History Redeemed

by Bernard McCormick Tuesday, December 03, 2013 No Comment(s)

On Sept. 21, 1979 a gunman in Miami fired four shots from a .45 caliber pistol at Antonio Veciana. He almost missed. Veciana’s only wound was from a richocheted fragment that struck him in the head without serious injury. The attack came at a time when Veciana, a former CIA operative and highly respected man in the Cuban anti-Castro community, was cooperating with a House committee that had reopened the investigation of the death of President Kennedy. In the process Veciania had identified his long-time CIA contact as a man he had seen in Dallas with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the murder of President Kennedy. It was dramatic stuff in Washington. Veciana’s revelation could destroy the Warren Commission’s depiction of Oswald as a lone nut.
Until Veciana told the Oswald connection story to Gaeton Fonzi, an investigator for the House committee who was working directly for Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker, he had never mentioned it except to his family. He had not even brought it up in many subsequent meetings with his CIA contact, hoping the contact would forget that Veciana ever saw him with Oswald. Veciana had two good reasons for silence. One was his personal safety. Anybody who would kill a president would not hesitate to do the same to anybody blowing the lid on government involvement in a presidential murder. But as important, in 1963 Veciana had already spent three years with deep involvement, beginning in Cuba, with very dangerous work - plots to kill Castro. It would not help his cause to be ensnared in the assassination investigation.
When Veciana met Fonzi in early 1976, he had experienced a falling out with his CIA contact. Not initially knowing that Fonzi was investigating the assassination, he casually mentioned the Oswald sighting. He thought it might be helpful to his situation. Fonzi was stunned. It took some time for Fonzi to establish Veciana’s credibility – which he found impeccable – and to learn the real name of the CIA man who Veciana had known only as “Maurice Bishop.” The breakthrough came when Sen. Schweiker himself recognized a police sketch (above) made from Veciana’s recollection. He said it resembled David Atlee Phillips, a CIA man who had testified before his committee.
It is always hard to tell what anybody in the CIA does, but after checking Phillips’ CIA career against Veciana’s detailed narrative of their work together, Fonzi concluded that Maurice Bishop had to be David Atlee Phillips. By then Phillips was very big at the agency – the retired chief of western hemisphere operations.
Fonzi arranged for a surprise encounter between Veciana and Phillips at a Washington luncheon for retired CIA officers. Phillips, obviously shaken, not only denied knowing Veciana, but said he never ever heard his name. Fonzi knew that was inconceivable.  Fonzi had learned that Phillips had worked with anti-Castro Cubans in Florida for 15 years. He would have to know the founder and leader of Alpha 66, one of the most active anti-Castro organizations. In fact, the CIA had helped start that organization.
Privately, Veciana told Fonzi the man he met that day was indeed Phillips. But he declined to go public with that statement, for basically the same reasons he had kept his secret for years. He still hoped to resume work with the CIA in efforts to overthrow Castro. The second reason, as he was soon to learn, was that he was running an enormous personal risk.
Gaeton Fonzi’s book, The Last Investigation, which first appeared in Gold Coast magazine as two long articles in 1980, told the story of Veciana (and likely Oswald’s) CIA handler. The CIA, of course, denied that it ever had an agent using the name Maurice Bishop. Other researchers have since found sources that confirmed that David Atlee Phillips used the name Maurice Bishop, and was likely part of a conspiracy to kill a president, and then pin the blame on a lone assassin. Yet Veciana over the last 35 years refused to publicly confirm the identification.
Until now. On Nov. 22, the 50th anniversary of the assassination, Veciana sent a message to Marie Fonzi, Gaeton Fonzi’s widow. It was short and as loud as the crack of a high-powered rifle.
 History redeemed.

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