David Atlee Phillips was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on 31st October, 1922. He was educated at William and Mary College and Texas Christian University. During the Second World War he served as a nose gunner in the United States Air Force.
Phillips joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1950. Over the next few years Phillips was involved in clandestine operations in Guatemala against President Jacobo Arbenz. The plot against Arbenz became part of Executive Action (a plan to remove unfriendly foreign leaders from power).
Tracy Barnes was placed in charge of what became known as Operation Success. Phillips was appointed to run the propaganda campaign against Arbenz's government. According to Phillips he initially questioned the right of the CIA to interfere in Guatemala: In his autobiography Phillips claims he said to Barnes: "But Arbenz became President in a free election. What right do we have to help someone topple his government and throw him out of office?" However, Barnes convinced him that it was vital important that the Soviets did not establish a "beachhead in Central America".
The CIA propaganda campaign included the distribution of 100,000 copies of a pamphlet entitled Chronology of Communism in Guatemala. They also produced three films on Guatemala for showing free in cinemas. Phillips, along with E.Howard Hunt, was responsible for running the CIA's Voice of Liberation radio station. Faked photographs were distributed that claimed to show the mutilated bodies of opponents of Arbenz. William (Rip) Robertson was also involved in the campaign against Jacobo Arbenz.
The CIA began providing financial and logistic support for Colonel Carlos Castillo. With the help of resident Anastasio Somoza, Castillo had formed a rebel army in Nicaragua. It has been estimated that between January and June, 1954, the CIA spent about $20 million on Castillo's army.
On 18th June 1954, aircraft dropped leaflets over Guatemala demanding that Arbenz resign immediately or else the county would be bombed. CIA's Voice of Liberation also put out similar radio broadcasts. This was followed by a week of bombing ports, ammunition dumps, military barracks and the international airport.
Carlos Castillo's collection of soldiers now crossed the Honduran-Guatemalan border. His army was outnumbered by the Guatemalan Army. However, the CIA Voice of Liberation successfully convinced Arbenz's supporters that two large and heavily armed columns of invaders were moving towards Guatemala City.
One CIA memo has Raymond Leddy saying: "It may be necessary to take more deadly plans might need development... The best way to bring about the fall of the Arbenz government would be to eliminate 15-20 of its leaders with Trujillo's trained pistoleros."
The CIA was also busy bribing Arbenz's military commanders. It was later discovered that one commander accepted $60,000 to surrender his troops. Ernesto Guevara attempted to organize some civil militias but senior army officers blocked the distribution of weapons. Jacobo Arbenz now believed he stood little chance of preventing Castillo gaining power. Accepting that further resistance would only bring more deaths he announced his resignation over the radio.
Castillo's new government was immediately recognised by President Dwight Eisenhower. Castillo now reversed the Arbenz reforms. In July 19, 1954, he created the National Committee of Defense Against Communism and decreed the Preventive Penal Law Against Communism to fight against those who supported Arbenz when he was in power. Over the next few weeks thousands were arrested on suspicion of communist activity. A large number of these prisoners were tortured or killed.
David Atlee Phillips also worked undercover in Cuba (1959-60). He returned to the United States in 1960 and was involved in the organization of the Bay of Pigs operation. During this period he worked with E.Howard Hunt in the attempts to have Fidel Castro murdered.
Phillips worked under Winston Scott, the head of the CIA station in Mexico. In April 1963 Scott wrote that: "His (Phillips) comprehensive understanding of human beings combined with a thorough knowledge of covert action techniques and his fluent Spanish make him unusually valuable... He is the most outstanding Covert Action officer that this rating officer has ever worked with."
Winston Scott suggested to Richard Helms that Phillips should become his deputy station chief. However, Helms decided to appoint Phillips as Chief of Cuban Operations. Desmond FitzGerald arrived in Mexico City to tell Phillips that he had the freedom to roam the entire Western Hemisphere mounting secret operations to get rid of Fidel Castro. Phillips now worked closely with David Morales at JM WAVE in Miami. Phillips also provided support to Alpha 66. It was later claimed that Phillips told Antonio Veciana his goal was to provoke US intervention in Cuba by "putting Kennedy's back to the wall."
Jefferson Morley argues in his book, Our Man in Mexico (2008) that Phillips was running an anti-Castro covert operation out of the US Embassy in Mexico City. Morley speculates that his field man was George Joannides.
On 25th November, Gilberto Alvarado, a 23 year-old Nicaraguan man, contacted the U.S. embassy in Mexico City and said he had some important information about Lee Harvey Oswald. The U.S. ambassador, Thomas C. Mann, passed the information onto Winston Scott and the following morning, Scott's deputy, Alan White and another CIA officer interviewed Avarado. He claimed that during a visit to the Cuban Embassy he overheard a man he now recognised as Oswald, talking to a red-haired Negro man. According to Avarado, Oswald said something about being man enough to kill someone. He also claimed that he saw money changing hands. He reported the information at the time to the U.S. Embassy but they replied: "Quit wasting our time. We are working here, not playing."
Winston Scott told Phillips about what Gilberto Alvarado had said to Alan White. On 26th November, Phillips had a meeting with Alvarado in a safe-house. Alvarado told Phillips that the red-haired black man had given Oswald $1,500 for expenses and $5,500 as an advance. Although he was not sure of the date, he thought it was about 18th September.
Thomas C. Mann and Phillips believed Alvarado but Scott was not so sure. He argued that there was an "outside possibility" that it might be a set-up by the right-wing government in Nicaragua who wanted the United States to invade Cuba. However, as Jefferson Morley pointed out in Our Man in Mexico: "The unstated message emanating from the White House was by now clear to Win - though not to Mann. Speculation about Oswald's motives was to be cut off, not pursued."
On 27th November, Luis Echeverria told Scott that they had rearrested Silvia Duran because she was trying to leave Mexico for Cuba. Thomas C. Mann sent a message to Winston Scott that stated: "Duran should be told that as the only living non-Cuban who knew the full story, she was in exactly the same position as Oswald prior to the assassination. Her only chance of survival is to come clean with the whole story and cooperate fully. I think she'll crack when confronted with the details."
On 28th November, Scott contacted Luis Echeverria and told him that Washington wanted the Mexicans to interrogate Gilberto Alvarado. On 29th November, Scott received a message from John M. Whitten saying: "Please continue to keep us filled in on status of interrogations of Slvia Duran, Alvarado and others implicated as fast as you can get info."
J. Edgar Hoover sent FBI agent, Larry Keenan, to Mexico City in order to have a meeting with Winston Scott, Thomas C. Mann and Phillips. Mann started the meeting by expressing the belief that Fidel Castro and the DGI were behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy and that it was just a matter of time before the United States invaded Cuba. However, Keenan replied that Hoover, Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert Kennedy, all believed that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
Thomas C. Mann later told Dick Russell: "It surprised me so much. That was the only time it ever happened to me - We don't want to hear any more about the case - and tell the Mexican government not to do any more about it, not to do more investigating, we just want to hush it up.... I don't think the U.S. was very forthcoming about Oswald... it was the strangest experience of my life."
In reality, J. Edgar Hoover had not ruled out the possibility of a communist plot to kill John F. Kennedy. At 1.40 on 29th November, Hoover told Lyndon B. Johnson on the telephone: "This angle in Mexico is giving us a great deal of trouble because the story there is of this man Oswald getting $6,500 from the Cuban embassy and then coming back to this country with it. We're not able to prove that fact, but the information was that he was there on the 18th of September in Mexico City and we are able to prove conclusively he was in New Orleans that day. Now then they've changed the dates. The story came in changing the dates to the 28th of September and he was in Mexico City on the 28th. Now the Mexican police have again arrested this woman Duran, who is a member of the Cuban embassy... and we're going to confront her with the original informant, who saw the money pass, so he says, and we're also going to put the lie detector test on him."
That evening Fernando Gutiérrez Barrios told Winston Scott that Gilberto Alvarado had recanted and signed a statement admitting that his story of seeing Lee Harvey Oswald in the Cuban Embassy was completely false. He said his motive was to try to get the United States to take action against Fidel Castro.
A few days later Gilberto Alvarado reverted to his original story. He told his Nicaraguan handler that the only reason that he recanted was that his interrogators threatened "to hang him by his testicles". However, soon afterwards, he recanted again. Phillips later claimed that Alvarado was "dispatched to Mexico City by the Somoza brothers... in what they considered a covert action to influence the American government to move against Cuba". Jefferson Morley argues that Phillips is being disingenuous: "Phillips knew all along about Alvarado's service as a CIA informant. Even the FBI knew all along he was under CIA control."
Silvia Duran was questioned about her relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald. Despite being roughed up she denied having a sexual relationship with Oswald. Luis Echeverria believed her and she was released. However, Duran later admitted to a close friend that she had dated Oswald while he was in Mexico City.
David Atlee Phillips served as Station Chief in the Dominican Republic and in Rio de Janeiro. In 1970, he was called to Washington and asked to lead a special task force assigned to prevent the election of Salvador Allende as President of Chile. Allende was killed in a military takeover in 1973.
David Atlee Phillips last assignment was as head of the Western Hemisphere Division. He held the rank of GS18, the highest position in the CIA not requiring executive appointment. After he retired in 1975 he became head of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO).
In 1976 Antonio Veciana was interviewed by Gaeton Fonzi of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Veciani, the founder of the anti-Castro organization, Alpha 66, told the committee about his relationship with his Central Intelligence Agency contact, Maurice Bishop. He claimed that in August, 1963, he saw Bishop and Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas. Veciana admitted that Bishop had organized and funded the Alpha 66 attacks on the Soviet ships docked in Cuba in 1963.
Antonio Veciana explained the policy: "It was my case officer, Maurice Bishop, who had the idea to attack the Soviet ships. The intention was to cause trouble between Kennedy and Russia. Bishop believed that Kennedy and Khrushchev had made a secret agreement that the USA would do nothing more to help in the fight against Castro. Bishop felt - he told me many times - that President Kennedy was a man without experience surrounded by a group of young men who were also inexperienced with mistaken ideas on how to manage this country. He said you had to put Kennedy against the wall in order to force him to make decisions that would remove Castro's regime."
Richard Schweiker, a member of the committee, speculated that Bishop was David Atlee Phillips. Schweiker asked his researcher, Gaeton Fonzi, to investigate this issue. Fonzi arranged for Veciana and Phillips to be introduced at a meeting of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers in Reston. Phillips denied knowing Veciana. After the meeting Veciana told Schweiker that Phillips was not the man known to him as Bishop.
Gaeton Fonzi was unconvinced by this evidence. He found it difficult to believe Phillips would not have known the leader of Alpha 66. Especially as Phillips had been in charge of covert action in Cuba when Alpha 66 was established. Other information also emerged to undermine Phillips. CIA agent, Ron Crozier, who worked in Cuba during this period, claimed that Phillips sometimes used the code name, Maurice Bishop.
Phillips published his autobiography, The Night Watch: 25 Years of Peculiar Service, in 1977. The following year he published Carlos Contract, a novel that dealt with political assassins. Phillips also wrote The Great Texas Murder Trials: A Compelling Account of the Sensational T. Cullen Davis Case (1979).
According to Larry Hancock, the author of Someone Would Have Talked, just before his death Phillips told Kevin Walsh, an investigator with the House Select Committee on Assassinations: "My final take on the assassination is there was a conspiracy, likely including American intelligence officers." (Some books wrongly quote Phillips as saying: "My private opinion is that JFK was done in by a conspiracy, likely including rogue American intelligence people.")
David Atlee Phillips died of cancer on 7th July, 1988. He left behind an unpublished manuscript. The novel is about a CIA officer who lived in Mexico City. In the novel the character states: "I was one of those officers who handled Lee Harvey Oswald... We gave him the mission of killing Fidel Castro in Cuba... 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."
In January 2004, E. Howard Hunt gave a taped interview with his son, Saint John Hunt, claiming that Lyndon Baines Johnson was the instigator of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and that it was organised by Phillips, Cord Meyer, Frank Sturgis and David Sanchez Morales.
"Tomorrow morning, gentlemen," Dulles said, "we will go to the White House to brief the President. Let's run over your presentations." It was a warm summer night. We drank iced tea as we sat around a garden table in Dulles' back yard. The lighted shaft of the Washington Monument could be seen through the trees. . . . Finally Brad (Colonel Albert Haney) rehearsed his speech. When he finished Alien Dulles said, "Brad, I've never heard such crap." It was the nearest thing to an expletive I ever heard Dulles use. The Director turned to me "They tell me you know how to write. Work out a new speech for Brad...
We went to the White House in the morning. Gathered in the theater in the East Wing were more notables than I had ever seen: the President, his Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State - Alien Dulles's brother, Foster - the Attorney General, and perhaps two dozen other members of the President's Cabinet and household staff....
The lights were turned off while Brad used slides during his report. A door opened near me. In the darkness I could see only a silhouette of the person entering the room; when the door closed it was dark again, and I could not make out the features of the man standing next to me. He whispered a number of questions: "Who is that? Who made that decision?"
I was vaguely uncomfortable. The questions from the unknown man next to me were very insistent, furtive. Brad finished and the lights went up. The man moved away. He was Richard Nixon, the Vice President.
Eisenhower's first question was to Hector (Rip Robertson): "How many men did Castillo Armas lose?" Hector (Rip Robertson) said only one, a courier... . Eisenhower shook his head, perhaps thinking of the thousands who had died in France. "Incredible..."
Nixon asked a number of questions, concise and to the point, and demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the Guatemalan political situation. He was impressive - not at all the disturbing man he was in the shadows.
Eisenhower turned to his Chief of the Joint Chiefs. "What about the Russians? Any reaction?"
General Ridgeway answered. "They don't seem to be up to anything. But the navy is watching a Soviet sub in the area; it could be there to evacuate some of Arbenz's friends, or to supply arms to any resisters."
Eisenhower shook hands all around. "Great," he said to Brad, "that was a good briefing." Hector and I smiled at each other as Brad flushed with pleasure. The President's final handshake was with Alien Dulles. "Thanks Allen, and thanks to all of you. You've averted a Soviet beachhead in our hemisphere." Eisenhower spoke to his Chief of Naval Operations "Watch that sub. Admiral. If it gets near the coast of Guatemala we'll sink the son-of-a-bitch. ' The President strode from the room.
Twenty-five years ago today the worst cover-action fiasco in American history occurred when a brigade of CIA-sponsored Cuban exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs.
The memory of that day haunts me because I was one of the CIA officers who planned the operation. But I recall more vividly and painfully the 19th of April, 1961, when after two days we knew the defeat was beyond salvage. In Washington we listened to the final radio report from the Cuban commander on the beach. His invasion force of 1,400 Cuban exiles had been routed. He reported that he was standing in the shallows, that he was about to abandon his gear and head for the swamp.
Then he cursed the U.S. government, and he cursed us as individuals.
The question about the Bay of Pigs most frequently asked - particularly by those who were young or not even born at the time - is a simple one: Why did it fail?
There is no simple, single answer.
Some history should be set straight. It has often been argued that the root cause for the disaster was that the CIA promised President Eisenhower and, after his inauguration, President John Kennedy, that a spontaneous uprising would be sparked in Cuba by the landing at the Bay of Pigs. That has become a durable myth; but it is a myth.
The Bay of Pigs operational plan was based on the 1954 successful covert action, in which I was also involved, that led to the overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala. No one in a responsible position ever contemplated a sudden victory in the Guatemalan endeavor. And it didn’t occur until enough Guatemalans were convinced the invading army was well entrenched the time had arrived to hop on the bandwagon. Nor, in the Cuban operation, did anyone from the lowest operator to CIA Director Allen Dulles believe that immediate uprisings would topple the charismatic Fidel Castro.
Then why did it fail? For the first few years after the Bay of Pigs my observation were too subjective to be trusted. In 1975, however, I mustered as much objectivity as I could to list four principal reasons for the failure:
First, the successful argument made to President Kennedy by his political advisers that the CIA’s original plan to land at a small town called Trinidad near Cuban mountains would make the operation unacceptably "noisy"; thus the change to the isolated, swampy landing site at the Bay of Pigs.
Next, Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson was not thoroughly informed of pre-invasion air strikes against Cuba, CIA sorties by exile pilots who claimed they were defecting from the Castro’s air force. Stevenson was understandably incensed after he denied charges by Cuba’s foreign minister that the planes were on CIA-supported missions. His protest to Kennedy, who admired him, might have been critical in the decision to truncate the operation.
Then, those of us within CIA - including Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell, the senior acting officer of the operation - should have ignored the agency’s "can-do" and "good-soldier" tradition and told the White House that an operation of the dimensions of the Bay of Pigs, if to be conducted at all, should be managed openly by the Pentagon and not by a secret army.
Finally, the decision by President Kennedy to cancel at zero hour the air cover that the 1,400 Cuban exiles in the amphibious force had been promised.
Now, after pondering the sad event for another decade, I must add a fifth element to the list of reasons the Bay of Pigs operation failed: There was a tacit assumption among those concerned with the operation in CIA - an assumption that hardened into certainty by D-Day - that John Kennedy would bail out CIA if things went awry.
Everyone, including Richard Bissell and Allen Dulles, believed deep down that Kennedy would rescue the operation with U.S. armed forces if need be. There had to be some sort of overt military option ready in the wings if defeat loomed. (Surely Eisenhower would have had one in reserve and used it.) But there was no contingency plan in fact or in Kennedy’s mindset. Those involved in the project, from top to bottom, ignored an intelligence basic: Don’t assume; know.
For those who demand a simple explanation of the Bay of Pigs debacle and for those who will not entertain the thesis that there was sufficient blame to share among everyone concerned, perhaps the curious incident of Fidel Castro’s not making a speech should be recalled.
In a crowded press conference, one of the first American newsmen to visit Havana after the Bay of Pigs asked Castro, "Why did the Americans fail?" Everyone expected one of Castro’s customary lengthy political diatribes. Instead, Castro shrugged and replied, simply, "They had no air support."
Years after the event, a man who had worked with me on the project explained what he had decided about the Bay of Pigs. ""t was inevitable," he said . "The fiasco, I mean. The disaster. If it hadn’t been the Bay of Pigs it would have been something else sometime in the future. In 1953 Kermit Roosevelt and a few fellows manipulated that crowd that toppled Mossadegh in Iran without any trouble at all. Then in 1954 we took care of Eisenhower’s little problem in Guatemala. So easy, it seemed. All those successes just had to lead to a failure eventually, because the system kept calling on us for more and more even when it should have been obvious that secret shenanigans couldn’t do what armies are supposed to do.
"If it hadn’t been that time at the Bay of Pigs," he concluded, "it would have been somewhere else at some other time."
We didn’t call them that in 1961, but the exiles stranded on the beach at the Bay of Pigs were our contras. We should have scrapped the operation or, once committed to it, followed through with enough support that our contras would never have only one option of heading for the swamp.
The nature of Arbenz's government, however, meant that Operation Success launched both the CIA and the United States on a new path. Mussadegh in Iran was left-wing and had indulged in talks with Russian diplomats about possible alliances and treaties. Arbenz, on the other hand, had simply been trying to reform his country and had not sought foreign help in this. Thus by overthrowing him, America was in effect making a new decision in the cold war. No longer would the Monroe Doctrine, which was directed against foreign imperial ambitions in the Americas from across the Atlantic or the Pacific, suffice. Now internal subversion communism from within - was an additional cause for direct action. What was not said, but what was already clear after the events in East Germany the previous year, was that the exercise of American power, even clandestinely through the CIA, would not be undertaken where Soviet power was already established. In addition, regardless of the principles being professed, when direct action was taken (whether clandestine or not), the interests of American business would be a consideration: if the flag was to follow, it would quite definitely follow trade.
The whole arrangement of American power in the world from the nineteenth century was based on commercial concerns and methods of operation his had given America a material empire through the ownership of foreign transport systems, oil fields, estancias, stocks, and shares. It had also given America resources and experience (concentrated in private hands) with the world outside the Americas, used effectively by the OSS during World War II American government, however, had stayed in America, lending its influence to business but never trying to overthrow other governments for commercial purposes. After World War II, American governments were more willing to use their influence and strength all over the world for the first time and to see an ideological implication in the "persecution" of U.S. business interests.
During the Church committee hearings, Senator Richard Schweiker's independent investigator Gaeton Fonzi stumbled onto a vital lead in the Kennedy assassination. An anti-Castro Cuban exile leader named Antonio Veciana was bitter about what he felt had been a government setup leading to his recent imprisonment, and he wanted to talk. Fonzi asked him about his activities, and without any prompting from Fonzi, Veciana volunteered the fact that his CIA handler, known to him only as "Maurice Bishop," had been with Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas not long before the assassination of Kennedy. Veciana gave a description of Bishop to a police artist, who drew a sketch. One notable characteristic Veciana mentioned were the dark patches on the skin under the eyes. When Senator Schweiker first saw the picture, he thought it strongly resembled the CIA's former Chief of the Western Hemisphere Division-one of the highest positions in the Agency - and the head of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO): David Atlee Phillips.
Veciana was introduced by name to Phillips twice, once in the banquet hall and once in the hallway. Phillips even asked that it be repeated and then, when Veciana asked him, "Don't you remember my name?" Phillips responded, "No." As Veciana himself later pointed out, that was odd considering that Veciana had been exceptionally well-known in anti-Castro activity, being the founder, key fund-raiser and spokesman for Alpha 66, the largest and most militant anti-Castro group. It was odd because anti-Castro activity was the heart and soul of Phillips' mission during the period in question. It was impossible for Phillips not to know or remember Veciana's name. Phillips had simply been caught off-guard by Veciana's surprise appearance at Reston and had a little "slip of tradecraft." Phillips himself must have later realized that because later, under oath during his Committee testimony, he decided the only way he could rectify that "slip of tradecraft" was to lie and say that Veciana was never introduced to him by name at that encounter. I urged Chief Counsel Bob Blakey to recommend Phillips be charged with perjury, since we had three witnesses to that Reston encounter: myself, Veciana and an aide from Senator Schweiker's office. Blakey declined to take on the CIA.
Jack Pfeiffer: What comment can you make about the propaganda operation in terms of the MATE program. Do you think enough attention was paid to propaganda in the thing? We had the Swan radio set up and..
Jake Esterline: We had the best... that is we did have a strong man there. We had Dave Phillips, and he was really the best propaganda man we had in the Division. He had previous experience as a senior officer in the Guatemalan thing. He was certainly one of the stronger and more dependable members of the Staff., and totally fluent in Spanish. He was able to move in and around all sectors of things with total ease.
Congress' Assassinations Committee had problems with the CIA evidence on Mexico City, and specifically with the testimony of David Phillips, who was in charge of Cuban operations in Mexico at the time Oswald's name was used at the Cuban embassy. Richard Sprague, the Committee's first chief counsel, said in 1980, "I did not feel we were being told the absolute truth on Mexico City by the CIA. Specifically, I felt that the narration on Mexico City by David Phillips, given under oath, would not bear thorough examination. It was contrary to that given by other sources, and to other facts." The second chief counsel of the Committee, Professor Robert Blakey, observes that "Phillips testified about a variety of subjects, and the Committee was less than satisfied with his candor."
David Phillips came to the Committee's attention in a context other than his accounts of CIA surveillance in Mexico. The Committee gave serious consideration to the possibility that David Phillips was the man behind the mask of "Maurice Bishop," the case officer alleged to have schemed to provoke trouble between the United States and the Soviet Union over Cuba and to have met with Oswald shortly before the assassination. Phillips, denied he was "Bishop," and so did the source of the "Bishop" allegations, Antonio Veciana. Nevertheless, the Committee said in its Report that it "suspected Veciana was lying" and that Phillips - referred to on this occasion as "the retired officer aroused the Committee's suspicion" with the nature of his denial. The question whether Phillips did use the cover name "Bishop" will be covered in some detail later. At this stage, however, consider one last fragment of information on Mexico City. It suggests that CIA officer "Bishop" tried to tamper with the evidence so as to falsely link Oswald with Communist officials.
Q: Did David Atlee Phillips ever recruit Frank Sturgis at any time for any job? If Yes what job or use was Sturgis to Phillips?
A: I've got no indication that Phillips ever worked with Sturgis. And knowing this, what sticks in my mind, whenever I would bring up Phillips' name to Sturgis, Sturgis would go ballistic in terms of how much he hated Phillips. Absolutely wild in terms of his reaction to anything, any mention of David Phillips at all. He (said he) "hated the son-of-a-bitch". And the reason he said he hated him was because Phillips claimed that Sturgis never had anything to do at all with the CIA. And that made me suspicious about that connection. Veciana said that at one point, Maurice Bishop asked him to sit, or go to a meeting, monitor an operation that Sturgis was involved in called Cellula Fantasma. And Veciana did and reported back to Bishop about what was happening. I believe it was a ..... there are all kinds of reports now exactly what it was. When I asked Sturgis about it, I think he told me it was a leaflet dropping mission. There were indications that it may have been something other than that also. But that's the only connection I could come up with between Phillips and Sturgis.
David Philips suspected by the House Select Committee on Assassinations of doubling as the shadowy "Maurice Bishop" CIA overseer of the Cuban Alpha 66 anti-Castro brigade. The same David Philips in charge of spinning the Oswald-Mexico City incident in the CIA's favor may have engineered the "Mexico City scenario" in the first place. Lane, who has made a legal and literary career out of blaming the CIA for JFK's death, says he did.
Alpha 66's Cuban leader Antonio Veciana claimed that at one of his hundred or so meetings with Bishop, Oswald was there not saying anything, just acting odd.
"I always thought Bishop was working with Oswald during the assassination," Veciana told Russell.
Veciana's cousin worked for Castro's intelligence service and after the assassination Bishop wanted Veciana to bribe his cousin into saying that he met with Oswald, in order to fabricate an Oswald-Castro connection.
Investigators never established for sure that Bishop and Philips were one and the same, but descriptions of Bishop's appearance and mannerisms mirrored Philips'. Veciana drew a sketch of his old controller and Senator Richard Schweiker, a member of the assassination committee, recognized it as Philips. When the select committee's star investigator Gaeton Fonzi finally brought Veciana and Philips together, the two started acting weird around each other. After a short conversation in Spanish, Philips bolted. Witnesses to the encounter swear that a look of recognition swept Veciana's visage, but Veciana denied that Philips was his case officer of more than a decade earlier.
Gaeton Fonzi's account of the Phillips affair and the HSCA non-investigation of the CIA contains much instructive material. As he recounts in his book The Last Investigation, the Congress knew that Phillips perjured himself on a number of important points in his testimony before the HSCA, yet chose not to recommend prosecution of Phillips. A recent book on the HSCA by one of its staff lawyers does not deal with this moment, although it offers yet another muddled, small-scale conspiracy narrative not associated with the political economy of the postwar American power structure. At the time the Congress became interested in reopening the assassination inquiry, Clare Boothe Luce, widow of Time-Life magnate Henry Luce and former lover of Allen Dulles, gave out a good deal of malarkey (about Cubans no less) to investigators designed to send them on a wild goose chase.
In the late 1980's we came into contact with an informant who had known Phillips and who had contact with Phillips in 1958-59. This person told us about three Cubans who had had contact with Phillips at this time. (Juan) Manuel Salvat, Isidro Borja and Antonio Veciana... That is something our agent informed us of. We did a spoken picture of this Harold Benson as we do always. But we didn't know really know who he was. In 1972, this CIA official had an interview with our agent. Our agent at that time had a different case official. But this man came as a.... as a leader, as a boss or something. Had an interview with our agent. This interview was... took place in Mexico they were just having a few drinks. In between, Kennedy's name came into the conversation they were talking about... into the conversation, not Kennedy came to, into... So when the subject comes up this character explains to our agent that after Kennedy's death, he visited his grave and peed on it and said he (JFK) was a communist and such and such. We still didn't know who Harold Benson was but when Claudia Furiati did her research, among the people we interviewed was this agent. We showed him a group of photographs. Plus we already knew about David Phillips. I'm speaking of 1992 and 1993. And the photograph that we showed him was a photograph of David Phillips. And so he pointed out as Harold Benson.
David Phillips held a seminal position in anti-Castro affairs before and during the time in which the Kennedy conspiracy was formed. He had access to strategic plans and information in regard to Cuban affairs by way of his contacts in Washington D.C. and at JM WAVE in Miami. He worked in tandem with David Morales at JM WAVE and in Mexico City and undoubtedly his real politics and feelings were those of Morales rather than the liberal picture he paints of himself as a JFK proponent in his biography.
• David Phillips was Maurice Bishop.
• As Bishop, Phillips pursued his own personal anti-Communist and anti-Kennedy Administration agenda.
• Phillips' direction of Alpha 66 to attack Russian targets in Cuba was intended to provoke a direct U.S. - Russian conflict which would result in the liberation of Cuba.
• Through Veciana, Phillips independently supported multiple unsanctioned assassination plots against Fidel Castro. Alpha 66, Veciana, Eddie Bayo and Tony Cuesta were not directed by the CIA but personally by Phillips. Phillips specifically told Veciana his goal was to provoke US intervention in Cuba by "putting Kennedy's back to the wall."
• Phillips demonstrated his willingness to incite exiles in independent military actions. Phillips had an established history of organizing anti-FPCC "dangles" and propaganda operations.
Phillips was involved in a new anti-FPCC initiative in 1963, including a project to extend the effort outside the United States.
Bishop/Phillips was seen in Dallas, Texas, with Lee Oswald immediately prior to Oswald's trip to Mexico City - a trip in which he made contact with both the Cuban and Russian embassies in an attempt to travel through Cuba to Russia.
We now do know a good deal about David Phillips, both from his official history and from the disclosure of his actions as Maurice Bishop. What we may never know is the extent to which David Phillips used his position and assets to support the Kennedy conspiracy. However, there are two further indications that he was either aware of the conspiracy or actively supported it.
One of these is from conversations which David Phillips had with Kevin Walsh, a former HSCA staffer who went on to work as a private detective in Washington, DC In a conversation not long before his death, Phillips remarked: "My private opinion is that JFK was done in by a conspiracy, likely including American intelligence officers." - David Atlee Phillips, July 1986.
The second conversation was related in an email exchange between researcher Gary Buell and David Phillips' nephew, Shawn Phillips. As Shawn described in the email, Shawn's father, James Phillips, became aware that his brother, David, had in some way been "seriously involved" in the JFK assassination. James and David argued about this vigorously and it resulted in a silent hiatus between them that lasted for almost six years.
As David was dying of lung cancer, he called his brother. Even at this point there was apparently no reconciliation between the two men. James asked David pointedly, "Were you in Dallas that day?" David answered, "Yes," and James hung up the phone on him.
The "Confession", you refer to was not in so many words as such. I cannot remember the time frames involved, but this was what was told to me by my father, James Atlee Phillips, who is deceased. He said that David had called him with reference to his (Davids), invitation to a dinner, by a man who was purportedly writing a book on the CIA. At this dinner, was also present a man who was identified only as the "Driver". David told Jim that he knew the man was there to identify him as Raul Salcedo, whose name you should be familiar with, if your research is accurate in this matter. David then told Jim that he had written a letter to the various media, as a "Preemptive Strike" , against any and all allegations about his involvement in the JFK assassination. Jim knew that David was the head of the "Retired Intelligence Officers of the CIA", or some such organization, and that he was extremely critical of JFK, and his policies. Jim knew at that point, that David was in some way, seriously involved in this matter and he and David argued rather vehemently, resulting in a silent hiatus between them that lasted almost six years according to Jim. Finally, as David was dying of irreversible lung cancer, he called Jim and there was apparently no reconciliation between them, as Jim asked David pointedly, "Were you in Dallas on that day"? David said, "Yes", and Jim hung the phone up.
John Simkin: The idea that David Phillips was involved in the assassination appeared in several of the early conspiracy books. Looking at the evidence you provide (in Someone Would Have Talked) this is not surprising. However, I have always had severe doubts about this.
Phillips was a skilled operator. If he had been involved in planning this operation I am sure it would have been done in such a way that would not have raised so many doubts about Oswald acting as a lone gunman. For example, Phillips would have been aware that the Oswald impostor would have been captured on film in Mexico City. Therefore, why did they select someone who clearly did not look like Oswald. The setting up of Oswald seems a very amateur operation. Phillips might have been aware of what was going on, but I cannot believe that he played a major role in the assassination.
If Phillips had been organizing the conspiracy would he not have made sure there was no link between himself and the assassination. For example, would Phillips be the CIA’s direct contact with Antonio Veciana? (MI5 and MI6 defintely don't behave like this). Surely he would have used someone else to have met Veciana in public. Also Veciana claims that in August, 1963, he saw Bishop and Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas. If Phillips knew that Oswald was being set-up to be blamed for the assassination of JFK he would not have got anywhere near him that summer.
Another reason why I do not believe Phillips was involved in the assassination is the interview he gave to Kevin Walsh. If he had been part of a conspiracy would he really have said: "My private opinion is that JFK was done in by a conspiracy, likely including American intelligence officers." If he had been guilty of such a crime he would have kept on denying any possibility that the CIA could have been involved in such an event.
When he died on 7th July, 1988, Phillips left behind an unpublished manuscript. The novel is about a CIA officer who lived in Mexico City. In the novel the character states: "I was one of those officers who handled Lee Harvey Oswald... We gave him the mission of killing Fidel Castro in Cuba... 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."
I suspect that this extract reveals Phillips’ true involvement in the assassination of JFK. Maybe that was the real reason Oswald was chosen as the patsy. When the CIA realised that one of their agents recruited to kill Castro had killed (or been made to look like he had killed) JFK, they had no option but to try and cover up the crime. The same goes for Robert Kennedy, who was likely to have been told as part of Operation Freedom, that Oswald was the agent being trained to kill Castro.
Larry Hancock: John, I certainly do not see Phillips as either the organizer of the Dallas conspiracy nor as the prime mover in building any sort of a frame of Lee Oswald. My current belief is that Phillips was very likely manipulating Lee Oswald in a relatively minor role in a new CIA propaganda project targeting the FPCC outside the United States, specifically in Mexico. As to the mechanics of that and whether it involved Oswald himself, an impersonator or perhaps even both are beyond me.... several different scenario's are possible. I think it's pretty safe to say that whatever the plan was it was built on the "performance" and image that Oswald had built in NO only a short while before and which had been well documented by Phillips covert "media network'. There is also some reason to think that this game involved CI/SIG assets in MC and at HQ which were independent of the other MC office staff. Whatever it was though became hugely dangerous for Phillips and the CIA as a whole after Nov. 22.
At a minimum, Phillips - as others in the CIA and FBI and individuals in New Orleans - knew there was a lot more to Oswald than the official Lone Nut story. It's also pretty clear that Phillips jumped on the "lets tie Oswald to Castro" bandwagon with the whole Alvarado incident (which Phillips undoubtedly knew to be bogus) and had the nerve to cover up his games in MC (his letter to the FBI stating that as of February 64 the CIA had full photo files on every American entering the Cuban embassy in Sept and Oct of 63 is raw hubris, almost daring them to ask for the photos of Oswald going in and out). The fact that such photos were never provided certainly does raise the issue of an imposter or of an Oswald associate/handler.
Whether or not Phillips had shared information on Oswald in advance with Morales, whether or not he had signed up for some propoganda/media role in promoting Castro as a conspiracy sponsor is an open question. Remember, his speciality was propaganda/media control/counter intel not black ops or tactical matters, he had no military experience at all. I think it's safe to say that Phillips knew all along that the WC story was bogus, at a minimum he knew there had been a conspiracy and that his final words point in the right direction.
Beyond that it's also important to remember that much of his work - such as with Veciana - was on his own initiative. He was not Veciana's CIA case officer, his manipulation of Veciana and Alpha 66 and other groups he was in contact with was at on his own agenda and generally directily opposed to that of Headquarters and certainly the Administration.
I had a similar problem with the following chapter on David Phillips. And it started right on the first page (159). Hancock writes, "Phillips was without a doubt a CIA general." If we consider that word in its normal sense, with normal examples e.g. Eisenhower, Schwarzkopf etc. then I don't understand it. At the time frame of the JFK assassination, Phillips was an operations officer. A man in the field supervising things getting done and done right. Not a guy behind the lines planning and approving the overall campaign. In his fine book A Death in Washington Don Freed quotes CIA Director Bill Colby (p. 81) as calling Phillips a great operations officer. So if we go by Colby's rather authoritative account, Phillips was really a Lt. Colonel at the time -- parallel to someone like Oliver North in the Iran/Contra scandal. Hancock then goes further. He applies this same spurious hierarchical title -- "general" -- to Dave Morales. Yet Morales was Chief of Staff to Ted Shackley at JM/WAVE during this period. I would not even apply the word "general" to Shackley at the time, let alone Morales. Or if I did, it would at most be Brigadier General, not a starred one. It was their superiors at Langley, e.g. James Angleton, who were the generals. People like Phillips and Morales were implementers. (Hancock devotes an entire chapter to Morales. Which is part and parcel of the hubbub that has attended the research community since Gaeton Fonzi introduced him in The Last Investigation. As I noted in my review of the documentary RFK Must Die this has reached the point of actually -- and unsuccessfully -- implicating him in the murder of Robert Kennedy.)
Hancock uses Philips' own autobiography The Night Watch for much of the background material on the man. He then uses one of his timelines to take us up to the famous Bishop/Phillips masquerade episode with Antonio Veciana. But surprisingly, he leaves out some of the most intriguing points about Phillips in Mexico City. Especially his work on the fraudulent tapes sent to Washington to implicate Oswald in the JFK case. For instance, Hancock does not even mention the role of Anne Goodpasture, Phillips' assistant in Mexico City. There is some extraordinary material on her in the HSCA's Lopez Report. Neither does he mention the utterly fascinating evidence that John Armstrong advances in his book Harvey and Lee. Namely that Phillips sent the dubiously transcribed Mexico City tapes of Oswald by pouch to himself at Langley under an assumed name. Why would he do such a thing? Well, maybe so that no officers but he and Goodpasture would have the tapes from their origin in Mexico City to their arrival at CIA HQ. This mini-conspiracy was blown in two ways. First, when FBI officials heard the tapes as part of their Kennedy murder investigation and concurred that they were not of Oswald. Second, when HSCA first counsel Richard Sprague showed the official transcripts of the tapes to the original Mexico City transcriber. The transcriber replied that what was on those transcripts was not what he recalled translating. It seems odd to me that these very important points would be left out of any contemporary discussion of Phillips. Even more so since Hancock goes into the Mexico City episode less than a hundred pages later (pgs 275-282).
My reference to Phillips and Morales as "generals" was to the ultimate degree of influence and positions of the two individuals. At the time of his early self- retirement, Phillips next promotion in the agency would have to have had Congressional approval, as do generals. However, as of 1963, both individuals were indeed simply in very key positions. As I demonstrate in the book, both were also very independent and would engage in actions during their careers that went far beyond their apparent charters and orders – Phillips was specifically cited in that regard by the Church Committee.) I'll concede this point though and change my wording on this in the next edition.
Actually it's Roselli who described himself as a "strategist" and given his business dealings that seems fair. I certainly can visualize that he could have added a good deal of strategy to a criminal conspiracy where the key tactical people were experienced paramilitary. I do not see Roselli as the master conspirator nor the initiator - working from the bottom up with Martino's information, I can only take it to a certain level and certain people.
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.
The notion that David Phillips or Angleton and his Counterintelligence team ran a closely held operation involving Oswald in the weeks before Kennedy was killed has become less implausible as more records have come into public view. Phillips himself entertained such a scenario later in life. In addition to two nonfiction memoirs, Phillips also wrote novels of espio¬nage. When he died in 1987, he left behind an outline for a novel about the Mexico City station in 1963, entitled "The AMLASH Legacy" The leading characters were explicitly based on Win Scott, James Angleton, and David Phillips himself...
The outline for a novel cannot be taken as proof of anything save the workings of Phillips's imagination, but it is tantalizing. "The CIA did not anticipate the President's assassination but it was responsible for it. I share that guilt." Phillips was not one to impugn the agency just to make a buck. After his retirement he founded the Association of Foreign Intelligence Agents and served as its chief spokesman, ably defending the CIA from its critics without much compensation. He always insisted that his espionage fiction was realistic and denounced those who sought to cash in on JFK conspiracy scenarios. The outline for the novel suggests that the notion that a CIA officer like himself would recruit a schemer like Oswald in a conspiracy to kill Castro did not strike Phillips as too improbable to sell or too unfair to the agency to market under his own name.
He (Phillips) rose eventually to be head of the Western Hemisphere branch of the CIA, and when he appeared before the Church Committee in 1975 he denied, falsely, that the CIA had anything to do with the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile two years earlier. In retirement, with several children to send through college, he launched a career as an author. His autobiography, The Night Watch (1977), was followed by a novel about intelligence, The Carlos Contract (1978), and The Great Texas Murder Trials (1979), a work of nonfiction. At some point before his death from cancer in 1988, he wrote an outline for another novel, entitled The AMLASH Legacy, dealing specifically with the Kennedy assassination.
The outline carefully identified the characters with the real figures on which they were based: Mexico City station chief Winston Scott, HSCA investigator Gaeton Fonzi, Antonio Veciana, long-time assassination conspiracists Mark Lane and Bernard Fensterwald, and Phillips himself , who went by the name of Harold Harrison. The novel focused on Harrison's son Don, who begins looking for his father's journal after his father's death. A Mexican woman who attended his father's funeral gives Don a letter written by his father. The letter explains that Harrison had been one of two case officers who recruited Lee Harvey Oswald, helped establish his credentials as a Marxist, and then attempted to send him to Cuba through Mexico City in order to assassinate Fidel Castro, using a sniper rifle from an upper floor of a high-rise to shoot Castro in his jeep. Harrison does not know whether Oswald was a double agent, the letter continues, but this was the same plan Oswald used to kill Kennedy. Allen Dulles, the letter stated, provided Harrison and the other unidentified agent with $400,000 to set up Oswald after he succeeded in assassinating Fidel.
In the novel, Harrison has the last laugh when is son discovers that his father's posthumous letter is a forgery concocted by the Fensterwald character and a KGB agent whom Harrison had repeatedly outwitted during, their spying careers. The real David Phillips might simply have concluded that since so many others had irresponsibly cashed in on the Kennedy assassination, he might as well do the same.
Yet his outline of this novel was the only document I know in existence before 1998 to suggest that Oswald might have been trying to go to Cuba to assassinate Castro. In that year, I wrote a short article to introduce the idea that - as "Leopoldo" suggested to Silvia Odio a few days before or a few days after Oswald's visit to Mexico City - Oswald's first assassination target may well have been the Cuban premier. We will probably never know whether Phillips was drawing on anything more than his imagination, but the plot of his novel, until the spectacular revelation at the end, tracks key events leading up to the Kennedy assassination almost perfectly.
I am certainly not thoroughly convinced that Phillips or any other CIA operative had anything to do with an assassination plot against Castro that involved 0swald. The plot might just as easily have been mounted by mob and right-wing elements such as John Martino, Loran Hall ("Leopoldo"), Guy Banister, David Ferrie, and Carlos Marcello in New Orleans as well as, perhaps, the DRE, which had infiltrated at least one member, Isidro Borja, into Cuba through Mexico City as well and placed its ad for a Castro assassin in See Magazine. Yet we cannot be sure that the CIA was not involved, especially since Martino had agency contacts of his own. Some evidence, including testimony from John Whitten and the recollections of British counterintelligence officer Peter Wright, suggests that James Angleton, the legendary chief of counterintelligence, was actually behind the Mafia plots against Castro, and Oswald's CIA 201 file was sitting in Angleton's shop when the report of his contacts with the Soviet Embassy reached headquarters.
I heard from Frank that LBJ had designated Cord Meyer, Jr. to undertake a larger organization while keeping it totally secret. Cord Meyer himself was a rather favorite member of the Eastern aristocracy. He was a graduate of Yale University and had joined the Marine Corps during the war and lost an eye in the Pacific fighting.
I think that LBJ settled on Meyer as an opportunist... and a man who had very little left to him in life ever since JFK had taken Cord's wife as one of his mistresses. I would suggest that Cord Meyer welcomed the approach from LBJ, who was after all only the Vice President at that time and of course could not number Cord Meyer among JFK's admirers - quite the contrary.
As for Dave Phillips, I knew him pretty well at one time. He worked for me during the Guatemala project. He had made himself useful to the agency in Santiago, Chile where he was an American businessman. In any case, his actions, whatever they were, came to the attention of the Santiago station chief and when his resume became known to people in the Western hemisphere division he was brought in to work on Guatemalan operations.
Sturgis and Morales and people of that ilk stayed in apartment houses during preparations for the big event. Their addresses were very subject to change, so that where a fellow like Morales had been one day, you'd not necessarily associated with that address - the following day. In short, it was a very mobile experience.
Let me point out at this point, that if I had wanted to fictionalize what went on in Miami and elsewhere during the run up for the big event, I would have done so. But I don't want any unreality to tinge this particular story, or the information, I should say. I was a benchwarmer on it and I had a reputation for honesty.
I think it's essential to refocus on what this information that I've been providing you - and you alone, by the way - consists of. What is important in the story is that we've backtracked the chain of command up through Cord Meyer and laying the doings at the doorstep of LBJ. He, in my opinion, had an almost maniacal urge to become President. He regarded JFK, as he was in fact, an obstacle to achieving that. He could have waited for JFK to finish out his term and then undoubtedly a second term. So that would have put LBJ at the head of a long list of people who were waiting for some change in the executive branch.