JFK Most Wanted: Dave Phillips’ CIA operations files

David Phillips

David A. Phillips, chief of CIA anti-Castro covert operations in 1963

David Phillips was a failed actor turned expatriate newspaper publisher in Santiago, Chile when he was recruited into the CIA in the early 1950s. He made his mark fast. In 1955, he won a Distinguished Intelligence Medal, one of the agency’s highest honors, for mounting deceptive radio broadcasts in the CIA’s overthrow of the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954.

After that his CIA career took off. With Howard Hunt, Phillips served as propaganda chief in the CIA’s failed effort to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs In April 1961. When he was assigned to Mexico City in 1962, station chief Win Scott described him as “the finest covert action officer I have ever met.”

After JFK’s assassination, Scott was not so complimentary and I suspect the reason why was Oswald’s curious handling of Oswald. .(I tell the story in my biography of Scott, Our Man in Mexico. Buy it here.)

Phillips on Oswald

Philllips is a significant figure because there is no dispute that he was informed about about Oswald’s travels and politics  before JFK was killed.

Working undercover in Mexico City in 1963, Phillips oversaw CIA photo and audio surveillance of the Cuban diplomatic offices in Mexico City. When Oswald contacted the Cuban consulate on September 27, 1963, Phillips was informed with a couple of days.

Phillips told several contradictory stories what he knew about Oswald and when he knew it.

In his 1977 memoir, Nightwatch, Phillips described Oswald’s visit as a “just another blip on the station’s radar screen. It did not seem important when we first noticed it.” (p. 239)

In November 1976, he added remarkable details not in the book that suggested Oswald was more than a “blip.” He  told Ron Kessler of the Washington Post and Daniel Gillmore of the United Press International agency that Oswald had offered his services to the Cubans during his visit to the consulate.

According to Kessler’s story, Phillips said that Oswald said, “I have information you would be interested in I know you can pay my way.”

In Gillmore’s article, Phillips was quoted as saying, “I have the recollection hazy after fourteen years that Oswald intimated that he had information that might be useful to the Soviets and Cuba, and that he hoped to be provided with free transportation to Russia via Cuba.”

The implication was that Oswald had acted in concert with the Soviets or the Cubans.

The day after he spoke to Kessler, Phillips was questioned, under oath, by Richard Sprague, the general counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). Sprague asked to confirm the quotes and he backtracked.

Gaeton Fonzi

Gaeton Fonzi (Credit: Gordon Winslow)

“I think I may have said that or something near to it, but what I intended to convey was that Mr. Kessler was saying, well, is that the idea and I said yes, that was the idea,” he replied.

(Here’s Phillips’ HSCA Nov. 27, 1976 deposition; see p. 40)

There is no transcript of a phone call that corroborates Phillips’ claim and, by the end of the deposition, he had all but retracted the story he told the two reporters. HSCA general counsel Richard Sprague observed to Phillips “to some degree you have slithered around what are quotes by people in the news media.” (See p. 92).

If Oswald was a lone psychopath, why would tell Phllips such different stories on consecutive days?  You can speculate about the answers. What seems indisputable is that Phillips did not give a coherent account of his pre-assassination knowledge of Oswald.

Phillips’s inconsistent, inaccurate, and evasive answers to questions about Oswald, prompted HSCA investigator Gaeton Fonzi to allege in his book The Last Investigation that Phillips was guilty of perjury in the case of the murdered president.

Fonzi’s belief was fortified by the credible but uncorroborated story of Antonio Veciana who worked with the CIA in 1963. Veciana  said he saw Phillips in the company of Oswald in Dallas in September 1963.

Phillips and assassination

After JFK’s assassination, Phillips went on to become the chief of CIA operations in Latin America. Upon his retirement in 1975, he established himself as one of the most prominent public defenders of the CIA. To defend the agency’s reputation, he founded an organization, the Association of Foreign Intelligence Officers, which still exists today.

Phillips consistently denied that he was involved in Kennedy’s assassination and sued JFK authors who suggested he did. Late in life, Phillips told former HSCA investigator Kevin Walsh that he thought JFK was killed by unnamed “rogue” CIA officers.

Phillips, who died in 1987, also knew how to arrange an assassination.

In 1998, the non-profit National Security Archive obtained and posted CIA documents showing that Phillips, at the direction of CIA director Richard Helms and President Nixon, had worked with ultra-right-wing Chilean military officers responsible for the assassination of General Rene Schneider in October 1970.

What is the CIA censoring?

A search of the online JFK database of the National Archives shows that the CIA retains four files containing 606 pages of material on Phillips,

This material is supposed to be made public in October 2017, though the CIA has the option to ask the President to delay release after that date.

I have a hunch that the withheld material likely includes documents about the conspiracy to kidnap and assassinate Gen. Schneider. It may also include revelatory material about Phillips and the events of 1963.

David Phillips

National Archives list of David Phillips files that remain secret

34 comments

  1. mball says:

    I do recollect reading somewhere (looking for it) that David Phillips directed a lot of DRE’s work, even though Joannides, and Crozier before him, was its case officer. I also recollect that one of DRE’s founders, Juan Manuel Salvat, first met Phillips when Phillips was working in Havana.

  2. Arnaldo M Fernandez says:

    According to Larry Hancock (Someone Would Have Talked, 2003), Phillips told HSCA investigator Kevin Walsh: “My final take on the assassination is there was a conspiracy, likely including American intelligence officers.” The quote wrongly appears thusly: “My private opinion is that JFK was done in by a conspiracy, likely including rogue American intelligence people.”
    Perhaps more curious is Phillips´ final paragraph in his manuscript “The Legacy of AMLASH”:
    “I was one of the two case officers who handled Lee Harvey Oswald. After working to establish his Marxist bona fides, we gave him the mission of killing Fidel Castro in Cuba. I helped him when he came to Mexico City to obtain a visa, and when he returned to Dallas to wait for it I saw him twice there. We rehearsed the plan many times: In Havana Oswald was to assassinate Castro with a sniper’s rifle from the upper floor window of a building on the route where Castro often drove in an open jeep. Whether Oswald was a double-agent or a psycho I’m not sure, and I don’t know why he killed Kennedy. But I do know he used precisely the plan we had devised against Castro. Thus the CIA did not anticipate the President’s assassination but it was responsible for it. I share that guilt.”

    • mitch says:

      You should point out that that manuscript was a novel and not a memoir or anything claimed to be factual.

      To me, it almost seems exculpatory. I wouldn’t write such a thing if I were guilty of conspiring to kill the President. I’m no David Atlee Phillips, though.

      • Arnaldo M Fernandez says:

        You’re right! I only say it’s curious, and precisely because —as in his statement to Walsh— Phillips sounds exculpatory.
        For me, he was engaged in the FBI-CIA operation against the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, and he blatantly lied after the assassination at least for covering up, specially by deflecting the attention to Castro with the stories told by Gilberto Alvarado, Pedro Gutierrez, and others.

      • Fingred says:

        Shortly before his death, Phillips admitted to his brother that he was in Dallas on November 22, 1963. Is that correct?

  3. Jonathan says:

    DAP is almost everyone’s favorite suspect on the conspiracy side of the fence. While I’d sure like to get a look at his files, I doubt they’d show he masterminded the JFK hit.

    I bet they’d show he knew a lot about the person history has come to know as Lee Harvey Oswald, the person John Armstrong calls Harvey Oswald. But he wouldn’t be alone in that regard. Angleton would have known a lot; Helms too. Maybe even lower-downs like Priscilla McMillan and George DeMorenschild. Hoover is a question mark, but he made sure to know everything of importance about everyone of importance.

    I try to understand DAP. He was a success at false radio broadcasts and spycraft. You wouldn’t get truth from him placing him under oath and asking him what he knew about the JFK assassination. That wasn’t his world. His world was deception and manipulation; and above all, protection of the Mother Ship. When he said some “rogue CIA agents” did it, that’s as close you’re going to get to the truth from him.

    Accept this: Unless you believe the assassination was the act of a deranged individual, the hit on JFK came from the highest reaches of American power. For reasons not yet understood well, despite what James Douglass wrote in “The Unspeakable”. The reasons can be understood only in the context of the times.

    • Ronnie Wayne says:

      “The reasons can only be understood in the context of the times.” Thus far Joseph McBride’s Into The Nightmare does that better than anything I’ve yet read. While it does cover a lot of stuff I’ve read and stuff I’ve not, it weaves it together with times I lived through and have memories of. And, half way through it’s already connected a few more dots.

  4. Kennedy63 says:

    Given the expertise available to the agency in regard to disinformation, media collaboration, trained assassins, staging coups, fomenting social unrest, false defectors, mind control and counter-intelligence, Oswald, in the hands of David A. Phillips, could not possible know the depth and deception of the entanglement in which he found himself on November, 22, 1963. It is my firm belief that the Kennedy Assassination was another coup staged by those CIA assets complicit in a conspiracy to effect a domestic regime change. The fired ex-CIA chief, Allen Dulles, stated with such condescension, “that little Kennedy thought he was a god.” If Kennedy, unlikely, did think such thoughts, did Allen Dulles think of himself as far superior? If a group of Marines attacked Cuba without US authorization, would it still be US marines attacking Cuba? To say ‘rogue’ CIA agents murdered JFK, is obfuscation. Agents of the CIA who commit high crimes of a treasonous nature ought to be held accountable, even post-posthumously.There is no need to continue the cover-up; the CIA should come clean. I think the American people will forgive the Agency, yet still seek truth and accountability.

    • jeffc says:

      Fletcher Prouty, among others, repeatedly stressed that the word “agency” was critical to understanding the operational role of the CIA. As an agency, the CIA is working from the direction of higher-ups in the power pyramid, whether in the federal government or not.

  5. Bill Kelly says:

    From what I understand, CIA Operational Files must, by law, be reviewed for declassification every ten years, and they were last reviewed in 2005, so they should be up for review again in 2015, which is two years before the 2017 release of JFK Act records.

    Jim Lesar circulated a CIA request for public comments on the declassification and release of CIA operational files in 2005, so they should be gearing up for another round of review of such records.

    • Ronnie Wayne says:

      Thank you Bill. I’m so out of the loop. I don’t have time to look at all the websites about the subject or read enough.
      Thanks for posting the info here, I like your blog too but like other sites I like I don’t often find time to get to them (no disrespect for it intended). I read here then go to your site, CTKA and others for accurate important information.

  6. Mickey K says:

    Long time reader, first time poster. I read David Atlee Phillips testimony to the HSCA and hanged on his every word. The committee members seemed very thorough in their questioning (based on the information available to them at the time) and I felt like Mr. Phillips came across very smoothly despite his inability to recall specific things that he could easily and casually remember the day before. Whether he had any role in the assassination or the coverup, every minute detail of his actual role (involving his job) would forever be etched in his mind pertaining to the cables he referenced. He seemed to push the blame on Win Scott when he deemed necessary… and referred a few times to his oath of secrecy. Just my two cents. Now I just hope his kids all made it through college.

    • Gerry Simone says:

      Huh? You should read Robert Tanenbaum’s foward to Mark Lane’s book Last Word.

      DAP did not explain how the tape of ‘Oswald’ was heard by the FBI after it was supposedly ‘cycled’ as he put it. He got up and left the hearing room.

      Tanenbaum felt he should’ve been subpoenaed for further clarification or information.

      More CIA obfuscation. More secrets buried. And we are talking about the murder of the President of the United States.

      • Gerry Simone says:

        Addendum: I should add that Tanenbaum, acting as Deputy Chief Counsel for the HSCA, resigned when nothing was done about DAP’s refusal to answer more questions about that tape. He felt the committee was another WC whitewash.

        That should make DAP’s kids proud. *rolleyes*

        • Mickey K says:

          I got the feeling he had X amount of time to burn while asking questions & he got away with it. I’m sure watching him squirm under the microscope of the media & the committee would’ve been a much different experience. Any idea where I can watch the HSCA footage/testimony? There should be some archive somewhere.

          • Gerry Simone says:

            I’m not sure where you can find that footage other than a Google search.

            BTW, you should read the review of Mark Lane’s Last Word on DiEugenio’s site. See the link I provided below in a reply to DiEugenio’s post.

  7. Ronnie Wayne says:

    Back to Maurice Bishop. Identified, on this site by Antonio Veciana. Corroborated by (HSCA Investigator) Gaeton Fonzi in the Last Investigation. Obvious prior experience in this stuff from Guatemala takeover in 56′ and the Bay of Pigs.
    Had more connections w/Angleton/Dulles/maybe Harvey (Bill) (not Lee).
    Why did he light that second cigaret on the stand at the HSCA with one burning in the ashtray? Was he nervous because he ended up committing perjury.

  8. Larry Hancock says:

    I’ve had a large number of Phillip’s personnel files for some time, including a couple that show disciplinary actions against him for security violations. Ditto for Morales. But you don’t find operational information in personnel files; if you really want that you have to go to the Station files and look for projects or look at the person’s boss’s file and search it for correspondence from your target. It might be more productive to search Fitzgerald’s files for memos from Phillips. Especially with someone like Phillips most of their day to day work, if documented at all, goes into their desk drawer soft file and never anywhere else. Their memos to their boss would be in his file or the Station file and only on rear occasions, mostly if a major operation is in progress does something from them shows up at headquarters. For example Bill Simpich found a key record of David Phillips picking up a special embassy package sent from Mexico City during his rush fall trip up there but that was just part of the big JFK file sweep. Simpich can probably offer a lot better advice on where to look than this but generally when I’ve found a real operations file on someone it was by looking for what they might have been involved in according to their job rather than by name. We have Morales files on Tilt because he was Ops officer for JMWAVE, they show up under Tilt, not Morales.

    • Arnaldo M Fernandez says:

      I think that´s the point for getting the whole picture: focus also in operations. Phillips himself wore —like Two-Gun Harvey— more than one CIA hat in 1963. Being Chief of the Cuban Desk in Mexico City, he was engaged with Staff D and Covert Action in WH. Thus, the inquires must cover, v.g., the anti-FPCC joint operation by CIA (John Tilton, Anita Potocki…) and FBI (Lambert Anderson is a key piece), as well as some operations by Covert Action Chief Richard Helms and the Heads of Cuban Affairs Desmond FitzGerald (Langley) and Ted Shackley (Miami). A to-do-list is needed.

    • Jonathan says:

      Larry,

      In the summer of 1970, my job was to scan files of Army M.I. officers of rank O-1 to O-5 for possible assignment to Viet Nam.

      These were classified personnel files. As you write, they contained NO operational information. Just stuff like assignments, ratings, schooling, and medals. You couldn’t tell anything from the assignments.

  9. Curt says:

    Jeff, thought your readers might be interested in this. Last night on American Heroes Channel (FIOS 125) they ran a segment from their CIA field declassified series – this particular documentary program was on operation PB Success – the CIA Guatemala Coup. They portrayed David Philips in his role in Operation Sherwood – the taping of six weeks worth of false radio broadcasts weeks ahead of time which were then sent to Guatemala and used to facilitate a bogus invasion.
    Initially, the coup almost failed as most of the 400 rebels where captured or retreated. President Eisenhower then granted a CIA request to supply two F-47 fighter bombers who staged bogus bombing raids, dropping smoke bombs to simulate real bombs, scaring the public. One of Philipp’s radio broadcasts said that thousands of rebels were invading Guatemala City, and people started to flee. The generals close to President of Guatemala then rebelled, and he resigned. The CIA’s new pick took office. One of the key ways this happened was that just prior, one of the generals defected, but refused to go on the radio as Philipp’s requested. So Philips got him drunk and he started blabbing about how he defected. Meanwhile, Phillips had turned on the tape recorder and then used it publically in one of the broadcasts. One thought, would be interesting to see if you could get them to do a program on the JFK files,

    • leslie sharp says:

      jeffc and Kennedy63, great exchange.

      I’ve long been of the mind, with circumstantial facts to warrant pursuit of the theory, that DAP could not possibly have orchestrated a cover up, and therefore any involvement he had in the assassination was under much higher authority. The same certainly goes for William Harvey and David Morales et al. I also believe that Phillips’ true allegiance lay outside the agency.

      So who might that authority have been, and who now resting in the shadows has yet to be named or considered? Allen Dulles is of course the nail that sticks up, but is he really the sponsor of the assassination? I don’t think so only because of his personality and background. I think he was quite capable of murder, but I do not believe he would have authorized this high profile assassination (with its global impact) to be executed in broad daylight without the blessing of many including figures within the military industrial community.

      Curt writes in this thread about Operation PBSuccess, an excellent starting point to consider those former OSS then CIA officials who would have been prominent in the agency at the time. It set the stage for the greater concern over impediments to US expansion into the whole of Latin America that culminated in a micro sense in Cuba 1959. The stage was much larger than that small island, and the time frame of getting rid of Kennedy most surely should encompass the threat he posed to historical precedence and long term/strategic planning.

      Curt says, “They portrayed David Philips in his role in Operation Sherwood – the taping of six weeks worth of false radio broadcasts weeks ahead of time which were then sent to Guatemala and used to facilitate a bogus invasion.”

      To begin, is this the propaganda formulated by Edward Bernays on behalf of Sullivan Cromwell client United Fruit whose major operations in the country were under threat? Most here are familiar with the story including the fact that the SC firm was the periodic home of attorneys John Foster and Allen Dulles. Many will also recognize that among the board of UF was John McCloy. This is old ground, but it lays a foundation for the introduction of additional faces to the ongoing pursuit of the shadow forces that operated within the MIC.

  10. Phillips is one of the most utterly fascinating suspects in the JFK case.

    Simply take for example the fact that he and McCord ran the CIA’s counterintelligence program against the FPCC. I mean, does that not suggest that he may have been involved with what Oswald was doing in New Orleans in the summer of 1963? For the simple reason that too many people saw Oswald either at 544 Camp Street or with Banister and/or Ferrie. In Destiny Betrayed, I listed over ten witnesses who were credible on this issue. Including people like Bill Gaudet and Vernon Gerdes and Allen Campbell. (See pages 110-113) Therefore, if Oswald was an undercover agent against the FPCC, which he has all the earmarks of being, then Phillips likely knew what he was doing.

    Then there is Phillips in Mexico City. And how he and Goodpasture controlled the daily take from the target embassies. And how the declassified ARRB files reveal that Phillips mailed the Oswald trasncripts to himself at Langley under a false name . Not to mention the fact that the Lopez Report catches Phillips in at least three lies. One of the things Hardway revealed in PIttsburgh was that the HSCA prepared two indictments for perjury about Mexico CIty, one for Phillips and one for Goodpasture. Did anyone see this on the MSM during the 50th?

    One of the most ridiculous things about the WR and volumes is that Phillips’ name is not in the nearly 19,000 pages of materials. I mean, this may have been the guy managing Oswald at a mid level in the months leading up to the assassination.

    Then there is the Veciana story about the SOuthland building and the story about Phillips’ last call to his brother. And the incredible confession at UCLA with Mark Lane, that when all was in, there was no evidence about Oswald being at the Soviet Embassy. I mean he should know since Lopez told me that Phillips and Goodpasture were as tight as Mutt and Jeff in Mexico City.

    If there was ever a guy who you needed every bit of paper on declassified its this guy.

    • Gerry Simone says:

      It’s highly suspicious information Jim but it’s secrecy is not surprising considering the agency involved.

      If LHO was manipulated, was the Agency involved or aware? Should they have been aware? If so, could they have prevented the assassination? If so, why not?

      So it is either complicit or negligent, and if the latter, there’s especially no reason why files should not be released when it involves deceased agents who might be culpable.

      • Gerry Simone says:

        [Edit: That should be 'its']

        As you know (since Lane’s Last Word was reviewed* on your site) but for the benefit of others, Robert K. Tanenbaum, the former Deputy Chief Counsel on the HSCA, resigned over the failure of the Committee to subpoena Phillips for further examination to more answers.

        *http://www.ctka.net/reviews/last_word_lane.html

  11. H.P. Albarelli Jr. says:

    Small point, but since ‘facts’ are valued: Phillips was not a “failed actor”. He actually had a very short and promising career that was interrupted by the war and his enlistment. Rarely are there mentions of the fact that he was a POW and managed to escape.

    • Gerry Simone says:

      Hello Mr. Albarelli,

      Good to see you out here.

      I met a history grad and curator from New Mexico at the Lancer Conference who had gifted me your book as his appreciation of a small favor I did for him. I haven’t gotten to it yet, but look forward to reading it.

  12. Ronnie Wayne says:

    The whole fishiness of Oswald and the FPCC would seem to be right up Phillips alley as his area of expertise was propaganda. O working for/with Banister who was definitely NOT pro Castro in the summer of 63. Yet the only NO member, the staged fisticuff, the debate, the Camp Street stamped flyers.
    The whole Oswald in Mexico City charade smells of a propaganda operation in action. With Phillips right there.
    Might his files mention a bag full of hush money doled out to Antonio Veciana?

  13. Mickey K says:

    This seems suspicious (from wikipedia), if Bishop=Phillips:

    Veciana said that several months after the assassination Bishop had offered to pay a relative of Veciana who worked in the Cuban Intelligence Directorate in Mexico City to say publicly that he had met Oswald there.

  14. Brian H says:

    Mr Morley GREAT idea for a discussion topic where ever did you come up with this lol..
    Seriously you run a top shelf site here sir and I’m glad to see you using this idea….

  15. Tom Scully says:

    On May 6, I contributed a post in reply to the instant Phillips article. I pasted the text of post here, http://www.wordcounttool.com/ to head off this site’s policy of prohibitiing most posts in excess of 500 words. My post has not been approved. I had excerpted a small segment of Phillip’s 1978 HSCA testimony naming and describing his closest friend of longstanding and their interaction. The friend fronted as a journalist and had interesting relatives in the news media.

    Mr. Albarelli, facts are valued….

    Peter Janney, published in his revised paperback edition of “Mary’s Mosaic”:
    “The purported confessional telephone call to author Leo Damore at the end of March, 1993 by someone claiming to be Mitchell now invites some new consideration. First attorney James Smith’s notes about the call, taken when Damore called Smith within hours after his converstaion with the person claiming to be Mitchell, reflected Damore’s statements that William Mitchell had been married with five children and was now living under another name in Virginia. None of this appears to be true. In addition, the real William L. Mitchell was not seventy-four years old in 1993, but fifty-four. There has been so far, no indication that Mitchell ever had any liason with the FBI.”

    http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?showtopic=19016&p=274740
    Hank Albarelli Posted 29 May 2013
    “I have not read it. [My source knew Mr. Mitchell quite well and indeed still communicates and occasionally visits with him; that I passed this on to peter was entirely appropriate.} There is far more to the Mary M. story than has been released thus far….”

  16. Wynne Johnson says:

    There were two previously unknown witnesses to the meeting of Phillips with Veciana and Oswald in Dallas in September, 1963. I am one of the two. This summer, 2014, I have had an extensive correspondence with Marie Fonzi about this and have written a short paper providing the details. I doubt that I will be believed, but I am telling the truth.

    As for the story about the phone call between Phillips and his brother, somebody should get the source of this story and be sure that November 22 is the day that Phillips was talking about, not the day ten weeks earlier. I myself affirm that he was in Dallas on that earlier day. I saw him myself.

  17. I wouldn’t say DAP failed at acting, though.

  18. Ken says:

    @Wayne,Are you the one who posted a video that you saw Oswald Phillips and (Venicano?) in a skyscraper in Dallas with your female friend?

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