The Church Committee had uncovered the fact that there had been secret operations and certain ultra-sensitive missions conducted outside the
At the time of the Kennedy assassination, however, Bishop appeared to be particularly knowledgeable about intelligence operations in
By the early '70s, Bishop had broadened his interests and contacts throughout
Finally, another indication of Bishop's position in more recent years derived from the large amount of money paid Veciana at the end of their relationship in 1973. Bishop probably had to be in a position to have access to such funds and, perhaps, also have the power to cover them -- or be in association with someone who did. (It was the large amount of the final payment which reinforced the indications of a
On Sunday evening, that weekend I returned from
The sketch of Maurice Bishop reminded Schweiker of Dave Atlee Phillips, the former
According to Phillips, one of the major factors that led to his retirement was, as he put it, "the rash of sensational headlines in the world press that leave the impression the
The next morning I checked the date of the press conference, picked up a back issue of the Miami Herald and went directly to Veciana's place. He wasn't home. His wife said she didn't expect him back until evening and didn't know how to reach him. I returned home to another call from Newhall. "We've found a good photo of Phillips in the last June 23rd issued of People magazine," he said. "It did a feature about his forming that retired intelligence agents group. Do you think you can pick up a copy/" I said I would tried because the Herald photo, a wire service reproduction, was a poor one and the image a bit washed out. However, after trying several sources, I couldn't locate the particular back issue of People. The public library had already put it into a bound volume. Since it appeared that I wouldn't be able to get a reproduction of the article until the next day, I decided I would later call Veciana and ask him to join me at the public library the next morning. We could look at the magazine in the bound volume together.
That evening, while waiting to talk with Veciana, I glanced at the story that had appeared in the Herald when Phillips announced his retirement. There were scant details about his background. It noted that he had early been a professional actor, had been recruited by the
Phillips retired before the Church Committee was formed and before the
When I contacted Veciana that evening he said he did not know the name of David Phillips or remember seeing photographs of the man. He said, sure, hew would come to the public library with me the next morning. "I will call Dr. Abella and ask him to come with us also," he said. "Then we can do two things." In talking with Veciana over the weeks about he Kennedy assassination, it appeared that for the first time he was becoming interested in some of the details. One day he told me he had been talking with a close friend, Dr. Manuel Abella, about the assassination. He said Abella mentioned he recalled seeing a photograph of the crowd in Dealey Plaza just prior to the assassination. He thought the photo was in Life or Look, he wasn't sure. However, Abella said, he recognized a face in the crowd of a man he knew from
The next morning, Dr. Abella, a cigar-chomping pudgy little guy, was waiting with Veciana at his home. We drove downtown to the Dade Public Library in
At the periodical desk I asked for the bound volume of People magazine with the Phillips article and for the volumes of Life and Look with issues that might have crowd photos of
Veciana looked at the photo. He looked at the photo. I watched his face for some reaction but there was none. He kept starting at the photo. "Is it him?" I asked. Veciana didn't answer. His fact was totally expressionless but his eyes were intensely focused on the photo. Finally, he turned the page of the magazine. There was two additional photos of Phillips, both smaller and both showing Phillips' face less directly and less clearly. Veciana turned back to the large photo. "Is it him?" I asked again. Almost a half a minute had passed and the suspense was pressing on me. Without taking his eyes from the photo, he said, It is close." I wanted to shout at him: It is close? What the hell do you mean, it is close! Is it him or isn't it him? I didn't shout. Instead, I leaned closer and asked again softly: "Is it him?" Veciana did not take his eyes off the photo. "Does he have a brother?" he asked. The question took me aback. "I don't know," I said, but is he Bishop?" Veciana finally shook his head. "It is close, but it is not him." I remember feeling a sight of relief at the end of the suspense. "Are you sure it's not him?" I asked. "No, it's not him," Veciana said again. Well, I thought, that sounds pretty definite, and turned to the other volumes that Dr. Abella was waiting to look through. Then Veciana, still looking at the photo, added: "But I would like to talk with him."
"You would like to talk with Phillips?" I asked, not quite getting his point. "Do you think Phillips is Bishop?" "No, he is not Bishop," Veciana said, "but he is
Maybe he could, I thought, and turned to help Abella leafing through the other bound volumes looking for that crowd shot with the Castro agent. Abella had described the photo precisely, but it was neither in Life nor Look. Then Abella said maybe it was in Argosy or True, because he remembered articles about the Kennedy Assassination in those, also. So I went to get the bound volumes of those publications and we began looking through them. Again, we had no luck, but it had taken us about 15 minutes in the searching. Veciana, meanwhile, had remained seated at the table staring at the same photo of David Phillips.
Before the Schweiker investigation had come to a close, more than a dozen individuals had been considered, however fleetingly, as possible having been the man who called himself Maurice Bishop. Most of them came to attention because of having been in anti-Castro activity. The staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee continued to mostly look for Bishop in the area of Army Intelligence, despite my trying to make clear to them that Veciana knew of his contacts there and very much doubted that Bishop was with the military. (Besides being touted into Army Intelligence by the
We did not have the opportunity to have Veciana confront Phillips until September, just before Schweiker decided to close down his investigation. Between my first interview with Veciana and that time, I felt as if I were on a very fast-moving train trying to spot a smoking gun in the blur of passing woods. As the Church Committee was winding down, it became clear that only a sensational new revelation, simple and obvious enough for the public to instantly grasp its significance, could force the Committee to reopen a full-scale Kennedy investigation. The Veciana lead was a crack in the door to a new corridor, but it would take time and resources to develop it before its ultimate significance could be determined. Nevertheless, I attempted to pursue it as best I could. Over the months, I tried to locate and talk with everyone Veciana had named. We were hindered by very limited resources, since Schweiker's staff budget didn't include travel and expenses for a Kennedy assassination investigation and he could not use Committee funds for a personal staff investigator. We never did get to Julio Lobo in
Meanwhile, over those same months, there were other leads pressing to be pursued. Many of the Organized Crime figures who had been active in pre-Castro
At the end of June, the Senate Select Committee issued what it called its "Final Report": Book V - The Investigation of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy: Performance of the Intelligence Agencies. The press called it the Schweiker Report. Marston had air-expressed an advance copy to me the night before Schweiker was scheduled to release it at a major press conference. I thought the report was of historical significance as the first official confirmation of the invalidity of the Warren Commission Report. I objected, however, to its over-emphasizing the possibility of a Castro retaliation simply on the basis of the Warren Commission not having been informed of the
I congratulated him on the report, but told him I thought the Warren Commission critics were going to have what I thought was a legitimate objection. "How could the Committee have failed to pursue the possible relationship of Oswald to the intelligence agencies," I asked, "when the Committee discovered the intelligence agencies admitted a cover-up with the Warren Commission?" "Because," said Schweiker, "they took the position that they had no relationship with Oswald. And there were no documents in their files, they said, which reveal that there was. We pressed them on that several times and each time they said they had nothing. We hit a blind alley. I don't disagree with you, but considering the type of probe the Committee was conducting and the limited access to the intelligence agencies' files, there was not much we could do about it."
Schweiker was right. Considering that the Committee staff had conducted virtually no independent investigation and relied almost exclusively on records volunteered by the
Despite the direction that the Schweiker Report had taken and the public attention it had garnered, Schweiker was anxious for me to keep quietly pursuing the Veciana lead. He said he didn't know how long he could continue such an unofficial investigation, but he felt there were still many things we could do, even on our own, before we gave up.
Late in July, I wrapped up a trip to
The next morning I was on the line with Troy Gustafson, then Schweiker's press secretary. (With Marston leaving for the U.S. Attorney's job in
I wondered what it meant in terms of Schweiker continuing with a Kennedy assassination investigation. "I don't know," Gustafson said. "I haven't had a chance to discuss it with him. I know he really has a sincere passion for it but I think a lot will depend on what happens in
We decided we should continue with the investigation until Schweiker himself called us off it.
By early September, however, the factors had changed. Reagan and he had not gotten the Republican nomination in
One morning I received a call from Sarah Lewis in Schweiker's office. Lewis, an assistant to Gustafson, had been handling a lot of the
David Phillips knew we were coming. At least he knew I was coming. Sarah Lewis had called and made arrangements for three of us to attend the major luncheon on the last day of the conference. The tickets, $6.50 each, would be in my name. Phillips said we could pay at the door.
That morning, I met Veciana at the
Sarah Lewis picked us up at the airport in her red Volkswagen. She was a tall, attractive young woman with short blond hair and a pleasant smile. Her research abilities had led her to an interest in the Kennedy assassination. "Phillips is expecting us," se said, "although I guess he was puzzled by Senator Schweiker's interest in the conference." Veciana smiled.
There appeared to be no former spies lurking around the lobby, but a bulletin board directed us to Bankers' Room "B" and "C" down the center hallway. there were two large doors to the double banquet room. The one we came upon first, closer to the lobby, turned out to be to the rear of the room. That was simply because the podium and guest table had been set up at the other end of the expanded room, closer to the second set of doors further down the hallway. A luncheon ticket table, we later learned, had been set up outside the rear door, but by the time we had arrived it was gone and everyone was seated around large round tables in the banquet room. We were thinking about quietly slipping in to the rear of the room when a stocky fellow with a crew cut asked if we were from Senator Schweiker's office by any chance. he said he had been waiting for us and that three seats at Mr. Phillips' table had been kept aside. W apologized for our tardiness and followed him into the room. We could later pay for out tickets by mail.
It was noisy with chatter, the cacophony of tableware and the bustle of waitresses. It was a very large crowd in a large room. We wound our way single file through a curveway of packed tables until we came to the one in the far corner of the room farthest from the door. I was ahead of Sarah Lewis and Veciana. I immediately recognized Phillips sitting with his back toward us. I wanted to be in a position to see his face and to look at his eyes when he first saw Veciana, thinking I could perhaps catch a glint of recognition. The fellow leading us tapped Phillips on the back. Phillips jumped up[, whirled around, looked directly at me and, smiling, extended his hand as he introduced himself. I watched his eyes as I shook his hand, told him my name and said, simply, that I was with Senator Schweiker's office. His eyes never left my face, although Sarah Lewis was directly behind my right shoulder and Veciana was standing alongside her. Phillips never even glanced at them.
I immediately turned and said, "I'd like you to meet Sarah Lewis...." Phillips smiled a greeting and shook her hand. "....and this," I said, "is Antonio Veciana." Phillips smiled a quick greeting at Veciana, shook his hand and immediately turned back to me. "I'm glad you could come," he said, "and I'm delighted that Senator Schweiker is showing an interest, but I must admit I don't quite understand why you're here." He said it very cordially and with a nice smile, then quickly added, "...but, of course, you're most welcome." He gestured to the three empty chairs across the table.
It all happened with such speed I was taken aback by the quickness of it. I thought I would be able to tell, keen observer that I deemed myself, if Phillips had exhibited even the slightest hint of having recognized Veciana. Not only did Phillips not display that slightest hint, but his eyes moved on to and off of Veciana so quickly -- in the flash of a brief handshake -- that Veciana almost became a nonentity. Strange, too, when I thought about it later, was that Phillips, when he rose and turned to greet me, did not even momentarily glance at the two people standing immediately behind me, not even at the pretty girl over my right shoulder. Was David Phillips a very honest man or a master of deception? I thought, not considering that perhaps I was making an arbitrary distinction.
We sat down opposite Phillips at the three places that had been reserved for us. I sat on Veciana's left, Sarah Lewis on his right. Between Phillips and I were his wife, Gina, a pleasantly attractive woman who, I later learned, was a former secretary at the
As soon as Veciana sat down, he reach into his breast pocket, pulled out his glasses, put them on, folded his arms across his check and began studying David Phillips. Inwardly I cringed. Subtle he wasn't. For almost the entire luncheon, Veciana remained in the same position: Leaned back in his chair, arms folded across his chest, staring at Phillips. Occasionally he picked up his fork and dabbled at the food on the plate in front of him, then he would lean back again, fold his arms and look at Phillips. It obviously made Phillips very nervous. His hands were shaking noticeable. He appeared to deliberately not look at Veciana and remained in animate conversation with both his wife and the fellow to his left, a retired Navy officer, I believe.
The table was very large and the room was noisy and so, at one point, when Phillips learned over the two people between us and said something to me, it was difficult to hear him. I thought he asked, again, about what particular interest Senator Schweiker might have in a conference to retired intelligence officers. I said that, really, it just gave me the opportunity to meet him and that we were working on something we thought he might be able to help us with. I suggested that after the luncheon, perhaps, we could talk about it. He nodded his head and smiled, but because of the din level I wasn't sure he caught everything I said. He turned back to chatting with the fellow on his left. Veciana kept staring at him.
I kept glancing at Veciana, trying to get a reaction. I didn't want to appear too obvious by engaging him in a whispered conversation, but the suspense finally got to me and I learned towards his ear and whispered, "What do you think?" Veciana looked at me, shrugged his shoulders and turned back to staring at Phillips.
I decided to survey the crowd. Perhaps, I thought, I might stumble upon someone who looked even closer to the Maurice Bishop sketch than Phillips. I don't know what I expected in terms of what a gathering of spies would look like, but this group looked more like a crowd of college professors. A lot of studious pipe-puffers. And more women than I expected. I guessed that most of them were, or had been, intelligence analysts. That, in fact, is what most
When the guest speaker was introduced, I turned in my chair and put my back to Phillips. Veciana moved only sideways and, I noticed, kept glancing back at him. The guest speaker was a Lieutenant General Samuel V. Wilson, the newly appointed head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. A handsome, broad-shouldered soldier with wavy hair and a ruddy complexion, he wore a chest-full of colorful ribbons topped with the blue Combat Infantryman's Badge. He had seen some action.
Polished, articulate, smoothly dramatic, General Wilson was out of the give'em-hell-Patton school of military speakers. His speech was a model for the occasion. It was an aggressive defense against the attacks then being launched against the intelligence community. It was an us- against-them speech. They don't realized how good we are, how sophisticated and modern our technology is; they don't appreciate the tremendous accomplishments we've had; they don't know of our successes or how often we've saved this country from possible disaster. But we are not going to take this criticism lying down; we are not going to let them forget how much they need us; we are going to show them how tough we can be.
On the last point, General Wilson told a story that, as they say in show biz, brought the house down. He told of being called to testify before the House Select Committee on Intelligence. (That Committee, unlike the Senate's, had refused to be fed its research and had issued a devastatingly critical report on the sensitive area of the intelligence community's cost- effectiveness.) General Wilson noted that the Committee was chaired by "the Honorable Otis G. Pike, the Congressman from
On the appointed day of his testimony, General Wilson said, he decided to arrive at the hearing room early to assess the situation, "as any good intelligence officer would." He sat down at the table and opened his briefcase. The TV cameras and the lights were being set up. He began shuffling through his papers when "the Honorable Otis G. Pike the Congressman from
It seems, said General Wilson, that this little old lady had a lifelong fear of visiting the dentist. She possessed an ungodly, horrific apprehension of the drill invading her mouth. She never went to the dentist in h er life. But one day, with advancing age and worsening teeth, her pain overcame her fears and she found herself leaning back in the dentist's chair. And as the dentist came towards her, loomed over her and was about to put the whirling drill into her mouth, he suddenly stopped cold. His eyes widened and his face froze in shock. "Madam," he finally managed to gulp, "may I ask you, please, why you have such a firm grip on one of the most sensitive parts of my anatomy?" And, General Wilson said, as he sat in the Committee hearing room with "the Honorable Otis G. Pike, the Congressman from Suffolk County, New Your," looming above him, he thought of that little old lady's reply to that dentist: "Well, doctor, we're not going to hurt each other now, are we?"
A loud round of laughter and a spontaneous burst of applause indicate that this audience very much appreciated the General's point.
When General Wilson finished his speech, the audience gave him a standing ovation. I stood and clapped also. It was a helluva speech. Veciana stood but didn't clap. Probably because the General didn't say anything about the need to kill Castro. During the ovation, I took the opportunity to lean to Veciana and ask, "Is he Bishop?" Veciana removed his glasses and put them back in his packed. "No," he said slowly shaking his head, "it is not him." He paused for a moment, then added, "Well, you know, I would like to talk with him." I said I would try to arrange that. What I had in mind, once I got the confirmation that he wasn't Maurice Bishop, was to approach Phillips and directly ask him for his help. I thought I'd tell him some of the details and show him the composite sketch. I had brought a copy with me in a plain brown envelope.
Phillips, however, was too fast for me. By the time I turned around he had already shot out the back door. Then I realized that as president of the association, he probably wanted to thank his guest speaker and had ran ahead so he didn't get caught in the crowd at the rear of the room. I quickly ran toward the rear door, beckoning Veciana and Sarah Lewis to follow me.
The hallway was already jammed but I could see Phillips talking with General Wilson at the front door. I began trying to push my way against the flow of the crowd until I notice that Phillips, having shaken the General's hand, was moving back down the hall toward me as he chatted with another member. "Excuse me, Mr. Phillips," I said as I stopped him, maneuvering him to the edge of the flow and against the wall. "I'd like you to meet Antonio Veciana." I turned but Veciana wasn't there. I thought that he and Lewis had been directly behind me but hey had gotten caught in the crowd. It was now obvious to Phillips that I wanted to bring him and Veciana together. "Well, as you know," I said, turning back to Phillips, "I'm with Senator Schweiker and I thought you might be able to help us with what we've been working on."
"What about." asked Phillips.
"The Kennedy assassination," I said, a bit surprised at the question. Phillips smiled. "I'll be glad to talk with any Congressman, or any representative of Congress...in Congress."
Veciana suddenly appeared at our side with Sarah Lewis directly behind him. "This in Mr. Veciana," I said again. Veciana immediately asked Phillips in Spanish if he had been in
"Veciana?" Phillips repeated.
"Don't you know my name?"
Phillips shook his head slowly and, with apparent thoughtfulness, said, "No..." Then he turned to me and asked, in English, "Is he with Schweiker's staff?" Phillips now appeared quite nervous.
"No," I said. "Mr. Veciana has been helping us with our investigation."
I found it strange that he didn't quite understand. "The Kennedy assassination," I said again. "That's why I thought if we could talk, I mean nothing official, just off the record if you prefer, you could be of some help. I thought...."
He interrupted me with a forced smile: "I'll be glad to talk with any Congressman, or any representative of Congress...in Congress." His hands were visibly shaking. Unintentionally, with the push of the crowd behind me, I had forced him up against the wall and it suddenly struck me that we had inadvertently cornered him. "Well, there's an area I thought you might help us with..." I began, thinking I could push a little.
His smile was frozen. "I told you, I'll be glad to talk with any Congressman, or any representative of Congress...in Congress," he repeated. Then, suddenly, he turned testy. "I'm sorry," he said, moving toward an opening, "you've caught me at a very inopportune moment. As you can see, this is all very hectic here and I'm quite busy, so if you'll excuse me...." He kept the smile on his face but I was surprised at how clearly and visibly shaken he appeared.
"No," I said, "I said, "I didn't mean I wanted to talk with you now, but perhaps if I can give you a call...."
This time the smile was gone and with a blatant sigh of exasperation he repeated again, now slowly and in mock rate. "I'll be glad to talk with any Congressman, or any representative of Congress...in Congress. Now, if you'll excuse me..." he pushed his way between us. I retreated, thanked him for having us, told him I enjoyed the lunch and the guest speaker. He smiled again nervously, said we been most welcome and quickly moved away.
Later, since I was not returning directly, we would drop Veciana off for his flight back to
"He's not Bishop?" I asked again.
Veciana continued looking straight ahead as he walked. "No, he's not him." A long silence. "But he knows." He knows? "What do you mean, he knows?" I asked. "He knows," Veciana repeated, without further explanation.
As we were waiting for Sarah to unlock the door of her Volkswagen, Veciana turned to me and said, "It is strange he didn't know my name. I was very well known." That's funny, because I was thinking exactly the same thing.
For the next three months I thought a lot about what happened that day. I saw Veciana only once or twice during that period and talked occasionally with him on the telephone. He seemed not to want to discuss the incident in detail. Once, when I did bring up David Phillips' name, he said again. "He knows." When I asked, "You mean he knows who Maurice Bishop is?" Veciana nodded his head. "He knows," he said. "I world like to talk with him more." I assumed than that he meant that if he could talk with Phillips at length we would be able to solicit some clues from him about the real Maurice Bishop. I knew, from Phillips' reaction from our request to have an informal discussion with him, that was impossible.
In October, Schweiker concluded he could no longer justify being involved in an investigation of the Kennedy assassination as a lone senator. Also, he was disappointed at not having been appointed to the new Senate Permanent Committee on Intelligence, the formation of which came out of the recommendation of the Select Committee. (on the surface, by the way, the formation of that Permanent Committee appeared to be a victory for those who wanted more control over the intelligence community. It wasn't. There had been four permanent Senate committees with oversight responsibilities for intelligence activity. The Select Committee's report indicated that the intelligence agencies hand these committees in their pocket and that the committees had neglected their responsibilities. Nevertheless, the intelligence community's power bloc in the Senate would not permit a new wider-powered. Permanent Committee on Intelligence to be formed unless the majority of its members came from the old oversight committees. Schweiker was cut out, even though it was his fellow Pennsylvania Republican, Minority Leader Hugh Scott, who helped select the members of the new committee.)
There were two key factors which forced Schweiker to wrap up his investigation of the Kennedy assassination. One was the announcement by Senator Daniel Inouye, the chairman of the Permanent Committee on Intelligence, that the new body would continue the investigation of possible intelligence community involvement in the Kennedy assassination begun by the Select Committee. Schweiker didn't believe that it actually would, but because Inouye had made the public announcement, it left Schweiker without foundation. (Schweiker was right; the new committee made a few cursory moves than dropped the subject.) The other factor was the indication that the House of Representatives was finally being pressured into conducting its own Kennedy assassination investigation. The independent researchers had been pushing for it for years and were later joined by those who thought the Martin Luther King assassination also required a valid investigation. They were getting nowhere until Coretta King, the widow of the slain civil rights leader, went directly to the Speaker of the House and said, "I would like to know what really happened to Martin."
Years ago, in reviewing a book about he Warren Commission for a small magazine called Minority of One, critic Sylvia Meagher wrote: "there are no heroes in this piece, only men who collaborated actively or passively -- wilfully or self-deludedly -- in dirty work that does violence to the elementary concept of justice and affronts normal intelligence."
It didn't take long for those who examined the final report of the Warren Commission and its volumes of published evidence to conclude that its investigation was deficient. Considering the Commission's resources and the opportunities it had at the time to do a thorough investigation, its failure was, indeed, a "violence to the elementary concept of justice." Its legacy was a burning scission in this country's psyche.
The politicians may have given it legal status, but the mandate came from deep within the conscious of a nation fed up with the deceptions and confusions spawned in the wake of the assassination.
When the Select Committee finally expired more than two years later, it performed the tasks it assigned itself with -- to use the phrase it so favored in its final report -- "varying degrees of competency."
What it did not do was "conduct a full and complete investigation."
What it did not do was respond to or even consider its higher mandate by attempting to pursue the priorities of truth with unmitigated vigor. In that failure, it, too, committed violence to something basic in the democratic system.
What the House Select Committee did do -- with a high degree of competency -- was conduct a political exercise.
The select Committee on Assassinations was born in the septic tank of House politics. To many members it was simply a necessary device politically inexpedient to oppose. Early in 1975, two Congressman had each introduced their own bills to reopen the Kennedy assassination. A fiery Texan named Henry B. Gonzalez, who had been a passenger in the
The seeds of dissension were early sown. Traditionally, the author of a resolution establishing a select committee is named chairman of the committee. Downing, however was a lameduck congressman who had not sought reelection in 1976. His term would expire three months after the new Committee was formed. Gonzalez, on the other hand, was a barroom- brawling Mexican-American not especially respected by the House power brokers. Thus, despite Downing's lameduck status, House Speaker Tip O'NEILL named him chairman of the Selected Committee. That really burned Gonzalez.
The first month of the Committee's life was harbinger of what was to come. It immediately mired itself in internal squabbling. Downing's first choices as the Committee's chief counsel and staff director was
Downing and Gonzalez finally got together in early October and settled on
Early in November, Sprague had lunch with Senator Schweiker in
When he took the job, Sprague had done so with the stipulation that he would have complete authority to hire his own staff and run the investigation as he saw fit. He proposed setting up two separate staffs, one for Kennedy and one foe King. He insisted on handling both cases as if they were homicide investigations.
In the annals of the John F. Kennedy assassination, it was a novel approach. And, judging from the reaction of many Congressman, it was a far too radical approach. Especially since Sprague was obviously serious about it, as indicated when he said he needed a staff of at least 200 and an initial annual budget of $6.5 million and then refused to guarantee that would do the job. Sprague hadn't settled into his shabby
In December, Sprague called me and asked me to come to
I remember having lunch with Sprague and a few of his staffers that day in
Sprague shook his head. "You know, I don't understand it. I've never been in a situation like this before where I'm getting criticized for things I might do. It's nonsense, but I don't know why it's happening."
I would not find out what was happening in
Little did I know it was only beginning.
What Sprague discovered when he arrived in Washington was that his first order of business was not in setting up an investigation but simply keeping the Committee alive. The Committee had been officially established in September. All congressional committees legally expire at the end of each congressional year and then, if they were mandated to continue under the terms of their originating resolutions, the new Congress reconstitutes them as a matter of course.
As soon as Sprague hit
Nevertheless, the budget was used as the focal point for additional attacks on Sprague. HE was accused of being arrogant and disrespectful of congressional protocol. Sprague, they said, had made a "mistake" in coming on so strong. "Several people around here who are familiar with the bureaucratic game told me to first present a smaller budge," Sprague admitted. "They assured me that I could always go back later and plead for more. That's the way they o things in
On January 2nd, the day before the convening of the 95th Congress, there appeared in The New York Times a major story headlined" "Counsel in Assassination Inquiry Often Target of Criticism." Written by reporter David Burnham, it was an incredibly crude example of the journalistic hatchet job. It reviewed Sprague's 17-year career as a
Intended or not, Burnham's piece had the effect of a well-placed torpedo. It almost sand the Assassinations Committee. On January 4th, an attempt to get a resolution reconstituting the Committee through by a unanimous-consent voice vote failed. That meant the resolution would have to go through a lengthy bureaucratic labyrinth, including passage through the Rules Committee and a budget review exercise, before the Committee could officially be reconstituted. It would take weeks.
Stay Loose? We were suppose to be rolling on perhaps the most important investigation in history, one of incredible scope and depth, and why the hell weren't we moving?
In the next several weeks, my confusion and frustration multiplied. Even now, one can view the series of events in
On February 3rd, the House voted to reconstitute the Assassinations Committee. Temporarily. Still under sharp attack by certain conservative lawmakers suddenly turned civil libertarians, the Committee was, as the Washington Star put it, "given less than two months to justify its existence under conditions that...make it almost impossible to develop new evidence." The House, in keeping the Committee alive, provided only a maintenance budget, just barely enough to cover the reduce salaries of its staff. (Everyone had taken a 40% pay cut while waiting reconstitution.)
I didn't realized that the chaos was just beginning. About a week after the Committee was temporarily born again, I received a call from Bob Tannenbaum. "Well," he sighed, "World War Three has started in
Since all congressional committees use the postal franking privileges of its chairman, and every expense voucher, travel order and most directives and requests to other government agencies are made under the chairman's signature, what Gonzalez was doing in effect, was virtually stopping the operation of the Committee.
Gonzalez had been furious at not being named chairman of the Committee when it was originally formed. He automatically stepped into the post, however, when Downing retired, and the new Congress convened in January. (It was, of course, something of a Catch 22 position since the Committee, not yet reconstituted, was officially nonexistent.) Gonzalez, however, wanted more than just the title. He wanted control and power to stack the staff with his own people. Sprague wasn't about to give him that.
In December, Gonzalez had told sprague that, under the formula in the Congressional Rules, the Committee could operate with a budget of $150,000 a month until it was officially reconstituted. On the basis, Sprague began beefing up his original start-up staff with new additions, all of who were put on the payroll January 1st. I was in that group. Gonzalez, however, had been mistaken about the Committee's budget. The rules actually permitted it only $84,000 a month in expense while it waited reconstitution. When Gonzalez was called on the carpet by the Rules Committee for the budget over-run, he said that Sprague had hired the new staffers without his knowledge or permission.
At a meeting of the members of the Assassinations Committee on February 8th, Gonzalez repeated his charges against Sprague and ordered Sprague to fire the people he had put on the staff on January 1st. Sprague denied he had not told Gonzalez about the hiring and refused to fire anyone. The other Committee members backed Sprague. Gonzalez fumed. The next day he wrote the letter cutting off the staff's resources and demanding the return of his stationary.
"And we just got another note from Gonzalez today," Tannenbaum added. "Listen to this: 'Dear Mr. Sprague. You called me at yesterday morning. I was out. I returned the call at . You were not in. You were at a staff meeting. Your secretary said she would get you if it were important. I said, "I don't know if it's important. I'm returning his call." I hang up. I then met the President of the
"This is to convey to you my profound regret regarding the circumstances which surround your present employment. "There is much confusion, and I want you to understand that I am anxious to rectify this situation.... "It is highly deplorable that the person most responsible for your employment did not advise you of the possible difficulty in getting the Committee reconstituted. "As you know, I was not the chairman during the 94th Congress, but due to errors which have been made under the former chairman, it has been a long and hard struggle getting the Committee reconstituted...and it is only for a very limited basis, through March 31, and for a very limited budge...
"No one likes a reduction in personnel, but...I hope that as soon as possible I will be able to convey to you what the future status of personnel will be with the Select Committee."
Gonzalez did not mention that not one other Committee member had backed him on his demand that some of the staff be fired. Nevertheless, Gonzalez kept on swinging. He went to the Attorney General and emended that Committee staff members, who, while waiting for the investigation to get structured, had begun researching the FBI files, be denied access to those files. (It was probably the first time congressional history that a committee chairman wanted noncooperation.) Next, Gonzalez cut off the long-distance telephone calls, thereby isolating the only investigator -- me -- the Committee had in the field at the time. Sprague later put it succinctly: "Gonzalez went berserk."
Gonzalez finally threw what he thought was his Sunday punch: He fired Sprague. In a hand-delivered letter, Gonzalez charge that Sprague "has engaged in a course of conduct that is wholly intolerable for any employee of the House," and ordered him to vacate his office by that day. Gonzalez had uniformed Capital Police officers arrive at the staff offices with orders to physically evict Sprague if he wasn't out. But within a couple of hours after Gonzalez had sent the letter, the Committee's 11 members signed their own letter directing Sprague to ignore Gonzalez.
What was suppose to be an investigation into one of the most significant and tragic events in this country's history had turned into, as George Lardner of the Washington Post put it, "an opera bouffe." Editorial cartoonists around the country were having a ball. "Pardon me, is this the offices of the...nice shot...House Assassinations Committee?" asked an elephant character walking in a roomful of stomping, swinging, kicking, brawling lawmakers.
Then Gonzalez took that one step too far. At an open meeting of the Committee, he attacked the second-ranking Democrat, Congressman Richardson Preyer, head of the Kennedy Subcommittee. Judge Preyer, a gray-haired, soft-spoken, Southern gentleman known for his fair- minded, liberal intellect, was one of the House's most respected members. When Gonzalez began flying off the handle, Preyer suggested the Committee adjourn until some problems were ironed out. Gonzalez exploded. "I'm the chairman! I know you want to be chairman and you're trying to get rid of me!" he yelled at Preyer.
According to Bob Tannenbaum, who was there: "Preyer's head actually jerked back. It looked like a shot from the front, but I was really a neurophysical reaction. It was really an embarrassing moment for the old guy." Preyer recovered and said quietly, "I do not seek the chairmanship, nor do I want it. I have a motion that we adjourn." The Committee quickly backed him and the members hurried away -- except for Gonzalez, who held an impromptu press conference at which he called Sprague "a rattlesnake."
The next day I received a call from Tannenbaum. "Preyer and the other members of the Committee are going to House Speaker O'NEILL to ask him to remove Gonzalez from the chairmanship," he told me. "We're down to the final act. IF Gonzalez is not removed, we're leaving. There's no way we can go on with this man. He's gone mad."
As the news filtered down to me in
Confronted with the unprecedented situation of committee members rebelling against their own chairman -- and a problem fought with untold dire consequences to the House's historical system of power brokerage -- House Speaker Tip O'NEILL waffled. Appearing on a Face the Nation telecast, O'NEILL said he lacked the power to remove a select committee chairman. He also said the Assassinations Committee's problems would probably be worked out and that he believed it would stay in business beyond its March 31st deadline. Cryptically confusing, perhaps, but behind the scenes there must have been some pressure brought on Gonzalez. "They tell us that Gonzalez is going to go,' Tannenbaum reported to me, "but I think the bastards are lying to us. I think what they're really angling for is a trade-off. If Gonzalez goes, then Sprague will have to go." Although it wasn't immediately apparent, Tannenbaum was right about he bastards.
Chairman Gonzalez resigned from his post -- and the Assassinations Committee -- in the first week of March. He then flew home to
The next day I received a call in
"In that interview,"
I had never met Gonzalez and I doubt that he knew anything about me personally. But he did know my name from the list of new staffers whom Sprague had hired. Gonzalez was making assumptions strictly on the basis of my name. That steamed me. I don't think I've been more angry in my life with someone I had never met. That night, if Gonzalez had lived in
It was nearing the end of March, 1977. Again the Assassinations Committee was due to die unless the House granted it a continuance and approved a budget for it. The resignation of Gonzalez and the appointment of a new chairman, a big, balding, low-key Black Democrat from
The investigation of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King? Oh yeah, that's what Congress expected the Committee to be doing while it kept it in a financial armlock and permitted the Committee's own chairman to saw away at its leg. When the question of the Assassinations Committees survival did come before the Rules Committee, its Chairman James Delaney, a Democrat from
All too quickly, the lesson of the warren Commission had been lost. There could be no valid investigation of the Kennedy assassination unless there was a objective, thoroughly structured approach unencumbered by political pressures or lack of resources. But all Sprague and Tannenbaum and the other staff directors could do in the first six months of the Committee's life was concern themselves with political pressures and the question of survival. A structured approach to the investigation could not be formulated. What was needed was eyewash. The Committee had to look good. The Committee had to look as if it were making progress. The Committee had to look as if it were digging up sensational, new revelations. If it didn't, there were too many members of Congress ready to cut off its gonads for not performing.
Under such conditions, it is no wonder that within the Committee staff itself problems began to arise. Tannenbaum was under pressure with Sprague to ward off the attacks from the political front. He was under pressure from having to evaluate and act upon the flood of information gushing in the from army of both legitimate researchers and misinformation purveyors while, at the same time, trying to acquaint himself with the incredibly intricate details of the Kennedy case. He was under pressure from the staff to begin a substantive investigation. And he was under pressure from Congress and the press to come up with sensational revelations.
Tannenbaum became paranoid. He took a small group of staff members into his confidence and distrusted everyone else. He paranoia was reinforced when one staff member was revealed to be feeding Gonzalez reports of Sprague's confidential talks to the staff. That, plus the fact of having to live under a Damocles Sword for six months, produced a good deal of internal squabbling and pretty bickering among the staff members. There were, however, some young staffers who were legitimately concerned about the direction of the investigation and the lack of dialogue concerning the establishment of priorities when and if the Committee got funded. They began writing memos detailing their concerns and urging the implementation of their suggested courses of action. These became known among the staff as "C.Y.A." memos. For "Cover Your Ass."
But Fenton was a shrewd, street-wise cop who knew only one way to handle an investigation: By putting men out to investigate. Before Gonzalez cut off authorization to travel, Fenton had sent a few of his men out to take random shots at leads that came in. They came back with enough to convince him that, if he had his way, there would be an investigation heavy with field work. Fenton never got his way. In the beginning, in fact, he had a rough time keeping his men busy in
Although the Committee had been in existence for almost six months, it was nowhere close to being able to function as an effective investigative body. I didn't fully realized that until the last days in March, just before the question of its survival would come up again on the floor of the House.
Late Monday afternoon, on March 28th, I received a call from Bob Tannenbaum. The House was scheduled to voter that Wednesday on whether or not to continue the Assassinations Committee. The Committee members as well as the top staff counsel had been spending most of their time lobbying among the individual lawmakers for support. Although many of his fellow congressmen didn't care for Gonzalez, he was a member of the club. Some resent Sprague -- viewed by a least one congressman as "just a clerk" -- for besting Gonzalez in a head-to-head confrontation. That day, Gonzalez himself had been on the floor of the House ranting again about Chief Counsel's insubordination." He had even distributed a "Dear Colleague" letter to every House member urging threat the Committee be dropped. He was thirsting for revenge. I asked Tannenbaum how it looked. "It depends on who you talk to what time of the day." He did not should optimistic. "Anyway, Wednesday is the day. We'll know one way or the other." We talked about the situation for a while and then I told Tannenbaum what I was doing while waiting for the investigation to get organized. I had discovered there was a
At any rate, I was telling Tannenbaum of my plans to have the photograph taken. I told him that Moore was additionally interesting because he had been in touch with George DeMohrenschildt, the much traveled oil consultant who had befriend the Oswalds as soon as they had returned from Russia. "By the way," Tannenbaum said. "I just got a call from the Dutch journalist, Willem Oltmans. He's the guy I was telling you about."
Tannenbaum had told me about Oltmans but he needn't have. Oltmans had gotten national publicity by appearing on various television interviews and then going to
DeMohrenschildt had reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown at the time hew was talking with Oltmans, but he left a hospital in
Now Tannenbaum told me that Oltmans had just called him from
George DeMohrenschildt had to be one of the most fascinating characters who popped up in the original Warren Commission investigation. Born in
DeMohrenschildt's associations were generally on the higher levels of society. His first wife was
Given his background, it seemed strange that DeMohrenschildt would have befriended an apparent working-class drifter like Lee Harvey Oswald. When Gary Taylor, who had been married to DeMohrenschildt's daughter Alexandra, was asked by a
On the morning of March 29th, 1977, I went looking for George DeMohrenschildt in Manalapan. I found the Tilton home sitting on the edge of the ocean highway behind a barrier of high hedges. It look as if it belonged more in New England than Florida, a large, two-story structure of dark cedar shingles and green trim. To the rear were a series of garages with a carriage house above them. I drove directly into the wide yard beside the house. As I got out of the car, there appeared from behind the garage a tall, strikingly beautiful woman. She had smooth olive skin, deep dark eyes and long black hair. Her statuesque body was clad in a clinging black leotard. She was carrying a small towel and glowed with a sheen of perspiration. She had obviously been exercising.
The woman turned out to be DeMohrenschildt's daughter Alexandra. After I introduce myself, she told me that her father was in Palm Beach and that she didn't know how to reach him. She said, however, that she was certain he would be in the evening that and that I could reach him if I called about 8 o'clock. She gave me the telephone number I already had. The only identification I had at the time as a business card with an engraved gold eagle which identified me as a staff investigator for Senator Schweiker's office. I crossed out Schweiker's name and wrote "House Select Committee on Assassinations" above it and gave her the card. She said she would tell her father to expect my call. She was cordial but direct, as if she had taken my sudden appearance there a inevitable.
I would later learned that as I was talking with Alexandra DeMohrenschildt her father was in a hotel room in Palm Beach being interviewed by a freelance writer name Edward J. Epstein. Although the author of Inquest, one of the first books critical of the Warren Commission, Epstein's contacts with the
The drive from Manalapan back to Miami takes about an hour and a half. That afternoon I called Cliff Fenton, the chief investigator, and told him what had happened. I said I would call DeMohrenschildt that evening and probably set up an appointment to see him the next morning. "Fine, Fine," Fenton said. "Well, you just keep on it." He was obviously more occupied with he frantic efforts to keep the Committee alive when it came up for a vote before the House the next day. "This is crazy up here, just plain crazy," he said with his characteristic chuckle. "I have never seen anything like this place."
About 6:30 that evening I received a call from my friend who is the television reporter in Dallas. "Funny thing happened," he said. "we just aired a story that came over the wire about a Dutch journalist saying the Assassinations Committee has finally located DeMohrenschildt in South Florida. Now DeMohrenschildt's attorney in Dallas a guy named Pat Russell, he calls and says DeMohrenschildt committed suicide this afternoon. Is that true?"
The manner in which the Assassination COMMITTEE reacted to the death of George DeMohrenschildt revealed that the Committee -- six months after it was formed -- was still totally incapable of functioning as a investigative body. In reflected six months of political reality and how successful its opponents had been in keeping it distracted and off-balance. DeMohrenschildt may have been one of the most important witnesses in the Kennedy assassination investigation. Within minutes after I confirmed and notified Washington of his death, teams of Committee counsels and investigators could have been descending on the scene to begin in intensive study of what happened, slapping witnesses with subpoenas for later sworn testimony. What happened instead was that to days after the incident, a junior counsel and a recently hired investigator with little knowledge of who DeMohrenschildt even was holed up to help me for a couple of days in my frenetic efforts. If it hadn't been for the quick-thinking moves and assistance of Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Bludworth and then-Detective Chief Dick Sheets in securing some of DeMohrenschildt's documents, the Committee would have gotten no more than what the newspaper reporters did. As it were, no subpoenas were ever served and no testimony ever taken from at least two important witnesses: DeMohrenschildt's daughter Alexandra and author Edward J. Epstein. Epstein who was interviewing DeMohrenschildt just before his death, quickly flew out of Palm Beach before I could question him.)
George DeMohrenschildt and returned to the Tilton home in Manalapan about four hours after I had left it that morning. Alexandra told him of my visit and gave him my card. The assassinations probe. As one of the old guard told Delaware County Congressman and Committee member Bob Edgar: "You guys dumped Gonzalez. I don't know Sprague at all, but if you don't dump him too, you guys are dead in the water." Sensing that feeling, Sprague had early offered to resign if it meant the difference in keeping the Committee alive. Chairman Stokes assured him that would not be necessary and that the Committee would stick with him. Then, in the last hours of the evening before the House vote, Stokes called Sprague to his office. Repeatedly, Stokes reviewed the situation and each time painted it in gloomier terms. Finally, near midnight, Sprague realized that despite Stokes' earlier assurances of supporting him, the ground was being shoveled out from beneath him.
"Do you want me now to resign?" Sprague asked. Stokes put his head down and remained silent. Bristling, Sprague stood up. "Gentlemen," he said, "it's clear it's in everyone's best interest if I resign." He then called his secretary and dictated a two-sentence letter of resignation.
Sprague drove home to Philadelphia at 2 a.m. that evening, about the time I was driving back to Miami from State Attorney Bludworth's office in Palm Beach and wondering what the hell was going on in Washington. By 8 the next morning, while I was again trying to contact someone at the Committee offices in Washington Sprague was on a plane to Acapulco. That day, after four hours of stormy debate, the House voted to continue the Assassination Committee at a budget reduced to $2.5 million for the year.
The key factors that drove Richard Sprague to resign as Chief Counsel of the Assassinations Committee appeared, at the time, to be apparent and on the surface. His proposed use of certain investigative equipment, his demand for a expensive, unrestricted investigation, his refusal to pay politics with Chairman Gonzalez -- all were apparent grounds for the vociferous criticism which, in the long run, was debilitating to the Committee's efforts to get on with its job. However, after his resignation and a brief respite from the turmoil of Washington, Sprague was able to view his experience in a broader perspective.
Shortly after he returned from Acapulco, he was interviewed by Robert Sam Anson of New Times magazine. Sprague admitted that, with the barrages flying at him from all directions, he and the staff had little time to actually investigate. By his reckoning, he said, he spent "point zero one percent" of his time examining the actual evidence. Yet, he told Anson, if he had it to do over again, he would begin his investigation of the Kennedy assassination by probing "Oswald's ties to the Central Intelligence Agency." Recently, I asked Sprague why he had come to that conclusion. "Well," he said, "when I first thought about it I decided that the House leadership really hadn't intended for there to be an investigation. The Committee was set up to appease the Black Caucus in an election year. I still believe that was a factor. But when I looked back at what happened, it suddenly became very clear that the problems began only after I ran up against the
In the early months of the Committee';s life, Sprague's critics both in Congress and in the press were not only keeping him busy dodging the shots, they were also demanding that the Committee produce some sensational new evidence to justify its continuance. Sprague, therefore, was forced to take some wild swings at what appeared to be a few obvious targets. One area that very apparently needed closer examination was the
According to the information supplied to the Warren Commission by the
It was later learned, however, that
When the Warren Commission asked the
Some Warren Commission critics would later interpret the incident as an attempt by certain
In the biography, The Night Watch: 25 Years of Peculiar Service (published in 1977), David Phillips spends just a few pages on the Kennedy assassination and the
Sprague called David Phillips to testify before the Assassinations Committee in November, 1976. According to Sprague, Phillips said that the
Sprague subsequently discovered an FBI memorandum to the Secret Service dated
Sprague was intrigued: How could the FBI agents have listened to a tape recording in November when Phillips said it had been destroyed in October? Sprague decided to push the
Shortly afterwards, the first attempt to get the Assassinations Committee reconstituted was blocked. One of its critics was Representative Robert Michel of
Richard Sprague resigned as Chief Counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations on
Deputy Chief Counsel Bob Tannenbaum had been to
Finally, in the middle of April, I was authorized to take my first trip to
Actually, the staff was in sorry shape. It had lived on the brink of the abyss for too long. Morale was horrendous and bitching was rife. Many of the junior counsel complained to me that Tannenbaum treated them like children. Tannenbaum complained to me that many of the junior counsel were children. "They can't figure out a thing for themselves," he moaned. Of course, the enforced wheel-spinning for so many months had gotten to every one. No matter what they did to keep themselves busy, they knew that, until they were officially authorize to go on and a new chief counsel appointed to lead the way they were, in fact, just keeping themselves busy. To many, however, the pits of frustration were reached when Tannenbaum ordered the staff to outline the 26 volumes of Warren Commission evidence and testimony -- an exercise of meaningless redundancy.
After Sprague departed and it eventually because apparent that he wouldn't fill the chief counsel slot, Tannenbaum's attitude deteriorated. He hung on however, until Blakey settled in and then found himself a job at the Justice Department. (He's now in private practice in
Although I had kept in touch with Antonio Veciana after the closing of Schweiker's investigation, I called him on New Year's Day, 1977, as soon as I had officially joined the House Select Committee on Assassinations. I told him that Schweiker's office had turned my files over to the Committee and that I was not working for it. I said I thought the new House Committee would be much more effective than the old Senate Committee because it would have more resources and be very independent. It was my first day on the job. We chatted a bit and then Veciana asked if I knew that he had been called back to
I asked whether he was questioned again about Maurice Bishop. "yes, a little," he said. "They showed me some more pictures, but they were not Bishop." We chatted a bit more and then I said that I would be back in touch shortly, as soon as the Committee got organized -- any day now. "Well, if I can help you, don't hesitate to call," he said. From his initial leeriness, Veciana's feelings about me and obviously grown to one of some trust. Two week later that trust was almost shattered.
The call came from late on a Friday afternoon Troy Gustafson in Schweiker's office. "Veciana's cover has been blown," he said. "The whole story is going to be in Jack Anderson's column next Wednesday." I almost felt the blade burning deep into my back. It was a very personal reaction. Someone, somewhere had betrayed me.
Gustafson told me he had just gotten a call from reporter George Lardner at the Washington Post. Lardner had seem the advance mail copies of two Jack Anderson columns which the Post was scheduled to run the following Wednesday and Thursday. Although Veciana's name was not mentioned --
Seething with anger, I called Tannenbaum. I was taken aback at what appeared to be his genuine reaction of shock at the news. He swore that the leak did not come from him or from Sprague. In fact, he, Sprague was at that moment meeting with Schweiker and probably hearing about the
In the end, I could not conclusively prove to myself where
Setting up a meeting with Veciana to tell him about the coming
Veciana and I spent the evening conjecturing about the source of the leak. He told me that he still trusted me personally and believed that I wouldn't have broken his confidence. At first he leaned toward the Senate Committee as the source because in his recent call to
I eventually had to come to agree with him. In questioning Tannenbaum further he admitted he had briefed at least six of the twelve members of the Assassination Committee on the details of the Veciana story and that copies of the rough notes were put into the file system. That meant that entire staff could have had access to them. Tannenbaum, however, expressed the feeling that perhaps it was the
I hung in there, but to me the leak to Jack Anderson of the Veciana story was another jolt from the black cloud of political priorities which overhung the Assassinations Committee from the beginning. The risk to Veciana's life wasn't considered, the damage to my effectiveness as a Committee investigator wasn't considered and the perhaps irreparable harm it did to substantiative progress in the investigation itself wasn't considered. Only the of the survival Assassinations Committee mattered. I would have to remember that, I told myself at the time, in dealing with my confidential sources in the future. As long as I was working for Congress, I could never again asked them for their implicit trust..
Months later, Bob Tannenbaum himself, after he had submitted his resignation and called together his closest staff associates, gave us these final words of farewell advice: "The one thing you have to remember about this town is to stick together and watch your ass."
I did not meet G. Robert Blakey, the new staff boss of the House Assassinations Committee until just before Bob Tannenbaum resigned late in July of 1977. Between Sprague's departure and Blakey's arrival, Tannenbaum finally had the opportunity to attempt some structuring of an investigation. Various special projects -- such as accumulating the list of
Late in June, I received a call from Tannenbaum. "I'm going to give you an investigative plan," he said. "I'm getting it together now." I said that was great but suggested that, first, the staff should be divided into teams and the investigative areas defined. "Yeah, that's what I'm going to do," Tannenbaum said. "Blakey starts officially on Friday and I want you to come up next week to meet him. Meanwhile, I tried to talk to him about it but instead he gave me this little book he wrote called Techniques in the Investigation and Prosecution of Organized Crime. He told me, "When I talk about an investigative plan, I want you to know my lingo.' Then he hands me this cockamamie book."
The next week I was in
My first impressions of Bob Blakey where that he was very self-assured and very knowledgeable in the ways of the
Despite his soft-spoken, academically casual and sometimes even whimsical demeanor (he invaded the home of some staff researchers on Halloween Eve dressed as Cont Dracula), Blakey turned out to be a very cunning intellectual strategist who took quite pride in h is ability to manipulate both people and situations. His foil was the man he brought in to replace Tannenbaum as Deputy Chief Counsel in charge of the Kennedy "task force." (That was the inflated term used to identify each of the Committee's sub-staffs. Inexplicable, the Martin Luther King task force had more investigators.) Gary Cornwell, a 32-year-old Justice Department prosecutor out of the Kansas City Organized Crime Strike Force, was a cocky, stocky, stumpy Texan who exuded a brash pragmatism. He talked fast, loud and Texan, smoked pipes and big cigars, drove a Datsun 280Z, wore cowboy boots and appreciated both hard rock and Willie Nelson. I had to like the guy. But, contrasts in character that they were, both Blakey and Cornwell viewed their roles as staff director with the House Select Committee on Assassination in the same limited perspective: they were the hired hands of the Congressional Committee members and the priorities of their job were governed strictly by the desires of those members.
By the time Bob Blakey was offered the position as Committee Chief Counsel (a few nationally-known figures, including former Watergate prosecutor Archibold Cox and former Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, had reportedly refused it), the public tumult the Committee had endured has convinced most of the most of the members that they were trapped in a no-way-to-win situation. They couldn't get out of it without losing some political face, but hey could get it over with as soon as possible. When Chairman Stroke offered Blakey the job, he told him that he definitely wanted the Committee's business wrapped up within its to-year life span and final report done by the end of the 1978 Congressional year.
The two-year limitation was an arbitrary and artificial one that, somewhere along the line, because written in stone. Dick Sprague admitted to some of the blame. "When I first came to
Sprague's fear of delaying tactics was based on solid historical precedent. That's exactly what the
At his first general staff meeting late in August, 1977, the new Chief Counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations pointedly announced that he had taken the job with the stipulation and the promise to Chairman Stokes that the staff would finish its investigation and produce a report by
There would be absolutely no possibility, Blakey said, that the Committee would be extended beyond time. And with that pronouncement, I suddenly got a revealing insight into Bob Blakey's character. It also indicated how he viewed the importance of John F. Kennedy's assassination in the large, historical context. He said nothing incongruous about accepting a basic and crucial limitation in conducting "a full and complete investigation" of one of the most important events in this country's history.
At the time, I really didn't believe Blakey. I felt that once we started rolling, once we started accumulating evidence that demanded further investigation, well, then Blakey, with the backing of the staff, would stand up to the Committee and the Committee would stand up to Congress and Congress would be forced to give us more time and money. The Kennedy assassination was just too important. We had to go all the way.
It was also at the initial staff meeting the at Blakey established what he considered the peripheries of the Committee's operations. In clear, simple and carefully defined terms reminiscent of a Pol Sci I lecture to a class of frosh, he explained the differences between the function so a legislative body and the goals of a law enforcement agency. Our primary duty, he pointed out, was not to conduct a criminal investigation. We were limited by the powers and privileges granted to Congress by the Constitution. Our investigative power were merely an auxiliary of the legislative function. We were not out to produce indictments. We had no legal sanction to arrest or imprison anyone. Our goals were to gather evidence to be presented at public hearing and, after that, produce a final report.
There was no doubt that Bob Blakey knew what he was about. Not only was it apparent now that the staff would finally get truly organized, but organization itself would be the essence of its being. That became even more obvious when I was called back to
I remember returning from Washington after that meeting feeling as if I had just been blanketed with a heavy, stifling shroud of regulations and procedures. The investigators had been given a lengthy memorandum entitled "Investigative Techniques and Procedures." Blakey called it "a summary of specific guidelines." Among the points listed under "Travel" were: "Call the office every day between the hours of and ." And: "Be sure to stay at a reputable hotel."
An even lengthier directive distributed to all staff members was "General Operating Procedures." Attached to it were sample forms for an Outside Contact Report, a Document Log, a Routing Slip, an Investigation Interview Schedule and other standardized report. Illustrative of the type of detailed control Blakey institute was this:
(9.) All correspondence intended for transmittal to anyone outside of the staff will first be discuses (orally, or with the aid of a rough draft, as the case may require) by the staff attorney, researcher, or investigator with his immediate supervisor, (the Assistant Deputy Chief Counsel, Chief Investigator, or Assistant Chief Researcher) and then will be typed in final form, proofed and (if appropriate) signed. The completed letter ready for mailing, together with all supporting documents will then be submitted, first, to the staff member's immediate supervisor, and ultimately to the Deputy Chief Counsel for review. When approved by the Deputy Chief Counsel, the letter will be delivered by the Deputy Chief Counsel's secretary to Security for copying. Unless otherwise specifically authorized, two copies of each such piece of correspondence will be made in all cases except Agency requests, where three copies will be made. One copy will be treated as an "original document," and one copy will be treated as a "working copy" and returned to its author (See Document Handling procedures below.) With respect to Agency requests, the third copy will be delivered to the Chief of Legal Staff for filing in the Agency Requests File. The original (signed) letter will be delivered to the Chief Counsel for approval (and/or signature), and then mailed by the Chief Counsel's secretary.
Although I recognized the point of such detailed procedures and, in fact, felt the staff was in dire need of organizational control, it bothered me that Blakey seemed far more concerned about he character of the record of the investigation then he was with the character of its substance. My concern deepened when, just prior to the staff meeting, Cornwell called me into his office and told me he wanted to talk to me about the nature of my report.
When I started investigating the Kennedy assassination with Senator Schweiker, he was not concerned with formal reporting procedures. He was interested in my spending my time developing information that might help resolve the case. I was in almost daily telephone contact with other staffers in his office who were working the case. I also regularly sent informally written reports detailing and analyzing the information I was coming up with. Although not required, I felt those were necessary to give Schweiker a basis for evaluating the information, put it in perspective and provide a groundwork for discussing where we were and where we were going. Facts can sometimes be misleading. They are, as critic Dwight MacDonald said, like marbles which take on different hues and tones according to the light in which they are viewed. they often are, but don't necessarily have to be, related to the truth---especially in the case of the Kennedy assassination which, over the years, has become a field of study in itself. In my written report, I attempted to use my background and knowledge of the case to give Schweiker a broader perspective of the information we were developing. When I joined the House Committee, I thought such analytical reports would be especially useful since there was no other investigator with my experience in the case.
Now Cornwell told me to stop them. "I want your reports to be strictly factual," he said. "Just give us the information. I don't want any of your analysis going into the record." I objected. That, I said, would require ignoring the validity of the source of the information. In
On the plan flying back to Miami after the staff meeting on procedures, I tape recorded a note of my feelings at the time: "For the first time, I'm beginning to understand what it's really like to work in Washington. Blakey obviously knows what's important here. And what's important is not what you do, but how what you do looks while you're doing it, how it looks after you did it, and how it will eventually look in relation to how everything else you did looks. It's a funny house of mirrors. But I'm very concerned about the importance given to reports and procedures. It's clear, in talking with the other investigators, it produces an aura of restrictiveness, like we're going into the game chained to the bench. It's instant frustration. Yet we can't say the hell with it and walk off the court. Then we lose before we start and nothing would get accomplished. Maybe how we look will be important in the long run."
There is no doubt that, in the long run, Blakey produced a record that looks impressive. In its final published reports, a compilation of the Committee's legal memoranda alone took a separate hefty volume of 925 pages. And the Committee turned over to the National Archives more than 800 boxes of files -- many times more than the Warren Commission produced. That, of course, looks impressive, but the substance of those files won't be available for public scrutiny for 50 years. I don't know whether or not Blakey knew it was in the works or whether or not he, behind the scene, had anything to do with it, but just prior to the Assassinations Committee's expiration, the House promulgated a new regulation automatically restricting all records not publicly released by any committee. The Assassinations Committee's files would, of course, be valuable to independent researchers who wanted to continue investigating the Kennedy murder. They would be even more informative if they included the collection of memos I kept in my file marked "Yellow Paper Poly."
This is not the whole story of the operations of the House Select Committee on Assassinations as produced under the direction of its Chief Counsel G. Robert Blakey. That's a composite of the activities of several dozen persons, a few of whom were actually trying to find out what happened in
It is also the story of how, after the decision was made to not fulfill its Congressional mandate, the Committee had to distort its conclusion concerning a crucial, perhaps critical, area of evidence so as not to invalidate the thrust of its final report. And so, in the end, it's the story of how the American people were mislead by their own government.
By the end of its first year of operation, the Assassinations Committee was beginning to slowly roll forward. With the exception of those in the administrative, legal and documents handling sections, the staff was divided into five major "Teams." Each team had two or three attorneys, researchers and investigators. The "outside" investigators in
Bob Blakey spent the first few months on the job as Chief Counsel and Staff Director establishing administrative processes and procedures, cracking up the record-building machinery and formulating what he called "working relationships" with other government agencies. He did, however, at an early staff meeting, outline the Committee's specific goals and direction. For the first few months, he said, each team would review its areas of investigation thoroughly. He called it "foraging." The second phase, he said, would than entail defining the priority "issues": that is, deciding the crucial questions in each area. ("Issue" was the favorite word, I discovered, among
It all made a good deal of sense and it finally appeared that a real investigation might be getting under way. However, when Blakey began concerning himself with the substance of the case, an indication of his attitude towards the various methods of investigation became clear. Compared to his interest in the empirical aspects of the investigation -- what the investigators on the street were actually coming up with -- he spent a disproportionate share of his time looking after the scientific examination of the evidence. He had the academician's view of scientific evidence having what he called the "greatest reliability." That's undoubtedly why so much time and money was spent on such things as neutron activation analysis, acoustics studies, ballistic and trajectory analysis and other scientific studies. But science, like statistics, can lie and two scientists often read the same results in opposite ways. It happened, for instance, with the panel of forensic pathologists when one eminent doctor totally disagreed with the findings of his eminent peers.
Another critical defect Blakey largely dismissed was that some of the evidence being scientifically evaluated couldn't be authenticated as being the original evidence. The chain of custody could never be proven in any court. In fact, the state of security in which some of the evidence was kept was illustrated in 1972 when it was discovered that someone had stolen into the National Archives' security area and taken President Kennedy's brain and a set of microscope tissue slides that might have conclusively shown which way the fatal bullet came from. Although hits have come from the Kennedy family that Robert Kennedy wanted the brain in order to properly bury his brother's body, that doesn't explain the theft of the tissue slides as well. And stored in the same security area were other crucial pieces of physical evidence, including the photos and x-rays which the Committee used to corroborate the single bullet theory. The Committee concluded that the photos and x-rays are authentic, yet one of its own photo consultants, Robert Groden is now claiming to have found signs of forgery in this evidence.
Another question of authenticity involves the bullet fragments subjected to neutron- activation analysis and whether or not they were the same fragments tested in 1964. those are only a few of the questions the critics are now asking. There will be many more, each putting another crack in Blakey's theory of scientific evidence having the "greatest reliability." My own early impression was that Blakey's initial leaning toward putting wight on scientific analysis was partially the result of his lack of confidence in the investigative staff. Although Blakey was eventually able to stack the staff counsel positions heavy with people he hired himself -- Cornell Law grads and individuals with backgrounds in prosecuting Organized Crime -- most of the investigative staff had already been hired by the time he arrived. And because former Chief Counsel Sprague had viewed the Kennedy assassination as a homicide case, almost all the investigators were from the ranks of police homicide squads, the largest number from
I couldn't believe it either, and didn't. I knew Cornwell had to be aware of exactly what we were doing if he read the reports -- both formal and on yellow paper -- which were flowing across his desk. I also didn't believe he wasn't well aware of the importance of
Shortly afterwards, Al Gonzales and I were called back to
I couldn't quite gasp what Lopez was saying. Either I didn't want to believe it or I was hung up on the basic incongruity of developing "key issues" resolvable by June. Lopez said that the general staff meeting was scheduled for the next afternoon, but I was too anxious to wait. With a few members from Team 3 and Chief Investigator Fenton, we arranged a meeting with Cornwell that morning.
The Assassinations Committee staff worked out of what is now called House Annex No. 2, the former
Cornwell said he thought we had foraged enough. "I have the feeling," he said, "that if we go on the way we are we would have a great deal more information but, come time to write the report, we'd be no further along than we are now in terms of reaching conclusion. You have to remember that our ultimate goal is to get a report written." What he and Blakey did not want, Cornwell said, was a report that would cause the public to say, "You mean we spent $5 million on that?" They did not want a report that would have the Committee concluding, in effect, that if it had so much more time and so much more money it might come up with some definite answers. Therefore, Cornwell said, in order for the report to reach some definite conclusion, the character of the investigation would now change. The investigation would now be structured around what he called "linchpin" issues. Those issues, he said, would necessarily have to be selected with certain criteria. There would be no broad, encompassing questions to which we probably wouldn't find the answers -- or knew we would not find the answers within the scope of our time and resource limits.
That was the key. We only had so much time and so much money remaining before we had to get out a report. So, Cornwell said, we were not going to come up with any issues the answer to which would likely be, if we had more time and money we might find the answer. We must remember, Cornwell said, that Congress gave us a job to do and dictated the time and resources in which to do it. "That's the legislative world," Cornwell said. "Granted, it may not be the real world, but it's the world in which we have to live."
With his hint of a
Bill Triplett, the then-leader of Team 3, was a soft-spoken, pipe-puffing young attorney whose career had been almost entirely in government and thousands more were in other buildings all over Washington, and in New York and Philadelphia and Boston and Chicago and Los Angeles and million of other were going about their daily business all over the country a that very moment, and I saw myself -- myself within this small group of individuals sitting in this office -- sitting there making decisions about something that a part of the history and maybe the future of those people. I don't know why that awesome thought struck me them, but I remember that it did. And I remember thinking that I should be feeling a certain satisfaction, a touch of special pride in being there, sitting there in that office, having a role in something as historically significant and important as the Kennedy assassination investigation.
But I didn't. If felt, rather, a certain uneasiness, I were being a part of something devious. I'm not sure what those people out there expect, but it crossed my mind that what we were doing in that office was planning to deceive them. Those people out there thought we were investigating the assassination of President Kennedy. We were planning to get out a report.
By the time of the general staff meeting the next afternoon, all the teams in the JFK task force had gotten the word of the new investigative approach. Cornwell had held special conferences with each team. The meetings was held in one of the large conference rooms on the fourth floor, above the staff offices, yet it still felt crowded with a few dozen people jammed into it. Cornwell sat at the head of a long conference table, a big cigar in h is mouth, looking tweedy in a brown path jacket. His chair was tilted back and his boots characteristically up on the edge of the table. Blakey, in an uncharacteristic candy yellow corduroy suit, stationed himself against the wall behind Cornwell.
The room quickly grew still when Cornwell called for attention. "Alllright," he drawled. "I understand there's been a lot of bitching about the procedures we've instituted, so we'll let anyone who has any critical comments to make speak up." He puffed on his cigar, put a
That summed it up. Cornwell answered it by repeating what he had told the individual teams: We were done foraging; we were not living in the real world, we were living in the legislative world; we had to get the report out. Then Blakey spoke up. "Listen," he said, "I've laid this all out to you form the beginning. I said we would spend the first months looking at the entire spectrum of the case and defining our goals. Well, we reached the point where we must start moving on the report. Our main priority is the report. Now you may say I'm trying to cover my ass, but you don't have to worry about me covering my ass because I know how a report should be written. I know how to make a report look good. But I want more than that. I also want the report to be good. I just don't see a conflict in setting the investigation now boiled down to certain basic issues and in attempting solving the case."
If he believed that, Blakey was perhaps the only one in that room who didn't see the conflict. I looked toward Chief Investigator Cliff Fenton sitting in a corner. He was leaning forward, his hands clasped between his knees, his eyes staring down at the floor, his head slowly moving back and forth. He was in a tough spot. His investigator would not be able to get back out until each team developed its key issues and got them improved by Cornwell and Blakey. Then a specific "investigative plan" -- detailing who would be interviewed and then --- had to be drawn up from the issues and that approved. It would be weeks before the investigators could get back on the case.
"The way it looks to me," said Clarence Day, a homicide veteran from
That seemed to lift a bit the depression that had hung over the group when the meeting started, although it did end with an extemporaneous chorus of a popular song at the time: Take This Job and Shove It.
I remained in
For the next few weeks, the staff worked late into the night to develop issues that contained priority questions and still fit into the limitations of the criteria. Some teams could do that easier than others. The teams handling the ballistics and autopsy projects, for instance, knew the questions they were going to ask their panels of experts.
The anti-Castro area was one of the toughest in which to develop questions which could be fully explored in a limited amount of time. Yet Oswald's association with anti-Castro Cubans was one of the key mysteries of the Kennedy assassination. The progress we had been making in
The first question I tried to get approved was the one by experience in investigating the case had dictated as a priority: Was there an intelligence agency connection through anti-Castro Cubans and Oswald to the Kennedy assassination? That, I knew, would never pass muster because of the investigative approach and effort it would require. By the nature of its operations, an intelligence agency doesn't leave authentic tracks. One had to look for patterns. The issue I wanted to pursue involved the patterns of verified misinformation -- almost all linking Oswald to Castro -- which were born in
Cornwell rejected the issue. I was back in
In the end, in concocting an anti-Castro issue that would get approved, I believe we fell into the trap that Blakey, wittingly or unwittingly, had set. Other teams also wound up in the same trap. It sprung from our attempt to conspire to structure a question that would be vital, be answered within the time and resources limitations and, concomitantly, be broad enough to permit the widest scope of investigation. For instance, one of the approved issues for Team 3 was this: Was Lee Harvey Oswald associated with any actively militant anti-Castro groups which possessed the capability, motive, and resources to assassinate the President? I initially thought that would open the most doors for Gonzales and me in
One tends to search for analogies in order to provide a comprehensive whys of what happened. Was the Assassinations Committee a circus with a multitude of rings, some out front and some behind the grandstands, all of which it spun frenetically for a while in a virtuoso display of razzle-dazzle, before it folded its tent and left behind an empty field of matted grass in patterns every undecipherable? Or was it simply a politically-inspired drama in true Catch 22 genre, the story of a hapless unit whose vital investigative mission got inextricable tangled in the misguided demand to maintain a detailed log of that mission? Strange, isn't it, that such outrageous analogical suggestions would form in the mind of a staff member looking back on the experience?
At the time, of course, we simply had mixed feelings about what was happening. At least something was happening. Those of us who were abroad the Committee when its sails flapped in irons for a year while political torpedoes skinned its hull fell enormously grateful that we were at last moving in some direction. Blakey had sailed us into much smoother waters. Oh sure, over coffee in the basement cafeteria or late drinks at the Market Inn we speculated about the dark sides of Blakey's possible motivations, but, at the time, most of us basically felt that he was doing the job as he legitimately thought it should be done. At the time, there was no reason to suspect otherwise.
Besides, Bob Blakey was a nice enough guy. A Notre Dame grad, a good family man with seven children, a man who had always worn a white hat in the war against the bad guys. Intellectually, his brilliance justified his hint of arrogance, but he was easy to talk with, had a good sense of humor and knew when to listen. I liked him. In fact, although I objected to the limitations imposed on the investigation, I early wound up defending Blakey.
Immediately after coming aboard, Blakey imposed a curtain of silence on the staff, forbidding anyone from talking to outsiders about details of the Committee's operations. I thought it was a good idea, considering some of the previously distorted press criticism. However, as staff discontent grew, leaks began to occur. I learned, for instance, that freelance writers Scott Malone and Jerry Policoff were preparing a scathing article about Blakey for New Times magazine. They were blasting Blakey for returning $425,000 of first-year Committee funding to the Treasury despite staff members feeling that the investigation was pulling punches for lack of funds. They hit him for firing an excellent researcher under the false guise of "poor work quality" when the researcher's only sin was being too close to certain critics. They charged Blakey with being suspiciously cozy with the
I remember telling Policoff that, despite my journalistic reverence for freedom of the press, it somehow bothered me that the piece was going to run. Policoff, considered one of the more moderate and level-headed of the independent researchers, was becoming convinced that Blakey was a devious character with sinister motives. "I just can't buy that," I argued. "Whether or not he's making the right decision is a point that can be argued, but I believe he's sincere when he explains his reasons for them. Besides, what do you accomplish by attacking Blakey now? You'll only be hurting the work of the Committee. We may not be doing everything right or as well as we should be, but we are doing them. We're the only game in town."
Shortly after the critical article appeared, a rumor started spreading that Blakey had been offered a top job in the Justice Department when he wrapped up his Committee work. Suddenly that rumor burst into a real flame ignited by what became known as "the Ortiz manuscript" lap.
About six months prior, Al Gonzales and I had interviewed a
Ortiz had an incredible story. While being held in
While in prison in the
I agreed and, in fact, after checking further on Ortiz's background, thought it possible he may have had some association with American intelligence. (he served in the U.S. Army, went to
Some time later, I asked Eddie Lopez about the Ortiz manuscript. He didn't know what I was talking about. No, he said, he had never received a manuscript from Blakey to translate. I thought that was strange, but made a mental note to check with Blakey about it. I didn't have to. Late one Sunday evening, I received they only telephone call I ever got from Bob Blakey. There was a very nervous edge to his voice. "Talk to me," he said. "Tell me everything you know about how we came in contact with he Ortiz manuscript."
At the moment, it was not very fresh in my memory, but I eventually pieced together the details. "All right," he said, "I just wanted to refresh my own recollection about it. I'll tell you why I asked." He said that on Friday afternoon one of columnist Jack Anderson's legmen had called him to check out a rumor. The rumor, Blakey said, was that he had sold out to the
What Blakey didn't specifically acknowledge to me that evening was that he actually had, in fact turned over the Ortiz manuscript to the
Nevertheless, perhaps because I though the Ortiz manuscript was worthless, the fact that Blakey had given it to the Agency didn't bother me that much. I was more concerned with the valid aspect of the investigation and Blakey's concern with them. The restricted issues approach was a very disturbing but, even then, I was ready to accept Blakey's rationalization of it because of two key factors: first, as restrictive as the approach was, it still permitted the staff investigators to get out in the field and do some original digging. Secondly, as the Chief Investigator had told us, Blakey had promised that once the issues part of the investigation was wrapped up in June the investigators would have a free rein in delving into the evidence they thought, from their experience in the field, would be the most fruitful. As long as Blakey left the door open, I was willing to withhold any critical judgment of his motivations.
By early in June, another characteristic of the selected issue approach was becoming apparent. The nature of the issues selected so narrowed the breadth of the investigation that, in most areas, when it became obvious that the investigative pan was not going to be fully completed, it didn't really matter. The report cold still be written simply on the basis of the effort made. Conclusion could be drawn about what the whole road was like from a quick trip down one section of it. Whether or not that was a factor in what happened next, probably only Bob Blakey knows. All the staff knew at first was that there was rumor of a momentous change in the wind.
At the time, Al Gonzales and I were in
Nevertheless, sitting in our hotel room one evening near the end of our stay, both Gonzales and I were felling elated about what we had accomplished in
Fenton was right on target, At a special staff meeting shortly afterwards, Blakey went into a long explanation of what had happened. He and Tom Howarth, the Committee's Budget Officer, had just spent days going over the books and they were astounded at what they discovered, he said. The budget projections they had made were way off base. There were no mistake, but because of the unprecedented character of the Committee's operations, there were no yardstick formulas to accurately project costs on a phase basis. Now there was no way that the final phases of the Committee's work -- specifically, the public hearing and the report writing -- could be completed with major budget cuts. Some of the staff, announced Blakey, would have to be let go.
Al Gonzales and I couldn't get back to
A small group of jokesters had taken to posting on the bulletin board obviously phony memos from Chief Counsel Blakey whenever things had begun to reach the edge of absurdity. The announced staff cuts had produced the latest posting, a parody of Blakey's passion for scientific analysis. The memo announced that a decision had been made on the specific individuals to be let go. The decision was made, the memo said, on the basis of careful deliberation and consultation with a panel of experts who had established the proper scientific postulated for the decision. The memo concluded: "All Leos, Cancers, Pisces and Tauruses and hereby dismissed."
When the real firings did come, no one was laughing. In fact, some were shocked at the character of the cuts: Of the 25 staffers selected to be given their walking papers, the majority of them were investigators. (In its final records, the Committee's personnel statistics are misleading. After the firings, the drop in the number of the payroll amounted to about 20 percent, but because of accumulated vacation time, many staffers remained don the payroll but were not working. in June, before the cut, the Committee employed 118 persons; in the end, only 83 staffers remained. Of those, four were Kennedy assassination investigators.)
Chief Investigator Fenton took the massacre of his staff with a good deal of bitterness. "It's a catastrophe," he told me. "They really bagged me. They kept promising me that we would be able to swing the way we wanted after we finished the work plan at the end of June. That's why I kept telling everybody whenever they started bitching that this wasn't real investigation, 'All right, just finish the work plans, just finish the work plans.' But if they had told me the whole investigation was going to be over in June , well, you know, we would've tried some slippin' and sliding' and tried to get a few things done. Now suddenly everything's off. they checkmated me."
In the cut, I lost my partner in
Cornwell had a little nervous smile on his face. Gonzales is a very big man, normally very gently and very quiet, but his heavy-lidded eyes had a way of narrowing and exuding a seething inner intensity when he was angry. Consuming the chair in which he sat, he looked less like a detective than an Hawaiian sumo wrestler. "I just want to tell you fellas want I told everyone else," Cornwell said, "because I don't want you to be upset by all this or take it personal."
He was on a trip, Cornwell said, when he got a call from Blakey that the Committee was in a financial jam. Blakey told him that he had just gone over the books and discovered it. Cornwell said that when he returned, he decided the situation boiled down to a single issue: Was Blakey telling him the truth about the books or did he have other motivations in cutting the staff? Cornwell claimed he decided to review the books himself and found that Blakey was right, something had just gone wrong in keeping track of the budge.
Gonzales sat and listened and said nothing, his eyes still angry slits. Cornwell sounded sincere. "Al, I just want you to know if there was any way we could have kept on the staff just one more guy, you would have been it. You've been doing a helluva job and I want you to know we appreciated it and I don't think you should personally feel bad about it." Cornwell tried a conciliatory grin.
Gonzales sat silent for a moment then said, very softly: "I feel like I've been screwed."
If there had been an air of unreality to the Assassinations Committee's operations until then, after the decimation of its investigative staff there were periods that struck me as almost hallucinatory. I specifically recall a meeting in Cornwell's office shortly after Dick Billings joined the Committee.
By the middle of June -- at about the time the Committee's five-month-old "investigative plan" was being folded up --
Between the firing of most of the investigative staff in June and the end of December, the officially scheduled demise of the Committee, Bob Blakey directed his attention almost totally to tow things: The public hearings and the writing of the report.
From the very first briefing he gave the staff, Blakey placed tremendous importance on the public hearings. That was an early indication of exactly how very knowledgeable, astute and experienced he was in the ways of
If the public hearings of the House Select Committee on Assassinations had revealed to the public an indication of what the Committee had been doing for the preceding year and a half, it would have fit continuity-wise, as they say in TV-land, between Saturday Night Life and Dallas (the soap opera, not the city). They didn't. The committee's public hearings were cleverly structured to set up the American public for the Committee's final report.
Then, again, my particular disappointment in the public hearing came as a result of my own intention to use them in my special areas of interest. Although the issues may have been restricted and the investigation limited, I felt the hearings till provided an exceptional opportunity to make what we had been doing worthwhile. There was no doubt in my mind that the Silvia Odio incident and the revelations by Antonio Veciana were incredibly significant. There was also no doubt in my mind that if the American people had the opportunity to see and listen to Odio and Veciana and form their own judgment of their credibility, their understanding of the Kennedy assassination case would be enhanced multifold and that, perhaps, would be a step on the way to the truth and valid conclusion. If the testimony of Odio and Veciana could be presented fully and in proper context -- that is, in terms of its relationship to the activities of the anti-Castro Cubans and the intelligence community -- there could be no more important two witnesses.
The public hearings on the Kennedy assassination were scheduled for September, 1978. Chief Counsel Blakey turned his attention to prepared for them almost immediately after he joined the Committee more than a year before. Memoranda concerning staff procedure in conducting hearings begin pouring forth as early as November, 1977. Blakey knew exactly what he was doing.
My impression at the time, however, was that until just several weeks before the hearings on hard decision had been made about which witnesses would be called. I discussed that recently with a Senior Counsel staffer named Jim McDonald. The hiring of McDonald was an indication of how much weight Blakey was giving to the presentation of the hearing. McDonald, a former Organized Crime consultant to Florida Governor Reubin Askew, had just joined a prestigious
Although McDonald was with the Committee only five months, during that time, as a result of staff attorney attrition, he was in charge of two key teams: Team 2 ( the Organized Crime unit) and Team 3 (the anti-Castro Cuban unit). That gave him a special insight.
"When I got to
According to the original outline of the public hearing, it appeared that the area of anti- Castro Urban activities would at least get a proportional share of public exposure. "Under that area are listed Odio and Veciana," McDonald told me at the time, "but I'm wondering if that's going to be misleading. I'm afraid the impression may come from their appearance that the Committee is trying to link anti-Castro Cubans to the assassination. There's no evidence to that." I agreed. In fact, I pointed out, the Veciana incident indicates that Oswald's association was not with anti-Castro Cubans but with the intelligence community.
From the outline, that appeared to be a sensitive area. The possibility of Oswald's association with the Central Intelligence Agency was obviously going to be handled in a circuitous way, as a part of the presentation concerning the performance of the Federal agencies' response to the Kennedy assassination.
Nevertheless, I was well please with the proposed structure of the hearings as far as my area was concerned because, prior to the calling of the witnesses, is allowed for an introductory background narrative to be read by Blakey. I arranged with McDonald that I be the one who would write not only the individual introductions for Odio and Veciana but also the background narrative that would introduce the whole anti-Castro Cuban area of the investigation. The American people would be able to grasp the significance of Odio's and Veciana's testimony in its proper context. I couldn't ask for more.
McDonald and I worked closely in preparing for this aspect of the public hearings. We both felt we had only one major problem: To convince Silvia Odio to testify publicly. After meeting her and talking with her, McDonald had concluded that she would make an impressively credible witness. In fact, McDonald himself and developed a witness in Dallas, Dr. Burton Einspruch, who corroborated that Odio had told him prior to the Kennedy assassinating of the mysterious visit by Oswald and his two companions. That's the kind of evidence a trail attorney appreciate.
Silvia Odio had never been the most eager witness. The FBI had originally discovered her only coincidentally and her subsequently handling by the Warren Commission had left her distrustful and cynical. Down through he years she had hidden from the Kennedy researchers, refused to cooperate with the few who found her and even turned down large sums of money from checkbook journalist. Remarried now with teenage children and a beautiful new home, she had been fearful that any publicity about her relationship with the Kennedy assassination would wreck havoc on the life of stability she had struggled so hard to achieve. More, because she recognized the significance of her testimony, she was terrified for her safety.
It took ma a while to cultivate Silvia Odio's trust. "I know you won't betray me," she said. When I first met her, as an investigator for Senator Schweiker, I could honestly promise her confidentiality and sincerity of purpose. Now I was no longer in control. I knew the last thing in the world she wanted was public exposure. Yet she was an educated and intelligent woman instilled with certain principles and, because of her Cuban experience, a deeper belief in the democratic system than most natural-born Americans. I thought I could convince her that now, with the direction I saw the Committee heading, it was more important than ever that she testify publicly.
"I have been dreading that you would call," she said when I telephoned. News of the Committee's upcoming hearings had been in the media. "Please don't let them call me for public hearings. I'm not ready for it to upset my whole life again." Well, I said, Jim McDonald is coming down next week and perhaps we can have lunch together and talk about it. She had met McDonald and liked him. "But why do I have to do it?" she asked. "You have the story, the FBI has the story, I have repeated it so many times before. You have my sworn statements and you and Jim spent four hours taking my deposition. Why must I have to be brought before the TV cameras? I have a family and I'm frightened for them. One of the reasons I've been cooperative is because I wanted to avoid that. If the Congressmen want to see me privately, I'll be glad to see them privately. Tell me, please, please tell me why I have to go through it all over again? Why?"
My problem was that I understood her fears very well and had a tough time giving good answers to her questions, but she eventually agreed to have lunch with McDonald and I the next week. As a matter of formality, McDonald was bringing down subpoenas for both her and Veciana, but the last thing I wanted was to force Silvia Odio to testify. If I couldn't convince her to come to
When I approached Antonio Veciana, He also was reluctant to make a public appearance. Although our personal relationship was sill good and he had accepted with equanimity his loss of anonymity with the appearance of the Jack Anderson columns, his view of the Committee's motives changed drastically when Blakey and the Congressman officially visited and questioned Castro in
"Well, of course I will go because I must go," Veciana said when I asked him to testify at the public hearing. "But I have already given three times sworn statements about Bishop, twice before the Senate Committee and once before the House Committee. they already have my sworn statements. I cannot change my sown statements. So what good it for me to go to
I assured Veciana we did not want him to change his sworn statements and that his appearance before the Committee would indicate that his testimony was being given a good deal of credibility. In fact, I told Veciana, Chief Counsel Blakey himself would declare to the American people that Veciana's story appeared credible. I said that because I had already written Blakey's introductory narrative. At any rate, from his experience with government, Veciana knew he couldn't avoid the Committee's command request.
"Jim, I think we're going to have problems with Silvia," I told McDonald when I called. "It's going to take all your persuasive abilities as a trial attorney to convince her."
"Leave it to ol' Jim," said McDonald, never short of confidence or enthusiasm.
The Miamarina is in
"All right, I'll go," she finally said. "But only because any sensational revelations and had opted to drop their planned live coverage. Not even Blakey's personal impassioned pleas to their top executives could induce them to change their minds. Only the public radio network covered the hearing live, but not on a full time basis. An attempt was made to jiggle the public's attention by calling as witnesses known figures such as Governor and Mrs. John Connally, Marina Oswald, former
The last week of hearings, dealing with conspiracy theories, would hopefully grab a little more attention. Yet, in the scheduling, it was obvious where the accent would be: One day was devoted to what Blakey termed "flaky" theories, such as the contention that Kennedy was shot by an "umbrella man" wielding an assassinating device hidden in an umbrella; one day was scheduled for the anti-Castro Cuban area; and three days were to be devoted to the possible connections of Organized Crime to the assassination.
Chief Investigator Cliff Fenton came into
Fenton brought to
My reaction was not favorable. I was, to put it mildly, a bit disturbed. Not to worry, I was told, because although no witnesses would be called, there would still be a public presentation of the anti-Castro Cuban area and Blakey would still read the narrative detailing the stories of Odio and Veciana. In fact, when I got to
When I informed Veciana about he change in plans, he was, naturally, confused. "I don't understand," he said. "Why did they make me a subpoena and now they say they don't want me?" He was a man trained to look for hidden motives and mirror images in the course of events and his suspicions were very fined turned. I told him what I had been told: The Committee had run out of time, but his story would still be presented in narration. Extra time was needed to present the Organized Crime aspect of the investigation. He found my explanation inadequate. "I think there is more to it than that," he said. His thinking at the time was obviously clearer than mine. (Veciana would later tell me that he had inside sources in the Miami FBI office. These sources told him that the FBI had a confidential informant who said that Veciana was a Castro agent. The FBI told that to the Committee, Veciana claimed, and that's why he was not called. It was the informant, said Veciana, who was the real Castro agent. I was never able to check that out, but knowing Blakey's reverence for FBI information, that scenario wouldn't surprise me.)
Silvia Odio did not take the news the way Veciana did. After McDonald and I had convinced her that her testimony was needed for the sake of lofty ideals and principles, she had been experiencing a good deal of emotional stress trying to prepare herself to face public exposure for the first time.
"My God, this is incredible," she said when I told her. "After all the hell I've been putting myself through." She paused, unable to express the depth of her reaction. "I feel a tremendous anger," she finally said softly. "Well, this is the end for me. I don't want to have anything more to do with any more investigations or anything that has to do with the government at all. Of course, I'm glad in a way that I don't have to go through he public exposure, but now I really know that they don't want to know. They don't really want to know because they don't have any answers for the American public. They should never have started this charade in the first place."
Her anger, she said, was not directed at me, but perhaps, in part, it should have been. I listened without being able to answer her. In my gut, I felt she was right.
In retrospect, weighing the impression of that last week of the Assassinations Committee's public hearing, the overwhelming accent on the possibility of Organized Crime being involved in the murder of President Kennedy is incredibly clear. And, again in retrospect, it clearly appears to have been deliberate scheme to set up the American public for what was coming in the final report. The findings of the acoustic tests -- dictating the conclusion of a conspiracy as a result of more than three shots being fired -- were known prior the public hearings. Blakey then had to pin the conspiracy somewhere.
An interesting point is that most of the members of the Committee's Organized Crime team never bought Blakey's theory. "I remember that as being a constant battle at our meetings," former Team leader Jim McDonald recently recalled. "Most of us on the team felt we never made the link. Maybe Blakey's O.C. consultant Ralph Salerno made the link, but that's Ralph Salerno. The team never made the link. But at our meetings it was obvious that Blakey wanted that. He wanted to make the link more than anything else."
Blakey, strangely enough, seems to have made the link well before the acoustic results dictated the need for a specific conspiracy theory. "When Blakey sold me on joining the Committee," McDonald remembers, "we had a long discussion over the phone. this was in late February. He was intimating he had some new evidence and h e finally asked, 'well, who do you think killed Kennedy?' I said I didn't know. And he said, 'Think. think about it.' And I guessed, 'Castro? Cuban exiles? I really don't know.' 'Think!' he said. 'What's so obvious?' By that time I was just confused. Finally he blurted out, 'Organized Crime kill Kennedy!'"
In addition to the strong accent on the possibility of an Organized Crime conspiracy, the Committee's public hearing had another significant characteristic. Although they purported to cover the area -- it was so declared in the press release -- the hearings never truly delved into most of the evidence regarding the possibility of a connection between Lee Harvey Oswald and the Central Intelligence Agency. Blakey acknowledged a reason for that and it has to do with the arrangement he had made with the
My own experience indicated that Blakey learned over ridiculously, maybe even suspiciously, backwards in has caution. When I finally got to
Specifically, what had been edited out of Veciana's story was the fact that the State Department confirmed his employment by the United States Government when he was working under the Agency for International Development as a bank consultant in
I went into Blakey's office and asked him whey that part of the narrative was eliminated. Blakey said it was because, at this point, he didn't want to get into a hassle with the
Blakey pretended to miss my point. "Well, in any case," he said, "we've just got too much to do to get into a hassle with the Agency at this point." He quickly dismissed me and turned to other staffers waiting to see him.
The next day, when it came time to present the anti-Castro Cuban narrative and the stories of Silvia Odio and Antonio Veciana to the American public, Blakey turned to Congressman Stokes and said: "Mr. Chairman, in light of the time pressures that Committee is operating under today, I would like to ask permission that the narration on the anti-Castro Cubans be inserted in the record as if read."
Today I think back to something Silvia Odio said when she was expressing her rage and frustration at suddenly being told she could not directly tell h er story to the public. "I know I won't be able to sleep now for days," she said. "I had put this thing out of my mind years ago, but then it was brought up again and this time I thought for a good purpose. Now I'm angrier than I have ever been in my life." there was nothing I could say. Finally, she said softly: "Please don't think I'm angry at you. I'm not angry at you. I know they way you feel. But we lost. We all lost.
At the conclusion of its public hearings, the House Select Committee on Assassinations had been in existence for more than tow years. Officially, it had but three more months of life. During that time, its dwindling staff, characterized by a numb and glassy-eyed determination to simply finish its job, worked on the various area summaries for the final report. In those last months, Blakey's preoccupation was with the results of the acoustics tests. A police radio tape of the sounds in
There was not doubt that the tape recordings, as analyzed, indicated that more that three shots were fired, likely even more than four. Blakey finally had the hook on which to hand his Organized Crime conspiracy theory and he wasn't about to let it slip out of his hands. With the hiring of auxiliary experts and additional field tests in
This is not the whole story. This, in a broad brush stroke, is why and how the Assassinations Committee went in the direction it did. It is that important part of the story which explains what was happening while a critical area of evidence was being given token consideration. A credible witness, Antonio Veciana, had alleged that an intelligence operative who used the name of Maurice Bishop was associating with Lee Harvey Oswald immediately before President Kennedy was assassinated. that was evidence in the realm of the Committee's mandate. It was not hard evidence and it was not corroborated, but it was, nevertheless, evidence. It was evidence seeded with potential significance from any concluding viewpoint, positive or negative. It was evidence that screamed for attention. It was evidence that, by any standard of evaluation, demanded that an intensive, undeviating Committee effort be devoted to its investigation.
It never happened. The early political and organizational chaos, the establishment of priorities not related tot he substance of the case, the subsequent restrictions imposed upon the selection of key issues, the diffusion and then decimation of investigative resources, the predisposition to concentrate on the area of Organized Crime -- all were factors which dictated the Assassinations Committee's ultimate handling of and its conclusion about the revelations of Antonio Veciana.
And so, because it did not honor its mandate to conduct "a full and complete" investigation in this glaringly important area, the Committee had to distort the facts in its final report in order to justify its conclusion -- and cover is ass.
For $5.6 million, the American people should have at least gotten the bare facts.
The memo eventually became Document No. 013455 in the files of the House Select Committee on Assassinations.
It begins: "Instead of finally resolving anything, the confrontation between Veciana and David Phillips on Friday in
The memo noted that Veciana's attitude appears to have changed from when I first met him six months prior, largely as a result of his getting deeply involved again in the intrigues of Miami's anti-Castro strategists. It then speculates: "Veciana may now feel that it won't pay to identify Bishop and, in fact, if Bishop knows he can do it as any moment, he might find that an incentive to want to get back into action with Veciana to keep him from doing so. they may both feel that they can wait for all this to blow over, even if it's a year or too...."
Confirmation of Veciana renewing his strategic role in anti-Castro activity came a few months later when an informant told me that Veciana had taken a secret mission to
As for David Atlee Phillips -- of all the people in the world -- it was incredible how the pieces of his character and career fit into the puzzle named Maurice Bishop. As first discovered by Senator Schweiker himself, the composite sketch of Bishop was a very close likeness of Phillips. In additional, a few specific details revealed by Veciana long before the name of David Phillips popped up late an impression on me. One was the very unusual physical characteristic that both Bishop and Phillips shared in the dark, weathered ellipses under this eyes. the other was Veciana's assumption that Bishop was a Texan. David Phillips grew up and still has family living in
Early in 1977, a fascinating autobiography appeared in the nation's bookstores" The Night Watch - 25 Years of Peculiar Service. Its author was David Atlee Phillips. It was, of course, written and in production long before it was known that Antonio Veciana had revealed the existence of Maurice Bishop. It would be misleading to characterize any published work by a competent intelligence agent as 'revealing," especially one written by an expert in counterintelligence and propaganda, one whose life work was in creating mirror images, false postures and shadow characters. And David Phillips does, indeed, have a reputation among his peers of being an expert in what he does. His book, however, does provide certain relevant benchmarks.
David Atlee Phillips was born on Halloween, 1922. in
More than anything else, however, David Phillips wanted to be an actor. he spent a couple of years bumming around
In 1948, Phillips married his first wife, an airline stewardess and, with a $200-a-month stipend from a producer's option on a play he wrote which was never produced, he had his bride decided to go to
At first, Phillips tried play writing, attended classes at the
Eventually, Phillips was sent by the Agency to
Phillips' three-week training session appears to have been a model from which Maurice Bishop drew Antonio Veciana's training program. Initially, he was taught the tools of the basic trade craft, how to conduct surveillance and counter surveillance, set up clandestine meetings, employed deception techniques and run "dark alley" operations. Phillips was then told he had the qualifications the Agency looked for in a propaganda specialist and his training thereafter concentrated on the techniques of propaganda and political action. Phillips describes it as a "freshman course." He notes: "It was some years later before I graduated into the more esoteric graduate schools of trade crafts."
David Atlee Phillips thus began his journey into what would eventually e the deepest realms of
Strangely enough, from being apart-time recruit in
It was during the
Although Phillips regularly moved up the
There were certain segments of Phillips' career which attracted my attention. IN a now frayed and yellowing copy of the 1960 edition of the Anglo-American Directory of Cuba, there is listed on page 92: "PHILLIPS, David Atlee (Amer.):...Public relations Counselor, David A. Phillips Associates...." At the time, Phillips was a deep cover operative in Havana posing as a public relations consultant, hobnobbing with media executives and newspaper reporters, launching with Havana's businessmen, ostensibly pitching stories or clients. "My favorite luncheon place," he writes in his book, "was the Fluoridate restaurant in colonial Havana." Once he saw Hemingway there.
Phillips admits that after he hung up his shingles as a public relations counselor, "No one rushed the door in any event, nor did I solicit clients." Phillips does, however, also admit that he did eventually wind up with at least one client with which he briefly worked a trade for French lesson: The Berlitz language School.
In his book, Phillips discussed very little of what he actually id in
Another aspect of Phillips' career which interested me was his tour of duty in
From 1961 through the fall of 1963, Phillips was Chief of Covert Action in
The Assassinations Committee's first Chief Counsel Richard Sprague had run into what, for him, became a dead-end when he attempt to probe into what David Phillips did in monitoring Lee Harvey Oswald's actions in Mexico City. After G. Robert Blakey became Chief Counsel, an arrangement was made with the Agency to give Committee staffers who signed the
The Assassinations Committee does not answer all those questions in its published final report. Most of its published conclusions are masterpieces of definitive statements conflictingly injected with waffling qualifiers. For instance: "Despite the unanswered questions, the weight of the evidence supported the conclusion that Oswald was the individual who visited the Soviet Embassy and Cuban Consulate." (Italics added.) It dismisses the Agency's handling of the Oswald case prior to the assassination as simply "deficient, and yet admits that "the Committee was unable to determine whether the
Unable to determine? That admission reveals more about the Committee's investigation and its relationship to the
The Question of Phillips' veracity is not addressed int he Committee's final report. (In fact, David Phillips is not even mentioned in the final report, although a published appendix volume, cleared by the Agency, does name him and his job assignments.) In one of the footnote references to the report, however, is noted a document entitled :Lee Harvey Oswald, the
In the search for the true identity of Maurice Bishop, the more I learned about David Atlee Phillips, the more I was struck by how incredibly well the pieces fit. Aside for the physical similarity to Bishop, Phillips' interests and job assignments were exceptionally relevant to almost everything Antonio Veciana had told me about Bishop. In Havana as a covert operative, involved with the anti-Castro Cuban groups in Miami both before and after the Bay of Pigs, assigned to propaganda and counterintelligence activities in Mexico City when Lee Harvey Oswald visited there -- could such key factors which pointed to David Phillips being Maurice Bishop all be merely coincidental?
Perhaps, if there were enough conflicting factors which mitigated against the possibility. There weren't. to the contrary, there were other aspects of Phillips' career which tended to make the fit tighter. In 1968, for instance, at the suggestion and with the help of Bishop, Veciana got a
Late in 1967, David Phillips returned to
This from the notes made from a tape recorded interview with Antonio Veciana on
Part of the plot to assassinate Castro in
In December, 1975, the Church Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities issued a staff report entitled, Covert Action in
One of the most interesting facts revealed in the Senate Intelligence Committee report was the huge amount of money available to the
The Senate report also noted that the
The chief of the Track II project was David Phillips.
When Phillips testified in executive session before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, he scoffed at Veciana's contention that he was paid $253,000 in cash at the termination of his relationship with Maurice Bishop. Phillips said that was too large a sum of money for the
Veciana claimed that the beginning of the end of his relationship with Bishop came with the discovery of the unauthorized sub-plot to blame Russian agents for the Castro assassination attempt in
Perhaps, however, there is a simpler explanation. In his autobiography, Phillips tells a self-effacing story about an incident which occurred shortly after he took over as Western Hemisphere Division boss -- the highest echelon, by the way, to which a
When David Phillips' book, The Night Watch, was published, it because a fascinating exercise for me to pore over it looking for such clues and hints to the possibility of his being the mysterious Maurice Bishop. Although there are broad revelations that Phillips couldn't easily have concealed in an autobiography, the book was cleverly constructed to be as little informative as possible about the details of his many covert actions. Phillips is, of course, an overtly loyal
Phillips, for instance, portrays himself as a moderate liberal. He proclaims -- albeit, with suspicious gratuity -- that he voted for George McGovern and for Hubert Humphrey when they were Presidential candidates. He also would have his readers believe that he is the processor of a level-headed, moral and philosophical objectivity, a man who claims to have agonized much over the ethical and legal implications of his covert apportions. Yet he reports that his career has been full of Agency honors and rewards for h is repeated successes as a dirty tricks expert and details how he help dislodged even left-leaning governments which have been democratically elected, as in Chile. Moreover, the real David Phillips is closely associated with top figures in the military-industrial complex, as well as with the most hawkish of the nation's right-wing power brokers.
For instance, as previously noted, I discovered his relationship with Clare Booth Luce extends to her board position on the Phillips-founded Association of former Intelligence Officers. That relationship may be relevant here. As those who worked for the Time-Life communications empire can verify, the wife of the late board chairman Henry Luce was an influential figure in the operations of her husband's media giants. I recall talking with former Life correspondent Andrew St. George early in 1976, before I had even heard of the name of David Phillips. St. George told me that one of the many instances in which Life (missing 30)
The last two sentences would come to have special significance for me, although not in the way Phillips intended them.
Phillips does, by the way, admit knowledge of an assassination plot by anti-Castro rebels while he was still a deep cover operative in
Phillips, however noted his thoughts when he was considering the various methods by which he could approach the plotters: "It would be tricky," he writes. "I could approach and cultivate one of the conspirators using a false identity, perhaps in disguise." Disguises, I have learned, do not have to be blatant or sophisticated and are sometimes just subtle enough to avoid instance recognition. But I found it interesting that Phillips should consider a ploy favored by one of his associates. For his disguises on his White House Plumbers operations, E. Howard Hunt had drawn on the resources of the
Because his testimony was already on record with the Senate Intelligence Committee and couldn't be brushed aside, because he did fit into the issue plan in an oblique way, and because it was an area I kept pushing, Antonio Veciana was brought to
They did. As I walked out of the hearing room at Veciana's side, I saw Phillips talking amiably with a small group immediately outside the door. He glanced up, saw Veciana, glanced at me and turned back to his conversation. Veciana also spotted Phillips. He leaned over to me and said with a half-smile on his face, "There's David Phillips."
That day, Veciana again testified under oath that David Phillips was not the person he knew as Maurice Bishop. He admitted, however that there was a "physical similarity."
I returned to the hearing room to listen to Phillips testify immediately after I had escorted Veciana out of the building. Most of the questioning concerned his knowledge of Oswald's activities in
David Phillips said he never used the name Maurice Bishop. (Although
I was facing Phillips's right side, sitting at a staff table on a level below the U-shaped Congressional dais. Kennedy Subcommittee Chairman Richard Pryor, the white-haired North Carolina Representative, was president. As I listened I was struck by the tone of credibility in Phillips's voice as he began to speak about an incident with which I was personally familiar.
Phillips said that Veciana was brought to the
I was shocked. An impulse flashed within me to Jump up and shout, "That's is not true!" I had personally introduced Veciana to Phillips twice at the luncheon in
Later, I mentioned by reaction to Chief Counsel Bob Blakey. "You know," I said, "David Phillips lied in his testimony." Blakey raised his brows. "Oh, really," he said. "What about?" I told him the details. He listened carefully, thought silently for a moment, gave me a "so what?" shrug and walked away.
Shortly after the
At an early meeting of the Warren Commission, the transcript of which was marked "Top Secret" until 1975, the members discussed what Chief Counsel F. Lee Rankin called "this dirty rumor" that Oswald may have been an FBI informant.
"This is a terribly hard thing to disprove, you know," said Allen Dulles. "How do you disprove a fellow was not your agent? How do you disprove it?"
The late Congressman from
"No," said Dulles.
"Did you have agents about whom you had no record whatsoever?" asked Boggs.
"The records might not be on paper," said Dulles.
Boggs than asked about an agent who did not have a contract but was recruited by someone from the
"Yes, but he wouldn't tell," said Dulles.
Commission Chairman Earl Warren appeared a bit taken aback by that. "wouldn't tell it under oath?" asked
"I wouldn't think he would tell it under oath, no," answered Dulles.
It was a revealing admission of a loyal
At the time when the House Assassinations Committee Chief Counsel Bob Blakey was making arrangements with the
Of all the factors which dictated the Assassinations Committee's ultimate disposal of the revelations of Antonio Veciana and its conclusion about Maurice Bishop, there was one of pivotal influence: The Committee's relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency.
At one of the first general staff meetings, Blakey revealed what our general strategy would be in dealing with the
"The things to do now," said Blakey, "is be nice to the Agency. Ask for things in a nice way. If you have difficulty, deal with them in a nice way, don't buck them head-on at this point. That may result in the battle being lost on the beaches.
Unlike his predecessor Dick Sprague, Bob Blakey saw nothing ludicrous in seeking a "working arrangement" with one of the subjects of the Committee's investigation. Neither did he view House Resolution 222 authorizing the Committee to conduct a "full and complete investigation" in conflict with the
The Committee's arrangement with the Agency for access to its files evolved over several months, most of the steps being negotiated personally by Blakey and
Blakey was exceptionally proud of his working arrangement with the Agency and, in a sense, he had a right to be. Although the Agency had final review of what information would be published, the Committee's final report and, more significantly, its appendix volumes were liberally documented with Agency file material. Even now, independent researchers are discovering a cornucopia of new information in that published material which appears to be relevant to the final truth about the Kennedy assassination.
Yet, in the end, Blakey was suckered. Or, more accurately, he suckered himself. Although he pictured himself in periodic reports to the staff as aggressively snipping at the Agency at every instance of evasiveness or recalcitrance, he was, in fact, on that Agency's turf. And being there meant he accepted at least two basic assumption: First, the access to
My own impression was that Blakey all along though he was cleverly manipulating the Agency to his own end. His end was, of course, a heavily-documented final report. After the Committee's report was released, Blakey told a journalist, who was questioning him about he Committee's conclusion concerning Antonio Veciana's revelations, that he had been certain
Bob Blakey's reverence for the
I vividly recall an informal discussion I had, before the Committee's investigation GO underway, with a former high-ranking
"...what the hell is that to the
I think of that when I recall what subsequently occurred in the pursuit of Veciana's revelations, and I think of the incredible admission that is buried in the Committee's final report -- an admission which almost totally negates its investigative conclusions about he
"...the Agency's strict compartmentalization and the complexity of it enormous filing system...have the...effect of making congressional inquiry difficult. For example,
In July of 1977, two moths after he had written his first column about Mr . X" and his revelations concerning "Morris" Bishop, Jack Anderson brought the subject up again.
Wrote Anderson: "The Central Intelligence Agency had no comment last my when we quoted from House investigative files that the
"This memo..is addressed to the
It was not until
And a file search of David Phillips' files did not indicate that he had ever registered the alias of Maurice Bishop.
I was the only staff investigator on the House Selected Committee on Assassinations with a journalistic background. As such, I was particularly mindful of Blakey's early directive that all the activities of the Committee, classified or not, be kept confidential. Some of my best friends were journalists and I was in touch with them regularly. In addition, some of them had been doing important and very effective research into the Kennedy assassinating themselves and were excellent sources of information. For that reason, I refused to restrict my contacts with them. Blakey knew that, and I knew that he knew that, so I was particularly careful not to leak any Committee information. (I later discovered that Blakey himself was the source of many published leaks.)
One of the journalists with whom I was in regular contact was a tall, husky young freelancer named Scott Malone. Malone had stirred Blakey's ire by being obnoxiously pushy while questioning him about a piece of New Times magazine and Blakey had declared him a persona non grata to the Committee staff. But Malone was a good digger and a hustler and he helped put together a
In the mid-'50s, McKeown had a successful business in Cuba, was forced out by Batista and was eventually arrested in Texas with a house full of arms and munitions he was planning to smuggle to a mountain rebel name Fidel Castro. Actually, he was a front for former Cuban President Carlos Prio, with whom Frank Fiorini Sturgis also worked. After the Kennedy assassination, the FBI discovered that Jack Ruby had once contacted McKeown to ask him for a letter of introduction to Castro. McKeown has since given a variety of reasons for Ruby wanting the introduction. He was said that Ruby wanted to sell Castro a shipment of jeeps. He has also said that Ruby was interested in obtaining the e release of some friends Castro had imprisoned. And, in an interview I had with him while I was working for Senator Schweiker, McKeown said that Ruby had access to a load of slot machines hidden in the mountains of
At any rate, I met Scott Malone for lunch one day on
In the report I eventually wrote, he was given the name of Ron Cross, for a variety of reasons. Cross, we discovered, worked as a case officer out of the
Cross, retired from the Agency since 1964, was a thin, tanned, soft-spoken fellow, friendly in a casual way. Although we had spoken to other cooperative former
Cross was a gold mine of information. He provided us not only with exquisite details about he operations of the group he handled, he also gave us a broad insight into the structure and activities of the JM/
Both Gonzales and I held back in asking him certain key questions for fear of revealing what we knew. We were leery. Stumbling on Cross, we both quickly deduced, was a stroke of dumb luck. In terms of our main areas of interest, he was a man who had been in the right place at the right time. But we wanted to check him out a bit more before we opened up with questions which could provide the basis of misinformation feedback. Trusting souls we never were.
We did, however, ask him about David Phillips. Sure, Cross said, he knew Phillips. Working through the JM/
Over the next few weeks, both Gonzales and I were in frequent touch with Cross as we attempted to check out the validity of both the information he gave us and the man himself. He appeared to be straight. We then decide to test him in an area of major interest. One day Gonzales called him and told him we were working on something that required confirmation of the pseudonyms or aliases used by certain
Off the top of his head, Cross said, he believed that "Bishop" was the name used by David Phillips, "Knight was a name that E. Howard Hunt occasionally used and, he said, we must be mistaken about the third name alias because that was the true name of a fellow he known in Havana.
Cross said, however, that within the next few days he would be talking with a few of the Cuban exile agents he had worked with and, in just chatting with them about the old days, perhaps his memory would be refreshed enough to give us a more definite answer.
Several days later, Al Gonzales decided to drop in for a chat with Cross to see if his memory had been refreshed. Well, Cross said, it had been a bit. He said now he was "almost certain" that David Phillips had use the name of "Maurice Bishop," but he still was not definite about whether Hunt had used the "Knight" alias. He was sure, however, that the third name was a true name.
That surprised us. We had not given Gross Bishop's first name.
There was another interesting fillip to what Cross had revealed. In his memoir, Give Us This Day, E. Howard Hunt anoints the "Propaganda Chief" of the
In Thomas Powers' biography of Richard Helms, The Man Who Kept the Secrets, the "man Howard idolized" is of course, reveals to be his boss, the former
Over the next few weeks, we continued to check into Cross him self. We spoke with a number of Cuban exiles who had worked with him and others who had known him. We found no discrepancies in anything he had told us. I felt, however, that I should once again confirm his recollection about Maurice Bishop. One day, after a lengthy conversation about other areas of the JM/
Yes, Cross said, as a matter of fact, he had been giving it some thought. He said he was fairly sure now that Hunt did use the Knight alias. He also said he was now "almost positive" that David Phillips used the name of Bishop. The reason he was sure about that, he said, was because he had been thinking about when he worked with Phillips' assistant at the JM/
If Al Gonzales and I had known for a fact that Ron Cross had been a retired employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, we would not have been able to interview him for weeks, perhaps months, after we actually did. As part of aft Blakey's "working arrangement" with the Agency, it was agreed that the Assassinations Committee staff would permit the
Perhaps that explains why it was more than six months after the revelations provided by Ron Cross that the Assassinations Committee got around to interviewing the man who called himself Doug Gupton. Although Gupton was recently retired from the Agency, the interview was arranged at
Gupton said, however, that Phillips was actually in charge of two sets of operations. Gupton's set of operations was run out of
When asked if he knew whether or not either E. Howard Hunt or David Phillips ever used the cover name of."Knight," Gupton said he did not know. When asked if David Phillips ever used the cover name of "Maurice Bishop," Gupton said, "I don't recall. When told that Ron Cross said that he specifically remembered Gupton referring to David Phillips as "Mr. Bishop," Gupton remained silent for a moment, looked down at his lap and said, "Well, maybe I did. I don't remember."
Gupton was then shown the composite sketch of Maurice Bishop. No, he said, it didn't look like anyone he knew.
The House Select Committee on Assassinations issued 542 subpoenas for individuals to appear before it or provide material evidence. It actually took sworn testimony in depositions, at public hearings or in executive session from 335 witnesses. Despite the significance of their statements, the Committee never questioned Ron Cross or Doug Gupton under oath.
Near the end of his testimony before the Assassinations Committee in April, 1978, David Phillips has been shown the composite sketch of Maurice Bishop. Since I had not had the chance to show it to him at
It was about a month later when I received a call from Leslie Wizelman. A researcher on the Organized Crime team, she was one of the bright young Cornell Law students Blakey had brought to
That was, indeed, some kind of coincidence. I could not forget that much of David Phillips' career was involved with the dissemination of misinformation and that he was an expert at it, still, his comment about his brother looking more like Maurice Bishop than he did intrigued me. An effective investigative body would have checked that out immediately, if only just for the record. But this was the Assassinations Committee and I knew no one would do it if I didn't do it myself. Although there were a number of witnesses in
By the end of July, 1978, with the investigative staff a remnant of its former self, junior and senior counsels and researchers were frantically flitting around the country in an attempt to fill most of the obvious gaps in the investigative plan. The idea was to get a contact, sworn deposition or an interview of record. The quality of the interview or the substantive potential of the information solicited didn't matter. Anyway, the investigation was over. So if someone was going to California, for instance to interview a witness for his team's issue, he was also asked to interview other witnesses for other teams' issues regardless of whether or not he was familiar with that area of the investigation. And, more often than not, he wasn't. There are a number of interview reports from this period, now locked-in the National Archives, which indicate that the interviewer really didn't know what the bell his questions really meant and couldn't follow up a significant answer when he got one.
"This is ridiculous," Jim McDonald told me one day. "They've got me taking depositions and interviewing all these people in Dallas and you're the guy with the background on a lot of them. You've got to go to Dallas with me. I'm gonna insist on it."
So in the final months of the life of the Assassinations committee, the only remaining investigator who had not yet officially been on the scene of the crime got to visit it. (I had, of course, been to Dallas before I joined the Committee, but that didn't count on the Committee's record.) I told Leslie Wizelman I was going. "Oh, good," she said, "you can drop in on Edwin Phillips and ask him if he has those Crime Commission files ready for me yet. He them, was supposed to have them by the end of June but every time I call he tells me they're not quite complete yet. You can pick them up for me if they're ready. Besides, you'll enjoy meeting hem. He's really friendly.
I had been to Dallas and Dealey Plaza several years before and I remember being struck mostly by the compactness of the assassination site. Someone once termed it an ideal shooting gallery. The way Elm Street curved and slowly sloped towards the underpass, the extraordinary abundance of cover and camouflage in the grassy knoll areas, the numerous positions for enfilade fire in the northern perimeter of tall buildings, all seemed to be factors which weighed heavily against the site being thrust into history through a series of coincidences. That is it, this is where it had to be. That is what screams at you when you stand in Dealey Plaza. I felt it on my first visit and I felt it again. But now, as I stood in the street on the spot during a momentary lull in the flow of traffic, I felt more. Here was where a man was killed. It struck me that those who controlled what was going on in
I spent a few days in Dallas helping staff counsel Jim McDonald with witness depositions, most of which had to do with Jack Ruby. I did, however, get to talk with a few people I had wanted to meet, including the retired Colonel Sam Kail, one of the individuals in the American Embassy in
Kail, a trim and tanned ex-infantryman, was affable and appeared casually cooperative. He said he remembered Veciana calling him in 1976 and asking him about Maurice Bishop. He said he didn't remember Veciana visiting him at the Embassy in
Kail also said, however, that some
As military attache, Kail said, his main function was in intelligence. After the
The fact that Kail was operating in the intelligence area was, I thought, important in terms of Veciana's credibility about his early contacts with Maurice Bishop. Significant also was Kail confirming again what Veciana had initially told me he specifically remembered: Kail did go home to
There was so much to do in such a short time in Dallas I did not think I would have the opportunity to meet Edwin Phillips. At the last moment, however, an urgent call from Washington for an interview report of witness who, someone discovered, would have been a gap in the investigative plan if left uncontacted, took me to Forth Worth. The witness, who had been a friend of the Oswald's, was outside my investigative area and not someone I knew a lot about. And not having with me the background files and records which I would usually check before approaching a subject, meant that the interview would necessarily be brief, strictly for the record and embarrassingly superficial. That's how bad things got at the end.
It was late in the afternoon when I called Edwin Phillips' office in
Edwin Phillips greeted me effusively was he emerged from his office. "Well, well, it sure is s pleasure to see you," he said, "you come right on in now." He shook my hand and guided me into his office. He was obviously older than David Phillips, shorter, punchier and more jowly of face. There was no doubt that they were brothers, but Edwin Phillips' resemblance to the Maurice Bishop sketch was in no way as close as his brother's
In his high-backed black leather chair, surrounded by the old-fashioned scrolled-mahogany furniture, attired in a conservation dark suit and vest, Edwin Phillips reminded me of a down- home Texas politician, fast-talkin', drawlin,' back-slappin' friendly and sharp as an ol' hoot-owl. I didn't get a chance to do much explaining. I said I happened to be in the area and I dropped by really for only two reasons. The first was that Leslie Wizelman had asked me to check on the files and see if they were ready yet.
Phillips hemmed and hawed a bit and said well, yes sir, he had gotten together the files and they were right here somewhere, as he began rummaging and flipping through the piles of papers on his desk, but he hadn't a chance to organize they yet and he wasn't about to give them to Leslie in the mess they were in, no sir, but he was gonna get to them right soon now and he'd have them ready for her in another week or two for sure. "Now that Leslie, she is a might fine little gal," he said. "Ah admire her, ah do. And ah respect her, an' ah respect the work she's doin', but ah toll' her as soon as she walk in here, ah toll' her, you know ahem David Phillips' brother, an' you people have been talking' to David and, well, David's my younger brother an' ah always kinda looked after David...."
Edwin Phillips said that David had called him and told him about his testimony before the Committee, told him what had happened and how the Committee had gotten him mixed up with this fellow Maurice Bishop. He said David told him that he was shown a sketch of this Maurice Bishop and when he saw it his mouth just dropped, he was so surprised at how much of a resemblance there was. "But David told me," said Edwin Phillips, "that he said the sketch looked more like me than him." He laughed. "Ah told David that ah resented his taking advantage of our fiduciary and fraternal relationship." He laughed again. "You know, ah always kinda looked after David."
Well, I said, that was the other reason I came by. Being that I was in the neighborhood, I thought he might just get a kick out of taking a look at the sketch himself. I thought he might be interested in seeing it, I said, and I just happened to have it with me.
Phillips seemed genuinely delighted. "Well, that's mighty nice of you," he said. "Ah do appreciate your thoughtfulness." I reached over and handed him the sketch. He leaned forward in his chair and looked at it closely. "Ah am astonished!" He almost shouted. "Ah am astonished! Why that is amazin'! That certainly does look like David." He kept studying the sketch and shaking his head In amazement. "Well, now," he said, "ah gonna kid David about that. That does look a lot more -like David than it does me, don't it now?"
Well, I admitted, there is a resemblance. Edwin Phillips couldn't get over it. He went on about how David told him about this Cuban fellow who said he saw this Maurice Bishop with Oswald and how the Committee had asked David about it. I got the strong impression that David Phillips had briefed his brother in exceptional detail about his testimony.
Edwin Phillips thanked me again for dropping by, said it was mighty nice of me to go out of my way. Well, I thought he would Just get a kick out of seeing the sketch, after what David said about it resembling him and all. He was laughing and chatting about that as he escorted me out of his office and then, as we passed his secretary, began telling her the story and why I had come by. "Would you mind showing my secretary the sketch?" he asked. Not at all, I said as I pulled it out of my briefcase again.
His secretary put on her glasses and studied the sketch. "Ah was just telling' this gentleman how astonished ah was," said Edwin Phillips. His secretary just shook her head in amazement. "That's David," she said simply. "That's David."
"Come take a look at this," Phillips called to the younger secretary at the other desk. "This is my daughter Beth," he said introducing her, "let's see what she thinks. Does that look more like David or more like me?" Beth moved behind her father to get a better look at the sketch. "Why that's Uncle David," she said. "That is Uncle David." They were all shaking their heads and laughing now at the incredible coincidence that the sketch should so much resemble David Phillips. It sure struck them as mighty funny. It struck me as funny, too. To tell the truth, I found myself chuckling almost all the way back to
David Phillips has always been a man of action. In his book, The Night Watch, he details how very much he regretted having to spend more time behind the desk as he moved up the Agency's ranks. He loved being on the operational end of the dirty tricks business, playing the covert action games, surreptitiously spinning hidden wheels to orchestrate a series of "coincidences" which would bring about a counterintelligence objective. He tells the story, for instance, of so successfully setting up a top Cuban intelligence officer in
Until I casually dropped in to visit his brother Edwin in Forth Worth, David Phillips could have assumed that the Assassinations Committee had ceased its efforts to identify Maurice Bishop. He had been questioned under oath, Antonio Veciana had been questioned under oath, and the
Shortly after I returned from
"Hey," Hardway called in his mellifluous West Virginny twang, "we got an interview comin' up at the-Agency you might be interested in." Hardway said that in the course of his file research he had uncovered the existence of a deep cover operative he thought he would like to talk with. The guy turned out to have worked so deep cover and been involved in such sensitive operations that the
"Turns out this fella worked with Dave Phillips quite a bit," Hardway said, "and probably was a good friend of his. Got any questions you want me to ask him?"
Yeah, I did, but the fella -- who will- here be named Bart Henry -- turned out to be a closer friend of Phillips than Hardway suspected -- so close, in fact, that he might have revealed something special about the bond that exists among covert operatives. Bart Henry said he had been a
When Henry was asked if he knew an individual named Maurice Bishop, he shocked his interviewers by saying that he did. When asked to explain his relationship with Bishop, Henry said: "Again, Mr. Bishop was in the organization but I had not personal day-to-day open relationship with him. Phillips, yes; Bishop, no. I knew them both."
Strangely, however, Henry couldn't describe Bishop's physical characteristics. He said he had only seen him "two or three times" in the "hallway or cafeteria" at
If he did not know Bishop, Henry was asked, how did he know that the person he saw at
The interview went on into other areas and then, just before it ended, Henry was shown the composite sketch of Bishop without being told who it was. No, he said, it didn't remind him of anyone he recognized.
I reviewed the transcript of the interview with Bart Henry several times. There were, from my own knowledge, obviously questionable contentions. First of all, having worked at
In further review of Bart Henry's transcript, however, I was struck by something much more fascinating: In answering questions about Maurice Bishop, he repeatedly mentioned David Phillips' name in the same sentence. Henry wanted us very much to know that, yes, he knew Maurice Bishop and he knew David Phillips and they were two different individuals.
Confirmation about my suspicion of Bart Henry's objective would come a few weeks later, following another surprising development in the search for Maurice Bishop.
About a week after the interview with Bart Henry, young senior counsel named Bob Genzman happened to be on the West Coast taking a deposition from former
Q: Do you know or did you know Maurice Bishop?
Q: Was he an Agency employee?
A: I believe so.
Q: Do you know what his duties were in 1963?
Q: For instance, do you know whether Maurice
Bishop worked in the Western Hemisphere Division or whether he worked in some other division of the
A: I do not know. I do not recall. I knew at the time but I do not recall.
Q: Do you know whether Maurice Bishop used any
A: No; I do not know that.
When Genzman returned to
Initially, I found it difficult to fit McCone's recollection of the name of Maurice Bishop -- and that was basically all he really remembered -- into the model of the evidentiary structure which seemed to be emerging. Then, as I dug deeper, the role of John McCone himself appeared to provide a perspective.
David Phillips obviously didn't appreciate the appointment of McCone as
Although McCone was the Director of the
Although there is nothing in the Agency's own records to support the contention, there is enough independent evidence to suggest that the
Could it have been that Director McCone was told of Maurice Bishop without being told the specific nature of his operations? Could that account for what appeared to be McCone's vague familiarity with the name?
Having gotten the surprising confirmation of the existence of a Maurice Bishop from both John McCone and Bart Henry, the Assassinations Committee asked the
Less than two weeks later, the Committee received reply from the Agency. The results of its file search for Maurice Bishop, said, were again negative. "No person with such, a name has a connection with the
It was later revealed, however, that the
"This is to advise you that I have interviewed Mr. McCone and a retired employee [Bart Henry] concerning their recollections about an alleged
"We assembled photographs of the persons with the surname of Bishop who had employment relationships of some type with the
"Mr. McCone did not feel it necessary to review those photographs, stating that I should inform you that he had been in error .... "The employee continues to recall a person of whom he knew who was known as Maurice Bishop. He cannot state the organizational connection or responsibilities of the individual, not knowing him personally, and feels that the person in question was pointed out to him by someone, perhaps a secretary. He is unable, however, to recognize any of the photographs mentioned above .... "It should be noted that the employee's statements to the effect that it is usual for employees to use aliases at Headquarters is in error ....
"In summary, Mr. McCone withdraws his statements on this point. The employee continues to recall such a name, but the nature of his recollection is not very clear or precise..." That, to me, was an astonishingly revealing letter. The Agency had obviously gone to John McCone and told him that there was no official record of a Maurice Bishop in its files and McCone, who had only a vague recollection of the name to begin with and no ulterior motivations, simply said, in effect, O.K., boys, I guess I was wrong. Bart Henry, on the other hand, couldn't very well back down from his contention. He had a personal friend to consider.
What should have been just getting started. was ending. What should have triggered a reinvigorated, intensive investigative effort was allowed to simply become part of the record. The dozens of witnesses who could have been called, the associates who were in the right place and time and operations, were not; the pressures which could have been applied, the polygraph and stress tests used, the operational files and vouchers analyzed, were not; the full resources and awesome powers that a Congressional committee could have brought to bear on an area of evidence of possibly overwhelming potential, were not.
I was taken out of
I kept trying. Before I left for
My belief in Veciana's story had grown firmer. Although there were, of course, key points not corroborated, the accumulation of details which checked out was now, I felt, irrefutable confirmation. Nevertheless, there was one detail which had not yet been check out. I had not given it priority because it did not relate to the question of Maurice Bishop's identity, just his existence. It concerned the woman who Veciana said had served as an intermediary when Bishop wanted to contact him and couldn't locate him in
I considered the fact that Veciana had mentioned the existence of an intermediary a point towards his credibility. He initially told me he did not want to reveal her identity because he did not want to get her involved in the investigation, since she had never met Bishop and could not identify him. At the time, there was a good deal of other evidence related to Bishop's existence that had to be checked out, so I didn't push him on it.
Now, however, in the last month's of the Committee's life, I saw the direction it was going and the handwriting on the wall. It appeared to me that an effort might be made to
dismiss Veciana's story entirely. I thought, therefore, just to toss another log on the pile, I could convince Veciana to give me the name of the intermediary so that I could talk with her.
He was reluctant. She lived in
Shortly afterwards in
"I think I have some information that might be of some help to you," Summers said when he called. "I have managed to goad Veciana into revealing the name of his intermediary. He didn't want to, of course, but I began telling him that I thought the information he was providing was balderdash. He's very sensitive, you know, about his credibility, so he told me her name and asked me not to contact her directly without his clearing it first. I thought you ought to know."
Summers said he didn't have the time to check out the woman himself, what with his book deadline, but thought the Committee would want to. Most outsiders, including many journalists and independent researchers who had kept calling me with information, hadn't realized that the Committee's investigation had virtually come to a screeching halt months before. I thanked Summers and told him I would follow up.
Although Summers had not gotten the woman's current location in Puerto Rico he had gotten enough for me to track her down in a couple of days of digging, at u the most. Still, I was sensitive about my relationship with Veciana and did not want to go behind his back. Besides, I felt her cooperation was contingent on his approval. I called him and asked about his progress with the woman. "She is very afraid," he said. "She feels she was not involved in anything and she is afraid there would be a lot of publicity that would hurt her family and cause her trouble in her job. I told her then, well, if she will just talk to you and if you can guarantee her there will be no publicity and she will not have to come to Washington, would she do that? She said O.K., she will just Mr talk to you if you can guarantee that. Do you want to talk with her?"
I did, indeed, want to talk with her but I was not going to lie to Veciana. I had learned my lesson about making promises that the Committee would all too easily ignore. I told Veciana that I couldn't give him or her any guarantees, but I would check with my superiors to see what I could do.
I remember walking with some excitement into Deputy Chief Counsel's Gary Cornwell's office. "I think I can-locate the intermediary who can confirm the existence of Maurice Bishop," I said. "All I need is a couple of days in Puerto Rico and a promise that she won't get any publicity or be called to Washington."
Cornwell looked at me initially with some surprise and excitement himself and then, at the latter part of my proposal, burst into a loud guffaw: "N way!" he shouted. Then he turned serious. "Besides." he said, "it's too late. We don't have t he time or the money. How far along are you on the report?"
Another effort that was made in those last months of the Committee's life involved the discovery of another individual to whom, Veciana said, Bishop had referred him at the American Embassy in Havana. His name was Smith and, initially, Veciana recalled, his first name as "something It was like Ewing. It was difficult for Veciana to pronounce. I was puzzled, however, when I spoke with several persons who land found had been connected with the U.S. Embassy and found that no one remembered a Ewing Smith. Then one day a photograph appeared in the newspaper of the State Department official President Carter had named as the new director of Cuban affairs. His name was Wayne Smith. It occurred to me that the Spanish visualization of the pronunciation of Wayne may have led Veciana to remember it incorrectly. I was right. When I showed Veciana the photograph he remembered Wayne Smith as one of the individuals Bishop had suggest he talk with at the Embassy about aid for his anti-Castro activities.
Wayne Smith, I subsequently discovered was a vice consul and third secretary, at the U.S. Embassy in
I thought it was important to interview Wayne Smith, even to take a sworn deposition for the record, but I was again told that the Committee's investigation had long ended and it was time to get out the report. I was particularly disappointed because I had also discovered that Wayne Smith, when he was stationed in
The final volume of the report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, the one entitled, "Findings and Recommendations," was written after the official demise of the Committee, and after all but a chosen few of the staff had departed. It was written under the strict direction of Chief Counsel G. Robert Blakey. The volume contains 686 pages. Less than two and a quarter pages are devoted to Antonio Veciana and Maurice Bishop. The name of David Atlee Phillips is not mentioned.
The conclusions in the Committee's final volume stand in stark contrast to the findings in the staff report I had written before I left
The Committee's final report dismisses Veciana's allegations completely. It said the Committee found "several reasons to believe that Veciana had been less than candid,"
and then listed four of those reasons:
"First, Veciana waited more than 10 years after the assassination to reveal his story.
"Second, Veciana would not supply proof of the $253,000 payment from Bishop, claiming fear of the Internal Revenue Service.
"Third, Veciana could not point to a single witness to his meetings with-Bishop, much less with Oswald.
"Fourth, Veciana did little to help the Committee identify Bishop."
Every one of those reasons is deliberately misleading. Three of them contain blatant distortions of the facts, and one is asinine. To claim that Veciana "waited" more than 10 years ignores the circumstances of his initially telling as the story. He did not approach me, I approached him. He insisted on absolute confidentiality. Until 1973, he had no desire to jeopardize his relationship with Maurice Bishop, who for years had been a loyal and powerful ally. His revelations came as a result of his fears at that time and in an effort what he then felt to create defenses against what he then felt would be future actions against him. His prison sentence had given validity to those fears. Immediately after the Kennedy assassination, when he had opportunity to reveal the story to a U.S. Customs agent he suspected of being with the
Veciana did, initially, refuse to supply proof of the $2531,000 payment from Bishop when asked in his formal hearing before the Congressional members of the Committee. He did claim fear of the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, that's why, before he agreed to speak with me two years before, he had request assurances that nothing he told me would be held against him. The Committee refused to grant him immunity from the
For the Committee to implicitly expect, as a requisite for believing Veciana, that there should have been witnesses to his meetings with Bishop, is simply stupid. One would have to conclude that the Committee acquired absolutely no knowledge of basic intelligence operations during the two years of its existence, which was supposed to include an investigation of the intelligence agencies. (Conversely, to ignore the intelligence operative patterns in Lee Harvey Oswald's activities -- including his possession of a subminiature Minox camera and photos of military installations -- makes the Committee's expectations regarding Veciana's meetings with Bishop patently more ridiculous, and its report conclusions regarding Organized Crime involvement more bizarre. Even if the report had been written by Mario Puz it would be tough to believe the Mafia issues its hit men Minox cameras.)
Finally, the claim that Veciana did little to help the Committee identify Bishop, implies a lack of cooperation which is simply not true. Although at one point, Veciana announced he would no longer cooperate with government that was dealing with Castro, numerous subsequent reports attest to the point that he did. In fact, he already to testify at a public hearing before the Committee shoved him aside.
In addition to resting on such tortured rationality, the Committee's conclusions are tainted by its inability to dismiss blaring pieces of contradictory evidence. For instance, it noted that the
That, the Committee decided, might be tough for the public to swallow without a fine-print footnote, yet it wanted to avoid chewing on the
Nothing, however, attests more vividly to the incongruity of the Committee's conclusions than the fact that, in the end, it was forced to impeach the testimony of both Antonio Veciana and David Phillips.
This, too, it relegated to a footnote: "The Committee suspected that Veciana was lying when he denied that the retired
With the official expiration of the Committee in December, 1978, I returned to
Occasionally, I would get a call from
I asked Wolf how the report was progressing. "Oh, not too good," he said. "There's just so much to get done. The morale here is at rock bottom. Hardly anyone talks to anyone else, we just write all day long." He said the pay extension that Blakey had arranged through the House Speaker's office was running out. I asked what happens then. "I guess what we don't finish," Wolf said, "we just leave out."
I did, of course, remain in touch with both Antonio Veciana and Silvia Odio. Although I had initially approached them as an official investigator, I maintained a personal rapport with them simply by being honest about what the Committee was doing in terms of its handling of them as witnesses. They were both, of course, very interested in what the Committee's final report would say about their testimony.
It was several weeks after the Committee's report was released in July of 1979 before I was able to get a copy of its concluding volume. Meanwhile, I had obtained a copy of the staff reports I had written in both the Veciana and Odio areas of the investigation. These reports contained the details of the evidence we had dug into and straight conclusions based on that. Because I felt an obligation to let both Veciana and Odio know what my conclusions were after dealing with them for more than three years, I gave them each copies of my a staff report and promised them I would also get them copies of the Committee's final report as soon as it was available. Meanwhile, I told them, I was interested in their reaction to the staff report.
One evening several days later, the telephone rang with a call from a friend in Little Havana. His voice was tense. He said Veciana had just been shot. In the head. He was driving home from work and someone ambushed him, fired four shots at him. No, Veciana was not dead, the friend said, but that was all he knew.
I quickly placed a flurry of calls to find out what happened. Yes, it was true, someone had tried to assassinate Veciana. He was in the hospital but he was all right. The hit man had been a bad shot, but a piece of one ricocheting bullet had caught Veciana in the side of the head. Later in the evening I reached one of his daughters who had just returned from the hospital. He was lucky, she said, it was not a serious wound.
Ana Veciana, the oldest daughter, had recently graduated from college and was working as a novice reporter for the Miami News. A few days after her father was shot, she wrote a story about it and it was beautiful. Her family, she said, has come to accept the fact that they must live with danger, but they have refused to live with fear. Fear is the mind killer. Her family, she said, has chosen to live with pride. "My American friends never understood the politics or the violence that comes with Latin politics," she wrote. "To this day I have not been able to explain, but only to describe, the passion Cubans feel for the freedom that's taken for granted in this country." She was very proud of her father's vociferous anti-Castroism, she said, and has come to accept what she termed "the aberrations from normal life."
"But fear?" she wrote. "Never. The fear we know, if it can be rightly called that, is the fear many others are not fortunate enough to experience.
"I fear that we may have forgotten why we are here.
"I fear that we have grown complacent and smug.
"I fear the satisfaction that comes from having three cars in the driveway and a chicken in every pot, and knowing we can say what we damn well please without valuing that freedom.
"That's what I fear."
About a week after Veciana was shot, I received a call from him. He was out of the hospital, he was fine and walking about. It was only a slight wound near the left temple. "My wife said it was higher I might have to wear a toupee," he said laughing. The reason he called, he said, was because he had read the staff report and he wanted to talk with me and show me some papers.
The next evening, I drove down to see Veciana. I did not park my car in front of his house. He had a small bandage on the side of his head and another one on his right arm. He was pale but appeared in good spirits. He took me back outside to show me the bullet holes in the pick-up truck he was driving when he was shot. He was coming home late, he said, from the marine supply business he sometimes helps manage with some relatives. Normally, he takes different routes home, but this was the one he used the most. He made a left-hand turn into a street and saw a brown station wagon parked on the corner facing him. He noticed a lone figure sitting in it, but gave it only a glance and didn't get a good look at him. Then he heard a loud noise and felt a sharp blow on the side of his head. The front vent window exploded on the second shot. "Then I knew' that it was an attempt on my life," Veciana said matter- of- factly. The third shot ripped through the door at his ribs, was deflected by the door's interior mechanism passed in front of his stomach, burned across his right arm and tore out the other side of the truck and into an open field. The fourth shot produced a spiderweb of cracks as it the front windshield.
Veciana showed me the bullet holes and explained them with a sense of amused wonderment. It's funny I'm still alive, isn't it? That was his tone. I heard absolutely no muted note of fear. What fear there was a around was in me as I stood there in the eerie shadows of the lone street lamp and looked at the size of the holes the .45 caliber slugs had made in the truck. The first shot had gone completely through the outside rearview mirror producing as it emerged an ugly flower of jagged metal. I suggested to Veciana that we continue our talk in his house.
I asked him who he thought was trying to kill him. "It was a Castro agent," he said with certainty. Have you ever considered,"'I asked, that it could be anyone else?" He looked at me and smiled. "No,," he said. "It is Castro. I am sure of.
Our talk eventually turned to 'the staff report I had previously left with him. Yes, he said, he had read it carefully and that's why he wanted to talk with me. There are certain things in it, he said, that question his credibility. His credibility is very important to him because he in still gathering evidence to overturn his narcotics conviction, even though he had served the sentence.
What bothered him, Veciana said, was the denial the two individuals in Caracas, Lucilo Pena and Luis Posada, that they were involved with him in the Castro assassination attempt in Chile in 1971. "Sure they were with me," Veciana said. "They are not telling the truth." To prove that to me, he said, he had asked a friend who had just come from Caracas to bring some papers that would prove it. He would also give me the name of an individual in Miami who could corroborate it. He did, and he gave me copies of the documents. We talked for a few hours in detail about other points in that report and I slowly began to realize that Veciana was not an going to bring up the one key doubt I had expressed about his credibility. In the report, I said specifically that I had doubted his credibility when he told me that David Phillips was not Maurice Bishop. In our discussion now, Veciana was letting that pass.
We had come to the point of a close but odd relationship, Veciana and I. I had told him I understood his position and he said he appreciated that. "You know,"he said, "I have given sworn statements.11 I knew what he meant. But that evening as we talked I was moved to take advantage of the certain camaraderie that had developed between us. "Tony," I said, "I am not going to put you on the spot, but I would like to ask you just one question and I would like you to be totally honest with me because the answer that you give me is very important to me.
His face got very serious and his dark eyes stared suddenly at me without expression.
"I know that you feel you have a mission in life," I said, "and I want you to know that I respect that and all the things you must do to be faithful to that mission. Believe me, I do not want to interfere with it. "He nodded his head. "I understand," he said softly. "You know that I believe what you have told me," I went on. "I believe you about everything. Except when you told me that David Phillips is not Maurice Bishop."
His eyes never moved, his expression never changed as I spoke. "Now," I said, "I would like you to tell me this one time very truthfully: Would you have told me if I had found Maurice Bishop?"
A slow smile crossed Veciana's face as he let out his breath. He put his head down and scratched his forehead, obviously: taking time now to think carefully. Then he looked up with that half-smile still on his face. "Well, you know," he said, "I would like to talk with him first." That was his answer. I looked at him for a moment, then laughed. Veciana nodded his head and laughed with me.
An excellent outsiders critique of the Assassinations Committee's final report was written by Carl Oglesby in Clandestine America, the
"To sum up. This report has serious shortcomings. It pulls its punches. It insinuates much about the Mob and JFK's death which it then says it doesn't really mean. It is alternately confused and dogmatic on the subject of Oswald's motive. It tells us it could not see all the way into the heart of
"Yet still we say that this report, over-all, is strongly positive. It has moved the Dealey Plaza conspiracy question out of the shadows. It has boldly nailed the thesis of conspiracy to the church door of orthodox political opinion."
Oglesby is right, of course. But this was the last investigation and, somehow, I expected more. I am not alone. There is not one investigator -- not one -- who served on the Kennedy task force of the Assassinations Committee who honestly feels he took part in an adequate investigation, let alone a "full and complete" one. In fact, most of them have bitter memories of the limitations and direction imposed upon them.
So after all these years and all those spent resources after the last investigation -- what the Kennedy assassination still sorely needs is an investigation guided simply, unswervingly by the priority of truth. Why should that be? Is it unrealistic and impractical to desire, for something as important as the assassination of a President, an investigation unbound by political, financial or time restrictions? A devotion to realistic and practical goals has never been a requisite to the sustenance of democratic principals. Truth has always been.
Yet this was the last investigation. Chief Counsel Bob Blakey himself said it at his very first staff meeting. He is a very meticulous and very conservative lawyer. If he had been around at the time of the American Revolution, no doubt he would have been a Tory. His allegiance, first and foremost, is to the standing institutions of government. Again and again, he emphasized the legislative restraints inherent in the nature and scope of a Congressional probe. His vision never rose above that. He never considered a higher mandate. He never considered the Kennedy assassination as a special event or as a possible manifestation of internal corruption within the very institutions he was so bent on protecting. He never considered using his position to demonstrate a loyalty to principals higher than those institutions. He never considered his mandate to conduct a "full and complete" investigation as coming from the American people, never considered rallying the public will to stand with him in the demand for the complete truth about the assassination.
In fact, Blakey recently revealed, in an interview with
Bob Blakey was fond of telling the staff, whenever anyone would start pushing to investigate an area that threatened to go beyond the limitations he imposed, that we would just have to accept the fact that we were going to leave loose ends. "Life has loose ends," he would say. On such rhetoric were compromises constructed.
After the disdainful treatment she received at the hands of the Assassinations Committee, Silvia Odio, whose testimony stands as the strongest witness to a conspiracy, finally permitted English freelancer Tony Summers, then producing a syndicated television documentary about the Kennedy assassination, to film an interview in silhouette. As he relates in his book, Conspiracy, Summers asked her why she was now prepared to talk, after refusing press approaches for so long. Odio was silent for a long moment. Then she said: "I guess it is a feeling of frustration after so many years. I feel outraged that we have not discovered the truth for history's sake, for all of us. I think it is because I'm very angry about it all -- the forces I cannot understand and the fact that there is nothing I can do against them. That is why I am here."
Bob Blakey never felt what Silvia Odio feels. He never felt the frustration and anger that lives within her, the outrage that the truth has not yet been discovered after so many years. I will always remember what she said to me when I told her that the Committee had changed its mind about permitting her to tell her story to the American people. Her words echo now in my mind as a soft shroud over the years of my investigative sojourn through the Kennedy assassination:
"We lost too," she said. "We all lost."