RFK: Outing the CIA at the Ambassador*
By Jim Fetzer
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Oct 18, 2010, 00:19 (Online Journal)
In a recent article (“JFK and RFK: The Plots that Killed Them, The Patsies that Didn’t”), I cited the identifications of three officials of the CIA at the Ambassador Hotel when Bobby was shot, by Bradley Ayers, who knew all three, and by Wayne Smith, who knew one of them very well. Objections have been raised to these identifications by Jefferson Morely and David Talbot, who claim that they have disproven them. Their argument is based upon a fallacy known as “special pleading” by only citing part of the evidence, which does not satisfy the requirement of total evidence, which insists that reasoning be based upon all of the available relevant evidence. Moreover, since they fail to identify the parties in question, they did not actually disprove Ayers and Smith but, at best, have only raised doubts about them.
As more and more of the witnesses’ testimony is taken into account and subjected to a systematic assessment, the strength of support for the identifications by Ayers and Smith becomes increasingly stronger and the evidence against weaker. Ironically, Shane O’Sulllivan, who was largely responsible for
uncovering the evidence that the three officials of the CIA were at the Ambassador, eventually concluded that at least two of them were Bulova Watch Company employees. That inference is substantially overridden by the weight of the evidence, however, where the only mistake that he appears to have made was drawing the conclusion that he had initially been wrong.
In my article on Voltaire.net, I reported that three prominent CIA officials — George Joannides, David Sanchez Morales, and Gordon Campbell — had been identified as present at the Ambassador. Bradley Ayers, an Army captain assigned to the CIA at JM/Wave in Miami from May 1963 to December 1964, had met all three and ID’d two of them — Morales and Campbell — in a video from the Ambassador . Gordon Campbell had even been Ayers’ case officer while he was working for the agency.
Wayne Smith, who served as an ambassador with the Department of State from 1957-1982 with JFK’s Latin American Task Force, also knew Morales . When he viewed the same footage as Ayers, he immediately recognized Morales. As he later told Shane O’Sullivan, “Bobby Kennedy is assassinated [and] David Morales is there? The two things have to be related” . So they both confirmed the person in the video as Morales and they were both emphatic, as can be seen in Shane’s DVD .
Ayers and Smith both remarked upon his body language, his stance and his way of moving, where videos provide enormously more information for identifications than do single photographs, whether candid or staged  . Brad explains in “RFK Must Die!” that the Joannides figure seemed familiar to him, but he could not ID him at the time. He subsequently told me over several conversations that he had seen him intermittently at JM/WAVE in professional matters and only later learned his name.
|In July 1981, retired CIA undercover officer George Joannides (left) received the Distinguished Intelligence Medal for “exceptional achievement” …[such as] concealing from JFK investigators his role…[re] Lee Harvey Oswald before President Kennedy was killed.” Ref: Photo Credit: CIA. More HERE
|He was quite certain about his identification of Campbell, whom he knew extremely well. When I wrote in “JFK and RFK” that “Bradley Ayers, an Army captain assigned to the CIA at JM/Wave in Miami from May 1963 to December 1964, had met all three and identified them in film footage from the Ambassador,” I was basing my remark in part on knowledge I had acquired directly from him in relation to Joannides. One reason I wanted to publish this sequel, therefore, is to clarify this point but also to explain how much more evidence we have supporting his and Smith’s identifications.
In their two-page article, “The BBC’s Flawed RFK Story,” David Talbot, the author of Brothers (2007), who is also the founder of Salon.com, and Jefferson Morley, who is a Washington journalist of some acclaim , however, insist that that Campbell died on September 19, 1962, which is very peculiar, since he served as Brad Ayers’ case officer from 1963-1964. They even post an alleged “death certificate” and also quote one Rudy Enders, a retired CIA official, who claims that he was present when Campbell died. They have published a photograph of the “alleged” Gordon Campbell from the Ambassador Hotel side-by-side with a copy of Campbell’s death certificate.
According to Talbot and Morley, he was “not the deputy station chief in the CIA’s Miami operation, as O’Sullivan reported. He was a yachtsman and Army colonel who served as a contract agent helping the agency ferry anti-Castro guerillas across the straits of Florida, according to Rudy Enders, a retired CIA officer, and two other people who knew him.” He could not have been at Bobby’s assassination because he was, according to them, already dead. They provide no photo of “Gordon Campbell” and offer no response to O’Sullivan’s suggestion that the CIA might have used his name for another agent, since the use of aliases is common practice by the agency.
|Is this Gordon Campbell (left,center) with George Joannides at the Ambassador?
The likelihood of Ayers being wrong about the identity of his own case officer at JM/WAVE is extremely low, while forging documents is among the CIA’s principal pastimes. Faking a death certificate for some “Gordon Campbell” would probably have been simpler than any other technique for coping with Ayers’ identification. Brad has one of the best memories for detail of anyone I have ever known and my guess is that it’s a fake. But, even if we were to take it at face value, the question would become, Who was the man with whom Brad Ayers worked from May 1963 to December 1964 whom he identified in the video footage from the Ambassador? We know the man in the photo cannot be someone who died in 1962. So who was he?
Although Talbot and Morley claim, on the basis of six weeks of research, that they have disproven the identifications made by Brad Ayers and by Wayne Smith, their “disproof” of Brad’s identification of Campbell does not inspire confidence. In a day and age of identify theft, their failure to pursue Shane’s suggestion raises serious questions about the integrity and intent of their “investigation.” Unlike Ayres and Smith, moreover, neither Talbot nor Morley knew Morales, Campbell or Joannides personally. They were therefore dependent on the information they were given by various sources, whose credibility they do not seem to have seriously assessed.
Indeed, one of the most glaring inadequacies of Morley and Talbot’s article is that they also minimize the number of persons who identified Morales, Joannides, and Campbell. They mention exactly four sources for these identifications, each of whom they acknowledge as having identified exactly one of the three men in the footage from the Ambassador. In their piece, they acknowledge the following identifications:
- Wayne Smith identified one of them as David Morales
- David Rabern identified the same person as Morales
- Brad Ayers identified one of them as Gordon Campbell
- Ed Lopez identified one of them as George Joannides
But Brad had also identified Morales, and David Rabern, a professional investigator, who was present at the Ambassador, had personally observed Campbell interacting with Morales, even though he did not know either man by name. Footage shows Campbell interacting with Joannides, as “RFK Must Die!” records . Shane noticed three others — presumably, subordinates — who were interacting with them. Thus, a list of identifications, at the very least, should obviously also include these additions:
- Brad Ayers identified another man as David Morales
- Rabern observed Morales interacting with Campbell
- Footage shows Campbell interacting with Joannides
Remarkably, Rabern told Shane that he had also observed the man others identified as Campbell in and around the LA Police Department “probably half a dozen times” prior to the assassination of RFK, usually in the company of two other men and a woman, as Shane reports in Who Killed Bobby?  (page 441), which raises obvious questions about collusion between the CIA and the LAPD in Bobby’s death.
Talbot and Morley not only suppress Ayers’ identification of Morales, but they also ignore two other witnesses, Dan Hardway (page 458) and Tom Polgar (page 459), who also identified Joannides, lending further support to Ed Lopez’ identification:
- Dan Hardway identified one of them as George Joannides
- Tom Polgar identified the same man as George Joannides
Hardway and Lopez were congressional investigators for the House Select Committee on Assassinations [HSCA] and Polgar had been Joannides’ CIA station chief in Saigon. After initially confirming his identity, according to Talbot, Polgar later decided he had been wrong. Given how well Polgar knew Joannides, however, it is difficult to imagine why he would have withdrawn his identification — unless he had been pressured to do so.
Talbot discounts Polgar in a note to O’Sullivan, but his identification seems more credible than his denial. Moreover, when Joannides’ daughters were asked if their father was in the videos, they responded with, “No comment!” (page 447), which suggests that they, too, recognized their father. If it wasn’t him, after all, surely they would have simply asserted, “No!” That they did not deny the ID should also have been reported:
- Joannides’ daughters did not deny the identification
And Robert Walton (page 436), who had been Morales’ lawyer in the 1970s, and Ruben Carbajal (pages 426-427), who had been his best friend since childhood, reported that David Morales himself had implied he was involved, which counts as further, albeit indirect, evidence that at least he, among the three, had been there:
- Robert Walton reported Morales had said he was there
- Rube Carbajal partially supported what Walton reported
Carbajal confirmed Walton’s statement that Morales had told them, “Well, we took care of that son of a bitch, didn’t we?,” while speaking of JFK, and told Shane that the “we” referred to the CIA (page 427).
But while Walton reported that Morales added, “I was in Los Angeles when we got Bobby,” to whom Morales also refers as “the little bastard” (page 438) — a claim which previously appeared in Noel Twyman, Bloody Treason  (page 471) — Carbajal, as O’Sullivan phrases it, “had gotten used to Morale’s involvement in Dallas, but he wasn’t ready to finger [his friend] for another Kennedy assassination” (page 427). Bradley Ayers, who got to know Carbajal well in the course of his investigations, also believed he knew far more than he was telling.
And there is more. In his video, “RFK Must Die!” Shane also interviews “Chilo” Borja who confirmed the identity of George Joannides. We must therefore add his name:
- “Chilo” Borja identified another as George Joannides
Instead of the original list from Talbot and Morley, which included four witnesses making one identification apiece (two of whom, Smith and Rabern, identified the same person, Morales), there turn out to be seven witnesses who directly identify them, where Smith, Rabern, and Ayers identify Morales (which Walton and Carbajal indirectly confirm); Lopez, Hardway, Polgar, and Borja identify Joannides (which is an identification his own daughters did not deny); while Ayers identified Campbell, Rabern personally observed Campbell and Morales interacting, and Rabern, rather cryptically, tells Shane that he believes Campbell is still alive — without elaborating.
If the evidence that supports the IDs of Morales, Joannides, and Campbell at the Ambassador is actually much stronger than Talbot and Morely acknowledged, the evidence to the contrary appears to be much weaker than others have claimed. On “The Education Forum,” for example, Jim DiEugenio, who with Lisa Pease co-edited The Assassinations (2003) [David Talbot : Gordon Campbell, 19 August 2010], advances various arguments intended to support Talbot and Morley, where I shall comment on (1) the reliability of photographic identifications; (2) the significance of his family’s rejection of the identity of Morales and of a second family’s affirmation of an alternative identification in place of Campbell’s; and (3) the plausibility of the presence of CIA officials at the hotel, even though it was possible — even probable — that they would be photographed there.
(1) On photographic Identifications
First, DiEugenio reports what Anthony Summers, author of Conspiracy, said, when this story first broke, which is that photographic identifications are very “iffy.” Unless you have a very good close up shot, and preferably also full shots for height and weight comparisons, they (Summers and DiEugenio) would rather stay away from them. And he mentions several examples involving E. Howard Hunt, Frank Sturgis, Charles Harrelson, Lucien Conein, and Joseph Milteer that he assumes demonstrate false identifications based upon photographs. But at least three of the five IDs (Harrelson, Conein, and Milteer) appear to have been correct, when the evidence is pursued far enough. These conflicts are often resolvable, as I have found myself.
On The Deep Politics Forum, for example, I pursued the identification of Lucien Conein in comparison with an alternative, Robert Adams, whose credentials were bolstered by means of a faux plaque given to him for appearing in a photograph in Dealey Plaza. Not only did a comparison by Jack White establish a closer degree of resemblance to Conein than to Richards, but the plaque includes a news clipping congratulating him for appearing in this image taken on “Thursday, 23 November 1963”! The weight of the evidence shifts perceptibly when you discover that the arguments for one candidate are shoddy, while those for the other are not. CIA documents proving that Conein was not in town at the time to provide an alibi are easy to produce. And the same is true for other ops working for the government.
Even in cases like those DiEugenio cites, it may be possible to sort things out. We are not dealing with staged photographs here but with videotape, which shows the parties in question moving, talking, and interacting, where their images were only discovered after extended study. When you have experts like Ayers and Smith who knew them personally over extended periods of time, the situation is not comparable to the situation Summers described, where you might even want to have front and side photos for comparison. Nothing about the identifications by Ayers and Smith, who remain confident of them to this very day, seems “iffy.” Quite the opposite.
(2) The role of the families
DiEugenio claims that eight persons said it was not David Morales in the video from the Ambassador without bothering to take into account whether they might have had motives for denying the identity. They even include his daughters! I can’t imagine anyone who would have a stronger motive for denying that the man in the footage was their father! He cites Luis Fernandez and Manuel Chavez, who worked with Morales, but are also not credible. Fernandez, for example, says “definitely that is not Dave Morales” when many others who knew him well have said the opposite.
O’Sullivan reports that Fernandez said there were differences between them: “This person seems taller, more slender and lighter color. David was fat, round faced and darker complexion, like a true Mexican Indian, whereas those of the man in the DVD are of an African-American” (page 456). The disadvantage of those like DiEugenio and O’Sullivan is that they did not know Morales and were not in position to know. I didn’t know him, either, but the testimony of serious men like Bradley Ayers, Wayne Smith, and David Rabern surely overrides it, not to mention that he had told others he was there when they got “the little bastard”! Sullivan claims that he was 5’10” tall (on page 426), but Brad has written that Morales was at least 6’ tall, which is consistent with images at the Ambassador and nickname of “El Indio” (“The” Indian).
|Morales: “El Indio”
When Tom Clines, one of Morales’ closest associates at the agency, says both “It looks like him but it’s not him” (page 450), then a definitive rejection, like that of Fernandez, is not a reasonable response. Shane observes about Clines, who tries to minimize Ayers’ competence on the ground that he wasn’t at JM/WAVE “very long,” when he was there for more than a year and a half, and Ed Wilson, who also did not identify him in a 1959 photo, both appeared to have motives to protect Morales that Ayers and Smith did not. (Brad has also told me that Clines once remarked to him that Campbell had returned to Canada after the breakup of JM/WAVE.)
DiEugenio also buys O’Sullivan’s report that the person Brad identified as Campbell was actually “Michael Roman” and that Joannides was “Frank Owens,” two Bulova Watch executives who are supposed to have been mistaken for CIA officials. When shown images from the Ambassador, however, the Roman family was actually quite equivocal. On page 473 of Who Killed Bobby?, for example, we learn that Roman’s son himself initially wasn’t at all sure it was his father and that one of his daughters also questioned his
appearance. The one photo of Roman that appears toward the end of “RFK Must Die,” moreover, does not look like to me like the Ambassador man: too much hair and the shape of his face is different. Their interest in hanging around after the assassination is not behavior that we would expect from Bulova executives.
(3) The plausibility of their presence
DiEugenio also suggests that, in an operation like this, “you would not have CIA higher ups in plain view of still cameras and motion picture cameras. It makes no sense, and this is what I told Talbot at the beginning. Further, Joannides was not an action officer. He is a desk guy who was in Athens at the time.” But this is one of those cases where his gullibility is showing. How could he possibly know? The CIA, after all, specializes in plausible deniability, which can be implemented effortlessly by the creation of fake documents and phony records. It is extremely painful to read that Jim DiEugenio would so naively accept an easily fabricated CIA alibi like this.
Similar sentiments were expressed by his co-editor, Lisa Pease, who even wrote in her blog that she could not believe the CIA would send those who were involved in his brother’s murder to assassinate Bobby. But since Bobby had said he intended to reopen the JFK investigation, their self-interest would have been great. In response to Brad’s Ambassador identifications, she suggests that he has been seeing things that he wants to see in his desire to solve the case. She says she has met Brad and that she thinks he has to have been “gullible to join up with the CIA and think they were the good guys, right?” But, as someone who has known Brad for 15 years, I cannot think of anyone I have ever known I regard as less gullible than Brad Ayers.
Lisa might want to consider that, from their point of view as agents of assassination who harbored a visceral hatred for Bobby, they would have wanted to be there. Like the “familiar faces” at the corner of Houston and Main on 22 November 1963, these men find events like these self-affirming — not unlike the adrenaline rush that they may have experienced as their targets were taken out. Amoral killers such as David Morales took pride in their work at a brute, animalistic level. He was present when Che Guevara was killed and reputedly severed his head from his body and kicked it away to insure there would be no stories of Che’s “survival.” They were there to guarantee nothing went wrong with their plan to kill a man who threatened them.
|Jim DiEugenio: Black Op Radio Photo
The kind of a priori thought about evidence displayed by DiEugenio, especially, has shaken my confidence in his ability to think things through. No one would think those who were responsible for framing Lee Oswald would plant a weapon that could not have fired the bullets that killed JFK, either. But it happened. We have to follow the evidence where it leads and not confine ourselves to our own subjective expectations. When Shane O’Sullivan concludes the men identified as “Gordon Campbell” and as “George Joannides” were salesmen for Bulova Watch Company, moreover, he appears to be deceiving himself based upon flimsy evidence. Since Campbell was interacting with Morales, was Morales a Bulova Watch man, too? He visited the family of one of those men but simply takes their word for the identification of the other. He was taken in.
When I asked Brad whether it might have been possible for the CIA to fabricate a family to identifying Michael Roman as the man he had identified at the Ambassador to discount the possibility that it was Gordon Campbell, it was a question for which the answer was obvious: “Of course!” That would be child’s play for the agency, yet it appears to be a possibility lying beyond the realm of DiEugenio’s imagination. The son and daughter weren’t sure the man at the Ambassador was their father. That should have signaled to Shane that, if there was this much uncertainty from his son and one of his daughters, the probability that this really was their father was low.
Conclusions in a case of this kind are going to be probable rather than definitive, but the weight of the evidence favors Ayers and Smith’s identifications. As in the case of Lucien Conien, the evidence supporting them is strong, while that for Robert Adams is weak. Most importantly, what is the probability of the presence of Bulova Watch Company executives who strongly resemble these CIA officials who are present at the location of the assassination of RFK, just as he has claimed victory in a primary that was expected to catapult him to the nomination of his party for president? The probability has to be extremely low, especially when you consider that Morales was interacting with Campbell and that Campbell in turn was interacting with Joannides.
James Richards, who is an expert on the CIA, observed during a conversation that those three were the ones most likely to be present if an assassination had been in the works. It is not only unsurprising that they would be there, but the arrogance of the agency is such that it doesn’t seem to care who knows, as long as the general public does not catch on. Thus, a group of CIA officials was captured in photographs at the intersection of Main and Houston during the assassination of JFK in Dealey Plaza, as most students of his death are aware. If you exercise nearly absolute control over law enforcement authorities, including the police and the sheriff’s departments, the Secret Service, and even the FBI, the fear of exposure is nil.
If we weigh the evidence using likelihood measures, where the likelihood of an hypothesis h is equal to the probability of the evidence e, if hypothesis h were true, then the likelihood that those who were present at the Ambassador were Morales, Campbell, and Joannides appears to be very high. The evidence cited to weaken that hypothesis, including the rejections by close friends and family, is more readily explained by the desire to cover up than to establishing the truth. The likelihood they were actually Bulova executives who happened to resemble them is extremely low. Those with the least axes to grind support the identifications, while those with the most at stake deny them. There is a pattern here that none of us should ignore.
My take on the participants varies from case to case. Jim DiEugenio and Lisa Pease have done good work, especially in authoring many of the articles they brought together in THE ASSASSINATIONS. But it seems to me that they lost their way in dealing with this case. They were far too willing to engage in a priori reasoning, where their intuitions (or appeals to “common sense”) are unreliable and unworthy of belief. DiEugeio and Pease would do better to track the evidence more closely and follow it where it leads. I am sorry to say that this is not either of their best work.
Shane O’Sullivan, I think, was simply overwhelmed by the criticism he received for his efforts to expose the truth. He confronted the kind of retaliation that many of us have encountered, where powerful mechanisms are in place to suppress the truth, especially in a situation with the potential of this one — within our visually-oriented culture — to expose CIA complicity. It had to be thwarted, at all costs. What Shane takes to be the most persuasive indication that his counterpart at the Ambassador was not Morales was the description of alleged differences between Morales and the Ambassador man from Luis Fernandez. But he was not justified in assuming that Luis was not dissembling. Luis appears to have been doing his best to protect his friend.
Like Jefferson Morley and David Talbot, Shane O’Sullivan did not know any of them. The weight of the evidence from those who weren’t shading their testimony strongly suggests he was being misled. That he fumbled the ball over “Roman” and “Owens,” moreover, is difficult to deny. Recall that Rabern told Shane he had also observed the man others identified as Campbell in and around the LAPD “probably half a dozen times” as Shane reports in Who Killed Bobby?  (page 441). But, on page 454, he also observes (in relation to his DVD, “RFK Must Die”) that, “At 12:47, ‘Morales’ emerged from the pantry [where Bobby had been shot at 12:15] and walked into the ballroom among a group of police officers.” At 1:03, ‘Morales’ is observed comparing notes with someone who looks like a plainclothes detective, though, according to the LAPD, no police were present at the time RFK was shot. If Joannides, Campbell and Morales were Bulova executives, they did not act as if they were Bulova executives.
|Jefferson Morley: NY Times photo, 2009
The strength of the case for the identifications of Morales, Campbell, and Joannides can be seen in the presentations on the BBC program that Talbot and Morley dispute. In “CIA Agents killed Robert Kennedy — Part 1” on YouTube , for example, Brad Ayers identifies both Morales and Campbell and Wayne Smith identifies Morales. In “Part 2” , David Rabern identifies Morales and Ed Lopez identifies Joannides. These IDs, as I have explained, are supported by those of many others, including even (indirectly) by Morales himself, where the evidence against them is weak. The CIA had the motive, the means, and the opportunity to remove a threat it feared — and it took it. What is there not to understand? The rest is just smoke and mirrors.
Rabern asks why CIA involvement was never pursued but, as I observed in  my earlier article, the LAPD officials assigned to handle the investigation had ties to the CIA! So it was a nice “closed loop” where the agency was in control. O’Sullivan has written to me that he remains convinced that “Gordon Campbell” was in fact Michael D. Roman, in spite of the points I made about the family’s equivocal identifications. But, if Shane is right, then logic requires that we conclude that Campbell and Roman are one and the same, where his life as a Bulova Watch Company executive was his cover, where even he (page 470) acknowledges that that may have been the case.
The conduct of David Talbot and Jefferson Morley, by comparison, appears to be far more serious. They have repeatedly minimized both the strength and variety of the evidence supporting these identifications. They have exaggerated the weight of the evidence against them, even including the claim to have disproven them, when they did no such thing. They did not even attempt to identify those whom they claimed had been mistaken for them. Such doubts as they have raised, in my opinion, are overcome by the weight of the evidence, where their cavalier treatment of Brad’s identification of Campbell was especially egregious and irresponsible. They adopt a highly self-congratulatory attitude about “bad JFK stories driving out good ones.” But there is nothing about their performance that warrants any pats upon their backs.
As most students of JFK are aware, Joannides was even brought out of retirement to coordinate interaction between the CIA and the HSCA when it took up the case in 1977-78. The agency has refused to grant access to his files even when the ARRB was entitled to have them. In my view, the conduct of Talbot and Morley has been inexcusable to the extent that one could reasonably infer that they were suppressing evidence. The most appropriate response they could make to offset that impression would be to acknowledge that, given the evidence presented here, they were clearly wrong, and thus remove the cloud of uncertainty that obfuscates the clarity of truth.
As I previously explained (“JFK and RFK: The Plots that Killed Them, The Patsies that Didn’t”), the LAPD officers assigned to handle the investigation of Bobby’s death had ties to the CIA. They badgered witnesses who did not conform to the “official account.” The most probable killer, Thane Eugene Cesar, had worked with companies that also had links to the agency. The hypnotist, William Joseph Bryan, was on the radio suggesting that the assassin was probably “mind controlled” even before Sirhan had been identified as a suspect. Bryan later boasted to several hookers that he worked for the CIA and had hypnotized him. Given the weight of the evidence, there is scant room for doubt that Sirhan was a “patsy” set up by the CIA.
* Special thanks to Brad Ayers, Shane O’Sullivan, and Kenneth Watson for feedback.
Jim Fetzer, McKnight Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota Duluth, has chaired or co-chaired four national conferences on the death of JFK and has published three books about it. He co-edits assassinationresearch.com with John P. Costella.
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