produce a final report -- all of that seemed so detached from the hard reality of a single fact: A man was killed here. Wasn't that supposed to have some relationship to what we were doing?
I had been working as a staff investigator for the House Select Committee on Assassinations for more than a year and a half. In fact, however, the formal investigation had begun only the previous January -- and then had abruptly ended less than six months later, in June. I was one of the few investigators who had not been fired. And now I was standing in Dealey Plaza, on the spot where President John F. Kennedy was killed on November 22nd, 1963, and wondering what the hell had gone wrong.
What had smothered my initial optimism and early enthusiasm, my original hop that, finally, after all these years, we might find out the truth about the Kennedy assassination? Why had I become so bitter and cynical, so depressed and frustrated about what apparently was going to b e the final result of all our time and effort? I stood in Dealey Plaza that summer of 1978, on a very hot day in Dallas, and could not help thinking that perhaps -- just perhaps -- the powers that controlled the Assassinations Committee would not have gone so far astray in their purpose had they remembered that micro-instant of time when a man's life ended here.
On the Tuesday morning on July 17th, 1979, the Chairman of the House Selected Committee on Assassinations, Ohio Democrat Louis Stokes, called a press conference to formally release the Committee's "final report."
The report was long overdue. After consuming more than $5.4 million over a two year period, the Committee had legally ceased to exist the previous December. At that time, however, the Committee's Chief Counsel and Staff Director, G. Robert Blakey, wasn't satisfied with the report the staff had complied and so, in a bit of bureaucratic legerdemain, he had himself and a few selected aides temporarily attached to the Speaker of the House's Office for administrative and pay purposes in order to obtain the additional time to reconstruct a few final report.
That reconstruction was dictated by startling testimony which emerged in the very last days of the Committee's life. Acoustics experts, analyzing a tape recording of the sounds in Dealey Plaza when Kennedy was shot, concluded that more than one rifle had been fired. As the final report put it: "Scientific acoustical evidence established a high probability that two gunmen fired at President John F. Kennedy."
The presence of more than one gunman meant there was a conspiracy, yet the Committee had uncovered no hard evidence to indicate the character of that conspiracy. Blakey realized that would be too obvious a shortcoming in what he was determined to make an ostensibly impressive document. ("This, I can assure you, will be the absolutely final report on the Kennedy assassination," he early told the staff. "This will e the last investigation. After us, there ain't gonna be no more.") He was also very aware of the political priorities of the committee members themselves. He wanted the report to have attention-getting impact or, as he called it, "sex appeal." So although the report could not, without embarrassment, clearly reflect the actual limitations of the staff's investigation, it had to convey the impression that enough hard digging had been done to provide the Committee with an insight into the nature of the conspiracy it had uncovered. Thus it became necessary to restructure and weight the report toward a conspiracy theory. The question than became: Who to blame?
In retrospect, the answer should have seemed obvious from the beginning. G. Robert Blakey was a 41-year-old criminal law professor and head of Cornell University's Organized Crime Institute when he was asked to take the reins of the Assassinations Committee. (His appointment followed the debacle which brought about forced resignation of his predecessor, Philadelphia's Richard Sprague.) Blakey had been with the Justice Department under Robert Kennedy, and his subsequent career was focused on Organized Crime -- that nebulous entity which somehow was achieved capitalized status over the years. He was considered one of the top Organized Crime experts in the country, was regularly called to testify as an "expert witness" in that area, and was a fixture at the numerous Organized Crime seminars held periodically by law enforcement interests. He also had personal contacts in most Federal agencies and in the Organized Crime sections of almost every major police department in the nation.
As soon as he was appointed, Blakey drew upon his contacts in that Organized Crime- fighting fraternity to select key senior counsels for the Committee. For instance, the lawyer he picked to head the Kennedy investigation task force was a bright, snappy little Texan named Gary Cornwell. As chief of the Federal Strike Force in Kansas City, Cornwell had achieved notable trial victories against key Midwest Mafia bigwigs.
Another initial move by Blakey was to hire as a special consultant to the Committee a man who carried the Mob's organizational chart in his head, a former New York cop named Ralph Salerno. For years Salerno has earned a good living lecturing, writing books and appearing on radio and television shows as the capo de tutti capi of Organized Crime experts. And there were a number of other lawyers and researchers Blakey specifically chose for their background in criminal law and Organized Crime. the Assassinations Committee was well stacked, in other words, to find an Organized Crime conspiracy in the John F. Kennedy assassination.
There is substance and there is the illusion of substance. In Washington, it is often difficult to tell the difference. Chief Counsel Blakey was an experienced Hill man. He had worked not only at Justice but also with previous Congressional committees. He knew exactly what the priorities of his job were by Washington standards, even before he stepped in. The first priority, he announced in his inaugural address to the staff, was to produce a report. The second priority was to produce a report that looked good, one that appeared to be definitive and substantial. Somewhere along the line there would be an effort at conducting a limited investigation into the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Bob Blakey is quite a literate fellow, exceptionally articulate and given to structured rationality in even his most casual conversations. Nevertheless, to give the report slickness, he brought in a top professional writer, former Life magazine editor Richard Billings, who happened to be another knowledgeable veteran of Congressional committee operations. Together, Blakey and Billings would insure that the report was expertly constructed.
Thus from the beginning, there was no doubt that, regardless of the realities of the actual investigation, the Assassinations Committee's historical legacy would appear to have substance.
And it does. An impressively hefty tome -- 686 pages thick, with 13 volumes of appendixes -- the Committee's final report appears to have a lot of substance. And yet, on close examination, it makes very few definitive statements. Used in abundance are such hedging terms as "on the basis of evidence available to it," and, "the committee believes," and, "available evidence does not preclude the possibility," and such words as "probably," "most likely," "possible," and "may have been."
The point is that the Committee report does not actually state that Organized Crime was involved in the conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. The report says this:
"The Committee believes, on the basis of evidence available to it, that the national syndicate
of Organized Crime, as a group, was not involved in the assassination of President
Kennedy, but that the available evidence does not preclude the possibility that individual
members may have been involved."
The cryptic, latter part of the conclusion specifically referred to two key mob bosses: Carlos Marcello of New Orleans and Santos Trafficante of Florida. (Lee Harvey Oswald's uncle, the Committee discovered, was a numbers runner for the Marcello organization; and Jack Ruby may have had some contact with Trafficante in Cuba)
However, after making the allegation in its "Summary of Findings and Recommendations," the report buries in its body the detailed conclusion that "it is unlikely" that either Marcello or Trafficante was involved in the assassination of the President.
That is an example of numerous inherent contradictions contained in the details of the report. It's the result of an attempt to leave no base untouched, no area verbally unexplored, however cursory the Committee's actual investigation. What the report does in the most quintessential way is -- to use the expression favored in Washington -- cover its ass.
One of the most ironic aspects of that is this: In doing so, the report was forced to expose indications of its own basic conflicts, as well as the shortcomings of the Committee's pseudo-investigation.
That problem came to light some time ago, when the first attempt was made to bring the various aspects of the report together. For instance, before the acoustics evidence of conspiracy was firmed up very late in December, each Committee team was frantically writing what it thought would be a portion of the final report, that part dealing with its aspect of the investigation. (There were five major teams, each originally consisting of two lawyers, three researchers and two investigator. There were also special project teams -- ballistics, autopsy, acoustics, photographic and other areas involving expert consultants -- and staff investigators stationed in New Orleans and Miami.) By December, however, the staff had been drastically depleted through firings and resignations. When it became obvious that all the portions would not be finished before the Committee's demise at the end of the month, a young lawyer name Jim Wolf was given the job of gathering from each team a summary of its findings and putting them together into what would appears to be a "draft" of a final report. That, at least, would be something for the Committee to release before it officially folded.
When that compilation was completed, it totaled more than 500 pages. Wolf strung together the summaries he got from each team and then, after a conference with Blakey, drew up the conclusion. That's when it became obvious that there were some basic problems.
One of the key conflicts was Blakey's insistence that the Committee had to come to some conclusion about Oswald's motivation. (Oswald's guilt, ruled Blakey, had already been resolved through scientific analysis of the physical evidence.) Unfortunately, one of the areas that most reflected the inadequacy of the Committee's investigation was the one dealing with Oswald himself. Like the Warren Commission, the Committee never did truly define who Oswald really was, what he really believed, the nature of his relationships with an odd assortment of people, the reasons for the strange and mysterious things he did, nor why there are no traces of his actions over certain periods of time. The Committee, because of the structure of its limited investigation plan, did very little original work in this area.
In fact, a glaring example of the quality of the Committee's investigation is the fact that one of the key individuals in Oswald's life a women named Ruth Paine, was never called as a witness by the Committee. She just slipped through the cracks of the investigative plan. Yet it was Ruth Paine who played an important role in the life of the Oswald family immediately before and after the assassination. It was in Ruth Paine's garage that the Warren Commission said Oswald stored and retrieved the rifle used in the assassination. Ruth Paine was instrumental in Oswald getting his job at the Texas School Book Depository. Ruth Paine's husband, Michael, worked for a major Defense Department contractor and had a government security clearance. A once-classified document recently revealed that it was on Ruth Paine's telephone that a "confidential informant" overheard, immediately after the assassination, a male voice say he didn't believe Oswald killed Kennedy, and then added, "we both know who is responsible.
Ruth Paine was never even interviewed by the Committee.
Despite the mass of conflicting evidence and any investigation inadequate to resolve the issue, Blakey insisted that the Committee conclude that Oswald killed Kennedy because of left- wing political motivations. Most of the staff attorneys, including JFK Task Force Chief Gary Cornwell, argued against such a conclusion, but not successfully.
Before the compiled "draft" of the final report was to be presented to the committee members themselves, Blakey, sensing an undercurrent of discontent wafting through his staff, announced that all staff members would have the opportunity to read the report and discuss it. "I will be disappointed if there is not vigorous debate on many portions of the volume of our staff meeting Thursday night, " he wrote in a memo. There was vigorous debate, but on the issue of motivation Blakey did not cave in.
On the morning that staff meeting, copies of the report were distributed to the staff. I recall Deputy Chief Counsel Ken Klein wandering into my office shaking his head shortly after hie read it. Klein was a witty little guy with a mop of red hair and perpetually raised eyebrows. He had originally been hired by Dick Sprague out of the New York District Attorney's Office.
"You know," Klein said with a wry smile on his face, "when I first got my copy I thought they were putting me on. I mean it was like somebody wrote the report and then somebody else came along and, without reading what the first guy had written, wrote the conclusions. You know, I was gonna go into Gary and say, 'Hey, O.K,. that's funny. Now com'on, give me the real report!'"
What bothered Klein was the fact that each team report had built an excellent argument for that team's main subject of interest -- whether it was Organized Crime, pro-Castro sympathizers, anti-Castro or right-wing militants or Russian intelligence forces. All the subjects had the motivation to be considered suspects in the Kennedy assassination conspiracy. Each team had taken pages detailed relevant evidence. "And then, "Klein pointed out, "after all these pages of evidence, all the arguments get thrown out in the conclusion that, naah, Oswald couldn't have been involved with these guys because that wasn't his motivation! Very funny. All right now, is somebody gonna tell me where the real report is?"
When the real report finally was released, that basic conflict remained. Although the largest number of pages -- and one complete 1, 169 -pages appendix volume -- was devoted to building a conspiracy case against Organized Crime, Oswald's motivation was, perversely, ascribed to his "twisted ideological view."
But that, of course, is substance. And irrelevant. In the end, the final report id what it was carefully structured to do: Create the impression that Organized Crime was involved in the conspiracy. That was the one point that Blakey wanted to etch in the national consciousness and leave in history's memory. It was his personal bid to finally lay to rest the question of President Kennedy's assassination.
The front-page headline in The Washington Post, its theme echoed by the media across the country, reflected the report's implications as well as the gist of the press conference attending its release: Mobsters Linked to JFK Death."
Blakey himself wanted to be absolutely certain that the reporters at the conference would accurately interpret the report's interlinear message. "I am now firmly of the opinion that the Mob did it," he told them. "It is a historical truth." Then backstepping from such a seemingly impetuous declaration -- covering his ass -- he quickly added: "This Committee report does not say the Mob id it. I said it. I think the Mob did it."
Well, I don't know if the Mob id it, but I doubt it. From my experience as a committee investigator and, later, as a team leader, I know that the Committee's investigation was simply not adequate enough to produce any firm conclusions about the nature of the conspiracy. To give the impression that it was, is a deception.
Yet there was a part of the Committee's investigation which, if vigorously pursued, could have negated the implications of the Committee's final report. It was in an area that threatened to open more doors than the Committee cared to open. As it stands even now, the information that was developed in this area contradicts the thrust of the Committee report and indicates that Chief Counsel Blakey's efforts were governed by misguided priorities. The area may contain the only live lead remaining in the mystery of the Kennedy assassination.
Although the Committee report touched this lead -- again, just enough to cover its ass - - the conclusions draw from it were distorted. Necessarily so. Told in context and with sufficient background detail, the story could have been used to stir anew public interest in the Kennedy assassination, this time sufficient enough, perhaps, to transcend the apathy that has been so carefully bred over the years. That, of course, would have been a very daring thing for Congress to do.
This, is only for history's sake, is that story.
I can still hear the sound of Vincent Salandria's voice. It has an odd quality to it, A low, velvet intensity. He was leaning back in his chair, his hands clasped easily behind his head, speaking slowly and casually but with a building rationality. We were in the paneled basement office of his home on Delancey Street in Philadelphia, it was late in 1964, and what Vincent Salandria was telling me that day I will never forget was that the Warren Commission report was not the truth.
I thought he was crazy. If you do not recall that time, you cannot comprehend what a discordant thing it was in 1964 to content that an official government report might be wrong -- especially one which had been issued by a panel of men of weighty public status. People than believed what government officials said. If a guy like Salandria came along and suggested that an official government report wasn't truthful....well, Salandria was crazy.
Immediately after the Warren Commission report was released in September, 1964, Salandria had written a critique of it for The Legal Intelligencer, Philadelphia's local law daily. Salandria was then 38-year-old Penn Law grad and ACLU consultant. He critique was a highly detailed analysis of the report's findings concerning the trajectories and ballistics of the bullets which killed President Kennedy. The first time I read Salandria's article, I didn't understand it. It was complex and technical. But I did grasp the sensational implication of Salandria's contentions: There was a possibility that the Warren Commission report was wrong.
I decided to write an article for Philadelphia Magazine about this oddball young attorney who was saying these crazy things about our government. Physically a small man, olive-skinned, dark eyes, a crew cut over a high forehead and thin, serious face, Salandria appeared a relaxed, easy-mannered fellow, but as we spoke I sense a deep intellectual intensity within him. Eventually, the things he said no longer sounded so crazy.
Salandria said his interest in the Warren Commission had begun long before its report was issued. He did not like the fact that it was holding secret hearings. He felt that the rise of dictatorships always corresponded to the abdication of individual interest in governmental function, but free access to information concerning that function was necessary to maintain that interest. When leaks about the Warren Commission's conclusion began emerging, Salandria became more concerned.
"I thought you had to be objective about it," he said. "If this had happened in Smolensk or Minsk or Moscow, no American would have believed the story that was evolving about a single assassin, with all its built-in contradictions. But because it happened in Dallas, too many Americans were accepting it."
Salandria began an intense watch of the Warren Commission's activities. He spent his vacations in Dallas to familiarize himself with the murder scene. He ordered the Commission's report and its accompanying 26 volumes of evidence as soon as they were issued and plunged into a page-by-page study.
"My initial feeling," Salandria said when I spoke with him, "was that if this were a simple assassination, as the Commission claimed, the facts would come together very neatly. If there were more than one assassin, the details would not fit."
Salandria claimed the details did not fit. There were, he contented, blatant contradictions between the Commission's conclusions and the details of the evidence in the 26 volumes. I found that hard to believe. But Salandria gave me a copy of the report and the 26 volumes and suggested I take the time to study them carefully. I did, and then I spoke with another Philadelphia lawyer, Arlen Specter, who worked on the Warren Commission. In August of 1966, I wrote an article about the Kennedy assassination in Philadelphia Magazine. "It is difficult to believe the Warren Commission report is the truth," I wrote.
Salandria eventually became recognized as one of the pioneers in the burgeoning group of Warren Commission critics, and one of the few who never commercialized his research. And, over the years, as he continued analyzing newly available evidence, he went beyond criticism and began to reach theoretical conclusions about the nature of the assassination itself.
Salandria, for instance, was the first to suggest that details of the evidence indicated not only a conspiracy, but also the pattern of an intelligence operation -- perhaps, he tentatively suggested, involving the Central Intelligence Agency. That's when a young columnist named Joe McGinnis wrote about Salandria in the Philadelphia Inquirer. McGinnis thought Salandria was crazy.
I had left Philadelphia to live in Florida and, by late 1975, when I first began working as a government investigator on the Kennedy assassination, I had not seen or spoken with Vince Salandria for a number of years. He had, for some reason, faded into the background among Warren Commission critics.
I returned to Philadelphia because I wanted to draw upon Salandria's vast knowledge of the evidence and get his opinion about the most fruitful areas of investigation. Salandria was most cordial, said he would be glad to help and we spent a long winter Sunday talking. Yet in his attitude I sense a certain balking, a feeling of disappointment in what I was about to begin. Eventually, he explained it and why he was no longer actively involved in pursuing an investigation of the assassination. It gave me a surprising insight into how far Salandria's thinking had evolved.
"I'm afraid we were misled," Salandria said sadly. "All the critics, myself included, were misled very early. I see that now. We spent too much time and effort micro-analyzing the details of the assassination when all the time it was obvious, it was blatantly obvious that it was a conspiracy. Don't you think that the men who killed Kennedy had the means to do it in the most sophisticated and subtle way? They chose not to. Instead, they picked the shooting gallery that was Dealey Plaza and did it in the most barbarous and openly arrogant manner. The cover story was transparent and designed not to hold, to fall apart at the slightest scrutiny. The forces that killed Kennedy wanted the message clear: 'We are in control and no one -- not the President, nor Congress, nor any elected official -- no one can do anything about it.' It was a message to the people that their government was powerless. And the people eventually got the message. Consider what has happened since the Kennedy assassination. People see government today as unresponsive to their needs, yet the budget and power of the military and intelligence establishment have increased tremendously.
"The tyranny of power is here. Current events tell us that those who killed Kennedy can only perpetuate their power by* promoting social upheaval both at home and abroad. And that will lead not to revolution but to repression. I suggest to you, my friend, that the interests of those who killed Kennedy now transcend national boundaries and national priorities. No doubt we are dealing now with an international conspiracy. We must face that fact -- and not waste any more time micro-analyzing the evidence. That's exactly what they want us to do. They have kept us busy for so long. And I will bet, buddy, that is what will happen to you. They'll keep you very, very busy and, eventually, they'll wear you down."
It had been almost 10 years from the time I first interviewed Salandria to our talk that long winter Sunday. Yet, flying back home to Miami that evening, I sat in the dark plane and had an eerie sense of deja vu. As when I first spoke with him, I didn't quite grasp exactly what he was talking about, but had the uneasy feeling he was advancing some awesomely frightening theories. It crossed my mind that, perhaps this time for sure, Salandria was crazy.
That was late November, 1975. A few weeks earlier, I had received a call at my home in Miami from U.S. Senator Richard S. Schweiker. I had never met Schweiker but, while working for Philadelphia Magazine, I had spoke with his administrative assistant, Dave Newhall, a few times over the years. Newhall, a former Philadelphia Bulletin reporter, was familiar with any early interest in the Kennedy assassination and thought I might help Schweiker check out some leads on the case related to Miami's Cuban exile community.
At the time, Schweiker was a member of what was officially named the Select Committee To Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities, headed by Idaho Senator Frank Church. The Church Committee, as it became known in the press, had been making deadlines since early in the year by revealing how the FBI abused its power by harassing dissident political groups and conducting illegal investigations, how the CIA, Army Intelligence and the National Security Agency were involved in domestic snooping and how the intelligence agencies had planned assassination attempts on foreign leaders. For Schweiker, despite his long stints in both houses of Congress, these were eye-opening revelations. "I've learned more about the inner workings of government in the past nine months than in my 15 previous years in Congress," he later told a reporter.
Schweiker had never been moved to take a special interest in the details of the Kennedy assassination. He had assumed, as did most Americans then, that the Warren Commission Report reflected a comprehensive, objective investigation. He had never had the inclination to critically question the Report closely because that inclination would have had to include the assumption that certain government officials and agencies could have been involved in at the very least a cover-up. Schweiker did not want to believe that. However, when the Church Committee discovered that United States Government officials -- specifically, CIA agents -- had made alliances with the Mafia and other members of Organized Crime in planning assassination, Schweiker was traumatically shaken. "That was so repugnant and shocking to me that I did a backflip on any number of things," he later recalled.
One of the backflips included his old assumption about the validity of the Warren Commission Report. It was particularly upsetting to Schweiker when he discovered that CIA Director Allen Dulles was aware of CIA assassination plots against Cuban Premier Fidel Castro and yet withheld that information from his fellow members on the Warren Commission. The significance of that for Schweiker was enlarged when he came across an old Associated Press story which indicated that Castro had told a reporter just several weeks before Kennedy's assassination that if the United States tried to eliminate Cuban leader, then the U.S. leaders themselves would be in danger. "Nobody paid any attention then because nobody knew we were trying to kill Castro," Schweiker later said. "But that statement had to have meaning, particularly to Allen Dulles." Schweiker thought Dulles's failure to tell the Warren Commission of the Castro plots was "a cover-up of sensational proportions."
While the Senate and the Church Committee took their summer vacations, Schweiker spent most of his time sifting through the volumes of evidence and the unclassified documents in the Natural Archives relating to the murder of John F. Kennedy. Then, in September, he issued a public statement calling for a re-opening of the Kennedy assassination investigation by the Church Committee.
"Recent disclosure have devastated the credibility of the Warren Commission Report." Schweiker said. He called for a new "vigorous and meticulous" inquiry. In backing his call, Schweiker cited the failure of former CIA Director Dulles to inform the Warren Commission of U.S. Attempts on Castro's life. He also revealed a testimony that the FBI destroyed and suppressed evidence about its association with Oswald. And he noted with true shock that a transcript of a previous "Top Secret" warren Commission session revealed that Allen Dulles bluntly told his fellow members that J. Edgar Hoover would probably lie if called to testify.
Schweiker felt the Church Committee could, in keeping within its mandate, initially focus on the role of U.S. intelligence agencies in investigating the assassination. "We don't know what happened," Schweiker concluded from his detailed study of the case, "but we do know Oswald had intelligence connections. Everywhere you look with him, there are the fingerprints of intelligence."
The Church Committee was one of the larger select committees formed by the Senate. It employed more than 100 full-time staffers, mostly attorneys. Its mandate, however, was unrealistically broad. It not only was supposed to investigate all illegal domestic intelligence and counterintelligence activities on the part of the CIA, the FBI and all the military intelligence agencies, it was also directed to delve into "the nature and extent of which Federal agencies cooperate and exchange intelligence information," the need for improved oversight, whether existing laws governing intelligence activities were adequate and "the extent and necessity of overt and covert intelligence activities," among other things.
The committee was formed in January, 1975 and its final report was originally scheduled for release by that September. That meant that the report had to be, in relation to the Committee's mandate, a predetermined exercise in superficiality. To Chairman Frank Church, that was not as important ass having the Committee finish its work quickly. He had already told intimates that he was going to run for the Presidency the following year and, because he didn't want to be accused of using the Committee to garner personal publicity, he said he would not announce his candidacy until the Committee finished its job. Despite the pressure from Church, however, in September the Committee staff had already gotten its deadline extended to March 5th when Schweiker came up with his proposal to throw the Kennedy assassination into the investigative pot. That upset Church quite a bit. He knew that looking into the Kennedy assassination, even from the narrow focus of its relationship to the intelligence agencies, could extend the Committee's work for months and months, thereby fouling up his personal plans. Church, however, did not want to take any political risk by publicly opposing the suggestion, so he came up with a clever compromise. He said he would permit Schweiker and a Democrat counterpart, Colorado Senator Gary Hart, to set up a two- man Kennedy assassination Subcommittee provided that it, too, would wrap up its work when the committee did in March.
Schweiker wasn't happy with the limitations but decided to take what he got. He figured that if he could develop enough solid information or stumble upon a new revelation in the case, the Committee as a whole could then be pressured into tackling the Kennedy assassination even beyond its deadline. So Schweiker jumped in with both feet. Since Church said he could initially spare only two members of the Committee staff for Schweiker's Subcommittee -- he would get a few more later as the Committee wound up it individual projects -- Schweiker geared up his own personal staff for a Kennedy inquiry. He assigned his then-Legislative Counsel David Marston (later to be appointed U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia) as his point man. Marston took it upon himself to become an instant expert in the details of the Kennedy assassination, immersing himself in national Archives files, guiding Schweiker to what appeared to be the most fruitful areas of investigation and serving as liaison with the independent researchers and Warren Commission critics who had suddenly deluged Schweiker with offers to help. A few office staffers were also assigned to devote the bulk of their energy to the Kennedy case, including handling all the kooks and spooks who had started wondering into the office.
Schweiker and his operation going for about a month before he called me. Although he himself never detailed all of them, I later learned there were several reasons for his feeling that he needed an outside staff investigator who would report directly to him and not to the Committee. He was, first of all initially not getting the kind of concentrated Committee staff support he felt his Subcommittee needed. Even those staffers immediately assigned to the Subcommittee couldn't plunge full-time into the case because they were busy wrapping up other Committee projects. Schweiker also realized that the sheer bulk of material that had built up over the years on the Kennedy case was awesome, yet no Committee staffer had any background knowledge of it. In fact, the former Wall Street lawyer who was assigned to head Schweiker's Subcommittee staff, did not even read the Warren Commission Report until two months after the Subcommittee was formed.
In addition, the Subcommittee staff was approaching the Kennedy assassination in the same way it had approached the Committee's investigation into the activities of the intelligence agencies: It was doing a paper investigation of documents provided by the agencies themselves. No one was leaving Washington, no one was doing any original probing. Instead, the staffers spent most of their time working with the CIA and the FBI, the very agencies that were suspect of violating their operating charter and engaging in illegal activities. The CIA was especially cooperative with Church. "they were almost anxious to show us everything they had, just so they could prove they had nothing," one staffer later reported. (An interesting point: Although the CIA admitted withholding information from the Warren Commission the officer assigned to guide the Senate probers through the Agency's files was the very one who had performed the same chore for the Warren Commission.) At any rate, Schweiker was bothered by the approach and, despite the mandate, limited time allowed him felt that he had to dig into the substance of the case if there was going to be a break.
Another reason Schweiker decided to hire his own investigator was this: Although he was struck by the newly discovered evidence that Kennedy's murder might have been an act of retaliation by Castro for the CIA assassination plots against him, Schweiker wasn't ready to rule out another possibilities. The Subcommittee staff was obviously concentrating on the retaliation theory because, from the pragmatic viewpoint of its paper investigation, it was the easiest one to neatly structure into a report within the time limitations. Yet Schweiker was personally struck by what he termed "the fingerprints of intelligence" an Oswald's activities before the assassination, as well as Oswald's associations with anti-Castro Cubans. So while his Subcommittee staff was heading down one road, Schweiker wanted the opposite and also checked out.
Finally, there was this factor: Although Kennedy was murdered in Dallas, a vast amount of information about the case is associate with a city 1300 miles away. Within hours of the assassination itself, a rush of leads and tips related to Miami suddenly popped up. Similarly, as word of Schweiker's interest in the assassination spread, he was flooded with suggestions of a Miami connection. In fact, he decided that if there were a relationship between the Kennedy assassination and Castro elements -- either pro-Castro or anti-Castro -- or one of the intelligence agencies, Miami was the place to look for the key clues. Then, when he began receiving some specific tips about such a relationship, Schweiker decided he could use a man on the street in Miami's Little Havana.
And I was in the right place at the right time.
Knowing something about the Miami area may be of special significance in attempting to understand the mystery of John F. Kennedy's murder. It played a key role in the history of the times surrounding the assassination.
You may not know Miami. You may know a bit about Miami Beach, an unrelated island strip of high-rise condominiums, kitschy elegant hotels, pseudo-Vegas nightclubs, expensive restaurants and peacock tourists. But Miami -- or what is called Miami -- is something else. The actual City of Miami is a small, 34-square-mile jigsaw puzzle piece of real estate slotted within the 2054-square-mile entity of Dade County. Although there are 26 other municipalities within Dade, the whole county area is generally known simply as "Miami." To the east there is Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean; to the south are the sultry Florida Keys, linked to civilization by a single road and one water pipeline; to the west is the endless sea of sawgrass called the Everglades, one of the country's largest, most primitive natural preserves.
Although most urban areas have undergone certain transformations over the last two decades, Miami's was uniquely different. Like other big cities during the 50's, Miami also felt the negative effects of urban sprawl as the white middle-class abandoned the inner city and took off for the suburbs. And although the area population was booming, Miami itself was relatively old and few newcomers to South Florida wanted to move back into an urban environment after leaving a Northern city -- despite the fact that most of Miami had a small town feeling about it. Never blighted with high-rise tenements, Miami was, in fact, a city of neighborhoods lined with modest old homes of white clapboard, cinder block or coral rock, rear "Florida rooms" and front porches. With the middle-class exodus and the deterioration of its neighborhoods, the City of Miami -- almost all of which was really "inner city" in relation to its neighboring Dade County communities -- began more and more looking like a neglected waif with no hope of capturing a piece of the prosperity that was coming on the Gold Coast. Its downtown began going to hell and its poor black sections like Overtown and Liberty City began oozing their blight through the rest of the city. Despite the tropical clime, Miami's feature wasn't sunny.
Until the Cubans came.
The first small flock came in the early and mid 50s, the anti-Batistianos, those who opposed the military dictatorship of General Fulgencio Batista. A young lawyer named Fidel Castro was among the. He stayed briefly and gave fiery speeches at an old movie theater on Flagler Street. Another was the wealthy former president, Carlos Prio, who ensconced himself in an elegant home on Miami Beach and dispensed millions in setting up arms and supply lines to the rebels while maintaining a close association with the American Racketeers who were running the Havana gambling casinos. Then, when it appeared that the end was inevitable, came the Batistianos themselves and the nonpolitical wealthy who saw the writing on the wall and got out with their nesteggs. That's when Miami first began to feel the early tone of Cuban culture and social activity as the monied class began moving into the business and banking world, setting up their private clubs and fancy restaurants and the accouterments necessary to maintain the style of living to which they were accustomed on the island.
Then, beginning on January 1st, 1959, came the deluge. The seizure of power by Fidel Castro wrought as profound a change in the destiny of Miami as it did in the future of Cuba. At firs, the flow of exiles into the city was a slow stream moving through Miami's International Airport, then as it became more and more apparent that the ranting barbudo was taking his country toward Communism, the stream became a torrent.
"They were new types of refugees," wrote reporter Haynes Johnson. "Instead of a home, they were seeking temporary asylum. They found it along the sandy beaches and curving coast line of Florida. They arrived by the thousands, in small fishing boats, in planes, chartered or stolen, and crowded into Miami. Along the boulevards, under the palms, and in hotel lobbies, they gathered and plotted their counter-revolution. Miami began to take on the air of a Cuban city. Even its voice was changing. Stores and cafes began advertising in Spanish and English. New signs went up on the toll roads slicing through the city, giving instructions in both languages. Everyone talked of home only one hundred miles away. And everyone talked about the great liberation army being formed in the secret camps somewhere far way."
And with the exiles and their passion for a counter-revolution came the Central Intelligence Agency. Well before the U.S. Embassy in Cuba closed down in January, 1960, the CIA had stepped up its activities within the country tremendously. It had not only increased the number of personnel operating out of the Embassy itself, but it began to put covert operatives in place as businessmen, ranchers, engineers and journalists, amount other covers, in order to recruit and establish liaison with anti-Castro dissidents. As counter- revolutionary groups began to form within Cuba, and Agency also began supplying arms and communications equipment and, for those subversives threatened with exposure, help in escaping. Among the key Castro defectors the Agency helped get out of Cuba where its two top Air Force officers, Pedro and Marcos Diaz-Lanz. The CIA's liaison in that operation was a former Cuban police official named Bernard Barker, later to gain notoriety as a Watergate burglar. Working with Pedro Diaz-Lanz as Air Force chief of security, and shortly after also departing Cuba secretly, was a former Philadelphian named Frank Fiorini who, later as Frank Sturgis, was also in the Watergate burglary team.
Within a year after Castro took power, the face of Miami had taken on a definite Cuban character. More than 100,000 exiles had settled in and others were arriving at a rate of 1700 a week. As the Cuban exile population of Miami grew, so did the presence of the CIA. Although 18 government agencies dealt with handling exile reception, the CIA had its contacts into every one, including the mother agency, the Cuban Refugee Center. It also used the Immigration and Naturalization Service to set up and maintain a massive debriefing facility at the Opa-Locka air base in northern Dade County. More importantly, however, the Agency began assigning case agents and keeping tabs on the multitude of anti-Castro groups which and begun spreading through the exile community like mangrove roots. At one point, the Agency had a list of almost 700 such groups, some of which had begun active military operations with CIA support. One veteran recalls that the infiltration and exfiltration boat traffic on Biscayne Bay got so heavy "you needed a traffic cop." It confused the U.S. Coast Guard, which didn't always know whether it was chasing a 'sponsored operation" financed by the CIA or just a bunch of "crazy Cubans."
The invasion of Cuba's Bahia Cochinos -- Bay of Pigs -- occurred in April, 1961. It was the brainchild not of the Cuban exiles but of the Central Intelligence Agency. It was spawned at a meeting of the Agency's top brass in January, 1960. Originally, it was not going to be a massive operation. No more than 30 Cuban exile were to be trained in Panama to serve as cadre for bands of guerrillas recruited within or infiltrated into Cuba. However, by the time the plan moved through the Agency's bureaucracy and, was adopted and natured by its covert operations chief -- a lanky, stopped-shouldered, brilliantly manipulative, Groton- Yale aristocrat named Richard Bissell -- it had gotten blown up to a major project. The plan President Dwight Eisenhower approved in March, 1960, called for a "unified" and a large paramilitary force. Named White House project officer was the plan's most enthusiastic supporter, Vice President Richard Nixon.
Years later, the Senate Intelligence Committee was to discover, from files voluntarily given to it by the CIA, that a select few of the Agency's top officers -- including Richard Bissell -- had in the spring of 1960 begun setting in motion, as an adjunct to the Bay of Pigs operation, plans to assassinate Castro. The CIA told the Committee that it was involved in nine Castro assassination plots in all, including those with the Mafia. Castro himself later produced a detailed list of 24 plots against his life involving the CIA. What's significant is that both the CIA and Castro agree on when the plans began.
In Miami, even before plans for a Cuban invasion became common gossip, the Cuban exiles' hopes for Castro's overthrow were constantly buoyed by public pronouncements of support for the U.S. Government. In his State of the Union address, President Kennedy himself spoke of "the Communist base established 90 miles from the United States," and said that "Communist domination in this hemisphere can never be negotiated." As soon as Kennedy and been elected, CIA Director Allen Dulles and his covert plans deputy Richard Bissell had flown to the Kennedy estate in Palm Beach and sold their new boss on the efficacy of a Cuban operation. They did not tell him that the plans had recently been upgraded within the Agency to include an even large paramilitary force and air strikes. That decision, Bissell would later admit, was "internal."
In his recent excellent book on the subject, Peter Wyden wrote: "No notable event in recent United States history remains as unexplained and puzzling as the Central Intelligence Agency's adventure that became know as 'the Bay of Pigs.'
"...the Bay of Pigs is more than a skeleton in the nation's historical closet; more than the first blemish on the magic of the Kennedy name and reputation; more than the collapse of the largest secret operation in U.S. history. It is a watershed.
"In the CIA, acting out of control and independently, had not escalated its plans against Fidel Castro from modest guerrilla operation into a full-fledged invasion, President Kennedy would have suffered no humiliating, almost grotesque defeat.
"If Kennedy had not been thoroughly defeated by Castro on the beaches in 1961, Nikita Khrushchev almost certainly would not have dared to precipitate the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 -- the crisis which, in the words of former CIA Director William E. Colby, pushed the world 'as close to Armageddon' as it has ever come.
"And it the reasons for the collapse at the Bay of Pigs had not been covered up...the CIA might perhaps have been curbed, and the country could have been spared the intelligence scandals of the 1970s, the revelations of a government agency routinely, daily, committing unconstitutional acts against its own citizens in its own country."
Wyden misses one significant observation: What the Bay of Pigs plan provided was the historic opportunity for the CIA to begin domestic field operations on an unprecedented scale. Some aspects of those operations were of questionable legality. For instance, although the main Cuban exile brigade was trained at a secret base in Guatemala, other special units were prepared within the United States by both military and CIA personnel. That, however, was relatively minor compare with the overwhelming dimensions to which the CIA's presence in Miami grew. The Agency's officers, contract agents, informants and contacts reached into almost every area of the community. And as pervasive as that presence was before the Bay of Pigs, it was to be but a foothold for later, larger operations. Nevertheless, it was the preparation of the Bay of Pigs invasion which gave birth to a special relationship between CIA operatives and the Cuban exiles. That relationship would eventually intensify into a mutuality of interests which, as it later became apparent, transcended even Presidential directives and official United States policy.
One of the factors that led the Central Intelligence Agency to believe it could topple Castro was the success it had enjoyed in Guatemala in 1954. Using a force of only 150 exiles and a handful of World War II P-47 fighters flow by American contract pilots, the CIA brought down the Communist-leaning Guatemalan government in less than a week, firing hardly a shot, and installed the Agency's hand-picked leader, Castillo Armas. When covert operations boss Richard Bissell was selecting Agency personnel to run the Bay of Pigs scheme, he told them that the plan was based on "the Guatemala scenario."
Because of the success of that scenario, Bissell picked veterans of it for the key slots in the Cuban operation. For instance, appointed the Agency's political liaison chief to the multitude of Cuban exile groups in Miami was a dapper, pipe-smoking Ivy Leaguer (Brown, '40) and prolific author of spy thrillers named E. Howard Hunt. Among Agency personnel, Hunt had -- and still does have -- a curious reputation. To some he is the caricature of the Hollywood spy -- indeed, Hunt did serve a stint as a Hollywood script writer -- given to overplaying the cloak and dagger role. One of the more earnest of the Agency professionals liked to say that Hunt was consistent in his judgment: "always wrong." Yet down through the years and right up through the Watergate fiasco, Hunt was inevitable chosen to be on the front lines of dirty trick operations,. Despite the fact there appeared to be so many ostensible failures among those operations, Hunts star continually rose. He also remained strangely close to the one man whose markedly unflamboyant character seemed in such contrast to his, the one deemed the shrewdest and most coldly professional of all Agency bosses: Richard Helms.
It didn't take long for E. Howard Hunt to inject himself into the labyrinthine world of Cuban exile politics in Miami. With his faithful sidekick, Bernard Barker, Hunt set up a series of 'safe" houses for Clandestine meetings, moved through the shadows of Little Havana and doled out packets of money from dark doorways. (Hunt carried as much as $115,000 in his briefcase.) Although Hunt attempted to keep 2 separate identity ("Just call me 'Eduardo,'" he told the Cubans) and the source of the funds a mystery, the exiles soon began referring to their benefactors as "Uncle Sam."
It was Hunt's job to form the Frente, the coalition of Cuban exile groups which would serve as the political umbrella for the military army of the invasion. It was early apparent, however, that Hunt's own conservative right-wing political view colored his handling of the exile groups and he and Barker, wheeling and dealing among the politicians, started as many squabbles as they mediated. In fact, immediately before the actual invasion, Hunt was removed -- he says he quit -- as the Agency's political liaison because he wouldn't go along with including in the exile coalition a group headed by a democratic socialist named Manolo Ray. Fidelisimo sin Fidel, Hunt said, and called him a Communist. Ray's name would also later pop up in the Kennedy assassination investigation.
Hunt's principal contribution to the Bay of Pigs invasion was his selection of the military brigade's political leader, a fiery physician-tuned-politician named Manuel Artime. Flamboyant had effective, Artime helped stop a political insurrection at the exile training camp. Years later, he would become wealthy as a business partner of former Nicaragua dictator Luis Somoza. His relationship with Howard Hunt would grow into a extremely close friendship. They bought homes across the street from each other in Miami Shores and Hunt served as the godfather for one of Artime's children. (In 1975, an informant called the office of Senator Richard Schweiker and said that a friend of Artime's in Mexico City claimed that Artime had "guilty knowledge" of the Kennedy assassination. Artime, moving in and out of the country on business, was unable to be contacted before Schweiker's mandate expired. Later, the House Assassinations Committee contacted Artime and planned to take his sworn statement. Suddenly, Artime went into the hospital and was told he had cancer. Two weeks later, Artime died. He was 45.)
Another major contribution Hunt made to the Bay of Pigs operation was his help in selecting an old friend from the Guatemala scenario for an extremely important Agency role. Pulled from his post as a covert operative in Havana was a tall, articulate, charmingly diffident counterintelligence expert named David Atlee Phillips. It was Phillips' enormous and primary task to create the Big Lie. As head of the Agency's "propaganda shop" for the invasion, Phillips had to bend the ranting of the exile groups into an effective symphony, set up broadcast stations that would rally guerrillas with Cuba to join the invaders, and establish communications links that would provide secret codes to trigger the actual invasion. Most of all, it was Phillips' job to create the impression to the world that the invasion was all a spontaneous action by anti-Castro forces and that neither the United States nor the CIA had anything to do with it. Phillips obviously had to be ingenious.
Later, there would be many an autopsy done on the Bay of Pigs operation and many valid conclusion reached about why it was such a dismal failure. One of the major reasons, however, had to be the fact that the most ambitious clandestine project ever concocted and supervised by the world's most technically proficient experts in deception and secrecy was, in the end, anything but a secret. Just nine days before the invasion, a New York Times reporter in Miami wrote: "Men come and go quietly on their secret missions of sabotage and gun- running into Cuba, while others assemble at staging points here to be flown at night to military camps in Guatemala and Louisiana. Since a mobilization order was issued ten days ago...contingents of men have been leaving here nightly for the camps of the new revolutionary army. They will be followed next week by professional men and intellectual who are to be concentrated at an undisclosed spot in the Caribbean area to prepare to serve as military government officials if the revolutionaries gain a foothold on Cuban soil." The next day, Castro must have at least glanced at the story before checking the sports news.
President Kennedy told the world that he assumed "sole responsibility" for the Bay of Pigs. Privately, he turned to his special counsel, Theodore Sorensen, and asked: "How could I have been so stupid to let them to ahead?" Yet many in the top echelon of CIA officers involved in planning the Bay of Pigs did, indeed, feel strongly that Kennedy was responsible of its failure. There would have been no slaughter of the exiles, no 1200 brave man captured, if Kennedy had not at the last moment rejected the proposal of massive air support. That was the word that filtered down to the field operatives, the Cuban exile community and the remnants of the invasion Brigade. It produced an incredible bitterness on every level. The military leader of the Brigade, Pepe San Roman, captured and imprisoned by Castro, later revealed the depth of his reaction: "I hated the United States," he said, "and I felt that I had been betrayed. Every day it became worse and then I was getting madder and madder and I wanted to get a rifle and come and fight against the U.S."
The Agency operatives who had led the exiles expressed the same deep bitterness. The ever-eloquent E. Howard Hunt, monitoring the effect at CIA headquarters until the end, later noted: "I was sick of lying and deception, heartsick over political compromise and military defect.... That night, laced through my broken sleep, were the words Sir Winston Churchill had spoken to a British Minister of Defense: 'I am not sure I should have dared to start; but I am sure I should not have dared to stop.' ...I saw in his words a warning for those Americans who had faltered at the Bay of Pigs."
Hunts close associate, David Phillips, would also reveal, years later, the incredible emotional impact of the defeat. Writing in his memoirs, The Night Watch, he too, detailed the end:
I went home. I peeled off my socks like dirty layers of skin -- I realized I hadn't changed them for a week.... I bathed, then fell into bed to sleep for several hours. On awakening I tried to eat again, but couldn't. Outside, the day was sheet spring beauty. I carried a portable radio to the yard at the rear of the house and listened to the gloomy newscasts about Cuba as I sat on the ground, my back against a tree.
Helen came out from the house and handed me a martini, a large one. I was half drunk
when I finished.. Suddenly my stomach churned. I was sick. My body heaved.
Then I began to cry....
I wept for two hours. I was sick again, then drunk again...
Oh shit! Shit!
The relationship between the Bay of Pigs failure and the assassination of President Kennedy is, even speculatively, not a direct one. No doubt the defeat was a pivotal event in the course of America's destiny, but perhaps more significant in relation to the assassination itself is the era which followed, the ear spawned at the Bay of Pigs. In the beginning, it was shaped by Kennedy himself, the result of his personal reaction to the ignominious defeat at Bahia de Cochinos. It turned into an ear of increasing aggressiveness and true clandestinity under the shroud of a publicly unsanctioned national policy. The country knew little about what was happening at the time -- and still remains aware of the possibility that what was happening eventually lied to the death of a President.
It may help here to put it all into a large perspective, one that is especially relevant to the intriguing mystery I was later to stumble upon. A prolific freelancer named Andrew St. George touched upon it in an article in Harper's a few years ago. I got to know the bearded, swashbuckling St. George, a rotund, witty, European-bred charmer, during the early course of the Schweiker investigation. I discovered he was all over Miami in the early '60s, working mostly for LIFE magazine at the time, slipping around the anti-Castro groups and soldier-of- fortune crowd, conning his way along on infiltration operations into Cuba and wheeling and dealing often, it was rumored, more as an activist than as an objective journalist. ("Andrew was a loveable scoundrel," says one anti-Castro Cuban leader who claims that St. George Purloined a b oat from his group to give to another anti-Castro group.) St. George was one of the first correspondents to Join the rebel Castro in his mountain stronghold and monitor the deployment of his guerrilla command. I once asked Andrew if he had ever worked for the CIA. He smiled, puffed on a Fine cigar and said, "Only when I worked for LIFE." He meant that, in those days, it was hard to tell where the CIA left off and LIFE began. At any rate, what makes St. George's observations especially fascinating is that he is indeed known to have very close contacts, as they say, within the Agency.
"Had someone asked me during the early Sixties to explain, in twenty words or fewer, why I called the Bay of Pigs a failure," St. George wrote in Harper's, "I would have said something like this: It was a military formula applied to an essentially political problem. It was an inevitable failure.
"But what evidence did we have, really, to say that the Cuban invasion was a failure? The discredited approach of applying military solutions to political problems, this failed formula we expected President Kennedy to junk with contempt, was instead polished up and adopted as the favorite method, in the essential strategy of the Kennedy Administration, which we expected to suffer and starve for selling this 'failed formula' to the President, turned out to be a big beneficiary of the wretched Cuban adventure....
"Within a year of the Bay of Pigs, the CIA curiously and inexplicably began to grow, to branch out, to gather more and more responsibility for the 'Cuban problem.' The Company was given authority to help monitor Cuba's wireless traffic; to observe its weather; to publish some of its best short stories (by Cuban authors in exile) through its wholly owned CIA printing company; to follow the Castro government's purchases abroad and its currency transactions, (a separate economic research branch was set up in South Miami for the purpose); to move extraordinary numbers of clandestine field operatives in and out of Cuba; to acquire a support fleet of ships and aircraft in order to facilitate these secret agent movements; to advise, train, and help reorganize the police and security establishments of Latin countries which felt threatened by Castro's guerrilla politics; to take a hand in U-2 over flights and in sea-air ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) operations aimed at tracing Cuban coastal-defense communications on special devices; to pump such vast sums into political operations thought to be helpful in containing Castro that by the time of the 1965 U.S. military intervention in the Dominican Republic both the bad guys and the good guys -- i.e., the 'radical' civilian politicos and the 'conservative' generals -- turned out to have been financed by La Compania. Owing largely to the Bay of Pigs, the CIA ceased being an invisible government: it became an empire."
Following the Bay of Pigs, word leaked out from the White House that Kennedy was disillusioned with the CIA, that he was upset with his CIA advisors for pushing a scheme on him which had been devised during the Eisenhower Administration, that he had been ill-informed and misled and pressured by CIA brass who had an egocentric interest in pushing the ill-conceived plan. The President called for the resignation of CIA Director Allen Dulles and covert plans boss Richard Bissell and, one aide reported, said he was going to "splinter" the Agency into "a thousand pieces and scatter to the winds."
That was misleading. Kennedy was, indeed, damn angry at the CIA, not for planning the Bay of Pigs but for botching it. And he was mad as hell at Castro who, in daily endless harangues and broadcast reviews of the battle kept rubbing the young President's nose in the humiliating defeat. Kennedy's initial reaction was almost reflexive: Don't get mad, get even. Appointing his brother Robert to oversee the Agency's covert operations, Kennedy did not splinter the CIA but infused it with new life. That firming up of policy towards Cuba and the massive infusion of funding to the CIA's anti-Castro front groups became known to insiders as "the Kennedy vendetta."
Between the Bay of Pigs debacle in April, 1961, and the Cuban missile crisis in October of 1962, a massive and, this time, truly secret war was launched against the Castro regime. The Manifestations of Kennedy's new policy, which made the preparations for the Bay of Pigs pale by comparison, slowly began altering the attitudes of the anti-Castro militant and the CIA operatives in the field, and although a good measure of encrusted bitterness and cynicism lingered, a revised, more positive image of the President began taking shape.
Kennedy did his best to reinforce that image. "Cuba must not be abandoned to the Communists," he declared in a speech shortly after the Bay of Pigs, and spoke of a "new and deeper struggle." That was a euphemism for a campaign which eventually employed several thousand CIA operatives and cost over $100 million a year. Again Miami was the focus of the effort. And this time the CIA moved in on a truly unprecedented scale. On a large, secluded, heavily-wooded tract that was part of the University of Miami's South Campus, the Agency set up a front corporation called Zenith Technological Services. Its code name was JM/WAVE and it soon became the largest CIA installation anywhere in the world outside of its Langley, Va., headquarters.
At the height of its activities, the JM/WAVE station had a staff of more than 300 Americans, mostly case officers in charge of supervising and monitoring Cuban exile groups. Each case officer employed as many as 10 Cuban principal agents." Each principal agent, in turn, would be responsible for as many as 30 regular agents. In addition, the Agency funded scores of front operations throughout the area --- print shops, real estate firms, travel agencies, coffee shops, boat repair yards, detective agencies, gun shops, neighborhood newspapers -- to provide ostensible employment for the thousands of case officers and agents operating outside of JM/WAVE headquarters. It was said that if any Cuban exile wanted to open his own business, he had but to ask the CIA for start-up capital. The CIA became one of the largest employers in South Florida.
The JM/WAVE station was also a logistical giant within itself. It leased more than 100 staff cars and maintained its own gas depot. It kept warehouses loaded with everything from machine guns to caskets. It had its own airplanes and what a former
CIA officer called "the third largest navy in the Western Hemisphere," including hundreds of small boats and huge yachts donated by friendly millionaires. There were also hundreds of pieces of real estates, from dives to palatial waterfront mansions, used as "safe houses" or assembly points for operations. In addition, of course, there were paramilitary training throughout the Florida Keys and deep in the Everglades. (One of the more active sites, used by a variety of anti-Castro groups, was a small, remote island north of Key West called, appropriately enough, No Name Key. One of the groups was called the International Anti-Communist Brigade, a collection of soldiers-of-fortune, mostly Americans, headed by a giant ex-Marine named Gerry Patrick Hemming. Like another ex-Marine named Lee Harvey Oswald, Hemming was trained as a radar operator in California. Hemming would later claim that Oswald once tried to join his IAB group. Co-founder of the IAB with Hemming was Frank Sturgis.)
Those were heady times for the anti-Castro groups in Miami. With the CIA providing lessons in sabotage, explosives, weapons, survival, ambushes, communications and logistics, the missions to Cuba began escalating in both frequency and sale. Initially intent on infiltrating small guerrilla bands onto the island, the Agency was soon supervising major raids aimed at blowing up oil refineries and sugar mills. Although some of the more militant exile groups considered themselves its independent of the CIA --- and some raids were made without its approval because the missions were technically illegal under the Neutrality Act, no group could function very long without the Agency, making special arrangements with Customs, Immigration and the Coast Guard. Whether the exile leaders acknowledged it or not, the Agency was pulling all the strings.
Those were, of course, equally heady times for the CIA. It ran the whole show in more ways than one, eventually achieving over a major section of foreign policy a level of influence and control
which Kennedy himself didn't envision. The JM/WAVE station in Miami became the international coordinating center for the secret war around the globe. Every CIA station in the world had at least one case officer assigned to Cuban operations and reporting to the Miami station. The station also controlled an international economic strategy, pressuring U.S. allies to embargo all trade with Cuba and supervising a worldwide sabotage program against goods being shipped to and from Cuba. (It took delight, for instance, in getting a German manufacturer to produce a shipment of off-center ball bearings for a Cuban factory.) The operational level of the Agency was also -- without Kennedy's knowledge, it now appears, and without even the knowledge of his newly-appointed Director, John McCone -- continuing its program of assassination attempts against Castro. In giving the CIA a new life, immense funding, and the incredible power and influence to conduct effective large-scale secret operations, Kennedy had created a force over which, as he himself would eventually discover, could not maintain total control. That realization came with the Cuban missile crisis-in October, 1962.
It is not known whether Castro requested the installation of offensive ballistic missiles in Cuba or if he accepted them at the suggestion of the Russians. There are many Cuban exiles in Miami who know Castro well, who went to school with him and fought beside him in the mountains during the early days of the 26th of July Movement. They believe Castro was driven to obtaining the missiles by the effectiveness of the secret CIA war against him, that the unrelenting jabbing of the infiltration and sabotage operations created economic and political pressures which drove him to consider the possibility of doing something rash. Perhaps that is what the CIA itself was counting on. The more fervent of the Cuban exiles were, indeed, initially elated by the possibility that the crisis might provoke a final showdown with Castro. President Kennedy himself boosted such hopes with hard-line responses to the daily more blatant build-up of the Soviet presence in Cuba. In September of that year, Kennedy declared that the United States would use "whatever means may be necessary" to prevent Cuba from exporting "its aggressive purposes by force or threat of force." In Miami, the anti-Castro exiles and their CIA control bosses delighted in such tough talk and looked forward to some real action.
The manner in which President Kennedy resolved the Cuban missile destroyed the hope of the exiles and the men conducting the secret war. Cuba and Castro were relegated to a minor role as Kennedy dealt directly with Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev. The crisis ended on November 29th, 1962. Kennedy announced that all IL-28 bombers were being withdrawn by the Soviets and that progress was being made on the withdrawal of offensive missiles. In return, Kennedy said he gave the Soviets and the Cubans a "no invasion" pledge.
The reaction among the secret war activities to that settlement one of tremendous shock. To the men who had been risking their very lives in a tough guerrilla war against the menace of Communism in the Caribbean, it was astounding that Kennedy should make a deal with Khrushchev. If the President's actions at the Bay of Pigs had raised doubts in their minds about Kennedy's sincerity and determination to bring down Castro, his handling of the missile crisis more than confirmed those doubts. Over café Cubano at the back tables of luncheonettes in Miami's Little Havana, in the CIA safe houses set in the lush foliage of Coconut Grove in the training camps in the remote Keys and the deep Everglades, wherever the exiles and their control agents gathered, the word "traitor" would eventually be spoken. Feelings ran that strong. The late Mario Lazo, a prominent exile attorney and close associate of top CIA officials (even after the Watergate burglary, he considered E. Howard Hunt "one of the great men of our time."), called it a "soul-shattering blow."
And yet the depth of anger at Kennedy for making the missile settlement was shallow compared with the reaction of the exiles and their CIA cohorts when it became apparent what the implementation of the President's new "no-invasion" policy actually meant. Suddenly the United States Government began cracking down on the very training camps and guerrilla bases which had been originally established by the United States Government. Regular infiltration raids into Cuba by the exiles, which automatically would get the Government's "green light," now were promptly disavowed and condemned. The Cuban Revolutionary Council, the united front of exile groups established by the CIA, had its subsidy cut off. (Reacting bitterly, the Council's president declared that Kennedy had become "the victim of a master play by the Russians.")
The crackdown continued over the next several months, to the increasing confusion and anger of the exiles. On the one hand, they were being encouraged and supported by the U.S. Government -- wasn't the CIA the U.S. Government? -- and, on the other hand, they were being literally handcuffed and arrested. It was crazy. In March, 1963 for instance, when a group of anti-Castro raiders were arrested by British police at a training site in the Bahamas, the U.S. State Department admitted it had tipped off the British about the camp. That same night another exile raiding boat was seized in Miami harbor. The Coast Guard announced it was throwing more planes, ships and men into policing the Florida straits for anti-Castro raiders. The Customs Service raided the secret camp at No Name Key and arrested the anti-Castro force in training there. The FBI seized a major cache of explosives at another exile camp outside of New Orleans. Weeks later, the Coast Guard assisted the British Navy in capturing another group of Cuban exiles in the Bahamas. Then Federal Aviation Administration issued "strong warnings" to six American civilian pilots -- including soldier-of-fortune Frank Sturgis and a few who had worked directly with the CIA -- who had been flying raids over Cuba. Shortly afterwards, the Secret Service arrested a prominent exile leader for conspiring to counterfeit Cuban currency destined for rebel forces inside Cuba -- a plan that had all the earmarks of a CIA operation. Had Kennedy gone crazy -- or was he, indeed, a "traitor"?
And yet against this pattern of a crackdown by Federal enforcement agencies on exile activity, there emerged a counter-grain of incidents which is very relevant to the Kennedy assassination. These incidents involve a series of major raids by anti-Castro groups which took place, despite the crackdown, between the time of the missile crisis and the assassination of the President. In fact, at the height of the missile crisis -- and the most politically inopportune moment for Kennedy -- one of the largest and most militant of the Cuban groups, Alpha 66, launched a quick strike at a major port in Cuba, killing at least 20 defenders, including some Russians. A week later, the same group sunk a Cuban patrol boat. On October 31st, the day after Kennedy lifted his blockade of Cuba as a sign of his peaceful intentions, Alpha 66 struck again. Then, immediately after the crisis ended in November, a spokesman for the group pledged further raids.
There were other Cuban exile groups which also defied Kennedy's "no invasion" policy. In April, a group calling itself the Cuban Freedom Fighters bombed an oil refinery outside Havana. In May, another band of anti-Castro rebels struck military camp near the capitol. Shortly afterwards, a group of exile raiders returned to Miami and announced it had blown up another refinery, sank a gunboat and killed scores of Castro soldiers. There were at least a dozen other actions which, despite the President's orders, indicated that certain Cuban exile groups and their field operatives were continuing the secret war. Despite the fact that none of the groups had been formed without the help of the CIA, that they had all long operated successfully with the supervisory support and funding of the CIA, the Agency denied it had any association at all with their continuing actions.
There were indications that Kennedy himself was confused and did not know what was happening. At a press conference in May, 1963, in response to a question about whether or not the United States was giving aid to the exiles, the President stumbled: "We may well be...well, none that I am familiar with.... I don't think as of today that we are." It was recently discovered that the CIA was supporting at least one exile group under what the Agency termed an "antonymous operations concept, whatever that meant.
There were few who had the foresight or knowledge to understand the significance of what was happening at the time, but one who did was a Democratic Representative from Florida named Paul Rodgers. Citing some "serious kinks in our intelligence system," Rodgers called for a Joint Congressional committee to oversee the CIA. "And what proof have we," asked Rodgers with uncanny prescience, "that this Agency, which in many respects has the power to pre-empt foreign policy, is not actually exercising this power through practices which are contradictory to the established policy objectives of this Government?"
That was in February, 1963. That month, in Dallas, a Czarist Russian emigre, world traveler and former French intelligence operative named George DeMohrenschildt decided to give a dinner party. He invited a young couple named Oswald, who had just returned from Russia the previous summer. It was at that dinner party that Lee Harvey Oswald was introduced to Ruth Paine.
There was a Democratic Representative from Florida named Paul Rodgers. Citing some "serious kinks in our intelligence system," Rodgers called for a Joint Congressional committee to oversee the CIA. "And what proof have we," asked Rodgers with uncanny prescience, "that this Agency, which in many respects has the power to pre-empt foreign policy, is not actually exercising this power through practices which are contradictory to the established policy objectives of this Government?"
Twelve years later, with the call from Senator Schweiker, I began an odyssey into the Kennedy assassination that would be far more revealing than I ever anticipated. It was a journey into a maze that had, over the years, grown incredibly complicated, with all sorts of elaborate cul-de-sacs. Perhaps more important, however, is the fact that there emerged certain similar images along so many of the pathways --- an indication, often only gossamer, of a concealed connecting thread or associative strands which appeared to emanate from a common spool.
For instance, one of the first leads which Schweiker asked me to check out came from a source he had to consider impeccable: Clare Boothe Luce. One of the wealthiest women in the world, widow of the founder of the Time, Inc. publishing empire, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a former Ambassador to Italy, a successful Broadway playwright, international socialite and longtime civic activist, Clare Boothe Luce was the last person in the world Schweiker would have suspected of leading him on a wild goose chase.
It began almost immediately after Schweiker announced the formation of the Kennedy assassination subcommittee. He was visited by syndicated Washington columnist Vera Glaser who told him she had just interviewed Clare Boothe Luce and that Luce had given her some information relating to the assassination. Schweiker immediately called Luce and she, quite cooperatively and in detail, confirmed the story she had told Glaser.
Luce said that some time after the Bay of Pigs she received a call from her "great friend" William Pawley, who lived in Miami. Pawley was a man of immense wealth, originally a Texas oil millionaire who once owned the Havana bus system and vast sugar holdings. He had helped start General Claire Chenault's famous Flying Tigers in World War II. Pawley had long been actively supporting anti-Castro Cubans in Miami, Luce said, and he now had the idea of sponsoring a fleet of speedboat -- sea-going "Flying Tiger" --- which would be used by the exiles to dart in and out of Cuba on "intelligence gathering" missions. Pawley asked her to sponsor one of these boats, said Luce, and she agreed.
As a result of her sponsorship, Luce said, she got to know the three-man "crew" of the boat. She called them "my boys" and said they visited her a few times in her New York townhouse. "I got to know them fairly well," she said. It was one of these boat crews, she said, that originally brought back the news of Russian missiles in Cuba. Because Kennedy didn't react to it, she said she helped feed it to then-Senator Kenneth Keating, who made it public. She said she wrote an article in LIFE magazine which predicted the nuclear showdown. "Well, then came the nuclear showdown and the President made his deal with Khrushchev and I never saw my young Cubans again," she said. The boat operations were stopped, she said, when after Kennedy's "deal," Pawley was notified that the U.S. was invoking the Neutrality Act and would prevent any further exile missions into Cuba.
Luce said she didn't think of her boat crew until the day that President Kennedy was killed. That evening she received a telephone call from one of the members of her boat crew. She told Schweiker she believed his name was Julio Fernandez. He said he was calling from New Orleans. He told her that he and the other crew members had been forced out of Miami after the Cuban missile crisis and that they had started a "Free Cuba" cell ln New Orleans. Luce said that Julio Fernandez told her that Oswald had approached his group and offered his services as a potential Castro assassin. Fernandez said his group didn't believe Oswald, suspected he was really a Communist and decided to keep tabs on him. Fernandez said they found that Oswald was, indeed, a Communist, and they eventually penetrated his "cell" and tape--recorded his talks, including his bragging that he could shoot anyone because he was "the greatest shot in the world with a telescopic lens." Fernandez said that Oswald than suddenly came into money and went to Mexico City and then Dallas. Fernandez also told Luce his group had photographs of Oswald and copies of the handbills Oswald had distributed on the streets of New Orleans. Fernandez asked Luce what he should do with this information and material.
Luce recalled: "I said what you do is call the FBI at once. Don't waste a minute. Go right in and call up the FBI."
Luce said she did not think about the story again until Jim Garrison's investigation hit the headlines in 1967. She said she called the New Orleans district attorney and tell him of the incident but, after talking to him for 10 minutes, she decided he was a "phony" and not serious. Through Pawley, however, she did locate and call her "young Cuban" and reminded him of his conversation with her the evening Kennedy was killed. By then, Luce recalled, Julio Fernandez no longer wanted to get involved: "He said, 'Mrs. Luce, we did just what you said. We got it all to the FBI. They came, took our tape recordings, took our photographs and told us to keep our mouths shut until the FBI sent for us.' He said, Mrs. Luce, I am married, I have two children, I am a lawyer with a very successful practice in Miami. I don't want any part of the Kennedy assassination. You couldn't torture it out of me."' Luce also said that Fernandez told her that of the other two members of her boat crew, one was deported and one was stabbed to death in Miami.
Luce told Schweiker that her impression, based on what she was told by "her Cubans," was that Oswald was hired by Castro to assassinate Kennedy in retaliation for the assassination efforts against him.
Luce also told Schweiker that she did not remember the names of the other two crew members, nor did she know now how to get in touch with Julio Fernandez. She said that Bill Pawley would know all about it.
Schweiker called Pawley. Pawley said he didn't remember a thing. Schweiker took it as an indication that Pawley just didn't want to get involved. He still thought that Luce's story, if confirmed, could lead to a significant break. He asked me to try to find the Julio Fernandez who had called her.
I discovered there are a lot of Cubans in Miami named Julio Fernandez. There are more than a dozen lawyers named Fernandez. Many Cubans, like Americans, are commonly known by their middle name, not their first, and some Cubans are commonly known not by their by father's family name by their matrinomy. Nevertheless, selecting them by their age and word of their anti-Castro activism, I spent weeks talking with scores of Cubans named Julio Fernandez. Schweiker particularly interested in the Julio Fernandez whose name did turn up in an FBI report buried in the Warren Commissions' volume of evidence. I finally tracked him down in upstate New York. He wasn't the Julio Fernandez who had called Clair Boothe Luce. It wasn't until more than a year later, with the broadened access to information I had with the House Assassinations Committee, I discovered that there was no Julio Fernandez who called Luce. She had simply concocted the name for Schweiker.
What was interesting about the Luce story was that it had a couple of the characteristics common to so many of the other leads which were fed to Schweiker and, later, the House Assassinations Committee and, when checked out, went no where. One such characteristic was that the leads usually could not be dismissed outright because they always contained hard kernels of truth mixed in the fluff.
For instance, in the case of the Luce lead, it was known that Oswald did approach an anti-Castro group in New Orleans and said he was interested in helping their cause. The fellow he approached, Carlos Bringuier, was the chief Orleans delegate of the Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil, known simply as the DRE or Student Directorate, headquartered in Miami and under the wing of the CIA's JM/WAVE station. A few days after Oswald walked into Bringuier's small store, Bringuier saw him passing out pro-Castro leaflets on Canal Street, got in a scuffle with him and both he and Oswald were arrested. He later debated Oswald on a radio program recording of which appeared on the commercial market immediately after the Kennedy assassination.
Independent researchers have been looking into Oswald's encounter with Bringuier for years and have discovered some curious things about it. Jim Garrison found that a newspaper photographer had been alerted to Bringuier's encounter with Oswald handling out leaflets before Bringuier approached Oswald. Oswald, despite his attempt to join the anti-Castro group days earlier, seemed bent on getting publicity as a pro-Castro demonstrator and encouraged Bringuier to attack him. At one point, Oswald was overheard to say, "Hit me, Carlos." In addition Oswald had stamped on some of the pro-Castro leaflets strange address for the New Orleans chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (of which he was the only member). The address was a building which housed a hotbed of anti-Castro activity, at one time the New Orleans office of the CIA-backed Cuban Revolutionary Front. The Assassination Committee discovered that Oswald was seen in that building with extreme right-wing and anti-Castro activists.
In checking further into Luce's story for the Assassinations Committee, we developed some additional interesting information. We found that Luce's "great friend" in Miami, William Pawley, was also a longtime friend of the CIA. He was reportedly involved in the CIA's overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala. A CIA front called the Pacific Corporation was an offshoot of Pawley's Flying Tigers. Pawley himself fronted some of the CIA's anti-Castro activities. (He once told a Miami reporter: "Find me one man, just one man who can go it alone and get Castro, I'll pay anything, almost anything.") He helped fund the LIFE magazine, a secret raid into Cuba in order to exfiltrate two Russian technicians who could testify, to Kennedy's embarrassment, that Russian missiles were still in Cuba. The raiding party failed to return and 10 exiles were lost.
In 1976, before we could interview Pawley about the Luce story and other matters concerning the Kennedy assassination, he committed suicide. He reportedly had been suffering from a bad case of shingles.
We pursued the Luce story all the way down the line. Carlos Bringuier, who later became a lecturer on Billy Jean Hargis' right-wing Christian Crusade circuit, said he had never spoken to Clair Boothe Luce. In Miami, however, we did discover that a few leaders of his Directorio group were -- the kernel of truth -- in touch with Luce.
The Directorio was, along with Alpha 66, the most active, on both the military and propaganda fronts, of all the Cuban exile groups. In September, 1962 the group received national publicity with a daring raid into Havana harbor. Its boats shelled a theater where Castro was scheduled to speak. Castro raged that it was another attempt on his life by the CIA. The leaders of the Directorio decided to squeeze as much propaganda and fund-raising benefit as they could out of the publicity. They were put in touch with a man in New York who, for certain reasons, will be known here as Jack Justin. Justin had excellent contacts in the media and got the Directorio leaders on several radio and television shows. He also introduced them to Clair Boothe Luce.
The key Directorio liaison was a sharp, articulate young fellow named Jose Antonio Lanusa. It was Lanusa who handled the regular reports from DRE delegates in various cities and who, after the Kennedy assassination, recalled Bringuier's report from New Orleans about Oswald's visit. It was Lanusa who originally released the story to the press, after contacting his CIA case officer at the JM/WAVE station. It was also Lanusa who turned over to the FBI copies of Bringuier's reports and a tape recording of the radio debate with Oswald. The FBI never told him to keep his mouth shut about it, Lanusa said. Lanusa said he never spoke to Clare Boothe Luce about the incident, either at the time or later, and he knew of no DRE member who was deported or murdered.
Lanusa said he had only a single contact with Luce, arranged by Jack Justin. Lanusa didn't know how the DRE arrangement with Justin came about, but Justin appeared to be affluent, lived in a
luxury apartment on Central Park West and picked up all expenses whenever DRE members visited New York. "My opinion now," Lanusa told me, "is that he was being paid by the CIA."
Justin introduced him and another leader of the Directorio to Luce in her New York apartment because, Lanusa was told, she wanted to write an article for LIFE magazine about the group's raid into Cuba. She said she would turn the $600 fee she would get for the article over to the DRE as a _ contribution. Lanusa said that was the only money Luce ever contributed to the DRE. He said she could not have sponsored a boat because he was aware of how all the DRE boats were acquired. When I told him of the story that Luce had told Schweiker, Lanusa shook his head and said: "I think Clare Boothe Luce shoots from the hip without having her brain engaged."
Many times in the course of my experiences investigating the Kennedy assassination, I found it strangely difficult to accept the obvious. The truth often came so boldly and blatantly that it was difficult to believe. Analogically, it was like sitting across the table from an old friend when, in the midst of a very pleasant conversation, he suddenly reaches over and slaps you across the face and then, without missing a word, continues the pleasant conversation. Your initial reaction is one of shock, then disbelief. When you ask why he did that, he asks, "Did what?" without changing his pleasant expression. It was quite obvious what happened, but with his denying the obvious and the continued pleasant conversation, you begin to doubt the reality of the obvious. Did what just happened -- this time chunk of experience that was here a moment ago and is now gone -- really happen? Did I just get slapped in the face? It was a question I asked myself often.
On slowly uncovering and verifying the facts surrounding the story that Luce told Schweiker, I began to envision her as an old woman now -- she was well into her 70s --diverse experiences of her colorful life perhaps blending into jumbled recollections over-dramatically recalled. That image was shattered when I met her.
Clare Boothe Luce had been difficult to pin down. She regularly moves between her New York apartment, her home in Hawaii and her penthouse at the Watergate in Washington, still very active and agile. We finally set up an interview in the last months of the Committee's existence, too late for an executive session hearing or sworn deposition. I was accompanied by staff researcher Betsy Palmer, who had done the file checking of the Luce story at the CIA.
Amid a splendid fortune of museum-quality Chinese artifacts in her elegant Watergate apartment house on the floor, coincidentally, is occupied by General Claire Chenault's widow), Luce was most pleasant and cooperative. Yes, she said, she had originally told the story to columnist Vera Glaser and confirmed it with Senator Schweiker. She repeated the story, virtually unchanged for us.
Luce, however, when question further, also confirmed additional details which Betsy Palmer had uncovered in her file search. At the time Luce was in touch with Schweiker, she was also in touch with William Colby, then head of the CIA. She told Colby she had just made up the name of Julio Fernandez for Schweiker. She said she was also in touch with Jack Justin, who gave her the names of three DRE leaders, including Lanusa, but she didn't mention them to Schweiker. Colby, however, called Justin and urged him to cooperate with Schweiker, but Justin said he did not want to get involved. From the CIA file notes of telephone conversation, it appeared that even Colby was confused about what was going on. When I pointed out to Luce that her story reminded me of the Carlos Bringuier incident with Oswald, she smiled and said, "Why, yes, that's the same type of thing that happened to my boys."
When we walked out of the Watergate late that afternoon, we knew only one thing for sure: An awful lot of time had been spent checking out Luce's story and, in the end, it led nowhere at all.
The last time I saw Clare Boothe Luce was shortly after we interviewed her at the Watergate. I attended a luncheon meeting, for reasons which will be later apparent, of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers at a country club in Arlington. Luce was the guest speaker. Her speech was a vigorous defense of the intelligence establishment and an historical review of its successes. I discovered that Boothe Luce, besides being the guest speaker at that meeting, is actually on the Board of Directors of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers. The organization was founded in 1975 by former Bay of Pigs propaganda chief, David Atlee Phillips.
Time and again, as I probed through the maze of the Kennedy assassination investigation, that thread of an association of some sort with intelligence agency activity would appear and reappear often clear and distinct, sometimes thin and tenuous. What, if anything did it mean? I'm still puzzled, for instance, by an episode involving a tip that came into Senator Schweiker's office later in his investigation. Although I was then in the midst of pursuing an especially significant development, the new information seemed much too important to put aside and its source, again, valid enough not to dismiss.
A man from Key West called Schweiker's office in Washington and said he had some information which might be of some help in the Senator's investigation of the Kennedy assassination. The man said he had seen Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby together at the Key West International Airport in the summer prior to the Kennedy assassination. He provided the details. Schweiker's office called me and I called the man. What he told me led me to drive to Key West and spend more than a week attempting to confirm the details of his story. I was not totally unsuccessful, and I did find out more than I expected.
In the FBI files of its Kennedy assassination investigation, there are hundreds of reports of individuals who claimed they saw Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby together before the killing. Almost every report indicates that a brief investigation proved the claim groundless. There are some, however, which indicate that a brief investigation left some claims unresolved, including a few from sources which appeared to be legitimate; that is where not obvious mental cases or publicity seekers that relevant in my deciding to go to Key West. So was another FBI report which connected Jack Ruby to a gun-smuggling operation in the Florida Keys. There is good evidence which links Ruby to smuggling guns, although not in the Florida Keys. In addition, the man who called Schweiker's office appeared to be a very legitimate sources.
George Faraldo, a thin, swarthy man in his late 50s was the general manager of the Key West airport until his retirement several years ago. He subsequently opened a successful marine diesel business on the island. He is well-known in the community, a generally respected family man whose wife sings in the church choir.
I initially spent several hours with George Faraldo at his office getting the details of his story. On November 22nd, 1963, Faraldo was in the hospital recovering from a mild heart attack. That's why he was sure the incident occurred prior to the Kennedy assassination, probably the summer before, he said. He remembered arriving at the airport that morning and seeing a group of about 30 or 40 persons clustered in the lobby. Despite its "international" status, the Key West airport is not large, its terminal building a cinder block structure the size of a small city post office. There are usually not that many people in the terminal, which has only a few ticket counters and a separate small waiting lounge. Faraldo said he learned from talking with a few in the group that they were part of an organization called the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and that they were going to Cuba to help, cut the sugar cane crop. They were waiting for an Aerovia Q Airline plane to fly in from Cuba to pick them up. Aerovia Q was a commercial airline that regularly flew chartered and scheduled flights between Key West and Cuba, a 90-mile hop across the Florida Straits. It maintained a ticket counter at the Key West Airport.
Faraldo said he recalled the group waiting around the airport almost all day, getting repeated word that the plane was delayed. Mostly, he said, they were young boys and girls, "hippie-looking," casually dressed dungarees, a few in olive-drab fatigues. They were quiet and well-behaved, Faraldo recalled, some sitting on the floor in small circles, a few playing guitars. The reason that Faraldo specifically remembered Lee Harvey Oswald, he said, was because Oswald was the only one who, during the course of day, kept circulating among the group, chatting with the various clusters briefly, then moving on. He didn't, however, appear to be the leader of the group, the one who kept making the announcements about the plane being delayed. That guy had a beard, said Faraldo. Both Oswald and Jack Ruby were casually dressed, Faraldo recalled, but Ruby did not mingle much with the group and spent most of the day standing next to the doorway that led to the plane boarding area. Once, Faraldo said, he saw Oswald approach Ruby and talk to him briefly. Faraldo recalled that the Aerovia Q plane that the group had been waiting for finally arrived late in the evening and that Oswald got on the plane with the group. He said he didn't see Ruby get on and doesn't know if he did.
It was an incredible story Faraldo told, yet he seemed to tell lt in a very credible way. He said he would have had some doubts about recognizing either Oswald or Ruby after the Kennedy assassination if it had been a case of just one, but the fact that he recalled both individuals led him to dispel any thought that it may have been a case of mistaken identity.
Faraldo said he didn't observe the group all day, but worked in his office and just made a few trips out to chat, although he didn't speak with either Oswald or Ruby. What he did do at one point, however, was film the group with a movie camera. He was a regular "stringer," or freelance correspondent, for WTVJ-TV, a Miami television station, and he often sent the news director short takes of newsy events around Key West, brief film clips for which he would get a few bucks. Faraldo said his regular procedure was to send the unprocessed film to Miami with a crew member of a National Airlines flight. The crew member would then give the film to a cab driver at Miami airport to deliver to the television station. That's what he did with the film he took of the Fair Play for Cuba group, Faraldo said.
Although Faraldo was very believable, I was a bit bothered by an inconsistency in his ability to recollect detail. He was, for instance, absolutely sure that the number of the plane that finally arrived to pick up the group was CU-T583 -- it just stuck in his mind, he said -- he couldn't, on the other hand, recall exactly what month the incident occurred and even had some doubts about the year. Still, I reasoned, undulations in recollected detail would be normal after 13 years.
In that initial interview with him, I probed Faraldo for hours. He remained very credible. More importantly, he appeared honest and consistently normal. He wasn't a nut or an odd-ball. He was, in fact, a very intelligent man, a college graduate with a degree in engineering. Together we drove to the airport terminal and Faraldo showed me around. We walked through the lobby and he explain the way the roup was scattered about. He then pointed out exactly where he saw Oswald and exactly where Ruby was standing most of the time. Faraldo appeared so sure of what he was saying that I could almost see them there.
I spent the next few days attempting to check out Faraldo's story. At the very least, I wanted to find out whether or not a Fair Play for Cuba group did fly from Key West to Cuba and when. Perhaps then, I thought, I could locate other who saw Oswald and Ruby together. I spoke to at least two dozen individuals, employees and former employees of the airlines operating out of Key West at the time. I spoke to pilots, stewardesses, mechanics, ticket counter workers and employees of the terminal itself, including a former janitor. I could not get any hard substantiation of any point, yet I kept getting a few tantalizingly vague confirmations that drove me to dig deeper.
I spoke, for instance, to a woman who worked the ticket counter for National Airlines at Key West in the early '60s. She said she did remember a group going to Cuba to cut sugar cane. A retired Immigration Department official said he remembered reading about such a group in the newspapers. A Federal Aviation Administration employee also recalled hearing about a sugar cane cutting group, but thinks he didn't see them because he worked the late shift at the time. The FAA chief at Key West said he didn't remember that at all and that all FAA records of flights were kept only 15 days before being destroyed. No one who worked the control
tower at the time remembered an Aerovia Q plane flying in late one night to pick up a group of sugar cane cutters. The retired airport Janitor, a very old man, did remember a group of 30 or 40 persons going to Cuba, but thought they were "foreigners." The U.S. Customs Department kept no records that could help.
I tried other angles. I spoke to a number of former employees of Aerovia Q Airlines, but none could remember the incident Faraldo described. I discovered that Aerovia Q stopped its regular flights to Key West late in 1961, but Faraldo said it would have been possible for the airline to fly into Key West as late as 1963 merely by filing a flight plan with the FAA.
I also did a page-by-page check of the old bound volumes of the Key West citizen, the local newspaper. Faraldo had said he thought the newspaper's photographer had covered the incident, but the guy didn't remember it and said all his negatives from that time were later lost in a hurricane. Faraldo himself sent me to an historian at the local public library who, he said, "remembers everything." She didn't recall the incident and could dig up no confirmation in her own files.
A spark of hope flared when Faraldo mentioned that he used to keep the manifests, or passenger lists, of every daily flight out of Key West, including those from Aerovia Q. He said he would staple them together at the end of the day, fold them, put them ln a white envelope and put the envelope in a cardboard box. And Faraldo remembered specifically where he had kept those boxes in a storage room at the airport. I~e sped back to check.
With the help of the current airport manager, we rummaged through every possible storage area without success. The one storage room where Faraldo was sure the boxes had been was, just two week before, gutted after a rain storm tore off part of the ceiling and flooded the room. Faraldo pointed out where the boxes should have been on a shelf suspended between the ceiling and the air conditioning ducts. The new manager said everything taken from that gutted room was in a trash heap on the side of the terminal. I spent hours going through a ~ mountain of soggy trash looking for the discarded boxes. I found nothing that resembled manifests.
I subsequently contacted the news director of WTVJ-TV, where Faraldo said he had sent his film. Ralph Renick confirmed that Faraldo had done some freelancing for the station and said he was. He said familiar with his story about Oswald and Ruby. He said Faraldo mentioned it to him about the time of Jim Garrison's investigation in New Orleans. He went back through his film files at the time but couldn't find anything. "It would have been a damn good story for us to break, obviously," said Renick. Renick said he would re-check the files. He did and found nothing. Meanwhile, I kept going back to Faraldo. I was frustrated. I thought I myself vaguely recalled reading about a group of pacifists going to Cuba to cut sugar cane, and there were a few I talked with who remembered such a group in Key West. Faraldo appeared even more frustrated than I. He was extremely upset that his manifest records, which he had so carefully kept for years, he said, had not been retained. We tried to probe deeper into his memory for additional details. We'd sit around his office or drive to the coffee shop at the airport. We had lunch together a few times and one night his wife invited me for a delicious home cooked dinner. We talked of many things besides the Kennedy assassination and were beginning to get to know each other a little. He was a soft-voiced, intelligent man and I liked him.
One day we were sitting around his office chatting. Faraldo mentioned that he is a veteran of the U.S. Navy, an experienced pilot, has an avid interest in electronics and considers himself an expert photographic technician. These bits of information were dropped over the course of a long conversation and I didn't immediately link them to anything of significance. He then mentioned he had a photo lab behind his machine shop. I noted my own interest in photography and asked to see it. I assumed he was an amateur photographer who freelanced occasionally for a few bucks and had a nice array of perhaps even professional quality equipment. I was amazed, however, at the collection of sophisticated electronic and photographic gear stocked in Faraldo's shop. I guessed there was well over $100,000 worth of equipment. I then noticed sitting on the floor in a corner what appeared to be the housing of a an aerial reconnaissance camera.
Hey, what's going on here?
Softly I began probing Faraldo about his use of such equipment. Well, he said, he had made a number of trips into Cuba after Castro took over in order to find out a few things. ~e told a story about once being suspected of spying by Castro's police and how he was retained and beaten. He spoke of how he hated Castro and how he thought Batista, whom he had known personally, was "one of the best friends the United States ever had." He said he was also very friendly with Castro's former Air Force Chief, Pedro Diaz Lanz.
When I asked Faraldo specifically about the reconnaissance camera, he said he had flown a number of aerial photographic missions and proudly went into a detailed explanation of how he had designed a special device to permit him to trigger the camera, installed in the belly of his plane, from the cockpit. He said he had taken shots of the Russian missiles in Cuba long before Kennedy announced they existed.
For whom, I tried to ask casually, was he working? "I was told," he said smiling, "I was working~ for the United States Information Agency." I asked if he thought it possible that he was really working for the CIA? "Yes," he said, "I would think so." I thought that he should more than just think so and decided to press. I asked him who paid for all the sophisticated photo and electronic equipment he had. He looked at me as if I were playing a game with him and didn't answer directly. Finally he gave me a wide grin and said, "No comment."
It's a beautiful ride from Key West back to Miami over a long, lonesome stretch of the Overseas Highway, the big sky a clear deep blue, the ocean vista of white caps on one side, on the other the bay a crystal expanse of glistening serenity. But I couldn't appreciate the scenery as I drove back because my mind was a jumble of confusion about what I had experienced over the previous several days. I wanted to believe Faraldo because he was intelligent and credible and I like him. And didn't a few others remember that group at the airport? Besides, why would he be lying? Why would he tell such a story and go out of his way to bring it to Schweiker's attention? I remember conflicting questions racing through my mind as I drove back to Miami. I also remember feeling something I didn't want to believe I felt: The sensation of a lingering sting along the side of my cheek, as if someone had just slapped me across the face.
Perhaps, yes, perhaps coincidentally, the Luce incident and the Faraldo incident both contain elements of similarity to a burst of reports which sprung up immediately following the action of President John F. Kennedy. These reports all indicated that Lee Harvey Oswald had some association with pro-Castro elements or was, in fact, a Castro agent. Also, most of the reports had some connection with Mexico City or Miami. And, again, somewhere along the chain of investigative links there always popped up some association with the intelligence community.
I've come to believe that a few of those early reports may have some relationship to what I later uncovered. The reports linked to Mexico City were especially interesting. Clare Boothe Luce, for instance, maintained she received that telephone call from one of her young Cubans on the evening of Kennedy's assassination. She specifically remembered watching television with her husband in her New York apartment when the call came through. The caller told her, she said, about Oswald and how he had left New Orleans to go to Mexico City before returning to Dallas. Yet, on the evening of November 22nd, Oswald's visit to Mexico City was known by a limited number of, persons other than Oswald himself, perhaps his wife Marina and a handful of intelligence officials -- most notably a select few in the CIA's Mexico City station.
Another attempt to link Oswald to Castro came out of Mexico City immediately after Oswald was murdered by Jack Ruby. A young Nicaraguan named Gilberto Alvarado Ugarte walked into the American Embassy and insisted he had a story to tell the American Ambassador, Thomas Mann. Alvarado claimed that he had gone to the Cuban Embassy in September and while waiting to conduct some business saw three persons talking in a patio a few feet away. One was Lee Harvey Oswald, another a tall, thin Negro with reddish hair and the third a Cuban from the consulate. Alvarado said he saw the Cuban give the Negro a large sum of money and then heard the Negro tell Oswald, "I want to kill the man." Oswald replied, "You're not man enough, I can do it." The Negro then gave Oswald $6500 in large denomination American bills. Their conversation, said Alvarado, was in both Spanish and English.
The story caused quite a stir with Ambassador Mann, a hard-boiled anti-Communist who, even before Alvarado showed up, was pushing the FBI to investigate a Castro link to the Kennedy's assassination. It would later become one of the first pieces of "evidence" to plant the seed of a Cuban conspiracy in President Johnson's mind. This despite the fact that Alvarado's story didn't check out. Alvarado subsequently retracted his story, saying he had fabricated lt because he wanted to get to the United States to join the anti-Castro activists. Then he recanted his retraction and then, failing a polygraph test given by the Mexican police, again confessed he had lied. Nevertheless, it was eventually brought to the attention of the Warren Commission by CIA boss Richard Helms. In its final Report, the Commission devoted two entire pages to it.
The Warren Commission, however, never considered the significance of the source of the story. Alvarado, it was later discovered, was an agent of the Nicaraguan intelligence service. Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza was a strong anti-Castro and a cooperative ally of the CIA, having permitted the Agency to use his country as a training camp and assembly area for the Bay of Pigs invasion. In fact, at the time of the Kennedy assassination, Manuel Artime, the CIA's "golden boy" ¿as his fellow anti-Castro leaders dubbed him), ~till had two training bases in Nicaragua and a huge arsenal of equipment. According to one source, Artime was also then involved ln a Castro assassination plot with his close friend and Miami neighbor, E. Howard Hunt.
There are a few theories about the type of incident the Alvarado fabrication represents, other than it being the meaningless activity of lone nut -- unlikely in view of Alvarado's background. It strikes a few researchers as having the hallmarks of a counter-intelligence scenario, a shrewd ploy (loaded with diverse angles, from the ridiculous to the sublime, but in the end having a single although not immediately apparent effect. Was it meant to reinforce certain evidence or suspicions, or was it just another stone thrown in to further muddy already murky waters.?
There are a lot of questions. And perhaps that in itself is relevant. Why should the sources of the information turn out to be of more interest than the information itself? What motivation did the sources have in promulgating the information? Why did they inject themselves into the Kennedy assassination investigation? Did they each have their own individual reasons for doing so? Or were they orchestrated by those with a more sophisticated knowledge of public opinion manipulation, psychological and propaganda techniques These questions are the matrix of the pattern.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the early reports linking Oswald to pro-Castro activity was how quickly they surfaced. The first ones came within hours of Oswald's arrest, almost before Dallas police knew anything about him or his background or had, in fact, definitely linked him to anything other than the killing of Patrolman J.D. Tippitt.
A Scripps-Howard wire service reporter named Seth Kantor was part of the press contingent which had traveled with President Kennedy to Dallas. Kantor, a veteran reporter well-respected by his peers, had worked in Dallas before being transferred to Washington. He knew the city intimately, its politicians, its leading citizens, its characters. As did almost every other reporter in Dallas, Kantor knew Jack Ruby, a character who liked to hang around
police headquarters and newspaper offices. Ruby had
help him with a couple of stories about Dallas nightlife. Kantor knew Ruby.
Kantor says he saw and spoke with Jack Ruby at Parkland Hospital immediately after Kennedy's assassination. A nurse, who didn't know Ruby, later also reported she saw Ruby at Parkland Hospital. The Warren Commission chose to ignore Seth Kantor because his testimony would have alluded to a conspiracy.
I spoke with Seth Kantor a few times and had dinner with him one evening in Washington. He's a reserved, soft-spoken guy not given to exaggeration. I checked into his background and spoke with people who know him. I found no reason to suspect that Seth Kantor would lie. That, I believe is significant in terms of another bit of information that Kantor provided. Kantor said he learned of Oswald's pro-Castro association shortly after Oswald was arrested, not more than two hours later, at the most, perhaps before 3 p.m. Dallas time. Kantor had called his managing editor in Washington and been told that the Scripps-Howard correspondent in Miami a fellow named Hal Hendrix, had this Information. "I specifically recall that I was at the police station and had to call Hendrix collect," said Kantor. "Hendrix told me of Oswald's pro-Castro association. I don't think he knew it first-hand, he said he had been told about it. He didn't tell me by whom."
Kantor didn't give special significance to his conversation with Hendrix until years later. Disturbed by the Warren Commission's findings, he decided to write a book about Jack Ruby. That's when he found that among the documents not released to the public was the FBI's list of telephone calls from the Dallas police station. Kantor requested them under the Freedom of Information Act. When he finally got the list, Kantor discovered that the only call exorcized from it, the only call which remained classified for "national security" reasons, was the call he made to Hendrix.
Again, it turned out that the source of the information about Oswald's pro-Castroism was more interesting than the information itself. Before he joined Scripps-Howard, Hal Hendrix worked for the Miami News. During the Bay of Pigs invasion, Hendrix's stories contained exceptional detail of the invasion's progress, information obviously obtained form CIA sources, most likely the Agency's propaganda section. Hendrix would later win a Pulitzer Prize for his stories revealing the existence of Russian missiles in Cuba. Still later he would join the International Telephone & Telegraphs Company as its public relations director in Latin America. In 1976. Hendrix was indicted and pleaded guilty perjury as a result of his testimony before a Senate Subcommittee investigating the role of the CIA and ITT in toppling the Allende government in Chile. Hendrix worked in Chile and had close contacts with CIA in personnel in Chile. During a hearing in Miami, a Justice Department attorney revealed that Hendrix had relationship with the CIA "both as a reporter and later as an employee of ITT."
Hal Hendrix was another one of the witnesses who fell between the cracks of the House Assassination Committee's investigation. In March, 1978, I wrote a memorandum to Chief Counsel Blakey urging that Hendrix be subpoenaed to testify about his knowledge of CIA activity. No action was taken. Hendrix was outside the game plan.
Aside from his specific requests to check out certain leads which had come to him, Senator Schweiker laid down no investigative ground rules when he hired me as a staff investigator. "Just follow your instincts," he said. Schweiker was, of course enough to realize the advantage of having a personal staff the investigator not bound by the parameters of the Senate Intelligence Committee's mandate or under the pressures of a report deadline. Because he had uncovered the facts about the intelligence agencies withholding information about Castro assassination plots from the Warren Commission, Schweiker early leaned toward a Castro retaliation theory for the Kennedy murder. His Subcommittee staff, ridiculously limited in time and resources, had only those same blocks of facts to play with and so was structuring its report along the same theory. Yet as I uncovered information in Miami which took me in the opposite direction Schweiker encouraged me to pursue the evidence wherever it led.
Over the course of almost a year of working with Schweiker, my attention was drawn to a diverse collection of individuals, almost all of whom had an association with the CIA and anti-Castro activity. Most had the means, motivation and opportunity to be considered suspect for involvement in the Kennedy assassination, or have knowledge of it. They all denied having any connection with the assassination, although a few said they would have liked to have killed Jack Kennedy themselves. That admission, in itself, never allayed my suspicions.
What I found especially fascinating was how, as soon as word of what I was doing spread, offers of help and sources of information began pouring down on me. There were independent
researchers, journalists, private investigators and individuals whose means of support I could never figure out calling me regularly. There were whispered meetings with anonymous informants in the back of dark bars in Little Havana. There were meetings in parks along Biscayne Bay. The telephone often rang in the middle of the night and a Spanish- accented voice would tip me about the strange behavior of a certain individual in November, 1963. My file began to grow with hundreds of names and my mind spun attempting to keep track of information involving scores of interlinking Cuban groups. Slowly, too, I began recognizing that some of the names ~ coming to me, some of the sources of information contacting me, were the same as those I had been reading in the volumes of Warren Commission files and stacks of FBI reports, names which had popped up immediately after the Kennedy assassination. It was as if I had suddenly entered a mysterious theater where a 13-year old drama had suddenly been review with the original cast.
There were several key characters who early drew my interest and, I still believe, may be relevant to the new evidence I would later stumble upon. One of them was a cocky bantam of a man named Mitchell Livingston WerBell III, an arms dealer who runs. on his large "farm" outside of Atlanta, what amounts to a training camp for professional killers -- including police and military types, terrorists and anti-terrorists, soldiers-of-fortune and mercenaries. WerBell may be the last of the true swashbucklers, a braggadocio an delightful guy.
Bell was born in Philadelphia, the son of a wealthy, former Czarist calvary officer. . ("My father dragged me all over the world," he says. "I was raised in some of the best bar in Europe.") He claims he was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1938 although there are no record of it -- and wound up with the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA) in World War II. Trained as a paratroop and guerilla warfare expert, he established himself as a stalwart secret agent and came out of the China-Burma theater of life operations as dues-paid life member of the "old-boys' network"of American secret intelligence -- a superspy fraternity that included Allen Dulles, Richard Helms and E. Howard Hunt, among others.
They don't come more colorful than Mitchell Livingston WerBell III. Seemingly eccentric, he was in his day a blasphemous, often boozy always raucous bon vivant with a sly sense of humor. He wore a handlebar mustache from time to time, screwed a monocle in his eye and called himself Prince Eric Straf. He boastfully dubbed himself "Mitch the Fifth' after multiple invocations of that Constitutional amendment before a Senate investigations subcommittee questioning him about his business relationship with Robert Vesco.
What drew my interest to WerBell was not his color nor his wit; it was his business, his background and his associates. It appeared that Jack Ruby was involved in arms dealing and smuggling. So was Mitch WerBell. A passionate anti-Communist, WerBell has run a series of weapons manufacturing and marketing firms -- principally Military Armament Corporation and its Washington-based parent, Quantum Ordinance Bankers -- which advanced supplied countries and groups around the world with advanced weaponry, including the Ingram M-ll, a hand-held, quiet machine gun. WerBell has been call a "creative genius" for his designs of noise suppressor for automatic weapons and for other "silent-kill" devices. He has also been termed the "principal supplier of the CIA's most sophisticated weapons."
Early in my investigation for Senator Schweiker, I had a long, all-day, liquory session with Mitch WerBell in his gun-filled den on his farm in Powder Springs, Georgia. Between sips, he denied an association with the CIA. "I've always cooperated very closely," he said, "but I've never allowed them to pay me one goddamned dime. I don't need it."
Nevertheless, down through the years WerBell has popped up with uncanny consistency in operations which have had the imprimatur of the CIA, overtly or covertly. He was all over Miami working with anti-Castro activists at the height of Kennedy's secret war against Cuba. He was in Guatemala when assassination teams swept through the country to bolster the reign of the military. He was in the Dominican Republic when the United States moved in to quash the Communist threat. In Venezuela, Uruguay, Chile, Greece, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, WerBell always seemed to be passing through at the most opportune moments. My prolific journalistic colleague, the aforementioned Andrew St. George, has taken a special interest in Mitch WerBell down through the years and has cultivated a strange and unique relationship with the chesty little guy. St. George has written a number of articles about WerBell, all very well done, politically insightful and damningly revealing, yet most of them buried in pulp adventure or girlie magazine with very little credible impact Damning revelation is the last thing that WerBell should want, yet the close relationship between subject and journalist remains intact and St. George is still a frequent houseguest on "the farm." (Once WerBell was extremely upset at a St. George article in Esquire which revealed WerBell's plans to foment a coup d'etat on the Bahamas island of Abaco and make it his own tax-free nation, but what most bothered the feisty arms dealer was a St. George photo of him attending to a shapely bikini-clad blonde languishing on a chaise. WerBell claims the photo almost wrecked his marriage.)
St. George's continuing interest in WerBell relates to, among other things, his concept of WerBell's role in history. Sometime in the 50s, St. George maintains, assassination became an instrument of U.S. national policy: "It also became an important branch of our invisible government, a sizable business, and a separate technology involving weapons and devices the ordinary taxpayer paid billions for but was never permitted to see, except perhaps in the technicolor fantasies of James Bond flicks." Thanks to the technological proficiency of his "silent-kill" weapons, Mitch WerBell was in the center of the development of the "special teams" concept. Special teams are assassination teams.
It was the special team concept that the CIA employed within its own bureaucratic structure -- selected individuals stitched together into a tight, top-secret network outside their normal
chain-of-command -- to plan the Castro assassination attempts. Yet the first utilization of the concept came in 1954, according to St. George, when a deep-cover CIA team went off to Hanoi under Lt. Colonel Lucien Conein, described as "one of Mitch WerBell's closest lifelong friends." The Conein mission, code-named "Blackhawk," was to harass and decimate the new Communist rulers of North Vietnam. Its orders included the "elimination of Vietminh cadres where conditions permit." Subsequently, similar missions multiplied as CIA Clandestine Services sent out special teams with authority to kill whenever "circumstances warranted." There were, among others, "White Star Training Mission" in Laos, "Operation Lodestone" in Northern Thailand "Study Project Minimax" in certain disaffected ethnic regions of Indonesia. Then, in the early 60s, With the CIA employment of the hard-bitten hill tribesmen of North Burma, Laos and Southwestern China as "deep penetration" and "long-range reconnaissance" teams into Red China, came large-scale, top-secret U.S. intelligence operations involving unlimited license to kill. Mitch WerBell's "silent-kill" weapons business did very well in those days, and Thai King Phumiphon personally hand carved a tiny rosewood Buddha for him.
Besides his general association with assassination operations, there were other reasons why WerBell would interest an investigator probing the Kennedy murder. A key one was his relationship with individuals who popped up in the FBI's original investigation. Gerry Patrick Hemming, for instance, was the ex-Marine who claimed he had contact with Lee Harvey Oswald both in California and Miami. Deeply involved in anti-Castro activity, Hemming was among those arrested at a training camp in the Florida Keys after Kennedy's Cuban missile deal with Khrushchev. Hemming worked as a weapon salesman for Mitch WerBell.
Another interesting associate of WerBell's is his buddy from his OSS days, Lucien Conein. "You've got to start with the premise that Lou Conein is crazy," said one of his former CIA bosses once. Crazy enough to always survive. Now a beefy, scarred and gnarled old grizzly, Conein left Kansas City when he was 17 to join the French Foreign Legion. In 1941, he switched to the OSS in France and lived and fought with the notorious Corsican Brotherhood, which was then part of the Resistance. (Later the Brotherhood would turn into an underworld organization deeply involved in drug trade and considered much more effective and dangerous than its Sicilian counterpart, the Mafia.) Moving to the Far East areas, Conein was part of an OSS team parachuted into Vietnam to fight the Japanese alongside the Vietminh. Later he married a Vietnamese, helped Ngo Dinh Diem consolidate his power in South Vietnam and then, turning against him, was the CIA's liaison with the cabal of generals who murdered Diem.
It was Conein's involvement with the coup of the generals which led another old OSS cohort, E. Howard Hunt, to give him a call several years later. Hunt, by then, was working in the Nixon White House. Besides wanting Conein to release a group of phony telegrams which would have squarely blamed President Kennedy for the Diem assassination (Nixon then considered Edward Kennedy his prime political foe), Hunt recruited Conein for what was ostensibly the White House war against the international drug trade.
Conein got involved in a series of sensitive operations with Hunt at the White House, some of which, according to a later report in the Washington Post, "appear to have stretched so far over the boundaries of legality that they were undertaken in _____ secrecy." One of these, part of a program called Gemstone, was Operation Diamond, a large, secret organization which Bernard Barker was putting together for Hunt in Miami. Barker reportedly recruited some 200 former CIA Cuban agents and organized them into specialized units for future operations. Among them were intelligence and counterintelligence units as what were known as Action Teams -- the old CIA term for units with paramilitary skills, including assassination.
Then, in November, 1973, Conein got moved out of the White House -- though not out from under White House command --to become chief of Special Operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration -- the DEA. He was to be part of Nixon's highly publicized nation-wide police campaign, led by White House enforcers with special powers, to combat drug abuse. It has been suggested that Nixon's anti-drug campaign was, in actuality, a bit to establish his own intelligence network as part of, as the knowledgeable St. George put it, "a covert drive to set up a national police machinery under the centralized command of the White House police organization." It has also been suggested that it was exactly that bid which brought about Nixon's political assassination, the sucker set-up that was Watergate.
Assassination, of course, is the buzz word. It struck me, early on in my investigation of the Kennedy assassination, how a select group of individuals who drew my attention for other reasons, would turn out to have some association with assassination operations in their past. More significantly, that association often involved a relationship with another member of this select ~roup. The multiplicity of "coincidences" never failed to surprise me. My attention was drawn to Lucien Conein, for instance, when I discovered his relationship with E. Howard Hunt, who attracted my interest because of his activities with Miami's anti-Castro Cubans When I learned of Conein's OSS background, I wondered if he had crossed paths somewhere along the way with Mitch WerBell. Their paths, it turned out, more than just crossed, they interlocked.
When Conein set up his Special Operations branch of the DEA he recruited" at least a dozen field operatives from the CIA and set them up in a "safe house," an office suite in the LaSalle Building on Connecticut Avenue in Washington. It has been reported that the reason for operating outside of DEA headquarters was because the branch was developing a very special plan, which included assassinating the key drug suppliers in Mexico. The question has been raised, however, by columnist Jack Anderson among others, whether the White House Plumbers group was developing assassination capability not for foreign utilization but for domestic political reasons. Anderson claimed that a contract was put out on him at one point. At any rate, the Connecticut Avenue office was funded not by the DEA but by the CIA. And Mitch WerBell has admitted he was in business there with two former CIA men manufacturing ultra-sophisticated assassination devices.
My meeting with Mitch WerBell that long Georgia day in his gun-filled den turned out to be a verbal paso-doble with a drunk -- or a man who acted drunk. Actually, by the time I got to him, WerBell was coming off a long bout with the booze, the result of being caught between the pressure of a few Congressional investigating committees probing~ his intelligence, arms and drug connections and, on the other side the very tough squeeze being put on him to keep his mouth shut by agencies for which he worked. Although we spent several hours talking, WerBell was determined to dance drunkenly around my key areas of interest. "There's a helluva lot I ain't said yet," he blathered at one point, "and there's a helluva lot I ain't gonna say yet"' At times he claimed loss of memory: "I've been in so many places, so many countries, so many fuckin' revolutions, it's beginning to get all mixed up ln my mind."
Yet the transcript of the tape I made during that session with WerBell reveals, despite the staccato verbal ellipses he drunkenly affected, some interesting responses. He admitted his involvement with some Castro assassination attempts ("I was sittin' in Miami with a goddamned million dollars in cash for the guy who was gonna take Fidel out."), but disclaimed any knowledge of the Kennedy murder. "Now I didn't like Jack Kennedy," he said. "I thought he was a shit to begin with. But I was certain not to be involved in the assassination of an American President, for Christsakes!" WerBell also denied any business dealings with Jack Ruby, but half-admitted a contact. First he said he had no connection, then added: "And the reason we didn't...I think we may have had an incoming...but we don't play with people like that. I mean, it's as simple as that. This guy Ruby, he called, I didn't know who the hell he was, but that was years ago...." WerBell lapsed into a drunken mumble. Later, I thought I might have been fruitful if the House Assassinations Committee, with its subpoena power and power to grant immunity, would have called WerBell for formal questioning. But Mitchell Livingston WerBell III, despite his acknowledged relationship with the area of evidence I considered most crucial in breaking new investigative grounds -- and despite his long association with assassination operations --was just another one of the characters who didn't fit into the game plan.
Although the initial stages of my investigation for Senator Schweiker were basically unstructured, I kept stumbling across those interlocking areas of activities and associations. I didn't realize it at the time, but that's what would make the evidence I would later discover meaningful. All of which is relevant to one other individual who early captured my attention: Frank Sturgis, another one of E. Howard Hunt's cohorts in the Watergate burglary.
Of all the characters I've met in my reporting and investigating career, Sturgis is one of the most intriguing. That's saying a lot. There are many who feel that he is an easy guy to know -- he's outspoken, talkative, apparently direct, usually quite visible and frequently projects himself into the spotlight. (A few months ago, he was the spokesman for a group of anti-Castro Cubans who offered to exchange themselves for the hostages being held in Iran.) But I spent a lot of time with Frank Sturgis and I haven't figured him out yet.
The names of both E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis had been prominently in the news in connection with the Kennedy assassination long before I joined Senator Schweiker's staff. A small group of assassination researchers had contended that two of the three men in
certain photographs taken in Dealey Plaza on November 22nd, 1963, bore "striking resemblances" to Hunt and Sturgis. The men were reportedly derelicts or "tramps," as the press came to call them, who were discovered in a boxcar in the railroad yard behind the grassy knoll. (Later, the House Committee's acoustic tests would indicate that a shot was fired from the knoll area.) Taken to police headquarters, the tramps were escorted across Dealey Plaza, where new photographers took several photos of them. The tramps were questioned and released, without record of their identities being kept. (Despite the notoriety they subsequently received, not one has turned up since.)
Because of the publicity generated by the researchers, the contention that two of the tramps were Sturgis and Hunt was examined by the Rockefeller commission in early 1975. President had appointed the commission that January to probably possible illegal CIA activities within the United States. After a six-month investigation, the Commission issued its report. Relying on comparative photo analysis performed by the same FBI expert who did all the Warren Commission's analysis the Rockefeller Commission concluded that the men in the tramps photographs were not Sturgis and Hunt.
About the time Schweiker began his investigation, a book which raised the contention again was published. Titled Coup d' £at In America, it was written by Michael Canfield and Alan J. Weberman and contained a forward by Texas Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez. The book incorporated a novel device: It came with film positive photos of Sturgis and Hunt designed to be overlaid on photographs of the tramp. Superimposed, the images did, indeed, bear striking similarities.
I would later discover, however,-that photo comparison and analysis is an exceptionally non-conclusive technique. The House Assassinations Committee would wind up spending $83,154 on it and came up with results which, in some instances, are totally worthless.
Among the photographs submitted to a panel of experts for analysis and comparison were not only those of Sturgis and Hunt but also those of other individuals who had been suggested by various critics as possible being one or the other of the three tramps. The panel concluded that Sturgis and Hunt were not the tramps ln the photographs. It did conclude, however, that one of the tramps -- the one who resembled Hunt --could very well be a fellow named Fred Lee Chrisman, a right-wing activist implicated in the Garrison investigation in New Orleans. When those results came in, investigators were frantically sent out to track down Chrisman's whereabouts on November 22nd, 1963. (Chrisman had since died.) They came back with official records and eye-witness affidavits that Chrisman was on the West Coast teaching school the day Kennedy was assassinated. So much for the conclusiveness of photo analysis.
What was particularly interesting, however, was the panel's conclusions in its comparison of photos of Frank Sturgis with those of the tramps. It used two basic comparative techniques. One it termed "metric traits" and the other "morphological differences." One was a comparison of the measurements of six facial features and their metric relationships; the other was simply whether or not various facial features were shaped the same. The panel concluded that the average deviation between the tramp's features and Sturgis' features was "low enough to make it impossible to rule out Sturgis on the basis of metric traits alone." However, the panel said, it was the morphological differences which indicated that Sturgis was not the tramp. In other words, Sturgis just didn't look like the tramp. (The hair and hairline were different, it said, and so were the nose, the chin and the differences in ear projection.)
House Committee's staffer in charge of organizing the photo panel's work was a research attorney named Jane Downey, and an exceptionally competent, good detail worker. One day she came to me and asked me to help gather some of the photographs which would be sent to the panel to find out members for analysis. I recall asking her at the time to find out whether or not the experts would take into consideration the possibility that the tramps might be wearing sophisticated disguises. That, in fact, had to be the case if they were not just real drifters in the wrong place at the wrong time. (As a member of the White House Plumbers, E. Howard Hunt had obtained disguises from the CIA's Technical Services Bureau and used them on more than one job. Downey promised she would ask the photo analysts about the use of disguises.
Several days later Jane Downey told me she had checked with the photo analysts. "I'm told that there is no way they can tell if disguises were used," she said. I was shocked. "In other words," I said, "if the tramps were in disguise there would be no way the analysts, could tell who they really are?"
"That's what I'm told," said Downey.
"Then why do a photo comparison at all?" I asked. Downey just shrugged her shoulders. "Well," I said, "I hope that point is mentioned in the final report."
"I'm sure it will be," said Downey.
Nowhere in the Committee's final report, nor in the appendix volume dealing with the photographic evidence, is the fact mentioned that comparative analysis would be meaningless if the tramps were wearing disguises.
In my own mind, I've never resolved the question of whether or not Frank Sturgis looked like one of the tramps in Dealey Plaza. There are a couple of photos which have strong similarities, others with few. The same could be said of the Hunt comparison. My initial interest in both, however, was not predicated on whether or not they were the Dealey Plaza tramps. When the Rockefeller Commission issued its conclusion that Sturgis and Hunt were not in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963, it raised more questions than it resolved. (At the time, I didn't realize how suspect I should have been a~out the Commission's report in general. It was later revealed that then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller really didn't want the CIA to air all its dirty linen and, at one point, quietly called in Director William Colby and urged him not to tell all. Rockefeller, it turned out, had earlier been a member of the White House's Operations Coordinating Board which cleared some of the illegal CIA activity the Commission was investigating.)
Although the Rockefeller Commission report claimed that Sturgis and Hunt hadn't legitimate alibis for their whereabouts on November 22nd, 1963, it ultimately concluded: "It cannot be determined with certainty where Hunt and Sturgis actually were on the day of the assassination." It is obsolete certainty that Frank Sturgis knows where he was on the day after the Kennedy assassination. He says FBI found him at his home in Miami. "I had FBI agents all over my house," he has said. "They told me I was one person they felt had the capabilities to do it. They said, 'Frank, if there's anybody capable of killing the President of the the United States, you're the guy that can do it."
I spent a lot of time with Frank Sturgis, especially during the period of the Schweiker investigation. He had not been out of prison from his Watergate sentence long when we first met~ an all-evening interview session at his home. He lives in north Miami, not far from me, and we were in contact often. Sometimes he would call in the evening and we would chat for hours. Frequently, we met for coffee at a snack shop or hotel coffee shop. He was always very direct, very outspoken and, I believe, a lot more polished and sophisticated than the obscenity-prone, rough-hewn and little-educated character he projects. In talking about people he knows, he of individuals his "close friend," but no one really gets close to Frank Sturgis.
Now in his 50s and tending toward obesity -- and a far cry from the muscular figure he was not long ago -- Sturgis has led a thousand lives, maybe more- He was born Frank Angelo Fiorini in Norfolk, Virginia , but his parents separated when he was an infant and he grew up with his mother's family in Philadelphia's Germantown. (He would later change his name to his stepfather's, Frank Anthony Sturgis, when his mother remarried. Howard Hunt once named the chief character in one his. pulp novels "Sturgis.") Frank Sturgis turned 17 two days after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and he immediately dropped out of Germantown High to join the Marines.
Sturgis was shipped out to the Pacific jungles where he volunteered for the toughest unit in the Marines, the First Raider Battalion, the legendary Edson's Raiders. He was taught how to kill silently with his bare hands, infiltrated into enemy encampments, sloshed through amphibious landings, air-dropped on commando raids. Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, three serious combat wounds, malaria, jaundice and, in the end, "exhaustion and possible psychoneurosis" and a stay at the Sun Valley Naval Medical Center before his discharge in 1945. After the War, Sturgis was a plainclothes cop with the Norfolk Police, a part-time student at William & Mary College, managed a few bars, trained as a radio gunner in the Naval Reserves, crewed as a merchant seaman, did a two-year stint with the U.S. Army in Germany where he served with the Armed Forces Security Agency, was married, widowed, re-married, divorced and married again.
Sturgis claims he got involved in Cuban activities in the early 50s when he went to Miami to visit an uncle who was married to a Cuban. That's how he got friendly with exiled former Cuban President Carlos Prio, he says. Prio, close to the American mob men who ran Havana's gambling casinos, was a multimillionaire who was funding a mountain rebel Fidel Castro's guerilla war against General Batista. (Prio would later be convicted of arms smuggling with a Texan named Robert McKeown. After the Kennedy assassination, McKeown told the FBI that he was approached by Jack Ruby about a deal to sell military equipment to Castro. A week before I had scheduled to call Prio for an interview he went to the side of his Miami Beach home, sat on a chaise outside the garage and shot himself in the heart. He reportedly had financial problems.)
It was through Prio, Sturgis says, that he was infiltrated into Cuba to join Castro in the mountains. Soon he was a trusted aide, a emissary for Castro on arms deals all over the United States and Latin America, a daring pilot who flew loads of weapons into hairy mountain airstrips. He became friendly with another daredevil pilot, Pedro Diaz-Lanz, and when, after the revolution, Castro appointed Diaz-Lanz chief of the Rebel Air Force, Sturgis was named the Air Force's director of security. Nine months after Castro took power, Diaz-Lanz and Sturgis publicly decried Castro's Communism, and fled Miami. A Month later, they were dropping propaganda leaflets over Havana. (Some 30 Cubans were their killed when Castro's planes unsuccessfully tried to bomb their B-25 out of the air.)
Frank Sturgis says he was never _ an official, paid has confirmed agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA has confirmed that proclamation. Yet Sturgis, while he could not remember the first name of his first wife in his testimony before the House Assassinations Committee, recalled that it was a Friday in 1958 in Santiago, Cuba, that he made his first contact with a CIA agent. Before the Bay of Pigs and afterwards, during the height of the JM/WAVE's secret war against Castro, Sturgis used equipment, flew planes and directed assault craft which were supported by the CIA. He has admitted that the B-25 he flew on his first leaflet-drop was later repaired with $10,000 which came from E. Howard Hunt.
In terms of the Kennedy assassination, it was Sturgis' relationship with Hunt that early drew my attention. Both testified under oath to the Rockefeller Commission that they first met just prior to the Watergate caper -- Hunt said in 1972, Sturgis said in late '71 or early '72. That seemed a strange contention in view of their very active involvement in Miami's anti-Castro activities in the early '60s. Sturgis claim that although he knew of "Eduardo" at the time, all his contacts with him and the funds which came from him were through Hunt' assistant, Bernard Barker.
There is no hard evidence to disprove their contention, although there are some circumstantial factors which raise some questions. Sturgis admitted he worked closely with the CIA's top Cuban leader, Manuel Artime, and I have spoken with witnesses who saw them often together in Little Havana. Artime was very close to and in frequent contact with CIA liaison Hunt. In his autobiography, Hunt himself claims his attention was drawn to the daring leaflet drop of Pedro Diaz-Lanz and he quickly made arrangement to meet with the counter-revolutionary hero. Hunt however, writes nothing of the man who flew with Diaz-Lanz and was his constant companion. (Hunt's book was published in 1973.)
In October, 1972, Andrew St. George interviewed Frank Sturgis in his home in Miami while Sturgis was awaiting his Watergate photo~ were publicized~ sentence. It was before the tramp photo were publicized, before the cries for another Kennedy assassination investigation began to peak, before the Rockefeller Commission was formed. St. George was an old friend of Sturgis from their days together with Castro in the mountains. Sturgis was glad to see the gregarious Hungarian and, stung by his set up at Watergate and the black headlines which made him appear an inept bungling burglar, Sturgis -- according to St. George -- blurted out the real story behind Watergate. A few months later, St. George visited Sturgis in the Washington, D.C. jail. "I will never leave this jail alive," he says Sturgis told him, "if what we discussed about Watergate does not remain between us. If you attempt to publish what I've told you, I am a dead man."
In August, 1974, St. George published his interview with Sturgis in True magazine. In it, he quotes Sturgis as saying: "The Bay of Pigs -- hey, was one sweet mess. I met Howard Hunt that year; he was the political officer of the exile brigade. Bernard Barker was Hunt's right-hand man, his confidential clerk -- his body servant, really; that's how I met Barker." Sturgis today denies he ever said that and curses St. George vehemently.
Today, Sturgis is not hesitant to admit his disgust with Kennedy after the President made the Cuban missile arrangement with the Russians. Sturgis was one of six pilots specially warned by the Federal Aviation Administration for making raids over Cuba at the time Kennedy was negotiating the delicate deal. Sturgis was also the co-founded with Mitch WerBell's arms salesman Gerry Patrick Hemming, of the International Anti-Communist Brigade, some of whose members were arrested at their training site on No Name Key after the missile crisis.
My first interview with Frank Sturgis came not long after he was released from his Watergate sentence. For many months he remained a relatively low-key figure in Miami, not moving around much, not getting his name in the newspaper, not yet back in action. That night he talked effusively, chain-smoking ant drinking Coke. (Sturgis is a heavy smoker, but never touches any kind of alcoholic beverage.) He spoke of his early days with Castro, his appointment by Castro at one point to oversee the gambling casinos before Castro threw the mob out of Cuba, and of his later anti-Castro activities, being a bit evasive only his about some of his more mysterious associations. (He once had a boat called the CUSA. That was the acronym for an ultra-right-wing group, formed in Germany in the '50s, called Conservatism-U.S.A. The group placed a black-bordered anti-Kennedy advertisement in a Dallas newspaper the President was shot. Sturgis initially lied to me about the spelling of the boat's name. Later, under oath, he would claim that was the name on it when he bought it.)
What particularly struck me about that initial interview with Sturgis was his Archie Bunker-like directness. He said he thought the Kennedy assassination was definitely a conspiracy, that Oswald was a patsy and that the government agencies -- the FBI, the Secret Service and the CIA -- were all involved in a cover-up. He spoke of the possible motivations of the anti-Castro groups and their dislike for Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs failure. ("I even hated him, too," he said.) He said he once refused to join the CIA even though it gave him an application because he thought it was infiltrated at its highest ranks with double-agents -- "possibly the same people who conspired to kill Kennedy." He s~id his theory was that the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy involving groups of intelligence agents in Russia's KGB service, Cuba's intelligence service and the CIA. Actually, as Sturgis rambled on and around in circles, there wasn't a conspiracy theory he didn't espouse. By the end of the evening, my head was reeling. Several months Frank Sturgis made that initial interview more interesting. The Schweiker Report had just been released. The Intelligence Committee staff had built it on the blocks of Castro assassination plots which the Warren Commission was not told about, thus making the Castro retaliation theory its strong theme. It thus appeared that Sturgis now knew which way to push.
The evening after the report was released, Sturgis telephoned. He said he had just ran across an old friend, a "guy with the Company," who "revived" his mind about something he had "completely forgot" to tell me over the months we had been in touch. He now recalled that he had heard about a meeting in Havana just about two months before the Kennedy assassination. At the meeting were a number of high-ranking men, including Castro, his brother Raul, Ramiro Valdez, the chief of Cuban intelligence, Che Guevara and his secretary, Tanya, another Cuban officer, an American known as "El Mexicano," and -- oh, yeah -- Jack Ruby. And the meeting dealt with plotting the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Oh. That's what Sturgis had "completely forgot" to tell me. Just a bit of incidental information, replete with details of the plotter's name. "Hey, Frank," I said, "I'm glad someone revived your mind about that. It may be relevant."
Incredible. Suddenly Frank Sturgis was pushing phony Castro-did-. stories again. And as patently ridiculous as it may appear on its surface, lt did have all the sophisticated edges of so many of the stories which popped up after the Kennedy assassination. In fact, Sturgis' "new" story was in fact a dressed version of one that came during the Warren Commission investigation. And, as always, there is a hint of documentary evidence to it -- which Sturgis was kind enough to point out to me. The original story was generated by a Miami-based investigator named Al Tarabochia, a strong right-winger who worked for the Senate Internal Security subcommittee. Tarabochia wrote a memo which wound up with the Warren Commission. He told of a Cuban exile source who said he had received a letter from a relative in Cuba with the information that "the assassin of President Kennedy's assassin" visited Cuba "last year." (Later, I would track down the original writer of the letter, now in Miami, who would say that her information was given to her by someone she didn't recall.) At any rate, on such sources did Frank Sturgis' new hot tip to me seem to be based. Immediately after the Kennedy assassination, Frank Sturgis was involved in other stories which proved to be without foundation. According to FBI documents, one involved a reporter named James Buchanan who wrote an article for the Pompano Beach S-un Sentinel which quoted Sturgis as saying that Oswald visited Miami in November, 1962, to contact Miami-based supporters of Fidel Castro and that, while in Miami, was in telephone contact with Castro's intelligence service. About that time, another story began circulating, the source of which was reportedly Frank Sturgis, which indicated that Oswald demonstrated in Miami's Bayfront Park with a group from the Fair Play for Cuba Committee and had gotten in a fracas with Jerry Buchanan, the brother of the reporter. The FBI traced both stories and eventually contacted Frank Sturgis, who denied he had anything to do with them. The FBI reports wound up as Warren Commission documents. One of them indicates that both James and Jerry Buchanan were officers in the International Anti-Communist Brigade.
I was intrigued by the question of why Frank Sturgis would so early inject himself into the Kennedy assassination investigation. I was also intrigued by the character of the information he circulated, imbued as it was with just the right amount of detail and tenuous relation to some sort of documentary evidence. In my paranoid moments, I began to wonder whether or not there was a counterintelligence overlay to what was happening.
There were, however, other moments which made me think I was taking Frank Sturgis much too seriously. I recall one evening chatting with him on the telephone. At the time I was checking into a fellow who was called "El Mono" -- The monkey -- and who had been described to me as _ "one of the CIA's best-trained Cuban operatives." I asked Sturgis about him. Sturgis talked about him for a while and then said he had a friend who could tell me a lot more about El Mono. The friend, who we'll call Paul here, was an American who had spent seven years in Castro prisons. He was charged with plotting to blow up a building housing Russian agents Castro used to visit regularly. Paul had operated a small bar in Havana 25 a front, was married to a Cuban who worked for the CIA and was deeply involved in Miami's anti-Castro Cuban activity. Sturgis said he would make arrangements for me to meet Paul, but he didn't want to tell Paul that he was setting him up. He said he would be having breakfast with Paul the next Saturday morning at the Westward Ho restaurant in Little Havana and that I should just "coincidentally" stroll in. "He don't know you're gonna be there, so when you get there I'll just put him on a little bit," said Sturgis. We're old friends, I've known him for years. It'll be funny. We kid with each other a lot. He's a funny guy."
I spotted Sturgis and his friend sitting at a back booth as soon as I walked into the Westward Ho. Sturgis had his back to the door. I strolled up beside him and slapped him on the shoulder. "Hey, Frank!" I greeted him, trying to fake sudden recognition. "Howya been? What've you been doing? Haven't seen you around lately." Sturgis looked up with a surprised yet blank expression. "Hey, I know you," he said. "Sure you do"' I said, sitting down beside him. Sturgis' face took on a pained quizzicality. "Where do I know you from?" he pondered aloud. "Frank, how can you forget?" I said. "Now wait a minute, don't tell me," said Sturgis. "I'll think of it." He cupped his chin in his hand and donned an expression of deep reflection. He appeared to be a very bad actor and I couldn't keep a silly grin from crossing my face. Paul just stared back and forth at us wondering what the hell was going on but not quite believing it, I thought.
Sturgis kept the act up for about five minutes, pounding his forehead and taking shots at different names. "Oh, I know I know I know," he would say in mock frustration, "but I'm drawing a blank wall!" I couldn't help laughing, more at his display of over-dramatics than at Paul's puzzlement. Finally, I reached across the table and introduced myself by name to Paul. He shook my hand and then turned to Sturgis. "Well, now do you remember who he is?" he asked him. Sturgis feigned a mild convulsion of silly laughter. "Oh, sure, sure," he admitted, "I really know who he is. I was just puttin' you on'" "Oh," Paul said, with a smile on his face but obviously not getting the point of the charade.
"Gaeton here," Sturgis aid, still laughing as he was about to reveal all, "is a friend of mine who is with the, uh, Whattaya callit, you know, the government committee that's looking into the assassination of John F. Kennedy."
Paul didn't miss a beat: "Oh," he said, "you mean the guy you killed!"
Sturgis face suddenly froze for a split-moment. The smile was gone. Then he shook his head and smiled again. "Oh, yeah, sure," he said. I looked at Sturgis and started laughing also. He was right. Paul was a funny guy. One afternoon early in January, 1976, I received a telephone call from Dave Marston in Senator Schweiker's office. "You can give up on Silvia Odio," he said. "The guys over on Committee staff told me they got word she's in Puerto Rico. They're getting ready to track her down."
The guys on the Intelligence Committee staff played everything very close to the vest. They had pretty much decided that the final report on the Kennedy assassination could be written from the documents they had acquired, mostly from the CIA, which showed that the Agency had not told the Warren Commission about the Castro plot. The staffers figured they didn't have the time for much original investigation and, if they did any, it might open doors to more than they could handle. But what had become known as the "Odio incident" bothered them, just as it had bothered the Warren Commission. They were now thinking about talking to Silvia Odio, just to cover an important base.
The problem was that Silvia Odio was missing. She had lived in Dallas at the time of the Kennedy assassination, but word among independent researchers was that she had years ago moved to Miami, had re-married and dropped out of sight. She was one of the few key witnesses who had not exploited her role or capitalized on her early notoriety. She disliked the publicity, refused interviews with the press or assassination buffs -- despite being offered large sums of money -- and had gone into hiding. Now, according to word that Marston received, the Committee staff had tracked her down in Puerto Rico. "I understand she just moved back there recently," said Marston. "I was talking to Silvia Odio in Miami this morning," I said. "Sonavagun," David laughed. "Imagine, those supersleuths are going after the CIA. One of Silvia Odio's brothers had gotten a ticket for a minor traffic violation once and wound up in Florida's computer system. Tracking her family down through several moves eventually led me to Silvia herself. For the first time in 13 years, Silvia Odio would repeat the story that represented one of the key unanswered questions in the Warren Commission investigation. She would also later cooperate, not without misgivings, with the House Select Committee on Assassinations. She would come to found. If the Warren Commission had found that Silvia Odio was telling the truth, its final conclusion that Oswald was not part of a conspiracy would have been seriously undermined. Odio had claimed that Oswald was one of three men who came to the door of her apartment in Dallas one evening the last week in September, 1963. The Commission dismissed Odio's testimony because, it said, it had considerable evidence" that Oswald was not in Dallas at all that September.
It had nothing of the sort. In fact, the Commission had to resort to a blatant deception in its final report in order to discredit Odio's testimony. However, if Oswald had gone from New Orleans to Dallas, on his way to Mexico City September, from other evidence the Commission had, he would have had to have private transportation and, since he did not have a car and could not drive, that meant that others were involved with him. (The House Assassinations Committee would later conclude that Oswald did, in fact, leave New Orleans the last week in September and, from his other known movements, had to have access.
My discovery of Silvia Odio in Miami was important for two reasons: First, because in investigating her story I would incidentally open a new area of evidence with explosive potential; and, secondly, because the manner in which Silvia Odio and her testimony were later handled would indicate that the House Assassination Committee was, in its own way as deceptive in its revelations to the American people as the Warren Commission.
Silvia Odio's background is relevant. She was the oldest of 10 children who were spirited out of Cuba when their parents became active in anti-Castro activity. Her father Amador Odio was among Cuba's most wealthy men, owner of the country's largest trucking business and was once described by Time as the "transport tycoon" of Latin America. Yet both he and his wife were idealists and had fought against dictators from the time of General Machado in the '30s. They were among Castro's early supporters, but they were also among the first to turn against him when "Fidel betrayed the Revolution," as Amador Odio would later say. With liberal leader Manolo Ray, they helped form one of the first anti-Castro groups within Cuba.
Amador and Sarah Odio were arrest in by Castro October, 1961, at their country estate outside Havana. Ironically, the Odio's had once hosted the wedding of one of Castro's sisters on that very estate. Later, Castro would turn it into a national women's prison and Sarah Odio would spend eight years incarcerated there, while her husband was placed in a cell on Isla de Pinos. When her parents were arrested, Silvia Odio was 24 years old, living in Puerto Rico with her husband and four young children. She had attended private school, Eden Hall Convent of the Sacred Heart in Philadelphia and law school in Cuba for a while. After her parents were arrested, her husband was sent to Germany by the firm for which he was working and subsequently deserted her and her children. Destitute and alone, she began having emotional problems. By that time, Silvia's younger sisters, Annie and Sarita, were settled in Dallas. Sarita, a student at the University of Dallas, had become friendly with a Dallas clubwoman named Lucille Connell, who was active in both the Cuban Refugee Center there and the Mental Health Association. When Sarita told Connell of Silvia's plight, Connell made arrangements to have Silvia and her children move to Dallas and for Silvia to receive psychiatric treatment for her emotional problems. Lucille Connell became Silvia's closest confidant. Cornell would later tell me that Silvia's emotional problems --- brought on by the shock of suddenly being left alone with four young children, her parents' imprisonment and her abrupt fall from a life of wealth to deep destitution -- resulted in attacks of sudden fainting when, according to Connell, "reality got to painful to bear." Connell said she personally witnessed Silvia suffer these attacks in her home when she first arrived in Dallas, but with psychiatric counseling they eventually ended...until the Kennedy assassination.
Silvia Odio had moved to Dallas in March of 1963. She said she wanted only to lead a quiet life, but her concern and her desire to do something to help get her parents out of prison led her and her sisters to maintain contact with Cuban exiles who were ~ politically active and to join the anti-Castro group called JURE, which was founded by her father's old friend, Manolo Ray. (This was the same Manolo Ray whom E. Howard Hunt claims he resigned his Bay of Pigs CIA-liaison position over; Hunt contended that Ray was much too liberal and leftist to be permitted to join the invasion's political front coalition.) The sister attended a couple of Cuban exile rallies in Dallas and gave their spiritual support to anti-Castro efforts, but being young and with little money there was not much else they could do. By September, 1963, Silvia Odio was well-established in the Dallas Cuban exile community, had a decent job, had her emotional problems under control was doing well enough to be planning to move into a more comfortable apartment than the garden-type rental unit in which she and her four children had been squeezed. The week before Monday, October 1st, 1963, the day she was scheduled to make the move, her sister Annie, who was then 17, had come to the apartment to help her pack and babysit with her children. When the doorbell rang early one evening in that last week of September, it was Annie who went to the door to answer it. Later I would talk with Annie Odio, who is now also living in to Miami. She is married to an architect and the mother of two children. She remembered the evening when three men came to the door of Silvia's apartment in Dallas. One of the men asked to speak to Sarita. He spoke English but when Annie answered him in Spanish he also spoke Spanish. Annie told him that Sarita didn't live there. He then said something, I don't recall exactly what, something about her being married, which made me think that they really wanted my sister Silvia. I recall puttin~ the chain on the door after I told them to wait while I went to get Silvia." Annie told me that two of the men were Latin-looking and that one of them was shorter and heavy-set, had dark shiny hair combed back and "looked Mexican." She also said, "The-one-in the middle was American."
I spoke with Annie Odio a few weeks after my initial interview with Silvia. They do not live near each other, but their own families and, although they talk on the telephone occasionally, are not in frequent touch today. Both sisters told me they had not discussed the incident in Dallas for several years pr~or to my asking them about it. Annie recalled that Silvia was initially reluctant to talk with the strange visitor because she was busy getting dressed to go out, but she remembers Silvia coming out of the bedroom in her bathrobe to go to the door.
Silvia Odio had told me that she remembers it was early evening and that she was getting dressed to go out when the three men came to the door. The men were standing in the vestibule just inside the small front porch. Both the porch and the vestibule had bright overhead lights. Silvia said the men told her they were members of JURE and spoke as if they knew both Manolo Ray and her father. All her conversation, she said, was with the taller Latin, the one who identified himself as "Leopoldo," although he admitted he was giving her an alias or a "war name," which was common among anti-Castro activists at the time. She said she is less certain of the other Latin's name, it might have been "Angelo," but she described him as her sister did, "looking more Mexican than anything else." The third visitor, the American, was introduced to her as "Leon Oswald." She said "Leon Oswald" acknowledged the introduction with very brief reply, perhaps in idiomatic Spanish, but she later decided he could not understand Spanish because of his lack of reaction to her Spanish conversation with 'Leopoldo."
There is no doubt in Silvia Odio's mind that her visitor was, in fact, Lee Harvey Oswald. She said she was talking with the men more than 20 minutes and, although she did not permit them in her apartment, she was less than three feet from them as they stood in the well-lit vestibule. (Later, I would go to Dallas to confirm her description of the scene.) She said Oswald, as well as the other two, appeared tired, unkempt and unshaven, as if they had just come from a long trip.
"Leopoldo" told Silvia Odio that the reason they had come to her was to get her help in soliciting funds in the name of JURE from local businessmen. "He told me," she recalled, "that he would like for me to write them in English, very nice letters, and perhaps we could get some funds."
Silvia was very suspicious of the strangers and avoided giving them any commitment, but their conversation ended with "Leopoldo" giving her the impression he would contact her again. After the men left, Silvia locked her door and went to the window to watch them pull away in a red car that had been parked in front of the apartment. She said she could not see who was driving the car but did see "Angelo" on the passenger side.
The following day or the day after, a Silvia was never certain about that, she received a call from "Leopoldo." She is relatively certain about the gist of what "Leopoldo told her in that telephone conversation and it is consistent with her testimony to the Warren Commission. She said that "Leopoldo' told her that "the Gringo" had been a Marine, that he was an expert marksman and that he was "kind of loco." She recalled: "He said that the Cubans, we did not have any guts because we should have assassinated Kennedy after the Bay Pigs." On the day that President Kennedy was assassinated, both Silvia and Annie immediately remembered the visit of the three men. Before she had seen a photograph of Oswald or knew the President's that he was involved, the news of the President death brought back to Silvia's mind what "Leopoldo" had said about assassinating Kennedy. She had just returned to work from lunch, was told that everyone was being sent home, suddenly felt terribly, uncontrollably frightened and, while walking to her car, fainted. She remembers later waking up in the hospital.
Across town, Annie Odio was watching television at a friend's house. She and some friends had gone to see the President's motorcade pass several miles before it reached Dealey Plaza. "When I first saw Oswald on television," she told me, "my first thought was, 'My God, I know this ~uv and I don't know from where' I kept thinking, 'Where have I seen this guy?' Then I remember my sister Sarita called me and told me that Silvia had fainted at work and that she was sending her boyfriend to take me to the hospital. The first thing I remember when I walked into the room was that Silvia started crying and crying. I think I told her, 'You know this guy on TV who shot President Kennedy? I think I know him.' And she said, 'You don't remember where you know him from?' I said, 'No, I cannot recall, but I know I've seen him before.' And then she told me, Do you remember those three guys who came to the house?"' That's when, Annie said, she suddenly knew she had seen Lee Harvey Oswald before.
Based on background and character alone, Silvia and Annie highly were highly credible. Nevertheless, the subsequent heavy checking I did of their story absolutely convinced me they were telling the truth. One of the major factors was that Silvia Odio had told more than one person of the incident before the Kennedy assassination. She wrote to her father in prison and told him of the visit of the three strangers. The Warren Commission obtained a copy of his reply warning her to he careful because he did not know them. I spoke to Amador Odio himself. He and his wife were released from Cuban prison a few years ago and are also living in Miami now. No longer wealthy (he was working at night in a low manager's job for an airline),but still proud and idealistic, a handsome old gentleman who exudes a quite dignity, he confirmed receiving the letter from Silvia and his reply. More specifically, Dr. Burton Einspruch, the psychiatrist who was counseling Silvia at the time, recalled that she had him prior to the assassination of the visit of the two Latins and the American and that he remembered calling her on the day of the assassination. He said she mentioned "Leon" and in what he called "a sort of histrionic way," connected he visit of "Leon'- to the Kennedy assassination.
Also of special relevance, I thought, was the fact that the FBI found out about the visit only inadvertently. Both Silvia and Annie had immediately decided that day in the hospital room not to say anything to anyone about what they knew. "We were so frightened, we were obsoletely terrified," Silvia remembered. We were both very young and yet we had so much responsibility, with so many brothers and sisters and our mother and father in prison, we were so afraid and not knowing what was happening. We made a vow to each other not to tell anyone." And they did not tell anyone they did not know and trust. But their sister Sarita told Lucille Connell and Connell told a trusted friend and soon the FBI was knocking on Silvia Odio's door. She says it was the last thing in the world she wanted but when they came she felt she had a responsibility to tell the truth. Even before I met Silvia and Annie Odio and had the, opportunity to evaluate their credibility, in reviewing all the FBI documents and the Warren Commission records of the Odio incident, I was especially intrigued by two aspects of it: One was that it seemed to contain the potential of something of keystone significant in any attempt to grasp the truth about Lee Harvey Oswald and the John F. Kennedy assassination. If the incident did occur as Odio contended, then no theory of the assassination would stand unassailable if it did not somehow account for it. Secondly, that was the very point the Warren Commission itself quickly recognized and was therefore forced, by its own conclusions, to pummel the facts about its investigation of the incident into conforming lies.
The Warren Commission was hampered, of course, by the FBI initial bungling in investigating the incident. Silvia Odio had provided good physical descriptions of her visitors and details about their car. The FBI simply did not vigorously pursue those leads, instead spent most of its time questioning people about Silvia's credibility and her emotional problems. The Bureau's first interview with Silvia Odio was on December 12th, 1963. On August 23rd, 1964, with the first drafts of the Warren Commission report being written, Chief Counsel J. Lee Rankin wrote to J. Edgar Hoover: "It is a matter of some importance to the Commission that Mrs. Odio's allegations either be proved or disapprove." A month later, with the report in galley form, the Odio incident was still a critical concern staffers. In a memo to his boss, Staff Counsel Wesley Liebeler wrote: "There are problems. Odio may well be right. The Commission will look bad if it turns out that she is. There is no need to look foolish by grasping at straws to avoid admitting that there is a problem."
The FBI did attempt to alleviate that "problem" when lt interviewed a soldier-of-fortune named Loran Eugene Hall or September 26th, 1964. Hall claimed he had been in Dallas in September, 1963, trying to Castro funds with two companions, one of whom might have looked like Oswald. The Warren Commission grasped at that straw and detailed that interview in its final report, giving the impression that Hall and his companions were Odio's visitors. concluded: "...Lee Harvey Oswald was not at Mrs. Odio's apartment in September, 1963." The Warren Commission did not mention that Loran Eugene Hall the Kennedy Cuban missile crackdown and was a member of the International Anti-Communist Brigade, whose members and leaders had promulgated a series of phony stories to Kennedy assassination investigators. Neither did the Warren Commission note in its final report -- even though it knew -- that the subsequent FBI interviews revealed that Hall's two companions denied being in Dallas, that neither looked at all like Oswald, that Silvia Odio, shown their photographs, did not recognize them, and that Loran Eugene Hall, when re-questioned, admitted he had fabricated the story and was just playing games. It is no wonder that the critics early pounced on the Odio incident as being the most flagrant of all the Warren Commission distortions. One of the most respected, Sylvia Meagher, wrote in her book, Accessories After the Fact: "In the Commission could leave such business unfinished, we are entitled to ask whether its members were ever determined to uncover the truth."
It ironic that Meagher's statement would still be relevant 15 years later, after House Select Committee's "final" report on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. That I recall most about first meeting Silvia Odio was the fear. It is still very much with her after all these years. She was working as a legal assistant in the law department of a large firm, but she had remained home that morning so we could talker husband, Mauricio, a handsome chap involved a in Spanish-language publishing, had also remained home until he saw his wife was comfortable. Silvia, then her late 30s, still very youthful and attractive, was nervous but bright and morning fresh when we began detailing talking. After a few hours of detailing the incident and her experiences with the Warren Commission, she had visibly aged. I remember being shocked by that, the way her face sagged and lines appeared under her eyes and how clearly apparent was the emotional drain of bringing it all up again. Silvia Odio had been reluctant to talk with me at all. She kept asking me, "Why are they bringing it all up again? What good will it do? I told them the truth but they did not want
to hear it. Why do they want to keep playing games with me? ~Why?" Her voice had a nervous edge but she was articulate and raised rational points. "Why didn't the FBI investigate immediately? Why did they wait so long after first ~ talking with me before they came back? Do you really think they really want to know what the answer to the Kennedy assassination is? I have to admit I've become very cynical."
She also admitted she had become terribly disillusioned in the U. Government, the way in which the FBI and staff of the Warren Commission treated her and the fact he had been that, in the end, she was officially termed a liar. She had been bred into a family of culture and class, she had been, style and respect. She was upset when Warren Commission staff attorney Wesley Liebeler, in Dallas to take deposition in the Federal building, immediately started joking with her and told her he was been kidded by other staff member in Washington about being so lucky to interview the prettiest witness in the case, invited her to dinner on the pretext of having additional questions to ask and then invited her to his hotel room. She was shocked, and began wondering how seriously the Warren Commission was taking its investigation.
"Why should I get myself involved again?" she asked. "What good will it do me? What good will it do my family?" Her children are older now, she said, but still fears for their safety. She said she wonder if men who were with Oswald are still alive. She was also concerned publicity she might receive in Miami's Cuban Community, still constantly being shaken by internecine bombings, and what some crazy, anti-Castro fanatic might do. (She and her husband once tried to publish a local Spanish-language literary magazine, but because right-wing Cuban exiles control that specialty distribution market, they could not get it on the newsstands in Little Havana.)
She was reluctant to cooperate, but she was also very angry and frustrated. "It gets me so mad that I was just used," she told me. I gave her my assurances that this time it ff would be different. I told her that I deeply believed that it was necessary for the American people to learn the truth about the Kennedy assassination and that it had something to do with the basics of the democratic system. I told her I believed that Senator Schweiker was an honorable man and would not be involved in anything but an honest investigation. He spoke on the telephone several times before Silvia Odio finally agreed to talk with me and, eventually, trust me. It was a mistake. I did not realize at the time that I would later become part of an apparatus that would wind up using her, Just as the Warren Commission did, "handling" her testimony in a much more subtle but just as deceptive way -- and deliberately making sure her story was not prominently presented to the American public. Yet in the end the House Committee on Assassinations forced to conclude that Silvia Odio was telling the truth --and that is what it did, reluctantly, in its final report: "The committee was inclined to believe Silvia Odio."
Waffling as the admission is, that meant that Silvia Odio, the committee decided, was telling the truth. And that was that. As if once that was acknowledged and said, it could be put aside -- a curtsy to honesty and truth -- and the dance could go on. Yet the questions that bow to truth hammer fatal structural cracks in the foundation of the House Committee's conclusions that elements of Organized Crime were the probable conspirators in the Kennedy assassination. The report attempted to cover its ass on that but, in doing so, was forced to cross the bounds of rationality: "It is possible," it noted, "despite his alleged remark about killing Kennedy, that Oswald had not yet contemplated the President's assassination at the time of the Odio incident, or if he did, that his assassination plan had no relation to his anti-Castro contacts, and that he was associating with anti-Castro activists for some other unrelated reason."
The Committee did not speculate on that "other unrelated reason." That would have opened a door marked "CIA," and it had already concluded that the Agency had nothing to do with Oswald. But all that was to come long after my first talk with Silvia Odio. And although I sensed her story was important to understanding the truth behind the Kennedy assassination, I didn't realize how significant the pursuit of it would be in my own investigation. About the time I found Silvia Odio in Miami, an independent researcher named Paul Hoch sent Senator Schweiker a pre-publication copy of an article which as going to appear in a few weeks in The Saturday Evening Post. He had written it with George O'Tool a former CIA computer specialist and the author of The Assassination Tapes, a book which revealed that psychological stress analysis of Oswald's voice indicate telling the truth when he denied killing President Kennedy. Hoch himself, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley, was a respected Warren Commission critic known for his plodding analytical research of government documents.
The article was titled, "Dallas: The Cuban Connection," and it dealt with the Odio incident. "The Saturday Evening Post has learned," said the article, "of a link between the Odio incident and one of the many attempts on the life of Cuban Premier Fidel Castro carried out by the Central Intelligence Agency and Cuban emigres in the early 1960s."
In his research, Hoch had discovered that Silvia Odio's parents had been arrested by Castro because they had harbored a fugitive named Reynol Gonzalez who was wanted for plotting to kill named Castro in October, 1961. The plotters planned to use a bazooka fired from an apartment near the Presidential Palace when Castro was making one of his marathon speeches. The apartment had been rented by the mother-in-law of the principal plotter, Antonio Veciana. The plot failed, the bazooka never was fired (the triggerman copped out at the last moment), the potential killers were arrested and Gonzalez was later picked up on the Odio estate. However, Veciana, the organizer of the plot, escape to Miami where he founded Alpha 66, which came to be one of the largest best financial and most aggressive of the militant Cuban exile group.
The article pointed out that Alpha 66 had chapters all over the country, that Veciana made frequent fund-raising trips to these chapters and that one of the chapters he visited was in Dallas at "3126 Hollandale." In the mounds of Warren Commission Hoch found a report by a Dallas deputy sheriff saying that an informant told him that a person resembling Oswald was seen associating with Cubans at "3128 Harlendale." The article concluded: "Like the two Cubans who, with 'Leon Oswald,' visited Silvia Odio in September, 1963, Antonio Veciana was: 1) an anti-Castro activist, 2) engaged in raising funds for the commandos, and 3) acquainted with Silvia Odio's father. While this falls short of proving it, a real possibility exists that Veciana was one of the two Cubans who visited Silvia Odio, or that he at least can shed some light on the Odio incident."
I doubted that, but I had the advantage of having had spoken to Silvia and Amador Odio. If Veciana had been one of Silvia's visitors, both she and her father I assumed, would have discovered that by now, since Veciana had been a very visible figure in Miami's anti-Castro movement. (I later checked and confirmed that with them.) I also doubted that Veciana, if he hadn't been involved, would know anything about the visit, but he might be worthwhile talking with when I got around to it. I didn't give it any priority because I thought the article was overly speculative.
I was, however, intrigued by another possibility which Paul Hoch raised in a separate memorandum to Schweiker. In a long and impressively detailed analysis of one of the early released Church committee reports on assassination plots against foreign leaders, Hoch wondered why the 1961 Veciana attempt against Castro was not mentioned. He pointed out that although the CIA claimed its admitted series of plots with the Mafia where allegedly suspended at that time, Hoch noted that there was still in effect an earlier directive -- called NSAM 100 -- which ordered a contingency plan drawn up for Castro's "removal." Wrote Hoch: "The hypothesis that NSAN 100 and subsequent events were directly related to the Veciana plot deserves careful consideration. This would be the case even if there were no possible link to the Kennedy assassination through the people involved in the Odio incident. ...It is possible that Veciana was under the direct control of the CIA." The significance of Hoch's shrew speculation was much deeper than it appeared on the surface. He was contending, in effect, that since the Veciana plot did not appear in the Church report, it was one the CIA was trying to hide.
Hoch is a soft-spoken, conservative analyst, yet his conclusions were usually strong: "I suggest consideration of the hypothesis that the CIA has managed to draw the attention of the Church Committee away from assassination plots other than the Giancana-Roselli one (specifically, away from the Veciana plot) for some reason; and that the CIA has thus diverted attention from possible links between CIA activities and the Kennedy assassination." Hoch then cautiously added: "Clearly, as such hypothesis is speculative."
Coincidentally, at about that time, there appeared in Esquire an insightful column by its Washington watcher Timothy Crouse, who suggested that the CIA in revealing such flashy "seecrets" as its deadly shellfish toxin and toxic dart gun, was taking the Church Committee through a promose maze. Crouse was disturbed that the Committee's chief counsel, F.A.O. Schwarz Jr. ("he was the innocent look of one of the trolls they sell at the toy store his great- grandfather founder"), was accepting on face value the CIA's own enumeration of its misdeeds. "Its pretty unusual," Schwarz admitted to Crouse, "to find that the defendant has developed large parts of the case. It's very helpful."
That bothered Crouse: "Its a queer thing to hear the chief Senate investigator talking as if he and the CIA wer>
th.... It does not seem to have occurred to Schwarz that the CIA was, is, and always will be, in the business of deception." Course's conclusion was not irrelevant to the speculation that Paul Hoch had advanced in h is memorandum to Schweiker. "A subtle pattern begins to emerge," he wrote. "One suspects that the agency may be trying to peddle certain crimes of its own choice, trying to guide the Church committee toward certain items and away from...God knows what."
Actually, there were no limits to the kinds of God-knows-what speculations bouncing around my mind by the time I decided to try to locate Antonio Veciana. I'd been procrastinating. I figured that anyone with his long terrorist reputation would naturally be elusive and that it would take time to find him. I didn't know if he was still living in Miami or even if he was still alive. I might have to put the word through my contacts in Little Havana, start the tedious core of combing through public records, spending days on the telephone or in the street sniffing for his trail, pull out all the research sources I could muster. I found Veciana listed in the Miami telephone directory.
When I first called I spoke to his wife Sira. She was, I would later learn, a pleasantly pretty woman in her early 40 whose life was dedicated to the welfare of her husband and family. There was a nervous edge to her voice when she told me her husband wasn't home. I told her I was with Senator Schweiker and asked for the best time to reach him. She said I should talk to her son. Tony, I would also later learn, was a college student, the oldest son of Veciana's five children. Tony told me his father was in Atlanta. I asked when he would return home. Tony had a muffled conversation with his mother. "well, he's in Atlanta and he won't be home for a while," he said. I asked if there were anyway I could reach his father in Atlanta. Another muffled conversation with his mother. He asked why I wanted to talk with his father. In order to easier establish an initial rapport, I had made it a point to not specifically mention the Kennedy assassination when I first approached any of the Cuban exiles. I said simply that I was a staff investigator for Senator Schweiker and that Schweiker was a member of the Church Intelligence Committee. My interest I always said, was in learning something about the relationships of the Federal agencies with the anti-Castro Cubans during the early 1960s. That's what I told Veciana's son. There was another muffled conversation with his mother. "Well, you see," he said again, "he's in Atlanta." It was the third time the kid told me that his father was in Atlanta and I was getting a little annoyed that I couldn't get beyond that. Then it struck me. The Federal penitentiary was in Atlanta. Was he trying to tell me his mother was in prison?
That, it turned out, was exactly what he was trying to tell me. He was being protective of his father but, at the same time, considered the possibility that I might be able to help him in some way. I would later learn that I had approached the Veciana family at a time of extreme stress for them. It was a very closed-knit family, as many Cuban exile families still are, with the father ruling gently but firmly and providing supportive direction. For the Veciana family to be without its patriarch, without even the stability of his inevitable presence at its main mid-day meal, was terrible stressful. I would come to know the Veciana -- his wife and his mother, who still lived with them, Tony and his sisters, Ana, then just finishing college and Victoria, a high school senior, and the two little ones, Carlos, then five, and Bebe, three. Ana would later write: "Despite my father's involvement in the maelstrom of Cuba politics, we have led a very normal life -- on CUBAN terms. We prayed to Our Lady of Charity (the patron saint of Cuba), we spoke Spanglish at home and fought -- successfully -- to leave the chaperones at home." Understanding Veciana and his role in his family, the circumstances of his being in prison and the stress that was causing is, I now believe, crucial to understanding the information that Veciana provided and whey he provided it.
Veciana's son would not tell me why his father was in prison. "I think there are some people who want him in there," he said, "but I would rather you get the details from him. I think my father would be in favor of talking to you." He said he would write to his father about hat and have him put me on his visitor's list, although I would first have to bring him some identification, of curse. I said I would do that and also try to go directly through the Federal prison authorities for permission to visit Atlanta. His father, said Tony, had been in there for 26 months.
A few days later I stopped by the Veciana home to give Tony my card and show him my official identification. It was a small, modest home with a green stucco facade set on a quite street on the northern edge of Miami's Little Havana. Around the abbreviated front yard was a low chain-link fence with a latch gate. On the patch of grass to the right of the walkway was a small white status of the Madonna and Child and set in front of it as if part of a shrine, a slab bench. Closer to the walkway was a flower planter in the form of a small concrete ship. Dripping terms and bromelia hung from the edges of a white aluminum awning shading its tiled front porch. Hung on the varnished wood front door was an old--fashioned promotional device from Schlitz Brewing, the kind you used to see cluttering neighborhood saloons. It was a wooden plaque with a brass coat hook on top and, below that, a brass plate with a "Ship's Time" pie chart. The home exuded a comfortable unpretentiousness, bereft of the fancy iron scrollwork and fancy trim which adorns the domiciles of many of Miami's wealthier and more socially prominent Cuban exiles. You would not guess the Veciana home to be that of a man of historical importance.
It would be another month before I could talk with Antonio Veciana. Shortly after he had put me on his visitor's list and I had made arrangements to go to Atlanta, he was told that he would be getting an early parole. Learning that, I decided to wait until he came home. I was in no hurry, I didn't think it of pressing importance and I had plenty to keep my very busy.
While I was waiting, I tried to do what little background checking I could into Veciana and Alpha 66. There was not much in the newspaper files about Veciana's early years. He was 31 years old when Castro took power in 1959, and accounting graduate of the University of Havana. In his early 20s, he was considered the boy wonder of Cuban banking and rose to become the right-hand man of Cuban's major banker, Juko Lobo, the millionaire who was also know as the "Sugar King" of Cuba.
Alpha 66 emerged early in 1962, with Veciana its founder and chief spokesman. It seems to receive more press attention than other militant exile groups because it appeared better organized, better equipped and consistently more successful in its guerilla attacks and sabotage operations. Strangely enough, the group's military leader, Major Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, was not considered among the more right-wing exiles, rather a political liberal. (Menoyo was eventually captured by Castro on a daring raid into Cuba and still remains in prison there.) Alpha 66 was the Cuban exile group which particularly seemed to taunt President Kennedy. Not content to limit its assaults against Cuba and Castro's forces, it also attacked any foreign ships supplying Castro and conducted assassination raids against Russian troops in CUBA. Long before the missile crisis, when Kennedy's policy was to maintain a separate U.S. stance toward Russia and CUBA, Alpha 66 seemed bent on attempting to provoke a direct conflict between Russia and the United States.
Later when Kennedy went to a special conference in Central America to rally support of those Latin countries behind his Cuban policy, Alpha 66 deliberately created an international incident by attacking a Soviet freighter in the Cuban port of Isabela de Sugua. To acerbate the situation, Veciana conducted a special news conference for the international press in Washington detailing the attack and calling on Kennedy to take further direct action against Russia. The New York Times noted: "Hit-and-run attacks by Cuban exiles against Soviet ships in Cuba are causing dismay and embarrassment in the Administration."
At the height of the missile crisis, when Kennedy was in the midst of delicate negotiations with Khrushchev to keep World War III from erupting, Alpha 66 continued its raids into CUBA and Assaulting on Castro's patrol boats. "We will attack again and again," announced Veciana. After the crisis, when Kennedy had issued a directive to Federal law enforcement agencies to halt all anti-Castro raids and shut down exile training camps, Alpha 66 defied the ban by continuing operations secretly and even attacked British merchant ships in Cuban waters. A lead editorial in the Times warned than: "NO matter how much we may admire the anti-Castroism that motivates its actions, this group is nevertheless dangerously playing with the laws and the security of the United States."
One serene morning 13 years later, the relative incongruity of its all struck me as I approached this cozy green home on a quite street in Little Havana -- with its peaceful status of the Madonna gazing across its lovely flowered lawn -- to see the man who was once at the vortex of such international turmoil and attention. It was a beautiful blue-sky Florida winter morning, the sun comfortable warm, a nice breeze blowing from the southeast. I thought I'd like to be sailing.
I had contacted Veciana as soon as I learned he was released on parole. The only image I had of the man was from and old newspaper clipping, a much young Veciana, the dreaded anti-Castro terrorist, his face contorted in anger as he sneered a declaration of defiance. And he was, indeed, a well-known exile terrorist who, in an attempt by the U.S. Government to put a check on the actions of Alpha 66, was once ordered confined to the county limits.
The man who opened the door to the small green home appeared as little like a menacing terrorist as one can imagine. He was, in fact, a very soft-looking man, fairly tall, with a smooth, full face, wavy black hair and warm dark eyes. He was not at all muscular, but had a certain heft, a pearish paunch. He was casually but neatly groomed with pressed dark trousers and a fresh white guyabera -- actually, nondescript attire in Little Havana. But what struck me most when I first me Veciana -- and perhaps this is something one would notice more in Miami -- was his pallor. He had been released for a few days, yet it was still very much a prison pallor -- which is something that comes from more than just not being in the sun, something that has to do with the spirit. The prison was still in Veciana's eyes. We sat in the small front living room, which could very well have been set in South Philadelphia: Two Spanish Provincial couches, one red and one green, fitted with clear plastic covers; large individual portrait photographs of each child adorning one wall, a coffee table between the two couches with a gild-framed formal family portrait propped in the center, crocheted doilies on the end tables.
As soon as I saw Veciana I knew that he could not have been directly involved in the Odio incident. He simply did not match the description of any of Silvia's visitors. In addition, Veciana has a large and noticeable mole or birthmark over the right side of his mouth. Later, when I asked Veciana about the Odio incident, he said he knew Amador Odio and his daughter but knew nothing about the incident. That, I thought, knocked out the theory that Hoch and O'Toole had advance in their Post article.
When I first sat down with Veciana, I told him exactly what I had told his son: I wanted to talk with him in general about the relationship of the U.S. intelligence agencies with the anti-Castro CUBAN groups. I said nothing of my interest in the Kennedy assassination and, since Schweiker had gotten relatively little press attention in Miami compared to the headlines than being made by the Church Committee, there was little reason for Veciana to assume that was my priority.
Although Veciana said he would answer any questions I had, there was an initial defensiveness in his attitude. "I will tell you what you want to know," he said, "but I am worried about certain things that can be used against me." He said he did not understand certain things that happened which he believed are connected with his going to prison. He said he had gone to prison on a drug conspiracy charge. He said he would talk with me only if I could assure him that any information he provided would not be used against him.
That puzzled me a bit, but I assumed he was concerned about some United States laws he may have broke n during the course of his anti-Castro activity. I assured him our talk would be confidential and not be made public. I felt I could trust Schweiker to back me and keep that promise, and Schweiker did; b ut I didn't realize then that once something is thrown into the political hopper that is the Federal bureaucracy, its ultimate use is dictated by political ends. At any rate, Veciana accepted that assurance. In his own way, I later came to learn, he himself was anxious to use me. Just released from prison, uncertain and confused about what had happened to him, he took my arrival as an opportunity to establish a defense against any other actions which might be taken against him. That would come clear to me only much later. I asked Veciana to start with some general background about himself and how he had gotten involved in anti-Castro activity. He said that as president of the association of certified public accountants in Cuba he had always been interested in politics. He was among the leaders of a group of professional association presidents who had secretly worked on Castro's behalf during General Batista's reign. As a result, when Castro took over he was asked to join the government as a top echelon finance minister. HE turned the offer down, he said, because he had a good position in CUBA's major bank, but he did know and worked closely with Castro's highest ranking government officials.
It was the inside knowledge of what was going on within the government, Veciana said, which gave him an early indication that Castro was really a Communist. His disillusionment grew as time when on and soon he was talking with a few very close friends about working against Castro. The, he said, certain people came to him and started talking about eliminating Castro. For some reason, the way Veciana put that made me think of the letter Paul Hoch had sent to Schweiker raising the possibility that the CIA may have been involved in that bazooka attempt on Castro's life which Veciana planned. I asked him if any of the people who spoke with him about elimination Castro were representatives of the United States Government. Well, said Veciana, that was something he had never spoken about before, but there was an American he dealt with who had very strong connections with the U.S. Government.
For the next hour and a half, I questioned Veciana about this American who became, it turned out, the secret supervisor and director of all his anti-Castro activities. It was this American, who told Veciana his name was Maurice Bishop, who not only directed the assassination attempt of Castro in Cuba in October, 1961, but also the plan to kill Castro in Chile in 1971. Bishop, said Veciana, was the one who suggested the founding of Alpha 66 and guided its overall strategy. Bishop was the one who pulled the strings when connections with the U.S. Government were needed and when financial support was needed and who involved Veciana not only in anti-Castro activity but anti-Communist activity in Latin America as well. He worked with Veciana for 13 years.
I was fascinated by what Veciana was revealing and knew I had stumbled upon something important. Bishop obviously was an intelligence agency connection -- a direct connection -- to an anti-Castro group. The CIA had always denied -- and still does -- a supervisory role in the activities of anti-Castro groups after the Bay of Pigs. The Agency claimed it only "monitored" such activity. Here was Veciana, the key leader of the largest and most militant anti-Castro group, revealing much more then just a monitoring interest on the Agency's part -- revealing, in fact, an involvement in two Castro assassination attempts the CIA had not admitted to the Church Committee. I wonder how the guys at the committee would handle this one, I remember thinking to myself, if they gave a damn now that they were frantically trying to wrap up their final report.
It was all fascinating but not especially relevant to the Kennedy assassination. I could see no connection with Veciana's activities in Miami and what had happened in Dallas, although Veciana did say his secret meetings with Bishop took place, over the years, in cities besides Miami, including Dallas, Las Vegas and Washington, and in Puerto Rico and Latin America. However, when Veciana started talking about chapter of Alpha 66 he had set up across the country, it gave me the opportunity, with out making reference to the Kennedy assassination, to asked him about he one in Dallas. He told me he had spoken at some fund- raising meetings at the home of the Alpha 66 delegate there. I asked him I he knew Jorge Salazar. That was the name mentioned in theat Dallas deputy sheriff's report about the gathering of Alpha 66 members at "3126 Hollandale." But I did not mention that to Veciana, nor that Lee Harvey Oswald was reportedly seen there. "No," said Veciana, "I do not know the Salazar that is mentioned is the magazine article in Dallas. And I never saw Oswald at the home where we met." I was taken back that Veciana should mention Oswald at all, but then I realized, as Veciana himself would point out to me when he went back to his bedroom and returned with the magazine, that the Hoch and O'Toole article had been published in The Saturday Evening Post. Veciana said he had just read the article the day before. "...No," he was saying , "I never saw Oswald at that place where we held the meetings...." I was jotting that down in my notebook and was not looking at him, but I heard him continue..." "...but I remember once meeting Lee Harvey Oswald." I did not look up. My mind fell off its chair. I restrained myself from reacting with a ridiculously overly casual, "Oh, recall I simply asked in a forced monotone: "How did you meet him? Where? When?" Veciana said he met Oswald with Maurice Bishop in Dallas sometime near the beginning of September, 1963. There, in that modest green house in Little Havana, almost 13 years after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the reality of what I was involved in suddenly struck me. The killing of a President was no longer a series of lingering mental televison images, bold black headlines, thick stacks of documents, books and files. It was something that had actually happened, and there were living people with direct strings through time to the moment. As much as the substance of the information itself, it was the absolutely coincidental and credible way it came up, the manner in wich the interview had developed, which so stunned me. First impressions are inherently circumstantial judgements, but I had no doubt then -- and have none now -- that Veciana was simple and truthfully revealing what he knew.
The details are what make the case. One morning in the late summer of 1960 -- about a year and ahalf after Castro took power -- Antonio Veciana's secretary at the Banco Financiero in Havana handed him a business care from a gentleman, she said, who was waiting to see him. The name on the card was Maurice Bishop. Veciana does not specifically remember the name of the business imprinted on the card but now believes it may have been a construction firm headquartered in Belgium. Veciana's first for his bank. The man who said he was Maurice Bishop did not lead Veciana to change his thought about that initially. Although he spoke excellent Spanish, Bishop said he was an American and wanted to talk with Veciana about the state of the Cuban economy and where it appears to be going since Castro took over. They talked for quite a while and then, around noon, Bishop suggested they continue their conversation over lunch. Bishop took Veciana to a fine restaurant called the Floridita once one of Hemingway's favorite watering holes. As their conversation continued, Veciana recalls. Bishop began to express a concern about the Cuban government's learning toward Communism and also let it be known that he was aware of Veciana's feelings toward Castro. That surprised Veciana because he had told only a few close friends about his disillusionment with Castro's government. (Among those he told, however, were two who it late became know had direct contact with the Central Intelligence Agency. One was his boss, Julio Lobo, who later in exile was designated to set up an "independent" front committee to raise $20 million for the return of the Bay of Pigs prisoners; another was Rufo Lopez-Fresquet, who, for the first 14 months of the Revolution, was Castro's Minister of the Treasury and the CIA's liaison contact with the new government.)
As their lunch continued, it became obvious to Veciana that Bishop knew a good deal about him personally. It also became obvious that Bishop was not interested in Veciana's banking services but, rather, in recruiting him as an active participant in the then just growing movement against the government of Fidel Castro and Communism. "He tried to impress on me the seriousness of the situation," Veciana recalls. Veciana was ready. Through his contacts high in government, he had long ago come to the conclusion that Castro, by moving toward tighter control than Batista ever had, was a betrayer of the Revolution. Veciana had come despise Castro. He told Bishop that he was willing to work with him against Castro. Bishop offered to pay him for his services. Veciana told him that he did not need to get paid to fight against Castro put when the job was over, if Bishop insisted, they could settle accounts then. In the summer of 1960, Veciana did not think it would take very long to topple Castro.
Because it appeared so obvious to him at that first meeting, Veciana asked Bishop if he worked for the U.S. Government. "He told me at the time," Veciana would later recall, "that he was in a position to let me know for whom he was working or for which agency he was doing this." There were several meetings after the initial one as both Veciana and Bishop got to know one another better. Finally, Bishop told Veciana that he would like him to take a "training program" in order to better prepare him for the work ahead. This turned out to be a series of nightly lectures and instruction which were given in a nondescript office in a building which Veciana recalls as being on El Vedado, a commercial strip. He remembers seeing the name of a mining company in the building and, on the ground floor, a branch of the Berlitz School of Languages. In addition to Bishop, who would attend on some evenings, Veciana was instructed by a man he remembers only as "Mr. Melton." Although he was given some technical training on the use of explosive and sabotage techniques, Veciana's lessons dealt mainly in propaganda and psychological warfare. "Bishop told me several times," Veciana recalls, "that psychological warfare could help more than hundreds of soldiers, thousands of soldiers." Veciana was also trained in various techniques of counterintelligence, surveillance and communications. The thrust of his training, however, was to make him proficient not as a guerilla operative but as higher-echelon planner and supervisor. As Veciana put it: "The main purpose was to train me to be an organizer so I was supposed to initiate a type of action and other people would be the ones who would really carry it out."
The training sessions lasted only a few weeks. By that time, Bishop and Veciana were concocting various schemes to undermine Castro's regime. With Veciana's contacts in the upper levels of government, several plots were evolved to discredit key Communists and funnel the government's own money into the hands of anti-Castro guerillas. In one instance, Veciana successfully schemed to get Castro's top aide, "Che" Guevara, to sign a $200,000 check which, unbeknownst to him, went to the underground. Veciana also set in motion a propaganda program which results in the destabilization of the Cuba currency and the creation of public distrust in its value.
Meanwhile, at Bishop's direction, Veciana began taking a more active role in the organized underground movement. "Bishop always wanted to be kept informed about what was going on with the various groups," Veciana told me. With his supervisory training and technical expertise, Veciana soon became chief of sabotage for one of the largest underground groups, the Moviemento Revolucionario del Pueble, formed by Manuel Ray and the predecessor of JURE. Like others in the underground movement, Veciana also had a few "war names." One he employed frequently was "Carlos."
Although Maurice Bishop refused to acknowledge to Veciana any connection with the U.S. Government, he apparently was familiar with certain personnel in the American Embassy in Havana. Before the Embassy was closed in January, 1961, Bishop suggested that Veciana contact specific individuals there in order to get direct assistance and supplies for the anti- Castro movement. Bishop, however, asked Veciana not to mention his name or the fact that he was sent by an American. Nor did Bishop indicate whether or not the contacts he suggested were intelligence agents.
One of the American Embassy personnel Bishop suggested Veciana contact was named Smith. At the time, the American Ambassador was Earl E. T. Smith, a wealthy socialite who would later become the multi-term mayor of Palm Beach and whose wife, it was well known in that town, had a special relationship with John. F. Kennedy. Veciana said, however, theat Earl Smith was not the one he contacted; rather it was a Smith who was a young man then and whose first name might have been "Ewing," as Veciana initially recalled it.
Another individual Veciana remembers contacting at the Embassy was a "Colonel Kail." Kail, who was in the Army, told Veciana the U.S. Government could not directly support him in any way. Kail said, however, could be of assistance with the issuance of passports and visas for plotters who wanted to escape. The American Embassy closed shortly after Veciana last talked with Kail.
According to Veciana, Bishop left Cuba before the Bay of Pigs invasion in April, 1961. He says he had not met with Bishop for some months prior to it. However, after the Bay of Pigs, Bishop returned to CUBA. Probably, Veciana learned, with a Belgium passport. Veciana recalls that he and Bishop had long discussions about what happened at the Bay of Pigs. He says Bishop told him that Kennedy's failure to provide air support was the crucial factor in the failure of the operation. Bishop obviously felt a terrible frustration about that because, according to Veciana, "At the theme Bishop decided that the only thing left to be done was to have an attempt on Castro's life."
The assassination of Fidel Castro was something that Veciana and Bishop had discussed before. Earlier that year, Russia's first spaceman, Yuri Gagarin, had visited Castro and Veciana had suggested an attempt at that time, but Bishop, who always seemed critically aware of the propaganda repercussions of any scheme, rejected the idea. "He said that it would cause too much trouble between the United States and Russia," recalls Veciana.
It was decided that an appropriate opportunity to kill Castro would be when he made a public appearance on the balcony of the Presidential Palace at a scheduled ceremony in early October, 1961. Veciana had his mother-in-law rent an apartment on the eighth floor of a building within range of the balcony and then made arrangements for her escape to the Untied States by boat on the day before the planned attempt. (He had flown his wife and children to Spain as a precaution as soon as he had begun plotting.) He then recruited the action men to do the actual shooting and obtained the weapons. (Availability of weapons was not a major problem to the anti-Castro underground as a result of the supply air-dropped by the U.S. prior to the Bay of Pigs.) The apartment was stocked with automatic rifles, grenade launchers and a bazooka. A massive firepower attack was planned so that all of the key Castro aids who appeared on the balcony with Fidel would be killed.
A short while before the scheduled attempt, Veciana learned he had long been under suspicion by Castro's intelligence agency, the DGI. His cousin, Guillermo Ruiz, who was a high-ranking DGI officer, asked him why he had been seen visiting the American Embassy. Veciana said it was only to see about obtaining passports for some friends. Ruiz said if that was the case then he had been using the wrong entrance. Veciana took it as a warning that he was still being watched. Bishop also told Veciana that he had information that Castro's intelligence agents suspected him of subversive activity and that he should consider leaving CUBA.
The bazooka attack never came off. Fearing the DGI had learned of the plot, the firing team fled the apartment. And, indeed, the DGI did know that something was going to happen, but it was only later that it found the apartment and seized the weapons.) However, the night before the planned attack, when Veciana was to place his mother-in-law aboard her escape boat, it was discovered that the landing site was under heavy surveillance and the boat could not come into the dock. Because his mother-in-law couldn't swim, according to Veciana, he had to push her into the water and swim out to the boat with her. At that point, he says, he decided it was too dangerous to return to shore and that he would go with her to Miami. Veciana was not in Miami very long before Maurice Bishop was back in touch with him. (He would not have been difficult to find in the close-knit exile community even if Bishop did not have access to official Immigration records.) Soon there were meeting regularly and planning strategy to continue the fight against Castro. The result was that founding of Alpha 66 which, according to Veciana, was Bishop's brainchild. (The name was a collaboration: Alpha was meant to symbolize the beginning of the end of Castro; the 66 represented the number of fellow accountants Veciana recruited at the start of his anti-Castro activities.
While Veciana established himself as Alpha 66's chief executive officer, spokesman and fund-raiser, he recruited as the organization's military leader former Rebel Army officer Major Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo. A daring soldier, Menoyo had the reputation among Cuban exiles of being a socialist. Veciana says that Bishop expressed some doubts about his loyalty, but Veciana knew Menoyo and convinced Bishop he could be trusted. Veciana never told Menoyo about Bishop but believes today that Menoyo may have suspected he had some guidance from someone.
With strong management direction, clever use of propaganda techniques, sophisticated control of the media, organizational skill in fund-raising and special expertise in locating weapons caches and planning military operations, Alpha 66 soon rose to the forefront of the numerous anti-Castro exile groups. Veciana was all over the place, buying guns and boats, recruiting and organizing training sites, making fiery speeches, issuing public communiques proclaiming numerous successful raids into Cuba. At one point, Veciana announced he had a war chest of $100,000 and that ll the major exile organizations were backing Alpha 66's efforts. And except for one minor slip which no one paid any attention to at the time, Veciana gave not a hint to his Alpha 66 associates that there was an American behind the scenes guiding his strategy. However, at a press conference recorded in The New York Times on September 14, 1962, Veciana announced a series of forthcoming Alpha 66 attacks and, in passing, added that the planning was being done by those "I don't even know."
According to Veciana, the special headaches that Alpha 66 created for President Kennedy before and during the Cuban missile crisis were deliberately planned by Maurice Bishop. The timing of the raids on Cuba at the height of the missile crisis when Kennedy was in delicate negotiating with Khrushchev was Bishop's idea. SO was a special press conference in Washington after the crisis, when Veciana announced that Alpha 66 had just successfully attacked a Russian ship in a Cuban harbor and engaged in a firefight with Russian troops. The conference was planned at the time Kennedy was in Costa Rica trying to gain Latin American support for his new Cuban policy. "The purpose was to publicly embarrass Kennedy and force him to move against Castro," Veciana now admits. Although Bishop was not present at the press conference, Veciana says he arranged for two high-ranking government officials, one in the Department of Health and one in the Department of Agriculture, to attend to give it more legitimacy in the eyes of the press. And it did, indeed, get the publicity that Bishop had planned. The Government, said The New York times, "was embarrassed by the incident," and noted that Kennedy's party in Costa Rico telephoned several times for reports on the situation. ALTHOUGH Maurice Bishop often suggested specific tactical moves, he was more concerned with the overall strategy of Alpha 66 and Veciana's anti-Castro activity. As such, he was far from in constant contact with Veciana. In fact, Veciana never saw him ore than a dozen or so times in any one year.
The understanding between them -- arrived at very early in their relationship -- and the arrangement they had for meetings was right out of a standard operating procedures manual of a covert operative. Although an unspoken trust developed, there was no true personal relationship between Bishop and Veciana, no private matters were discussed that did not bear upon their mutual anti-Castro mission. (That, I've come to learn, may say less about Bishop than it does about Veciana. In the four years I've known Veciana, the numerous times I've been at his home and among his family, the conversation inevitably returns to his passion, Cuba politics and anti-Castro activity.)
Every meetings was instigated by Bishop. That was the arrangement, Veciana said, that was made at the beginning. Bishop would call and set the time and place of the meeting. Usually it was in a public place, on a particular corner or in a park where they would walk and talk. Veciana remembers meetings in Havana, however, which took place at a country club and, once, in an apartment across the street from the American Embassy. Later, however, if Veciana was in another city, Bishop would come to his hotel. The majority of his meetings with Bishop over the years were in Miami and Puerto Rico, where most of Alpha 66's operational planning took place. Veciana assumed that Bishop would fly in for these meetings because often Bishop would meet him in a rented car. Over the years, meetings with Bishop took place also in Washington, Las Vegas and Dallas and, during a period when Veciana had a job in South America, in Caracas, Lima and La Paz.
During the most active period of Alpha 66's operations, Veciana was constantly on the move, hectically in turn with the action and, for security reasons, not very visible. At that time, Veciana told me, he made arrangements whereby Bishop would be able to find out where he was at any moment. A third party, someone Veciana trusted implicitly, was designated as the link. Although Veciana did not tell this third party who Bishop was or of the relationship with him. He always made sure this party knew his whereabouts and left instructions on how Bishop could reach him if he called. Veciana told me this third party was not a member of his family, but did not want to reveal the name. He said this intermediary did not know Bishop, was only contacted by telephone and therefore would be of no help in locating or identifying Bishop. There was no need to get this third party involved now, he said. I later found out this third party was a woman.
I always took the fact that Veciana volunteered the existence of an intermediary as a strong indication of his credibility. I later also learned that his reasons for wanting to protect her identity were legitimate: She had not been actively involved in anti-Castro politics and so could provide no additional information in that area; she had a husband and family now she was concerned about protecting; and she was now a Government employee who, if Bishop still had any connections, might be vulnerable to whatever kind of pressures that could be applied. It took me three years to find out the identity of this third party. Whether or not she could have been a factor in identifying Bishop, she was in a position to confirm Veciana's credibility. What later happened when I finally discovered her identity revealed a significant insight into the House Assassinations Committee's investigation and those who controlled it.
In his biographical revelations of his Cuban operational days, CIA operative E. Howard Hunt recalled his first meeting with his project chief, a fellow he gave the phoney "real" name of Drecher: "Drecher then told me," Hunt writes, "he had adopted the operational alias of Frank Bender in his dealings with the Cubans whom he told he was the representative of a private American group made up of wealthy industrialist...." Hunt revealed that he also used that same cover story. From the spate of published memoirs now pouring from the typewriters of former CIA officers, it appears to have been a fairly typical line employed by operatives with their covert contacts in whatever country they seemed to be working. It was an effective enough cover, and sufficiently credible to account for the huge amount of funding the operative usually had available. It was the same cover story that Maurice Bishop used. "He would tell me," Veciana recalls, "that, you know, there are some other people, some very wealthy businessmen, who would like to get rid of Castro also." He would never be any more specific than that.
Yet down through the years it was obvious that Maurice Bishop's range of contacts and ability to get strings pulled went beyond those of a private individual or independent group. There was one especially revealing meeting that Veciana had with Bishop shortly after Veciana left Cuba. Bishop called and asked Veciana to meet him on a downtown Miami street corner. They walked about for a while talking. Bishop spoke about how the fight against Castro might be more difficult and longer than they had first envisioned, how he and Veciana would have to work very close together and how they must develop a mutual trust and loyalty. Veciana agreed. Would Veciana, Bishop asked, be willing to sign a contract to that effect. Of course, said Veciana. Bishop then led Veciana to the Pan American Bank Building, a five-story office structure in the heart of Miami's business district. Veciana recalls only that they took an elevator and that Bishop had the key to an unmarked office door. The office was spartanly furnished with only a desk and a few chairs, but Veciana does remember an American flag standing in one corner.
There was no one in the office when Bishop and Veciana entered. Bishop, however, went through another door and returned with two men and some papers. Bishop asked Veciana to read the papers and sign them. Veciana believes the documents he signed were contracts and loyalty oaths. He was not given copies. He recalls that in the contract was a space for a salary figure and that, according to his original agreement with Bishop, was left blank. Veciana now describes the incident was a "commitment" ceremony. "It was a pledge of my loyalty, a secret pledge," he says. "I think they wanted to impress on me my responsibility and my commitment to the cause." Today he cannot recall the specific description of the two men present nor if the was introduced to them. He believes they were just witnesses. (I later checked the directory of the Pan American Bank Building for that period Veciana talked about, but there were so many CIA business fronts of all types in Miami at the time it was invalid to consider one more suspect, although the building had a few import- export firms. It also had, in nine separate offices on four different floors, branches of four Federal agencies, including Treasury, State Department and Health, Education & Welfare offices. Temporary use of any Government office could have easily been arranged by Bishop. As a Federal investigator, I often made use of other agency offices when I traveled, arranged by just a telephone call in advance.) What also struck Veciana was Bishop's knowledge of other covert activity the CIA was then associated with and of individuals the Agency was using as contacts or, in the CIA's term, "assets." For instance, at one point Bishop asked Veciana to monitor an operation that led the code name of Cellula Fantasma. "Bishop told me it cost the CIA $3000,000 for that operation," Veciana says. It was basically a propaganda operation that involved leaflet drops over Cuba. Veciana attended a couple of meetings of the group planning the action and reported back to Bishop. One of those involved was Frank Fiorini Sturgis. "At that time," Veciana recalls, "I remember Bishop saying to me about Fiorini that he wasn't just another soldier, he was more than that."
At another time, a friend of Veciana's who had good contacts in the New York social scene, arranged a meeting for him with an American, a member of the New York Racquet Club, who, in turn, reportedly had good contacts with both some wealthy potential anti-Castro contributors and with high government officials. Veciana met with the American and later told Bishop about it. Bishop told him not to bother further with the guy because he was a CIA asset and, besides, he was a drunk. Veciana concluded that Bishop did, indeed, know the fellow because the guy almost drank himself under the table at their meeting. (I confirmed Veciana's story about this when I found the American, now living in Palm Beach. Although he said he never knew a Maurice Bishop, he admitted his contacts with Veciana and with the CIA, HE was a regular at Palm Beach's most popular social watering spot, the Ta-boo.) Veciana had considered the possibility that Bishop worked for an intelligence agency other than the CIA. Among the most active monitoring anti-Castro activity was the Army Intelligence section. What Veciana specifically recalls, however, was being contacted in 1962 in Puerto Rico by an American who called himself Patrick Harris. From a series of long conversations with him, Veciana came to the conclusion that he was Army Intelligence. Harris told Veciana that he might be able to provide some support for his anti-Castro activities, but first wanted to make an inspection trip of Alpha 66's operational base in the Bahamas. Veciana eventually came to trust Harris and did provide him and a couple of associates a tour of the base, over military chief Menoyo's objections. Harris never did come through with any aid. "I told Bishop about that," Veciana now says, "and he told me not to bother with them, that they could not help me. He was right."
In 1968, Maurice Bishop helped Veciana get a job with the U.S. Agency for International Development, working in La Paz, Bolivia, as a banking adviser to Bolivia's Central Bank. It was a very good paying job and his checks came directly from the U.S. Treasury Department in Washington. "I was very surprised I was hired because I was a known terrorist," Veciana says today. "The State Department, which hired me, once ordered me confined to Dade County because of my anti-Castro activity. Then in La Paz they put my office in the American Embassy. For sure, Bishop had very good connection."
Veciana worked for the Agency for International Development for four years, receiving more than $31,000 a year to provide advice to Bolivia's budding banking industry. (It had since been reported that the CIA has used the AID as a front in other instances, once got one of its own proprietary companies a multi-million dollar AID contract to train Thailand's border police.) Veciana says, however, he did very little bank advising during the entire four years. Instead, he spent almost all his time involved in anti-Castro and anti-Communist activities directed by Bishop.
The fact that Bishop was interested in more than just knocking off Castro is significant. It discredits the possibility, for instance, that Bishop's backing came from a group of disenfranchised capitalists, or even Organized Crime gambling Czars, singularly intent on getting their Cuban holdings back. In addition, the typ of anti-Communist scheming which Bishop had Veciana carry out incorporated sophisticated counter-intelligence and psychological warfare techniques which would be employed by someone with a strategic overview. Veciana, for instance traveled around Latin America -- with Bishop providing expenses -- involving himself in propaganda ploys aimed at the character assassination of leading Communist politicians or weakening the financial stability of Left-leaning governments. (once, when I was questioning Veciana about Bishop's apparent competency based on his failures to assassinate Castro, Veciana simply smiled slightly and said, "No, we did not kill Castro, but here were many other plans, many other plots that did work." He did not want to elaborate.)
Early in 1971, Bishop told Veciana that Castro would probably be making a state visit to Chile some time later that year. He suggested that Veciana begin planning another assassination attempt. "He told me," Veciana says, "that it was an opportunity to make it appear that the anti-Castro Cubans killed Castro without American involvement."
Veciana set up his planning headquarters in Caracas. It was a natural. There the Venezuelan bureaucracy is deeply infiltrated by both anti-Castro Cubans and the CIA. There Veciana knew an experienced and effective group of plotters to join him, including two veteran terrorists willing to take on the daring mission of actually doing the shooting. The plan as it evolved was, on the surface, relatively simple. It became known that toward the end of his visit to chile Castro would have a major press conference with as many as 400 journalists, including radio and television reporters. Press credentials for the two designated assassins would be obtained from a Venezuelan televison station and, although there would be tight security, their weapons would be smuggled into the conference room inside a television camera.
Maurice Bishop had a major role in setting up the operation, according to Veciana. Bishop provided the weapons and made arrangements with top leaders in the Chilean military - - which would be providing Castro security at the conference --- for the assassins to be immediately grabbed and arrested by Chilean soldiers before Castro-s own body guards could kill them. Bishop told Veciana that he would also arrange their escape for Chile later. At the time, of course, the head of the Chilean government was the democratically elected Leftist President Salvador Allende. Two years later, in September, 1973, Allende would be overthrown in a military coup d'etat. It has since become known that Allende's disposal was supported and heavily financed by the CIA and a few American multinational corporations, chiefly International Telephone and Telegraph. At one point, the CIA set up a super-secret Chile task force to work against Allende.
The attempt to assassinate Castro in Chile failed because at the very last moment the two designated shooters decided that they would never get out of the conference room alive. They did not believe that Veciana had made arrangements for their capture. Veciana could not, of course, tell them of Bishop or how the arrangements had been made. Ironically, other anti-Castro Cubans who Veciana had recruited in Caracas to help him in setting up the plot, had also all along not believed that Veciana could arrange an escape for the shooters. So they decided, without Veciana's knowledge, to plan a sub-plot based on the assumption that the shooters would be immediately caught and killed themselves. Why the existence of the sub- plot later came to light, Veciana say, it produced the crack that eventually led to the end of his relationship with Maurice Bishop in 1973.
Among the associates Veciana says he recruited in Caracas were two veterans of the war against Castro, Lucilo Pena and Luis Posada. Both have backgrounds, I later learned, as action men. Pena is the general director of a major chemical firm and has excellent social and business contacts. He had once been involved in Alpha 66's "Plan Omega," a plot to invade Cuba from a base in the Dominican Republic.
Luis Posada's background, I would discover, is even more intriguing. When I interviewed him in 1978, he was in jail in Caracas, having been arrested with probably the most well-known exile terrorist, Dr. Orlando Bosch, for lowing up a Cubana Airlines plane that killed 73 persons, including many Russians. He was a veteran of the Bay of Pigs, a member of JURE, a former Lieutenant in the U.S. Army (where he took intelligence staff officer courses), a former agent for the CIA and, until his arrest, the owner of a very successful private detective agency in Caracas. In 1971, when Veciana was working with him, he was chief of security and counterintelligence in the Venezuelan secret police.
According to Veciana, it was Pena and Posada who provided all the necessary credentials and documents which enabled the selected assassins to establish their false identities and get into place in Chile. What they also did without telling him at the time, says Veciana, was plant phony documents o that the trail of the two who were going to assassinate Castro would lead, if they were caught and killed themselves, to Russian agents in Caracas. It was an elaborate sub-plot. Lengthy but false surveillance reports were slipped into the files of the Venezuelan secret police indicating that the Cubans were seen meeting with the Russian agents, one of whom was a correspondent of Izvestia and the other a professor at the University of Central Venezuela. Also in the file were manufactured passports, diaries and notes allegedly found in one of the assassin's hotel room and indicating his contact with the Russian agents. In addition -- and the most damaging evidence -- was a photograph showing what appeared to be one of the assassins leaning into a car window and talking with one of the agents. Actually, the photo was of another Cuban who closely resembled the assassin. Without being told the reason for it, this double was instructed to stop the Russian agent's car as he left his home in the morning, lean in and ask him for a match. A telephoto shot was taken of his encounter.
As incredible as this aspect of Veciana's story is, those documents and photographs, I would later confirm, do exist.
Following the failure of the assassination attempt, Maurice Bishop learned of the existence of this sub-plot for the first time. According to Veciana, he was furious. He accused Veciana of taking part in the planning of it or, in the very least, knowing about it and keeping it a secret from him. Veciana insisted then, as he does still, that he was unaware of the secondary scheme. He says Bishop eventually told him, after he investigated further, that he believed him, but that in any future operations the scare of his early suspicion would linger. Bishop said that, considering the type of operations in which they were involved, a relationship that was less than totally trustworthy would be no good. He suggested that they sever their relationship.
I believe there was more to it than that. It appears that Veciana may have become more aggressive and fanatic in his determination to kill Castro than Bishop cared for him to be. At the time, Veciana was insisting on taking further terroristic actions -- indeed, may have already instituted some steps himself -- and scheming more dangerous assassination attempts. Bishop perhaps feared that Veciana was getting a bit out of hand and had to be cut off. In fact, Veciana himself believed for a while that Bishop had something to do with his going to prison, that it was both a warning to keep his mouth shut and to desist from independent scheming. That was a key factor in Veciana's decision to tell me about Maurice Bishop.
At any rate, when Bishop told Veciana he would like to sever their relationship, he also said he thought that Veciana deserved compensation for working with him down through the years. Because Veciana had rejected the idea of getting paid to fight Castro, Bishop had only provided him with expense money when Veciana traveled or was involved in a special operation. Now Bishop insisted that Veciana be compensated for the 13 years he had worked with him.
It was July 26th, 1973. Veciana recalls commenting to his wife when he got home that afternoon on the irony of the dat and its association with Castor's own movement. Bishop had called. He asked Veciana to meet him in the parking lot of the Flagler Dog Track, which is not far from Veciana's home. The track was in session and the parking lot was crowded. Veciana spotted Bishop waiting in a car at the designated spot. Bishop got out of the car with a briefcase. With him were two clear-cut young men in dark suits. The men stood by out of earshot while Bishop and Veciana spoke. Bishop said he regretted that their relationship had to end but that it would best for both of them in the long run. He shook Veciana's hand and wished him luck. Then he handed him the briefcase. In it, he said, was the compensation that was due him. When Veciana got home he opened the briefcase. It was stuffed with Cash. Exactly 253,000 says Veciana. That, says Veciana, was the last time he saw or spoke with Maurice Bishop.
It is not generally known, and even Kennedy assassination buffs, those independent researchers, have not delved into it extensively because they hit a blank wall when they do, but here is a period of Lee Harvey Oswald's stay in New Orleans which is largely undocumented. On August 9th, 1963, Oswald was arrested after distributing pro-Castro leaflets and a scuffle with Carlos Bringuier. On August 16th, he was again seen passing out leaflets in front of the New Orleans Trade Mart and was, in fact, that evening shown on televison newscasts doing it. One August 25th, Oswald was on a radio debate with Bringuier arranged by New Orleans broadcaster William Stuckey, a self-styled "Latin-American affairs expert." Despite the fact that Oswald seemingly went out of his way to court such public attention as a Castro supporter, as soon as he got it he immediately dropped out of sight. Between August 25th and September 17th, there is no validated indication of Oswald's whereabouts. Aside from their visit to the home of his aunt and uncle on Labor day, Marina Oswald said her husband spent this time reading books and practicing with his rifle. Down through the years, Marina Oswald's testimony has been inconsistent, contradictory and, admittedly, false. The House Assassinations Committee found several very credible witnesses who saw Oswald during this period in Clinton, Louisiana, about 130 miles from New Orleans, during a black voter registration drive. With him were David Ferrie, who had been involved in anti-Castro activity, and New Orleans businessman Clay Shaw, who had intelligence agency connections. The committee could not determine what Oswald was really doing in Clinton, but here was no doubt he was there.
The Warren Commission found certain records by which it accounted for some of Oswald's activity during this period of late August and September. None of these records could be later authenticated and, in some instances, were discovered to be false. He reportedly visited the unemployment office, cashed some unemployment checks and withdrew some library books. The FBI could not, however, authenticate Oswald's signature on the unemployment decrements and of the 17 firms where he said he had applied for work, 13 denied it and four did not exist. Strange also, considering Oswald's being previously meticulous about such things, three library books returned at the end of this period were overdue. However, even in taking such records into account, there is one span of time, between September 6th and 9th, when his whereabouts is absolutely not known. Initially, Antonio Veciana recalled that it was sometime in late August or early September, 1963, when Bishop called and asked to meet him in Dallas. Later, as he gave it more thought, he said it was probably in early September, perhaps towards the end of the first week of the month.
It was not the first time that Bishop had asked Veciana to meet him in Dallas. He had met him there a number of times prior. Partially because of that, Veciana had come to suspect that Bishop was from Dallas or had some family there. More, however, he recalled the time that Bishop had sent him to talk to Colonel Kail at the American Embassy. The last time Veciana saw Kail was before Christmas, 1060. Kail said he would consider Veciana's request for some support but he would like to discuss it further with him when he returned from his Christmas leave. Kail told Veciana he was going home to Dallas for Christmas. When Veciana reported back to Bishop, he got the impression that Bishop knew Kail, or at least his background, and that they had something in common. In my very first interview with Veciana, he said, "I think that maybe Bishop is from Texas."
The meeting that Veciana recalls with Bishop in early September, 1963, took place in the busy lobby of large downtown office building. From Veciana's description of its distinctive blue tile facade, it probably was the Southland Center, a 42-story office complex which, I later checked, opened in 1959. As soon as Veciana walked in, he saw Bishop in a corner of the lobby talking with a young man whom Veciana remembers as pale, slight and soft-featured. He does not recall if Bishop introduced him by name, but Bishop continued his conversation with the young man only very briefly after Veciana arrived. Together they walked out of the lobby into the busy lunch crowd sidewalk. Bishop and the young man stopped behind Veciana for a moment, had a few additional words and then the young man gestured a farewell and walked away. Bishop immediately turned to Veciana and a discussion of the current activities of Alpha 66 as they walked to a nearby coffee shop. Bishop never spoke to Veciana about the young man and Veciana didn't ask.
On the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Veciana immediately recognized the news photographs and television images of Lee Harvey Oswald as that of the young man he had seen with Maurice Bishop in Dallas. There was no doubt in his mind. When I asked him if it could have been someone who closely resemble Oswald, Veciana said: "Well, you know, Bishop himself taught me how to remember faces, how to remember characteristics. I am sure it was Oswald. If it wasn't Oswald, it was someone who looked exactly like him. Exacto, exacto."
To anyone who is unfamiliar with the relationships among those who work in intelligence or government security or even, in some cases, certain areas of law enforcement, it would seem incredible that Veciana did not ask or even mention Oswald to Bishop after the Kennedy assassination. yet to those who are familiar with such relationships, it would seem peculiar if he did. One of the cardinal principles of all security operations is that information is only passed on or sought after on what is termed a "need to know" basis. Individuals working in adjoining offices at the CIA headquarters at Langley who have known each other for years, go to lunch together daily, have become close personal and family friends, may not know what the other actually does at his desk every day or what he's working on --- and would never ask. that's the way it is. Veciana did not ask Bishop about Oswald. "I was not going to make the mistake of getting myself involved in something that did not concern me," he says. He recalls, however, feeling very uneasy at that time. "Tat was a very difficult situation because I was afraid. We both understood, I could guess that he knew that I was knowledgeable of that and I learned that the best way is not to know, not to get to know things that don't concern you, so I respected the rules and didn't mention that ever."
What increased Veciana's fear of his possible becoming involved in the Kennedy Assassination was a visit to his home by a government agent within a few days after the murder. Cesar Diosdato ostensibly worked for the U.S. Customs Service in Key West. He was a well-know figure among anti-Castro activists in Miami because, technically, it was in the Custom Service's jurisdiction to prevent violations of the Neutrality Act, which occurred every time an anti-Castro raiding party took off from Miami or the Keys. With a radio- equipped patrol car, the pistol-packing Diosdato, a beefy, mustachioed Mexican-American, roamed the Keys like a traffic cop monitoring the launching sites of the exile raiding groups. He didn't however, stop them all. The word among anti-Castro raiders active during JM/WAVE's secret war was that no group could launch an attack from the Florida Keys without permission of Diosdato. "He gave us the green light," one former group leader told me. "Without word from him, he couldn't go." s a result, most of Cubans thought Diosdato was really working for the CIA. Veciana did. That's why he became particularly apprehensive when Diosdato knocked on his door and asked him if he knew anything about he Kennedy assassination or Lee Harvey Oswald. Diosdato approached him casually. They had known each because Veciana had frequently gone to Key West to get clearance from Diosdato. It was not an "official" visit, Diosdato told Veciana. "He said he had been instructed to ask a few of the exiles if they knew anything, that's all," Veciana recalls.
Veciana did not ask himself why a U.S. Customers agent would be investigating the Kennedy assassination among Miami Cubans and be brought up from Key West to do it. It crossed his mind that perhaps he was being tested. In any event, he decided immediately that he was not going to tell Diosdato anything.
Several weeks later, Bishop called Veciana to arrange a meeting in Miami. At that meeting, Bishop never mentioned Oswald or their encounter in Dallas. They did speak mostly about the Kennedy assassination, its impact on the world and on their anti-Castro activities. Bishop, says Veciana, appeared saddened by it. Yet he did suggest the possibility of a strange sort of involvement. The way Veciana recalls it is this: At the time, there appeared in the newspapers stories about Oswald having met with a Cuban couple in Mexico City. Veciana recalls that the stories reported that the wife spoke excellent English. Bishop said he knew Veciana had a cousin, Guillermo Ruiz, who was in Castro's intelligence service and who then happened to be stationed in Mexico City. Ruiz's wife, coincidentally, spoke excellent English. Bishop asked Veciana if he would attempt to get in touch with Ruiz and offer him a large amount of money if Ruiz would say that it was him and his wife who me with Oswald. Veciana took it as a ploy that might work because, as he puts it, "Ruiz was someone who always liked money." Bishop, he says did not specify how much Ruiz should be offered, only that it should be "a huge amount." Veciana, however, was never able to present the offer to his cousin because Ruiz had been transferred back to Havana and Veciana could not find a safe way to contact him. When, a couple of months later, he mentioned his difficulties to Bishop, Veciana says that Bishop told him to forget it. "He told me it was not longer necessary," Veciana recalls. And that was the last reference he or Bishop ever made to the Kennedy assassination.
In May, 1964, John A. McCone, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, provided an affidavit to the Warren Commission in which h e swore that, based on his personal knowledge and on "detailed inquires he caused to be made" within the CIA, Lee Harvey Oswald was not an agent, employee or informant of the CIA. In addition, McCone also swore" "Lee Harvey Oswald was never associated or connected, directly or indirectly, in any way whatsoever with the Agency."
On March 12th, 1964, Richard Helms, then Deputy Director of Plans (DDP) of the CIA, met with Warren Commission General Counsel J. Lee Ranklin. Helms was in charge of all the Agency's covert operations. The minutes of that meeting reveal that Helms told Ranking that "the Commission would have to take his word for the fact that Oswald had not been an agent" of the CIA.
More than 10 years later, in November, 1975, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued a report which concluded that CIA Deputy Director Helms had deliberately kept secret from his own boss, Director McCone, the existence of certain covert operations. In the light, the implication of what Antonio Veciana revealed for the first time on March 2nd, 1976, had historic relevance: That an individual apparently associated with the CIA had contact with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Moreover, that this CIA operative was involved in Castro assassination attempts in which, for some reason the Agency was not admitting participation.
More than three years after the initial interview, the House Select Committee on Assassinations totally discounted Veciana's testimony. The Committee's final report cited as one of the factors for dismissing it the fact that "Veciana waited more than 10 year after the assassination to reveal his story." Ignoring the obvious -- that assuming Veciana's story is a fabrication raises questions more intriguing than it obliterates -- the Committee's conclusion does not take into account the circumstances surrounding the spawning of the revelations. It ignores the facts that I did not initially question Veciana and that he was not aware of my specific interest in it until later in the interview. Nevertheless, there are very valid factors governing the reason Veciana revealed his relationship to Maurice Bishop when he did - and why, later, he was less than candid about identifying Bishop.
Veciana had just spent 27 months in a federal prison on a charge of conspiracy to import narcotics. He was convinced in a New York federal court largely on the testimony of a former partner with whom he had been in the sporting goods business in Puerto Rico. The former partner, arrested with 10 kilos of cocaine, implicated Veciana. In doing so, he avoided a long jail term himself. He was the only witness against Veciana, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence. Veciana says, however, that the evidence against him appeared very good and that even the federal narcotics agents believed he was guilty. For that reason, he is still accumulating documentation to disprove it and, despite having served his sentence, is appealing his conviction. Given time, he says, he can destroy the evidence against him. He has already produced some documentation to back his claim.
There is absolutely no indication from any source, including the confidential records of certain law enforcement agencies, that Veciana had any association with narcotics dealing prior to his arrest. In the bitterly competitive world of Cuban exile politics, Veciana's reputation is curiously unspotted. A former associate, now a top executive with national insurance firm, told me, "Veciana was the straightest, absolutely trustworthy, most honest person I ever met."
At the time of the first interview, Veciana still was prison pale. He had not yet been completely paroled and had to return each evening to a release center. There was a cautiousness, a defensiveness in his attitude and an admitted confusion about what had happened to him. He was anxious to talk in detail about he case against him and seemed, at times, almost in grudging admiration of the evidence. For instance, he said, just before his trial an arsonist set fire to his property of his former partner who was going to testify against him. "I never ordered anyone to do that," said Veciana, "but it made it look very bad for me." He insisted that the evidence used against him at the trial was manufactured. "But it was done well enough to get the authorities to believe it," he said. "I know because I have done that kind of work myself."
At that time, there was a strong, clearly expressed feeling on Veciana's part that what had happened to him was directly connected with his previous relationship with Maurice Bishop. He suggested the possibility that his final disagreement with him might have caused Bishop to take steps to put him out of action. That's why, he said that, he was anxious to find Bishop and confront him with that possibility. The he would know. Over the months following that initial interview I watched Veciana change. Soon that early tentativeness, that cautious wariness, the shade of prison gray in his eyes began to fade as he got back into living, resumed his patriarchal confidence, began moving in his old circles and, I believe, got back deeply but very secretively into anti-Castro activity. As he did, and thought more of his experience, he began to change his feelings about Bishop's involvement in h is going to prison. then one day he told me he was sure he had been set up by Castro agents. He still, however, said he wanted to find Bishop, although now for a different reason. Maurice Bishop could again be of some help to him. Nevertheless, Veciana's initial feelings were confirmed in an interview with a close associated. He told his associate, confidentially, that he thought the CIA had framed him because he insisted in moving ahead with another plot to kill Castro.
The discovery of Antonio Veciana and his information could not have come at a worse time for Senator Chruch and the staff of his Select Committtee on Intelligence. Church had told the staff, which had alrady gone beyond its deadline more than once, it was gettting its obsolutely final extension, another month to finish up the Schweiker report. CHruch was chomping at the bit anxious to get into the Presidentaial sweepstakes. The Chruch Committtee had gyotten the attention he wanted with it multiple reports on assassinatin plots agains foreign leaders and illegal intelligence agency snooping and now he had other priorities.
Senator Schweiker had immediately recogniszed the significance and, as Paul Hoch had suggested, to whether or not the CIA had been totally honest with the Committee about all its Castro plots. Schwiker thought the new information was explosive enought to re-open hearings. On that, he immediately ran into a stone wall with both Chrurch and the staff leaders. Although he never let me or his own staff know it, Schweiker was obviously upset. He wasn't concerned aobut his own report which, he felt, was already storng enough in impugning the Warren Commission's conclusions -- the first official government document to do that --- he was interested in getting the information on record. In a letter to his subcommittee co-chairman Hart but obviously directed at Church and staff diretor F.O.A. schwartz, Schweiker wrote: "I feel strongly Veciana should be called to testify under oath, to evaluate his crdibility, create an official record of his allegations and examine them .... I recognize that this involves some difficulty at this stage of our proceeding, but in veiw of Veciana's direct link to intelligence community activities subject to the Select Committee's jurisdiction, I do not believe we can responsible refuse to evaluate his allegations." That put the Committee on the spot. My concern, however, was less with what the Committee would do than how it would do it. I felt we had stumble upon what could possible be a totally new area of information in the Kennedy assasination investigation and that developing it should be done in a structured and comprehensive way. The committee staff had the power and resources to do that if it truly wanted to. Or it could mishandle it and possible cause doors to be locked tight forever. I called Dave Marston in Schweiker's office to ask him what ws going to happen. "Well, I thnk they'll do something," he said. "I think what they'll do is screw it up. I think they'll go the most direct way, that is, make a official inquiry. So then there will be an official inquiry and if there is anything there it'll be gone."
In the long run, that's exactly what the Committtee staff did. I was asked to bring Veciana to Washington where he was sworn in at a secret executive session. Schweiker was the only Committtee member who showed up. Veciana was sworn in and a staff attorney questioned him for less than an hour. Only the barest details of his story got on record. A transcript of the hearing would go into restricted security files. Not a word about it would be mentioned in any of the Intelligence Committee's reports. The question of whether or not the CIA was involved in Veciana's attempts to assassinate Castro ws not confronted. Veciana was not asked about them. Much to my frustration and that of his other personal staffers, Schweiker was scrupulous about keeping from us the details of the Committee staff's work. Since we did not h ave security clearnace and had not signed non-disclosure agreements, we were not meant to have access to any Committee information. Yet the Committee staff itself wanted to make use of me. Since it was busy compiling its final report and I was the only investigator investingating, and so from being told, through Schweiker, what to check or who to interview, I could deduce what the Committee's unethusiastic efforts to follow up the Veciana lead were producing.
For instance, the CIA told the COmmittee it had no employee name Maurice Bishop and no record of any agent ever using that alias. I also deduced, from a discussion with an Army Intelligence asset I had been sent to interview in New Orleans, that the CIA told the Committee that Veciana and Alpha 66 were monitored not by the Agency but by Army Intelligence. I thought this was a misdirection. I pointed out that Veciana was aware of his contacts with Army Intelligence, that they covered only a limited period of anti-Castro activities and that they were separate and distinct from his relationship with Maurice Bishop. Nevertheless, after the CIA denied an interest in Veciana, the Committee staff pursued the Army Intelligence angle up until the end.
Schweiker could see what was happening. It became apparent that if we left it to the Committee to pursue the Veciana lead it would die. Dave Newhall, Schweiker's administrative assistant and a former investigative reporter himself, called me one day. "We just don't seem to be able to get through to the Committee staff about the significance of this," he said. "They're good Wall Street-type lawyers but they don't have street smarts and they don't have enough background in this case. Besides, most of them are packing their bags and looking around for other jobs by now. I think we'd better start moving on our own." It was the first indication I had that Schweiker was willing to pursue the Kennedy assassination investigation beyond the life of Select Committee and his own subcommittee. He had some leeway in that it would be a few months before his report would be officially published, since it had to be cleared by the CIA, part of the Committee's original agreement with the Agency. But the Committee itself would no longer exist the Schweiker would be on his own, with no subpoena power or legal clout.
To his credit, and a bit against the grain of "proper" senatorial protocol, Schweiker pursued the Veciana lead for moths beyond his subcommittee's demise and even beyond the issuance of its final report. In fact, it was only well after the Reagan strategists lured him into a sacrificial role as a Vice Presidential candidate, and convinced him that the political risks of continuing his private Kennedy assassination investigation would be too great, did he decide to drop it.
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However, also to Schweiker's credit in pursuing the Veciana lead was the fact that it was in direct contradiction to the thesis being pushed in his own subcommittee's report. The report suggested that it was very possible that Castro killed Kennedy. The Veciana lead negated the Castro retaliation theory. In fact, what I considered a factor in judging Veciana's credibility was his own feelings about he Kennedy assassination. I had spoken to a number of anti-Castro exile leaders, most still very dedicated and many fanatically determined to get rid of the Cuban dictator. None, I have come to believe, more deeply committed than Veciana. Yet almost to a man these exile leaders touted the same theory about the Kennedy assassination: Castro did it. They knew little of the evidence or the facts, they only knew that Castro did it. Except Veciana. Down through the years, I have discussed various theories about he Kennedy assassination with him and he has been consistent in his reaction: "I don't think Castro did it," he says thoughtfully. "I know Castro. He is crazy. Once, when he was down to his last 12 men in the mountains, he said, 'Now, there is no way we can lose!' He is crazy but he did not kill Kennedy. That would have been much too crazy. I think it was a plan, sure. "By "a plan, sure," Veciana means a conspiracy. "Bishop would know," he adds. "I think Bishop would know."
The Office of a United States Senator carries, in itself, a certain amount of clout. But a Senator does not have subpoena power or the right to demand answers from anyone. Nevertheless, in terms of substantive investigative results, Schweiker's staff would accomplish in a few months more than the House Assassinations Committee would in two years in the Veciana area. The bottom-line question blared from the beginning: Was Veciana telling the truth? There were parts of his story which would obviously be difficult, if not impossible, to corroborate. There were many other parts, however, which could be easily checked. Confirmation would in the very least, be an indication of his credibility. His background checked out, of course, as did his professional standing, his position in the Havana bank and his relationship with its owner, Julio Lobo. An official Cuban government newspaper detailed his role in the 1961 Castro assassination attempt and confirmed the details as Veciana had reported. His founding of Alpha 66 and his anti-Castro activities were part of the historical records from that period.
There were, however, a few key pieces of special significance. One of the points that Veciana himself made about the influence of Maurice Bishop and his obvious connection with the United States government was the fact that Bishop had gotten him a position with the U.S. Agency for International Development despite Veciana's documented record as an anti-Castro terrorist. During this time, the Bishop plan to assassinate Castro was developed in Caracas. Schweiker asked the U.S. State Department to check its files. The State Department wired its confirmation from La Paz: Veciana did work as a "commercial banking expert" for Bolivia's Central Bank, the telegram reported. His contracts were financed by the AID. They were for the salary and for the time period Veciana said they were. During this period he claimed a legal residence in Caracas.
The State Department telegram also contained, in passing, an unusual revelation. Veciana's application for Federal employment, it noted, had an unexplainable omission: It was unsigned. There were numerous other aspects of Veciana's story which, as I check into them, added to his general credibility. There were, for instance, a number of CIA-sponsored leaflet drops over Cuba, but only a limited number of people knew of the Celula Fantasma operation by name. One of them was Frank Fiorini Sturgis, who admitted his role in it. In Puerto Rico I found the friend of Veciana's who put him in touch with the hard-drinking American whom Bishop obviously knew. The friend confirmed Veciana's story. I then tracked down he American himself, now living in palm Beach. While enjoying a liquid lunch at the Ta- Boo, he acknowledged his contacts with the CIA< recalled the meeting with Veciana but said he never knew anyone named Maurice Bishop.
A confidential source, a veteran of the U.S. Customs office in Miami, told me that Cesar Diosdado, the Customs Agent who questioned Veciana was, indeed, working for the CIA in Key West, as Veciana had suspected. Customs was reportedly reimbursed for his salary by the Agency. This was confirmed by another source who was close to the former head of the local Customs office. (Diosdado is now with the Drug Enforcement Administration in California.)
One of the most incredible aspects of Veciana's story is his statement that he was given $253,000 in cash by Bishop at the termination of their relationship. Perhaps even more incredible, on the surface, was that he could tell me about it. Aware, however, of the circumstances in which he made that revelation, I've always felt the fact that the did tell me a key factor in assessing his credibility. He had, first of all, initially insisted on the absolute confidentiality of the interview. Before mentioned the money specifically, he again repeated the condition of confidentiality. When I asked if he could prove he had the money or what he did with it, he said he could show how he disburse it through several channels, but Senator Schweiker would have to first guarantee him immunity from action by the Internal Revenue Service. Schweiker could not to that. As a result, when Veciana's sworn testimony was taken before the Senate Select Committee, at Veciana's request that area of questioning was omitted when Veciana first told me of receiving the money, his wife, who had been doing chores around the house and occasionally rushing in to retrieve their two youngest who kept escaping from the kitchen, happened to be passing through the livingroom at that moment of the interview. "Remember," he interrupted himself to ask her in passing, "when I mentioned to you how strange that we should get that on the 26th of July." Indeed, she said, she did. Also confirmed, of course, was the fact that the dogs were running at the Flagler track that day.
Another point which appeared initially to be readily checked was the existence of the two individuals at the American Embassy in Havana to who Bishop had sent Veciana: Kail and Smith. The right Smith, however, would not be discovered until he happened to pop into the news much later, during the closing days of the House Assassinations Committee. Kail I stumbled upon almost immediately.
I happened to be talking with the late Paul Bethel in Coconut Grove one day. Bethel was a strong right-winger, once a Congressional candidate, author and head of the U.S. Information Agency in Havana when Castro took over. He was married to a Cuban, active in anti-Castro activities and an excellent source of information about he exile community in Miami. Many suspected he has an association with the CIA. I asked Bethel if he recalled a fellow named Kail at the American Embassy. "Sure," said Bethel. "I knew Sam well. Military attaché. I believe he's retired now, probably back home in Dallas."
Sam Kail was listed in the Dallas telephone directory. When I told Veciana I had found him, Veciana said, "You know, I would like to call him. Perhaps he remembers Bishop." He suggested I listen to the call. "Do you remember me?" Veciana asked Kail after he had introduced himself. Kail seemed very hesitant and very cautions. "Well, I'm not sure," he said. "Remember," coaxed Veciana, "the last time I saw you, in December, 1960, you were going home for Christmas." Kail remembered. "Yes, I did come home that Christmas," he said. "then you remember me?" No, Kail said, he can't say that he does. "At any rate," Veciana went on, "I am trying to find a friend, the American who sent me to you. He was a big help to me in fighting Castro. Now I need to find him. Do you remember Maurice Bishop?" Kail was silent for a moment. "Bishop?" he repeated. More silence. "Bishop," he said again, as if thinking about it. Kail said that off the top of his head he didn't recall the name, but he would like to give it some thought. He said he would think about if for a day or two and then call Veciana back. Kail never called Veciana back. A couple of weeks later I suggested to Veciana that he call Kail again. Kail said he had given some thought to the name of the American that Veciana had asked him about but, try as he did, he just couldn't recall every knowing anyone named Maurice Bishop, nor anyone named Bishop who fitted the description Veciana had given. Sorry he couldn't be of any help, said Kail.
During the remaining months of Schweiker's investigation, I showed Veciana more than a dozen photographs of individuals who came close to fitting his description of Maurice Bishop. Some were sent by the staff of the Select Committee and, I assumed, were mostly Army Intelligence operative. Most of the ones I dug up were individuals who, at some point or another -- but usually not more than at one point -- were in the right place at the right time and had some association with the CIA or Lee Harvey Oswald or the investigations of the Kennedy assassination. Included were a few Organized Crime figures.
One who first struck me as possible being Maurice Bishop was Oswald's Dallas friend, George DeMohrenschildt. The globe-trotting DeMohrenschildt and a group of anti-Communist White Russian cohorts had befriended the Oswalds as soon as they had returned to Dallas from the Soviet Union. Down through the years, most Kennedy assassination researchers had come to conclude that DeMohrenschildt had intelligence agency ties. George DeMohrenschildt loosely fitted Veciana's verbal description of Bishop. I became a bit excited when I discovered that DeMohrenschildt was then teaching at a small school in Dallas called Bishop College. Checking further, I learned that Bishop College once had the reputation of being a hot-bed of Leftist activity and a known center of Communist agitators. However, it later became known that the college had, in fact, received major financial support from a foundation which was founded by the CIA. It appeared to be an Agency decoy.
Shown a number of photographs of George DeMohrenschildt, Veciana stated flatly that he was not Maurice Bishop. Checking further into DeMohrenschildt's background, I discovered another factors which made it pretty clear that he couldn't have been.
Part of the problem, initially, was that it was though to get from Veciana's verbal attempts a good handle on Bishop's physical characteristics. Veciana had known and been in contact with Bishop over a period of 13 years. The man had obviously changed and Vecian's mental image was an amalgam of those changes. Depending on when I spoke with him, Ceciana's guess at Bishop's age when he first met him in 1960 ranged from "over 35" to "under 45." He was tall, "maybe six foot," or "maybe six-foot-two." He was "very built," and "no, not very muscular," but "close to 200 pounds" or "maybe 210 pounds." It had occurred to me in listening to Veciana describe Bishop as he appeared at the many meetings down through the years that perhaps Bishop used a disguise, likely very subtle and sophisticated, which change is true appearance only slightly but effectively enough to raise some doubts about his identity in the mind of anyone who happened to see him with Veciana.
Although Veciana's general description of Bishop may appear to have been a bit wavy, he did provide certain discriminating details which made Bishop a very specific character. He said, for instance, that Bishop was always a very meticulous dresser, neat and well-groomed. In his later years, he wore glasses more often, but took them off to ruminate with the stem on his lips. He was usually well-tanned, although under his eyes there was a certain blotchiness, a spotty darkness, as if from being in the sun too long. He had brown h air, given to some gray later. Generally, he was a good-looking man.
At our initial meeting, Veciana seemed sincere enough when he expressed his own strong desire to find Maurice Bishop. He seemed determined then to find out if the reason for his being in prison was a result of his previous relationship with Bishop. Veciana said that as soon he was settled down and out from under the restrictions of parole and free to travel again, he was going to have an artist do a sketch of Bishop from a description he would provide. That, he said, might help him in looking for Bishop. I didn't think much about that idea until I had shown Veciana a score of photographs and gotten negative results so clearly and abruptly. Then I realized that although each of the suspects had at least one characteristic similar to Veciana's description of Bishop, a comprehensive image would have eliminated them immediately. Veciana agreed. A professionally-drawn composite sketch of Maurice Bishop would help narrow the focus.
Security was one of my main concerns right from the beginning. The crazy world of Cuban exile politics in Miami has its share of fanatics as well as professional assassins, as the pattern of bombings and ambushes in Little Havana down through the years clearly shows. A few months before I first spoke with Veciana, an exile leader named Rolando Masferrer, known as El Tigre when he headed Batista's secret police, condoned the rash or bombings in a local magazine article. "You do not beg for freedom," he wrote, "you conquer it.... In the meantime, dynamite can speak in a uniquely eloquent manner...." A week later, half of Masferrer was found in what remained of his car when he tried to start it that morning. A uniquely eloquent retort.
Paranoia, to one degree or other, is one of the factors anyone delving to any depth into researching the Kennedy assassination must face. Veciana himself, in insisting on a promise of confidentiality before he made his revelations, was obviously concerned about he risks involved. For the reason, we both agreed it would be prudent to have the composite sketch of Maurice Bishop done in a police department outside the Miami area. Professional composite artists work only for law enforcement agencies. I didn't, of course, want to use a Federal Agency.)
Through a contact in a department in another city, I arranged for Veciana to spend most of the day with its best police artist. I had given the police artist a rough description of Bishop by telephone before we arrived so that he was able to do some general preliminary sketches to use as a base. Veciana then spent a couple of hours in tediously going through about 300 police mug shots picking out individual features from those that can closest to resembling Bishop's. "The problem," Veciana sighed as he flipped through the mug shots, "is all the individuals look like criminals. Bishop, he was a gentleman. He looked like a gentleman."
Veciana's session with the police artist was particularly interesting because it caused him to focus much more intensely on Bishop's specific features. He described, for instance, a distinctive lower lip, a straight nose but not sharp, nostrils not too narrow, a face longer than it was round and, again, perhaps the most noticeable feature, a darkened area appeared a bit suntanned most of the time, the area under his eyes was almost leathery looking. It was late in the afternoon when the police artist finished a sketch that Veciana proclaimed was "pretty good." The artist himself had warned that composite sketches aren't meant to be exact resemblances of individuals. They are designed to elicit a chain of recall in witnesses and spark recollection of images which lead to some suspects eliminate others. Veciana said that the sketch of Bishop was not really what Bishop looked like, but he appeared to be satisfied that it was, as he termed it, "close."
Veciana returned to Miami and the next morning I took the Bishop sketch and copies of it to Schweiker's office in Washington. Dave Marston had taken the day off to go to Philadelphia to look for a house. His nomination as U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Pennsylvania was before Congress and he did not lack for confidence. Dace Newhall looked at the sketch with a new fascination. "You know, it looks exactly like I thought it would from the description we were working on," he said. "I think the boss will want to see this right away." (Newhall never referred to Schweiker as "Dick," which is the way the Senator usually introduced himself. I was always bemused by Newhall's favorite term -- "the boss" -- because it was a bit of a disillusion of his own power in the office)
Schweiker was attending a hearing of the Senate Health Committee, one of his permanent post, in the Rayburn Building. We got word to him and, during a break in the hearing, we huddled in a corner of the anteroom of the chamber. The Health Committee chairman, Senator Edward Kennedy, glanced quizzically at the three of us hunched over the sketch as he hurried through the anteroom. (Schweiker, as a courtesy, had written a note to Kennedy prior to his calling on the Church Committee to establish a special subcommittee to investigate President Kennedy's murder. Senator Kennedy reaction was not negative, which Schweiker interpreted as a signal to go ahead.)
Schweiker looked at the sketch intensely. His first reaction was a mumbled, "That's pretty good," as if he were commenting on the quality of the art work. Then, very seriously, he said, "I've seen that face before." Newhall and I laughed. For an instance we both thought he was just being kiddingly glib with a dramatic cliche that fit the moment. But Schweiker was, in fact, being very serious. "That's a very familiar face," he said, staring now hard at the sketch. "Perhaps..maybe it was someone from Sate who briefed me on something recently. We've been getting a lot of those." He paused and thought a bit. "No, maybe not." He kept staring at the sketch. "He's very familiar," He said again. "Does it look like Harvey?" asked Newhall. William Harvey had been cited by the Church Committee as the CIA's coordinator in its Castro assassination plots with the Mafia.
"No, it's not Harvey," Schweiker said. Finally he sighed, resigned at his inability to recollect the image. "I've got to get back to the hearing," he said. "Why don't you take a copy down to the Committee staff. I'll give it more thought later."
The Intelligence Committee staff worked out of a sprawling arrangement of cubicles on the ground floor of the old Dirkson Office Building. Newhall and I signed in at the security desk and a staff attorney who had been working with Schweiker on the Kennedy subcommittee emerged from the inner recesses. We showed him the sketch. He looked at the photograph and nodded his head as if he in approval. "Fine," he said. "That's fine." He gave no indication that the sketch reminded him of anyone in particular. He took a copy of it and, I assumed, stuck it securely in Committee's classified files.
That night I flew back to Miami. It was a Friday early in April, about a month after my first interview with Veciana. During that interval I had spoken with him more than a dozen times. I had two additional lengthy interviews with him at which I tried to extract every possible detail he could recall about Maurice Bishop. More importantly, we began to establish a certain relationship. I would drop in at his home and call him on the telephone frequently just to ask a question or two about a minor detail that may have come to mind. We also got to know each other better as we traveled back and to Washington and around Miami to those sites where he recalled meeting Bishop. From those formal interviews and informal discussions, I began to accumulate not only a structured image of Maurice Bishop as an intelligence operative -- but also a sense of the man himself as Veciana saw him. At that point, this is what I knew about Maurice Bishop: He was in Havana in the summer of 1960 when Veciana first met him. He was working undercover, probably using some business association or firm as a front. There may have been some relationship with some business in that building in which Veciana was given his training instruction, maybe with the American mining company or the Berlitz School. Bishop was obviously familiar with the personnel and their positions at the American Embassy. He appeared to be a specialist in propaganda, psychological warfare and counterintelligence, judging from his primary interests and Veciana's activities.
From the character of his Spanish he was probably schooled in the language, but even before Havana he had most likely spent a good deal of time in a Spanish-speaking country. He was very intelligent, very liberated and very articulated. He was, as Veciana put it, a gentleman, perhaps from the South, more likely from Texas.
The Church Committee had uncovered the fact that there had been secret operations and certain ultra-sensitive missions conducted outside the CIA's normal chain of command. Given that, Bishop may have been among a select clique with the Agency and, as such, trusted enough to be given an "unofficial" Castro assassination mission. Since Veciana's activities in the late '60s began to broaden beyond Cuban affairs and encompass other anti-Communist operations in Latin America, it also appeared likely that Bishop had moved up the Agency's executive ladder -- another indication of his having been associated with a key power group within the CIA.
At the time of the Kennedy assassination, however, Bishop appeared to be particularly knowledgeable about intelligence operations in Mexico City, since he not only was aware of Oswald's activities there, he also knew that Veciana's cousin was a Castro intelligence officer stationed in Cuban Embassy.
By the early '70s, Bishop had broadened his interests and contacts throughout Latin America. However, Bishop's role in the 1971 Castro assassination attempt in Chile, his ability to reach key military personnel there, indicated he had a special relationship in that country. The week before we had constructed the composite sketch of Bishop, I wrote a memo to Schweiker indicating what I initially thought would be primary areas of investigation. The memo noted: "Veciana strongly believes that Bishop had something to do with the downfall of Allende in Chile."
Finally, another indication of Bishop's position in more recent years derived from the large amount of money paid Veciana at the end of their relationship in 1973. Bishop probably had to be in a position to have access to such funds and, perhaps, also have the power to cover them -- or be in association with someone who did. (It was the large amount of the final payment which reinforced the indications of a CIA association. As indicated by the cost of its JM/WAVE operations as far back as the early '60s, the Agency has always been lavish in its disposal of funds).
On Sunday evening, that weekend I returned from Washington after the composite sketch was drawn, I received a called from Dave Newhall. He said he had just gotten a call from Schweiker in Pennsylvania. "The boss was driving home when he suddenly remembered who the guy in the sketch reminded him of," Newhall said. "He stopped the car and just called me from a phone booth."
The sketch of Maurice Bishop reminded Schweiker of Dave Atlee Phillips, the former CIA propaganda chief of the Bay of Pigs invasion, now retired. Phillips had come before the Senate Intelligence Committee on more than one occasion. The Committee was interested especially in two phases of Phillips' career: One was as head of the CIA's task force to prevent the election of Allende in Chile" the other was in his role as chief of the Agency's unit in Mexico City responsible for sending to the Warren Commission photographs of a man erroneously identified as Lee Harvey Oswald. Phillips had announced his retirement, after 25 years of service with the CIA, in the Spring of 1975. At the time, the nation was being stirred by a barrage of press revelations about the illegal activities of the intelligence agencies. Veciana was still in prison and not yet being considered for parole. Phillips made minor headlines when he called a press conference at his retirement and announced he would lead an association of retired intelligence officers in defense of the CIA.
According to Phillips, one of the major factors that led to his retirement was, as he put it, "the rash of sensational headlines in the world press that leave the impression the CIA is an organization of unprincipled people who capriciously interfere in the lives of U.S. citizens at home an abroad." He said he wanted to "straighten out the record." Newhall is usually a laconic guy, but there was an edge in his voice that evening he called to tell me about Schweiker honing in on David Phillips. "The boss thinks the resemblance is pretty damn close," he said. He asked if I could dig up an old newspaper clip of Phillip's press conference and show the photo in it to Veciana.
The next morning I checked the date of the press conference, picked up a back issue of the Miami Herald and went directly to Veciana's place. He wasn't home. His wife said she didn't expect him back until evening and didn't know how to reach him. I returned home to another call from Newhall. "We've found a good photo of Phillips in the last June 23rd issued of People magazine," he said. "It did a feature about his forming that retired intelligence agents group. Do you think you can pick up a copy/" I said I would tried because the Herald photo, a wire service reproduction, was a poor one and the image a bit washed out. However, after trying several sources, I couldn't locate the particular back issue of People. The public library had already put it into a bound volume. Since it appeared that I wouldn't be able to get a reproduction of the article until the next day, I decided I would later call Veciana and ask him to join me at the public library the next morning. We could look at the magazine in the bound volume together.
That evening, while waiting to talk with Veciana, I glanced at the story that had appeared in the Herald when Phillips announced his retirement. There were scant details about his background. It noted that he had early been a professional actor, had been recruited by the CIA when he edited an English-language newspaper in Chile in the early 1950s, had been assigned posts in Mexico and Venezuela and was working undercover in Cuba when Castro took over.
Phillips retired before the Church Committee was formed and before the CIA had admitted to some of the activities that would later garner the Committee its headlines. In defending the Agency at his press conference, Phillips vigorously rebutted charges about the CIA which were kicking around at the time. The CIA did not financially support the strikes that led to Allende's overthrow, he declared. Also, he said, the CIA never plotted the assassination of Fidel Castro. Phillips made one final point: He said he assumed that many would claim his retirement was phony and that the association he was forming is really a CIA operation. "It is not," he declared strongly. The facts would later indicate he was wrong on at least two out of three of those contentions.
When I contacted Veciana that evening he said he did not know the name of David Phillips or remember seeing photographs of the man. He said, sure, hew would come to the public library with me the next morning. "I will call Dr. Abella and ask him to come with us also," he said. "Then we can do two things." In talking with Veciana over the weeks about he Kennedy assassination, it appeared that for the first time he was becoming interested in some of the details. One day he told me he had been talking with a close friend, Dr. Manuel Abella, about the assassination. He said Abella mentioned he recalled seeing a photograph of the crowd in Dealey Plaza just prior to the assassination. He thought the photo was in Life or Look, he wasn't sure. However, Abella said, he recognized a face in the crowd of a man he knew from Cuba as a Castro agent. I had spoken with Abella and checked back issues of the magazines he suggested, but didn't find the crowd shot he described. Veciana had said that someday he would take Abella to the library and help him search for the magazine. Now Veciana saw my request to go to the library as a opportunity to do that also.
The next morning, Dr. Abella, a cigar-chomping pudgy little guy, was waiting with Veciana at his home. We drove downtown to the Dade Public Library in Bayfront Park, the site of the every-burning Torch of Freedom donated by Miami's Cuban exile community. That morning there happened to a demonstration in progress at the Torch. A shouting group of masked Iranian students was calling for the ouster of the Shah. Veciana looked at them, smile slightly and shook his head. He was used to more active forms of demonstrative dissension.
At the periodical desk I asked for the bound volume of People magazine with the Phillips article and for the volumes of Life and Look with issues that might have crowd photos of Dealey Plaza. We took them to the empty table at one end of the room. Veciana sat down and put on his glasses. I stood beside him and found the article about Phillips in People. There was a half- page black-and-white photo of him standing under a highway sign, obviously taken near Langley. The sign said: "CIA NEXT RIGHT." Phillips was depicted almost full-figured, casually dressed, standing with his hands in his pockets and wearing a guyabera. The resemblance to the Bishop sketch was clear: The square jaw, the distinctive lower lip, the straight nose, the forehead and yes, the darkened area under the eyes. Only the hair style was different.
Veciana looked at the photo. He looked at the photo. I watched his face for some reaction but there was none. He kept starting at the photo. "Is it him?" I asked. Veciana didn't answer. His fact was totally expressionless but his eyes were intensely focused on the photo. Finally, he turned the page of the magazine. There was two additional photos of Phillips, both smaller and both showing Phillips' face less directly and less clearly. Veciana turned back to the large photo. "Is it him?" I asked again. Almost a half a minute had passed and the suspense was pressing on me. Without taking his eyes from the photo, he said, It is close." I wanted to shout at him: It is close? What the hell do you mean, it is close! Is it him or isn't it him? I didn't shout. Instead, I leaned closer and asked again softly: "Is it him?" Veciana did not take his eyes off the photo. "Does he have a brother?" he asked. The question took me aback. "I don't know," I said, but is he Bishop?" Veciana finally shook his head. "It is close, but it is not him." I remember feeling a sight of relief at the end of the suspense. "Are you sure it's not him?" I asked. "No, it's not him," Veciana said again. Well, I thought, that sounds pretty definite, and turned to the other volumes that Dr. Abella was waiting to look through. Then Veciana, still looking at the photo, added: "But I would like to talk with him."
"You would like to talk with Phillips?" I asked, not quite getting his point. "Do you think Phillips is Bishop?" "No, he is not Bishop," Veciana said, "but he is CIA and maybe he could help."
Maybe he could, I thought, and turned to help Abella leafing through the other bound volumes looking for that crowd shot with the Castro agent. Abella had described the photo precisely, but it was neither in Life nor Look. Then Abella said maybe it was in Argosy or True, because he remembered articles about the Kennedy Assassination in those, also. So I went to get the bound volumes of those publications and we began looking through them. Again, we had no luck, but it had taken us about 15 minutes in the searching. Veciana, meanwhile, had remained seated at the table staring at the same photo of David Phillips.
Before the Schweiker investigation had come to a close, more than a dozen individuals had been considered, however fleetingly, as possible having been the man who called himself Maurice Bishop. Most of them came to attention because of having been in anti-Castro activity. The staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee continued to mostly look for Bishop in the area of Army Intelligence, despite my trying to make clear to them that Veciana knew of his contacts there and very much doubted that Bishop was with the military. (Besides being touted into Army Intelligence by the CIA< the Senate Committee staff, I would later learn, considered Veciana being referred to Colonel Kail at the American Embassy significant, since Karl was very much involved in intelligence. The staff didn't considered the possibility that some Army Intelligence personnel may actually work for the CIA.) I continued to show Veciana photographs of individuals sent to me by the Committee staff and others I dug up myself. Some, like DeMohrenschildt, bore a closer resemblance to the sketch than others, but none came near as close as David Phillips. Occasionally, Veciana himself would mention that. Sometimes he would add, "Well, you know, maybe it would help if I could talk with him." Or, "Maybe if I saw him I could tell better." Slowly I began getting the impression that his very definite negative answer when he saw the photo of Phillips wasn't all that definite. In addition, the more we dug into Phillips' background, the more the pattern of his being in the right place at the right time began to emerge. Marston and I began discussing the possibility of bringing Veciana together with Phillips in a direct confrontation. The Committee staff, however, had decided not to call Phillips back for any additional questions under oath, so whatever he did he had to do on our own and unofficially.
We did not have the opportunity to have Veciana confront Phillips until September, just before Schweiker decided to close down his investigation. Between my first interview with Veciana and that time, I felt as if I were on a very fast-moving train trying to spot a smoking gun in the blur of passing woods. As the Church Committee was winding down, it became clear that only a sensational new revelation, simple and obvious enough for the public to instantly grasp its significance, could force the Committee to reopen a full-scale Kennedy investigation. The Veciana lead was a crack in the door to a new corridor, but it would take time and resources to develop it before its ultimate significance could be determined. Nevertheless, I attempted to pursue it as best I could. Over the months, I tried to locate and talk with everyone Veciana had named. We were hindered by very limited resources, since Schweiker's staff budget didn't include travel and expenses for a Kennedy assassination investigation and he could not use Committee funds for a personal staff investigator. We never did get to Julio Lobo in Spain or Lopez-Fresquet and Diosdado in California, for instance.
Meanwhile, over those same months, there were other leads pressing to be pursued. Many of the Organized Crime figures who had been active in pre-Castro Havana, for instance, are now in the Miami area. The contacts I had developed began providing tips worth following up. (One Cuban exile claimed that South Florida Mafia boss Santos Trafficante had predicted Kennedy's assassination.) Other leads seemed to come from nowhere, such as when a former employee of Jack Ruby's popped up working in a Miami nightclub and told me that Ruby was afraid the Warren Commission would discover he had been running guns to Cuba. From each new lead there seemed to dangle a dozen strings which required immediate follow-up. I was kept very busy.
At the end of June, the Senate Select Committee issued what it called its "Final Report": Book V - The Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy: Performance of the Intelligence Agencies. The press called it the Schweiker Report. Marston had air-expressed an advance copy to me the night before Schweiker was scheduled to release it at a major press conference. I thought the report was of historical significance as the first official confirmation of the invalidity of the Warren Commission Report. I objected, however, to its over-emphasizing the possibility of a Castro retaliation simply on the basis of the Warren Commission not having been informed of the CIA's Castro assassination plots. I was discussing that which Marston on the telephone the next afternoon when Schweiker returned from his press conference. Marston asked Schweiker to pick up the line. "We've got one of your standard skeptics here, Senator," he said. "I thought all our skeptics were at the news conference!" Schweiker yelled in mock anguish.
I congratulated him on the report, but told him I thought the Warren Commission critics were going to have what I thought was a legitimate objection. "How could the Committee have failed to pursue the possible relationship of Oswald to the intelligence agencies," I asked, "when the Committee discovered the intelligence agencies admitted a cover-up with the Warren Commission?" "Because," said Schweiker, "they took the position that they had no relationship with Oswald. And there were no documents in their files, they said, which reveal that there was. We pressed them on that several times and each time they said they had nothing. We hit a blind alley. I don't disagree with you, but considering the type of probe the Committee was conducting and the limited access to the intelligence agencies' files, there was not much we could do about it."
Schweiker was right. Considering that the Committee staff had conducted virtually no independent investigation and relied almost exclusively on records volunteered by the CIA, getting out the report that he did was a major step forward. He, at any rate, was ecstatic oat the press reception of the report. Months before he had predicted that the Warren Commission Report would "collapse like a house on cards." Now not one newsman at his press conference had challenged him on that prediction. "We have moved the whole Washington press corps from feeling I was a junior edition of Jim Garrison to now considering me a valid Warren Commission critic," he chimed.
Despite the direction that the Schweiker Report had taken and the public attention it had garnered, Schweiker was anxious for me to keep quietly pursuing the Veciana lead. He said he didn't know how long he could continue such an unofficial investigation, but he felt there were still many things we could do, even on our own, before we gave up.