19. “No, He’s Not Him”

Title Quote: Antonio Veciana

In furtherance of his dogged pursuit of Maurice Bishop, Fonzi decided to conduct an unauthorized experiment by bringing Veciana and his chief suspect Phillips together to gauge the reaction of both men. On Friday morning, September 17, 1976,1 Phillips received a call from Schweiker staffer Sarah Lewis2 who asked if three members of the Senator’s staff would be able to attend an AFIO convention event scheduled for later that day at the Sheraton Inn and Conference Center in Reston, Virginia.3 The unsuspecting Phillips told Lewis that he would be delighted to have Schweiker’s people attend the luncheon, although he was somewhat puzzled by the Senator’s interest in his organization.4

The AFIO convention, their second annual gathering, was attended by 250 former members of the intelligence community.5 President Gerald Ford sent a written message expressing his “deep appreciation” for the critical information supplied by US Intelligence. Director of Central Intelligence George Bush was the featured speaker on Thursday and told the crowd that Congress was beginning to see its job as strengthening US intelligence rather than “ferreting out corruption.” Friday’s keynote address was given by Samuel Wilson, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. In a speech that drew a standing ovation (and was praised even by Fonzi), Wilson told the AFIO members “you have my utter respect for the contributions you have made in your lifetime and continue to make today.”6

According to Fonzi’s account of the incident, he, Veciana and Lewis were escorted to Phillips’ table, where Fonzi introduced Veciana to Phillips by name and waited for his response. When confronted with the man whom he allegedly managed on behalf of the CIA for over a decade and plotted with to assassinate Fidel Castro, Phillips showed no discernable reaction. As Fonzi recalled in his book, “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 Veciana so quickly—in the flash of a brief handshake—that it was almost as if Veciana was a nonentity” (emphasis added).7

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 uncomfortable. Over the years, theorists have repeatedly cited this nervousness as proof he was hiding something. However, Fonzi himself offered the obvious explanation for this unease in an HSCA memo. “… 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.”8 Since Phillips was unsure why Fonzi and his party had attended the event in the first place, he may have suspected something out of the ordinary was going on. This would logically have added to any wariness he may have shown.

At one point during the keynote speech, Fonzi asked Veciana if Phillips was Bishop. Veciana unambiguously stated, “No. It is not him” marking his second denial that Phillips was Bishop.9 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 regarding and Fonzi replied the JFK assassination, Phillips reasonably stated he would be “glad to talk with any Congressman or representative of Congress … in Congress.”

Veciana then asked Phillips a few questions in Spanish including if he knew Julio Lobo or Rufo López-Fresquet. Phillips admitted that he knew those men but did not remember Veciana himself.10 Interestingly, two years later before the HSCA, Veciana said nothing about speaking to Phillips in the hallway, so the confrontation that Fonzi believed was so memorable did not impart a similar impression on Veciana.11 After the conference as Fonzi and Veciana left the building, Fonzi again asked Veciana if Phillips was Bishop. “No, he’s not him” Veciana replied, the third time he had issued that denial.12

Theorists make much of the fact that Phillips said he did not remember Veciana despite his role in Alpha 66 and the resulting publicity. But CIA veteran Ross Crozier did not find this unusual. “That’s conceivable” Crozier told researcher Gerald McNally in 1999. “I didn't know the names of [Alpha 66’s] prominent personalities … and I was right inside JM/WAVE,” Crozier added. Of course, time and the fact that the agency had almost nothing to do with Alpha 66 could have played a factor in Phillips’ lack of memory. For example, Phillips’ subordinate William Kent told Fonzi and Hardway that he “had never heard of” Alpha 66 when they interviewed him in 1978. Another CIA veteran who did not know Veciana was Guy Vitale, who worked on the Bay of Pigs. Of course, the possibility exists that Phillips may have actually remembered Veciana by reputation but simply refused to play along with Fonzi after realizing that he was being ambushed.

Phillips’ version of the meeting with Fonzi and Veciana contains some important differences. Phillips told the HSCA that he received a call from Schweiker’s office asking if three “representatives” from that office could join him at the AFIO conference and he agreed. Phillips said that the three were Fonzi, a woman whose name he could not recall (undoubtedly Sarah Lewis), and a man introduced only as “the driver.” The claim by Phillips that Veciana was initially introduced as “the driver” makes sense considering Fonzi’s desire to ambush Phillips with Veciana’s appearance.

After lunch, according to Phillips, Fonzi asked him if he would answer some questions about the JFK case. Phillips wondered how long it would take and Fonzi replied, “a couple of hours.” Phillips, who was busy running the conference, said that it was inconvenient for him to do so at the time. But he did “step into the hall” where he spoke to Veciana, who was now identified as a Schweiker staff member, in Spanish.13 Phillips could not recall specifics of his conversation with Veciana, but he believed it involved the JFK assassination. After the trio left, Phillips called Schweiker’s office and asked if the man he had spoken to was a staff member and they said he was which, of course, would be untrue. Phillips subsequently determined Veciana’s identity from media reports.14

Phillips elaborated on his conversation with Fonzi and Veciana in a 1980 television appearance on the show Panorama where he debated Anthony Summers. “… I’m called out of a busy conversation,” Phillips remembered, “… and hit with the news that a man who’s just been introduced to me as a chauffeur is really a staff investigator and wants to ask me questions.” Phillips continued, “… at one point, I certainly was introduced to [Veciana] by name … but I know the circumstances of how I was [initially] introduced. He came to a convention I was running and sat at the table, having been introduced as the driver.”15

Indeed, the initial characterization of Veciana as “the driver” reported by Phillips is a key difference between the versions of the stories told by him and Fonzi.16 It should be noted that Fonzi said Phillips behaved as if Veciana were a “nonentity.” But if, as the evidence shows, Phillips did not know Veciana, why would he take any special notice of him? This would be even more true if he were introduced as “the driver” as Phillips adamantly maintained. It should also be mentioned that since Fonzi did not speak Spanish fluently,17 the bulk of the account of the conversation between Veciana and Phillips would have been provided to Fonzi by Veciana. After the confrontation, even the credulous Fonzi’s belief in the Phillips-as-Bishop scenario was shaken, at least for a fleeting moment. In an HSCA memo written right after the AFIO conference he said “… for the first time, I have some doubts about Veciana’s credibility when it comes to Phillips.”18

Fonzi and his supporters make a great deal of the fact that they believe Phillips committed perjury during his HSCA testimony when he recounted the Reston confrontation. Fonzi later wrote in his book that he wanted to spring to his feet and exclaim that Phillips was lying when he testified that Veciana was introduced only as “the driver.” But HSCA chief counsel G. Robert Blakey surely understood that it was Fonzi and Veciana’s word against Phillips’ and wisely refused to consider wasting the committee’s limited resources on such a pointless exercise. After all, others who were at the table or within earshot, including Phillips’ wife and a journalist who Fonzi believed was sympathetic to the agency, would have undoubtedly backed Phillips’ version of events.

According to Fonzi, immediately following the Reston incident, Veciana was reluctant to discuss it in detail. This reticence on Veciana’s part may have been because he sensed Fonzi’s disappointment at his refusal to identify Phillips as Bishop. Alternatively, it might have been caused by his astonishment that Fonzi continued to cling to the Phillips-as-Bishop scenario even after his repeated denials. Veciana had likely hoped that Fonzi would take a more active interest in his drug conviction “set up” and pay less attention to Bishop. But Veciana also knew that he had to appease Fonzi in his search for the nonexistent mentor. To that end, Veciana teased Fonzi with tidbits of information including the “fact” that although Phillips was not Bishop, the CIA man “knew” who Bishop was.19

Significantly, Veciana was at that moment engaged in an audacious scheme that he hoped would “confirm” once and for all his association with Bishop.

On April 8th and 11th 1977, Veciana’s friend Felix Zabala met with agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in San Juan Puerto Rico.20 Zabala told the FBI men that he had been a member of Alpha 66 from 1961 to 1966 but was currently not involved with militant anti-Castro groups. Zabala told the agents that Veciana was his best friend, the godfather of his son and “like his own brother.” In addition to their friendship, Zabala and Veciana were business partners in various promotions including a Chinese circus.

Following a discussion of Zabala’s family members, means of support and travel outside the US, the conversation took on an ominous tone when the agents read Zabala his rights. The bureau men warned Zabala, who was on federal probation, that any dishonesty on his part would constitute a violation. At that point, the relieved Zabala realized he would have to come clean and maintained that he had “waited for a long time” for the chance to tell “everything.” Insisting that only he and Veciana were aware of the details, Zabala proceeded to relate a version of the Maurice Bishop tale with a new twist.

Zabala said that Veciana recently had “problems” with a US government committee looking into the JFK killing. He added that “approximately one month” before JFK was shot, Veciana and Lee Harvey Oswald met with a “Mr. Bishop” who Zabala believed was with the CIA. Bishop also worked with Veciana and Zabala on the 1971 Castro assassination plot although the latter had never seen or met Bishop. Zabala only knew what Veciana told him about the ethereal mentor. Zabala went on to relate details of that scheme which included two other men and a Chilean official who provided documents for the plotters. The conspiracy ultimately failed when two of the plotters lost their nerve. Zabala then told the agents about a matter that was of “the utmost importance” to Veciana.

Zabala said that Veciana approached him in September of 1976 and explained that he had been called to testify before the Congressional committee investigating the assassination of Kennedy. Zabala went on to say that “for an unexplained reason” Veciana “needed to publicly establish himself as a former CIA operative” (emphasis added). Toward that end, Veciana developed a scheme involving a phony letter to be sent to Fidel Castro. The letter, prepared by Veciana, contained information concerning his “connection” to the CIA through Bishop and his involvement in the 1971 Castro assassination attempt.

According to Zabala, the letter was transmitted to Castro on or about September 11, 1976, by his sister Amalia who was married to a well-placed Cuban physician. Veciana signed the letter with the name “Margarita” which was the nickname of his former secretary Delores Hilda Cao of Puerto Rico. The letter inferred that Cao’s motive for providing the potentially damaging information on Veciana was that she had grown dissatisfied with him due to his publicity-seeking before the government committee. Veciana fully expected that upon receipt of the letter the hot-headed Castro would take to Radio Havana and unwittingly “confirm” Veciana’s Maurice Bishop story and his bona fides as a CIA agent through a public denunciation.

While Zabala may have been puzzled by Veciana’s desire to “publicly establish himself as a former CIA operative” the reason for the ruse is obvious. Veciana was tiring of the game he was playing with Fonzi and looking for a way to “verify” his Maurice Bishop allegations without having to finger David Phillips or anyone else as the non-existent mentor. The letter to Castro, sent just days before the ambush of Phillips in Reston, would do just that if all went according to plan. In fact, Veciana was likely hoping to avoid the confrontation with Phillips altogether.

Unfortunately for Veciana and Zabala, the Castro letter did not elicit the response that they had hoped and the broadcast by Castro was never made. Later, Zabala received a call from his sister Amalia who asked to meet with him in Jamaica. On October 28th, Zabala met with his sister in Kingston and registered at the Sheraton Hotel. Zabala then met an individual named Carlos who stated he was with Cuban Intelligence and the three went to a hotel in another location. There, Zabala was questioned by Carlos and another man named Juan Carbonell who was described as the vice-counsel of the Cuban embassy in Kingston. At a subsequent meeting in Jamaica, an individual referred to as “the General” joined the other inquisitors. By April of 1977, the FBI became aware of at least some of Zabala’s activities and after he was confronted, he agreed to become a double agent for the Bureau. Zabala’s association with the FBI would eventually produce additional revelations regarding his friend Veciana.

The Bishop Hoax Table of Contents


Notes

1. HSCA Executive Session Testimony of David Atlee Phillips, April 25, 1978, 86. RIF 180-10110-10016. The Reston incident occurred on Friday the 17th. This fact is confirmed by a memo from Gaeton Fonzi to Troy Gustavson (RIF 180-10103-10396) dated September 20 that refers to the events occurring on the previous Friday. Phillips also said the incident happened on Friday but mistakenly thought that Friday was the 18th.
2. Fonzi, The Last Investigation, 164.
3. Three members: HSCA Executive Session Testimony of David Atlee Phillips, April 25, 1978, 86. RIF 180-10110-10016; Location of luncheon: Jean M. White “Intelligence Gathering: Insiders Meet on the Outside.” The Washington Post, September 18, 1976, 1.
4. Fonzi, The Last Investigation, 165.
5. It is interesting to note that Veciana was unable to identify not only Phillips, but anyone in the large crowd of intelligence officers from the various services as the ethereal Bishop.
6. AFIO Periscope, Vol. II no. 4, 1976.
7. Fonzi, The Last Investigation, 166.
8. Memo from Gaeton Fonzi to Troy Gustavson, September 20, 1976, RIF 180-10103-10396.
9. Fonzi, The Last Investigation, 167.
10. It is doubtful that the relationship of Phillips and López-Fresquet went beyond that of mere acquaintances. For his part, López-Fresquet did not remember meeting Phillips at all (Transcript of HSCA Interview with Rufo López-Fresquet, May 19, 1977, 19. RIF 180-10086-10456). Regarding the former Castro cabinet member, Phillips told investigators, “… I met him at some parties. I didn’t have any personal relationship with him myself and never used him [as an asset]” (HSCA Executive Session Testimony of David Atlee Phillips, April 25, 1978, 80. RIF 180-10110-10016).
11. HSCA Executive Session testimony of Antonio Veciana, April 26, 1978, 69. RIF 180-10118-10145. Veciana only said that he may have spoken to Phillips when they were seated during the luncheon.
12. Fonzi, The Last Investigation, 167-169.
13. Fonzi claims that Phillips asked if Veciana was a Schweiker staff member during the hallway conversation (Fonzi, “Who Killed JFK,” 195) and he replied in the negative which is one of several differences in the story of the confrontation as told by Fonzi and Phillips.
14. HSCA Executive Session Testimony of David Atlee Phillips, April 25, 1978, 86-87. RIF 180-10110-10016. The fact that Phillips called Schweiker’s office to confront them about Veciana’s identity is a strong indication that he did not know him.
15. Transcript of Panorama, WTTG-TV, June 20, 1980, 12.
16. According to David’s nephew Shawn, David also told his brother James about “the driver” (Newsgroup post by Gary Buell, January 21, 2004).
17. According to Fonzi’s wife Marie, although Gaeton studied Spanish in college, he only had an elementary grasp of the language (2014 AARC video, “Dr. Marie Fonzi—On the Home Front”).
18. Memo from Gaeton Fonzi to Troy Gustavson, September 20, 1976, RIF 180-10103-10396.
19. Fonzi, The Last Investigation, 170.
20. CIA Compilation of FBI Reports on Zabala, April 8, 1977. RIF 104-10102-10198. Unless otherwise indicated, all information in this section is taken from this document.

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