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