Sunday, October 31, 2010
David Atlee Phillips - The Ultimate Spook - Happy Birthday - Happy Halloween - October 31, 1922 - July 7, 1988
David Atlee Phillips (October 31, 1922–July 7, 1988) was a Central Intelligence Agency officer for 25 years, one of a handful of people to receive the Career Intelligence Medal. He rose to become the CIA's chief of all operations in the Western hemisphere. In 1975 he founded the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), an alumni association comprising intelligence officers from all services.
Phillips was born in Fort Worth, Texas. He attended William and Mary College and Texas Christian University. Phillips established his ties to the intelligence community during World War II, when as a prisoner of war in Germany he became a member of an escape committee, serving until his own escape.
Phillips joined the CIA as a part-time agent in 1950 in Chile, where he owned and edited "The South Pacific Mail", an English-language newspaper that circulated throughout South America and several islands in the Pacific. He became a full-time operative in 1954 and rose through the ranks to intelligence officer, chief of station and eventually chief of all operations in the Western hemisphere, serving primarily in Latin America, including Cuba, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.
Some researchers claim Phillips used the alias "Maurice Bishop" (not to be confused with the former prime minister of Grenada, Maurice Bishop). He used the pseudonym whilst working with Alpha 66, an organization of anti-Castro Cubans. Alpha 66's founder, Antonio Veciana, claimed that during one of his meetings with "Bishop", Lee Harvey Oswald was also in attendance. Some observers noted the fact that Phillips was the officer in charge of the CIA's Mexico City station when Oswald visited the city. In a deathbed statement released in 2007, Watergate figure and CIA officer Howard Hunt named Phillips as one of the participants in the JFK assassination.
United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) investigator Gaeton Fonzi believed Phillips was Bishop. In the HSCA's 1979 report, it stated:
"The committee suspected that Veciana was lying when he denied that the retired CIA officer was Bishop. The committee recognized that Veciana had an interest in renewing his anti-Castro operations that might have led him to protect the officer from exposure as Bishop so they could work together again. For his part, the retired officer aroused the committee's suspicion when he told the committee he did not recognize Veciana as the founder of Alpha 66, especially since the officer had once been deeply involved in Agency anti-Castro operations. Further, a former CIA case officer who was assigned from September 1960 to November 1962 to the JM/WAVE station in Miami told the committee that the retired officer had in fact used the alias, Maurice Bishop. The committee also interviewed a former assistant of the retired officer but he could not recall his former superior ever having used the name or having been referred to as Bishop."
The report went on to dismiss Veciana's testimony about the meeting:
"In the absence of corroboration or independent substantiation, the committee could not, therefore, credit Veciana's story of having met with Lee Harvey Oswald." (page 137)
During the 1970s the intelligence community was rocked by a number of leaks and embarrassing revelations. Phillips took early retirement in order to respond in public. The former officer stated that he felt intelligence communities should be kept from committing excesses, but not undermined or destroyed. Although much attacked at a time when many people called for the dismantlement of the CIA, Phillips toured the world to speak out in favor of the need for a strong intelligence community.
He was subsequently himself accused of being a participant in the John F. Kennedy and Orlando Letelier assassinations. Philips successfully sued some publications for libel, retractions were issued and monetary damages were awarded. Phillips donated these proceeds to AFIO for the purpose of creating a legal defense fund for American intelligence officers who felt they were the victims of libel.
Phillips wrote and lectured frequently on intelligence matters. He authored five books, including his CIA memoir The Night Watch, Careers in Secret Operations, a novel of Arab terrorists intent on damaging Washington landmarks, The Terror Brigade, a spy novel called The Carlos Contract, and The Great Texas Murder Trials: A Compelling Account of the Sensational T. Cullen Davis Case. (on T. Cullen Davis).
Bay of Pigs Invasion (1961)
E. Howard Hunt (1918–2007)
Felix Rodriguez (b.1941–)
Richard M. Bissell, Jr. (1909–1994)
Frank Sturgis (1924–1993)
Guillermo Hernández-Cartaya (b.1932–)
Porter Goss (b.1938–)
Barry Seal (1939–1986)
Watergate scandal (1972)
New York Times, 10 July 1988, David Atlee Phillips Dead at 65; Ex-Agent Was Advocate of C.I.A.
Rolling Stone, 5 April 2007, The Last Confessions of E. Howard Hunt
United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (1979), HSCA Report, page 136footnote 23
Phillips, David Atlee (1977). The Night Watch: 25 Years of Peculiar Service. New York: Atheneum. ISBN 0689107544. OCLC 2424448.
Phillips, David Atlee (1978). The Carlos contract : a novel of international terrorism. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 0025961101. OCLC 4135781.
Phillips, David Atlee (1979). The Great Texas Murder Trials: A Compelling Account of the Sensational T. Cullen Davis Case. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 0025961500.
Phillips, David Atlee (1984). Careers in Secret Operations: How to be a Federal Intelligence Officer. Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America.
Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives
Name Phillips, David Atlee
Alternative names - "Maurice Bishop"
Date of birth October 31, 1922
Place of birth Fort Worth, Tx.
Date of death July 7, 1988
Place of death Washington DC
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Atlee_Phillips"
Categories: 1922 births | 1988 deaths | American spies | People associated with the John F. Kennedy assassination | People of the Central Intelligence Agency
The Man Nobody Bothered to Call
An ex-CIA agent -- repeatedly accused in print of being implicated in the assassination of JFK -- raises the issue of journalistic due process.
by David Atlee Phillips
Reproduced from the Columbia Journalism Review
Two clarifications, up front. First, I asked for it. In 1975 I retired early from the CIA to found the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), a group of men and women from the various intelligence agencies. As a result of the lecturing and writing that I did at this time, and of a number of appearances on television, I became a public figure. An advocate of a strong intelligence capability during a time of emotional debate on the subject, I thrust myself, in the words of Justice Powell in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., into the forefront of a public controversy.
Next, these activities were frequent and highly visible. They included appearances on all major U.S. television networks, on 60 Minutes, on British and French television; lecturing across the country; and writing a book on my CIA experiences. The point here is to indicate that as a public spokesman in the intelligence arena I have been easy to locate. My home and office telephone numbers have been listed in the phone book. In short, I have not been hiding out.
Those points made, I submit a sequence of events that should make some members of the Fourth Estate reexamine their concept of professional ethics.
In May of 1980 a book titled Conspiracy, by Anthony Summers, was published by Gollancz in London. The book invited, indeed pressed, the reader to believe that during my CIA service I used the pseudonym "Maurice Bishop" (which I did not) and that I met Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas shortly before the assassination of John F. Kennedy (which I did not). The Summers conspiracy theory was fleshed out on bones of speculation provided to the British writer by Gaeton Fonzi, an investigative journalist turned government investigator for the Senate probe into the Kennedy assassination in 1975-76; he was again an investigator in 1978-79 with the House Select Committee on Assassinations. When Conspiracy was published in England a page of excerpts dedicated to the proposition that I was Maurice Bishop was published by the London Observer.
In the acknowledgements of his book, Summers thanked half a dozen people he interviewed during research in the Washington, D.C., area, where I live. Although any of those he interviewed could have provided my address and telephone number to Summers, he didn't contact me. Nor did the editors of his book when it was published in England. I heard nothing from The Observer, which maintains a bureau in Washington, D.C., before that newspaper repeated the libel.
If some in the British press were guilty of questionable journalism by not offering me a chance to comment, their transgressions were mild when compared with the irresponsibility of a larger number of U.S. media who picked up the story and embellished it in subsequent years.
McGraw-Hill published the American edition of Conspiracy in early June of 1980. No one at that respected house offered me the chance to comment on the charges. Nor did Summers, despite my public challenge to him before the publication of the American edition.
In mid-1980 I was accused of involvement in another political assassination.
On June 25, 1980, a press conference was held in Washington, D.C. It had been convened by one Dr. William F. Pepper, introduced as a distinguished lawyer, psychologist, and educator. The purpose of the conference was to announce that I and other individuals had manipulated several groups, particularly the AFIO, in a cover-up after the murder of former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffitt in Washington in 1976. One specific charge was that I had purloined documents from Letelier's briefcase and, after rewriting them for disinformation purposes, distributed them to the world press. That allegation had first been made by Saul Landau, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Now the allegation became a detailed denunciation of me, and a demand that I be prosecuted by the Department of Justice. Two freelance journalists, Donald Freed and Fred Landis, spoke at the press conference. Lawrence Hill, a book publisher, attended but did not speak.
I did not attend the press conference, being unaware that I was going to be the subject of it. I certainly did not suspect that the charges would form the basis of a book.
After retiring from the CIA, I had begun to write for a number of periodicals. One was Washingtonian magazine. Usually I worked directly with editor John A. Limpert; this relationship became personal when Limpert invited me and my wife to his home. In 1979 Limpert commissioned me to write an article on intelligence nonfiction literature and, in early 1980, another on hostage situations. Later that year Limpert asked me to submit an essay on espionage fiction.
Shortly after Conspiracy appeared in the U.S., I wrote to Limpert, telling him that I was going to miss my deadline for the espionage fiction piece. The reason was that I was so agitated about Summers's allegations in Conspiracy that I was "Maurice Bishop" and, using that pseudonym, had been somehow involved in Kennedy's death, that I found it difficult to concentrate on my writing.
No problem, Limpert responded in a letter a few days later. "I can understand that deadline problem," he wrote. "Hope things clear up for you." The letter also stated that the espionage fiction project was not being assigned to another writer.
On October 15, I wrote to advise Limpert that I was ready to write again, should he still be interested in the essay. While I waited for his response, the November issue of Washingtonian came off the press and advance copies were distributed to the media on October 24. The cover story in that issue bore the title "Who Killed JFK?" The magazine article, repeat magazine article, ran to more than 80,000 words. In pursuing the question of who assassinated John F. Kennedy, the article invoked the name of Lee Harvey Oswald about 100 times. It mentioned my name more than 300 times. There was one photograph of Oswald. There were four different photographs of me and two reproductions of a composite sketch of "Maurice Bishop." The reader was invited to compare the drawings with photographs of me.
Jack Limpert did ask for my comments -- after the story was published and on the wires of UPI and the AP. The 80,000 words had been written by Gaeton Fonzi, once again a journalist. He had not sought my reaction. Later, Limpert responded to a query about why I was not allowed to comment by saying that Fonzi had in the past "talked with Mr. Phillips." That was true, as far as it went. But Fonzi had not spoken to me in his capacity as a journalist. He had interrogated me for several hours as a government investigator on two occasions -- in 1976 and 1979; in both instances I volunteered to answer his questions.
I declined Limpert's invitation to comment in the next month's issue of Washingtonian on the advice of counsel. I had decided to sue for libel. The case was dismissed by three lower courts and the Maryland Court of Appeals. I was clearly a public figure and would be unlikely to be able to prove malice.
The ink was hardly dry on the ream of accusations in Washingtonian when Lawrence Hill & Company of Westport, Connecticut, published a book called Death in Washington, written by Donald Freed and Fred Landis. In addition to the charges that I was an accessory before and after the fact in the Letelier assassination, the book repeated the "Maurice Bishop" fantasy. A photograph of me was captioned "The Other Lee Harvey Oswald." Neither of the co-authors had queried me, nor had Dr. William F. Pepper, who wrote the preface. Publisher Hill had not asked for my comments, nor had his editor.
This time, however, a legal effort prevailed. On February 14, 1986, after almost five years of litigation, my libel suit was settled when co-authors Freed and Landis submitted a statement of retraction to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Publisher Hill also signed the statement. Dr. William F. Pepper did not -- that worthy had slipped out of sight, having eluded for four years all efforts by private investigators to locate him. (The 1980 press conference demand for a Justice Department investigation was on Dr. Pepper's stationery, with letterhead addresses and telephone numbers in New York and Rhode Island. By the time I began calling, the telephones had been disconnected. I still don't know where the elusive Dr. Pepper is.)
The settlement involved a financial payment to me and, with the agreement of the defendants, a full-page publication of the statement of retraction in Publishers Weekly.
It was a satisfying development, but there was more to come.
In November 1985, I saw the uncorrected galleys of a new book about the Kennedy assassination. Reasonable Doubt, by Henry Hurt, had initially been a Reader's Digest project; when the Digest abandoned the book, it was purchased by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston (now Henry Holt and Company).
I flipped through the galleys. There it was: the "Maurice Bishop" yarn had been resurrected.
On November 27, 1985, I wrote the author and, at Henry Holt, the president and the editors involved. Could I have 2,000 words somewhere in the book to refute the allegations? On January 8, 1986, I heard from W. Mallory Rintoul, Esquire, general counsel for Henry Holt. Sorry, the book had gone to press.
In February I wrote to the lawyer. If the book has gone to press, might I have the opportunity to provide 2,000 words of refutation in any future edition?
In March, Henry Holt's lawyer responded: No. And Mr. Rintoul continued his letter with a legal lecture in which he admonished me that "you are subject to the public official/public figure doctrine established under the New York Times case and its progeny."
In my reply to that stern reminder I conceded that I was a public official. I offered to sign a legal document prepared by Mr. Rintoul promising that I would never sue anyone connected with Reasonable Doubt. Having signed such a pledge, could I then have my 2,000 words in any subsequent printing?
That letter, according to the Post Office, was received in New York on March 21, 1986. There has been no reply as I write this, more than six months later. On the other hand, there was some good news from abroad. On October 7, 1986, the High Court in London announced the resolution of my libel suit against The Observer: the weekly agreed to retract Anthony Summers's allegations that I had been Lee Harvey Oswald's CIA contact and to pay me a substantial sum in damages.
Although such long-fought-for victories are cheering indeed, the overall pattern of journalistic behavior is depressing. It certainly depresses me. And I suspect it will not induce a state of euphoria in the vast majority of journalists who do give people they write about a fair shake. Then why this jeremiad? I suppose it is because I feel the need to express some righteous indignation to an audience of professionals.
I certainly don't suggest any legislative action that would inhibit the free and robust discussion of public issues and public officials. But I do believe it is inexcusable that a few journalists and authors should conclude that they can libel -- and, later, on talk shows defame -- victims of their allegations without being called to account. Whatever happened to the Sigma Delta Chi Code of Ethics and its "The news media should not communicate unofficial charges affecting reputation or moral character without giving the accused a chance to reply"? How can there be robust discussion unless there is more than one party to the discussion? What excuse can there be for journalism that hangs a man without allowing him to speak in his own defense?
David Atlee Phillips was editor and publisher of The South Pacific Mail, in Santiago, Chile, when he was recruited by the CIA in 1950. He served with the agency for twenty-five years; at retirement he was chief of Latin American and Caribbean Operations.
David Atlee Phillips was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on 31st October, 1922. He was educated at William and Mary College and Texas Christian University. During the Second World War he served as a nose gunner in the United States Air Force.
Phillips joined the Central Intelligence Agency in 1950. Over the next few years Phillips was involved in clandestine operations in Guatemala against President Jacobo Arbenz. The plot against Arbenz became part of Executive Action (a plan to remove unfriendly foreign leaders from power).
Tracy Barnes was placed in charge of what became known as Operation Success. Phillips was appointed to run the propaganda campaign against Arbenz's government. According to Phillips he initially questioned the right of the CIA to interfere in Guatemala: In his autobiography Phillips claims he said to Barnes: "But Arbenz became President in a free election. What right do we have to help someone topple his government and throw him out of office?" However, Barnes convinced him that it was vital important that the Soviets did not establish a "beachhead in Central America".
The CIA propaganda campaign included the distribution of 100,000 copies of a pamphlet entitled Chronology of Communism in Guatemala. They also produced three films on Guatemala for showing free in cinemas. Phillips, along with E.Howard Hunt, was responsible for running the CIA's Voice of Liberation radio station. Faked photographs were distributed that claimed to show the mutilated bodies of opponents of Arbenz. William (Rip) Robertson was also involved in the campaign against Jacobo Arbenz.
The CIA began providing financial and logistic support for Colonel Carlos Castillo. With the help of resident Anastasio Somoza, Castillo had formed a rebel army in Nicaragua. It has been estimated that between January and June, 1954, the CIA spent about $20 million on Castillo's army.
On 18th June 1954, aircraft dropped leaflets over Guatemala demanding that Arbenz resign immediately or else the county would be bombed. CIA's Voice of Liberation also put out similar radio broadcasts. This was followed by a week of bombing ports, ammunition dumps, military barracks and the international airport.
Carlos Castillo's collection of soldiers now crossed the Honduran-Guatemalan border. His army was outnumbered by the Guatemalan Army. However, the CIA Voice of Liberation successfully convinced Arbenz's supporters that two large and heavily armed columns of invaders were moving towards Guatemala City.
The CIA was also busy bribing Arbenz's military commanders. It was later discovered that one commander accepted $60,000 to surrender his troops. Ernesto Guevara attempted to organize some civil militias but senior army officers blocked the distribution of weapons. Jacobo Arbenz now believed he stood little chance of preventing Castillo gaining power. Accepting that further resistance would only bring more deaths he announced his resignation over the radio.
Castillo's new government was immediately recognised by President Dwight Eisenhower. Castillo now reversed the Arbenz reforms. In July 19, 1954, he created the National Committee of Defense Against Communism and decreed the Preventive Penal Law Against Communism to fight against those who supported Arbenz when he was in power. Over the next few weeks thousands were arrested on suspicion of communist activity. A large number of these prisoners were tortured or killed.
David Atlee Phillips also worked undercover in Cuba (1959-60). He returned to the United States in 1960 and was involved in the organization of the Bay of Pigs operation. During this period he worked with E.Howard Hunt in the attempts to have Fidel Castro murdered.
Phillips worked under Winston Scott, the head of the CIA station in Mexico. In April 1963 Scott wrote that: "His (Phillips) comprehensive understanding of human beings combined with a thorough knowledge of covert action techniques and his fluent Spanish make him unusually valuable... He is the most outstanding Covert Action officer that this rating officer has ever worked with."
Winston Scott suggested to Richard Helms that Phillips should become his deputy station chief. However, Helms decided to appoint Phillips as Chief of Cuban Operations. Desmond FitzGerald arrived in Mexico City to tell Phillips that he had the freedom to roam the entire Western Hemisphere mounting secret operations to get rid of Fidel Castro. Phillips now worked closely with David Morales at JM WAVE in Miami. Phillips also provided support to Alpha 66. It was later claimed that Phillips told Antonio Veciana his goal was to provoke US intervention in Cuba by "putting Kennedy's back to the wall."
Jefferson Morley argues in his book, Our Man in Mexico (2008) that Phillips was running an anti-Castro covert operation out of the US Embassy in Mexico City. Morley speculates that his field man was George Joannides.
On 25th November, Gilberto Alvarado, a 23 year-old Nicaraguan man, contacted the U.S. embassy in Mexico City and said he had some important information about Lee Harvey Oswald. The U.S. ambassador, Thomas C. Mann, passed the information onto Winston Scott and the following morning, Scott's deputy, Alan White and another CIA officer interviewed Avarado. He claimed that during a visit to the Cuban Embassy he overheard a man he now recognised as Oswald, talking to a red-haired Negro man. According to Avarado, Oswald said something about being man enough to kill someone. He also claimed that he saw money changing hands. He reported the information at the time to the U.S. Embassy but they replied: "Quit wasting our time. We are working here, not playing."
Winston Scott told Phillips about what Gilberto Alvarado had said to Alan White. On 26th November, Phillips had a meeting with Alvarado in a safe-house. Alvarado told Phillips that the red-haired black man had given Oswald $1,500 for expenses and $5,500 as an advance. Although he was not sure of the date, he thought it was about 18th September.
Thomas C. Mann and Phillips believed Alvarado but Scott was not so sure. He argued that there was an "outside possibility" that it might be a set-up by the right-wing government in Nicaragua who wanted the United States to invade Cuba. However, as Jefferson Morley pointed out in Our Man in Mexico: "The unstated message emanating from the White House was by now clear to Win - though not to Mann. Speculation about Oswald's motives was to be cut off, not pursued."
On 27th November, Luis Echeverria told Scott that they had rearrested Silvia Duran because she was trying to leave Mexico for Cuba. Thomas C. Mann sent a message to Winston Scott that stated: "Duran should be told that as the only living non-Cuban who knew the full story, she was in exactly the same position as Oswald prior to the assassination. Her only chance of survival is to come clean with the whole story and cooperate fully. I think she'll crack when confronted with the details."
On 28th November, Scott contacted Luis Echeverria and told him that Washington wanted the Mexicans to interrogate Gilberto Alvarado. On 29th November, Scott received a message from John M. Whitten saying: "Please continue to keep us filled in on status of interrogations of Slvia Duran, Alvarado and others implicated as fast as you can get info."
J. Edgar Hoover sent FBI agent, Larry Keenan, to Mexico City in order to have a meeting with Winston Scott, Thomas C. Mann and Phillips. Mann started the meeting by expressing the belief that Fidel Castro and the DGI were behind the assassination of John F. Kennedy and that it was just a matter of time before the United States invaded Cuba. However, Keenan replied that Hoover, Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert Kennedy, all believed that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.
Thomas C. Mann later told Dick Russell: "It surprised me so much. That was the only time it ever happened to me - We don't want to hear any more about the case - and tell the Mexican government not to do any more about it, not to do more investigating, we just want to hush it up.... I don't think the U.S. was very forthcoming about Oswald... it was the strangest experience of my life."
In reality, J. Edgar Hoover had not ruled out the possibility of a communist plot to kill John F. Kennedy. At 1.40 on 29th November, Hoover told Lyndon B. Johnson on the telephone: "This angle in Mexico is giving us a great deal of trouble because the story there is of this man Oswald getting $6,500 from the Cuban embassy and then coming back to this country with it. We're not able to prove that fact, but the information was that he was there on the 18th of September in Mexico City and we are able to prove conclusively he was in New Orleans that day. Now then they've changed the dates. The story came in changing the dates to the 28th of September and he was in Mexico City on the 28th. Now the Mexican police have again arrested this woman Duran, who is a member of the Cuban embassy... and we're going to confront her with the original informant, who saw the money pass, so he says, and we're also going to put the lie detector test on him."
That evening Fernando Gutiérrez Barrios told Winston Scott that Gilberto Alvarado had recanted and signed a statement admitting that his story of seeing Lee Harvey Oswald in the Cuban Embassy was completely false. He said his motive was to try to get the United States to take action against Fidel Castro.
A few days later Gilberto Alvarado reverted to his original story. He told his Nicaraguan handler that the only reason that he recanted was that his interrogators threatened "to hang him by his testicles". However, soon afterwards, he recanted again. Phillips later claimed that Alvarado was "dispatched to Mexico City by the Somoza brothers... in what they considered a covert action to influence the American government to move against Cuba". Jefferson Morley argues that Phillips is being disingenuous: "Phillips knew all along about Alvarado's service as a CIA informant. Even the FBI knew all along he was under CIA control."
Silvia Duran was questioned about her relationship with Lee Harvey Oswald. Despite being roughed up she denied having a sexual relationship with Oswald. Luis Echeverria believed her and she was released. However, Duran later admitted to a close friend that she had dated Oswald while he was in Mexico City.
David Atlee Phillips served as Station Chief in the Dominican Republic and in Rio de Janeiro. In 1970, he was called to Washington and asked to lead a special task force assigned to prevent the election of Salvador Allende as President of Chile. Allende was killed in a military takeover in 1973.
David Atlee Phillips last assignment was as head of the Western Hemisphere Division. He held the rank of GS18, the highest position in the CIA not requiring executive appointment. After he retired in 1975 he became head of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO).
In 1976 Antonio Veciana was interviewed by Gaeton Fonzi of the House Select Committee on Assassinations. Veciani, the founder of the anti-Castro organization, Alpha 66, told the committee about his relationship with his Central Intelligence Agency contact, Maurice Bishop. He claimed that in August, 1963, he saw Bishop and Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas. Veciana admitted that Bishop had organized and funded the Alpha 66 attacks on the Soviet ships docked in Cuba in 1963.
Antonio Veciana explained the policy: "It was my case officer, Maurice Bishop, who had the idea to attack the Soviet ships. The intention was to cause trouble between Kennedy and Russia. Bishop believed that Kennedy and Khrushchev had made a secret agreement that the USA would do nothing more to help in the fight against Castro. Bishop felt - he told me many times - that President Kennedy was a man without experience surrounded by a group of young men who were also inexperienced with mistaken ideas on how to manage this country. He said you had to put Kennedy against the wall in order to force him to make decisions that would remove Castro's regime."
Richard Schweiker, a member of the committee, speculated that Bishop was David Atlee Phillips. Schweiker asked his researcher, Gaeton Fonzi, to investigate this issue. Fonzi arranged for Veciana and Phillips to be introduced at a meeting of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers in Reston. Phillips denied knowing Veciana. After the meeting Veciana told Schweiker that Phillips was not the man known to him as Bishop.
Gaeton Fonzi was unconvinced by this evidence. He found it difficult to believe Phillips would not have known the leader of Alpha 66. Especially as Phillips had been in charge of covert action in Cuba when Alpha 66 was established. Other information also emerged to undermine Phillips. CIA agent, Ron Crozier, who worked in Cuba during this period, claimed that Phillips sometimes used the code name, Maurice Bishop.
Phillips testified before the House Select Committee on Assassinations on 25th April, 1978. He denied he ever used the name Maurice Bishop. He also insisted that he had never met Antonio Veciana.
Phillips published his autobiography, The Night Watch: 25 Years of Peculiar Service, in 1977. The following year he published Carlos Contract, a novel that dealt with political assassins. Phillips also wrote The Great Texas Murder Trials: A Compelling Account of the Sensational T. Cullen Davis Case (1979).
According to Larry Hancock, the author of Someone Would Have Talked, just before his death Phillips told Kevin Walsh, an investigator with the House Select Committee on Assassinations: "My final take on the assassination is there was a conspiracy, likely including American intelligence officers." (Some books wrongly quote Phillips as saying: "My private opinion is that JFK was done in by a conspiracy, likely including rogue American intelligence people.")
David Atlee Phillips died of cancer on 7th July, 1988. He left behind an unpublished manuscript. The novel is about a CIA officer who lived in Mexico City. In the novel the character states: "I was one of those officers who handled Lee Harvey Oswald... We gave him the mission of killing Fidel Castro in Cuba... 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."
(1) David Atlee Phillips, The Night Watch: 25 Years of Peculiar Service (1977)
"Tomorrow morning, gentlemen," Dulles said, "we will go to the White House to brief the President. Let's run over your presentations." It was a warm summer night. We drank iced tea as we sat around a garden table in Dulles' back yard. The lighted shaft of the Washington Monument could be seen through the trees. . . . Finally Brad (Colonel Albert Haney) rehearsed his speech. When he finished Alien Dulles said, "Brad, I've never heard such crap." It was the nearest thing to an expletive I ever heard Dulles use. The Director turned to me "They tell me you know how to write. Work out a new speech for Brad...
We went to the White House in the morning. Gathered in the theater in the East Wing were more notables than I had ever seen: the President, his Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of State - Alien Dulles's brother, Foster - the Attorney General, and perhaps two dozen other members of the President's Cabinet and household staff....
The lights were turned off while Brad used slides during his report. A door opened near me. In the darkness I could see only a silhouette of the person entering the room; when the door closed it was dark again, and I could not make out the features of the man standing next to me. He whispered a number of questions: "Who is that? Who made that decision?"
I was vaguely uncomfortable. The questions from the unknown man next to me were very insistent, furtive. Brad finished and the lights went up. The man moved away. He was Richard Nixon, the Vice President.
Eisenhower's first question was to Hector (Rip Robertson): "How many men did Castillo Armas lose?" Hector (Rip Robertson) said only one, a courier... . Eisenhower shook his head, perhaps thinking of the thousands who had died in France. "Incredible..."
Nixon asked a number of questions, concise and to the point, and demonstrated a thorough knowledge of the Guatemalan political situation. He was impressive - not at all the disturbing man he was in the shadows.
Eisenhower turned to his Chief of the Joint Chiefs. "What about the Russians? Any reaction?"
General Ridgeway answered. "They don't seem to be up to anything. But the navy is watching a Soviet sub in the area; it could be there to evacuate some of Arbenz's friends, or to supply arms to any resisters."
Eisenhower shook hands all around. "Great," he said to Brad, "that was a good briefing." Hector and I smiled at each other as Brad flushed with pleasure. The President's final handshake was with Alien Dulles. "Thanks Allen, and thanks to all of you. You've averted a Soviet beachhead in our hemisphere." Eisenhower spoke to his Chief of Naval Operations "Watch that sub. Admiral. If it gets near the coast of Guatemala we'll sink the son-of-a-bitch. ' The President strode from the room.
(2) David Atlee Phillips, Miami Herald (17th April, 1986)
Twenty-five years ago today the worst cover-action fiasco in American history occurred when a brigade of CIA-sponsored Cuban exiles landed at the Bay of Pigs.
The memory of that day haunts me because I was one of the CIA officers who planned the operation. But I recall more vividly and painfully the 19th of April, 1961, when after two days we knew the defeat was beyond salvage. In Washington we listened to the final radio report from the Cuban commander on the beach. His invasion force of 1,400 Cuban exiles had been routed. He reported that he was standing in the shallows, that he was about to abandon his gear and head for the swamp.
Then he cursed the U.S. government, and he cursed us as individuals.
The question about the Bay of Pigs most frequently asked - particularly by those who were young or not even born at the time - is a simple one: Why did it fail?
There is no simple, single answer.
Some history should be set straight. It has often been argued that the root cause for the disaster was that the CIA promised President Eisenhower and, after his inauguration, President John Kennedy, that a spontaneous uprising would be sparked in Cuba by the landing at the Bay of Pigs. That has become a durable myth; but it is a myth.
The Bay of Pigs operational plan was based on the 1954 successful covert action, in which I was also involved, that led to the overthrow of the Arbenz government in Guatemala. No one in a responsible position ever contemplated a sudden victory in the Guatemalan endeavor. And it didn’t occur until enough Guatemalans were convinced the invading army was well entrenched the time had arrived to hop on the bandwagon. Nor, in the Cuban operation, did anyone from the lowest operator to CIA Director Allen Dulles believe that immediate uprisings would topple the charismatic Fidel Castro.
Then why did it fail? For the first few years after the Bay of Pigs my observation were too subjective to be trusted. In 1975, however, I mustered as much objectivity as I could to list four principal reasons for the failure:
First, the successful argument made to President Kennedy by his political advisers that the CIA’s original plan to land at a small town called Trinidad near Cuban mountains would make the operation unacceptably "noisy"; thus the change to the isolated, swampy landing site at the Bay of Pigs.
Next, Ambassador to the United Nations Adlai Stevenson was not thoroughly informed of pre-invasion air strikes against Cuba, CIA sorties by exile pilots who claimed they were defecting from the Castro’s air force. Stevenson was understandably incensed after he denied charges by Cuba’s foreign minister that the planes were on CIA-supported missions. His protest to Kennedy, who admired him, might have been critical in the decision to truncate the operation.
Then, those of us within CIA - including Allen Dulles and Richard Bissell, the senior acting officer of the operation - should have ignored the agency’s "can-do" and "good-soldier" tradition and told the White House that an operation of the dimensions of the Bay of Pigs, if to be conducted at all, should be managed openly by the Pentagon and not by a secret army.
Finally, the decision by President Kennedy to cancel at zero hour the air cover that the 1,400 Cuban exiles in the amphibious force had been promised.
Now, after pondering the sad event for another decade, I must add a fifth element to the list of reasons the Bay of Pigs operation failed: There was a tacit assumption among those concerned with the operation in CIA - an assumption that hardened into certainty by D-Day - that John Kennedy would bail out CIA if things went awry.
Everyone, including Richard Bissell and Allen Dulles, believed deep down that Kennedy would rescue the operation with U.S. armed forces if need be. There had to be some sort of overt military option ready in the wings if defeat loomed. (Surely Eisenhower would have had one in reserve and used it.) But there was no contingency plan in fact or in Kennedy’s mindset. Those involved in the project, from top to bottom, ignored an intelligence basic: Don’t assume; know.
For those who demand a simple explanation of the Bay of Pigs debacle and for those who will not entertain the thesis that there was sufficient blame to share among everyone concerned, perhaps the curious incident of Fidel Castro’s not making a speech should be recalled.
In a crowded press conference, one of the first American newsmen to visit Havana after the Bay of Pigs asked Castro, "Why did the Americans fail?" Everyone expected one of Castro’s customary lengthy political diatribes. Instead, Castro shrugged and replied, simply, "They had no air support."
Years after the event, a man who had worked with me on the project explained what he had decided about the Bay of Pigs. ""t was inevitable," he said . "The fiasco, I mean. The disaster. If it hadn’t been the Bay of Pigs it would have been something else sometime in the future. In 1953 Kermit Roosevelt and a few fellows manipulated that crowd that toppled Mossadegh in Iran without any trouble at all. Then in 1954 we took care of Eisenhower’s little problem in Guatemala. So easy, it seemed. All those successes just had to lead to a failure eventually, because the system kept calling on us for more and more even when it should have been obvious that secret shenanigans couldn’t do what armies are supposed to do.
"If it hadn’t been that time at the Bay of Pigs," he concluded, "it would have been somewhere else at some other time."
We didn’t call them that in 1961, but the exiles stranded on the beach at the Bay of Pigs were our contras. We should have scrapped the operation or, once committed to it, followed through with enough support that our contras would never have only one option of heading for the swamp.
(3) John Ranelagh, The Agency: The Rise and Decline of the CIA (1986)
The nature of Arbenz's government, however, meant that Operation Success launched both the CIA and the United States on a new path. Mussadegh in Iran was left-wing and had indulged in talks with Russian diplomats about possible alliances and treaties. Arbenz, on the other hand, had simply been trying to reform his country and had not sought foreign help in this. Thus by overthrowing him, America was in effect making a new decision in the cold war. No longer would the Monroe Doctrine, which was directed against foreign imperial ambitions in the Americas from across the Atlantic or the Pacific, suffice. Now internal subversion communism from within - was an additional cause for direct action. What was not said, but what was already clear after the events in East Germany the previous year, was that the exercise of American power, even clandestinely through the CIA, would not be undertaken where Soviet power was already established. In addition, regardless of the principles being professed, when direct action was taken (whether clandestine or not), the interests of American business would be a consideration: if the flag was to follow, it would quite definitely follow trade.
The whole arrangement of American power in the world from the nineteenth century was based on commercial concerns and methods of operation his had given America a material empire through the ownership of foreign transport systems, oil fields, estancias, stocks, and shares. It had also given America resources and experience (concentrated in private hands) with the world outside the Americas, used effectively by the OSS during World War II American government, however, had stayed in America, lending its influence to business but never trying to overthrow other governments for commercial purposes. After World War II, American governments were more willing to use their influence and strength all over the world for the first time and to see an ideological implication in the "persecution" of U.S. business interests.
(4) Lisa Pease, Probe Magazine (March-April, 1996)
During the Church committee hearings, Senator Richard Schweiker's independent investigator Gaeton Fonzi stumbled onto a vital lead in the Kennedy assassination. An anti-Castro Cuban exile leader named Antonio Veciana was bitter about what he felt had been a government setup leading to his recent imprisonment, and he wanted to talk. Fonzi asked him about his activities, and without any prompting from Fonzi, Veciana volunteered the fact that his CIA handler, known to him only as "Maurice Bishop," had been with Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas not long before the assassination of Kennedy. Veciana gave a description of Bishop to a police artist, who drew a sketch. One notable characteristic Veciana mentioned were the dark patches on the skin under the eyes. When Senator Schweiker first saw the picture, he thought it strongly resembled the CIA's former Chief of the Western Hemisphere Division-one of the highest positions in the Agency - and the head of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO): David Atlee Phillips.
(5) Gaeton Fonzi, interviewed on 8th October, 1994.
Veciana was introduced by name to Phillips twice, once in the banquet hall and once in the hallway. Phillips even asked that it be repeated and then, when Veciana asked him, "Don't you remember my name?" Phillips responded, "No." As Veciana himself later pointed out, that was odd considering that Veciana had been exceptionally well-known in anti-Castro activity, being the founder, key fund-raiser and spokesman for Alpha 66, the largest and most militant anti-Castro group. It was odd because anti-Castro activity was the heart and soul of Phillips' mission during the period in question. It was impossible for Phillips not to know or remember Veciana's name. Phillips had simply been caught off-guard by Veciana's surprise appearance at Reston and had a little "slip of tradecraft." Phillips himself must have later realized that because later, under oath during his Committee testimony, he decided the only way he could rectify that "slip of tradecraft" was to lie and say that Veciana was never introduced to him by name at that encounter. I urged Chief Counsel Bob Blakey to recommend Phillips be charged with perjury, since we had three witnesses to that Reston encounter: myself, Veciana and an aide from Senator Schweiker's office. Blakey declined to take on the CIA.
(6) Jake Esterline was interviewed by Jack Pfeiffer about the Bay of Pigs operation (10th November, 1975)
Jack Pfeiffer: What comment can you make about the propaganda operation in terms of the MATE program. Do you think enough attention was paid to propaganda in the thing? We had the Swan radio set up and..
Jake Esterline: We had the best... that is we did have a strong man there. We had Dave Phillips, and he was really the best propaganda man we had in the Division. He had previous experience as a senior officer in the Guatemalan thing. He was certainly one of the stronger and more dependable members of the Staff., and totally fluent in Spanish. He was able to move in and around all sectors of things with total ease.
(7) Anthony Summers, The Kennedy Conspiracy (1980)
Congress' Assassinations Committee had problems with the CIA evidence on Mexico City, and specifically with the testimony of David Phillips, who was in charge of Cuban operations in Mexico at the time Oswald's name was used at the Cuban embassy. Richard Sprague, the Committee's first chief counsel, said in 1980, "I did not feel we were being told the absolute truth on Mexico City by the CIA. Specifically, I felt that the narration on Mexico City by David Phillips, given under oath, would not bear thorough examination. It was contrary to that given by other sources, and to other facts." The second chief counsel of the Committee, Professor Robert Blakey, observes that "Phillips testified about a variety of subjects, and the Committee was less than satisfied with his candor."
David Phillips came to the Committee's attention in a context other than his accounts of CIA surveillance in Mexico. The Committee gave serious consideration to the possibility that David Phillips was the man behind the mask of "Maurice Bishop," the case officer alleged to have schemed to provoke trouble between the United States and the Soviet Union over Cuba and to have met with Oswald shortly before the assassination. Phillips, denied he was "Bishop," and so did the source of the "Bishop" allegations, Antonio Veciana. Nevertheless, the Committee said in its Report that it "suspected Veciana was lying" and that Phillips - referred to on this occasion as "the retired officer aroused the Committee's suspicion" with the nature of his denial. The question whether Phillips did use the cover name "Bishop" will be covered in some detail later. At this stage, however, consider one last fragment of information on Mexico City. It suggests that CIA officer "Bishop" tried to tamper with the evidence so as to falsely link Oswald with Communist officials.
(8) Gaeton Fonzi, interviewed on 8th October, 1994.
Q: Did David Atlee Phillips ever recruit Frank Sturgis at any time for any job? If Yes what job or use was Sturgis to Phillips?
A: I've got no indication that Phillips ever worked with Sturgis. And knowing this, what sticks in my mind, whenever I would bring up Phillips' name to Sturgis, Sturgis would go ballistic in terms of how much he hated Phillips. Absolutely wild in terms of his reaction to anything, any mention of David Phillips at all. He (said he) "hated the son-of-a-bitch". And the reason he said he hated him was because Phillips claimed that Sturgis never had anything to do at all with the CIA. And that made me suspicious about that connection. Veciana said that at one point, Maurice Bishop asked him to sit, or go to a meeting, monitor an operation that Sturgis was involved in called Cellula Fantasma. And Veciana did and reported back to Bishop about what was happening. I believe it was a ..... there are all kinds of reports now exactly what it was. When I asked Sturgis about it, I think he told me it was a leaflet dropping mission. There were indications that it may have been something other than that also. But that's the only connection I could come up with between Phillips and Sturgis.
(9) Jonathan Vankin and John Whalen, 70 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time (2001)
David Philips suspected by the House Select Committee on Assassinations of doubling as the shadowy "Maurice Bishop" CIA overseer of the Cuban Alpha 66 anti-Castro brigade. The same David Philips in charge of spinning the Oswald-Mexico City incident in the CIA's favor may have engineered the "Mexico City scenario" in the first place. Lane, who has made a legal and literary career out of blaming the CIA for JFK's death, says he did.
Alpha 66's Cuban leader Antonio Veciana claimed that at one of his hundred or so meetings with Bishop, Oswald was there not saying anything, just acting odd.
"I always thought Bishop was working with Oswald during the assassination," Veciana told Russell.
Veciana's cousin worked for Castro's intelligence service and after the assassination Bishop wanted Veciana to bribe his cousin into saying that he met with Oswald, in order to fabricate an Oswald-Castro connection.
Investigators never established for sure that Bishop and Philips were one and the same, but descriptions of Bishop's appearance and mannerisms mirrored Philips'. Veciana drew a sketch of his old controller and Senator Richard Schweiker, a member of the assassination committee, recognized it as Philips. When the select committee's star investigator Gaeton Fonzi finally brought Veciana and Philips together, the two started acting weird around each other. After a short conversation in Spanish, Philips bolted. Witnesses to the encounter swear that a look of recognition swept Veciana's visage, but Veciana denied that Philips was his case officer of more than a decade earlier.
(10) Christopher Sharrett, Fair Play Magazine, The Assassination of John F. Kennedy as Coup D'Etat (May, 1999)
Gaeton Fonzi's account of the Phillips affair and the HSCA non-investigation of the CIA contains much instructive material. As he recounts in his book The Last Investigation, the Congress knew that Phillips perjured himself on a number of important points in his testimony before the HSCA, yet chose not to recommend prosecution of Phillips. A recent book on the HSCA by one of its staff lawyers does not deal with this moment, although it offers yet another muddled, small-scale conspiracy narrative not associated with the political economy of the postwar American power structure. At the time the Congress became interested in reopening the assassination inquiry, Clare Boothe Luce, widow of Time-Life magnate Henry Luce and former lover of Allen Dulles, gave out a good deal of malarkey (about Cubans no less) to investigators designed to send them on a wild goose chase.
(11) Fabian Escalante, Cuban Officials and JFK Historians Conference (7th December, 1995)
In the late 1980's we came into contact with an informant who had known Phillips and who had contact with Phillips in 1958-59. This person told us about three Cubans who had had contact with Phillips at this time. (Juan) Manuel Salvat, Isidro Borja and Antonio Veciana... That is something our agent informed us of. We did a spoken picture of this Harold Benson as we do always. But we didn't know really know who he was. In 1972, this CIA official had an interview with our agent. Our agent at that time had a different case official. But this man came as a.... as a leader, as a boss or something. Had an interview with our agent. This interview was... took place in Mexico they were just having a few drinks. In between, Kennedy's name came into the conversation they were talking about... into the conversation, not Kennedy came to, into... So when the subject comes up this character explains to our agent that after Kennedy's death, he visited his grave and peed on it and said he (JFK) was a communist and such and such. We still didn't know who Harold Benson was but when Claudia Furiati did her research, among the people we interviewed was this agent. We showed him a group of photographs. Plus we already knew about David Phillips. I'm speaking of 1992 and 1993. And the photograph that we showed him was a photograph of David Phillips. And so he pointed out as Harold Benson.
(12) Larry Hancock, Someone Would Have Talked (2003)
David Phillips held a seminal position in anti-Castro affairs before and during the time in which the Kennedy conspiracy was formed. He had access to strategic plans and information in regard to Cuban affairs by way of his contacts in Washington D.C. and at JM WAVE in Miami. He worked in tandem with David Morales at JM WAVE and in Mexico City and undoubtedly his real politics and feelings were those of Morales rather than the liberal picture he paints of himself as a JFK proponent in his biography.
• David Phillips was Maurice Bishop.
• As Bishop, Phillips pursued his own personal anti-Communist and anti-Kennedy Administration agenda.
• Phillips' direction of Alpha 66 to attack Russian targets in Cuba was intended to provoke a direct U.S. - Russian conflict which would result in the liberation of Cuba.
• Through Veciana, Phillips independently supported multiple unsanctioned assassination plots against Fidel Castro. Alpha 66, Veciana, Eddie Bayo and Tony Cuesta were not directed by the CIA but personally by Phillips. Phillips specifically told Veciana his goal was to provoke US intervention in Cuba by "putting Kennedy's back to the wall."
• Phillips demonstrated his willingness to incite exiles in independent military actions. Phillips had an established history of organizing anti-FPCC "dangles" and propaganda operations.
Phillips was involved in a new anti-FPCC initiative in 1963, including a project to extend the effort outside the United States.
Bishop/Phillips was seen in Dallas, Texas, with Lee Oswald immediately prior to Oswald's trip to Mexico City - a trip in which he made contact with both the Cuban and Russian embassies in an attempt to travel through Cuba to Russia.
We now do know a good deal about David Phillips, both from his official history and from the disclosure of his actions as Maurice Bishop. What we may never know is the extent to which David Phillips used his position and assets to support the Kennedy conspiracy. However, there are two further indications that he was either aware of the conspiracy or actively supported it.
One of these is from conversations which David Phillips had with Kevin Walsh, a former HSCA staffer who went on to work as a private detective in Washington, DC In a conversation not long before his death, Phillips remarked: "My private opinion is that JFK was done in by a conspiracy, likely including American intelligence officers." - David Atlee Phillips, July 1986.
The second conversation was related in an email exchange between researcher Gary Buell and David Phillips' nephew, Shawn Phillips. As Shawn described in the email, Shawn's father, James Phillips, became aware that his brother, David, had in some way been "seriously involved" in the JFK assassination. James and David argued about this vigorously and it resulted in a silent hiatus between them that lasted for almost six years.
As David was dying of lung cancer, he called his brother. Even at this point there was apparently no reconciliation between the two men. James asked David pointedly, "Were you in Dallas that day?" David answered, "Yes," and James hung up the phone on him.
(13) Shawn Phillips, email to Gary Buell (January, 2003)
The "Confession", you refer to was not in so many words as such. I cannot remember the time frames involved, but this was what was told to me by my father, James Atlee Phillips, who is deceased. He said that David had called him with reference to his (Davids), invitation to a dinner, by a man who was purportedly writing a book on the CIA. At this dinner, was also present a man who was identified only as the "Driver". David told Jim that he knew the man was there to identify him as Raul Salcedo, whose name you should be familiar with, if your research is accurate in this matter. David then told Jim that he had written a letter to the various media, as a "Preemptive Strike" , against any and all allegations about his involvement in the JFK assassination. Jim knew that David was the head of the "Retired Intelligence Officers of the CIA", or some such organization, and that he was extremely critical of JFK, and his policies. Jim knew at that point, that David was in some way, seriously involved in this matter and he and David argued rather vehemently, resulting in a silent hiatus between them that lasted almost six years according to Jim. Finally, as David was dying of irreversible lung cancer, he called Jim and there was apparently no reconciliation between them, as Jim asked David pointedly, "Were you in Dallas on that day"? David said, "Yes", and Jim hung the phone up.
(14) John Simkin and Larry Hancock, JFK Assassination Forum (12th June, 2004)
John Simkin: The idea that David Phillips was involved in the assassination appeared in several of the early conspiracy books. Looking at the evidence you provide (in Someone Would Have Talked) this is not surprising. However, I have always had severe doubts about this.
Phillips was a skilled operator. If he had been involved in planning this operation I am sure it would have been done in such a way that would not have raised so many doubts about Oswald acting as a lone gunman. For example, Phillips would have been aware that the Oswald impostor would have been captured on film in Mexico City. Therefore, why did they select someone who clearly did not look like Oswald. The setting up of Oswald seems a very amateur operation. Phillips might have been aware of what was going on, but I cannot believe that he played a major role in the assassination.
If Phillips had been organizing the conspiracy would he not have made sure there was no link between himself and the assassination. For example, would Phillips be the CIA’s direct contact with Antonio Veciana? (MI5 and MI6 defintely don't behave like this). Surely he would have used someone else to have met Veciana in public. Also Veciana claims that in August, 1963, he saw Bishop and Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas. If Phillips knew that Oswald was being set-up to be blamed for the assassination of JFK he would not have got anywhere near him that summer.
Another reason why I do not believe Phillips was involved in the assassination is the interview he gave to Kevin Walsh. If he had been part of a conspiracy would he really have said: "My private opinion is that JFK was done in by a conspiracy, likely including American intelligence officers." If he had been guilty of such a crime he would have kept on denying any possibility that the CIA could have been involved in such an event.
When he died on 7th July, 1988, Phillips left behind an unpublished manuscript. The novel is about a CIA officer who lived in Mexico City. In the novel the character states: "I was one of those officers who handled Lee Harvey Oswald... We gave him the mission of killing Fidel Castro in Cuba... 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."
I suspect that this extract reveals Phillips’ true involvement in the assassination of JFK. Maybe that was the real reason Oswald was chosen as the patsy. When the CIA realised that one of their agents recruited to kill Castro had killed (or been made to look like he had killed) JFK, they had no option but to try and cover up the crime. The same goes for Robert Kennedy, who was likely to have been told as part of Operation Freedom, that Oswald was the agent being trained to kill Castro.
Larry Hancock: John, I certainly do not see Phillips as either the organizer of the Dallas conspiracy nor as the prime mover in building any sort of a frame of Lee Oswald. My current belief is that Phillips was very likely manipulating Lee Oswald in a relatively minor role in a new CIA propaganda project targeting the FPCC outside the United States, specifically in Mexico. As to the mechanics of that and whether it involved Oswald himself, an impersonator or perhaps even both are beyond me.... several different scenario's are possible. I think it's pretty safe to say that whatever the plan was it was built on the "performance" and image that Oswald had built in NO only a short while before and which had been well documented by Phillips covert "media network'. There is also some reason to think that this game involved CI/SIG assets in MC and at HQ which were independent of the other MC office staff. Whatever it was though became hugely dangerous for Phillips and the CIA as a whole after Nov. 22.
At a minimum, Phillips - as others in the CIA and FBI and individuals in New Orleans - knew there was a lot more to Oswald than the official Lone Nut story. It's also pretty clear that Phillips jumped on the "lets tie Oswald to Castro" bandwagon with the whole Alvarado incident (which Phillips undoubtedly knew to be bogus) and had the nerve to cover up his games in MC (his letter to the FBI stating that as of February 64 the CIA had full photo files on every American entering the Cuban embassy in Sept and Oct of 63 is raw hubris, almost daring them to ask for the photos of Oswald going in and out). The fact that such photos were never provided certainly does raise the issue of an imposter or of an Oswald associate/handler.
Whether or not Phillips had shared information on Oswald in advance with Morales, whether or not he had signed up for some propoganda/media role in promoting Castro as a conspiracy sponsor is an open question. Remember, his speciality was propaganda/media control/counter intel not black ops or tactical matters, he had no military experience at all. I think it's safe to say that Phillips knew all along that the WC story was bogus, at a minimum he knew there had been a conspiracy and that his final words point in the right direction.
Beyond that it's also important to remember that much of his work - such as with Veciana - was on his own initiative. He was not Veciana's CIA case officer, his manipulation of Veciana and Alpha 66 and other groups he was in contact with was at on his own agenda and generally directily opposed to that of Headquarters and certainly the Administration.
(15) James DiEugenio, review of Larry Hancock's Someone Would Have Talked (March, 2008)
I had a similar problem with the following chapter on David Phillips. And it started right on the first page (159). Hancock writes, "Phillips was without a doubt a CIA general." If we consider that word in its normal sense, with normal examples e.g. Eisenhower, Schwarzkopf etc. then I don't understand it. At the time frame of the JFK assassination, Phillips was an operations officer. A man in the field supervising things getting done and done right. Not a guy behind the lines planning and approving the overall campaign. In his fine book A Death in Washington Don Freed quotes CIA Director Bill Colby (p. 81) as calling Phillips a great operations officer. So if we go by Colby's rather authoritative account, Phillips was really a Lt. Colonel at the time -- parallel to someone like Oliver North in the Iran/Contra scandal. Hancock then goes further. He applies this same spurious hierarchical title -- "general" -- to Dave Morales. Yet Morales was Chief of Staff to Ted Shackley at JM/WAVE during this period. I would not even apply the word "general" to Shackley at the time, let alone Morales. Or if I did, it would at most be Brigadier General, not a starred one. It was their superiors at Langley, e.g. James Angleton, who were the generals. People like Phillips and Morales were implementers. (Hancock devotes an entire chapter to Morales. Which is part and parcel of the hubbub that has attended the research community since Gaeton Fonzi introduced him in The Last Investigation. As I noted in my review of the documentary RFK Must Die this has reached the point of actually -- and unsuccessfully -- implicating him in the murder of Robert Kennedy.)
Hancock uses Philips' own autobiography The Night Watch for much of the background material on the man. He then uses one of his timelines to take us up to the famous Bishop/Phillips masquerade episode with Antonio Veciana. But surprisingly, he leaves out some of the most intriguing points about Phillips in Mexico City. Especially his work on the fraudulent tapes sent to Washington to implicate Oswald in the JFK case. For instance, Hancock does not even mention the role of Anne Goodpasture, Phillips' assistant in Mexico City. There is some extraordinary material on her in the HSCA's Lopez Report. Neither does he mention the utterly fascinating evidence that John Armstrong advances in his book Harvey and Lee. Namely that Phillips sent the dubiously transcribed Mexico City tapes of Oswald by pouch to himself at Langley under an assumed name. Why would he do such a thing? Well, maybe so that no officers but he and Goodpasture would have the tapes from their origin in Mexico City to their arrival at CIA HQ. This mini-conspiracy was blown in two ways. First, when FBI officials heard the tapes as part of their Kennedy murder investigation and concurred that they were not of Oswald. Second, when HSCA first counsel Richard Sprague showed the official transcripts of the tapes to the original Mexico City transcriber. The transcriber replied that what was on those transcripts was not what he recalled translating. It seems odd to me that these very important points would be left out of any contemporary discussion of Phillips. Even more so since Hancock goes into the Mexico City episode less than a hundred pages later (pgs 275-282).
(16) Larry Hancock, Education Forum (26th March, 2008)
My reference to Phillips and Morales as “generals” was to the ultimate degree of influence and positions of the two individuals. At the time of his early self- retirement, Phillips next promotion in the agency would have to have had Congressional approval, as do generals. However, as of 1963, both individuals were indeed simply in very key positions. As I demonstrate in the book, both were also very independent and would engage in actions during their careers that went far beyond their apparent charters and orders – Phillips was specifically cited in that regard by the Church Committee.) I'll concede this point though and change my wording on this in the next edition.
Actually it's Roselli who described himself as a “strategist” and given his business dealings that seems fair. I certainly can visualize that he could have added a good deal of strategy to a criminal conspiracy where the key tactical people were experienced paramilitary. I do not see Roselli as the master conspirator nor the initiator - working from the bottom up with Martino's information, I can only take it to a certain level and certain people.
(17) David Atlee Phillips, The AMLASH Legacy (unpublished)
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.
(18) Jefferson Morley, Our Man in Mexico (2008)
The notion that David Phillips or Angleton and his Counterintelligence team ran a closely held operation involving Oswald in the weeks before Kennedy was killed has become less implausible as more records have come into public view. Phillips himself entertained such a scenario later in life. In addition to two nonfiction memoirs, Phillips also wrote novels of espio¬nage. When he died in 1987, he left behind an outline for a novel about the Mexico City station in 1963, entitled "The AMLASH Legacy" The leading characters were explicitly based on Win Scott, James Angleton, and David Phillips himself...
The outline for a novel cannot be taken as proof of anything save the workings of Phillips's imagination, but it is tantalizing. "The CIA did not anticipate the President's assassination but it was responsible for it. I share that guilt." Phillips was not one to impugn the agency just to make a buck. After his retirement he founded the Association of Foreign Intelligence Agents and served as its chief spokesman, ably defending the CIA from its critics without much compensation. He always insisted that his espionage fiction was realistic and denounced those who sought to cash in on JFK conspiracy scenarios. The outline for the novel suggests that the notion that a CIA officer like himself would recruit a schemer like Oswald in a conspiracy to kill Castro did not strike Phillips as too improbable to sell or too unfair to the agency to market under his own name.
(19) David Kaiser, The Road to Dallas (2008)
He (Phillips) rose eventually to be head of the Western Hemisphere branch of the CIA, and when he appeared before the Church Committee in 1975 he denied, falsely, that the CIA had anything to do with the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile two years earlier. In retirement, with several children to send through college, he launched a career as an author. His autobiography, The Night Watch (1977), was followed by a novel about intelligence, The Carlos Contract (1978), and The Great Texas Murder Trials (1979), a work of nonfiction. At some point before his death from cancer in 1988, he wrote an outline for another novel, entitled The AMLASH Legacy, dealing specifically with the Kennedy assassination.
The outline carefully identified the characters with the real figures on which they were based: Mexico City station chief Winston Scott, HSCA investigator Gaeton Fonzi, Antonio Veciana, long-time assassination conspiracists Mark Lane and Bernard Fensterwald, and Phillips himself , who went by the name of Harold Harrison. The novel focused on Harrison's son Don, who begins looking for his father's journal after his father's death. A Mexican woman who attended his father's funeral gives Don a letter written by his father. The letter explains that Harrison had been one of two case officers who recruited Lee Harvey Oswald, helped establish his credentials as a Marxist, and then attempted to send him to Cuba through Mexico City in order to assassinate Fidel Castro, using a sniper rifle from an upper floor of a high-rise to shoot Castro in his jeep. Harrison does not know whether Oswald was a double agent, the letter continues, but this was the same plan Oswald used to kill Kennedy. Allen Dulles, the letter stated, provided Harrison and the other unidentified agent with $400,000 to set up Oswald after he succeeded in assassinating Fidel.
In the novel, Harrison has the last laugh when is son discovers that his father's posthumous letter is a forgery concocted by the Fensterwald character and a KGB agent whom Harrison had repeatedly outwitted during, their spying careers. The real David Phillips might simply have concluded that since so many others had irresponsibly cashed in on the Kennedy assassination, he might as well do the same.
Yet his outline of this novel was the only document I know in existence before 1998 to suggest that Oswald might have been trying to go to Cuba to assassinate Castro. In that year, I wrote a short article to introduce the idea that - as "Leopoldo" suggested to Silvia Odio a few days before or a few days after Oswald's visit to Mexico City - Oswald's first assassination target may well have been the Cuban premier. We will probably never know whether Phillips was drawing on anything more than his imagination, but the plot of his novel, until the spectacular revelation at the end, tracks key events leading up to the Kennedy assassination almost perfectly.
I am certainly not thoroughly convinced that Phillips or any other CIA operative had anything to do with an assassination plot against Castro that involved 0swald. The plot might just as easily have been mounted by mob and right-wing elements such as John Martino, Loran Hall ("Leopoldo"), Guy Banister, David Ferrie, and Carlos Marcello in New Orleans as well as, perhaps, the DRE, which had infiltrated at least one member, Isidro Borja, into Cuba through Mexico City as well and placed its ad for a Castro assassin in See Magazine. Yet we cannot be sure that the CIA was not involved, especially since Martino had agency contacts of his own. Some evidence, including testimony from John Whitten and the recollections of British counterintelligence officer Peter Wright, suggests that James Angleton, the legendary chief of counterintelligence, was actually behind the Mafia plots against Castro, and Oswald's CIA 201 file was sitting in Angleton's shop when the report of his contacts with the Soviet Embassy reached headquarters.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Friday, October 29, 2010
Todd Leventhal, the US Department of State Minister of Disinformation and Misinformation
TODD LEVENTHAL – MINISTER OF DISINFORMATION at Dealey Plaza - By William Kelly
During the Cold War and the hot wars that followed, “disinformation” was the buzz word for the false and deceptive information surreptitiously promoted by communist and foreign intelligence services.
Promoting disinformation wasn’t something that the United States itself did, at least it wasn’t something they wanted anyone to believe they did, as it was discussed by John Barron and others who studied and wrote about the propaganda put out by the Soviets’ official Ministry of Dizinformation.
That the United States doesn’t engage in such psychological warfare is an urban myth quickly dispelled by Todd Leventhal, America’s Minister of Disinformation, whose official title is State Department Counter-Mis and Disinformation Officer. As such Leventhal has been the subject of a spate of recent publicity, especially in regards to debunking conspiracy theories.
We’ve heard from Leventhal before, pushing the Bush foreign agenda, disputing reports that Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq was a false pretense for war, and more recently as the State Department’s spokesman designated to officially debunk conspiracy theories that the federal government considers serious threats—like UFOs, faked moon landings, 9/11 missiles and President Obama’s birth certificate.
Leventhal’s official blog on debunking such “conspiracy theories” serves as fodder for legitimate journalists looking for a good column when news is slow, but most real conspiracy theorists considered him just another media spokesperson for the government, not unlike those who speak for the al Quada and the Taliban, and trusted as much.
But Leventhal recently created a mini-firestorm when some mainstream publications began commenting on his inclusion of the assassination of President Kennedy among the “conspiracy theories” worth debunking, and his ridicule of those who believe anyone other than Lee Harvey Oswald was responsible for the murder of Kennedy.
As the official State Department specialist and spokesperson whose job is to counter-misinformation and disinformation, Leventhal’s blog (since suspended but archived under Rumors, Myths and Fabrications1) touches on a number of controversial subjects, including AIDS, the moon landing and the war in Iraq, but the subject of the Kennedy assassination seems to have struck the most sensitive nerve....
Todd Leventhal - The Minister of Diz at Dealey Plaza is continued here:
TRANSCRIPT OF: Foreign Press Center event featuring Todd Leventhal
Accuracy in the Media: Misinformation, Mistakes, and Misleading in American and Other Media
Todd Leventhal, Chief of the Counter-Information Team, U.S. Department of State; Dante Chinni, Senior Associate, Project for Excellence in Journalism
Foreign Press Center Briefing
April 6, 2005
2:00 P.M. EDT
MR. MACINNESS: Good afternoon, welcome to the Foreign Press Center. We're happy this afternoon to have everyone here, even though it's a beautiful day outside, probably the best day that we've had this spring.
I'm very happy today to be moderating a program we're going to have on accuracy in the media. We have Todd Leventhal, who works in the International Information Programs Bureau here at the Department of State. And we have Dante Chinni from the Project for Excellence in Journalism and he's a journalist himself, a working journalist, and he'll take the view from the journalist side. We'd like to make this fairly informal, although we are being filmed so we will have people talk from the podium. They'll each talk a little bit about the subject of accuracy in the media, and then we'll take questions and we want to keep it a fairly open -- so please feel free to make comments on what they've said and then ask a question and I'll moderate it.
MR. LEVENTHAL: Regarding disinformation, I went and looked on the web quickly this morning to look it up, and you get a lot of different definitions for it from the ones you would expect to hear, but the most interesting one was the definition off a website that is, basically, a disinformation website. It's one of these alien watching websites, and in its view, disinformation is the U.S. Government's attempts to discredit our site and others who understand how the aliens have taken over the United States. (Laughter.)
So, disinformation is in the eye of the beholder, not necessarily a term that just has an agreed-on definition. Anyway, without much further ado, I think I'll just start with Dante.
MR. CHINNI: Hey there. The aliens did not send me here today to talk to you. But I'll do it anyway. Accuracy in the media is something near and dear to my heart and near and dear to the heart of the organization I work for, the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The Project for Excellence is a non-profit organization funded by the Pew Charitable Trust and our mission, really, is to study the media and try to gather as much as we can empirical data, numbers that show what's happening to the media in this country. And it was formed because there are some real issues right now with the media in the U.S. and some of it concerns disinformation. And it has to do, I think, with a couple of things, but primarily -- in the U.S. anyway -- with the explosion of outlets, the number of outlets out there, the proliferation of outlets and how they all have different standards.
There was a time, I think, when journalism in this country was focused on what we call, where I work, “the journalism of verification.” You found out something and you didn't run with it, you didn't go to air, you didn't print or publish, until you knew it was right. As best you could, you'd go out and try to verify. There are just a lot of places out there where that isn't the case anymore. A lot of them are on the web. I think, the internet mentality has filtered into television and you see it in television too now, where they go with things very quickly before they know whether they're accurate or not.
What we saw here last year during the election, in particular, was the rise of "blogs," which I'm sure you've all heard and read much of. Blogs -- we don't have an opinion on them being a good or a bad thing. Blogs just are. But some of the methods that some blogs use aren't so good. And some of them are basically used to float false data -- false information, they want to put false information out there, they're funded by people and their whole mission is to kind of put bad information out there. And then once it gets out there into the "blogosphere" it's kind of an echo chamber, stuff just starts bouncing around and it appears on one site, it appears on another site. And it bounces around so much that it somehow it ends up working its way into a mainstream media outlet because, well, everybody's talking about it so we have to talk about it.
We don't think that's the way it should work. That's just the way it has been working increasingly. And in this election, we have a couple of really good examples of it. We had -- and not all bad -- the two negative things that really popped up in the blogosphere.
One was the alleged affair of John Kerry with an intern, which was obviously a popular topic in this country, that turned out to be completely false. But it really developed a life of its own on the web and we studied how the rumor went around. And actually, it went from being just gossip on the web to making it on the local newscast. You can go and check Lexis-Nexus. It was making it on local newscasts in Dallas, in Texas and Ohio, and stations around the country, just because they thought it was news.
It was news that people were talking about something that people didn't know whether it was true or not. I'd argue the other place we saw it prominently in this election was in the Swift Boat Veterans Campaign against John Kerry, which, you know, it was an interesting story that kind of took on a life of its own and I think, again, it's because of the blogs -- it was not a very expensive television ad buy, they didn't buy that much time, but it got into the blogs, it worked its way around the blogs, it got on the 24-hour news because they were talking about it on the blogs, and eventually it worked its way into newspapers.
As journalists, what we have to do, in our opinion, we've got to try to hold the line as best we can. Just because people are talking about something doesn't mean you run with it. You just can't. I mean, we have too many people doing this now. But your mission as a journalist still has to be, first and foremost, that you have to verify, you have to find out if you're telling people the truth, because if you're not telling them the truth, you're really not doing your job.
That's the whole side of disinformation when we're talking about -- you could say some of it's intentional but a lot of it is kind of just chatter that develops into something else. There are obviously other cases where you have intentional disinformation, and I think we'll probably get to that a little further on today as well.
But why don't we just leave it right there to start and pass the microphone over here.
MR. LEVENTHAL: Very interesting. Thank you, Dante. As Duncan indicated, I work at the State Department in the International Information Programs Bureau, so I don't deal with domestic issues within the United States, just outside of the United States. And I hope that you all were able to get a copy of the front page of our website (http://usinfo.state.gov/media_resources/misinformation.html), which gives you some idea of the range of issues I deal with.
I've been countering disinformation and misinformation for a number of years and I have my own definitions. They're not universally accepted, but I use "disinformation" to mean something that's deliberate falsification, the person or government or some sort of institution has the intent of spreading a false story.
And "misinformation" is more of a mistake, an unintentional action – the information can be equally false and equally damaging, but the difference is the question of intent, in the way I define it anyway, and you can't always tell. It's not always clear even with a lot of study and pondering whether someone is spreading something because they really believe or there's somewhere halfway in between where they sort of suspend their critical faculties and spread it because they want to believe it. So there's a range there but I think we can think about those two phenomena as archetypes anyway.
And then there are also conspiracy theories, which we're all familiar with. You know, there is some vast conspiracy, some huge hidden power that's controlling things secretly; if only we knew about it, we could stop it. We've all seen those kinds of stories about the Kennedy assassination and things like that.
And urban legends, which are usually word of mouth type stories you'd hear, you might hear from your college roommate. I remember when I was in college, the story was that the oil companies had invented a carburetor that enabled you to get 200 miles to the gallon but they were keeping it off the market so they could make lots of money. And I thought, wow this, you know, it really fit with what I thought at the time, the evil oil companies. But of course if they had such an invention, they could make tons of money by selling it. But I hadn't thought it through that well at that time.
But these are stories -- they're out there, all over the place, and occasionally they crop into the media. And I spent about ten years actually countering one of them, an organ trafficking rumor. This basic story being that Americans are going down to Latin America or elsewhere and adopting children and cutting them up for organ transplants. It's a horrifying thought but sometimes these stories sort of rely on this horrifying nature. There's something that in the human mind that is just, you know, repulsed and fascinated by these kinds of things at the same time. And it sort of goes by our critical faculties and goes right in there and we get outraged about it, even though, you know, it's something that hasn't occurred.
So this story bounced all over the world press and actually won the most prestigious journalism prizes in France in '95 in Spain and '96, much to my chagrin. But it seems to have been like a fever, it sort of peaked and you don't hear about it as much anymore, but it still does crop up. So it's amazing to me over the course of 12 years doing this job to see stories that really have no basis in reality, you know, spreading like wildfire. It's a real problem.
So, my job is try to research these things, and sometimes it can take a number of days, and to try to explain as best we can what the facts are. It's easy to make an accusation, but it can be very hard to disprove a negative. How do you prove that something didn't happen? Well, you have to just approach it in as logical and as reasonable and as calm a fashion as you can to try to do that. And also, if someone has a track record of spreading false stories, well, that tells you something about their credibility and you have to consider the source when you're trying to evaluate these things.
So that's the general type of work that I do and I'd be glad to take any questions with Dante on these subjects, but I think if you look at the copy of the website, you can see the various topics that I deal with.
MR. MACINNESS: Dante, could you join us now? Yeah, we're going to have both of them here. Please just direct your questions to one or the other. Make sure you please identify yourself and your organization.
QUESTION: My name is Nadia Bilbassy from Al Arabiya Television. I'm interested in the Arab media and how do you see it. As you might know, most of the information now is obtained through Arabic television, mainly the two major networks, Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera, and I'm wondering if you do monitor information that broadcasts daily on both of the channels, in particular in the earlier accusation from the Pentagon that it was broadcasting misinformation and it was using the network to incite violence against Americans and particularly in Iraq. And I'm also just looking at this stuff that you've published here. You quoted Al Jazeera already in one of these things about misinformation using certain things.
Do you feel this is intentional and is this continuous process? Is just a mistake, as you said, that people did it because it was unchecked sources?
MR. LEVENTHAL: Well, I myself don't monitor these stations. They broadcast, you know, on a daily basis. Other people do. And if there's some question that someone has, they generally refer it to me.
I know this secondhand but I believe it to be accurate -- that there have been more problems with Al Jazeera broadcasts out of Iraq after their correspondent was expelled from Iraq or not allowed to report from Iraq. They used stringers. And the people I've talked to that followed this very closely said that the stringer reports were much less reliable than the previous correspondent's reports. So I hesitate to say something I haven't verified myself, but I do believe that would be accurate.
On this reference to Al Jazeera that's on here -- you'll notice it's Aljezeera.com --I think if I reference it. And that's actually a look-a-like website that pretends to be the real Al Jazeera; the Qatari satellite television station that we all know as Al Jazeera is actually Aljazeera.net. And then there's another one called Aljazeera.com and if you go to that site, until very recently, for example, they sold the movie "Control Room" which was about Al Jazeera. So they are pretending to be the real Al Jazeera, but they're not, and it's a very interesting site. And they pick up a lot of disinformation stories. I've done some research on them: I can't say with complete confidence who they are, but I know they're not the Qatari satellite television station.
But many people will make this mistake and it's very easy mistake to make. And they don't have an Arabic language site, they have an English language site. So in some cases, they've picked up conspiracy theories and then other people have reported it, sourcing it Al Jazeera, when it's not the satellite television station at all.
MR. CHINNI: The issue of "spoofing" by the way is one -- I mean, people will buy URLs that are very similar to names or institutions -- the White House was a famous one, the whitehouse.com, which was a porn site, you know. And so that's one way of actually putting misinformation or disinformation into the Internet sphere.
MR. MACINNESS: Do you have a follow-up?
QUESTION: I am Hanan El-Badry, Egyptian journalist. Who you mean by "others"? Do you mean some people in the State Department or outside like MEMRI [Middle East Media Research Institute], if you know MEMRI? And I would like to know details regarding your daily work, how you monitor, how you doing the work, how many people work here with you? Thank you.
MR. LEVENTHAL: Sure. I don't know what you mean by "others," your reference to others?
QUESTION: You reference to others (inaudible) --
MR. LEVENTHAL: But what -- I've forgotten exactly what I --
MR. MACINNESS: Others are monitoring.
MR. LEVENTHAL: Oh, others, yes. Oh, okay, I'm sorry. Well, for example, Central Command in Qatar and in the multinational force Iraq in Baghdad have people who monitor Al Jazeera. And then FBIS, of course -- the Foreign Broadcast Information Service -- monitors it and they will translate key articles and they'll do some analysis on this. So these are some of the other people. And I believe -- you know we have a media outreach center in London, they follow the Pan-Arab press and I must admit I don't read their things that closely, but I believe they would be following Al Jazeera as well.
MR. CHINNI: And each Embassy also follows the local media for that country. So in Cairo, for instance, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo follows up and does that.
QUESTION: Oh, okay. I mean, it's all government? You never get any information from the private or independent organization regarding any false news or so?
MR. LEVENTHAL: Well, I wouldn't say never, but the usual way to get it is from an embassy and that's to talk about what I do on a normal basis. We usually field requests from embassies because, as Duncan indicated, they have people in each embassy who monitors the local press. And if they see a story that, you know, they think they should either want to research to find out what the truth is or they want to counter it if it's false, they'll get in contact with us and we'll do that research for them.
Also, we've come to a short list of websites that carry disinformation on a regular basis, such as Aljazeera.com and others like that that we'll go to and visit and see what they have on their website because there might be something that starts on a website and then it gets picked up by newspapers in other countries so if we can catch it on the website first before it's picked up by newspapers, which our embassies would be monitoring, then we, you know, we might have a day or two head start on it.
So that's basically what we do and it's just, I should explain to you, I've got this sort of nice title of being head of a team and I think when they gave me that title they thought at least I have two or three people, but I've only really got one person half time helping me so I'm two-thirds of the team right here. This is the -- you know, we don't have any discord because, you know, it's easy to vote.
But you know, you can still do a lot and what I'll do is if I get a question about something, if it has to do with a military subject, you know, you contact whoever would know the information within the military. For example, on the tsunami, there was a question about the Diego Garcia. So I called DOD [Department of Defense] Public Affairs and spoke to several people and finally I found the guy in Japan with the Pacific fleet who's the Public Affairs Officer for Diego Garcia. And I didn't call him, I did all this by e-mail. But he was able to answer my questions about Diego Garcia. And on that case, I also talked to the head of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii because they're the ones regarding whom there were questions about what they knew and when they knew it, so I just went and talked to them directly through, you know, you call someone in Washington and eventually you get the number. So that's what I do on a daily basis.
QUESTION: The clear answer regarding getting any news or any reports from MEMRI is no?
MR. LEVENTHAL: MEMRI, no. I mean, occasionally, I'll look at MEMRI, but usually, like for example on the tsunami, they did something on the tsunami, a report on the tsunami, but I had already, you know, I'd already seen it and researched it so I didn't really learn anything from what they had to say.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Andrei Sitov, I'm with the Russia News Agency TASS. First of all, congratulations on a very good idea of a site like that and thank you for coming over to talk to us and thanks to the FPC for arranging this.
I have a question for Dante about the recent case with the Pope, the death of the Pope. It's a good illustration to what you said with people rushing in with information because basically in practical terms, we as journalists, we know sometimes you don't have an option not to go. We had at TASS a flap with one of our guys going with the CNN report that the Pope had died and then we fell flat with that.
Basically, my question to you, from the point of view of excellence in journalism, how do you phrase this? How do you go with this if it is not completely checked out, whether it's true or not?
And, sir, and I wanted to ask you about -- since you already answered that you probably don't accept queries from journalists about true or false stories --
MR. LEVENTHAL: Oh no, I would.
QUESTION: Oh yeah, you would? Okay. Please tell us where we should address those queries then. And I also wanted to ask you, what was the biggest story that you remember that was completely sensational on the face of it and turned out to be true?
MR. CHINNI: Well, that's a really good question. When it comes to the Pope and the death of the Pope and the way that it happened, I honestly -- and maybe I'm just being pollyannish here -- I don't know if there really is a need to run with it until you have it verified. I mean, it's very clear the Pope is, you know, he was teetering, he was on death's door, you know. And the need to be the first news agency to tell everybody the Pope's dead -- there is this big rush in journalism to be the first, you know. Everybody wants to be the first. But you know, being the first is fine unless you're wrong. Nobody's, you know, if you're first and you're wrong, that's all everybody is going to remember and I think that's, I mean, that's just something we have to remember as journalists. Being first is great but being right is better.
QUESTION: Okay, how about this? The AP did it this way. We are checking --
MR. CHINNI: Right.
MR. CHINNI: No, you have to, and I mean you have to put --
QUESTION: -- information that --
MR. CHINNI: You have to put in front of caveats. And, in fact, the way Fox News handled that -- I don't know if anybody -- has anybody's seen the video of the Fox News?
QUESTION: I saw the apology.
MR. CHINNI: Well, when it happened live it was awful, I mean, because they actually later played the audio. I don't know if it was live when it happened, but the producer was telling the guy, "The Pope's dead, the Pope's dead, you got to go live with this, the Pope's dead." And they go to the anchor and they're showing they're showing what everybody's showing, the building and the two lights are on, you know, where the Papal apartment is. And he says well, you know, the lights are on -- and this is paraphrased but this is basically what he said – “the lights are on and there's no need to beat around the bush, it's obviously there's no need to sugar coat this, the Pope has passed.” But there was nothing obvious about that. (Laughter.) There was a picture with the building and two lights on. There's nothing obvious about that.
And it's like what you say is, "We are hearing," "There are some early reports that the Pope may have passed," and, you know, we're not going to say that. You know, good Lord, we went through this in the 2000 election. You think we would've learned by now that you don't declare something until you know for sure that it's right because, you know, it's hard to pull back. I mean, you know, the Pope is a very old man, there's a very good chance that he was going die, we all -- it was pretty clear what's going to happen, you know, God help him if he pulled through. I mean, you know, what were they going to say on Fox? You know, it could've been a miracle I guess. Anyway.
MR. LEVENTHAL: The Pope's mostly dead, you know.
MR. LEVENTHAL: But, no, I'd be glad to take queries from individual journalists who have actually -- we've got a contact us thing there where it says, you know, send us a story and sort of try to filter out the nutcases, you know, the people who read this and go on and on about different conspiracies. But if a serious journalist has a serious question. I did get one from the United Kingdom. They were interviewing somebody who had written a book about the Martin Luther King assassination and, you know, they were interviewing him, they knew that, you know, he might not be the -- how can I say it -- and you know, they might have had some doubts about his credentials but they thought it was a newsworthy item. They wanted to know if I had anything on it. And I didn't have anything I had done on that, but I was able to do a quick Internet search and give them some useful information. So, no, I'd welcome serious inquiries from serious journalists.
And did you have another question?
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. LEVENTHAL: Oh, yes, now I should've had -- I got listening to Dante and forgot all about it. But, you know, it's -- not a lot springs to mind, but just one -- let me give you one example.
There was a book called The Life of Mohammed that was printed back in 1830 by the Reverend George Bush, okay. And the story was, a few months ago, that this was the President's grandfather -- he had the same name -- but he wasn't his grandfather because he died in 1859 and even if George Bush's father was born in 1860, he'd be 145 now. So it was rather obvious he wasn't his grandfather, but we finally determined, you know, he was the cousin of his great-great-great grandfather or something.
But, you know, one of the things in the story was that this book is in print, and I said that's ridiculous, you know, this book's not in print. And then I looked it up on the Internet and there it is. Because, of course, in today's modern age, you know, there's no copyright on it and it's in print in a catalog where they just printed on demand. I later called the publisher and said, you know, how many have you sold? Well, 50 in about three years so it's not a bestseller. But you have to check everything. You really do, because you can't just assume on the face of it because it doesn't sound right that it's not true. It takes time and it can frustrating when people are out of the office and you want to get back to somebody with a response, but you have to check everything.
MR. CHINNI: Actually, let me add one thing about misinformation and disinformation and just quickly because you bring up stories that are true or untrue. One story that got a lot of attention during the war in Iraq was the Jessica Lynch story. Now the question a lot of people have was: Jessica Lynch -- was the story misinformation, was it disinformation, what was it? I don't know if you can say that clearly one way or another. When you look at the initial account as it appeared in The Washington Post, which was just sensational like you wouldn't believe, the things they had her doing, there are a lot of quotes in there from people who aren't identified and it's not really clear who told them what they were hearing so you can make an argument that somebody knew something was wrong and they were feeding them false information because they needed a positive story this time.
But at the same time, you've got to say in that case that the press, without really having confirmation about what had happened over there, jumped on this because it was just a better story. And that's where a little disinformation with some bad journalism, if it was disinformation, can just lead to something that's just ridiculous. And that story -- there were initial stories that came out the day after the Jessica Lynch account happened that said, whoa, whoa, whoa, that's not really what happened. We talked to other people. They say that this is what happened, and those were buried deep inside the paper. And they were forgotten because the better story was put up front. And it wasn't because they were doing whatever the government told them to -- it was just a better story. And that's another thing I think you have to look out for just as a journalist -- get your facts: A nice story is great but, being right is more important in the end.
QUESTION: Yes, two questions if I may. I'm Jyri Raivio, Helsingin Sanomat, Finland. Was the story of the WMD in Iraq before the war, was it misinformation or disinformation? And another thing about 9/11 -- do you still come across with this huge urban legends around 9/11 and what can you do about those?
MR. LEVENTHAL: No, I think with the case of WMD, that's not something I've looked at because it sort of deals with what the U.S. Government knew and so on. But I have read the newspapers and I think it's a case where U.S. intelligence community plus all the other intelligence communities that were looking at this simply had it wrong. I mean, they make mistakes like everyone else does and I believe that that's what was the case here.
Big bureaucracies, you know, they're inherently cautious and they're not -- I mean, the view out there is that big bureaucracies like the CIA or the U.S. Government is involved in these huge conspiracies. What I've found it to be is the bigger a bureaucracy, the less possible it is to be engaged in a conspiracy because you've got to bring so many people in on it and it's just not practical for a variety of reasons. So I don't believe that was anything but a genuine mistake.
And the second question on the 9/11 conspiracy theories -- there are an enormous amount of -- for example, here's a book, it was a bestseller in France. It's been published in English, 9/11 the Big Lie. It was called the "amazing fraud" or "astounding fraud" -- I can't remember the title in French. But it was a bestseller, it said that no plane crashed into the Pentagon, it was a remotely piloted cruise missile with a depleted uranium warhead, done for all these obscure reasons to, you know, start a war in the Middle East or something. And you know, it doesn't ever explain what happened to the American flight 77. If it didn't crash into the Pentagon, where did all those people go? You know, so these things are shot full of, you know, there's huge gaps in logic and reason, but you know, there's a lot of people who believe this kind of nonsense and it's a problem.
There's another one -- the rumor that 4,000 Jews didn't show up for work the day of the World Trade Center. And this started immediately, within days after 9/11 and I addressed it on the website. I think, part of it had to do with a -- there was a report in Jerusalem Post that Israel's foreign ministry had said they thought there were 4,000 Israelis in the vicinity of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, probably, you know, in New York and Washington, and then that 4,000 figure got snatched or used by the people in the conspiracy theory. I've heard that, you know, this is widely bandied about and what I did simply was go to some of the sites that have the list of the victims and you can, you know, there's many Jewish victims and if you run the numbers, you'll find that it's about 10 or 15 percent of the victims were Jewish in the World Trade Center, which is about the same percentage of the Jews in the population of New York and the greater New York area. I mean, there's no list of exactly who was there that day, but there's no reason to believe that anyone wasn't warned.
So you just have to address these things with logic and reason and facts. And in fact, our Embassy in Stockholm wrote us and said that a high school student had heard this story from one of their teachers, that there were no Jews at the World Trade Center and they contacted the Embassy and they gave them this material, several months ago before it was on the website but we had it on in an internal website. And the student went and gave a presentation. He said that the other students liked it but the teacher was, you know, didn't think it was that great. So, but I thought it was wonderful that the kid had all the facts and which is what it takes to try to combat these stories.
QUESTION: Ki-Yon Kuk, The Segye Times, Korea. This question to Todd Leventhal. You told us that the United States Embassy in other countries are monitoring local press, right? If you found something wrong information, how do you respond to that information?
And one more if I may. You are in charge of counter-misinformation team, focusing on foreign media. Do you have any other department focusing on domestic media?
MR. LEVENTHAL: No. There's no --
MR. CHINNI: NGOs --
MR. LEVANTHAL: Yeah. There are people outside the government who would focus on the issues for the domestic media, but within the government -- no, I mean the Public Affairs people at the State Department, if there's something that comes up that's, you know, a crazy story, they would respond to it issue by issue. But they don't have a specific unit dedicated to this with regard to the American press.
With regard to our activities of our foreign embassies, you know, it basically depends on embassy by embassy. They'll all monitor the media but it's up to them -- really, it's their judgment as to which stories they can profitably respond to. And some of it's personality. Some people are all pumped up about this and want to go out and knock down these false stories. Some people say, "Well, you know, what can you do about it?" So, it -- some of it has to do with personalities also, but they will -- if they get the information from us, basically, they would write a letter to the editor or they might visit the newspaper or radio station and have a little conversation about it. However, they -- you know, we leave that up to them. Our job is just to find out what the facts are and we leave it up to them how to handle the local media, because that's their expertise.
QUESTION: Parasuram of the Press Trust of India. Several years ago I went to the Goldwater headquarters in San Francisco, when he was contesting the presidency, and there the person in charge told me that I really sympathize with you people in Washington. And I asked why and she said "Your brain is being spoiled by The Washington Post and the New York Times." So then I asked her, "Which paper would you recommend," and she recommended the Oakland Tribune. I pointed out that by the time the Oakland Tribune came to Washington, it was too late.
I was wondering whether this administration has any list of friendly papers, any enemy papers, unfriendly papers. There have been rumors, which you must have heard, that this administration favors Channel 5 over the other channels.
MR. CHINNI: Do you want to do that?
MR. LEVANTHAL: It's domestic, kind of.
MR. CHINNI: Yeah. I think that within every administration, this administration and others, there are favorite media and there are not-so-favorite media and I think that this administration has made it very clear that it -- you know, it's denied seats on some planes of some administration officials to some major newspapers. And it's pretty clear that they just don't -- they don't like what those organizations are doing and there are other places they go to and they have a story.
Now, when you say that they lean toward Channel 5, I assume you mean like Fox. There is, I think, obviously -- you know, there are favorites among people in the administration and they'll tell you that even when it concerns what channel they have on in the White House. There was actually a little -- there was a story for a little bit about what news channel they had on, because it's what news channel they preferred to watch. Whether there's actually a list of enemy papers or -- I don't think they even need to do that. I think they know who their friends are and they know who their friends aren't and that's part of politics in America.
QUESTION: This is about excellence in journalism. I was curious about what you will think of these two events. One was -- even though American media is very good in backgrounding a story, when the great heroes of Swift Boat campaign appeared on television and it was reported in the media, nobody recalled that during the time of Mr. Nixon, it was the same gentleman who had come out against Kerry when he was a young veteran.
QUESTION: And actually, Kerry's -- the conversation between Nixon and his chief of staff -- the transcript is available -- (inaudible) fellow and he is doing our work and that kind of thing. So he was in cohorts with the administration at that time.
After so many years, he emerges again in more or less the same role, against the same person, and this bit of information was missing from most of the papers. So I was wondering whether this habit of backgrounding didn't seem to help.
And secondly, during wartime, I think women get very good treatment and it was the first Gulf War when Kuwaiti ambassador's daughter posed for what she was not and I don't think that story came out much later, in spite of the fact that perhaps, it could have been detected much earlier.
MR. CHINNI: I don't even know, what is the Kuwaiti -- I don't know that.
QUESTION: Kuwaiti ambassador's daughter was paraded in New York in the UN as a victim of Saddam Hussein.
MR. LEVENTHAL: Hill & Knowlton public relations firm put that together.
MR. CHINNI: Really?
MR. CHINNI: There's money to be made.
MR. LEVENTHAL: Yeah.
MR. CHINNI: With the Swift Boat Veterans, actually, those stories were out there. I mean, I read some of them. I read some of them myself. I mean, they're out there. We've gotten to -- and this is something we actually deal with over where I work is when we talk about the American news media at this point, it's not really clear what we're talking about anymore. It's a big animal. It's enormous. And it has all sorts of different parts and I think if you want to find the background stuff, you can find it. It's out there. I think that it's treated differently in different
newspapers and it's treated differently on television.
I'll tell you right off the bat, I think 24-hour cable news, all of them,
they don't do the job. I mean, they don't do the backgrounding job and there's a bunch of reasons for that, but -- you know, one of them is it's -- they need -- cable news is bad sometimes with stories like this, because what they do is they have a story of the day, okay? There's a story that dominates the news cycle and they talk about it. It's what they primarily talk about all day long, so what do they do?
Well, they'll have on somebody from this side and they'll have on somebody from that side and then, well, we've got this guy here and he says this and we've got this guy here and he says this, and they just go back and forth and they talk and then the person in the middle, the journalist says -- who is -- the person who is supposed to be a journalist says "Well, there you have it, there's a lot of disagreement out there." And that's not being a journalist, okay? Because that's like saying you have two people standing at either side of you and one person says, "The moon's made of green cheese," and the other guy says, "No, the moon isn't made of green cheese," and it's like, "Well, there you have it, two -- you know, a difference of opinion." It's like no, it's not, you know, the moon is or isn't made of green cheese and it's not.
And what happens with -- what happened, I think, with the Swift Boats story and what happens with a lot of stories like this is the background stuff gets lost. It appears in some places. It may appear in the New York Times, it may appear in The Washington Post, it may appear in the Wall Street Journal or the Chicago Tribune. But it doesn't appear in other -- it doesn't appear in other newspapers around the country and it certainly doesn't appear on the 24-hour networks. Even though they've got 24 hours to do their job, that's something they just don't feel is necessary.
So, I think that stuff was out there, but it's a question of when you talk about the American news media, it's such a big thing; what part of it are you talking about? There are still responsible news organizations in America. There are still a lot of them, but increasingly, the things that are getting attention and the things people are gravitating towards -- sadly, I mean, Americans -- the things Americans are gravitating towards don't do such a good job and that's a real problem, because what it means is stories like this -- you know, there are going to be a lot more -- in every election, there are going to be a lot of Kerry Swift Boat stories.
I mean, actually, a good example, post-election for the Bush Administration, the spin coming out of the left was that Ohio was somehow stolen in some way. The Republicans stole Ohio and that's how -- they didn't steal Ohio. They won Ohio. They got more votes and they won Ohio. But for -- you know, the blogs were out there churning and it becomes a point and everybody talks about it. And you just -- the responsible media have to stay responsible and the other folks out there, I don’t know what we can do about them. We've got to try to bring them around as best we can.
MR. LEVENTHAL: I'm talking about one of my favorite stories that's glorified as news here about the creation of Taliban by the Americans while they were supporting the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan. You are saying it's a myth. In a couple of hours here in Washington, three hours, there will be a book presentation, a book that has just won a prestigious journalism award where the author, a reputable journalist from the Washington Post, said it's not a myth, basically.
So, my question to you is, how do you know it's not a myth, especially in matters of this type where presumably, a lot of this is still under official secret, under seal of secrecy?
MR. CHINNI: You're referring to Steve Coll's book, Ghost Wars, I believe, which I read and is an excellent book and is actually part of the reason that I came to the conclusion I did. I mean, he's done some very good research, but basically, the facts in this are -- well, it's a well-known fact that the United States funded the Afghan resistance along with the Saudis and the Egyptians and the British and the Chinese. So, there were a number of people there.
Now, was Usama Bin Laden, who was very active in the services bureau that day, was he our guy? No, he was not our guy. I mean -- and if you look at Steve Coll's book, you'll see an interview with the former -- I think Deputy Chief of Staff of Saudi Intelligence which intimates that he was working very closely with the Saudis, which would make sense. So, I think -- and what I found with every account that I've gone over, and I've research this in some depth, is that we were funding -- we were dealing with the Afghan (inaudible) and the Afghans. They were fighting the war. The Afghan Arabs, as they were called, played a minor, minor role. They had their own sources of funding from Arabs, from the Arab communities in the Persian Gulf, and we didn't have anything to do with them, so we didn't create them.
But it's a nice myth. A lot of people believe it, but the facts don't support it.
MR. MACINNES: We're going to go to New York now for a question.
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Adriana Sadeanu. I'm a news correspondent for Capital Business Weekly, Romania. Speaking about excellence in journalism, I totally agree with what has been said at the -- being right is more important than being the first. But my question is about those very complex or difficult situations where journalists can not get -- I mean, real time -- you know, the official confirmation of some very important investigative stories. How -- in your view, how journalists should deal with this situation where -- you know, I'm talking about -- like, cases like that CBS story about President Bush's military record or other stories like this where it's very, very difficult to find people who are willing to tell it on the record or to confirm the on-the-record things.
And now, you have the question as a journalist, at least in my view, of -- you have to inform the people correctly. I totally agree with this, but on the other hand, you have to raise questions. So should you, as a journalist, just -- you know, stay and wait for somebody to confirm it officially -- a story even if you have sources that confirm this particular information? Or should you just -- you know, push authorities in many cases which are not willing to disclose information -- very sensitive information? Just one detail to add in order to make clear what I wanted to say, is that I was very surprised that in the CBS story, I read the report and that -- that had been made by that commission and I totally -- I mean, I saw their evidence that -- the way that the investigation has been conducted. It was not very good. Of course, the journalist did not seem to respect the rules, the basic rules.
But on the other hand, I was also surprised that nobody asked -- you know, nobody took the story and tried to investigate it further. I mean, the story just died. Even -- on the other hand, it hasn't been proved that those documents were false. So, you know, we are talking about the way we inform public opinion, because public opinion is more important than everything and we have -- you know, the duties to inform public opinion correctly, but what if we can not?
MR. LEVENTHAL: That's a good question and CBS is an interesting case. I think it's pretty clear the documents they had are false. I think that -- you know, this is actually one thing I thought the blogs handled pretty well and it was -- you know, I can't believe there was a discussion. I mean, you know, there was a discussion for weeks -- for a couple weeks there about fonts, you know, like the types -- like, what was available in IBM's electric -- you know, typewriter back in the times of Vietnam, which is interesting and -- at the same time, interesting as it's being talked about and incredibly boring as a topic.
But I think that -- you know, that's -- and the larger question is, is the s
tory still true. I don't know. You know, I think we all have feelings one way or the other about what we believe, but if you can't prove it, you can't prove it and you can't go with a story that you can't prove. So, I mean, the fact that CBS did what they did, even -- I think the feeling among a lot of people was there might have been some -- you know, there was some smoke there and there might have been some fire. But they just destroyed the topic and they ruined it for everybody by not doing their job properly.
I mean, even if there's something there, it's like nobody's going to listen to the story anymore. And on the mere question about, if you can't get somebody to comment on something -- look, you give representatives in the government as much opportunity as you can, okay? You give them -- you know, you want them to be able to respond and you want to get their point of view as best you can, but if you can't get it, you can't get it and you say "Look, I've been trying for two weeks. This guy won't comment. I'm going to have to go with no comment." So, you go with no comment.
But the problem that CBS had in that case is they didn't do their job on the other end of it, because -- you know, the answer is that you go with no comment and then look, I have all this documentation that proves something. Well, you got to make sure the documentation's right and I just don't think they did that. And that's -- the key thing is you've got to make sure the reporter you have is right. You don't need government sources for a report to be right, but you had better make sure that the reporting you have is solid and I don't think -- you know, they just
didn't do it in that case.
MODERATOR: Nadia, last question?
PARTICIPANT: Well, she has one more.
MR. MACINNESS: A follow-up? I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Oh, okay, so. Just one detail, please. Shall we quote a source when the source or sources -- can we write a story based on sources, even though sources we know are very -- don't lie to us.
It happened to me in the past to write and quote sources and I was -- is not to say sorry for being, not being modest -- but I was right at the end of the day. But I took the chance, I took the risk, I knew very well the source and it was a very sensitive subject about the fraud, financial fraud. Nobody wanted to come to be the first to come and say, look, this is -- we have a problem here and some billions were just took by some people there.
So, you know, and we have a story with Bechtel Company in Romania, which took a contract from the government with no auction. So nobody will tell you if it was right and we're talking about billions from public funds. So you have the right as a journalist, at least to ask questions and to, you know, to do -- otherwise, after weeks, if you prove, if that story that you didn't write because you didn't have the official confirmation but you had the information and the right sources, proved to be right, then the public opinion will come against us and say, why you didn't tell us about this? Why did journalists didn't inform us about?
So you know, it's a very sensitive -- you are, you know, on the edge somehow but, my question, is, do you think that you, a journalist, should quote sources when of course in the case where you are very, very sure that those sources, not only one or two, but those sources gives you the right information and the same information. Should we quote them in order to respect and do our duty to inform public opinion about sensitive issues? Or should we wait?
MR. CHINNI: That's a good question. In the end, that's being a journalist, right? I mean, in the end it's about, you know, you've got to verify -- you've got to do the best you can to verify the information you have. And if you verified as best you can, if you think it's correct, if you think it's accurate, then by all means go with it and then face repercussions if it's wrong.
But, you know, you got to do everything you can to make sure what you have is right. I am definitely not saying that the government has to agree with you to go up a story** my God, that's not what we do in this country, you know. It's part of what you do, you become a journalist because you want to challenge the government. That's one of the reasons you do it. You want to challenge all sorts of authority, want to raise questions -- authorities and every -- you want to question a lot of things about society.
But you just got to, you got to verify. You got make sure the information you have is right and you've got to have a -- I will say this about being a journalist and what comes with things like this. You have to have a system. It can't just be, "I really, really think" or, "I really, really know." You, yourself, as journalist or the organization you work for have to have something in place that tells you when you go with something. Because -- and you have to have something like that set up beforehand, because if you don't, in the heat of the moment, you're going to find yourself facing a question where, "I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do, let's just go with it" or "no, no, let's stay off," you know, you have to try to have this things* as best you can laid out in advance, so that you have some kind of system in place to tell you when you can go with the story and when you can't.
QUESTION: In writing.
MR. CHINNI: In writing, yeah, if -- please, yeah, if you can do that.
MR. LEVENTHAL: In writing --
MR. MACINNESS: All right. I think one last question (inaudible).
QUESTION: There have been many reports in the past that the standard of journalism in America is becoming sloppier and journalists are less professional, they don't check their sources, they make up sources as we've seen in case of Jayson Blair in the New York Times. And in fact, when it comes to WMD, I mean, we see at the time that (inaudible) -- the Washington Post and New York Times have apologized, for their readers basically, for not checking the information.
When the country's dealing with a situation like a crisis and they've been scared or intimidated by authority or whether they're not going to get that interview with the President, whatever, so they go along with it -- the stories that's been published. I mean, I've been accused of being less patriotic, for example, where do you see this taking us through? I mean, if this is really the case, where do we go from here and we're talking about the print media, let alone the cable networks and televised media, which is more of a sensational and (inaudible) interested in news that related (inaudible)?
MR. CHINNI: Well, what -- the organization I work for, when we first formed, the reason we formed was we felt journalism was lost. And the way we thought, the way looked at it was journalism had become lost in this larger thing called communication, that's really not clear what made journalism -- journalism anymore. And what made a journalist a journalist. So we've been around the country and we basically talked to journalists about this. What is it that separates journalists from other things? What makes journalism and what sets journalism apart?
And we came up with 10 things and I wish I could remember them all right now -- but they're in a book we wrote called The Elements of Journalism and the first thing -- the first, I know some of them off the top of my head, you know -- the first thing is that journalists has an obligation to the truth, first and foremost. Your job is to tell the truth and that, you know, you can't worry about if you're going to anger somebody or piss somebody off. Your job is to go out there and tell the truth, because that's -- a democracy can't function without that, you know, particularly it's like, people in this country have to vote on things. They have to know what's going on. To do that, they have to understand things. Journalists are vital to the proper functioning of a democracy. If they don't do their jobs right, the thing won't work and -- we can't be worried about whether or not people like us. Again, that's not why you become a journalist. It just isn't. It can't be and we've got to get away from that. We've got to go back and rediscover what journalism is supposed to be about.
MR. MACINNESS: Thank you both for a very interesting discussion.