How CIA propaganda assets shaped JFK headlines

Excerpted from Scorpions’ Dance: The President, the Spymaster and Watergate (St Martin’s Press, 2022

“I waited fifty minutes,” Lanuza recalled. “Then I started to call my list.” Decades later he could still rattle off the reporters’ names and publications from memory. “I called Hal Hendrix. He was the most important person in Miami News.” Hendrix, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the missile crisis, would later a corporate executive and CIA asset in Chile. Lanuza called Mary Louise Wilkinson, a sympathetic reporter at the Miami News. He called John Dille, a writer at Life Magazine who had written a laudatory cover story on the DRE.

Miami Herald 112363
Within hours of JFK’s assassination, the Miami-based Cuban Student Directorate, subsidized by the CIA , identified accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald as a Castro supporter.

The DRE’s story of the suspected assassin’s support for Castro had credibility, thanks to the group’s record of activism. Their story about the pro-Castro Oswald was corroborated by a tape of the WDSU radio debate, made by an anti-communist organization called the Information Council of the Americas. INCA, as it was known, also had a collaborative relationship with the Agency. The group helped publicize the CIA-orchestrated defection of Juana Castro, Fidel’s sister, in 1964. The group’s executive director, Edward Scannell Butler, served as “our contact,” according to the local CIA office. Thanks to the DRE and INCA, Oswald’s association with the pro-Castro Fair Play for Cuba Committee became headline news across the country within twenty-four hours.  Unknownst to the world, the two ostensibly independent groups were both CIA propaganda assets.

AMSPELL’s  message about Oswald was more than influential. It was defining.

“Oswald Tried to Spy on Anti-Castro Exile Group,” said the front-page story in the  Miami Herald the next day. In Texas, the Austin American-Statesman blared “Pro-Castroite Seized as Suspect in Killing.”  In upstate New York, the Rochester Democrat-Chronicle reported, “Pro-Castro Gunman Charged in Assassination of Kennedy.” The New York Times reported Oswald “tried to infiltrate the Cuban Student Directorate seeking to overthrow Cuban Premier Fidel Castro, according to Cuban exiles in New Orleans and Miami.” 

Of course, Helms recognized the name of the Cuban Student Directorate. He knew the cryptonym, AMSPELL. He had assigned the group’s case officer, George Joannides, and he knew AMHINT-53 personally. And he knew the Agency was still funding the group. In his testimony to assassination investigators, Helms never mentioned it was his Cuban agents who first identified Oswald as a Castro supporter. If he had, he would have blown his own operation.


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