David Atlee Phillips

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David Atlee Phillips (October 31, 1922 – July 7, 1988) was a Central Intelligence Agency officer of 25 years and a recipient of the Career Intelligence Medal. Phillips rose to become the CIA's chief of operations for the Western hemisphere. In 1975 he founded the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO), an alumni association comprising intelligence officers from all services.[1]

Phillips was repeatedly accused of involvement in the JFK assassination, named by both investigators and Agency family members. Implications of his guilt stemming from both the mid-1970s House Select Committee on Assassinations and a pair of assassination exposes originally proved inconclusive, but since a 2014 reversal of crucial exonerating House Committee testimony point at his complicity.[2][3]

Early life and military career[edit]

Phillips was born in Fort Worth, Texas[4] and attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.[4] Phillips was an actor prior to World War II.[4] During the war, he served as a nose gunner in the United States Army Air Forces. He was shot down over Austria and captured by the Germans, but was able to escape and make it back to Allied lines.[4]

CIA career[edit]

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 operated a major psychological warfare campaign in Guatemala during the US coup and its aftermath.[5] He rose through the ranks to intelligence officer, chief of station and eventually chief of Western hemisphere operations, serving primarily in Latin America, including Cuba, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.[6] Phillips retired from the agency in 1975 and founded the Association of Former Intelligence Officers in the same year.[7]

House Select Committee on Assassinations[edit]

While investigating Lee Harvey Oswald's possible ties to certain pro- and anti-Castro radical groups around the time of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the HSCA obtained statements from then virulently anti-Castro paramilitary organization Alpha 66 founder Antonio Veciana that Oswald had met on several occasions with a CIA operative known as "Maurice Bishop".[8][9][10] After one former CIA case officer (who had been assigned to the JM/WAVE station in Miami) stated to investigators that Phillips had been known to use the alias,[11] the commission attempted to see if Veciana could identify Phillips as being "Bishop". Veciana insisted that he was not the same person and moreover that he had never met Phillips before either. Some committee members (and also lead investigator Gaeton Fonzi) doubted Veciana, reasoning that he should have at least recognized Phillips, a high-profile officer so heavily involved in Cuban operations.[12][13][14]

In 2014, at a conference named The Warren Report and the JFK Assassination: Five Decades of Significant Disclosures, Veciana reversed his previous statements, asserting unequivocally that he believed that the agent he knew as Bishop had in fact been David Atlee Phillips.[2][3]

Conspiracy allegations and lawsuit[edit]

In their 1980 book Death in Washington, authors Donald Freed and Fred Landis charged that the CIA was involved in the 1973 Chilean coup d'état and the 1976 assassination of Orlando Letelier.[15] The authors specifically named Phillips as being involved in a cover-up of the assassination and reiterated Fonzi's claim that Phillips served as Oswald's case officer while using the alias "Maurice Bishop".[16] In 1982, Freed, Landis, and their publisher were named in a $230 million libel suit by Phillips and the AFIO.[16][15] A settlement was reached in 1986 with Phillips receiving a retraction and an unspecified amount of money.[16] 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.[citation needed]

After the death of former CIA agent and Watergate figure E. Howard Hunt in 2007, Saint John Hunt and David Hunt revealed that their father had recorded several claims about himself and others being involved in a conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy.[17][18] In the April 5, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone, Saint John Hunt detailed a number of individuals implicated by his father including Phillips, as well as Lyndon B. Johnson, Cord Meyer, David Sánchez Morales, Frank Sturgis, William Harvey and an assassin he termed "French gunman grassy knoll" who many presume was Lucien Sarti.[18][19] The two sons alleged that their father cut the information from his memoirs, "American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate and Beyond", to avoid possible perjury charges.[17] Hunt's widow and other children told the Los Angeles Times that the two sons took advantage of Hunt's loss of lucidity by coaching and exploiting him for financial gain. The newspaper said it examined the materials offered by the sons to support the story and found them to be "inconclusive."[17]

Alpha 66 founder Antonio Veciana's 2014 recantation of his House Committee testimony, denying he knew Philips with an unequivocal statement that he believed that the agent he knew as Bishop had in fact been David Atlee Phillips,[2][3] reopened Phillips' possible central role in the JFK assassination.

Later life[edit]

Phillips wrote and lectured frequently on intelligence matters. He authored five books, including his CIA memoir The Night Watch, Careers in Secret Operations: How to Be a Federal Intelligence Officer, The Terror Brigade, The Carlos Contract, and The Great Texas Murder Trials: A Compelling Account of the Sensational T. Cullen Davis Case.

Personal life[edit]

Phillips was the brother of writer James Atlee Phillips and the uncle of musician Shawn Phillips.

In 1948, he married Helen Hausman Haasch.[20] They had four children,[21] then divorced in 1967.[20]

In 1969, he married Virginia Pederson Simmons[20] who had three children from a previous marriage.[21] The couple had one child together.[21]

Phillips died at his home in Bethesda, Maryland from complications of cancer on July 7, 1988 at the age of 65.[4]



  • The Night Watch: 25 Years of Peculiar Service. New York: Atheneum, 1977. 330 pages. ISBN 0689107544 OCLC 2424448
  • The Carlos Contract: A Novel of International Terrorism. New York: Macmillan, 1978. ISBN 0025961101 OCLC 4135781
  • The Great Texas Murder Trials: A Compelling Account of the Sensational T. Cullen Davis Case. New York: Macmillan, 1979. ISBN 0025961500 OCLC 4907946
  • Careers in Secret Operations: How to be a Federal Intelligence Officer. Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1984. ISBN 0890936536 OCLC 11316169
  • Writing for Pleasure and Profit in Retirement: How to Enjoy a Second Career as a Professional Writer. Bethesda, MD: Stone Trail Press, 1986. 70 pages. ISBN 978-0932123015 OCLC 15354518
  • The Terror Brigade (Novel). New York: Berkeley Publishing Group, 1989. 310 pages. ISBN 978-0515099096 OCLC 19099230

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About Us". Afio.com. 2009-08-26. Retrieved 2017-05-29.
  2. ^ a b c The Warren Report and the JFK Assassination: Five Decades of Significant DisclosuresAntonio Veciana (September 26, 2014). Antonio Veciana - Admissions and Revelations (Conference). Bethesda Hyatt Regency, Bethesda, Maryland: Assassination Archives and Research Center.
  3. ^ a b c JFK files: As Donald Trump looks to release classified documents, last living link to assassination drops bombshell, The Independent, 23 October 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e Saxon, Wolfgang (July 10, 1988). "David Atlee Phillips Dead at 65; Ex-Agent Was Advocate of C.I.A." The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2015.
  5. ^ Max Holland, "Operation PBHISTORY: The Aftermath of SUCCESS", International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 17(2), 2004, p. 305. "At one time an aspiring actor, David Atlee Phillips was fluent in Spanish and fresh from working under contract to the CIA during PBSuccess. Under the pseudonym 'Paul D. Langevin,' Phillips had been the Agency's chief liaison and advisor to La Voz de la Liberación, one of the most effective tools in the psychological warfare waged against Arbenz."
  6. ^ Fonzi, Gaeton. The Last Investigation, (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1993), pp. 263-266. ISBN 1-56025-052-6
  7. ^ AFIO Copyright 2006 (2009-08-26). "About Us". AFIO. Retrieved 2017-05-29.
  8. ^ "Antonio Veciana and "Maurice Bishop" : House Select Committee on Assassinations". Jfk-online.com. pp. 37–56. Retrieved 2017-05-29.
  9. ^ Fonzi, Gaeton. The Last Investigation, (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1993), pp. 141-142. ISBN 1-56025-052-6
  10. ^ Summers, Anthony. Not in Your Lifetime, (New York: Marlowe & Company, 1998), pp. 250-251. ISBN 1-56924-739-0
  11. ^ Fonzi, Gaeton. The Last Investigation, (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1993), p. 396. ISBN 1-56025-052-6
  12. ^ United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (1979), HSCA Report, page 136, footnote 23
  13. ^ Fonzi, Gaeton. The Last Investigation, (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1993), p. 266. ISBN 1-56025-052-6
  14. ^ Phillips, David Atlee. The Night Watch. New York: Atheneum, 1977 (113).
  15. ^ a b UPI (March 5, 1982). "CIA critic arrested after Cuba visit". UPI.com. UPI. Retrieved October 15, 2015.
  16. ^ a b c Bugliosi, Vincent (2007). Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 1201. ISBN 978-0-393-04525-3.
  17. ^ a b c Williams, Carol J. (March 20, 2007). "Watergate plotter may have a last tale". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
  18. ^ a b Hedegaard, Erik (April 5, 2007). "The Last Confessions of E. Howard Hunt". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on June 18, 2008.
  19. ^ McAdams, John (2011). "Too Much Evidence of Conspiracy". JFK Assassination Logic: How to Think About Claims of Conspiracy. Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books. p. 189. ISBN 9781597974899. Retrieved December 30, 2012.
  20. ^ a b c Library of Congress (1 April 2010) [2004]. "David Atlee Phillips Papers; A Finding Aid to the Collection in the Library of Congress" (PDF). Loc.gov/. Prepared by Bradley E. Gernand (Revised and expanded by Karen Linn Femia). Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress. LCCN mm88075637. Retrieved October 15, 2015.
  21. ^ a b c Barnes, Bart (1988-07-09). "CIA OPERATIVE, DEFENDER DAVID PHILLIPS, 65, DIES". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2017-05-29.


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