David Atlee Phillips

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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.

Early life and military career[edit]

Phillips was born in Fort Worth, Texas.[1] He attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.[1] Phillips was an actor prior to World War II.[1] During the war, he served as a nose gunner in the United States Army Air Forces and was shot down over Austria.[1] Phillips escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany and made it back to Allied lines.[1]

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.[2] He 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.[3]


During the 1970s, the intelligence community was rocked by a number of leaks and embarrassing revelations. Phillips took early retirement in 1975 to found the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO) to counter widespread criticism of the United States intelligence community coming from the media and the U.S. Congress.

House Select Committee on Assassinations[edit]

Some researchers[who?] claim Phillips used the alias "Maurice Bishop" (not to be confused with the former prime minister of Grenada, Maurice Bishop).[4] Alpha 66's founder, Antonio Veciana,[5] claimed that during one of his meetings with "Bishop", Lee Harvey Oswald was also in attendance.[6][7] Winston M. Scott, CIA Station Chief in Mexico City, asked Phillips to assume the post of Chief of Covert Action which, according to Phillips, was "...a job [E.] Howard Hunt had held in the early fifties and in which Hunt had handled, among others, an American contract agent named William F. Buckley."[8] According to House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) investigator Gaeton Fonzi, Phillips became Mexico City's Chief of Cuban Operations in September 1963, just before Oswald visited the city.[9]

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."[10]

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)

Veciana confirmed publicly in 2013 that "Marice Bishop" had been, in fact, David Atlee Phillips. In 2014 and 2015, Wynne Johnson uploaded three videos to YouTube.com and Vimeo.com to reveal that, at the age of 15, he and a girl his own age were witnesses to the incident told of by Veciana. These can be found by searching on "Southland Center 1963," Part 1, 2, and 3, on either of the two websites. Johnson claims to have a considerably more detailed memory of the event than Veciana does.

Subject of conspiracy allegations[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.[11] 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 Bisop".[12] In 1982, Freed, Landis, and their publisher were named in a $230 million libel suit by Phillips and the AFIO.[12][11] A settlement was reached in 1976 with Phillips receiving a retraction and an unspecified amount of money.[12] 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.[13][14] 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.[14][15] 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.[13] 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."[13]

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, 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).

On July 7, 1988, Phillips died at his home in Bethesda, Maryland.[1] At the time of his death, he had been suffering from cancer.[1]


In 1948, Phillips married Helen Hausman Haasch.[16] They had four children,[17] then divorced in 1967.[16] In 1969, he married his second wife, Virginia Pederson Simmons,[16] who had three children from a previous marriage.[17] Together, the couple had one other child.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g 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. 
  2. ^ 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."
  3. ^ Fonzi, Gaeton. The Last Investigation, (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1993), pp. 263-266. ISBN 1-56025-052-6
  4. ^ Fonzi, Gaeton. The Last Investigation, (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1993), p. 396. ISBN 1-56025-052-6
  5. ^ House Select Committee on Assassinations, Volume X, pp. 37-56
  6. ^ Fonzi, Gaeton. The Last Investigation, (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1993), pp. 141-142. ISBN 1-56025-052-6
  7. ^ Summers, Anthony. Not in Your Lifetime, (New York: Marlowe & Company, 1998), pp. 250-251. ISBN 1-56924-739-0
  8. ^ Phillips, David Atlee. The Night Watch. New York: Atheneum, 1977 (113).
  9. ^ Fonzi, Gaeton. The Last Investigation, (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1993), p. 266. ISBN 1-56025-052-6
  10. ^ United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (1979), HSCA Report, page 136, footnote 23
  11. ^ a b UPI (March 5, 1982). "CIA critic arrested after Cuba visit". UPI.com. UPI. Retrieved October 15, 2015. 
  12. ^ a b c Bugliosi, Vincent (2007). Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 1201. ISBN 0-393-04525-0. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ a b Hedegaard, Erik (April 5, 2007). "The Last Confessions of E. Howard Hunt". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on June 18, 2008. 
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ a b c Library of Congress (April 2010) [2004]. "David Atlee Phillips Papers; A Finding Aid to the Collection in the Library of Congress" (PDF). http://www.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.  External link in |website= (help)
  17. ^ a b c https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1988/07/09/cia-operative-defender-david-phillips-65-dies/0b404603-8cba-4ce9-80ca-77e66771ab1f/


  • Phillips, David Atlee (1977). The Night Watch: 25 Years of Peculiar Service. New York: Atheneum. ISBN 0-689-10754-4. OCLC 2424448. 
  • Phillips, David Atlee (1978). The Carlos contract : a novel of international terrorism. New York: Macmillan. ISBN 0-02-596110-1. 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 0-02-596150-0. OCLC 4907946. 
  • Phillips, David Atlee (1984). Careers in Secret Operations: How to be a Federal Intelligence Officer. Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America. ISBN 0-89093-653-6. OCLC 11316169. 

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