Spymaster "Maurice Bishop" (Left) and CIA Intelligence Officer David Atlee Phillips (Right)
Review of Antonio Veciana’s Trained to Kill – by William Kelly
Trained To Kill - The Inside Story of CIA Plots Against Castro, Kennedy and Che by former CIA asset Antonio Veciana, with Carlos Harrison and a forward by David Talbot (Skyhorse Press 2017)
David Atlee Phillips Was "Maurice Bishop"
After decades of knowing for certain that David Atlee Phillips was the true identity behind the pseudonym of CIA spymaster "Maurice Bishop," Antonio Veciana has finally come clean and confirmed this truth he had previously denied.
We knew Phillips was "Maurice Bishop" - as Veciana described him to Congressional investigator Gaeton Fonzi and journalist Dick Russell in the 1970s - by comparing that profile to Phillips' description of himself in his autobiography, Nightwatch - 25 Years of Peculiar Service, which provides more than a dozen matches to specific times, places and events that certify his true identity.
These associations exceed coincidence and suggest what Sen. Richard Schweiker (R- Pa.) called the "fingerprints of intelligence." Schweiker recognized David Phillips in the composite sketch of "Bishop," as Phillips had testified before Schweiker’s Senate Intelligence committee.
Schweiker had hired Philadelphia investigative journalist Gaeton Fonzi as an investigator for the subcommittee that Schweiker co-chaired with Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.). Sen. Frank Church chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee during that period of revelations of abuses by the "intelligence community, particularly the CIA.
Fonzi was subsequently hired by Richard Sprague, the first chief-counsel for the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). The HSCA's 1979 report concluded that the death of President Kennedy was probably the result of a conspiracy.
Veciana initially told Fonzi about "Maurice Bishop," an American intelligence officer who recruited Veciana while he was working as a banker in Havana. According to Veciana, Bishop subsequently directed Veciana's anti-Castro activities for over a decade. These activities included a number of failed plots to kill Castro.
While these plots are interesting, some information he appears to have deliberately left out suggests that he knows still more and this story is not yet fully understood. One example of an important and significant operation to kill Castro that Veciana devised involved a bazooka and led to the arrest of the parents of Sylvia Odio, an important witness interviewed by the Warren Commission. But Veciana doesn’t mention the Odio connection.
The effectiveness of the book is also undermined by a lack of photos, footnotes, or an index, and I would have thought Pulitzer Prize winning co-author Carlos Harrison would have insisted on it. But as with Peter Janney's Mary's Mosaic, they may be included in a future edition, as Veciana's story is of substantial significance. His personal witness to the dark alliance between United States officials and the anti-Castro militant underground is of lasting importance.
Veciana's concise story is being told in this autobiography for the third or fourth time. The more detailed descriptions previously provided by Gaeton Fonzi (The Last Investigation), Dick Russel (The Man Who Knew Too Much) and Anthony Summers (Conspiracy; Not in Your Lifetime) include much of what Veciana says. But this new autobiography is simply Veciana’s story, and serves to underline the necessity of obtaining a complete understanding of what happened in Dealey Plaza.
As conspiracy debunker Tracy Parnell and others have pointed out, not all of Veciana's recollections add up. He has, for example, given different dates for the same event. Some such discrepancies are to be expected from an octogenarian recalling things from a half-century ago. John Newman will explore Veciana's inconsistencies further in the next volume of his multi-volume opus, Into the Storm.
Parnell, who cites but discounts my research, emphasizes Fonzi's inherent bias, and suggests that a more thorough book be written about Veciana. Parnell offers authors Brian Latrell and Gus Russo for the follow-up volume on Veciana's story, but Latrell and Russo adhere to the CIA party line, that Castro was behind the assassination. In my view, this is merely part of the original cover-story for the Dealey Plaza Operation, spread almost immediately after the shooting by anti-Castro sympathizers.
Veciana leaves no doubt that David Atlee Phillips used "Maurice Bishop" as a pseudonym. Phillips was a CIA psychological warfare expert who has been closely associated with intelligence relating to Lee Harvey Oswald's visit to Mexico City - only seven weeks before the assassination.
The clincher is Operation Condor. By Phillips' own account, Operation Condor - the fabrication of fake documents which indicated that the Soviets were behind a failed plot to kill Castro in Chile - was devised by Veciana. Elements of Operation Condor bear a striking similarity to the Dealey Plaza Operation, which contained the psych-war twist of fixing blame on Castro. The Operation Condor incident reportedly led to Phillips being officially reprimanded, and "Bishop" losing trust in his agent, cutting off Veciana, albeit with a suitcase of cash as a parting gift.
Veciana had been considered a valuable agent - AMSHALE-1. At the time Phillips was head of the Western Hemisphere Division of the CIA, the number three slot, so he had access to millions of dollars in covert action funds, and a quarter of a million bucks in cash was readily available. But Phillips had probably started a bank account for Veciana when he first recruited him in Havana and paid him a monthly salary that added up over time and paid him off all at once.
CIA analysts consider the bona fides of an agent based on the amount of new, verifiable intelligence provided. Veciana passed that test. His autobiography provides enough new names and characters, places, events and leads that can be followed-up; some of these have been investigated by the previously mentioned authors - Fonzi, Russell and Summers.
Veciana and Oswald in Dallas
A crucial hook to Veciana's story is his claim that his intelligence case officer - Bishop/Phillips - introduced him to Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas a few months before the assassination.
The fact that Oswald was living in New Orleans at the time has been used in an attempt to discredit Veciana, or to attribute the tale of the Oswald sighting to a case of mistaken identity. Although Oswald’s precise whereabouts at that exact time are unknown, he was then attempting to penetrate another anti-Castro group - the DRE, and planning on going to Mexico City to the Cuban and Soviet embassies there. So meeting Phillips, who was responsible for Cuban operations in Mexico City at the time, was a natural. And despite not having a driver's license, Oswald seems to have gotten around pretty well.
According to Veciana's account, they met on the first Saturday in September in the lobby of the Southland Center, the tallest building in Dallas. It was a place that Oswald was familiar with, since he had applied for a job there. It was also the location of the Mexican consulate.
The Southland Center was also the location of Robert Oswald's and Marina Oswald's attorney, as well as the Sheraton Hotel, where the Secret Service White House Detail stayed and the White House Communications Agency radio communications center was located. It was a beehive of pre-assassination activity, and could have been Oswald's original destination immediately after the assassination.
When he left the TSBD, Oswald walked eight blocks towards the Southland Center before changing his mind and boarding a bus to go back in the other direction. He then got a cab, which he took five blocks past his rooming house and walked back, practicing the same tradecraft Phillips taught Veciana.
In his description of the Southland Center meeting, Veciana says that Phillips was already there talking to Oswald. Although Veciana says he was introduced to Oswald, Oswald never said a word. “Silence will never betray you,” Phillips told Veciana, and likely Oswald as well.
They looked for a coffee shop, and stopped a young couple heading for the observation tower on the roof, who told them there was a diner around the corner. Oswald then left Phillips and Veciana. After the assassination the girl who directed them to the coffee shop recognized Oswald, the accused assassin, as one of the three men she encountered. Although she and told her mother, out of fear they never came forward, but now her friend has.
Veciana relates that he, too, recognized Oswald in the aftermath of the shooting as the man Phillips introduced him to, but didn't press the issue. He says that he never mentioned it again - until he was questioned by Fonzi, that is.
But as with the Odio incident, it matters not at all if it was indeed Oswald, or look-a-like, or an imposter, or even if Oswald was a shooter or a patsy. These incidents remove the assassination from being the act of a deranged loner and clearly define it as a covert intelligence operation - one planned and conducted by an intelligence agency network.
While most people automatically say it was the CIA, or KGB, or Cuban G2, we really are only identifying the Modus Operandi – a covert intelligence operation. But since all intelligence agencies utilize the same operational techniques, it doesn’t tell us which agency, only narrows down the suspects. We still need to outline the network more clearly so it can be positively identified.
Phillips, Veciana and Oswald all exhibit the Criminal Personality Profile of a COP - the Covert Operational Personality. They share traits with E. Howard Hunt, Frank Sturgis, Jerry Patrick Hemming, Tosh Plumely, et al., in that they have been trained and practiced what Allen Dulles called “the crafts of intelligence.” They are assigned a code name, use a pseudonym, post office boxes, cut outs, safe house apartments, codes, invisible ink and have case officers.
When Phillips recruited Veciana in Havana in 1959, Phillips had officially resigned from the CIA as an intelligence officer, gone undercover as a civilian contract agent, and opened his PR business under his own name. When he recruited Veciana, Phillips instructed him to contact Sam Kail, an official U.S. Army liaison officer stationed at the US Embassy in Havana. So maybe Phillips, while contracted to the CIA, was also working with Army Intel when he recruited Veciana.
Veciana's bona fides as a responsible agent are established by the confirmable information he provides, leads that can and have been independently confirmed.
For instance Veciana claims "Maurice Bishop" worked out of a Havana office in a building shared with a mining company (Moa Bay) and a Berlitz language school near the Hotel Nacional. This also fits the location of the David Phillips Public Relations Agency.
Veciana says that Philips told him to take a cab and get out a block away, just as Oswald did in the wake of the assassination, to avoid surveillance. Then, at a nearby apartment, Bishop's accomplice, Dick Melton gave Veciana truth serum and a lie detector test. After he was approved, they then gave Veciana a crash course in psychological warfare, propaganda and covert trade craft, just as Paul Linebarger taught it to a generation of the CIA's cold warriors at the Center for International Studies.
Later, in Miami, Phillips had Veciana sign a loyalty oath in the presence of two other men in an office in the Pan American Bank building.
Now that’s interesting because Castro gun runner Robert Ray McGowan (who was also solicited by both Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby), said that he was paid in cash for his Cuban gunrunning activities - cash bound by Pan Am Bank wrappers. And Jack Ruby deposited cash in the Pan Am bank in Miami from the Fox brother's Havana casino. So there are some interesting shenanigans going on there.
Garton Fonzi refers to the Pan Am bank as a CIA outfit in a transcript of his tape recorded interview with CIA weapons specialist Mitch Werbell. While Werbell's mention of the Pan Am Bank as part of CIA operations appears in the transcript of the interview, Fonzi's tape recording has mysteriously been erased. The Dealey Plaza Cleanup Crew at work in the National Archives?
The Dealey Plaza Operation and Army Intelligence
Veciana also claims that while he established the violent terrorist group Alpha 66 at the suggestion of Phillips, the CIA didn't fund it. Recently released records indicate that Alpha 66 had associations with the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), who were interested in their frogman attacks on Soviet ships in Havana harbor, and Army Intelligence - specifically the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (ACSI), an intelligence network run out of the Pentagon.
So while Veciana believed he worked with Phillips and the CIA, Alpha 66 was not an officially sanctioned National Security Council (NSC) operation like those run out of the JMWAVE station in Miami. However, it was being monitored and possibly run by Army Intel out of the Pentagon.
That the Dealey Plaza Operation also stemmed from the same ASCI network is reinforced by the facts that:
1) Colonel Sam G. Kail of ASCI was stationed in Havana at the time Veciana was recruited by Bishop while Phillips was running his fake PR front there;
2) Havana Hilton Hotel manager Colonel Frank M. “Brandy” Brandstetter of Dallas reported to the same ACSI office. (Manalo Ray also worked at the Havana Hilton and Castro located his headquarters there.);
3) George De Mohrenschildt reported to Sam Kail and Dorothe Matlack of ASCI in Washington, D.C., on his way to and return from Haiti;
4) An Army colonel from ASCI (Col. J.D. Wilmeth) visited Marina at Ruth Paine's home in Irving a week before the assassination to determine their situation;
5) Army Reserve Colonel Jack Crichton ran the Dallas Civil Defense Command and Communications center at the Dallas Fairgrounds, and provided the first Russian speaking interpreter for Marina Oswald.
6) Dallas Police Department Captain (Col.) George Lumpkin drove the pilot car in the motorcade and was supposed to be on the lookout for any trouble. Lumpkin invited his Army Reserve commander (Lt. Col. George Whitmeyer) to accompany them, stopped at Houston and Elm to tell the traffic cop there (and the sniper in the window above them) that the motorcade was approaching, and later suspiciously tipped off homicide Captain Will Fritz that Oswald was a suspect.
It is worth noting that most of Lumpkin's Special Services bureau cops were US Army Reserve officers (including Ganaway and Stringfellow) whose commanders reported to ACSI, and their office was at the Dallas Fairgrounds near Crichton’s civil defense command center.
This clearly suggests to me that if any specific intelligence agency had numerous associations with the Dealey Plaza operation, it was not the CIA but US Army – the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (ACSI).
That Oswald was with Veciana and Phillips does not mean Oswald was CIA or that Phillips was the mastermind of the Dealey Plaza Operation. Phillips was a psychological warfare officer and may have assisted in promoting the cover story that Castro was behind the assassination. Phillips tried to do this with Nicaraguan agent Gilberto Alvarado and Veciana's cousin in the Cuban government Guillermo Ruiz, in attempting to blame the Dealey Plaza Operation on Castro - a psych-war operation that continues today.
But if Oswald was set up as the patsy to take the rap for what happened at Dealey Plaza, so was Phillips.
Gaeton Fonzi was a real good investigative reporter, but not perfect. The luster of his book The Last Investigation (1993) and of his previously published 70 page Washingtonian Magazine (1980) indictment of Phillips are dimmed by the fact that Phillips was working for Washingtonian Magazine at the time and Fonzi could have walked down the hall and talked to Phillips, but didn't.
My goal hasn't been to just figure out who killed JFK, but locate them, slide up next to them at the bar and find out how and why they did it.
After the Washingtonian article came out, I looked up David Atlee Phillips, found his phone number listed in the public phone directory in Bethesda, Maryland, and called him.
He answered and we had a pleasant conversation. He denied being Bishop or knowing Oswald, though he acknowledged his friendship with Dallas radio owner Gordon McClendon, an associate of Jack Ruby, who Phillips includes as a character in his novel The Carlos Contract.
Congressional investigator Kevin Walsh did get the chance to sit on a bar stool next to Phillips and share a few drinks in July 1986. Walsh said that Phillips told him, “My private opinion is that JFK was done in by a conspiracy, likely including American intelligence officers.”
David Atlee Phillips, in an unpublished novel The AMLASH Legacy, wrote:
“I was one of the two case officers who handled Lee Harvey Oswald. After working to establish his Marxist bona fides, we gave him the mission of killing Fidel Castro in Cuba. I helped him when he came to Mexico City to obtain a visa, and when he returned to Dallas to wait for it I saw him twice there. We rehearsed the plan many times: In Havana Oswald was to assassinate Castro with a sniper's rifle from the upper floor window of a building on the route where Castro often drove in an open jeep. Whether Oswald was a double-agent or a psycho I'm not sure, and I don't know why he killed Kennedy. But I do know he used precisely the plan we had devised against Castro. Thus the CIA did not anticipate the President's assassination but it was responsible for it. I share that guilt.”
As a notorious psych-war practitioner Phillips may be providing just another twist to an already labyrinthine tale. Now, as we delve further into the millions of pages of released JFK assassination records, we can look forward to reading David Phillips’ 600 pages of CIA operational files and learn more about these things, and once we have the full and complete picture of what really happened at Dealey Plaza, we can decide what to do about it.
William Kelly is co-founder of the Committee for an Open Archives, COPA, and founding Secretary of CAPA – Citizens Against Political Assassinations (CAPA-US.org). He can be reached at Billkelly3@gmail.com.