Antonio Veciana: Trained to Kill Kennedy Too?
The Cuban exile and former CIA asset (AMSHALE-1) Antonio Veciana, 89, stole the show at the AARC Conference on “The Warren Report and the JFK Assassination” (2014) by admitting:
“In the early 1960’s, I believed John F. Kennedy was a traitor to the Cuban exiles and to this country. Yet, over time, I came to recognize that President Kennedy was not a traitor (…) I couldn’t go from this world without saying that John F. Kennedy was a great man and a great president who had a great vision for this country and the world.”
Neither will Veciana go from this world without making his memoirs available to readers. Co-authored by the Pulitzer Prize-winning (1991) journalist Carlos Harrison, his biographical account Trained to Kill (Skyhorse Publishing, 232 pages) hits the book market on April 18, 2017, with the subtitle “The Inside Story of CIA Plots against Castro, Kennedy, and Che.” David Talbot wrote the foreword.
A Borgesian Garden of Forking Paths
In his conversion from hater to admirer of JFK, Veciana denies having taken part in the assassination, but agrees it “was a coup, an internal conspiracy.” As HSCA staffer Eddie Lopez told James DiEugenio, “this conspiracy was like a giant spider web, and in the middle of it was [David Atlee] Phillips.” But given Phillips recruited Veciana in 1960 and was his handler until 1973, always under the alias of Maurice Bishop, the former head and current historian of the Cuban State Security Department, Major General Fabian Escalante, takes seriously the possibility that Veciana was indeed involved in the plot.
Following either of these paths, Veciana's story incriminates Phillips. Before the assassination, he claims Bishop asked him about the procedure for obtaining a visa at the Cuban Consulate in Mexico City, knowing that his cousin Hilda Veciana was married to the commercial attaché there, Guillermo Ruiz. After the assassination, he claims he asked him to recruit Ruiz as a defector who would testify that the Cuban Intelligence Services (CuIS) had given Lee Harvey Oswald precise instructions to kill Kennedy (p. 125). A little later, Bishop told Veciana to forget about recruiting Ruiz. That would be the last time Veciana ever spoke with him about Oswald. Veciana added that after the assassination a Customs agent working for CIA, Cesar Diosdado (AMSWIRL-1), did ask him if he knew Oswald. Before the HSCA, Diosdado denied having worked for the CIA and questioning anyone about Oswald.
Veciana deemed it a mistake to get involved in something which did not concern him. That’s why he neither asked Bishop about the JFK assassination nor told anyone about having seen Oswald until Fonzi interviewed him in 1976. Nonetheless, Escalante has a point against the claim of no involvement. Before the assassination, Hilda Veciana was walking from her nearby house to the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City and came upon a wad of dollars on the sidewalk. A Mexican approached and told her, “Lady, this money is yours”. She got scared and ran for the embassy. Just in front was a CIA photo-surveillance post (LI/ONION). According to Escalante, the CIA tried in this way to compromise her in order to recruit Guillermo Ruiz by threatening him with photos of his wife grabbing the money.
Since that incident occurred before the assassination, Escalante thinks that Veciana is voicing only a half-truth. His close encounter with Bishop in Dallas (TX) in late August or early September 1963 may have gone beyond the brief sighting of a young man who said nothing and turned out to be Oswald (p. 122). It may instead have been a meeting among plotters to coordinate both the recruiting of Ruiz and the visa for Oswald in Mexico City. Crucial to this scenario are Oswald’s whereabouts at that time. Although it has been argued that Oswald was in New Orleans when Veciana claimed to have seen him in Dallas, there are some curious indications that Oswald was absent from New Orleans in late August and early September 1963.
Mary Ferrell expressly highlighted in her chronologies (Volume 3, p. 57) that the FBI couldn’t authenticate Oswald’s signature on two forms filled out under his name on August 27 and September 9 at the Department of Economic Security (DES) office in New Orleans. The same is true for the signatures on two TEC warrants cashed under his name on August 28 and September 6 in a Winn-Dixie store at 4303 Magazine. Oswald was living at 4907 Magazine and his rent was due on September 9, but he didn’t pay it. That very Monday, he cashed a TCE warrant in a Winn-Dixie store at 3920 S. Carrolton. The FBI verified the signature was his.
Intermezzo: Oswald in Mexico City
The FBI reviewed Oswald’s documents from August to October 1963. Its calligraphers affirmed the authenticity of the signature on his visa application of September 27, 1963, at the Cuban Consulate in Mexico City. If this is accurate, then it would be strong evidence of Oswald being there, without prejudice to the body of evidence about an impostor by phone in Mexico City and some doubles like “Leon” Oswald at Silvia Odio´s house in Dallas during the same time frame.
Before the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), Cuban Consul Alfredo Mirabal asserted that the Oswald apprehended in Dallas and seen in the news reports of November 22 was the same man at the Consulate in Mexico City. The other consul, Eusebio Azcue, and the Mexican consular clerk, Sylvia Duran, disagreed. Notwithstanding, two other eyewitnesses—Commercial Attaché Guillermo Ruiz and his assistant Antonio Garcia-Lara—agreed with Mirabal. Since Ruiz spoke better English, Azcue himself asked him to explain to Oswald why the visa couldn't be granted. Garcia-Lara heard a noisy discussion and could see Oswald leaving the premises.
The Access Path to the Truth
The right quantum of proof about the Bishop-Veciana-Oswald connection may be hidden among the 1,100 long-suppressed CIA records related to the JFK assassination, including four of Phillips’ operational files and Veciana’s routing and record sheet. The Warren Commission did not mention Phillips in any of its volumes, but his fingerprints are scattered everywhere.
Just remember the passage in The Last Investigation (1993), by Gaeton Fonzi, on HSCA staffer Dan Hardway asking Phillips some awkward questions. Although he already had a cigarette burning, hands shaking, Phillips went ahead and lit up a second. He lied so blatantly about Oswald in Mexico City that the HSCA prepared an indictment for him on two perjury counts.
A lesser known anecdote illustrates Phillips’ hatred of JFK. By 1966 he recruited—under the alias of Harold Benson—a high official of the Cuban Ministry of Construction, Nicolás Sirgado, who had been entrusted since 1962 by the CuIS to penetrate the CIA. Castro honored him at the memorial service for the victims of the 1976 Cuban passenger jet bombing in Barbados. After retiring in 1991 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, Sirgado appeared in the Cuban TV documentary ZR Rifle (1993). He remembered that Benson “told me [about having] seized the opportunity to urinate on Kennedy’s grave, since he considered Kennedy a damned Communist.”
Even The Third Time Wasn’t a Charm
As for Lopez concerning Kennedy, Phillips was the key man for Escalante concerning Fidel Castro. During an interview with Fonzi in late 1995, Escalante remarked that Phillips “was our major enemy [and] the mastermind of a great many Castro assassination plots.” In three of them, Veciana was the organizer.
- Firing a bazooka—from an apartment rented by Veciana’s mother-in-law on the eighth floor of the building at 29 Misiones Street—at the speaker’s rostrum on the north terrace at the Presidential Palace, where Castro would be delivering a speech on October 4, 1961. The plot failed (p. 105). The Cuban G-2 smelled a rat and flooded the crowds, buildings and rooftops with agents and militiamen. When the hitmen approached the building, they felt overwhelmed by Castro’s forces and strolled back.
- Shooting Castro with a gun hidden in a TV camera during a press conference in Santiago de Chile on November 1971. The would-be assassins were Cuban exiles Marcos Rodríguez and Antonio Domínguez, who entered Chile disguised as cameramen from the Venezuelan television network Venevisión. Both backed out of the plot fearing the ironclad security around Castro (p. 173).
- Shooting Castro with a rifle at Quito International Airport (Ecuador). Veciana knew that Castro’s return flight from Santiago de Chile to Havana included a stopover there. He gave continuity to the Chilean job by bringing the right weapon to Quito and asking Luis Posada-Carriles to fly from Caracas to fire it at Castro at the right time. The plot came to nothing since the support team—two defectors from Castro’s Air Force—claimed it would be suicidal.
Veciana didn’t give up. By himself, he masterminded a fourth attempt against Castro in New York. As Chairman-in-Office of the Non-Aligned Movement, Castro was scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly on October 12, 1979. A contact bomb of softball size and appearance would be thrown against his limousine on the way from the airport to the Cuban U.N. Mission. The FBI prevented it (p. 198). The bombmaker had gone too far with his comments and his utterly terrified wife called the authorities.
Veciana attributes the above-mentioned, and almost all the other failures, to a single main efficient cause: “Many Cubans wanted Castro dead, but all of them wanted to watch his funeral, too.”
He had joined the Castroite 26th of July Movement against the putschist General Fulgencio Batista, but turned against Castro shortly after he took power and became embroiled in a nationalization process that would reach its climax on October 1960 (p. 89). Veciana was convinced that if Castro died, the so-called Cuban revolution would end (p. 102). But his anti-Castro service record exceeds by far the four assassination plots.
The War Inside
Overcoming poverty and asthma, Veciana had graduated from the University of Havana and became a wonder boy in the Cuban world of accounting. At age 25 he got a job at the National Bank, a kind of equivalent to the Federal Reserve. He would go on to head the Cuban Association of Public Accountants (p. 37).
In 1958, Julio Lobo, dubbed the “Cuban Sugar King”, employed Veciana as comptroller in his finance company, Banco Financiero, which was doing business with Hotel Capri, partly owned by film actor George Raft, and other Havanan hotels controlled by the mob’s accountant Meyer Lansky. Castro took actions against these and other of Lobo’s businesses.
On December 17, 1960, Lobo told CIA officer Bernie Reichardt that he had heard that Veciana “was systematically destroying the bank's records and the machine bookkeeping equipment in the bank. Also, he felt that there had been some planning on Veciana's part for the wholesale sabotage of his sugar mills”. By that time, Phillips had successfully recruited Veciana.
Phillips had approached Veciana posing as a potential bank customer, the Belgian businessman Maurice Bishop. Veciana underwent a polygraph test, truth serum and interrogation (pp. 45-58), before being trained in espionage, handguns and explosives (pp. 63-68). He was even given a suicide pill just in case he was captured, but he refused to be an infiltrator into Castro’s regime.
When Bishop left Havana to get ready for the Bay of Pigs, he gave Veciana ripped up dollar bills and Veciana then realized how Machiavellian his handler was. Veciana had already started a psywar against Castro with a confiscation warning which created a run on the banks. It was initially branded as a hoax by Cuban President Osvaldo Dorticós, but it would end up coming true on October 13, 1960 (pp. 71-80). Since November 25, 1959, Che Guevara had been presiding over the National Bank. He wanted Veciana to help with the task of nationalizing the banks and asked him to bring in accountants (p. 83-86).
As Guevara rose to the top of the Cuban banking system, Castro’s Minister of Public Works, Manuel Ray, stepped down. By May 1960, he formed the Revolutionary Movement of the People (Spanish acronym: MRP). Veciana joined it and forged ahead until becoming Chief of Action and Sabotage.
Veciana plotted a series of bombings with explosive devices—known as petacas—provided by the CIA (p. 96). On April 13, 1961, his team of saboteurs delivered the most devastating blow prior to the Bay of Pigs invasion, destroying the largest department store in Havana (El Encanto).
Veciana also conspired with the CIA in Operation Pedro Pan (p. 90). It brought over 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban minors to the US from December 1960 to October 1962, after a rumor spread—backed by the CIA forgery of a supposed forthcoming law—to make Cubans believe the State would usurp parental control for the purpose of indoctrinating all their children.
After the Bay of Pigs—Veciana offers a good summary of the fiasco (p. 100)—Castro struck another annihilating blow against his foes. On July 5, 1961, he decreed a monetary exchange that turned into worthless paper more than 400 million pesos held abroad by Cuban exiles. The in-country bank deposits were limited to 10,000 pesos per person. Veciana’s days in the underground were numbered. Shortly before the date set for the attempt with the bazooka, Bishop urged him to leave Cuba (p. 105). He did so with his mother-in-law in a small boat and entered the U.S. at Key West on October 7, 1961.
Alpha and Omega
Veciana met Bishop in Miami. They signed an agreement—or pledge of allegiance—in front of two unidentified witnesses, but Veciana got no copies. The CIA informed the HSCA there was “no Agency relationship with Veciana,” but he filled out an employment application with the CIA and a Provisional Operational Approval (POA) was requested for him on December 29, 1961. It was granted on January 29, 1962, and canceled in November. From then on and up to July 1966, Veciana was listed in the Army Information Source Registry.
Bishop asked Veciana to organize a paramilitary group. In February of 1962, in Puerto Rico, he founded Alpha 66 as Bishop's brainchild. (pp. 108 ff). Alpha symbolized the beginning of the end of Castro, while 66 represented the number of fellow accountants Veciana had initially drafted.
Veciana focused on fund-raising and recruited Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo as Military Chief. The latter had led the anti-Batista guerrillas known as II Frente in the Escambray Mountains, but ended up defecting to the US on January 27, 1961. By October 1962, Alpha 66 and II Frente were united.
Trying to force Kennedy to act resolutely against Castro, Bishop gave orders to hit ships going in and out of Cuba. On September 10, 1962, Alpha 66-II Frente started a series of raids by attacking two Cuban ships and a British freighter at the northern port of Caibarién, 200 miles east of Havana.
At the peak of its naval operations, in March 1963, Alpha 66-II Frente sunk one Russian vessel at Isabella de Sagua and crippled another at Caibarién. By doing so, Bishop was trying to torpedo the Kennedy-Khrushchev peaceful solution to the Missile Crisis. Veciana held a press conference and The New York Times reported the Kennedy administration “was embarrassed” (pp. 112-20). But the outcome was quite different than intended.
Instead of moving against Castro, Kennedy ordered a crackdown against the Cuban exile paramilitary groups, and put more pressure on British authorities to enforce the law in the Bahamas. In May 1963, Alpha 66-II Frente entered alliance with MRP. All efforts were devoted to military preparation for Plan Omega, meaning the end of the Castroite regime. Veciana strategically changed from raids to infiltration.
It turned out, however, that before Veciana could get there, Castro had already beaten him to it. Alpha 66-II Frente-MRP was closely monitored—and in some cases manipulated—by Castro spies who had been in place for years. On January 23, 1965, Menoyo himself was captured in Cuba (p. 126). In fact, a Castro agent, Noel Salas, was part of Veciana’s infiltration team. Veciana quit, went to Puerto Rico and became a sports and concert promoter (p. 128).
Intermezzo: How Castro Dealt with Assassination Attempts
Alpha 66-II Frente-MRP was not an isolated case. In an interview for Tad Szulc’s book Fidel: A Critical Portrait (1986), Cuban Minister of Interior Ramiro Valdés confirmed: “There wasn’t anything in motion that we didn’t know about it, because we got undercover agents at all levels”. Apart from an ironclad personal security force against assassination plots, infiltrating the CIA and the Cuban exile community was instrumental to Castro’s surviving the Agency’s dirty war. AMLASH, for instance, was finally foiled due to intelligence furnished by CuIS agents ADELA (in France) and Juan Felaifel, who worked for three years with the CIA in Miami.
A soft-headed folly revived by Philip Shenon—the Kennedy brothers and the CIA compelled Fidel Castro to take preemptive lethal action against a sitting U.S. President—is not just far removed from common sense, since Castro was fully aware that killing JFK wouldn´t solve anything and entailed risking everything. It also ignored the fact that Castro’s thinking style was system-centered. He would have never taken the “spaghetti western” approach to Kennedy that Lyndon Johnson popularized by raving “Kennedy was trying to get to Castro, but Castro got him first.”
Consider the following. Castro triggered his revolution on July 26, 1953. On that day, the dictator Batista was attending a regatta at Varadero Beach. Some middle ranks insisted on blending in with the spectators and killing Batista there. Castro stuck to his principles and attacked the Moncada barracks as planned. He disapproved of the assault on the Presidential Palace by the Student Revolutionary Directorate on March 13, 1957. Castro reasoned: “It would have been easier to kill Batista than wage two years of guerrilla war, but it would not have changed the system.”
Similar reasoning led Castro to advise Reagan about an extreme right-wing conspiracy to kill him in 1984. Castro ordered the CuIS to furnish all the intelligence to the U.S. Security Chief at United Nations, Robert Muller, and the FBI proceeded to dismantle the plot in North Carolina.
In the same line of sheer nonsense, Dr. Brian Latell joined Shenonism by asserting that Castro warned the Kennedy brothers and the CIA—and the rest of the world—with an advertising piece of his personal bailiwick: “U.S. leaders should think that if they are aiding terrorist plans to eliminate Cuban leaders, they themselves will not be safe”. This statement made by Castro during a reception at the Brazilian Embassy in Havana on September 7, 1963 was quoted by Associated Press reporter Dan Harker and has since become well-known. But in November 1961, Kennedy himself had entertained the same idea. After meeting with Szulc, who noted he was “under terrific pressure from advisors (…) to okay a Castro murder,” Kennedy discussed the issue with his aide Richard Goodwin and remarked: “If we get into that kind of thing, we'll all be targets”. Both were right. The “Castro did it” troupe didn’t get it.
The Decline and Fall of Practically Every Rapport
In Puerto Rico, Veciana used some assets to spy on Castroite agents. The agents found out and tried to kill him with a bomb at a sports event (p. 131). They also came to get him at his house in La Paz, Bolivia, where he worked as consultant to the Central Bank from the spring of 1968 until mid-1972.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) hired Veciana for this job thanks to Bishop. Veciana’s office, devoted to capital development, was in the Passport Division of the American Embassy. In fact, Veciana did little banking and spent most of the time working for Bishop (pp. 134-37).
In an interview by the late Jean-Guy Allard on May 22, 2005, General Escalante gave a confusing statement: “In 1966 and 1967, Felix Rodriguez is in charge of the task force the CIA sent to Bolivia against Ernesto 'Che' Guevara. He used several names. He is there and he ends up participating directly in the murder of Che. Also there, in another position, is Antonio Veciana. He is there as a bank consultant in La Paz, but he runs the center which is coordinating intelligence gathering in the rear guard, working with the Bolivian intelligence services.”
Rodriguez was not in charge of the CIA task force. Another Cuban exile, Gustavo Villoldo, claims to have been the lead agent in the field and dismissed Rodriguez as just a radio operator. Beyond dispute, they both had the same “Jim” as their CIA case officer. Besides that, Veciana arrived in La Paz about six months after Guevara’s death. Nevertheless, he provided a piece of information that goes counter to the official history about how Che’s diary was secretly delivered to Castro. The Bolivian Interior Ministry, Antonio Arguedas, wouldn’t have made such an unexpected decision because of congeniality. Rather, he followed a recommendation by his Cuban-American adviser and CIA agent, Julio García, who suggested the move to divert attention from the contradictory statements given by the Bolivian Armed Forces about Che’s death (p. 148).
Veciana claims that—from his post in La Paz—he helped Bishop to undermine Salvador Allende’s administration in Chile (p. 156). As mentioned above, he also organized a second attempt against Castro under Bishop’s direction at that time. However, the fellow plotters in Venezuela schemed to blame the assassination on Soviet agents without tipping off Veciana. Bishop found out about it and accused Veciana of being part of the scheme. Their longer-than-a-decade relationship was now over (p. 174).
Veciana returned to the US and resumed his work as a sports and concert promoter (p. 175). On July 26, 1973, he met Bishop in the parking lot of the Flagler Dog Track in Miami. Veciana asserts that Bishop gave him a suitcase containing $253,000 in cash, presumably as compensation for his anti-Castro efforts over the years. However, that summertime became dreadful for Veciana (pp. 181-87 passim).
On August 10, he was indicted for conspiracy to distribute narcotics, possession with intent to distribute, and distribution of about seven kilos of cocaine. On August 18, he got discouraged with the anti-Castro militancy in Miami. Scarcely 300 people attended Juan Felipe de la Cruz’s funeral, although he had been branded as an exile hero. De la Cruz had died shortly after noon on August 2, 1973, when a bomb went off as he was assembling it in his room at Hotel Oasis in Avrainville, 15 miles south of Paris, France. The target was Cuban cabinet member Ramiro Valdes, hosted in a nearby chalet. Veciana was involved in the plot.
On January 14, 1974, Veciana was convicted after a five-day trial in the Southern District of New York. Judge Dudley B. Bonsal, who happened to be the brother of former (1959-60) US Ambassador to Cuba Philip W. Bonsal, sentenced Veciana to concurrent terms of seven years on each count, followed by a three-year special parole term. The Court of Appeals (Second Circuit) upheld Bonsal’s ruling, but Veciana would serve just over two years. On March 2, 1976, Church Committee investigator Gaeton Fonzi met with him, and the Oswald-Bishop connection first surfaced, most likely because Veciana believed Bishop had set him up. The search for Maurice Bishop now began and the rest is history, well-told by Fonzi in The Last Investigation (1993) and encompassed in the Volume X (pp. 37-56) of the HSCA Appendix to the Hearings.
On the same day—21st September 1979—that Fonzi gave him the HSCA staff report on him, Veciana was shot while driving home from his office in Miami (pp. 194 f). Four shots were fired, one hit the rearview mirror and a fragment of the bullet imbedded just above Veciana’s left ear. His relatives and friends speculated it was an attempt by Castro agents. Veciana did not rule out a CIA plot.
During the HSCA proceedings, Veciana helped an artist to create a “pretty good”—according to Veciana himself—composite sketch of Bishop. It was shown to Phillips, who said, “It looks like me.” In turn, a photo of Phillips was shown to Veciana. His response wasn’t conclusive. He was then taken to see and speak with Phillips at a luncheon meeting in Reston (VA) on September 17, 1976. At this time, he said Phillips was not Bishop.
Veciana restated this in his sworn testimony before the HSCA on April 26, 1978, although he admitted Phillips and Bishop bore a “physical similarity”. The day before, Phillips had testified he had never used the alias Maurice Bishop and had never met Veciana before the occasion in Reston. But on the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, Veciana authorized Fonzi’s widow, Marie, to publish the following statement: “Maurice Bishop, my CIA contact agent, was David Atlee Phillips. Phillips or Bishop was the man I saw with Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas on September 1963.” Veciana elaborated further through other admissions and revelations at the AARC Conference on September 26, 2014.
Today, an almost nonagenarian Veciana regrets having disregarded his family for politics. In the 1960’s, he founded B&F Marine, a small fiberglass repair shop and selective marine accessory retail store. The company became a dealership for Johnson & Mercury motors and other big brand names during the 1970s. It expanded to four locations, but they were successively closed as good times went by. In August 2016, the family-owned business filed again for bankruptcy after having sailed out of it in 2012 thanks to financial restructuring under the leadership of his son, Antonio Veciana, Jr. In 2017, we now have his book about his past (literally) explosive history.
See also the review by Joseph Green