Thursday, April 13, 2017

Gaeton Fonzi and the Veciana Allegations

Introduction

Over 50 years after the assassination of JFK, the CIA remains the most popular suspect among conspiracy advocates. The allegations of Antonio Veciana Blanch, one of the founders of the militant anti-Castro group Alpha 66, are cited by theorists as proof of Lee Harvey Oswald’s (LHO) connection with that agency.

Veciana’s story first came to light in March, 1976 [1] when he was interviewed by Gaeton Fonzi who was then an investigator for Senator Richard Schweiker of the Church Committee. [2] After the committee disbanded, Fonzi became an HSCA investigator and authored their Volume X section on Veciana. [3]

Veciana, who at the time was employed by a Havana bank, claimed that in mid-1960, he was approached by a shadowy American named Maurice Bishop who recruited him to perform anti-Castro and anti-communist activities. Bishop supervised and directed those activities and masterminded assassination plots against Castro in Havana in 1961 and Chile in 1971. [4]

Most notably, Veciana said he saw Bishop with LHO in Dallas a few weeks before the assassination of JFK. Many theorists believe Bishop was David Atlee Phillips of the CIA and the story has been repeated so often that some conspiracy books now state that Bishop was Phillips without qualification. [5]

For over 30 years, in sworn congressional testimony and numerous media interviews, Veciana denied that Bishop was Phillips. Then, On November 22, 2013, the 85-year-old Veciana issued the following statement through Fonzi’s widow Marie: [6]

Maurice Bishop, my CIA contact agent was David Atlee Phillips. Phillips or Bishop was the man I saw with Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on [sic] September, 1963.

This article, which is the first in a series on the Maurice Bishop affair, will show that Fonzi was not an objective investigator by the time of his interviews with Veciana. Using primary sources (scroll to bottom), I will also demonstrate that Fonzi shaped facts to fit his own CIA-did-it theory of the JFK assassination.

Peer Criticism of Fonzi

Fonzi, who died in 2012, was a respected investigative journalist and worked as a reporter and editor for Philadelphia magazine from 1959 to 1972. He later relocated to Miami where he worked for Gold Coast and Miami Monthly. In addition, he was a contributor to numerous publications including the New York Times. [7] The problem with Fonzi isn’t that he was a bad writer or a poor journalist. It’s that, by his own admission, he wasn’t an objective investigator by the time of his experiences with Veciana. This lack of objectivity made him susceptible to the stories of Veciana and others.

Fonzi interviewed Arlen Specter in 1966 and come away disbelieving the single bullet theory and accepting a conspiracy. He confirmed his bias in an article discussing Vincent Bugliosi’s Reclaiming History when he wrote “I was never a “conspiracy theorist.” I went from an agnostic to a conspiracy believer.” 8 In 1996, Fonzi again admitted his lack of objectivity in an interview with researcher Steve Bochan “It's true. I had already made up my mind years ago as a result of the investigation and as a result of the work I had already done on the Kennedy assassination.” [9]

As recounted in his book, Fonzi’s instantaneous reaction upon hearing Veciana’s story, and before fact checking it, supports this interpretation of his mindset. “I had no doubt then-and have none now-that Veciana was simply and truthfully revealing what he knew.”

In November 1980, Fonzi wrote a lengthy article for the Washingtonian magazine excoriating the HSCA and alleging that Bishop was Phillips. [10] The article drew critical responses from both HSCA principals and the folks at Langley.
Scott Breckenridge of the CIA’s Office of Legislative Council who served as the principal coordinator with the HSCA, gave the following assessment in a letter to a coworker: [11]

“This young man (trained in the Schweiker school of investigation) seems to have fastened on the CIA/Veciana thesis early on, his single-mindedness leaving little room for analytical balance. He simply knew [emphasis in original] that CIA was involved and the rest didn’t matter much.”

G. Robert Blakey, HSCA Chief Counsel, regretted hiring Fonzi and said that staff members referred to him as “Ahab” and his quest to tie the CIA to the assassination as “Moby Dick.” Blakey also said: [12]

Suffice it to say that he was not hired by me, as he was so lacking in professional objectivity that I would never have employed him in the first instance. As an investigator for Senator Richard Schweiker, he had come upon a lead that purported to connect Lee Harvey Oswald to the CIA. He was convinced that he had the answer to the meaning of the President's death …

Nonetheless, I decided to retain him because I thought that his obsession would help assure that his aspect of the committee's Investigation would receive its full due … Mr. Fonzi's article, in short, is not the truth about the committee's Investigation but a sad self-revelation of a single man's monomania.

HSCA Deputy Chief Counsel Gary Cornwall said: [13]

It does not take a careful reading of [the article] … to realize that Fonzi's intent was to discredit the investigation ... nor must a reader be especially well versed on the subject … to recognize that Fonzi … had his own pet theory about the assassination-one that he had acquired before the Committee even existed … the article does, however, contain severe distortions of fact and fallacies in reasoning which may have escaped the attention of the casual reader … [the article is] one man’s speculation about the CIA and his opinion of the Committee.

Congressman Richardson Preyer, the Chairman of the HSCA subcommittee on the JFK assassination wrote Phillips saying, “I can understand your concern over the Fonzi article. Mr. Fonzi’s views are not shared by me nor, I think, by the Committee. I believed your testimony and did not find the testimony of Veciana credible.” [14]

Probably the harshest criticism of Fonzi was leveled by HSCA staff member Michael Ewing, who wrote Phillips saying, “Enclosed is a copy of a letter to The Washingtonian that I’ve written in response to their article of several months ago by Gaeton Fonzi … I wouldn’t want you to think that there are many of us who think like … Fonzi … I would like you to know that Fonzi’s writing does not reflect the views of responsible former members of the Select Committee.” [15]

Ewing told Phillips that he felt the HSCA investigation of the Bishop story was justified and that he hoped Phillips would eventually undergo a polygraph examination to further that end. In light of these statements, it is clear that Ewing was a fair-minded staff member who simply disagreed with Fonzi’s investigatory methods and conclusions.

Ewing’s eight-page letter to Jack Limpert of The Washingtonian contains an insider’s view of Fonzi’s time at the Church committee and the HSCA. Ewing begins by telling Limpert that Fonzi’s article was “a mean spirited and embittered hatchet-job, almost as full of rancorous inaccuracy and distortion as it was of juvenile self-delusion.” Ewing went on to say “… there can be little doubt that Fonzi’s qualifications and background were exaggerated in the extreme when he presented his ‘diary’ [the Washingtonian article] to you for publication.”

Regarding the Washingtonian’s characterization of Fonzi, Ewing wrote “Fonzi is not and never has been ‘the government’s top investigator’ on the Kennedy case …”, adding that he “had very little to do with the [Church] committee’s investigation and report … he was not substantively involved in the Senate committee probe and never worked from the committee offices.”

Ewing also told Limpert “from my own contact with the Church committee staff, I know that Fonzi’s investigative work and conclusions were generally dismissed out of hand and were not viewed as substantive (or reliable) enough for inclusion in the Senate committee’s landmark report of 1976.”

The dubious allegations of Marita Lorenz, which Fonzi called “a central part of the conspiracy”, were partly responsible for staffers dubbing his JFK thesis “the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Theory.” Ewing said that Fonzi called Lorenz the “single most credible witness” he had encountered. It should be noted that the HSCA investigated Lorenz and found “no evidence to support” her story. [16]

The CIA conducted an internal investigation of Fonzi to determine if he had violated the secrecy agreement he signed with the agency at the time of his government employment by publishing certain information in his Washingtonian article. The key was whether he had relied exclusively on classified material as a source. The CIA found that “although it might be impossible to prove that any of the information used by Fonzi came exclusively from agency files, the information related to operations in Mexico City has never been declassified by the agency.” Nevertheless, the CIA declined to prosecute Fonzi and instead sought to issue a protest to the clerk of the House of Representatives. [17]

How Fonzi Shaped the Veciana Story

The primary sources used and cited by Fonzi for his HSCA writeup were: [18]

· March 2, 1976 interview of Veciana by Fonzi

· March 11, 1976 interview of Veciana by Fonzi

· March 16, 1976 interview of Veciana by Fonzi

· April, 1978 testimony of Veciana before HSCA

· August 30, 1978 Outside Contact Report on Veciana by Fonzi/McDonald

There are many differences between the Veciana story as presented in the March 1976 interviews and other primary source materials and the story as promoted by Fonzi in his book and other writings. For now, let’s look at just a few key differences. The allegations in italics are from HSCA Volume X.

Allegation: From mid-1960 through mid-1973, Veciana was directed and advised in his anti-Castro and anti-Communist activities by an American he knew as Maurice Bishop.

Like other things in the Maurice Bishop story, the first name of Bishop was unclear in the beginning. In the initial March 2 interview, Veciana used the name “Morris Bishop” according to the notes, but referred only to “the American” until the fourth page. [19] In his book, Fonzi explained “Morris was how I had spelled Bishop’s first name in my rough notes of my interviews with Veciana.” [20] This explanation seems reasonable enough, but other documents refer to “Jim” and “John” as possibilities for Bishop’s first name. [21]

These documents are probably referencing statements Veciana made in his testimony before the Church Committee which preceded the HSCA but came after the March 1976 interviews. This testimony apparently no longer exists. However, we know about it because Fonzi described it in several of his manuscripts: [22]

I was asked to bring Veciana to Washington where he was sworn in at a secret executive session. Schweiker was the only Committee member who showed up. Veciana was sworn in and a staff attorney questioned him for less than an hour. Only the barest details of his story got on record. A transcript of the hearing would go into restricted security files. Not a word about it would be mentioned in any of the Intelligence Committee's reports.

Therefore, it is likely in Veciana’s first sworn testimony, that he was hedging his bets by saying that Bishop’s first name could have been Jim, John, or Morris, which is surprising since he allegedly met with him more than 100 times. However, in HSCA Volume X, Fonzi conveniently omited any reference to “Morris”, “Jim” or “John” and settled on “Maurice” without further explanation.

Allegation: Veciana said he did ask Bishop during their first meeting if he worked for the U.S. Government. "He told me at the time," Veciana testified, "that he was in no position to let me know for whom he was working or for which agency he was doing this."

A key point is that the theory that Bishop worked for the CIA as expressed both by Fonzi in his post HSCA writings and by Veciana in his book was not confirmed by Veciana in the March 2 interview. Veciana said through his interpreter “from his personal point of view” that he believed Bishop “was working for a private organization, not the government …” But in an interview with author Dick Russell just a few months later, Veciana said Bishop told him “he was part of an American intelligence service, but instructed him not to ask which one.” [23]

In his April 1978 HSCA testimony, Veciana again said "I always had the opinion that Maurice Bishop was working for a private firm and not the government." Later in the testimony, Veciana modified his position by saying that Bishop was operating at the direction of the federal government as opposed to being in it's employ.

In an interview for the BBC program Panorama in 1978, Veciana again made sure not to characterize Bishop as CIA saying, “I don’t know if he work [sic] for the CIA or if he worked for another intelligence service …” But 39 years later in his 2017 book, Veciana was saying that he and Bishop were both working for the CIA. [24]

Allegation: Veciana revealed further that at one meeting with Bishop in Dallas in late-August or September 1963, he saw with him a young man he later recognized as Lee Harvey Oswald… Veciana could not specifically pinpoint the date of that meeting with Bishop. He believed it was in late August 1963.

When Veciana said that he saw LHO, Fonzi’s rough notes of the interview show that he was barely able to contain himself and asked the expected questions in rapid fashion. Where did he meet LHO? “In Dallas”, Veciana replied. How did he meet him? “Through Bishop.” [25] So far so good.

But the date that Veciana saw LHO with Bishop has always been a little vague. The following Fonzi authored accounts, on which all subsequent works regarding the date of Veciana’s sighting of LHO and Bishop are based, give the date as late August or early September 1963.

· HSCA Volume X.

· “The Last Investigation” (a draft of “Who Killed JFK?”).

· “Who Killed JFK?”, Washingtonian, 1980.

· The Last Investigation, 2013 (current edition).

However, Fonzi’s notes from the three March, 1976 interviews prove that the late August-early September time frame alleged by these foundational works is a complete fabrication.

For example, in the baseline HSCA Volume X account (line 115), Fonzi first described the date as “late August or September, 1963” and listed his source as the March 2 interview. Later at line 139, Fonzi said that Veciana “believed it was in late August, 1963.” This time his citation is vague and says only “Interview of Antonio Veciana Blanch” but subsequent citations indicate Fonzi is referring to the March 11 interview. In his book in the chapter “Something Happened,” Fonzi states that during his first interview with Veciana, he said “he met Oswald with Maurice Bishop in Dallas sometime near the beginning of September, 1963.” In both the Washingtonian article and the draft, late August or early September 1963 are again mentioned.

Fonzi’s interview notes, which are available at the National Archives and somehow have escaped wide dissemination, reveal the truth. Incredibly, in this first meeting with Fonzi on March 2, 1976, Veciana initially said the date of his encounter with LHO was “around ’62.” [26] Later in the same interview, Fonzi tried to zero in on the date. Veciana through his interpreter now stated that “his memory isn’t certain but he thinks it was in the summer of ’63 in August. But he can’t give [a] specific date.” Immediately noticing the discrepancy, Fonzi asked “not ’62?” Veciana replied “no, no.” [27] In this very first interview, which should be given priority since any prompting of Veciana can be all but ruled out, Veciana seemed far from certain about the date he saw LHO.

In the March 11 interview, Veciana again gave conflicting statements about the date of the alleged meeting, first saying “no, it wasn’t in ‘63” and then “yes, yes it was in ’63, July or August.” Veciana then turned the tables and asked Fonzi “when was Kennedy assassinated?” After Fonzi told him that JFK was killed in 1963, he said “then it was the summer of ’63.” [28] Nowhere in the three March, 1976 interviews of Veciana, which are cited by Fonzi as the source of the information, are “late August” or “September” (in any form) mentioned and those characterizations are clearly Fonzi inventions.

In the Dick Russell interview in the summer of 1976, Veciana again indicated the date of the meeting was August 1963 with no mention of “late August.” [29] In his sworn 1978 HSCA testimony, Veciana only said that the meeting was “three months prior to the Kennedy assassination.” [30] After examining the 1976 interviews, an unbiased journalist or investigator would have described the date of the meeting as the summer of 1963, possibly in July or August since those are the only months Veciana mentioned. But as I have shown, Fonzi was not an unbiased reporter of facts, at least where Veciana is concerned.

Fonzi described how “September” came about in his book.

Initially, Antonio Veciana told me that it was sometime in late August or early September 1963, when Bishop called and asked him to meet in Dallas. Later, as he gave it more thought, he said it was probably early September, perhaps towards the end of the first week of the month.

But Fonzi offers no citation for this statement and no explanation as to how Veciana’s memory improved over time since he clearly stated in the March 2 interview through his interpreter that “his memory isn’t certain.” And there is no indication that Veciana referred to notes or other documents later to refresh his memory. Fonzi also offers no explanation as to why he misstated what his notes said in four key versions of his work.

Why was Fonzi so eager to place the meeting between Oswald and Bishop in early September? Fonzi believed LHO’s chronology contained a window of time where the meeting between Bishop and LHO was more plausible. As he explained in his book “… there is one span of time, between September 6th and 9th, when Oswald’s whereabouts are absolutely unknown.” This opens the door to the idea that Fonzi instructed Veciana to focus on the late August-early September time frame to solidify the date and give his story more credibility.

But Fonzi’s theory is weak since LHO was in New Orleans on Friday the 6th and cashed his unemployment check at the Wynn Dixie store on Magazine Street. [31] On Monday the 9th, he cashed an unemployment check at the Wynn Dixie on Carrollton Avenue in New Orleans. [32] Of course, this does not rule out a third party driving or flying him to Dallas, but Marina makes no mention of such an unusual scenario as she could be expected to do.

Allegation: Over the years that he knew Bishop, Veciana had at least five meetings with him in Dallas. The meeting at which Oswald was present took place in the lobby of a large office building in the downtown section of the city, perhaps a bank or an insurance building with a blue facade or lobby.

Another Fonzi creation that has entered the lexicon of JFK literature is that the LHO-Bishop meeting took place at the Southland Center. [33] The following example is from Destiny Betrayed by James DiEugenio:

Veciana told Fonzi he had seen Oswald in Dallas with Bishop in early September of 1963. It was at the Southland Center, a 42 story office complex built in the late fifties.

However, in HSCA Volume X, Fonzi does not mention Southland at all. In his book, Fonzi first says without citation that the meeting “probably” took place there. However, in a chronology at the end of the book, he removes any qualifying language and states it as a fact.

In the March 2 interview, Veciana said the meeting was in a building with a “big bank or insurance company” but that he didn’t remember “whether it was blue or white.” Veciana’s description apparently made Fonzi think of Southland and during the March 11 interview, he specifically asked Veciana if the meeting took place there. Veciana replied through his interpreter “he doesn’t remember.” In this interview, Veciana went on to describe the building as “… downtown, a blue building, an insurance co. or bank building.” But Veciana never specifically stated that it was the Southland Building in any of the March, 1976 interviews. In his HSCA testimony, Veciana again said “I don’t recall the exact place”, although he did say the building lobby had “blue marble or blue ornaments.” [34]

Similarly, in the Russell interview Veciana again did not mention the Southland Center, and stuck to his story that Bishop had given him an address to a “bank or insurance company.” In all the key 1976 interviews and his HSCA testimony, Veciana never said the meeting was at the Southland Center. Fonzi merely stated it was and others have followed his lead. It should be noted that Veciana could be expected to remember the prominent Southland Center but he never said the meeting was there until years later after Fonzi’s influence had set in.

Why are theorists adamant that the meeting occurred there? Researcher Bill Kelly provides several conspiratorial reasons to like Southland in a 2015 blog article. [35]

· LHO was familiar with the building since he applied for a job there at the behest of George de Mohrenschildt.

· Robert Oswald’s attorney William McKenzie had offices there.

· McKenzie’s law firm represented perennial conspiracy suspect Clint Murcheson.

· Southland’s “most visible tenant” was the Dallas Sheraton Hotel where both George H.W. Bush and the Secret Service were registered on November 21-22, 1963.

Another reason may simply be that the more “facts” the story contains the more believable it will seem. It just sounds better to say that the meeting was at the Southland Center than to say it was at a bank or insurance company in an unknown location.

Conclusion

· Veciana did not originally believe that Bishop worked for the CIA or the government at all but rather a private organization.

· Veciana was far from sure about key details such as Bishop’s first name.

· The “late August, early September” time frame for the meeting was a Fonzi invention created to fit his own assassination theory.

· The Southland Center as the meeting place was another Fonzi invention designed to fit conspiracy theories.

Go to Part 2

Notes

1 Fonzi, Gaeton. The Last Investigation: What Insiders Know About the Assassination of JFK. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2013. Kindle Edition p. 144.
2 Fonzi TLI, 29-30.
3 HSCA Volume X, pp. 37-56.
4 Ibid., p. 37.
5 See for example Destiny Betrayed by James DiEugenio.
6 https://kennedysandking.com/john-f-kennedy-articles/maurice-bishop-documents
7 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaeton_Fonzi
8 http://www.maryferrell.org/pages/Essay_-_Reply_From_a_Conspiracy_Believer.html
9 Assassination Chronicles, Vol. 2, Issue #2, Summer, 1996, p. 34.
10 Fonzi, Gaeton. “Who Killed JFK.” The Washingtonian, November, 1980.
11 Letter from Scott D. Breckenridge to Roger Gabrielson, November 30, 1980. RIF 104-10404-10059.
12 The Washingtonian, February, 1981, p. 22.
13 The Congressional Record, April 30, 1981.
14 Buglosi, Vincent. Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007, p. 1202.
15 Letters from Michael Ewing to David Phillips and Jack Limpert, May 13-14, 1981. RIF 104-10404-10058.
16 HSCA Volume X, p. 93.
17 Memorandum, Russ Holmes Work File. RIF 104-10404-10063.
18 There were other sources listed by Fonzi but most of these were staff memos that referred to the primary sources listed here.
19 Rough Notes of Fonzi Interview with Antonio Veciana, March 2, 1976. RIF 157-10007-10208.
20 Fonzi, TLI, p. 200.
21 See for example, Memo from Senator Richard Schweiker to Richard Sprague, December 14, 1976. RIF 180-10084-10396.
22 Gaeton Fonzi, “The Last Investigation,” draft of “Who Killed JFK.”
23 Russell, Dick. On the Trail of the JFK Assassins: A Groundbreaking Look at America’s Most Infamous Conspiracy. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition, 2008, p. 148.
24 Veciana, Antonio and Harrison, Carlos. Trained to Kill: The Inside Story of CIA Plots against Castro, Kennedy and Che. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition, 2017.
25 Rough Notes of Fonzi Interview with Antonio Veciana, March 2, 1976. RIF 157-10007-10208.
26 Ibid.
27 Ibid.
28 Rough Notes of Fonzi Interview with Antonio Veciana, March 11, 1976. RIF 157-10007-10311.
29 Russell, op. cit.
30 HSCA testimony of Antonio Veciana, April 26, 1978.
31 22 H 201, 209.
32 22 H 202.
33 For a report on another “witness” to the Southland Center meeting see: http://wtracyparnell.blogspot.com/2017/04/wynne-johnson.html
34 HSCA testimony of Antonio Veciana, April 26, 1978.
35 http://jfkcountercoup.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-southland-center-revisted-w-new.html

Sources

Fonzi Interview Notes, March 2, 1976

Fonzi Interview Notes, March 11, 1976

Fonzi Interview Notes, March 16, 1976

Veciana HSCA Testimony (go to page 14)

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