Monday, February 3, 2020

Newman's "New Paradigm"

JFK conspiracy theorist and author John Newman has done a good job of convincing both conspiracy skeptics and some members of the JFK conspiracy community that former anti-Castro activist Antonio Veciana lied about how and when he met David Phillips in Cuba, thereby casting doubt on Veciana’s whole sorry tale. Unfortunately, instead of issuing a clarion call to his devotees that further research regarding the duplicitous Veciana is a waste of time, Newman is using his success as a launching pad for an entirely new conspiracy theory. And it is likely not a coincidence that this thesis supports the preferred villains in Newman’s hypothetical JFK assassination scenario. These alleged conspirators include Generals Edward Lansdale, Curtis Lemay and Lyman Lemnitzer as well as the “enigmatic Texan Howard Burris” and perhaps others.

Newman's presentation at the 2019 Citizens Against Political Assassinations Conference titled, "Turning Antonio Veciana's Misdirection into a Roadmap," was his first opportunity to reveal this hypothesis, which has been called a “new paradigm,” to the conspiracy community. However, over two months after the presentation, the reception is decidedly mixed. Newman has received rave reviews from his loyal fanbase that consists of devotees who are willing to pay $32 for his latest tome. But another faction, representing the CIA-did-it wing of the community, is more skeptical. This group is led by Lisa Pease, whose mentor Jim DiEugenio is the dean of the Langley-did-it school of thought. Pease has already expressed skepticism of Newman’s work and had some uncomfortable Facebook exchanges with him.

Newman associate Alan Dale attributes the criticism of Newman to the fact that those who believe Veciana’s claims regarding the alleged meeting between Phillips and Oswald do so because that allegation “is regarded by many as too sacred to dispute.” Just exactly what does Newman’s theory, which has been called “a work in progress,” postulate? At first glance, that seems to be a difficult question to answer since a video of the presentation has yet to materialize. Also missing is a promised report by CAPA’s Bill Kelly who took “ten pages of notes” at the conference.

Finally, not one meaningful review of the presentation has surfaced from any of the conference attendees. Either these individuals were not impressed sufficiently by what they heard to comment or were suddenly afflicted with mass amnesia. My guess is the former. Fortunately for skeptics, in the wake of criticism of the presentation, Newman and Dale were forced to go on Facebook to defend it. Their comments provide enough information to make a significant analysis possible, although some speculation is still necessary. All information used in writing this critique was taken from a Facebook summary of Newman’s work by Dale and comments by Newman on Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet.

Newman’s most startling claim is that, “a campaign of misdirection [was] launched by Antonio Veciana the day he walked out of the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in February 1976.” The purpose of this misdirection campaign, achieved through the “sudden early release of Veciana,” was to “control the narrative of the unfolding congressional investigations” and to "place blame on the CIA and direct attention away from the Pentagon.” This alleged state of affairs began during the tenure of the Church Committee which predated the HSCA and involved not only Veciana but other “former assets of U.S. military intelligence [who] were weaponized and used as messengers.”

Therefore, according to Newman, an unseen power, presumably a federal judge or the Church Committee itself or both, pulled some strings at the behest of the assassination planners to release Veciana. Carl Sagan wisely said that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” But what proof exists for Newman’s audacious statements?

Newman could not be in possession of court documents that show such a release of Veciana. A Google search shows that FOIA requests for such records would be denied while the individual is alive unless they sign a waiver. And presumably Veciana has been made aware of Newman’s recent desire to paint him as a co-conspirator and would neither grant Newman such a request nor give him access to papers already in his possession. In any case, such records would not necessarily reveal that Veciana was being released explicitly for the purpose of speaking to the Church Committee. Therefore, any documentary proof of the early release of Veciana for the specific purpose of speaking with Senate investigators would have to come from the JFK records or a formerly silent “witness” of potentially dubious credibility.

Conceivably, Newman believes that the plotters went to the Church Committee and persuaded them to facilitate Veciana’s release. Under such a scenario, the committee members were convinced that Veciana had to be released “in the interest of national security” or for some similar reason. Later, they figured out that they had been duped by the plotters but by then were too embarrassed to admit that they had participated in such an ill-advised plan. But it defies belief that the entire committee would not have known about the release. In that case, active committee member Richard Schweiker, who came up with the idea that the Bishop sketch looked like Phillips, was in on the plot yet delivered an academy award-level acting job for the benefit of Gaeton Fonzi and other conspiracy-oriented investigators.

On the other hand, it is at least conceivable that Malcolm Blunt or some other astute researcher could have very recently managed to unearth a document from the National Archives that alludes to an arranged parole of Veciana. And it is plausible that the wily Veciana could have contacted committee representatives through an intermediary and offered his services and certainly had the motivation to do so. But if it indeed exists, such documentation of an early release proves nothing unless you are willing and eager to attach the most sinister connotations to it. After all, there is no doubt that the committee would want to speak to someone like Veciana who claimed to have relevant information. But perhaps the committee was concerned that the release of Veciana would result in less than favorable publicity because of his drug conviction and kept it quiet for solely that reason. In this case, in an uncommon but not inconceivable circumstance, the staffers were kept unaware.

But such a release at the behest of the Senate committee would undoubtedly have been contingent on Veciana producing relevant and verifiable information. And he would have undoubtedly been warned that his parole would be immediately reversed if he were found to be less than candid. In Fonzi’s book, he wrote glowingly of a number of things that could be verified regarding Veciana’s story. But in the HSCA report, where Fonzi had to answer to others, he admitted that “no definitive conclusion could be reached about the credibility of Antonio Veciana's allegations regarding his relationship with a Maurice Bishop.” I think the congressional investigators would have expected a better performance out of Veciana for their trouble.

In the end, it is doubtful that any document proving Veciana’s early release exists or that Newman’s theory depends on one. I say that because, if it had been shown at the presentation, it would have been trumpeted as a major revelation and the reaction of the attendees does not support that. What is likely is that Newman will follow the path of least resistance and say that one of the conspirators (or an acolyte) whispered in the ear of a federal judge and persuaded him to facilitate the release. Maybe the conspirators “had something” on the judge that enabled them to demand this unusual request. Or perhaps the judge was part of the same secret right-wing cabal that Newman believes was behind the assassination and did the deed willingly. In such a case, as mentioned, the paperwork would just be of the generic variety and say that Veciana was released for “good behavior” or a similar reason.

Having established how Newman could credibly postulate the manner of Veciana’s release by the conspirators, we need to assess the role of the two key players in this scenario, Veciana and Fonzi, as Newman sees it. Bill Kelly says that Veciana “used journalist and Congressional investigator Gaeton Fonzi to get out of federal prison.” But this statement can be easily discounted since I see no way that Fonzi, who was merely an investigator, could achieve such a feat. For further clues regarding the role of Fonzi, we can turn to a Dale’s Facebook summary of Newman’s work.

After informing skeptics of the new theory of the benefits of “staying current” by consuming four previous volumes of Newman’s work, Dale quotes Newman’s declaration that Fonzi’s “sixth sense” led him to suspect that he was being used by Veciana. However, Newman admits that, “Fonzi did not develop these impressions into a possible alternative paradigm for consideration.” Newman’s statement that Fonzi was “being used” indicates that he was unaware of the plot to implicate the CIA using Veciana-at least at first. This at least makes sense as Fonzi would have had to falsify much of his book if he were in on the plot. But if Fonzi ever had suspicions as Newman believes, he chose not to act on them and did nothing to interfere with Veciana’s activities.

In an obvious attempt to pacify the CIA-did-it people who might be offended by an overly negative portrayal of Fonzi, Newman reminds them that he admires Fonzi and considers him a friend. Newman also says that Fonzi, “stayed in my home to look over my collection of records about CIA Staff Officer David Morales.” Newman then says, “I am confident that had Gaeton lived to see the 2017-2018 documents’ release, he would have revised The Last Investigation accordingly.”

But just how could Fonzi “revise” his book to achieve such an end when the implicit thesis of that volume was that the CIA (in the form of David Phillips) was somehow involved in the JFK killing and his proof of that was the now largely debunked Veciana yarn? Does Newman believe that Fonzi could insert a disclaimer at the end of his book to inform readers that much of what Veciana said was sheer nonsense and hope they didn’t see it?

Let there be no mistake. What Newman’s theory implies is that Fonzi, rather than being a courageous investigator who fought the system to uncover CIA complicity in the assassination, was actually a clueless dupe who did precisely what the real killers of JFK wanted by drawing attention away from them. And even though he eventually realized through his keen “sixth sense” that he had been had, he sold out anyway and published a book full of falsehoods-presumably because there was a market for it. This implied characterization of Fonzi will probably not win Newman the everlasting devotion of either Marie Fonzi or Lisa Pease.

What about Veciana’s role? Newman says Veciana may not have “fully appreciated the true purpose behind his new calling.” Despite this mysterious lack of understanding on Veciana’s part, he evidently acted as the conspirators wanted anyway. Veciana’s calling, according to Newman, was to “sow confusion and use it to manipulate the unfolding narrative of congressional investigation” at the behest of his Pentagon masters. So, color Veciana a full-fledged co-conspirator. And although he was unaware of the plot, Fonzi served as an effective accomplice of the conspiratorial cabal by virtue of his sheer incompetence.

Having established a set of reasonable assumptions to work with, we can begin an examination of the plausibility of the theory. Unfortunately for Newman and his followers, problems with the concept are immediately apparent. Presumably, Newman thinks that, once the CIA-did-it oriented Fonzi called Veciana’s family and expressed an interest in him, the plotters arranged for Veciana’s release. If Fonzi or another government man had been in the pocket of the conspirators, they could have released Veciana at their leisure, but Newman is not saying that. Evidently, Veciana’s family must have also been under the control of the plotters and kept them updated on interesting developments such as government investigators phoning for an interview. But Fonzi only became interested in Veciana after reading an article by Paul Hoch, so it appears that the plotters had luck on their side. What contingency plan the plotters employed in the event they couldn’t locate a willing target such as Fonzi is not explained.

In any case, on March 2, 1976, the stage was neatly set for the plotters. They had a clueless CIA-did-it believer in the form of Fonzi ready to interview their man Veciana. And all went according to their script, at least at first. Veciana told Fonzi about a powerful American mentor (Bishop) who had planned and directed his actions as head of Alpha 66. Bishop, as Veciana’s all-powerful mentor, was obviously the perfect individual to link to the CIA in order to draw attention away from the Pentagon. Fonzi listened carefully to Veciana’s description of Bishop. Finally, he breathlessly asked Veciana if Bishop was “officially with the government.” Then, Veciana blew it.

With this golden opportunity before him, Veciana inexplicably uttered, “a few times [I] asked [Bishop] if he worked for the CIA. And the answer he would give … was that there isn’t only one agency, the CIA, there are a lot of agencies working for this” [the anti-Castro cause]. Veciana went on to say that he believed Bishop was “working for a private organization, not the government.” As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Despite the perfect opportunity to tie his mysterious mentor to the CIA, Veciana somehow completely forgot about the mission his Pentagon masters had ordered him to undertake. In fact, he seemed to be going out of his way to not implicate the agency. Worse, his reference to other “agencies” had opened the door to the possibility that Fonzi, or another investigator reviewing his notes, would consider Army Intelligence as a source of Bishop’s authority. And given Veciana’s provable ties to that group, that was a distinct possibility.

And it wasn’t a case of Veciana initially “freezing” in the spotlight and then redeeming himself later in the interview. Veciana mentioned Cellula Fantasma, the leafletting operation over Cuba that he claimed Bishop ordered him to infiltrate. But Veciana was quick to caution Fonzi that the operation was not run by the CIA (which proves Veciana knew nothing about it since it actually was). Of course, Veciana related the now familiar story of seeing Oswald and Bishop together. While this got Fonzi’s attention, it didn’t help the plotters since Veciana was not claiming that Bishop was CIA. The rest of the first interview covered Veciana’s own conspiracy babblings regarding Howard Hughes, Jack Ruby, HL Hunt and Gerry Hemming but little else.

Another subject that Veciana covered extensively in that first interview was his drug arrest and it is apparent that this was one of his true motives in speaking to Fonzi. Veciana went on ad nauseum about his innocence and assured Fonzi that he could prove he was “setup.” All he needed was “eight or nine months” to work on his personal innocence project. Veciana gave Fonzi the false information that there was only one witness against him but there were four witnesses besides Veciana’s two co-conspirators who indicated his guilt. The point is, Veciana spent a great deal of time in this first session talking about everything under the sun. But he spent almost no time telling Fonzi anything that could implicate the CIA in the JFK assassination and take attention away from the Pentagon plotters, particularly regarding Bishop.

A chance for Veciana to redeem himself took place in June of 1976 when he spoke to journalist Dick Russell. But Veciana again ignored the plotters’ instructions and told Russell that Bishop was, “part of an American intelligence service, but instructed him not to ask which one.” Once again, Veciana had not only refused to implicate the CIA through Bishop, but also opened the door to the possibility that he was working with another intelligence service such as the Army’s.

In August of 1977, well over a year after those first interviews with Fonzi, Veciana had yet another chance to identify Bishop as CIA. Once again, he failed miserably to do the plotters’ bidding and actually made a point of forcefully denying that Bishop was with the agency. Veciana told Fonzi’s assistant Al Gonzales that he “never said that Bishop was CIA” but believed that he was with “some sort of intelligence agency or with a powerful interest group.” And Veciana’s reference of another intelligence agency again opened the door to potential scrutiny of the very agency he was supposed to protect-the Army. Predictably, such scrutiny did occur. We now know that the CIA’s Scott Breckinridge was referring to the Army when he told Robert Blakey, “you know Veciana was an asset of another US government agency and not of CIA.” Due to Fonzi’s bias, he never seriously followed-up on the Army intelligence angle but that was in spite of Veciana rather than because of him.

Veciana’s final opportunity to implicate the CIA under Fonzi’s tenure came during his 1978 HSCA testimony. Inevitably, Veciana once again stated, "I always had the opinion that Maurice Bishop was working for a private firm and not the government." Notably at this hearing, Veciana was given the chance to once and for all identify David Phillips as Bishop but refused to do so. Similarly, when Veciana had come face to face with Phillips two years before at the ARIO meeting in Reston, Virginia, Veciana said the CIA’s Phillips was not the ethereal Bishop. Despite having the ear of one of the keenest devotees of the CIA-did-it hypothesis, Veciana’s “misdirection” of the investigation from the Army to the CIA didn’t happen under Fonzi’s watch. When the HSCA report was published in 1979, Fonzi’s conclusion contained the following quote that summarizes the failure of Veciana’s “mission”:

… whether Veciana's contact was really named Maurice Bishop, or if he was, whether he did all of the things Veciana claims, and if so, with which U.S. intelligence agency he was associated, could not be determined. No corroboration was found for Veciana's alleged meeting with Lee Harvey Oswald.

As a postscript to my analysis of Newman’s theory, I add the following quote from a draft of his presentation:

I have also labored to show you how—for Veciana’s post-prison story to hold up all of these years—he had to superimpose that same false paradigm on one of the most unbelievable dramas of human history—the Cold War confrontation of 1962. Veciana’s role in that crisis is the biggest secret of his life.

Unbelievably, Newman thinks that Veciana was a key player in the Cuban Missile Crisis. To my knowledge, he is the only “historian” in possession of this belief. But that is a subject for another article.

In conclusion, John Newman believes that Veciana was ordered to run a “misdirection campaign” to both control the congressional investigations and take heat off the Pentagon-based murderers of JFK and place it on Langley. The most logical way for Veciana to accomplish this feat was to gain the ear of the credulous Gaeton Fonzi, who was very amenable to the idea of CIA complicity in the death of JFK. But while Veciana indeed told Fonzi about his mysterious mentor “Maurice Bishop,” he inexplicably refused to characterize Bishop as CIA in every relevant discussion of him between 1976 to 1979 when the “misdirection campaign” was supposedly at its peak. It wasn’t until years later that Veciana began to hint at CIA involvement and finally took that to the next stage in 2013 with his “identification” of Phillips.

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