John Martino was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1910. In his youth he got into trouble with the police as a result of his involvement in illegal gambling.
In 1935 Martino moved to Miami. Soon afterwards he was arrested for running a lottery. During the Second World War Martino moved to Long Island and in 1943 he was arrested for loan sharking.
Over the next few years Martino learned a great deal about electronics and became a specialist in gambling machines. This included developing devices that increased the profits of casino owners.
In 1956 Martino was invited by Alan Roth to do some work in Cuba. Roth was manager of the Deauville Casino in Havana, owned by Santos Trafficante. Over the next three years Martino made a series of extended trips to the island. A fellow worker at the casino was a man called Louis McWillie, a close friend of Jack Ruby.
In the summer of 1959 Martino was once again in Cuba. While in the Deauville Casino he made critical comments about Fidel Castro, the new leader of the country. He was overheard by a Castro supporter who reported him to the authorities. On 29th July, 1959, Martino was arrested and charged with trying to help people associated with Fulgencio Batista to escape from the island. Martino was held in prison for the next three years and was not released until October, 1962. With the help of Nathaniel Weyl, the right-wing journalist, Martino produced a book about his experiences, I Was Castro's Prisoner.
Martino returned to the United States where he became involved in anti-Castro activities in Miami. Others involved with him included a former United States Ambassador, William Pawley, Gerry P. Hemming, Felipe Vidal Santiago, Eddie Bayo and Frank Sturgis.
In the winter of 1962 Eddie Bayo claimed that two officers in the Red Army based in Cuba wanted to defect to the United States. Bayo added that these men wanted to pass on details about atomic warheads and missiles that were still in Cuba despite the agreement that followed the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Bayo had originally fought with Fidel Castro against Fulgencio Batista. He disagreed with Castro's policies after he gained power and moved to Miami and helped establish Alpha 66. His story was eventually taken up by several members of the anti-Castro community. William Pawley became convinced that it was vitally important to help get these Soviet officers out of Cuba. To help this happen he contacted James Eastland, the chairman of the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee about this matter.
William Pawley also contacted Ted Shackley, head of the CIA's JM WAVE station in Miami. Shackley decided to help Pawley organize what became known as Operation Tilt. He also assigned Rip Robertson, a fellow member of the CIA in Miami, to help with the operation. David Sanchez Morales, another CIA agent, also became involved in this attempt to bring out these two Soviet officers.
In June, 1963, a small group, including Martino, William Pawley, Eddie Bayo, Rip Robertson and Richard Billings, a journalist working for Life Magazine, secretly arrived in Cuba. They were unsuccessful in their attempts to find these Soviet officers and they were forced to return to Miami. Bayo remained behind and it was rumoured that he had been captured and executed. However, his death was never reported in the Cuban press.
In an article published in January, 1964, Martino claimed in had important information about the death of John F. Kennedy. He argued that in 1963 Fidel Castro had discovered an American plot to overthrow his government. It was therefore decided to retaliate by organizing the assassination of Kennedy. Martino and Nathaniel Weyl both claimed that Lee Harvey Oswald had been in Cuba in 1963 and had been recruited by Cuban intelligence to kill Kennedy.
Martino told his friend, Fred Claasen, that he was not telling the truth about the Cubans being behind the assassination of Kennedy. He admitted that he had been involved in the conspiracy by acting as a courier delivering money. He also told the same story to his wife Florence Martino.
Shortly before his death in 1975 Martino confessed to a Miami Newsday reporter, John Cummings, that he had been guilty of spreading false stories implicating Lee Harvey Oswald in the assassination. He claimed that two of the gunmen were Cuban exiles. It is believed the two men were Herminio Diaz Garcia and Virgilio Gonzalez. Cummings added: "He told me he'd been part of the assassination of Kennedy. He wasn't in Dallas pulling a trigger, but he was involved. He implied that his role was delivering money, facilitating things.... He asked me not to write it while he was alive."
Fred Claasen also told the House Select Committee on Assassinations what he knew about Martino's involvement in the case. Florence Martino at first refused to corroborate the story. However, in 1994 she told Anthony Summers that her husband said to her on the morning of 22nd November, 1963: "Flo, they're going to kill him (Kennedy). They're going to kill him when he gets to Texas."
Alan Courtney, a commentator on Miami radio, introduced me to John Martino and persuaded me to help him write the story of his imprisonment for several years in Castro's prisons. John told me he had helped set up gambling devices in Cuban hotels under Batista and had been arrested for returning to Cuba to get his employers' money out. I knew that the mob had largely controlled Cuban gambling and assumed John worked for them in a minor capacity.
The Martino story seemed to me a fascinating account from the inside of the experiences of his fellow prisoners, mostly political dissidents, as they faced execution. John Martino turned out to be a mild, very likeable man whose ash-white pallor revealed years of deprivation and suffering.
Although he was an American citizen, Martino had received no help during his ordeal from the Embassy in Havana. Considering the long history of pro-Soviet infiltration of our Latin American foreign service, this did not astonish us. He felt bitter resentment toward the State Department and attributed its abandonment of him to pro-Castro American officials.
Yes, I collaborated with John Martino on his autobiography, specifically having him send or give me tapes, and then organizing them in a more coherent structure. I would discuss anything with him that struck me as improbable, but the book was his story of his prison experiences. You will find a brief account of how I got involved in this in my brief political autobiography (Encounters with Communism, Xlibris, 2004)
I worked with William Pawley for several months on his autobiography, but the collaboration didn't work out. I understand that he turned over the task to someone else and that a published book emerged, but I haven't seen it.
Re the Martino "confession". I first ran across it about a year ago when checking a few items on the Internet for my Encounters with Communism book. Hadn't seen it earlier because I had long since lost interest in Cuba. While John Martino and I had had a pleasant and friendly collaboration, the relationship more or less ended when he used the John Birch Society to popularize his book despite my advice to the contrary.
My first impression of the confession is that it was fictitious. My impression was that John Martino had played a small role in political events and had a psychological need to magnify it and that he invented conspiracies. If he had any advance knowledge of the impending assassination of President Kennedy he of course did not share it with me.
In 1963, John Martino came to me with a fascinating story. He had attended a meeting in Palm Beach at which a Cuban who used the nom de guerre of Bayo claimed that the Soviets had deceived President Kennedy and that Russian missiles were still in Cuba. Bayo said he knew tills because two of the Soviet officers guarding these clandestine missiles had defected, were being hidden and guarded by the remnants of the anti-Castro underground and were desperately anxious to tell their story.
I was told that this was an emergency. The Russians could be captured by Castro's forces at any time. John Martino said that their Cuban protectors could get them safely to the northern coast of the island and thence by boat to some agreed-upon rendezvous point in the Bahamas if we acted immediately.
Martino added that Bayo and the other Cuban patriots would have nothing to do with anyone from the CIA because they believed that the Agency had betrayed them at the Bay of Pigs.
Could I get a yacht, designate a time and place to meet on some remote Bahamas island, get there and bring the Russian officers to the American mainland? If it was to be done, it must be done immediately.
Cuban exiles here understand that plans for this operation were cleared with a Soviet representative in Europe shortly after the missile crisis of last October (1962). The old-line communists inside the Castro regime were to take part in the operation together with Castro henchmen that were paid to switch sides. The plan involved a more or less token invasion from Central America to be synced with the coup. A left-wing coalition government was to be set up, including leaders of the Cuban Communist party. The most talked about candidate to head this "democratic" regime was Huber Matos, a former Castro commander, who is at the present the most privileged prisoner on the Isle of Pines. Matos enjoys a private room and a television set. He is allowed to strut around in his uniform as one of Castro's commandants while decent and patriotic Cubans in the same prison suffer unspeakable tortures.
The plan allegedly involved complete withdrawal of Soviet troops, release of all political prisoners, U.S. occupation of Cuba and a new government of the Tito or Ben Bella type. It was to be staged for February 1964. According to reports from usually reliable exile sources, Khrushchev had agreed to the plan because of the importance to the Soviet Union of re-electing the Democratic Administration. The plan provided that Castro and his fellow experts in murder and genocide were to be given safe conduct out of Cuba. From the Soviet standpoint, all that was involved was a slight tactical retreat in Cuba to be offset by advances on other Latin American fronts, such as Brazil and Chile. From Castro's standpoint, however, it meant the end of his career as a world figure and refused to go along with it.
Assassination of President Kennedy was a bold way of checkmating the plan. At a reception in the Brazilian Embassy in Havana in early September, Castro told newsmen that CIA agents had been sent to the island to kill him and Raul. If Kennedy was behind this, he added, the American President should realize that he was not the only politician that could engineer the assassinations of chiefs of state. This story was published in the Miami News on November 24. Meanwhile Emilio Nunez Portuondo, the distinguished former Cuban ambassador to the United Nations and one-time president of its Security Council, informed his friend and associate in Mexico, Dr. Jose Antonio Cabarga, of Castro's threat. El Universal, one of Mexico's leading newspapers, published the story as a front page exclusive. Immediately thereafter, the Mexican police arrested Cargaga for delivering the report to El Universal and beat him up so badly that he is now hospitalized...
The Cubans in the South Florida area have had dealings with Oswald in the past and they are not willing to join the press in dismissing him as a fanatic, a psychopath or a pathetic, maladjusted youth. When he was in Miami, Oswald attempted to join an organization of Americans engaged in training Cubans in guerrilla warfare, headed by Jerry Patrick. As a former Marine, Oswald would have been useful, but he failed to pass a security check and was turned down. Oswald made similar approaches to the Cuban Revolutionary Student Directorate (DRE) and to JURE, another organization of Cuban freedom fighters, but was rejected.
Many Americans will never have used a psychologically unstable person of this sort and that they would have shunned Oswald because of his record of long and notorious Red associations. This is true as far as Soviet-oriented Reds are concerned. However, the Kremlin Communists were certainly innocent of complicity in the assassination for the simple reason that Khrushchev had no reason to desire Kennedy's death. Fidel Castro probably had very few potential assassins in this country who were loyal to him rather than to Moscow. Those Reds who follow Castro tend to be more zealous and destructive elements in the movement, people consumed by hatred, not only of Western civilization, but of mankind in general.
If Castro needed an assassin, he would have had to search among the Maoists, the Stalinists and the neo-Trotskyites-in another words, among people as disturbed, warped, hate-saturated and wicked as Oswald. The fact that the crime was committed in Dallas, a center of American conservative and nationalist movements, was probably not accidental. Had Oswald managed to escape to Cuba, the liberal press and the Establishment could have placed the entire blame for the murder of the President, not on America's Communist enemies, but on those who love this country and wish to preserve its institutions and its heritage.
The last time he met reporter Cummings, John Martino made an astonishing claim. "It came out of the blue," Cummings recalled. "John told me he had himself met Oswald several weeks before the assassination, in Miami. He said an FBI agent named Connors asked him to come to a boat docked in Biscayne Bay, and introduced him to Oswald by name. The impression John got was that Oswald didn't know his ass from his elbow, didn't know what he was involved in. He thought the agent wanted him to meet Oswald because John was involved in anti-Communist activity, and Oswald was someone this agent was running."
I was not able to trace a Miami agent called Connors answering the description provided by Cummings. FBI files show Martino did have contacts after the assassination with an agent named James J. O'Connor, whom I tracked down in retirement. "John Martino?" he said. "I'm afraid all I could tell you is, yes, the name rings a bell.... I don't recall that he was a regular contact." O'Connor said he cannot recall whether he was in touch with Martino before the assassination. He said he never met Oswald at any time.
Cummings, an investigative reporter for more than thirty years, did not think the Martino allegation was just a crook's slur against a law enforcement officer. "I believed Martino," he said. "It came across, just before he died, like a confessional. I was told that Connors, the agent he named, was in Counterlntelligence."
Several pages that refer to Martino have been withdrawn from the Kennedy assassination collection at the National Archives, at the insistence of the CIA and the FBI.
I wanted to address you on the area of Cuban exile activities, CIA operations and Mafia and organized crime. I have spent a lot of my spare time reviewing the release last year, the CIA made a supplemental release to us of materials that they were going to try to keep postponed indefinitely, and I wanted to see what was in the 10,000 pages that initially they had intended to postpone. Under pressure of publicity, they made a re-review and a lot of that material was released to us after the initial release.
I found that the largest single item of material was related to a raid against Cuba that was conducted in June 1963, which is known as the Bay O'Pawley Affair. It is something that has been publicly known since 1975, but the amount of detail contained in these files was never known about the raid.
It was a raid which was originated by an individual named William Pawley who had been a high official in the Defense Department, the State Department, he had been an ambassador, and was extremely well-connected politically in the country. He had originated, along with a fellow named John Martino, a raid against Cuba, supposedly to obtain two Russian defectors from Cuba who would then state that there were still missiles in Cuba after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and that the U.S. policy in the Cuban Missile Crisis had been ineffective in removing the missiles from Cuba.
Mr. Pawley used his connections to obtain the assistance of the CIA. So the JM Wave Station in Miami provided logistical assistance for this operation in June 1963. We have a photograph of Mr. Martino, which I have provided you, which was a result of Life Magazine participating in the raid. Life Magazine participated by providing some money and then were allowed to go along on the raid.
The interest that we had in this particular item is that Mr. Martino, in 1975, shortly before he died, told a close associate of his that there had, in fact, been plot against JFK. That it originated from anti-Castro Cuban exiles, that Oswald had been involved in such a plot, but that he did not know who he was working for, did not know or understand the nature of the activity, and that the murder plot that he described was the one that was in retaliation for what was seen as JFK's softness in relation to activities to dislodge Fidel Castro and replace his government in Cuba.
That report from 1978, actually, by a Dallas reporter had lain uncorroborated for a long period of time. When I saw these records this year, I did some further investigation, found a journalist who was very intimate with Mr. Martino back in 1963. In fact, he had been invited to go on this raid in 1963, and he had kept in touch with Mr. Martino over a period of time, and this journalist confirmed to me that, in fact, before Mr. Martino's death he did describe such a plot to this journalist, but he had withheld the information in order to protect the family, and he had an obligation up until now to do that.
Martino's sole CIA association was in regard to the Bay/Pawley/Rec Cross project which JM WAVE and Shackley supported but which was initiated by Pawley not by the CIA. The concept was brought to Pawley via Martino and certain of Martino's press contacts in Miami after his release from prison. We have a record of Shackley and Pawley discussing having Martino participate but Shackley speakingly negatively of him because of his crime network association. Martino certainly did have CIA connections in 1963, primarily Morales and Rip Robertson. However he did not work for Roselli and in fact (contrary to Hinckle and Turner) there is a rather small window in which they might have associated in Miami (based on what we have of Roselli's FBI surveillance records). That window would have been in the August -September time frame.
Martino very likely was a disinformation source for the conspiracy after the assassination but that does not mean he was acting for the CIA. On the other hand we know from David Phillips book that he spread a great deal of information, especially about Oswald in Mexico City. However there is still a question of how much of that was CIA party line and how much might have involved Phillips own agenda or CIA. It's very clear that both CIA and FBI knew much more about Oswald's activities and contacts in Mexico City than they ever wanted to become public knowledge. Especially in 1963 while the Warren Commission was seated.
John Martino had pre-knowledge of the plan to kill John Kennedy in Texas. John Martino "talked" in a very believable and credible fashion. At first, he talked only to his immediate family, nervously, hesitantly, and excitedly. Shortly before his death, he talked with two long time friends - part confession and part simply recollection. He made no grand claims, downplayed his own role and limited his statements to things he would have personally come in contact with in playing the role he described with the Cuban exiles whose cause he was demonstrably devoted to at the time. His story is certainly consistent and totally in context with his documented activities and personal associations in 1963. Martino's personal involvement also helps us to estimate the start date and time frame for the plot.
Martino's method of relating his knowledge of the conspiracy is credible and consistent.
Martino does not exaggerate his position nor claim knowledge beyond his described role.
Martino's "switch" from his post-assassination public crusade to his private confession is significant and consistent with his overall remarks about his role.
Martino was demonstrably connected to the "anti-Castro" people he implicates.
Martino offers a unique insight into Oswald's role, associations and manipulation - one which can be investigated for corroboration.
Martino provides insight into tactical details in Dallas which can be investigated for corroboration, including the elements of advance personnel on the ground, a motorcade route known in advance and figuring in the tactical plan, Oswald as a patsy tied to the route,
Oswald framed as a Castro connected shooter and a planned meeting and extraction of Oswald from Dallas.
John Martino provides a unique insight into a conspiracy by anti-Castro elements to kill President Kennedy in revenge for his perceived betrayal of the exile cause and to tie the President's murder to Fidel Castro and Cuba in a manner which would institute an American invasion of the island. The question is whether or not the historical record has sufficient evidence to support Martino's information.
The report on Martino's death bed confession is most disturbing and has made me wonder whether he said or indicated anything to me that I should have picked up as indicative and reported to the authorities. I can't recall any such clue. To the best of my memory, my contact with Martino ceased in the summer or early fall of 1963, not because of any clash, but mainly because I had agreed to work on his autobiography due to his persuasiveness and at the urging of a friend named Courtney and in the belief that he had a story which the American public ought to know about.
This despite my earlier decision to end my writing about Cuban communism because I had already said what I wanted to say in Red Star, because the liberation of Cuba was mainly a job for Cubans and because I was working with Stefan Possony on The Geography of Intellect, a subject which interested me much more, which I thought more important and found more mentally stimulating. So I don't know about Carton's activities shortly before the assassination.
Was Martino an honest and credible source? He wanted to tell his story about having been abandoned by our Havana Embassy before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. Senator Tom Dodd of Connecticut asked me if I considered Martino a credible person whom they should use as a witness. I vouched for him. Yet the Subcommittee never called on him. I supposed they received some negative info about his veracity, but I never took the time to find out. One reason was that the nexus I would have used, Thomas Dodd,
was out of the picture. He had told me previously that he thought this subversives hunt area would be a blight on his career (perhaps because it attracted bigoted Southern Senators and unreliable zealots like Joe McCarthy). The last straw, he told me, was when his daughter, who was at one of the elite women's colleges, heard her friends attacking him and exclaimed furiously "my father is not an ogre!"
Since I was the first person to be approached by Martino to rescue the imaginary Russian colonels the story he told me sheds light on his intentions. I guess it was naive of me to fall for this story, but, after all, so did Barry Goldwater and Henry Luce.
The other side of the Martino enigma is that he hated Castro understandably after a long imprisonment under abominable conditions and hated the Kennedy Administration for what he regarded as appeasement policies. And he was a conspiracy buff. In some ways, similar to real assassins. After all, Oswald was a bright failure without stability or clear purpose in life, consumed by ambition and hatred, wishing to do something that would make him seem of world importance, but unable to do anything but destroy.
By the way, I thought at the time Martino was merely a man who served the Mafia by building and repairing gambling machines and that he went to Cuba on the trip that led to his arrest merely to recoup them and his employers' money. Was he a much larger fish? Perhaps.
Hancock's book Someone Would Have Talked is a decidedly mixed bag. From the title, it tries to circumvent the notion that Warren Commission defenders always trot out. Namely: If there was a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy, why has no one talked about such an enterprise before or since? The book enumerates several people who did do just that. But its real aim is to outline the actual conspiracy as he sees it. And he tries to tilt that conspiracy in a certain way. It's the way he tilts it that I have some major problems with.
The first chapter focuses on John Martino. Martino was involved with a Mafia-owned hotel in Cuba prior to Castro's revolution. He was then arrested and jailed by the revolutionaries. Once he was released in 1962 he began to speak out against Castro, joined up with some para-military types like Felipe Vidal Santiago and Gerry Hemming, and was also a speaker on the John Birch Society circuit. He died in 1975. But before he passed away he spoke about what he had heard of the plot to kill Kennedy to a couple of friends and to his wife. One of the friends, Fred Claasen, went to the House Select Committee on Assassinations. According to Hancock, the HSCA did only a perfunctory investigation of the claims. Later on, in Vanity Fair, (December of 1994) Anthony Summers fleshed out the story more fully. Hancock, on page 16, puts the Martino findings in synoptic form:
1. Cuban exiles manipulated Oswald in advance of the plot and two of them were snipers in Dealey Plaza.
2. Oswald was a U. S. government undercover operative who was approached by anti-Castro exiles representing themselves as pro-Castro.
3. Oswald was supposed to meet an exile contact at the Texas Theater. Oswald thought he would help him escape the country, but the actual plan was to shot him. Tippit's killing aborted this. Therefore the planners had to have Ruby murder Oswald.
4. The motorcade route was known in advance, and the attack was planned thoroughly in advance.
It is interesting to note here that shortly after this, in Chapters 3 and 4, Hancock begins to summarize the story of Richard Case Nagell, another person who had knowledge of the assassination. I think to any knowledgeable and objective observer comparing the two stories, Nagell's is more compelling. For by 1975, when the Martino story first surfaced, all of the enumerated points above were realized as distinct possibilities or contingencies by most serious researchers. The one exception being the anti-Castro exiles presenting themselves to Oswald as pro-Castro. But this would be the most speculative part also, since the only people who could actually verify it would be Oswald and the Cubans who approached him. And since I have noted elsewhere, most of the Cubans in this milieu are notoriously unreliable, that would leave Oswald.
I said that by 1975 Martino's information was pretty well known to serious investigators. But really, as Hancock relates it, it was known earlier than that. For by the end of 1968, all of the points -- except as noted -- were working axioms of the New Orleans investigation by DA Jim Garrison. To use just one investigator's testimony, researcher Gary Schoener has said that Garrison was "obsessed" with the Cuban exile group Alpha 66. At one time, he thought they were the main sponsoring group manipulating Oswald, and that they had pulled off the actual assassination.
I wish we all knew the full truth of the conspiracy, however since we do not it seems strange to characterize my view of it with the term "tilt". That implies that someone does know the exact truth and can measure the degree to which others are "tilting" their version of it. The book reflects my research, the sources I found most credible and my own conclusions. I have intentionally introduced certain chapters (including "End Game") as theory and identified specific segments (including the analysis of Johnson's actions) as speculation.
In 1963 Martino was demonstrably associating with and known to CIA officers and military operations staff including David Morales, Rip Robertson and Eugenio Martinez. He played a seminal role in instigating and participating in a risky Cuban penetration mission involving former ambassador William Pawley (the mission also had documented CIA support, not to mention Life magazine photo coverage). After the assassination he was extremely active in promoting the "Castro did it, Oswald was working for Castro" propaganda and aggressively promoted that story to the FBI (at the time only his family knew that was a total creation, shortly before his death he shared it with a business partner and a friend). Unlike Nagel, we have considerable specific information on Martino's associates and CIA contacts; we also have family members that are living and willing to share first hand information about his activities before and after the assassination.
Nagell's story had already been told in detail by Dick Russell and others. Martino's full story had not been told before, indeed nobody had realized that Martino was closely connected to CIA officer David Morales, even mentioning Morales by his real name in his book about Martino's Cuban imprisonment. More importantly, Martino identified himself as being involved in the conspiracy, described his rather minor role and made a series of very specific statements about the conspiracy – which can be tested. A good portion of the book is structured to explore and evaluate those statements. In contrast Nagel made no direct observations about the Dallas conspiracy. He did state that he had become aware of a general plan to kill JFK and blame it on Castro a full year earlier in Mexico, that he observed Cuban exiles impersonating Castro agents in contact with Oswald and tried to warn Oswald off from them. The plot known to Nagell involved something planned to happen in September in or around Washington D.C.; Nagell himself was first on the run from Cuban exiles and then in jail in the weeks before Dallas.
Martino himself described his participation in the conspiracy, his role as a courier and his prior knowledge of the conspiracy. A good deal of the book is devoted to testing his statements to that effect. I will acknowledge that there is ambiguity in my specific wording as to his telephone calls on November 22,, certainly his family was convinced that he was talking to Cuban friends, some in Miami and some most likely in Dallas . One of his good exile friends was admittedly in Dallas that day and Martino himself traveled to Dallas that fall. I will qualify this point in the next edition.