Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Into the Storm Part 1

Since reading his book Trained to Kill (hereafter TTK), I have felt that a complete biography of Antonio Veciana, the Alpha 66 co-founder who claimed to see Lee Harvey Oswald in the company of CIA contract agent David Phillips in 1963, is a much-needed addition to the body of work related to the JFK assassination and the history of the cold war. Although Professor John Newman’s latest work, Into the Storm, discusses the enigmatic Veciana in two chapters, it naturally does not embody such an ambitious project, although Newman promises two future volumes that will discuss Veciana and could lend clarity to his murky life story. While Newman’s book does debunk some myths and represents an important resource that future biographers would want to draw upon, it turns out to be a mixed bag.

Newman is a conspiracy theorist who is in the process of writing a multi-volume series on the JFK assassination and evidently believes that elements within the military hierarchy were responsible for murdering the 35th President. I don’t agree with that verdict, but Newman has reviewed thousands of documents and his work is more reasonable than many of his fellow theorists. Therefore, his research deserves attention but with a clear understanding of where he is coming from. In the process of developing and documenting his “grand thesis” on the JFK case, Newman is willing to abandon kernels of wisdom that were previously considered sacrosanct in the conspiracy community when they are not needed for his theories. A case in point is Veciana’ s alleged recruitment by David Phillips in Cuba, an event that he shows could not have happened as Veciana said it did. However, he falls into the trap of accepting dubious, or at least undocumented, “facts” that help to promote his theories. Part 2 of this series will discuss some of these issues. However, Newman has uncovered a wealth of material and offers documentation for many of his assertions. He does occasionally rely too much on the statements of Veciana, a man who has lied repeatedly for years as he knows and writes about. In my opinion, this weakens some of his conclusions.

This article will be a discussion of Into the Storm solely as it relates to Veciana and all information here is from that book unless otherwise indicated. To cut to the chase, Newman does not discuss the holy grail-the alleged meeting between Phillips/Bishop, Veciana and Oswald. He is saving that for a later volume and will apparently have an in-depth analysis. I’ll start my review with Newman’s well-done analysis of Veciana’s changing story concerning his alleged recruitment by David Phillips in 1959 or 1960, depending on which version you are talking about. Note that some of this material has been covered previously on this blog.

Veciana’s Cuba Recruitment Stories

Newman lists six versions of Veciana’s Cuba recruitment story. They are:

  • 1976-the initial Fonzi interviews [1]
  • June 1976-the Dick Russell interview
  • April 1978-Veciana’s HSCA testimony
  • 1979 through 1993-conversations with Fonzi
  • 2014-AARC conference
  • 2017-TTK

To summarize, from 1976 to 2013, Veciana maintained that he met Bishop in 1960 (usually mid-1960) at a Havana bank where he worked as an accountant. The details vary somewhat, but the story was essentially consistent. It is interesting to note that Veciana did not mention the 1959 recruitment date or state unequivocally (he had previously merely hinted) that Phillips was “Bishop” until after Fonzi’s death in 2012. But beginning with the 2014 AARC conference in Bethesda Maryland, Veciana changed his story. He now claims that the shadowy Bishop was indeed David Phillips. Also, during that presentation, according to Newman, he stated that he had met Bishop at the end of 1959. But by the time of his 2017 book, Veciana had moved the date backward in time even further pinpointing it as “just a few days after Jack Ruby departed Cuba.” Available documents identify this date as September 11, 1959 [2]. Therefore, we are left with two stories of Veciana’s alleged recruitment by Phillips/Bishop-the original story of 1960 and the current version dated 1959. But Newman’s review of the documentary record shows that both are false.

The 1959 Story From TTK

The release of CIA documents in the mid-nineties revealed the true chronology of David Phillips in 1959 to 1960 [3]. Although it is unclear when Veciana became aware of the discrepancies in his story, he ultimately chose to preserve the story with alterations to the timeline rather than abandon it. According to Newman, activities that Veciana alleged Phillips/Bishop undertook in 1959 were, “out of place and out of context” when compared to the known chronology of Phillips. Newman uses the documentary record, which he refers to as “robust” to refute the 1959 recruitment.

As a result of his July 1959 contact with a Cuban cattlemen’s association, a group that was plotting to overthrow Castro, Phillips’ cover became compromised. Indeed, in his book The Night Watch, Phillips called his situation “precarious” and he and his wife decided that he would leave both Cuba and the CIA itself, eventually changing their minds on the latter point.

On August 18, Havana station cabled Washington that Phillips might have been recorded by surreptitious means and that the cattlemen and 3000 others had been “rounded up” by Cuban police. Despite the growing concerns regarding his safety, Phillips was persuaded to go back to Cuba with the instruction to “begin planning for his permanent departure” and he arrived there on August 25th.

An investigation was launched by Havana station on August 31st as a result of events that further compromised Phillips’ and the CIA position. That investigation concluded that Phillips’ security situation was “the major concern at the present time.” The report of that investigation was written on September 15, 1959. This was the same time period that Phillips allegedly began his recruitment of Veciana, a situation that defies all credibility considering his ongoing security problems. According to Veciana, Phillips/Bishop walked into Julio Lobo’s Banco Financiero in mid-September to begin his recruitment of him. But Newman argues that Phillips would not take such a risk at the heavily-surveilled bank. Additionally, Lobo was known to Cuban authorities as a CIA informant who was bankrolling anti-Castro operations and was also under surveillance.

Veciana allegedly met Phillips/Bishop the following day at the famous (and very public) La Floridita restaurant. Again, Newman points out that this is the last place Phillips/Bishop would want to be seen considering his precarious security situation. And as I have noted previously at this blog, Veciana could have lifted the idea of the La Floridita from Phillips’ 1977 book The Night Watch which preceded Veciana’s first indication of the restaurant during his 1978 HSCA testimony.

Phillips/Bishop supposedly informed Veciana that he needed to undergo testing before his CIA mission could begin. Veciana received a call at Lobo’s bank about a week after the initial contact but, as Newman points out, the phones at the bank would have been monitored making such a contact unlikely. “Joe Melton” was waiting at an apartment building near the US embassy to administer the test while Phillips/Bishop causally waited, reading a newspaper.

After another week went by, Phillips/Bishop called again at the bank and allegedly drove Veciana to a ranch style home in Miramar. Here, Veciana was submitted to another test (administered by “John Smith”) in the form of a type of truth serum. Phillips/Bishop then drove Veciana back to the bank. Newman says that the idea of Phillips driving Veciana around Havana given his security situation is “about as likely as a germ at a Lysol convention” and the only thing missing was the “Aston Martin with automatically revolving license plates.”

At about the same time Veciana was allegedly interrogated under truth serum (about September 30th), behind the scenes the CIA was concerned about the use of Phillips in a previously authorized project that involved propaganda operations in the Havana television field. The project, which was to be supervised by Havana station, was given the cryptonym AMOURETTE-X. After extensive internal machinations which included concerns about Phillips’ security situation, an October 12 memo by Counterintelligence OA Chief Thomas Carroll Jr. stated that he was “unable to give further consideration” to Phillips for use in the project. However, at about the same time, Veciana says that Phillips/Bishop was meeting with him for six hours at the Hotel Riviera to discuss the results of his CIA tests.

By November 12, Phillips was finally authorized for project AMOURETTE-X [4]. But according to Newman, Phillips’ usefulness was a thing of the past because of his security situation and he was eventually replaced by Emilio Rodriguez who used the pseudonym Arnaldo Berenguer. Phillips left Cuba permanently in February 1960 according to CIA documents.

John Newman has done a good job of dispensing with Veciana’s Cuba recruitment stories. To sum up, it is apparent that the 1959 Cuba recruitment of Veciana by David Phillips is a mere fantasy. Similarly, Veciana’s mid-1960 recruitment by Phillips was equally impossible since Phillips was not in Cuba at the time and indeed, Newman characterizes the story as “fabricated.” And according to Newman, Veciana’s first chronological appearance in CIA records is not until December 9, 1960, about ten months after Phillips left Cuba. [5]

In Part 2, I’ll discuss “Fabiola” and “Joe Melton”, two subjects where I have problems with Newman’s research.


[1] A minor mistake made by Newman is when he says that the first interview with Fonzi took place while Veciana was still incarcerated. But that interview took place at Veciana’s home in Miami on March 2, 1976 (Fonzi, 123). Fonzi had originally intended to visit Veciana at the Atlanta Penitentiary, but changed his mind and this might explain the mix-up.

[2] Ruby apparently first returned to the US from Cuba on September 11 and then, for reasons that are unclear, returned to Cuba on the 12th and finally came back to the US on the 13th. (

[3] Newman says that Fabian Escalante was the first to discover the problem with the date Phillips supposedly recruited Veciana in Cuba and therefore moved it to 1959 in his 1995 book The Secret War. Newman diplomatically says he will leave it to “others to ponder” the reason it took researchers so long to catch up to Escalante. But it is obvious that researchers simply wanted to believe Veciana’s assertions as reported in Fonzi’s book and therefore did not question the 1960 time frame.

[4] Critics of Newman, who potentially include conspiracy theorists, might point out some problems with his narrative of the 1959-60 period. For instance, Newman tries to show the difficulty Phillips had in getting approved for the AMOURETTE-X project and implies it was because of Phillips’ ongoing security issues. Those security concerns were a consideration, but Phillips was eventually approved for the project, and critics could say the security issues could not have been as bad as Newman claims. Additionally, Newman makes the case that Phillips was in danger of being imprisoned or even executed because of his association with the Cuban cattlemen (many of whom were arrested) and the loss of operational cover that resulted. But despite this, Phillips went back to Cuba in August 1959 and remained there until February of the following year, again leaving Newman open to criticism on this point.

[5] Theorists have been proven at least partly correct that the 2017 document releases would provide new revelations as some of these were used by Newman in his work debunking Veciana.

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