Revelation 19.63

Page 8 of 10

Joannides had only to read the next morning's newspaper to know his assets in the DRE were exerting a powerful influence on the coverage of the president's murder. Carlos Bringuier's story appeared in the Miami Herald: "Oswald Tried to Spy on Anti-Castro Exile Group." The story also made the Washington Post: "Castro Foe Details Infiltration Effort."

Castro continued to play defense. In a radio speech to the Cuban people the day after the shooting, he portrayed the assassination as a provocation aimed at destroying the revolution. He derided Bringuier's statements to the New York Times that Oswald was a supporter. "How curious!" Castro said. "They say that he is a Castroite, a communist, an admirer of Fidel Castro. And it appears that he tried to enter [the DRE in New Orleans] and was not admitted because they thought he belonged to the FBI or CIA.... They must know pretty well the kinds of agents the FBI and CIA have, since they deal with them a lot." George Joannides was one of the few people on the planet in a position to know the accuracy of those words.

"Oswald could be guilty or innocent; we can't tell," Castro continued. "Or he could be a CIA or FBI agent, as those people [the DRE] suspected, or an instrument of the most reactionary sectors that may have been planning a sinister plot.... [He] may be innocent, a cat's paw in a plan very well prepared by people who knew how to prepare such plans. Or he may be a sick man, and if so, the only honest thing is to hand him over for a medical examination and not to be starting a campaign extremely dangerous to world peace."

As Castro spoke Salvat put the finishing touches on a special edition of Trinchera, the Directorate's newspaper. It featured an English-language banner headline, "The Presumed Assassins," over photos of Oswald and Castro. The text consisted of reprints of Bringuier's letters to the Miami DRE about Oswald and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. Trinchera also quoted from a telegram the group had sent to the newly sworn-in president, Lyndon B. Johnson: "May God enlighten the government of this country at such difficult moments."

Copies of Trinchera were being distributed outside a church on Key Biscayne on Sunday morning, November 24, when nightclub owner Jack Ruby shot Oswald in the basement of the Dallas jail. Nothing would contribute so powerfully to the popular belief in a conspiracy as Ruby's execution of Oswald. Within days pollsters found that 60 percent of the American public was convinced that Oswald had accomplices.

On November 25, three days after Kennedy's murder, FBI agent Jim O'Connor interviewed José Antonio Lanuza and collected the Directorate's file on Oswald, including an eight-page memo arguing that Fidel Castro was the "intellectual author" of the assassination.

But FBI director J. Edgar Hoover squelched investigations into a Cuban or exilio connection. Within days of the assassination, for example, the Secret Service, which had launched its own investigation, received an urgent report from its Chicago office about a Cuban exile who had been seeking to buy guns in Chicago since September. He was traveling in the company of one Juan Francisco Blanco Fernandez, a friend of Salvat and a member of the DRE's military section. On the day before the assassination, the exile told a Secret Service informant that the group had "plenty of money" and would buy weapons "as soon as we take care of Kennedy." But Hoover, whose bureau took over the investigation with the support of President Johnson, forced the Secret Service to drop further inquiries. The FBI preferred to pursue the theory that Oswald had acted alone.

Over at the CIA, Richard Helms withheld files on Oswald's pro-Castro activities from the agency's in-house investigation of the accused assassin within weeks of the shooting, according to a sworn deposition by John Whitten, the CIA veteran in charge of the probe. When Whitten protested, Helms reassigned him.

Not long after Oswald was killed, the DRE laid off its efforts to link him and Castro. George Joannides continued to assist the group in ways large and small. He paid expenses, accepted intelligence reports, and helped "exfiltrate" Jorge Medina Bringuier, Carlos's cousin and the Directorate's last remaining leader inside Cuba who wasn't in prison.

Fernandez-Rocha recalls only one conversation with the CIA man after November 22, 1963. They met for coffee, he says, around Christmas that year. The nation was still in mourning. With the Cuba dilemma receding from national attention -- and with the FBI pursuing a lone-gunman theory over a Castro conspiracy -- Joannides, in his forthright way, told Fernandez-Rocha the game was over for the Directorate. As the two sipped their cafecitos, the CIA man offered some advice: Get out of politics, go back to school, and get on with your life. Fernandez-Rocha was touched by Joannides's thoughtfulness.

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Jefferson Morley