Sunday, May 5, 2019

Veciana's Game

During preparation of Part Three of my review of John Newman’s book Into the Storm, I spent a great deal of time thinking about Antonio Veciana’s motive for creating the Maurice Bishop story. Then, I had an epiphany. This article discusses that revelation and acts as a summary of all I have learned about the subject in the last two years. My thesis is that two factors came together to create the Bishop story. The first factor, which Newman references, is Veciana’s incarceration for cocaine smuggling and the effect it had on him. [1] After studying Veciana’s history, I realized that a second factor was his character. A charitable way to describe Veciana is to say that he was a man of action and not content to sit on his hands when a problem existed. To put it another way, he was something of a plotter who sought to manipulate others in furtherance of his own ends. I submit that Veciana’s incarceration was a watershed moment in his life which he believed required immediate action upon his release. The action he chose was to create the Bishop story and, when this part of Veciana’s life is viewed through that lens, his story makes exquisite sense.

Veciana's Cocaine Conviction

Veciana was arrested on and eventually convicted of two counts: [2] conspiracy to possess and distribute narcotics and distribution of 7 kilograms of cocaine. [3] John Newman says that Veciana hated the CIA and I suspect he is right. One of the reasons that he may have hated the agency is that he believed they “set him up” for his drug conviction. [4] But I am not talking about being “setup” in the usual sense of the word. It is possible that Veciana believed that the CIA found out about his drug activities which is at least plausible since it was an international operation. Veciana may have thought that the agency manipulated the situation so he and his co-conspirators, who were clearly guilty, would be caught and convicted. But even if he did believe this, the evidence shows that he did not create Bishop for this reason. In the very first interview with Fonzi, Veciana said he thought Bishop “was working for a private organization, not the government ...” [5] But the fact that he gradually changed the story to say that Bishop was CIA could have partly been because of his dislike of the agency.

The evidence in Veciana’s drug case shows that the conspirators own naivete caused them to fall victim to an undercover sting run by a joint drug task force. According to the Appellee’s Brief, Veciana, Augustin Barres and Ariel Pomares (who worked for Barres) organized a cocaine smuggling operation during the years 1972 and 1973. The motive was recent financial losses incurred by Veciana and Barres. A statement by Max Lesnik, the publisher of the Spanish-language weekly Replica provided confirmation of Veciana’s possible financial motivation for his drug activities. Lesnik was a good friend of Veciana’s and supportive of the anti-Castro cause. On May 30, 1978, Fonzi and his assistant Gonzales interviewed Lesnik and, at one point in the interview, Lesnik was asked his opinion of Veciana’s credibility: [6]

At times I say to myself, Yes, I believe Veciana. At other times, I am not so sure. For instance, do you believe Veciana when he says it is not true about the narcotics charge? If you ask me, I would say Veciana is not the type of man who would have anything to do with narcotics. Not at all. Yet, on the other hand, I know how dedicated Veciana is; I know that more than anything else he is dedicated to overthrowing the Revolution and to killing Castro. So, the question is, could it be that he might have thought that the money that could be gotten from narcotics could be used to a more noble purpose? I don't know..."

In preliminary conversations, Veciana told Barres that he could “put a kilogram of cocaine” on his desk. Veciana provided the connection to the drugs which he developed during his years with USAID in Bolivia. Veciana traveled to Bolivia, purchased the cocaine and delivered it to Bolivian diplomats who then smuggled it into the United States. Barres provided part of the financing and Pomares received the drugs in Florida and sold some of them himself while employing middlemen to handle the remainder. The desire to change middlemen led to the conspirator’s downfall when the man they selected turned out to be an undercover detective named Bruno with the New York City Police. At times, the inexperience of the conspirators made their enterprise look like a comedy of errors. For example, the conspirators believed Bruno was a fearsome mob type so he must have played his part extremely well.

Barres was the chief witness for the prosecution and his testimony was collaborated by numerous government documents, a complete confession by Pomares [7] and by the testimony of four witnesses who confirmed aspects of Barres’ story. Barres testified that, when communicating by phone, the conspirators would use a code. The phrases, “documents signed” or “papers are ready” were to be used in conversation to refer to the cocaine being available for delivery. One of the most compelling pieces of testimony came from a man named Carpio who was an accountant at the business where Pomares worked. Carpio testified that Veciana called at one point and asked for Pomares. When Carpio told Veciana that Pomares was not there and offered to take a message, Veciana said, “Please tell him ... my name is Veciana, I received the documents.” The evidence was so overwhelming that Veciana’s entire defense consisted of a single witness-his daughter.

Fonzi, Veciana and the Bishop Story

Gaeton Fonzi, the government investigator who would be the effective co-author of the Maurice Bishop story, first tried to phone Veciana in February 1976. After determining Veciana was in prison, he made plans to visit his home in order to show his credentials to Veciana’s son Tony. This was so Fonzi could visit the Atlanta Penitentiary and interview Veciana there. But after finding out that Veciana was being released early, Fonzi arranged to interview him at his home on March 2, 1976. [8]

Upon meeting Veciana, what struck Fonzi the most was his “pallor.” Veciana’s face “still had very much a prison pallor … which is something that comes less from not being in the sun, than from something that happens to the spirt.” [9] In other words, prison had not been kind to Veciana and he doubtless had no desire to return there. My thesis is that Veciana was afraid of legal action against him since some of the things he did for ALPHA-66 certainly fell into legal “grey areas.”

Veciana himself confirmed this idea when he told Fonzi, “I am worried about certain things that can be used against me.” [10] And Fonzi admitted in Volume X of the HSCA report which he authored, “[This] investigator speculated that Veciana felt that by revealing his association with Bishop to an official representative of the U.S. Government, he would be providing himself with an element of security.” [11] Additionally, Fonzi wrote in his book “… I assumed he was concerned about some U.S. laws he may have broken during the course of his anti-Castro activity.” [12] And finally Fonzi added, “… as I came to understand, Veciana himself was anxious to use me. Just released from prison, uncertain and confused about what had happened to him, he took my arrival as an opportunity to establish a defense against any other actions which might be taken against him.” [13]

Veciana had a lot of time on his hands during the 26 months he was in Atlanta. In his book Trained to Kill, he said he kept his nose clean and “I read, and I waited, and I tried to understand how an innocent man could end up behind bars.” [14] One of the things Veciana read during his idle hours, in this case the day before Fonzi’s initial visit, was an article in the Saturday Evening Post. That article, co-authored by noted researcher Paul Hoch, speculated that Veciana was one of the three men who visited Sylvia Odio in September of 1963. [15] Fonzi knew from Veciana’s appearance (he has a distinctive facial birthmark) that he could not be one of those men. But Veciana was keeping up with current events as they related to the JFK case. Fonzi and other theorists are quick to speculate that, as Fonzi put it, “there was little reason for Veciana to assume the assassination was my priority.” [16] But as Paul Hoch wrote in the November 3, 1993 edition of his journal Echoes of Conspiracy, “[Veciana] could easily have figured out before they met that Fonzi was pursuing the JFK case.”

It turns out that the Fonzi-Veciana interview was a serendipitous meeting of the minds between one of the biggest CIA-did-it advocates and a man who was looking for someone to shoulder the blame for his terrorist activities. By his own admission, Fonzi wasn’t an objective investigator by the time of his experiences with Veciana. [17] I was never a “conspiracy theorist”, he said. “I went from an agnostic to a conspiracy believer [following a debate with Arlen Specter].” [18] This lack of objectivity made him susceptible to Veciana’s “LHO met with Bishop” tale which, as Paul Hoch notes, “Fonzi immediately accepted.” [19] Indeed, in his book Fonzi said, “I had no doubt then-and have none now-that Veciana was simply and truthfully revealing what he knew.” [20] It seems that the former investigative journalist had become a crusader.

Veciana’s Plan

In view of Veciana’s personality and the evidence that he was concerned about being prosecuted by the federal government, it is not hard to imagine that he devised a plan while in prison to share the blame for his anti-Castro activities with a nonexistent mentor. As mentioned, Veciana did not originally say that Bishop was CIA or even an intelligence man. But early on, Veciana became aware of Fonzi’s anti-CIA bias and realized that a change was needed to help ensure his continued patronage. By the time of his interview with Dick Russell about 3 months later, Veciana, taking Fonzi’s lead, was already saying that “he [Bishop] was part of an American intelligence service ...” [21] This change was fine with Veciana since it was safer and easier for him to finger an agent of an unnamed intelligence service and let Fonzi and others say it was the CIA. By 2017 though, Veciana’s account had changed to the point that he was saying he himself was a CIA operative recruited by David Phillips.

Veciana’s scheme was a clever one. And as a college graduate who had worked in Bolivia as a banking consultant with a starting salary equivalent to about $160,000 in today’s dollars, he was no dummy. [22] If he could make people believe that a CIA mentor who was as imperceptible as the boogeyman had told him what to do, then any illegal acts he might have committed were not his fault and he could not be prosecuted for them. Think of it as the “CIA made me do it” defense. And considering the revelations that were being made public at the time, it was at least plausible that the CIA could do what Veciana was alleging. On the other hand, Army Intelligence, which the evidence shows Veciana worked with, [23] did not have the same public reputation for deceitfulness attributed to the folks at Langley.

Before he could hope for his plan to work, Veciana needed to get Fonzi’s attention and he did so in a big way with his story of seeing Oswald with Bishop. Once Fonzi got a hold of him, Veciana rolled with the flow and mostly went along with Fonzi’s CIA theories. He did draw the line though at naming Phillips as Bishop, as Fonzi hoped he would do, for a couple of reasons. Veciana was smart enough to know that he could not get away with accusing a man of Phillips’ stature of being a cog in the CIA’s wheel of conspiracy without hard proof which he didn’t have. Besides, he didn’t need to do that, and it would serve no purpose for him. With Fonzi as his sponsor, he had what he wanted-protection from government scrutiny and a permanent soapbox from which he could subtly enhance his story as needed. Veciana was content to let the conspiracy books claim that Phillips was Bishop while he continued to deny it with a wink and a nod. And if the Phillips as Bishop canard was ever disproved, he could just say that he never said that Phillips was Bishop in the first place.

Delores Cao

In the nineties, the ARRB wanted to interview Veciana but he refused citing recent heart surgery. [24] However, another reason he may have declined to work with the review board was that they were interested in the alleged intermediary he had alluded to as far back as the first interviews with Fonzi. [25] That intermediary was identified in 1978 during a conversation between Veciana and author Anthony Summers as Delores Cao of Puerto Rico. [26] Both Summers and Fonzi used the codename “Fabiola” in their books when referring to Cao. Summers says he “goaded” Veciana into disclosing this information. But what if Veciana was content to let Summers think that he had gotten the best of him? Perhaps the reality was that Veciana had thought of a plan to get Summers off his back for good. Veciana probably realized that he couldn’t hold out on Summers forever so why not arrange a situation that he could control? In fact, from what I have learned about his personality, I find it hard to believe that Veciana would not intervene to get his desired result.

We know from Fonzi’s book that Veciana contacted Cao before Summers talked to her. [27] During this conversation, Veciana could have engaged in anything from mild suggestion to flat out instructing her what to say. If Veciana was manipulating Summers and did coach Cao, this could neatly dispose of any future interest in her by Summers and other researchers. From Veciana’s perspective, it was one thing for Anthony Summers to interview Cao after he prepared her. But the ARRB’s unanticipated interest in Cao, which in a worst-case scenario could have resulted in her testifying under oath, was a much more serious matter.

Veciana could have learned of the ARRB’s interest in Cao from phone calls staffers made to his son Tony. Or he simply could have anticipated that her name would logically come up during an interview. And his lack of cooperation with the ARRB could have reflected his fear of the review board locating her. According to John Newman, Cao’s name became public knowledge by 1993 so the ARRB should have known who she was without asking Veciana. [28] Or perhaps the review board learned Cao’s name and wanted to query Veciana on Fabiola’s identity to see what his reply would be and thereby access his general truthfulness. In any case, I believe Veciana wasn’t interested in helping the ARRB get anywhere near Cao. And if they became aware of her through Summers or other means, he could always make another phone call.

The Castro Letter Revisited

What evidence is there that Cao was willing to participate in Veciana’s plans? A remarkable report on two FBI interviews of Felix Zabala provides evidence that Cao may have at least lent her name to another Veciana scheme. [29] Zabala was an anti-Castro exile (and eventual double agent) who described Veciana as being, “like his own brother” and said that Veciana was “his son’s godfather.” Zabala apparently felt a tremendous sense of loyalty toward Veciana and did some remarkable things at his behest. For instance, the report provides a detailed account of a scheme involving a letter to Fidel Castro which occurred around September of 1976. This plan was the same one reported by John Newman in his book, but the document I found contains more detail and includes one prominent name left out of Newman’s version.

The letter would contain the basic elements of the Bishop story, name Veciana as a CIA operative and report details about Veciana’s participation in the 1971 assassination attempt against Castro in Chile. A key difference in this version of the story is the addition of none other than Veciana’s former secretary Cao. In this version of the story, Cao was the ostensible author of the letter rather than Zabala and it was signed with her nickname “Margarita.” The report refers to Cao as “Hilda” rather than Delores but also says that Cao is from San Juan and worked as Veciana’s secretary in Cuba and in Puerto Rico from 1961 to 1967 so it certainly seems to be the same individual.

According to Zabala, Veciana originally wanted to transmit the letter through the Czechoslovakian embassy in Washington but Zabala suggested they use his sister, who was married to Cuban doctor, instead. As in Newman’s version of the story, the author of the letter, in this case Cao, was disillusioned with Veciana who “wanted a large amount of publicity due to his appearance before a US government group.” Later in the report, Zabala was questioned about Veciana’s motive for concocting the letter. Zabala said that Veciana “was concerned about his testimony” before what would have been the permanent Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and “for some unexplained reason, wanted to establish himself in the US Cuban community as a former CIA operative.” Veciana was certain that Castro would broadcast the contents of the letter immediately, but that apparently never happened. The letter was allegedly submitted to Castro by Zabala’s sister on or about September 11, 1976.

At some point, it became apparent that the broadcast by Castro would not occur. Veciana then encouraged Zabala, who by now was working with Cuban Intelligence, to request that the contents of the letter be broadcast. Zabala was to imply to the Cubans that the reason for this was his own dissatisfaction with Veciana. Zabala went along with this idea out of friendship for Veciana and because the letter “seemed of the utmost importance” to him. My takeaway from all of this is that Veciana wanted to present himself as a CIA operative to confirm his Bishop story and possibly to enhance his standing in the exile community. And it seems that Ms. Cao, whatever her first name might be, was willing to lend her name to this deception, unless it was done without her knowledge.

The “LHO” Photos

Another contrivance engineered by Veciana using his friend Zabala was reported to the FBI by the latter in April 1977. Veciana alleged that Lee Harvey Oswald attended an ALPHA-66 meeting at which Veciana himself was present. The evidence for this startling claim was photographs provided by Veciana which he said depicted Oswald and himself in separate shots. Zabala had previously taken the photographs to a meeting with Cuban Intelligence in Mexico City, apparently at Veciana’s behest. At a lengthy videotaped interrogation, the Cuban agents had asked Zabala to identify which individual in the photographs represented Oswald. After Zabala did this, the Cubans ended the session. The FBI eventually determined that the individual in the photographs was not Oswald. [30] This incident seems to be a case of Veciana trying to spread misinformation to the Cubans (and maybe the FBI) for reasons that are unclear. Perhaps Veciana thought he would be rewarded by the Bureau in some way for his actions. However, the incident does represent a documented case of Veciana using a story involving Oswald to attempt to further his own ends. It also provides conformation that Veciana recognized the formidable effect of adding Oswald to such a tale as he did in the case of the Bishop story.

Why Phillips Was Not Bishop

The first and most obvious reason why Phillips was not Bishop is there was no Bishop, at least as Veciana described him. Bishop was likely a composite fictional character based on authority figures Veciana had really known such as Jordan Pfuntner, Patrick Harris or his real CIA case officer Cal Hicks. Veciana may have projected their qualities onto Bishop and rationalized this fabrication because of the personal sacrifice he felt he was making to rid the world of Castro. A simple case of the end justified the means. The HSCA made a valid attempt to identify Bishop but could provide absolutely no confirmation of any kind for the alleged CIA mentor. For example, the HSCA report stated: [31]

… not one of his associates--neither those who worked with him in anti-Castro activity in Cuba nor those who were associated with him in Alpha 66 said they were aware of any American directing Veciana or of anyone who had the characteristics of Maurice Bishop.

The infamous sketch of Maurice Bishop is one of the things most often mentioned as “proof” that Phillips was Bishop since theorists believe it looks like Phillips. The sketch was prepared with the help of a professional artist and represented a “pretty good” idea of what Veciana thought Bishop looked like. [32] Of course, a sketch is just an artist’s representation and the interpretation of it is subjective. Show it to a hundred people and you’ll get a hundred different answers as to who it looks like.

Fonzi himself originally thought it looked like Paul Bethel, former head of the US Information Agency in Cuba. [33] Sam Kail was an Army attaché who worked at the US embassy in Cuba and who Veciana said Bishop directed him to for help. Kail, who denied knowing Veciana, also thought the sketch looked like Bethel, a fact that Fonzi left out of his HSCA report. [34] Barney Hidalgo, A CIA employee who was interviewed by the HSCA regarding his claim that a “Bishop” worked at the CIA, thought it looked “a bit” like CIA employee Willard Galbraith. [35] This contradicts what Fonzi wrote in the HSCA report when he said, “B. H. [Hidalgo] could not identify [the sketch] as anyone he recognized.” [36]

Bradley Ayers was a US Army Captain on special assignment with the CIA based out of JM/WAVE near Miami. Ayers thought the sketch looked to be “a very accurate drawing” of Gordon Campbell, another CIA employee. Ayers thought that Bishop was Campbell and not Phillips, [37] but this is unlikely since Campbell died in 1962. [38] Ultimately, I compiled a list of 14 relevant individuals who saw the sketch and only three thought it looked like Phillips. Five people did not recognize the sketch as anyone they knew and the remaining six each identified six different persons. Ironically, one of the people who thought it looked like Phillips was Phillips himself. The others were Senator Richard Schweiker whose identification of Phillips was the beginning of Fonzi’s quest to link Phillips to Bishop [39] and CIA agent Joseph Burkholder Smith.

A second alleged “proof” that Phillips was Bishop is the supposed similarity between Veciana’s description of Bishop and Phillips. Veciana’s description of Bishop, like most aspects of his story, varied over the years. I’ll use the one Fonzi provided in the HSCA report for this discussion. Veciana said when he first met Bishop (1960 in this version) he was about 45 years old, 6 feet, 2 inches tall, weighed over 200 pounds, and was athletically built. [40] Phillips was only 38 in 1960 and CIA records show he was 6 feet tall and weighed 185 pounds. [41] The only similarity to Veciana’s description is that Phillips listed his build as “stocky.”

The rest of Veciana’s account is vague, probably intentionally so. Bishop had grey-blue eyes (Phillips had blue), light-brown hair and a light complexion, although he was supposedly “well-tanned.” Bishop was meticulously dressed and concerned about his diet, traits that there is no evidence Phillips possessed. In fact, in a 1976 piece the Washington Post described him as a “slightly rumpled chap.” [42] Phillips did wear reading glasses as Bishop did, but so do many middle-aged men.

Theorists believe that a meeting between Phillips and Veciana represents a third “proof.” The meeting took place at a conference of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) in Reston, Virginia on September 17, 1976. [43] Fonzi’s idea was to “ambush” the unsuspecting Phillips who was not aware that Veciana would be attending. Phillips merely thought he was doing Schweiker a favor by letting three of his staffers attend the conference luncheon. Jefferson Morley, editor of made the case for “Phillips is Bishop” believers in a 2017 article: [44]

Fonzi then brought Veciana to Washington for a meeting with Phillips. Although he had worked with Veciana for a decade, Phillips coolly pretended not to know him, Veciana writes, and to not even recognize his name, which was strange, because the Cuban was very well known to the CIA officers working to overthrow Castro.
Veciana went along with Phillips’s ruse, he says, out of fear of CIA retaliation. He told Fonzi that Phillips was not the man he knew as Maurice Bishop. “I felt bad for lying to a friend,” he writes, “but he could only guess at the stakes involved when it came to breaking my vow of silence.”

But Morley’s bare-bones version doesn’t tell the full story. According to Fonzi’s account, they were escorted to Phillips’ table, and Fonzi introduced Veciana to Phillips by name and waited for his reaction: [45]

I had 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 hint, but his eyes had moved on and off of Veciana so quickly-in the flash of a brief handshake-that it was almost as if Veciana was a nonentity.

During the conference luncheon, Veciana folded his arms across his chest and studied Philips intently, staring at the former agent to the point of making him nervous. Over the years, Fonzi and Veciana have repeatedly cited Phillips’ alleged nervousness as proof he was hiding something. However, Fonzi himself offered the obvious explanation for Phillips’ unease in an HSCA memo. “But maybe I would have gotten nervous also if some guy was just sitting there with his arms folded staring at me like Veciana was doing with Phillips.” [46]

At one point during the keynote speech, Fonzi asked Veciana if Phillips was Bishop and he answered, “No. It is not him.” [47] When the conference ended, Fonzi and Veciana approached Phillips in the hallway. Fonzi asked Phillips if he would answer some questions. When Phillips asked what the questions were about and Fonzi replied the JFK assassination, Phillips stated he would be “glad to talk with any Congressman or representative of Congress … in Congress.” Veciana then asked Phillips a few questions including if he knew Julio Lobo or Rufo Lopez-Fresquet. Phillips said that he knew those men but did not remember Veciana himself. After the conference as Fonzi and Veciana left the building, Fonzi again asked Veciana if Phillips was Bishop. “No, he’s not him” Veciana unambiguously replied. [48]

It should be noted that Phillips probably told the truth when he said he didn’t remember Veciana at all. We know from Fonzi’s description of the incident that Phillips didn’t recognize Veciana’s face. And it had been at least a decade since Veciana was in the news for anti-Castro activities so Phillips may have simply forgotten the name. And if he did know the name-so what? Phillips may merely have wanted to see where the impromptu conversation was heading. After the confrontation, Fonzi’s belief in the “Phillips as Bishop” scenario was shaken, at least for a time. In an HSCA memo he said “… for the first time, I have some doubts about Veciana’s credibility when it comes to Phillips.” [49]

The next “proof” is purely anecdotal. According to an email message written by David Phillips’ nephew Shawn, David allegedly had a conversation with his brother James and related that he was in Dallas when JFK was killed. Setting aside the fact that Phillips was the Chief of Cuban Operations in Mexico City at the time of the assassination and was almost certainly there on that day (as he said he was in his book The Night Watch), let’s look at this claim. James Phillips allegedly called David when the latter was dying of lung cancer and following years of discussions between the brothers about the JFK case. James asked David if he was in Dallas “that day” and David said “yes” and then hung up. According to this theory then, it wasn’t enough for Phillips to be the mastermind of the plot. He had to be on the ground in Dallas directing the operation or perhaps pulling the trigger himself. Of course, logic and common sense tells us that Phillips would be as far away from Dallas as he could get with witnesses to that effect if he were involved in any plot-which he wasn’t. Shawn Phillips said the confession “was not in so many words as such” and he had placed the word “confession” in quotes in the original email. [50]

Some of the “proofs” really don’t require much discussion such as the contents of an unpublished manuscript written by Phillips. That manuscript has a fictional character saying, “I share the blame [in the JFK case]” among other things. If people want to believe that Phillips would make a confession in this manner, they are free to do so. I would only say that Philips was something of a frustrated writer and probably thought there was a market for this type of thing. Apparently, he was right.

Because theorists have made much of a September 21, 1979 attempt on Veciana’s life, I’ll add this final “proof” to the list although it is a minor one at best. The standard line goes something like this: Veciana was shot in the head shortly after he testified before the HSCA in an obvious attempt by the CIA to silence him. But what the theorists don’t explain is this. The details of the Bishop story, based on Veciana’s 1976 statements to congressional investigators, had already been reported by Jack Anderson in January 1977 and Veciana’s last testimony occurred in April 1978. What purpose would be served by the CIA shooting Veciana in 1979?

Veciana made at least one accurate statement in Trained to Kill when he wrote:

But were they [the CIA] so worried about what I had to say that they tried to silence me once and for all? I don’t know. I think there’s another more likely suspect than the CIA. Castro.

Indeed, right after the shooting, Veciana’s wife told the Miami Herald:

The only enemy my husband had in the world was Fidel Castro … This must have been done by infiltrators living in Miami.

Castro had been aware of Veciana and his desire to kill him since the ALPHA-66 press coverage in the early sixties if not sooner. Therefore, the attempt on Veciana’s life was almost certainly the work of Castro acolytes and not an effort by the CIA or any US government agency to silence him.

Veciana’s Reversal

For 37 years, from 1976 to 2013, Veciana insisted Phillips was not Bishop. He said that over and over in numerous interviews and under oath before congressional committees. Then, in 2013, Veciana reversed course and said that Phillips was Bishop after all. Sometime before 2013, Veciana decided to write his memoir. When making this decision, he undoubtedly had discussions with the people at his publishing house and others who assured him that there was no downside to the reversal. Veciana’s probable motive for this was completely self-serving. He had a book to sell and needed a talking point. And at 85 years of age at the time of his revelation, he had nothing to lose. He couldn’t be prosecuted for perjury since the statute of limitations had long expired. And his already secure reputation in the conspiracy world would only be enhanced by the claim as his rock-star-like reception at the AARC conference proved.


I believe the evidence is clear that Antonio Veciana fabricated the Maurice Bishop story. His motive originally was to avoid prosecution for acts he committed as an anti-Castro operative. All that was necessary to achieve this goal was to name an untraceable mentor as the person who directed these acts and to have sympathetic individuals in the government such as Fonzi support him. As time went on, Bishop evolved first into a generic CIA man and then David Phillips specifically. Part of this was to appease Fonzi and the public in general who believed the agency was culpable in the JFK killing. But he may have eventually decided that the CIA, who he evidently disliked, was responsible for his drug “setup” and blaming the CIA and Phillips was a secondary form of revenge. And of course, naming Phillips as Bishop helped create a buzz for his book which served as his “historic” memoir.

There isn’t a speck of evidence aside from Veciana’s allegations that Lee Harvey Oswald met with Bishop or Phillips in Dallas. [51] Oswald was in New Orleans during the late August to early September timeframe that Veciana and Fonzi eventually settled on. And his presence there is verified by library records and unemployment checks that he cashed as well as statements by Marina. Additionally, there is no credible evidence that he boarded a plane or was driven to Dallas. It should be mentioned that even if David Phillips ran Veciana as a CIA operative, without the tie to Oswald, the story goes nowhere. But considering the available evidence, a link between Phillips and Veciana is extremely unlikely.

Gaeton Fonzi immediately accepted Veciana’s story because it provided a connection between the CIA and Oswald. That link helped confirm his own belief that a rogue faction of the CIA killed Kennedy. He participated in the formation of the Bishop story by influencing Veciana through his anti-CIA beliefs. Fonzi tried to verify Veciana’s story in his capacity as an HSCA investigator and writer. He was sincerely hoping to find verification for the story but could not do so. This, of course, did not stop him from writing his book which strongly implied that David Phillips was a conspirator in the assassination of JFK. In the years since then, numerous others have repeated the claim based on Fonzi’s “evidence.” Whatever your opinion of the CIA and the operations it ran during the cold war, the foot soldiers like Phillips were merely following orders. David Phillips certainly did not deserve to be smeared by the likes of Fonzi and others without substantial proof. And such proof currently does not exist.


[1] Author John Newman, who has done some good work on Veciana, now apparently believes that the Pentagon (who he thinks was behind the JFK killing), somehow arranged to have Veciana’s sentence reduced in exchange for his promotion of the Bishop canard upon his release. We will have to wait for Newman’s next book to see his proof for this. But one problem with this theory is that we know from the first Fonzi interview that Veciana wasn’t initially pushing the CIA or intelligence angle.
[2] In his book, Veciana says it was three counts, an error which others have repeated.
[3] Unless otherwise noted, all information in this section comes from: United States of America, Appellee, vs. Ariel Pomares and Antonio Veciana, Appellants. No. 1127, Docket 74-1219. United States Court of Appeals Second Circuit. Argued June 14, 1974. Decided July 5, 1974.
[4] Fonzi, Gaeton. The Last Investigation: What Insiders Know About the Assassination of JFK. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2013. Kindle Edition p. 395. According to Fonzi, Veciana alternated between blaming the CIA (in the form of Bishop) and Castro.
[5] Rough Notes of Fonzi Interview with Antonio Veciana, March 2, 1976. RIF 157-10007-10208.
[6] RIF 180-10065-10373.
[7] Pomares later tried to have his confession thrown out but on appeal it was determined that it was properly obtained.
[8] Fonzi, 119-121.
[9] Ibid., 123.
[10] Ibid., 124.
[11] HSCA Volume X, paragraph 144.
[12] Fonzi, 124.
[13] Ibid.
[14] 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, Chapter 10.
[15] Hoch, Paul and George O’Toole. “Dallas: The Cuban Connection.” The Saturday Evening Post, March 1976.
[16] Fonzi, 124.
[17] See my article “Gaeton Fonzi and the Veciana Allegations” for more information on Fonzi’s bias.
[19] Paul Hoch, Echoes of Conspiracy, November 3, 1993, p. 3.
[20] Fonzi, 126.
[21] 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.
[22] Veciana started at $22,000 plus housing, travel and baggage allowances. See RIF 180-10104-10396.
[23] See the “Malcolm Blunt DOD documents” at John Newman’s website:
[24] ARRB memo from Tom Samoluk to David Marwell, May 7, 1997.
[25] ARRB, “Interview Format for Antonio Veciana” obtained from the Black Vault.
[26] Newman, John. Into the Storm: The Assassination of President Kennedy Volume III. Kindle Edition, Chapter 3.
[27] Fonzi, 318.
[28] Newman, Chapter 3.
[29] All information in this section is taken from a report of two interviews by the FBI with Zabala, RIF 104-10102-10198.
[30] Memo from FBI Director Clarence M. Kelley to Director of Central Intelligence, June 6, 1977.
[31] HSCA Volume X, paragraph 145.
[32] Ibid., paragraph 169.
[33] Fonzi, 322.
[34] Memorandum from Fonzi to Blakey, RIF 180-10072-10179.
[35] RIF 104-10146-10142.
[36] HSCA Volume X, paragraph 190.
[37] ARRB memo from Christopher Barger to Jeremy Gunn, May 18, 1995.
[39] Fonzi, 157.
[40] HSCA Volume X, paragraph 168.
[41] David Atlee Phillips, “CIA Personal Record Questionnaire” obtained from the Black Vault.
[42] White, Jean M. “Intelligence Gathering: Insiders Meet on the Outside.” The Washington Post, September 18, 1976, p. 1.
[43] Memo from Fonzi to Troy Gustavson, September 20, 1976, RIF 180-10103-10396.
[44] Morley, Jefferson. “The CIA’s Secrets about JFK, Che and Castro Revealed in New Book by Former Operative.” Newsweek Magazine, May 28, 2017.
[45] Fonzi, 166.
[46] Memo from Fonzi to Troy Gustavson, September 20, 1976, RIF 180-10103-10396.
[47] Fonzi, 167.
[48] Ibid, 167-69.
[49] Memo from Fonzi to Gustavson, op. cit.
[51] It should be clear to most researchers by now that Wynne Johnson, who “collaborated” the story of Veciana seeing LHO and Bishop, is an after-the-fact Judyth Baker type who is not worthy of belief. For more information see:


  1. It's interesting that Newman believes Veciana "hated" the CIA. This certainly contrasts with Fonzi's views. See for example This is a summary of ARRB's meeting with Fonzi, Dan Hardaway, and Ed Lopez. According to the summary, all three believed Veciana because: 1) V. brought up the Oswald/Bishop link "inadvertently"; 2) V. seemed "very loyal" to the CIA; 3) If V. wanted to carry out a vendetta against the CIA "there would be better ways to do it"; 4) Fabio Escalante believed Phillips was Bishop (!); 5) HSCA did look into MI files as they related to Bishop (this remark seems very unclear to me). It would be interesting to hear what Hardaway thinks now.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I think the record is mixed on this issue. I have seen some things from time to time that support the "Veciana hated the CIA" narrative. Other times, it just seems like he hated everybody since he made comments early on against JFK as well. I would like to see more evidence from Newman on this and perhaps he will have some in his future books.

    2. I should add that another piece of evidence against Newman's theory that Veciana hated the CIA is Veciana's AARC appearance in 2014. During that conference Veciana argued forcefully in favor of the CIA's existence.


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