Max Good is the documentarian behind the new project The Assassination and Mrs. Paine, a film that takes one of the major characters in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and puts her in front of the camera. Good, who has an MFA from Stanford University in documentary film and previously made the film Vigilante Vigilante, agreed to speak with me after his project was brought to my attention by Vincent Salandria.
For the uninitiated, Ruth and Michael Paine were the people who allowed Marina Oswald to stay in their home in Irving while Lee Harvey Oswald lived in Dallas at 1026 N Beckley. (Note: I was able to go inside the Paine home and snap some photos while they were restoring the property for use as a museum.) Lone nut-theorists see Mrs. Paine as one of the most important witnesses in the case, and her garage as the repository of the famous Minox camera that allegedly took some very compromising photos of Oswald. For others, Mrs. Paine’s rather unusual high-level connections, as well as a garage that had an odd habit of producing evidence just when the authorities needed it, seem suspicious.
Max kindly agreed to answer a few projects about his ongoing project, which is at Kickstarter now but only until April 22, 2017.
JOE GREEN: Can you say how you managed to get Ruth Paine on camera?
MAX GOOD: I first approached Ruth with the idea of making a film in 2013. At the time, I was a graduate student in the documentary MFA program at Stanford. She asked me if I was familiar with the Edwin Walker shooting and I explained that I was. This is usually the first thing she asks anyone who wants to interview her. I think it helped that I was a student at the time. I told her that I wanted tell her story and explore some of the suspicions that had been aimed at her and Michael. The film was a chance for her respond to some of the harsh accusations out there. I tried to go into the project as open-minded as possible and eventually she agreed to participate.
How familiar are you with the assassination literature? How did you get started in reading the literature?
I’m 38 and I probably read my first JFK book about ten years ago. The first book was Peter Dale Scott’s Deep Politics and the Death of JFK, which is a great book but probably not the best for a beginner. [Author’s note: Agreed, on both counts.] The second book was E. Martin Schotz’s History Will Not Absolve Us, which I highly recommend to people just starting to learn about this issue. I’ve probably read about ten books total—which is not much compared to many serious students of the assassination. I’ve tried to make myself familiar with the writings of those who argue against conspiracy as well. As the best researchers know, critical thinking involves the consideration of multiple perspectives and the willingness to reexamine your positions. There is a lot of suspect material out there, on both sides.
Can you talk a bit about some of the interesting connections Mrs. Paine has to the military-industrial-intelligence complex?
I first read about the curious connections between the Paines and the intelligence world in James Douglass’ JFK and the Unspeakable. Later, I also read various things online. It wasn’t until I started working on the film, that I was actually able to start digging up some of the primary documents. According to this declassified document, Ruth’s’ sister, Sylvia Hyde Hoke, was identified as an employee of CIA. Her father, William Avery Hyde, was considered for a CIA assignment in Vietnam in 1957, but not used, according to this document. Michael Paine’s family also has some interesting connections to Allen Dulles through his mother. You can read more about the Paines in Jim DiEugenio’s Destiny Betrayed and George Michael Evica’s A Certain Arrogance.
Has she seen the film? If so, did she render an opinion?
The film isn’t done, so she hasn’t seen it. The first thing she saw was the Kickstarter campaign and trailer. She said it was “somewhat distressing.” I don’t intend the film to be hurtful towards Ruth and I would like to keep a dialog open.
Vincent Salandria, a legend among researchers, has not often participated in these films. How did you approach him?
I exchanged a few emails with Martin Schotz back in 2006, after reading his book. He brought Vince Salandria into the conversation and I very much appreciated their insightful analysis of the case. I hadn’t spoken to them in years, but when I started working on the film, they were among the first experts I reached out to.
Speaking of Marty's History Will Not Absolve Us, this is also one of my favorites along with False Mystery, although you do not often see discussion of it in the research community. What attracts you about the book? Is there value in trying to see the psychological motives behind the big picture of the assassination and foreign policy?
The psychological and philosophical aspects of the case are more interesting to me than anything else. I think I first heard about Martin Schotz's book from Mark Robinowitz’s Oil Empire website. Marty’s analysis cuts to the heart of the issue and explains how all the great research has had so little impact on the wider society. Like many others, I’ve spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with the evidence. But I also feel that some of that energy is channeled towards a never-ending search for the final answer, the smoking gun. The fact is that mountains of evidence have already been uncovered. Perhaps the continuing search can be a form of distraction and denial. This is related to Vince Salandria’s idea of a “false mystery.” Here’s a great quote:
"One of the primary means of immobilizing the American people politically today is to hold them in a state of confusion in which anything can be believed and nothing can be known… nothing of significance, that is."
-- E. Martin Schotz, History Will Not Absolve Us: Orwellian Control, Public Denial, and the Murder of President Kennedy
That was also a favorite quote of John Judge.
How did you get your start as a filmmaker?
I wanted to make films from the time I was in college, but I always felt like it was too tough to break into. I worked on a documentary with some friends about underground bicycle gangs, B.I.K.E. (2006), and on the Academy Award-nominated The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg & the Pentagon Papers (2009). But it wasn’t until I finished my own feature documentary, Vigilante Vigilante: The Battle for Expression (2011), that I really felt like I could be a filmmaker. That film was on Netflix and got great reviews, but I was still broke after making it. I went back to grad school for documentary at 35 so I could get the skills and credentials to continue making more films. It’s still tough to make it as an independent documentary filmmaker and I work freelance editing and shooting to survive.
Obviously you don't believe that this is all ancient history, or there was no reason to make the film. What connects 11/22/1963 to now?
This is something that people unfamiliar with the JFK assassination often wonder—what’s the appeal, what’s the point of spending so much time on this in 2017? Inherent in the question is an assumption that we will never know the truth, that it’s already been settled, or that it doesn’t matter either way. People who have studied the history understand that there is a direct line through the Cold War and the JFK assassination through the Vietnam War and on to the War on Terror and our current situation. If it’s true that we had a silent and successful coup in 1963, we are obviously not living in the democracy that we claim to be. The fact that so much amazing research deconstructing the “official story” has been ignored and marginalized says a lot about the state of the media in this country.
How did you select the other figures who are interviewed in the film? It runs the gamut from Jim, Salandria, Schotz, Dr. Gary Aguilar, [who also appeared in The Men Who Killed Kennedy and Randy Benson's The Searchers] and Bill Simpich, to Priscilla Johnson MacMillan. How did that come about?
I reached out to many people for interviews. John Judge was one of the first people I contacted, but he passed away before I started filming. Thomas Mallon declined an interview. I tried to reach Gerald Posner but could never get ahold of him. I wanted to include both sides of the debate (on the Paines and the assassination). I guess it’s ironic that the two authors (Max Holland and Priscilla McMillan) I got who are on the side of the “official story” have been linked to the CIA. If any non-CIA linked experts want to come forward to represent the “lone-nut” position, I would be happy to interview them. [Author’s note: I would love to hear from this, I suspect imaginary, person as well.]
Assuming you get the finishing funds, do you have a plan for what comes next? Do you know what that finished film will look like in terms of its basic shape?
If I’m able to raise the $25K on Kickstarter, I will be hiring an editor and working alongside them to finish the film within the next year. The film will be 60-90 minutes and will interweave Ruth’s first hand story with the opposing voices from the conspiracy and anti-conspiracy camps. As the film progresses, it will go deeper into the various suspicions and evidence surrounding the Paines. I have some new leads and witnesses that have never spoken publicly before.
Has making this film changed any of your ideas about history? Has it caused you to reflect on any other historical "truths" in our society?
I was familiar with most of this stuff before starting the film, so I wouldn’t say it has changed my mind. We live in an empire that is starting to show some cracks. A lot of myths go into maintaining an empire.
Trained to Kill by Antonio Veciana with Carlos Harrison
by Joseph E. Green
In September of 1979, Antonio Veciana was driving in Miami when an unknown assailant began shooting at him with a .45. The bullets blew out his car window, struck him in the head, his arm, his stomach, but he survived. Recovering in the hospital with a bullet embedded above his left ear,[i] he first thought it might have been a CIA hit. But it was an awfully clumsy attempt, and he had earlier been told that Cuban leader Fidel Castro put him on a hit list.
So he decided to get back at Castro with a model airplane and some C4.
Now Veciana is the kind of guy who knows how to get explosives if he needs to, and this isn’t the first time he’s been part of an operation to assassinate Castro. So he starts working on his plan, and a few days later an FBI agent greets him on his front porch. The upshot of their conversation is that the agent knows he’s been trying to get some explosives. Then the agent says he already talked to Veciana’s explosives expert and knows he already has the C4.
Veciana tells the agent to get lost. The agent had to be lying, because hadn’t given his explosives guy the C4 yet. As a matter of fact it was hidden under the house, not far from where they were having the conversation.[ii]
Trained to Kill: The Inside Story of CIA Plots Against Castro, Kennedy, and Che is the incredibly improbable memoir written by Veciana (with Carlos Harrison), and the most incredible thing is how much of the story is apparently true. Already a major presence in books by HSCA investigator Gaeton Fonzi and well-respected researcher Dick Russell, the author takes the opportunity to tell his own story in his own clear, direct manner.
This is a man who began life in a shack in the wake of the Great Depression, before growing up to work for Cuba’s richest banker. A hard left turn later, he became the leader of the CIA-backed revolutionary army, Alpha 66, ending up as a peripheral witness to the mechanics behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
However, before we go into his story, let’s take a brief look at the background of American foreign policy in this time period. What changed after World War II? How did funding and training paramilitary groups and overthrowing countries become key functions of the American intelligence services?
For that, I want to start with one Sir Ian Fleming.
A DINNER PARTY
On March 13, 1960, the novelist and intelligence agent Ian Fleming met his friend Mary Leiter (whose husband provided the name for Bond’s CIA friend Felix Leiter) in Washington, D.C. Leiter, driving around town, happened to spot a friend walking on P Street: Senator John F. Kennedy, who would in a few months become President of the United States. She asked the Senator if it would be all right to bring her guest to dinner. A fan of James Bond, and in particular the novel From Russia, with Love, he eagerly assented.[iii]
Fleming, now world famous as the inventor of James Bond, had a long career in “special services” and left his mark on U.S. intelligence history. During World War II, as a secretary of Admiral John Godfrey (then Director of Naval Intelligence of the Royal Navy), he served as a liaison to MI6 (British intelligence) and was something of an “idea man” with respect to covert operations. He was in the know to arguably the biggest secret of the war: that Alan Turing and his Bletchley Park colleagues had cracked the German Enigma Code. He had even proposed a plan to get an Enigma machine early in the process, but the plan, Operation Ruthless, was never realized, to the frustration of the Bletchley mathematicians.[iv] Fleming’s plan was as follows:
I suggest we obtain the loot by the following means:
1. Obtain from Air Ministry an air-worthy German bomber.
2. Pick a tough crew of five, including a pilot, W/T operator and word-perfect German speaker. Dress them in German Air Force uniform, add blood and bandages to suit.
3. Crash plane in the Channel after making S.O.S. to rescue service in P/L.
4. Once aboard rescue boat, shoot German crew, dump overboard, bring rescue boat back to English port.
In order to increase the chances of capturing an R. or M. with its richer booty, the crash might be staged in mid-Channel. The Germans would presumably employ one of this type for the longer and more hazardous journey.[v]
Researchers in parapolitics will recognize this sort of operation. It was the kind of thing that would become standard in the American intelligence services. It is perhaps most associated with CIA planner Edward Lansdale of Operation Mongoose, dedicated to the removal of Fidel Castro. (Lansdale famously was thought to have been the model for Graham Green’s The Quiet American, with some cause.) It was in these elaborate plots that names familiar to JFK researchers appear: Allen Dulles, Richard Helms, James Jesus Angleton, Bill Harvey, David Morales, and many others.
Fleming himself served as a liaison to Wild Bill Donovan, the famous first head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) that itself grew out of U.S. Naval intelligence (ONI). Indeed, he wrote a 72-page outline that would serve as a foundational document for the OSS and the Central Intelligence Agency. For his efforts, Fleming was awarded a Colt revolver with the inscription “For Special Services.” (In another odd connection, the friend – Mary Leiter – who introduced Fleming to Kennedy in 1960, lived on an estate in Langley, Virginia, owned by her husband’s father. That estate would end up being purchased by the government and converted into CIA headquarters.)[vi]
In any event, at that March 13, 1960 dinner, Kennedy would have known that his dinner guest was no mere spy novelist. A lively conversation ensued among the group, which also included the reporter Joseph Alsop and a CIA operative named John Bross. Bross had been the assistant general counsel to the U.S. High Commissioner to Germany, John J. McCloy, from 1949 to 1951. One of the things that Bross did was help McCloy make certain key decisions such as – for example – declining to pursue Klaus Barbie and other hardcore Nazis. Bross remained an important voice in the organization for decades; at the time of his death in 1990, CIA Director Richard Helms reflected on how often he had relied on his “wise counsel.”[vii] Meanwhile, Alsop would later be the man who planted the seed in Lyndon Johnson to form the Warren Commission instead of using local authorities to investigate the Kennedy assassination. Donald Gibson points out in his excellent essay that Alsop, in the transcript of a conversation with Johnson less than a day after Oswald’s shooting by Jack Ruby, baldly states that a formal commission will agree to keep out of the investigation things that the FBI will want to keep out.[viii] What those things might be is unspecified.
Fleming, although fairly sedate during the course of the discussion, became aroused as talk turned around to Cuba. What should the U.S. do about Fidel Castro? For this, Fleming had a three-step plan, which shows a familiar pattern of thinking:
One might imagine that Fleming had his tongue in cheek when making that last suggestion, except the CIA invented equally absurd plans, including a scheme to make Castro’s beard fall out using thallium.[x] Within half an hour of the dinner party ending, CIA Director Allan Dulles heard about Fleming’s visit and expressed dismay that he hadn’t been able to discuss Cuba with him in person.[xi] During the War, Dulles had shared office space with the “Man Called Intrepid,” the famous spy William Stephenson. Stephenson had a “license to kill,” and in fact was one of the inspirations for the character of James Bond.[xii] Dulles was so intrigued with James Bond that he actually tried to duplicate some of the spy’s gadgets. Mostly he seemed fond of the image of Bond, a man who will resort to violence to accomplish great ends in the line of duty.[xiii]
It is common to speak of the United States and Great Britain having a “special relationship,” and it is no clearer than in the spy business. Even if Fleming’s document had more to do with the form than the letter of what American intelligence would be, it nonetheless carried an enormous influence. From its Ivy League origins and Wall Street orientation, to its determination to meddle in the affairs of other sovereign states, to its emulation of a superficial kind of “class.” Allen Dulles maintained outward respectability, smoked a pipe, and made the decision to obtain Russian intelligence from a Nazi, Reinhard Gehlen. Due to the Gehlen Operation’s inflated reports of Russian weaponry, it is not too far from the point to say that these men invented the Cold War. For his part, Gehlen referred to Dulles as the “Gentleman.”[xiv] Gehlen also took credit for the American success of the Cuban Missile Crisis while simultaneously deploring Kennedy’s approach to solving it.[xv]
John F. Kennedy became President in the context of a burgeoning covert operations business used to destabilize and overthrow foreign governments, as well as “wet work” used to assassinate foreign leaders. Just as the British Crown had seen India and Africa as possessions, so did the United States gaze upon Latin America. This enormous intelligence apparatus, modeled on British intelligence, had grown to the extent that it represented a parallel government in many ways run out of the office of Allen Dulles.[xvi]
The great “successes” of the 1950s included the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadeq in the Iranian coup of 1953 and Jacob Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, among other atrocities.[xvii] To give some idea of what continuity was like in the government, the original plan to overthrow Arbenz had been approved by Harry Truman and then continued under Dwight Eisenhower with no ideological objections along the way.[xviii]
On January 1, 1959, Fidel Castro’s revolution, which had been a four-year Guerilla struggle against the dictator Fulgenico Batista, successfully overthrew the government. Batista fled to the Dominican Republic.
To the extent that Americans today know much about the Cuban revolution, it is assumed that Castro had always been a Communist. This is actually a much-debated point. At the time of the insurrection, the Atlantic Monthly informed its readers that there was “abundant evidence” that Castro was not a Communist.[xix] During a visit to the United States just six months previously, Castro had indicated he was not, and got favorable press. The ex-pitcher grabbed a hot dog at Yankee Stadium and was referred to by no less than Dean Acheson as the “first democrat in Latin America.”[xx] However, in 1958 Allen Dulles had told President Eisenhower that he did not think a Castro victory would be good for the United States. Meanwhile, Castro’s right-hand man Che Guevara had been in Guatemala during the Arbenz overthrow and undoubtedly carried that distrust with him to Cuba.[xxi]
Fidel Castro’s overthrow and takeover of the Cuban government had widespread effects for being such a tiny island. In addition to legal trade with the United States, there was considerable mafia influence. Meyer Lansky had rolled into Miami in 1933, and during the War made inroads into Havana. By the time the 1950s came around, Santo Trafficante was running the (illegal) show in Cuba. The operation grew so large that he delegated Havana to his son, Santo Jr. The elder Trafficante and Batista became close.[xxii] Batista had opened his doors to Trafficante and the Mafia to foster a welcome business environment for gambling and heroin.[xxiii]
And then in one fell swoop, the entire business was upended and the old arrangements went the way of the Dodo. (The effects of Castro’s overthrow are effectively dramatized in Francis Coppola’s film The Godfather Part II). It was also bad news for U.S. foreign policy since Cuba was a short distance from Florida. At least if you were in the hawkish frame of mind of the Pentagon and the intelligence services. And it was in this milieu that the son of Spanish immigrants, a young man named Antonio Veciana, found himself a budding revolutionary.
Antonio Veciana was no James Bond. He was an asthmatic, lapsed-Catholic accountant who had gone to the University of Havana at the same time as Fidel Castro, although the latter studied law.[xxiv] He claims to have distrusted Fidel from the moment he first met him, seeing in him an inclination toward fascism rather than Communism. Fidel had tried to take control of the university, participating in assassinations and assaults on campus.[xxv] Later, of course, in 1953, Castro would lead a failed coup attempt in Santiago de Cuba, winding up in prison only to be released two years later. Castro would head to Mexico with Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara for a year, only to return on a boat to begin his revolutionary path – legend has it with less than twenty men and only two rifles.
Castro’s eventual victory in 1959 was astonishing. Equally astonishing, Veciana – the asthmatic accountant, would instigate a plot to fire a bazooka at Senor Fidel Castro.
However, Veciana had no sympathy for Batista. In May 1953 Veciana married, and two months later his best man Boris Luis Santa Coloma was tortured to death by Batista government thugs. Later that same year, the young man accepted a position with the Banco Nacional, which he described as “Cuba’s federal reserve,” even as Batista’s atrocities increased. At the same time, the revolutionary movement known as the July 26 movement, led by Castro and Che Guevara, began to expand.[xxvi]
In late September of 1959, a man named Maurice Bishop came to visit Veciana. At this time Veciana worked for a bank owed by Julio Lobo, by some accounting the richest man in Cuba. This game him some visibility. Veciana notes that perhaps “coincidentally,” Maurice Bishop came to visit him a few days after a certain Jack Ruby left the island, according to their records.[xxvii]
This was the beginning of a relationship that last for many years. And there was something about Bishop that fired a spark in Veciana. Bishop made a vague proposal that he should help him defeat Castro, and he found himself agreeing, even without details or knowing which intelligence agency Bishop worked for. Although his first guess was CIA.[xxviii]
This relationship would also set off one of the most intriguing mysteries of the Kennedy assassination. Because through largely the efforts of HSCA investigator Gaeton Fonzi, Valencia came to believe that Maurice Bishop’s real name was David Atlee Phillips. A former playwright, Phillips had been recruited into the CIA. He had correctly guessed in 1958 that Castro would come to power.[xxix] Veciana states in this book his certainty that Bishop was in fact Phillips, but we will come back to that.
Bishop invited Veciana to work for him. He tells Veciana there will be many things he won’t know, and he can’t tell anyone, but he is eager to join, even with so many uncertainties. The initial process involves a grueling question-answer session lasting several hours He gets past the first hurdle and is invited to go to another session. This second time, he is told to swallow a pill, which Veciana assumed was some sort of truth serum. It made him dizzy. At this second interrogation, he was asked many personal questions, including numerous inquiries about his sexuality – seemingly to find out whether he was gay.[xxx]
He passed the test and went to work for the American intelligence apparatus, with the goal of overthrowing or assassinating Fidel Castro.
THE BAY OF PIGS
On April 17, 1961, the United States launched the failed Bay of Pigs invasion against Cuba. Veciana, through his contact Bishop, had received payment and training for the Cuban insurgency against Castro, and also had weapons provided. However, the invasion was a disaster, often blamed in history books as precipitated by Kennedy’s failure to provide “air cover.” However, as L. Fletcher Prouty observed, the plan did not have air cover as a kind of backup operation. If the Cuban planes were not destroyed, the invasion was not supposed to have gone forward.[xxxi] Indeed, there were many problems with how the plan was explained to Kennedy, as it was first presented in the context of a necessary Cuban uprising and then later without the uprising happening (to match the reality of a lack of popular will to overthrow Castro).[xxxii] And Veciana knew this to be true as well: “Agency officials told Kennedy that the people would rise up once the invasion began. That wasn’t true. It wasn’t close to true. The Pentagon knew it wasn’t.”[xxxiii] The whole history of the Bay of Pigs has, in essence, been rewritten in a long section in Destiny Betrayed.
Veciana describes the ridiculous situation like so:
Twelve hundred men landed. Castro had two hundred thousand. The CIA knew that beforehand…What CIA director Allen Dulles was counting on was his ability to pressure young president John F. Kennedy into launching an all-out U.S. military invasion of the island after the Bay of Pigs brigade got bogged down on the beaches. But Kennedy shocked Dulles and the other gray-haired military and intelligence advisors by refusing the buckle. JFK had told them all along that he didn’t want a “noisy” invasion, and he refused to expand the CIA operation into an all-out war, even if it meant sacrificing the brave brigadistas.[xxxiv]
Following the failed invasion, Veciana notes that Bishop began to describe Kennedy in negative terms. Bishop tells him: “It’s easy to be a liberal when your belly’s full.”[xxxv]
U.S. money began flowing to the terrorist group Alpha 66. The plan – according to Veciana’s reportage of what Bishop was telling him – was that they were trying to force Kennedy’s hand. The idea was that if the President failed to take action to remove Castro, he would be on a collision course with Krushchev and the Soviets.[xxxvi] Bishop then tells Veciana to focus on attacking ships arriving into Cuba, which prompts this exchange:
“When the Soviets start complaining and rattling their sabers, Kennedy has to act,” he said.
“What if he doesn’t take aim at Cuba?” I asked, “What if he takes aim at the CIA?”
“That’s exactly why we have Alpha 66. When they accuse us, we’ll tell him that we had nothing to do with it. It’s a bunch of anti-Castro exiles acting on their own.”[xxxvii]
Alpha 66 was not the only one of these groups who were acting against Castro on behalf of the government. For example, Dave Morales was head of CI at the CIA Miami station, a hotbed of anti-Castro activity, and their stated mission was – among other things – to infiltrate the 26th of July movement.[xxxviii] For his part, Veciana does not talk about the work of agency assets like Morales or anyone outside the scope of his activities. It’s one of the things that make his book so useful, in that it is both efficiently told and limited in outlook. Veciana does not tend to talk about things he did not experience personally, which lends greater weight to his encounters with Che Guevara, for example, and his rather startling statement that he met Lee Harvey Oswald in the company of Maurice Bishop.[xxxix] He had told investigator Gaeton Fonzi that Bishop had taught him how to recognize faces. He was positive it was Lee Oswald he had seen that day – or a double. “Exacto, exacto,” he told Fonzi.[xl]
In addition to these nuggets, Veciana discusses the U.S. government’s involvement with the Chilean coup of 1973 against Salvador Allende. According to the author, when Allende took office, Bishop’s focus went to Chile.[xli] Meanwhile, in 1967 Phillips had been made Chief of the Cuban Operations Group in the CIA’s Western Hemisphere Division. The Church Committee found that with regard to Chile, there had been a Track Two plot to start an insurrection against Allende – one that cost the U.S. government millions of dollars. Coincidentally, Phillips led that project.[xlii]
The coup of Allende is interesting due to its broad similarities to the Kennedy assassination, as the author had previously told researcher Dick Russell. For Allende, there was a patsy lined up who would be killed shortly after the assassination with papers on him indicating he was a Russian Castro agent.[xliii]
WAS MAURICE BISHOP DAVID ATLEE PHILLIPS?
Bishop lines up with David Atlee Phillips in important ways. For example, Phillips was the Chief of Covert Action from 1961 to 1963 in Mexico City. Phillips had been involved in propaganda operations during the Bay of Pigs and became Chief of Cuban Operations just before the Kennedy assassination, interestingly.[xliv] As Fonzi points out, that means Phillips should have known all the answers with regard to Lee Harvey Oswald’s alleged movements in Mexico City.[xlv] When it came time for Phillips to testify to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, his testimony was a disaster. He was forced to admit he had simply invented a story about Oswald, although he insisted some elements of his testimony were true.[xlvi]
There are other small details. Phillips’s 1977 autobiography, Night Watch, cites a particular Cuban restaurant as his favorite eating spot. It was the same restaurant that Veciana mentioned to Fonzi – more than a year before Phillips’s book came out – as a casual meeting ground between himself and ‘Bishop.’[xlvii]
Certainly JM/WAVE, the CIA’s Miami station led by Ted Shackley, located on the campus of the University of Miami, would have been a logical place to practice the assassination. We know that Operation Mongoose operated out JM/WAVE.
“[The CIA] had created an operations headquarters in Miami that was truly a state within a city – over, above, and outside the laws of the United States, not to mention international law, with a staff of several hundred Americans directing many more Cuban agents in just such types of actions, with a budget in excess of $50 million a year, and an arrangement with the local press to keep operations in Florida secret except when the CIA wanted something publicized.”[xlviii]
As noted, this is far from the complete story, but this is the main part of the story that reflects on Veciana. The author adopts a straightforward prose style and appears to be doing his best to give the truth as he sees it. For that he deserves some kudos. And though I have touched on many of the themes in the book, there is a great deal more of information regarding the nuts and bolts of the operations.
I began this essay talking about Ian Fleming and his influence on the American intelligence services. This did not end with his formal contributions to the charters of those agencies. In his books, James Bond is a tough customer who enjoys casual misogyny and has some bizarre notions (Fleming uses the vulgar term “chigroes” to refer to what he calls “Chinese negroes” and seems to think that gay men cannot whistle).
It is a little striking to reflect on the former American spies who wrote pulp novels. The American CIA agent William F. Buckley, famous for his work at the National Review, wrote a series featuring his spy Blackford Oakes in battle with the evil Soviets. His friend E. Howard Hunt (they served together in Mexico City in the fifties) similarly churned out pulp novels with titles like Bimini Run. In fact, when Arthur Bremer shot George Wallace, and a “diary” was discovered in Bremer’s apartment, Gore Vidal wrote that he recognized Hunt’s literary style in the diary. In that famous essay, Vidal also dissected several Hunt novels and found the same casual racism and sexism within, along with the two-fisted America First attitude.[xlix]
David Atlee Phillips didn’t write pulp spy novels. But his brother did.
James Atlee Phillips, under the pen name Phillip Atlee, wrote hard-boiled pulp with the same points of view evidenced in Fleming, Hunt, and Buckley. In one of his novels, his hero Joe Gall knows he is in Mexico because he smells Mexicans.[l] You get the idea.
Atlee started his writing career publishing The Green Wound Contract in 1963. In this novel, his hero Joe Gall begins by investigating a murder in the sleepy town of Laredo, Texas. That investigation later leads him to New Orleans. Those two locations are, by themselves, interesting in relation to the JFK assassination already.
Then, when Gall is inevitably captured by the villain Azmodeus, the latter gives a villain speech listing all the disasters of the CIA: “…in 1961 you armed and trained a pro-Batista force and sent it to the Bay of Pigs, losers. Bo Dai, Rhee, Diem, Nosavan, Pahlevi, Nasser, Castillo Armas, Castro. Am I in error yet, Mr. Gall?” Gall tells him no, so he continues. “…Gehlen the ex-Nazi in your employ, the gentleman who armed the Hungarian patriots, and Radio Free Europe, which piped them out to be butchered…when the Peronistas got half the vote, you agreed that if the Argentines are going to vote like that, the whole election should be canceled.”
Gall concedes the points, then clobbers the guard with an ashtray.[li]
When, at the end of the book, weary from his adventures and having mailed in his report, he is given another possible mission, he gets contemplative:
In the meantime, an interesting situation had arisen in one of the new desert republics. The United States had recognized this republic, and Carl said they have confirmation on a murder plot against Tallal, head of the new country. Unfortunately, the plot was being financed by two Arab kings who were ostensibly our allies; therefore the whole matter was delicate.
A fee was involved, $250,000, cash…They wanted me to ambush and assassinate the assassin.
From a technical point of view, it was interesting. Kicking at the log smoldering in the fireplace, I wondered what would be the best way to handle it. From the inside out, or the other way around…
Just the same, it did beat selling insurance; that smiling for a living makes your face hurt. And even if I got caught, drawing a bear down the scope sight I’m sure they would understand that nobody can impugn the motives of a real Christian. Not if his heart is pure.[lii]
I don’t want to make too much about this point, but it is interesting. We know, for example, that Dwight Eisenhower was enthusiastic about psychological warfare, including the use of the arts.[liii] Perhaps – and this is just a thought – but it may be that as Reinhard Gehlen was producing internal propaganda from his network to keep the Cold War going from the inside, these CIA-connected novelists were doing the same thing for public consumption.
All of this apparatus, including the part that Antonio Veciana reports on from the front lines, was already in place when these operations, aimed at foreign targets, suddenly were diverted to a domestic assassination. Once Kennedy declined to take the bait arranged for him during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962 – and now I enter into the realm of informed speculation – it appears that forces within the government decided to move forward with his assassination. A memorandum dated March 4, 1963 reads: “The President does not agree that we should make the breaking of Sino/Soviet ties a non-negotiable point. We don’t want to present Castro with a condition he obviously cannot fulfill.”[liv] He wants to improve relations with Cuba. He wants to pull out of Vietnam. The evidence for the latter is now overwhelming.
As a practical matter, the people doing the killing had already established an industry of propaganda operations, assassination teams, and operational plans. The same people, and the same style of operations, would be involved. There was no need to reinvent the wheel to kill a President, and they didn’t.
[i] Williams, Dan. “Anti-Castro Leader Shot in the Head.” The Miami Herald, September 22, 1979.
[ii] Veciana, Antonio, with Carlos Harrison. Trained to Kill: The Inside Story of CIA Plots Against Castro, Kennedy, and Che. Skyhorse Publishing: New York, 2017, 195-196.
[iii] Pearson, John. The Life of Ian Fleming (McGraw-Hill: New York, 1966), 321.
[iv] Cox, David. “The Imitation Game: How Alan Turing Played Dumb to Fool US Intelligence.” The Guardian (The Guardian), February 22, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2014/nov/28/imitation-game-alan-turing-us-intelligence-ian-fleming
[v] Memo from Ian Fleming to Director of Naval Intelligence, September 12, 1940, British National Archives.
[vi] CIA. “What Do James Bond, Downton Abbey, and the CIA Have in Common?” 2015. Accessed February 3, 2017. https://www.cia.gov/news-information/featured-story-archive/2015-featured-story-archive/james-bond-downton-abbey-and-cia.html
[vii] “John Bross Dies at 79.” The Washington Post. October 17, 1990. Accessed February 10, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1990/10/17/john-bross-dies-at-79/473069e8-372d-426f-8f55-adfbb5194f22/?utm_term=.decc0326d6d9
[viii] DiEugenio, James, & Lisa Pease, ed. The Assassinations: Probe Magazine on JFK, MLK, RFK and Malcolm X. Los Angeles, CA: Feral House,U.S., 2002, 11-16.
[ix] Pearson, 322.
[x] St. Clair, Jeffrey, “Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro,” Counterpunch, December 2, 2016. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/02/roaming-charges-the-cias-plots-to-kill-castro/
[xi] Pearson, 323.
[xii] Talbot, David. The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government. HarperCollins: New York, 2015, 21-22.
[xiii] Kinzer, Stephen. The Brothers. Times Books – Henry Holt and Company: New York, 2013, 274.
[xiv] Talbot, 276-279.
[xv] Gehlen, Reinhard. The Service: The Memoirs of General Reinhard Gehlen. Popular Library Edition: New York, 1972, 257.
[xvi] Talbot, 366-367.
[xvii] Dehghan, Saeed Kamali and Richard Norton-Taylor. “CIA Admits Role in 1953 Iranian Coup.” The Guardian (The Guardian), August 19, 2013. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/19/cia-admits-role-1953-iranian-coup.
[xviii] “CIA and Assassinations: The Guatemala 1954 Documents.” Accessed January 24, 2017. http://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB4/.
[xix] Ajaka, Nadine, Noah Gordon, Rumana Ahmed, The Editors, Elaine Godfrey, David Epstein, ProPublica, et al. “Castro is not a communist or a Dupe.” The Atlantic, December 31, 2014. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/12/castro-is-not-a-communist-or-a-dupe/384110/.
[xx] Glass, Andrew and Jack Shafer. Politico. “Fidel Castro Visits the U.S., April 15, 1959.” April 15, 2013. Accessed February 25, 2017. http://www.politico.com/story/2013/04/this-day-in-politics-april-15-1959-090037.
[xxi] Luxenberg, Alan H. “Did Eisenhower Push Castro into the Arms of the Soviets?” Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Miami, Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Spring, 1988), 41-44. http://www.jstor.org/stable/165789
[xxii] McCoy, Alfred. The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade. Lawrence Hill: Chicago, IL, 1991, 41.
[xxiii] Escalante, Fabián. JFK - the Cuba Files: The Untold Story of the Plot to Kill Kennedy. Melbourne: Ocean Press, 2006, 19.
[xxiv] Veciana, Antonio, with Carlos Harrison. Trained to Kill: The Inside Story of CIA Plots Against Castro, Kennedy, and Che. Skyhorse Publishing: New York, 2017, 24.
[xxv] Ibid, 35.
[xxvi] Ibid, 28-29.
[xxvii] Ibid, 40.
[xxviii] Ibid, 45.
[xxix] Ibid, 32.
[xxx] Ibid, 56.
[xxxi] Ratcliffe, David T. Understanding Special Operations: And Their Impact on the Vietnam War Era. Rat Haus Reality Press: Santa Cruz, CA, 1999, 65-66.
[xxxii] DiEugenio, James. Destiny Betrayed, Second Edition. Skyhorse Publishing: New York 2012, 42.
[xxxiii] Veciana, 99.
[xxxiv] Ibid, 100.
[xxxv] Ibid, 101.
[xxxvi] Ibid, 112.
[xxxvii] Ibid, 113.
[xxxviii] Memorandum for the record, Interview with Dave Morales, June 2, 1961. https://www.maryferrell.org/showDoc.html?docId=16200&relPageId=38
[xxxix] Ibid, 124.
[xl] Fonzi, Gaeton. The Last Investigation. United States: Sky Pony Press, 2016, 142.
[xli] Veciana, 157.
[xlii] Fonzi, 271-272.
[xliii] Russell, Dick. On the Trail of the JFK Assassins: A Groundbreaking Look at America’s Most Infamous Conspiracy. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2008, 150.
[xliv] Veciana, 190.
[xlv] Fonzi, 266.
[xlvi] Simpich, Bill. State Secret. The Mary Ferrell Foundation, Chapter 5: The Mexico City Solution.” https://www.maryferrell.org/pages/State_Secret_Chapter5.html
[xlvii] Russell, Dick. The Man Who Knew Too Much. 2nd ed. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003, 270.
[xlviii] Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II--Updated Through 2003. 2nd ed. Monroe, Me: Common Courage Press,U.S., 2003, 197.
[xlix] Vidal, Gore. “The Art and Arts of E. Howard Hunt.” The New York Review of Books, December 13, 1973. http://jfk.hood.edu/Collection/Weisberg%20Subject%20Index%20Files/V%20Disk/Vidal%20Gore/Item%2001.pdf
[l] Atlee, Phillip. The Death Bird Contract. Fawcett World Library: 1966, 5.
[li] Atlee, Phillip. The Green Wound Contract. Fawcett World Library 1963, 128-129.
[lii] Ibid, 205-206.
[liii] Wilford, Hugh. The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Massachusetts: 2008, 153.
[liv] Douglass, Jim. JFK and the Unspeakable. Orbis Books: Maryknoll NY: 2008, 56.
There is a new Kennedy assassination film, created by Max Good and entitled The Assassination and Mrs. Paine. Ruth Paine is certainly one of the most important figures in the Kennedy assassination, and arguably among the most sinister. Jim DiEugenio once said that the Paines were among the people he would most want to cross-examine, and I agree.
Now I know how difficult it is to create a film like this, having worked very hard for years with Ryan Page on King Kill 63, which continues to sit in limbo unfortunately. I've also seen my friend Randy Benson struggle with his film The Searchers, in which I played only a consulting role, which is now going on an exciting tour of the United States (along with a visit to the UK). Speaking of which, you can find future screenings of The Searchers here.
This young filmmaker somehow got her to agree to go on-camera, which automatically arouses my suspicion. Except that he also got Vincent Salandria to go on-camera. In addition to which, Vince has advised me as well as others that he backs Mr. Good and his film completely. In which case, I have to say, I am very interested to see this film.
The film is currently on a Kickstarter campaign, and I encourage folks to help contribute if they can. It ends April 22, so time is short!
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