Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Gaeton Fonzi and the Veciana Allegations: Part 2

This article continues a skeptical look at Gaeton Fonzi’s telling of the Veciana story. The allegations in italics are from HSCA volume X.

Allegation: The staff investigator told Veciana that he was interested in the relationships between U.S. Government agencies and Cuban exile groups; he did not specifically mention an interest in the Kennedy assassination.

One point frequently mentioned by Fonzi supporters is that he did not mention the JFK assassination to Veciana when he arrived for the interview and this fact indicates that Veciana spontaneously broached the subject. But it wouldn’t have been difficult for Veciana to figure out that anyone investigating the relationship between the American government and Cuban exiles might also be interested in the JFK assassination. And the subject was certainly on his mind since he told Fonzi he had just finished reading a Saturday Evening Post article by Paul Hoch and George O’Toole. [1] That piece discussed the assassination and speculated that Veciana may have been one of the Cubans to visit Sylvia Odio. [2]

Allegation: Bishop then invited Veciana to lunch and during that and subsequent lunches convinced Veciana to work against the Castro government.

In his 1978 testimony before the HSCA, Veciana said that Bishop had taken him to the Floridita restaurant, an exclusive haunt of Hemingway. This is the earliest known documentation of the Floridita claim and it is not mentioned in the 1976 Fonzi interviews. But Veciana, who by 1978 was under the sway of Fonzi’s CIA-David Phillips theories, could have taken this detail from Phillips’ 1977 book The Night Watch.

Allegation: Before the American Embassy in Cuba was closed in January 1961, Bishop suggested to Veciana that he go there and contact certain officials for help in his anti-Castro activity. Veciana said the names suggested by Bishop were "Smith." "Sam Kail," and a CIA employee. Said Veciana: "Maurice Bishop suggested the names of these individuals because we needed specific weapons to carry out the jobs and he told me that these were the people that could help me."

The subject of the embassy contacts provides a clear indication that Veciana was coached by Fonzi. In the March 11 interview, Veciana identified not “Smith” but specifically “Ewing Smith” as an embassy contact. [3] In the March 16 interview, Veciana said he met with Ewing Smith “four or five times.” [4] However, in his HSCA testimony, Veciana said the embassy contact was “Smith” dropping the first name “Ewing” as Fonzi did in the HSCA writeup. The truth is, the HSCA was never able to locate a “Ewing Smith” [5] at the embassy and this apparently resulted in the story being reshaped. In his book, Fonzi disingenuously says that Veciana told him that “Smith” was Wayne Smith who he says was a State Department officer when Veciana was there. But Fonzi interviewed Smith who apparently did not confirm Veciana’s claim of contacting him. [6] However, Fonzi found an alternate use for Smith in the book since he had been in a theater group with perpetual villain David Phillips and knew David Morales, another popular conspiracy suspect.

In the March 11 interview, Veciana indeed mentioned Sam Kail who he identified as a military man. [7] However, Kail was interviewed by the HSCA and did not remember Veciana nor did he know anything about a Maurice Bishop. [8] It would have been easy for Veciana to learn of Kail through his various contacts and Kail could not rule out that he had met Veciana saying “all the attaches had a constant stream of people through our offices.” [9] In any case, even Veciana admitted that Kail never helped him [10] so even if Kail met Veciana and simply forgot about it, the allegation comes to nothing. The “CIA employee” Veciana mentioned was apparently Joe D’Acosta but he was another dead end for Fonzi. There is no mention of Kail or D’Acosta in Veciana’s book and the only “Smith” is a CIA man that allegedly questions him after administering a form of truth serum through a pill. [11] In the end, Veciana’s implication that the embassy people assisted him in his anti-Castro efforts is totally unsupported.

Allegation: At one of their early meetings in Havana, Veciana noticed a Belgian passport which Bishop had in his open briefcase. Examining it when Bishop left the room briefly, Veciana made a quick note of it on a scrap of paper. Veciana kept that scrap of paper and showed it to Senator Schweiker's investigator. The name on the paper was "Frigault."

In the March 2 interview [12], Veciana said that every time he and Bishop went to South America they “used to change their names.” Two of the names Veciana said he personally used were “Victor Fernandez” and “Victor Orcarlos.” The margins of the document contain handwritten notes presumably made by Fonzi. One such note asks an important question “so the guy [Bishop] prob. used other names [at] other times?” These fake names allegedly used by Veciana and Bishop are notably absent from both Fonzi’s and Veciana’s books.

Fonzi’s interest in this topic set the stage for the “Frigault” revelation. During the March 16 interview, Fonzi followed up and asked Veciana if he remembered the names Bishop used when traveling in Latin America. Veciana, who revealed precious few details in these early interviews, predictably couldn’t remember the names. However, he said he once saw a passport with a name other than Bishop which he wrote down on a scrap of newspaper. Veciana told Fonzi he would look through “two suitcases full of reports and papers” to see if he could find the name. He later allegedly produced a scrap of paper with the name “Frigault.” This, of course, proves nothing since Veciana could have written the name contemporaneously to appease Fonzi.

In fact, Veciana’s HSCA testimony does little to clarify the matter. Under questioning, Veciana initially could not recall telling Fonzi that he had written down the name nor could he remember what the name was. Only after he was prompted by the HSCA counsel was Veciana able to remember the name which seems rather odd. Veciana stated “What I do recall is that on one occasion I put down the name that he used but I don’t know if I saw it on the passport or not. I wrote it on a piece of old newspaper and I gave it to Mr. Fonzi.” [13] Veciana’s testimony contradicts what he told Fonzi and leaves open the idea that he wrote down the name in 1976 rather than during his alleged experiences with Bishop in the sixties. To my knowledge, the scrap of newspaper with the name “Frigault” was never entered into evidence.

In the March 11 interview, Veciana again mentioned Bishop using a false name. In the March 16 interview, Veciana said it was easy for him to get fake passports when needed and that Bishop did not provide him with these. An HSCA outside contact report of August 30, 1978 stated that Veciana claimed as a Cuban alien he traveled on “reentry permits” rather than a passport. [14] Even Fonzi, who was again the interviewer, seemed dubious of this claim and noted in the report that Veciana “previously said he sometimes traveled with false documents.” There is no mention of “Frigault” in Veciana’s book or any other false names used by Bishop.

Allegation: … shortly after reestablishing contact with him in Miami, Bishop took Veciana to an office in the Pan American Bank Building in the downtown section of the city. Veciana did not recall the exact floor of the building nor if there was any name on the office door. Bishop unlocked the office with a key and, in the presence of two men who were in the office, asked him to sign a piece of paper and take part in a "commitment" ceremony. "It was like a pledge of my loyalty, a secret pledge," Veciana testified. "I think they wanted to impress on me my responsibility and my commitment to the cause."

One detail that Fonzi left out of his HSCA writeup was that Veciana also testified that the ceremony was similar to a “Knights of Columbus” ceremony as he had belonged to that group. Why the CIA or any government agency would have Veciana submit to this type of ceremony is never explained and the “Knights of Columbus” allusion is omitted from Veciana’s book.

Allegation: On July 26, 1973, Bishop arranged for Veciana to meet with him in the parking lot of the Flagler Dog Track in Miami. When Veciana arrived, Bishop was waiting for him with two younger men in an automobile. At that time, Bishop gave Veciana a suitcase which, Veciana later ascertained, contained $253,000 in cash. Since, at the beginning of their relationship, Veciana had refused Bishop's offer to pay him for his work with him, the lump sum payment was meant as compensation for his efforts over the years.

Veciana’s March 2 telling of the breakup with Bishop differs significantly from all later versions of the story. Notably, Veciana said that it was he who broke off the relationship with Bishop, not the other way around. Veciana “thought the American guy was going to supply him with all these services, pay all these services, and the thing is, the American guy came to him and asked him for a lot of money, a big amount of money.” This major difference in the story could be attributed to a miscommunication or something else.

By the next interview on March 11, Veciana had completely reversed himself and stated that Bishop “never never” asked him for money. He related the now familiar story that Bishop broke up their relationship and paid him $253,000 on Thursday, July 26, 1973, a date that has not varied in Veciana’s numerous retellings. The payoff took place at the dog track (Fonzi had “Flagler?” in parenthesis) and Bishop was accompanied by two young men aged 25 to 30 who Veciana believed served as bodyguards.

In the 1976 Dick Russell interview, Veciana unequivocally stated that he received the money from Bishop two days after his arrest which was on July 24, 1973. This alleged payoff was proof in his mind that the government had set him up. [15] In his book, in what he refers to as a case of “transcendental irony”, Veciana again says that Bishop gave him the money on July 26, 1973 which he now maintains is the same day he was released from prison. In early manuscripts, Fonzi agrees with the date given by Veciana. [16] But in the latest version of Fonzi’s book, the date given is July 26, 1972. [17] Apparently, Fonzi recognized the incongruity of Bishop paying Veciana on the same day he was released on bail and changed the date to a more plausible one. Another explanation is that Fonzi became aware of information that showed Veciana was still incarcerated on July 26, 1973 and could not have received the payoff on that date.

Allegation: Early in their relationship in Miami, Bishop asked Veciana to monitor the activities of an anti-Castro operation called "Cellula Fantasma." Veciana said he attended a few meetings of the group and described the operation as a leaflet-dropping mission over Cuba which involved known soldier-of-fortune Frank Fiorini Sturgis. Veciana said he did not know why Bishop would have been interested in the operation, but the committee reviewed files which confirmed the existence and mission of the group, and the involvement of Frank Fiorini Sturgis at the time.

In Fonzi’s book, this anecdote had evolved to include the “fact” that the CIA had funded the leaflet dropping operation to the tune of $300,000. But in the March 2 interview, Veciana, while indeed stating the operation cost $300,000, also said that Cellula Fantasma was “a secret group” which was “not CIA ...” Despite this, in his HSCA testimony, Veciana stated that the operation was CIA funded, perhaps a subtle distinction or something else. Veciana said in the March 2 interview that Bishop asked him to “infiltrate” the group for some unknown purpose. In that interview, Veciana admitted that Bishop had no contact with Fiorini-Sturgis and made the incongruous statement that two American pilots were killed during the operation, a fact that Fonzi never mentioned in either his book or HSCA volume X. Fonzi claimed to have documents proving the existence of the leafleting operation, but it is unknown if they were ever released. Oddly, Cellula Fantasma is not mentioned at all in Veciana’s book.

Notes

[1] Fonzi, Gaeton. The Last Investigation: What Insiders Know About the Assassination of JFK. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2013. Kindle Edition p. 126.
[2] George O’Toole and Paul Hoch, “Dallas: The Cuban Connection,” Saturday Evening Post, March 1976.
[3] Rough Notes of Fonzi Interview with Antonio Veciana, March 11, 1976. RIF 157-10007-10311.
[4] Rough Notes of Fonzi Interview with Antonio Veciana, March 16, 1976. RIF 157-10004-10158.
[5] Interview of Samuel G. Kail, RIF 180-10072-10179.
[6] Fonzi, 447.
[7] March 11 interview, op. cit.
[8] HSCA Volume X, p. 43.
[9] Kail Interview op. cit.
[10] HSCA Testimony of Antonio Veciana, April 25, 1978.
[11] Veciana Antonio and Harrison, Carlos. Trained to Kill: The Inside Story of CIA Plots against Castro, Kennedy and Che. Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition, Chapter 4.
[12] Rough Notes of Fonzi Interview with Antonio Veciana, March 2, 1976. RIF 157-10004-10158. RIF 157-10007-10208.
[13] HSCA Testimony of Antonio Veciana, April 26, 1978.
[14] HSCA Outside Contact Report by Fonzi and McDonald. August 30, 1978. RIF 180-10078-10163.
[15] Russell, Dick. On the Trail of the JFK Assassins: A Groundbreaking Look at America’s Most Infamous Conspiracy. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2008. Kindle Edition p. 150.
[16] Gaeton Fonzi, “The Last Investigation,” draft of “Who Killed JFK.”
[17] Fonzi, 447.

Sources

Veciana Documents

Veciana Documents Table of Contents

Page

Item

3

Interview of Professor Rufo Lopez-Fresquet (incomplete)

7

Interview of Ross Crozier

21

Memo on Interview of Colonel Sam Kail

30

Antonio Veciana Outside Contact Report 8-30-78

34

Outside Contact Report Jose Veciana

37

Memo from Fonzi to Dave Marston 3-3-76

40

Memo from Fonzi to Dave Marston 3-4-76

43

DOS Cable Regarding Veciana and AID Employment

50

DOD Files on Veciana

64

Fonzi Interview of Veciana 5-10-76

68

Memo from Fonzi to Troy Gustavson

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