25. “We Never Subordinated Ourselves to Them”

Title Quote: Juan Manuel Salvat Roque

Another facet of Phillips’ CIA career that has troubled critics is his alleged relationship with the Directorio Revolucionario Estudiantil (DRE) or, in English, the Student Revolutionary Directorate. This assemblage of headstrong anti-Castro students was best known for a notorious August 1962 raid on the Havana suburb of Miramar.

One of the most vocal critics of Phillips on this and other subjects is Jefferson Morley, a former editor for the Washington Post and author of Our Man in Mexico, a biography of CIA Mexico City Station Chief Winston Scott which he used partly as a vehicle to attack Phillips. Morley’s primary assertion regarding Phillips and the DRE is that the CIA man, in furtherance of an anti-Kennedy agenda, used the students as his own personal action group to conduct operations contrary to JFK’s foreign policy. In Morley’s words, the DRE was, “the stick that Phillips used to poke the White House.”1 Morley’s book is effective as a biography of Scott but his theory that Phillips could have been an assassination conspirator sometimes causes him to abandon restraint and resort to sheer speculation.

Before examining Morley’s specific criticism of Phillips as related to the DRE, it is useful to place his assertions into context by looking at the history of his involvement in JFK assassination research and his work as a CIA critic. The theme of a political action group controlled by the CIA to promote a right-wing agenda is not new to Morley. As far back as 1985, he authored an article titled “Confessions of a Contra” that endorsed just such a thesis.2 As of this writing, Morley is a frequent contributor for a blog called Deep States whose tagline is “Monitoring the World’s Intelligence Agencies.” Morley collected over $9000 on Kickstarter to fund this blog project.

In the nineties, Morley represented himself as a JFK assassination agnostic who leaned toward the theory that Oswald killed Kennedy. Morley reasonably said he was concerned about unreleased JFK files that could potentially shed light on the assassination controversy. As Morley himself put it, “This is not about conspiracy, this is about transparency.” Consequently, Morley and his like-minded attorney James Lesar have sued the CIA for the release of documents related to the JFK case and have successfully obtained many records. Morley has made good use of the released files having written five books as well as numerous articles published in journals and on the Internet that are at least peripherally related to the JFK case. He also runs a a blog devoted exclusively to the JFK assassination.

For years, Morley’s theory of the JFK case appeared to be that “the actions and lack of action by certain CIA officers contributed to the wrongful death of the president.” However, as of 2020 his conspiracy hypothesis has undergone a transformation and he now believes that the full release of CIA files will “lend credence” to Castro’s claim that a “Machiavellian plot” complete with a “false flag operation” was behind JFK’s death.3 Indeed, Morley now believes that “JFK’s enemies” somehow “made Oswald a patsy for their crime” using hidden schemes “like the AMSPELL [CIA cryptonym for the DRE] program.”4

To say Morley dislikes the CIA is an understatement. His newspaper articles over the years have featured titles such as “The Nasty Career of Dick Helms.” In 2015, he advertised an online course on the agency. One of the stated objectives of this scholarly exercise was to “learn how the agency has mounted secret operations to manipulate other societies in the name of U.S. foreign policy and national security.” Prospective students were also advised that the course would teach them how to “hold the CIA accountable” for their misdeeds.

The “textbook” for Morley’s academic endeavor was Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, a work that Morley called “magisterial.”5 However, some experts are less impressed with Weiner’s work. Nicholas Dujmovic, director of the Intelligence Studies Program at The Catholic University of America, said in a review that, “Weiner’s work will soon be replaced by that of a historian who has seriously attempted to get at more of the “whole truth” of intelligence, rather than carefully selected bits intended to highlight an interpretation.” Similarly, Jeffrey T. Richelson, a senior fellow with the National Security Archive in Washington, noted in 2007 that, “The numerous errors of omission and commission in Legacy of Ashes make it a profoundly tendentious and unreliable guide to the overall history of the CIA.”

Morley believes that the “possibility” exists that “one or more” of Winston Scott’s colleagues “was running an authorized and classified covert operation involving Oswald.” Morley has therefore focused his efforts primarily on three individuals—the high-profile duo of Phillips and Angleton and the lesser-known George Joannides who was the DRE’s second case officer.6 Morley suspects Phillips because he was known for the “cleverness and creativity” of his covert endeavors.7 Unfortunately, Morley seems to believe that the fact that there are redactions in Phillips' CIA records grants him the literary license to speculate about the CIA man's activities in furtherance of his anti-CIA agenda.8

What is the truth about Phillips and the DRE? Do Morley’s assertions about Phillips and the group stand up under scrutiny? Morley has consistently pushed the idea that Phillips was instrumental in the formation of the DRE and thereafter “ran” the group either personally or through intermediaries.

The original manifestation of the DRE was that of a student group organized in 1954 to fight against Batista.9 The idea for a reconstituted organization to counter Castro evolved during a February 1960 visit to Havana by USSR cabinet member Anastas Mikoyan. Shortly after Mikoyan laid a wreath at the statue of Cuban hero Jose Marti in Central Park, a group of students attempted to replace the wreath with one of their own. While Mikoyan’s wreath featured the Soviet hammer and sickle, the students' wreath reportedly included a ribbon with the inflammatory phrase, “vindication for the visit of the assassin Mikoyan.” Police intervened and a riot ensued resulting in the arrests of as many as eighteen students including Juan Manuel Salvat Roque and Alberto Muller Quintana, both of whom would be among the founders and leaders of the new group.10

In Our Man in Mexico, Morley writes that Phillips initiated contact with the students and gave them “money and advice.”11 But Morley admitted to author Vincent Bugliosi in 2005 that Phillips’ involvement with the students was minimal. Morley told Bugliosi that only one of the students, Isidro “Chilo” Borja, “acknowledged visiting Phillips’ office on Humboldt Street in Havana.” Morley conceded to Bugliosi that “Phillips did not recruit anyone into the DRE. They formed their group totally independent of him.” Morley also acknowledged that while he helped Borja and Salvat escape to the US, “it did not appear that Phillips had any direct contact with the DRE in Miami.”12

Morley’s assertion that Phillips assisted the DRE is based completely on his interviews with former members. Their statements may be true and it is certainly conceivable that Phillips would help these anti-Castro youths. But Phillips himself said of the DRE only that, “Some of them had been recruited for the [Bay of Pigs] invasion force on my recommendation.”13 But none of those who were recruited were the individuals that Morley claims Phillips assisted.14

Another factor weighs into the idea that Phillips’ involvement with the group in Cuba would have been minimal. Phillips was busy in February of 1960 preparing for his new job on the Bay of Pigs project and would have had little time to devote to the students. For example, a CIA document shows that Phillips was at the Roger Smith Hotel in DC for pre-employment interviews on February 12th, just a week after the students' demonstration in Havana. And no later than March 14th, Phillips had left the island permanently.

While Morley’s assertion that Phillips initially helped the DRE is reasonable, many of his other statements about Phillips’ alleged relationship with the student group are weakly supported or incorrect. Morley writes that the DRE was Phillips’ “baby” and that he “arranged” for funding of the group. While Phillips could have brought the students to the attention of the CIA hierarchy, he could hardly have arranged for funding completely on his own. Another chestnut used by Morley and other theorists is a statement by former CIA operative E. Howard Hunt. “The DRE. Dave Phillips ran that for us,” Hunt maintained.15 Hunt’s assertion brings up the subject of just who was “running” the DRE and what the definition of “running” is.

When Salvat and several other DRE members arrived in Miami around September of 1960, they were greeted, not by David Phillips, but by CIA operatives William Kent and Ross Crozier.16 Kent was the head of the psychological warfare section of the Miami JMWAVE station and was involved with the DRE since propaganda was an important function of the students. In his book Give Us This Day, Hunt confirmed Kent’s association with the group, writing that the youngsters were “going full blast” under his leadership.17 An HSCA interview with Phillips also outlines Kent’s responsibilities regarding the DRE. Phillips said:

Kent reported to my shop in Washington. He had day to day contact with the groups we were supporting down there [Miami], the student group [DRE] and the doctors or whatever, and the people involved in Radio Swan …

CIA documents offer additional insight into the group’s founding. The DRE leadership had “a series of meetings” with Kent and Crozier after which the DRE was “conceived and approved by headquarters as a [JM]WAVE unilateral asset …” one document notes. Crozier would become the group’s first case officer and the organization would operate out of Miami’s JMWAVE station. Crozier’s recollections jibe nicely with other information about the group’s creation. “I formed it [the DRE],” he told Fonzi and Gonzales, with the express idea that … the agency could pick it up.” Crozier also confirmed the general timeframe of the group’s initial activities saying that he was assigned to JMWAVE in September and the DRE was created around November.18

So, who was “running” the DRE? As mentioned, Crozier was the case officer responsible for day-to-day contact with the group through 1962. Crozier told Fonzi and Gonzales that he reported to JMWAVE station chief Ted Shackley whose boss was William Harvey, head of Task Force W.19 Additionally, CIA documents reveal just who at the CIA was doing what regarding the DRE. On August 17, 1962, one of a series of important meetings was held at JMWAVE regarding control problems with the headstrong students. Present for the meeting was David Morales who represented the AMHINT section of the DRE. The AMHINTs included the leadership of the DRE and were tasked with “paramilitary and infiltration operations” according to the Mary Ferrell Foundation. Also present at the meeting was Crozier who indeed represented the DRE under their CIA cryptonym AMSPELL. Acting on behalf of AMBARB, a propaganda project focusing on Latin American universities, was an agent codenamed Nelander whose identity is unknown as of this writing.20

The same document describes another meeting discussing the DRE problem. Supervising this get-together was JMWAVE chief Ted Shackley with Crozier, Morales and the mysterious Nelander attending along with Kent. But Phillips, who Morley believes oversaw the DRE, was nowhere to be found at these key meetings. In fact, in September of 1961, Phillips had been promoted to Cuba Operations Officer and was working under Win Scott in Mexico City.21 Logic dictates that given Phillips’ new Mexico assignment and his absence at key meetings, Crozier, Kent, Morales, Shackley and “Nelander” were the individuals primarily involved in “running” the DRE through 1962.

As noted, the DRE are probably best remembered for their attack on Cuba. While the daring raid created world headlines for the students, it accomplished little else beyond making JFK angry at the unauthorized assault. But Morley believes that this was exactly what Phillips, who he says “made the whole incident possible,” wanted to achieve. Similarly, Morley makes a few more inflated and unsupported claims. “JFK did not know that the headlines of the day had been orchestrated by [Phillips]," Morley writes. Morley also claimed that “Phillips had recruited, funded, managed, and sustained the DRE as an instrument for the purposes of advancing the U.S. policy of getting rid of Castro … a faction in Kennedy’s administration … was serious about taking violent and subversive action against the communist regime above and beyond what the White House wanted.”22

But despite Morley’s hyperbolic rhetoric, it is a fact that the attack on the Cuban suburb was the students' idea and he knows it. “The DRE students would later say in interviews,” Morley acknowledged, “that the idea for striking the hotel was theirs alone ….”23 This fact is verified by statements of CIA principals. Ross Crozier told Fonzi and Gonzales that he was caught flat-footed by the surprise attack. “[I] didn’t know about the operation until after it was all over,” he confirmed. Crozier also admitted that he “caught hell” from his superiors for the students' unauthorized action.24

Indeed, the CIA upper echelons were extremely concerned about the “independent” action taken by the DRE. “It would be no overstatement to say,” a CIA report noted, “that this exile group could sink a Soviet vessel and force [the US government] to the brink of war.” The report concluded that “[the DRE] must be submitted to a profound and firm reappraisal.” That “reappraisal” took the form of the series of meetings described above between Shackley, Crozier, Kent, Morales and the unidentified Nelander. Crozier was ultimately replaced as the group’s case officer at least in part because of this debacle.

The bottom line is that Morley’s statements and insinuations that Phillips was running his own private intelligence operation through the DRE are baseless. The DRE was managed out of the Miami JMWAVE station by case officer Crozier working with Kent, Shackley, Morales and one other unknown officer. The headstrong students had their own ideas and did not need Phillips or anyone else to tell them what to do. Phillips would never have dared to attempt such a fruitless exercise as the Miramar attack since it was obvious that such an operation could have been traced back to him. Indeed, when the students' actions became known by JFK, it was not Phillips who “caught hell” for their misadventures but rather their case officer Ross Crozier who was taken off the project and eventually fired.25

One other contention by Morley regarding the DRE does not relate specifically to Phillips but to George Joannides and is included here in the interest of completeness. This allegation is related to Lee Harvey Oswald’s encounter with DRE representative Carlos Bringuier in New Orleans that occurred in August of 1963.26 Oswald attempted to infiltrate Bringuier’s organization apparently to enhance his pro-Castro resume in hopes of acquiring a visa to go to Cuba. A few days later, Bringuier learned that Oswald was passing out pro-Castro leaflets and confronted him. A scuffle resulted and Oswald and Bringuier were arrested.27

After the assassination José Antonio Lanuza, who was the coordinator of the DRE’s North American chapters, remembered a report on Oswald’s activities with the DRE that Bringuier had filed and brought it to the attention of the group’s leaders. The day after the murder, the DRE publication Trenches (Trinchera) reported that the “presumed assassins” were Oswald and Castro.28

Morley has called this event “the first JFK conspiracy theory” and says, “it was paid for by undercover officer George Joannides,” implying that the DRE had been ordered to run the story. In his 2016 eBook, Morley went even further claiming that “Joannides authorized the DRE to go public with their world-historic scoop….” Morley’s “proof” for this assertion comes from a statement by Luis Fernandez Rocha who obliquely said “I remember we tried, of course, to implicate Cuba and Castro and all this was public (emphasis added) … Did [Joannides] encourage us to do that? I do not recall, one way or the other.”29

However, José Lanuza did recall exactly what happened regarding the Trenches story and told the HSCA about it in detail. Lanuza’s recollections should be given more weight since his story was recorded in 1978—many years before Morley interviewed the DRE leaders. Upon reading the Bringuier report, the DRE leadership conferred and a call was made to Joannides. The group’s handler advised the students not to do anything until he had spoken to headquarters. But by the time Joannides had called back to tell the group to hold what they had for the FBI to pick up, Lanuza, anxious to disclose Oswald’s connection with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC), had already contacted the New York Times and Miami News and the Trenches story soon followed.30

Thus, Morley’s implication that Joannides and the CIA paid the DRE specifically to run the story is baseless. In all matters, the DRE had its own mind and this intransigence led to the eventual defunding of the group by the agency. Indeed, even Morley admits in his Scott biography that the DRE leaders “did not take orders” from the agency.31 “We worked with the CIA,” DRE firebrand Salvat remembered, “We never subordinated ourselves to them.”32

One final allegation regarding Phillips and post-assassination “disinformation” needs to be addressed. This one comes not from Morley but from former HSCA investigator Dan Hardway who maintains that “[news] stories that appeared in the immediate aftermath of the assassination tying LHO to Castro or the Fair Play for Cuba Committee” were the work of “agents or assets” of Phillips. Hardway also says that when Phillips was questioned regarding this matter he became “agitated” but was nevertheless forced to admit that he had managed these individuals in the late fifties or early sixties or, in some instances, was using them in the fall of 1963.

The problem is, Hardway has never produced even one of the names of the assets in question. However, researcher Paul Bleau says (without documentary evidence) that five of the assets were Luis Conte Aguero, Herminio Portell Vila, Angel Fernandez Varela, Nestor Carbonel and Eduardo Barrel Novarros and that four of these were controlled by Phillips. While some of these men were probably used as assets by Phillips, it is very unlikely that any of them needed his direction or encouragement to produce anti-Castro stories. For example, Conte Aguero was a well-known critic of the Castro regime who had been sentenced to death after breaking with the dictator. Portell Vila worked for Voice of America and wrote extensively about Castro while Varela was a teacher who worked for the CIA against Fidel. Note also that any “disinformation” these assets produced was almost certainly opportunistic and not indicative of foreknowledge of the assassination by them or the CIA.


1. Morley, Our Man in Mexico, 128.
2. Morley, Morley V. CIA, 10.
3. Morley, Morley V. CIA, 60.
4. Morley, Morley V. CIA, 58.
5. Syllabus for “The Central Intelligence Agency 1947 to Today.”
6. Responding to Morley’s suggestion that Angleton was a part of a plot to kill JFK, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and intelligence expert Thomas Powers wrote, “[Morley] forfeits all claim to be taken seriously as a historian” (London Review of Books, July 19, 2018).
7. Morley, Our Man in Mexico, Preface to the Electronic Edition.
8. Morley writes that "if Oswald was guilty as charged, then one is left no choice but to conclude that the actions and lack of action by certain CIA officers contributed to the wrongful death of the president." According to Morley, these "certain officers" included Helms, Angleton, Tom Karamessines, Bill Hood, Jane Roman, Ann Egerter, David Phillips, and George Joannides. Morley defends his suspicion of these old school CIA employees by saying that they “are now dead, so they are not being libeled” (Morley, Our Man in Mexico, Preface to the Electronic Edition). This may be true, but what about the effect that such unproven assertions have on the living family members of those CIA people?
9. Talbot, Brothers, 177. In CIA documents, this predecessor of the DRE was referred to as the Directorio Revolucionario or DR (104-10171-10334, Attachment A).
10. Chesly Manly. “Castro Men Crush Rally of Anti-Reds.” Chicago Tribune, February 6, 1960, 1; Jay Mallin. “Mikoyan Hurt Cuban Reds.” The Miami News, February 18, 1960, 7.
11. Morley, Our Man in Mexico, 128.
12. Bugliosi, Reclaiming History Endnotes, 687-688. Theorists have sometimes claimed that Phillips was the DRE’s first case officer. Their source for this statement (when one is offered) is Bayard Stockton’s Flawed Patriot (210). But Stockton provides no citation for this claim and there is no documentary evidence that Phillips ever served as the group’s case officer.
13. Phillips, The Night Watch, 93.
14. Bugliosi, Reclaiming History Endnotes, 687-688.
15. HSCA Testimony of E. Howard Hunt, November 3, 1978, 29. RIF 180-10131-10342.
16. CIA Report on Juan Manuel Salvat, April 8, 1962, 2. RIF 104-10181-10325; 104-10171-10334. AMSPELL Progress Report, August 14, 1962. RIF 104-10171-10334, 8 (MFF). Kent and Crozier used the aliases “Douglas Gupton” and “Roger Fox.”
17. Hunt, Give Us This Day, 85. Note that Hunt, who was working on a provisional government for Cuba in the event the Bay of Pigs invasion succeeded, had no official dealings with the DRE himself. Therefore, his statement that Phillips “ran” the DRE was probably based on the fact that William Kent, who for a time reported to Phillips, worked with the group.
18. HSCA interview of Ross Crozier, January 13, 1978, 3. RIF 180-10106-10028.
19. HSCA interview of Ross Crozier, January 13, 1978, 3. RIF 180-10106-10028.
20. AMSPELL Progress Report for August 1969 (sic), September 14, 1962, 4 (MFF). 104-10171-10041. Note that Kent could not be Nelander since the latter originated a cable that Kent authenticated (https://www.maryferrell.org/php/pseudodb.php?id=NELANDER_ROBERT). Nor is Phillips a candidate to be Nelander since that was not one of his registered pseudonyms.
21. Phillips did “periodically” show up at JMWAVE but Bradley Ayers said he was a “minor character” there (ARRB Memo from Christopher Barger to Jeremy Gunn, May 18, 1995).
22. Morley, Our Man in Mexico, 132, 142.
23. Morley, Our Man in Mexico, 131.
24. HSCA interview of Ross Crozier, January 13, 1978, 6. RIF 180-10106-10028.
25. Researcher Paul Bleau has produced a PDF document titled “David Atlee Phillips’ links to the assassination.” One of these “links” is to the DRE who Bleau says Phillips was “responsible” for. This is probably based solely on Hunt’s assertion that Phillips “ran” the DRE.
26. Researcher Paul Bleau writes that Bringuier was a “Phillips-linked” contact (“Oswald’s Intelligence Connections: How Richard Schweiker Clashes with Fake History”). But there is absolutely no evidence tying Phillips to Bringuier.
27. Bugliosi, Reclaiming History, 719-722. Researcher Paul Bleau has produced a PDF document (see footnote 25) titled “David Atlee Phillips’ links to the assassination.” A few of the “links” use a theory of propinquity that would make Jim Garrison proud. After the scuffle with Bringuier, Oswald was arrested and fined $10. In the courthouse was Frank Bartes, a friend of Bringuier. According to Bleau, Bartes was an FBI informant as was Oswald. Thus, Oswald, Bringuier and Bartes are connected and they in turn connect to Phillips because he “ran” the DRE. Also in the mix is Warren de Brueys who Bleau believes was the FBI man that Oswald and Bartes reported to and that Phillips knew because he monitored the FPCC.
28. Bugliosi, Reclaiming History Endnotes, 680.
29. Morley, CIA & JFK: The Secret Assassination Files, Chapter 5.
30. Bugliosi, Reclaiming History Endnotes, 680.
31. Morley, Our Man in Mexico, 175.
32. Bugliosi, Reclaiming History Endnotes, 681.


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