JFK Series 3: Wall Street Goes to Cuba

Elite Factionalism and Elite Alignment

In his 1956 book, The Power Elite, C. Wright Mills wrote that “[t]he long-term tendency of business and government to more intricately and deeply involved with one another has… reached a new point in explicitness. The two cannot be seen as distinct worlds”. ‘American capitalism’ as a whole was identical to ‘military capitalism’, generating a perfect coincidence between the vested interests in each party. For Mills, differing ‘sectors’ – the military, the policy-making apparatuses, corporate capitalism, etc – generate both their own internal culture, their own means of propagating this culture, and personal lineages that congeal into a system of internal elites. As these ‘sectors’ come to coincide with one another, the composition of these elite stratas too begin to intermingle an interrelate in complex, self-reinforcing ways.

The contention of the JFK assassination theory is that this the social ground that one must begin from, as it is the tapestry formed by these interlacing webs of relations (ranging from ties built-up in everyday life up through integrated corporate directorships and ownership structures) that is operationalized by something like the CIA in their covert operation programs. What this entails further is that the participants often do not realize that they are operating as part of such a program – an example of this would be what I sketched briefly in my previous post, where anti-Communist, anti-State Department, anti-CIA actors (affiliated with militia movements, the John Birch Society, etc, and frequently backed by Texas oil money) were enlisted into a vast program that began as logistical support for anti-Castro operations, but might have ended up including propaganda efforts after the assassination.

This division, between more nationalist forces and internationalist ones, maps almost perfectly to the distinction that Carl Oglesby draws between the “Cowboys” and the “Yankees”. It’s a model that proceeds directly from Wright’s power elite thesis by the attempting to discern the factional polarity of the ruling class: the Cowboys, often nouveau riche in character, were from the Sunbelt and drew their wealth and power from manufacturing, mineral extraction, and the like. In terms of international relations, they tended, paradoxically, towards both isolationism and aggressive interventionism. The “Yankees”, by contrast, were the old-moneyed members of the “Eastern Establishment”, and drew their wealth and power from concentrated ownership, banking, and financial services. They were intrinsically antagonist to isolation and were inclined to interventionism – though the nature of this interventionism conflicted with that of the Cowboys.

Peter Dale Scott has both advanced and complicated Oglesby’s schema by describing milieus internal to these structures, which give rise to “meta-groups” through their alignment along common interests. For Scott, it is in the domain of the metagroup that we find the source of “deep events” (which he describes as events, often attached to the state security apparatus, that mark a transgression of the law these apparatuses are ostensibly designed to uphold). In The Road to 9/11, for example, it is a meta-group formed through the alignment of “Texas-Saudi-Geneva” milieus that is foregrounded.

Without remaining wedded to Scott’s language or systems, it is clear that his interpretations of factions and alignments does much to illustrate the complicated, often topsy-turvy world of CIA operations in the 1960s, which saw the ‘Yankees’ deploying the ‘Cowboys’ for their own ends. But it is also clear that there are more ‘above ground’ alignments that were taking place as well – and perhaps it is in that context that we should view this instrumentalization. Take the Bush family, for example: while we most quickly associate them with the Texas oil elite, they ultimately stem from the Eastern Establishment. Prescott Bush, father of H.W. Bush, was one in several generations of Bushes to attend and graduate from Yale, and his built up much of his power through holding positions at prominent New York investment banks like A. Harriman & Co (later Brown Brothers Harriman & Co.). and Union Banking Corporation.

It wasn’t until after the Second World War that H.W. Bush moved to West Texas to escape “the daily shadow” of Wall Street – while also being able to “call on [his financial connections] if he needed to raise capital”. This kind of alignment was not a fresh trail that H.W. was blazing, however: his first job in Texas was located at Dresser Industries, where Prescott Bush served on the board of directors. Since 1929, Dresser had been owned by A. Harriman & Co., and through these connections it had grown to be a major provider of materials to various oil firms. One of their major clients had been Standard Oil of New Jersey – and to round out the connections, William Farish III (the man who brought H.W. to Dresser) was the heir to the Houston-based Humble Oil dynasty, with Humble Oil being owned by Standard Oil. Farish’s father had even served as chairman of Standard Oil at the behest of John D. Rockefeller.

Interesting, in his Warren Commission testimony, George de Mohrenschildt states that he had worked at Humble Oil after applying for a position as an oil rig operator in 1939. The social networks he traveled through helped facilitate his employment, as he explained to the Commission: “I applied for a job with Mr. Suman, who is vice president of Humble Oil Co. Also I met the chairman of the board of the Humble Oil Co. through mutual acquaintances”. Mohrenschildt would also come to know H.W. Bush through his nephew, Edward G. Hooker, who had been Bush’s college roommate at Yale. Between 1950 and 1953, Mohrenschildt and Hooker maintained a fairly-unprofitable oil venture in Denver, Colorado.

In April 1963, Mohrenschildt was brought into contact with a CIA officer code-named WUBRINY-1 by his prospective business partner, the Haitian banker Clemard Joseph Charles. The real name of WUBRINY-1 was, in fact, Thomas J. Devine, who a decade prior had helped H.W. Bush set up Zapata Petroleum Corporation – which allegedly lent its oil rigs to the CIA to be used as listening posts in their anti-Castro operations. Devine, subsequently, would go on to become a partner at the New York consulting firm Train, Cabot, and Associates.

Another example of these Wall Street/Texas ties that bleed effortlessly into covert operations is a figure that was talked about in post the ‘Mongoose Mythos’ pseudcast and briefly in the last post: Jack Alston Crichton. A former OSS officer – and close friend and political ally of the Bush family – Crichton was a significant figure in the Dallas oil community. Immediately following World War 2, Crichton went to work for DeGolyer & McNaughton, a petroleum consulting firm launched by Everette DeGolyer and Lewis McNaughton (both of whom served on the board of the aforementioned Dresser Industries). The role Crichton played at DeGolyer & McNaughton, according to Russ Baker, was to launch and maintain “a baffling array of companies, which tended to change names frequently. These operated largely below the radar, and fronted for some of North America’s biggest names, including the Bronfmans (Seagram’s liquor), the DuPonts, and the Kuhn-Loeb family of financiers”

It is not surprising, then, that both DeGolyer and McNaughton ended up serving on the board of the Wall Street-based Empire Trust Company, an investment house (and “private CIA”) owned primary by the Loebs and the Bronfmans. In 1953, the two would be joined at the firm by Crichton himself – and within a few years, Crichton would work his way up to the position of vice president. While it was clearly his employer’s presence that opened the door for Crichton to join Empire Trust, the decision ultimately fell to the board’s chairman, Henry Brunie – a longtime friend of John McCloy, who was by this time serving at the chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations. Years earlier, when he was serving as the second president of the World Bank, McCloy maintained a position on the Empire Trust Company’s board. The New York-Texas alignment’s attention was continually turned further south, into the Caribbean, Latin America and South America. Empire Trust maintained a series of business interests in Cuba via its relationship – defined through interlocking directorships and ownership shares – with the Cuban-Venezuelan Oil Voting Trust Company (CVOVT), a firm launched by the former president of William F. Buckley Sr.’s Pantepec Oil. The CVOVT, in conjunction with the Trans-Cuban Oil Company, worked to buy land across the island and develop extraction by courting series of investors – including Cuban Stanolind Oil Company, a subsidiary of Standard Oil of Indiana. Consulting on these these various operations was carried out by none other than DelGolyer & McNaughton.

Incredibly, Mohrenschildt – who knew Crichton personally – pops up here as well. In the late 1940s he had worked as a field engineer at Pantepec in Venezuela, and when the CVOVT project was underway, his former business associates brought him in for some type of consulting work. The job with CVOVT didn’t seem to the last long, but he would later tell the Warren Commission that the company “owned about half of the whole country under lease”.

Sugar Cartel

In 1973, Susan Hooker, the daughter of Mohrenschildt’s former business partner Edward Hooker, married Ames Braga, the son of sugar tycoon Bernardo Braga Rionda. Edward G. Hooker had passed away six years earlier, in 1967 – and in his stead, walking Susan down the aisle, was Hooker’s old college roommate, George H.W. Bush.

This is illustrative of a dimension of social linking together Texas, Wall Street, and Cuba that reaches beyond the shadowy world of oil companies, and into other forms of material extraction – and it is this nexus in particular that might have played an even more fundamental role in shaping US foreign policy (particularly in its covert dimension) towards the island. Bernardo Braga Rionda, along with his brother George Atkinson Braga, ran a series of interlocking sugar companies that circled around a company called Czarnikow-Rionda. Czarnikow-Rionda, now little known, was a giant in its day, trading actively on the New York Coffee, Sugar and Cocoa Exchange (founded in 1882 by Joseph J. Donahue) – and at one point was selling some 40% of all Cuban sugar

Czarnikow-Rionda had been founded in 1909 by Julius Caesar Czarnikow and Manuel Rionda. Czarnikow, a German immigrant to Great Britain, died shortly after starting the company, leaving Rionda (who had relocated from his home in Spain to Cuba) in charge. Under Rionda’s direction, Wall Street investment was brought to the company. He had already well-established ties with the law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell, and when he started the Czarnikow-Rionda-linked Stewart Sugar Company, multiple partners at the firm were active investors. This same pattern occurred when he started the Manati Sugar Company in 1911, and again in 1915, when he launched the Cuban Cane Sugar Corporation. To quote from Louis Perez’s Intervention, Revolution, and Politics in Cuba, 1913-1921:

The law firm Sullivan and Cromwell directed the transactions leading the organization of the Cuban Cane [Sugar] Company in 1915. Sullivan and Cromwell partners occupied central positions in several sugar enterprises. Four attorneys of the firm, including William Cromwell, sat on the board of directors of the Manati Sugar Company; three served as officers. Sullivan and Cromwell also placed several representatives on the Cuba Cane board… the J.P. Morgan [J.P. Morgan also retained the services of Sullivan and Cromwell] associates serving on the Cuba Cane board included Cornelius N. Bliss Jr., W. Ellis Corey, Charles H. Sabin, and Grayson M.P. Murphy. Murphy also sat on the board of directors of Bethlehem Steel (Andrew W. Mellon interests), the owner of considerable mining trusts in Cuba, and served as vice president of Guaranty Trust Company (Morgan).

Bernardo Rionda Braga and George Atkinson Braga took control of Czarnikow-Rionda upon Manuel Rionda’s death in 1945. They continued the country’s traditions of being closed tied to Sullivan and Cromwell: in the 1930s, financing for their ventures began to flow from J. Schroder bank, a prominent client of Sullivan and Cromwell’s. Future CIA director Allen Dulles, then a partner at Sullivan and Cromwell, maintained a position of the board of J. Schroder – and he was soon joined there by George Atkinson Braga.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s, the Braga brothers continued to expand Czarnikow-Rionda’s activities and holding with the aid of one of their Wall Street partners, Michael “Jack” Malone, who would become vice-president of the company in 1954. They soon began to move into the kenaf business; in 1950, Malone spearheaded the purchasing of the North American Kenaf Company, founded in Cuba by Joseph Dryer with funding provided by USAID. At the end of the 1950s, Dryer – who remained close with the Czarnikow-Rionda group – would become involved in business ventures in Haiti with Clemard Joseph Charles. Through Charles, at the time connected to the CIA’s Haitian WUBRINY operation, Dryer would meet none other than George de Mohrenschildt, then in the country to “scout for oil”. Dryer, through a mutual friend of Charles and Mohrenschildt named Jacqueline Lancelot, found himself embroiled in an intelligence-gathering scheme ran by the CIA and their liaison with the French SDECE, Philippe de Vosjoli.

Another partner of Czarnikow-Rionda was the Kleberg family, the owner of King Ranch in Texas (the largest ranch in the United States). The ranch had come under the management of Robert J. Kleberg in 1885, and this position was passed onto his son Robert Kleberg Jr. His other son, Richard Kleberg, became a well-connected Texan political operator, serving in the House of Representatives between 1931 and 1945. Richard also became a member of the Miller Group, a prominent group of lobbyists led by Henry Pomeroy Miller (who, incidentally, had his first job doing advertising work for King Ranch). While the Miller Group was known as the go-to wheelers-and-dealers in New Deal-era Washington, Miller himself was antagonistic to the Roosevelt program – an inclination that was shared by Richard Kleberg. Given his position in Texas and his anti-New stance, this aligns Richard’s interests with the Texas Regulars and early Shivercrats discussed in the previous post – and indeed, Martin Dies, who was discussed previously in conjunction with the John Birch Society, the House on Un-American Activities, and the Texas Regulars, was himself a member of the Miller Group.

The Klebergs also maintained close connections to the Rockefeller clan. In the early 1930s, drilling rights on the property of King Ranch were given to Humble Oil, which (as mentioned earlier), was operating as a subsidiary of Standard Oil. Nelson Rockefeller himself toured the ranch with Richard Kleberg – and later, when the Office of the Coordinator of Central American Affairs (CIAA) – headed by Nelson Rockefeller – began to draft a plan for the industrial development of Brazil’s Amazonian basin, the political capital of Richard Kleberg was marshaled in support. The program, headed by future CIA figure Col. J.C. King, soon erupted into a long and bloody ordeal – written about in harrowing detail by Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett’s Thy Will Be Done: The Conquest of the Amazon – that would nonetheless ultimately pay off for the Klebergs. In 1968 they opened a 180,000 acre ranch in the country.

In Cuba, the Klebergs partnered with the Bragas brothers by opening a large ranch on the island, with Czarnikow-Rionda harvesting the sugar cane that grew on the property. The ranch’s property was managed by Robert Kleberg Jr.’s right-hand man, Lowell Tash, and the business side was handled by Malone himself. They operated their joint-venture was the full support of the Batista regime – but when revolution came, Czarnikow-Rionda’s holdings, much like those of the Cuban-Venezuelan Oil Voting Trust, were seized. This swirling vortex of business ties stretching from Cuba to Texas to Wall Street went into action, and took the problem straight to office of Sullivan and Cromwell partner-turned-CIA director Allen Dulles. John Cypher, in Sea of Grass, describes how the Kleberg’s neighboring rancher, a “scion in a founding colonial family” named Gustavo de los Reyes, was utilized even before the revolution had been completed:

George Braga, King Ranch’s partner in Cuba, arranged an appointment with Allen Dulles, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, so that Gustavo could lay out for Dulles proof that Castro was an undercover Communist lackey. Dulles heard him out, said he knew the things that Gustavo was secretly a Communist, but U.S. policy at the time was to back Castro. Dulles had no option but to support that policy.

This soon, however, would change.

Dark Networks

On November 24th, 1959, a meeting took place between C. Douglas Dillon – a former executive at the New York investment bank Dillon, Read & Co., close friend of the Dulles and Rockefellers, and then-Undersecretary of State – between Robert Kleberg, George Braga, Jack Malone, William Oliver (president of the American Sugar Refining Company), and Lawrence Crosby (head of the US-Cuban Sugar Council), among others. The topic was the ‘Cuban situation’:

At the luncheon by Mr. Dillon for the representatives of large U.S. cattle and sugar enterprises in Cuba, Mr. Kleberg started by saying there was scarcely a day when he was not called by a member of Congress to give his views on Castro. In general, the Congress is angry at Castro’s action. Mr. Kleberg had a letter read from the local representative of a U.S. cattle ranch in Camaguey describing the arbitrary action of the Cuban Agrarian Reform Institute, and the rapidly deteriorating situation.

By this point, Malone had already been in contact with the CIA. In June 1959, he had become acquainted with David Atlee Phillips, a veteran of the CIA’s operations against President Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala who was then acting undercover in Cuba. Malone, in turn, introduced Phillips to Gustavo de los Reyes. A meeting with Reyes turned into a full-blown plotting session with a group of Cuban cattlemen, right at the moment when the revolution was turning its attention to them as a constellation of reactionary forces. Feeling that he was in grave danger, Phillips fled Cuba with the aid of Malone. Documents suggest that Malone might not have known at the same that Phillips was CIA, learning it only after the fact – but soon Malone himself was a contact for both the CIA, with the cryptonym AMPATRIN, and for the FBI, with whom he would share certain details of his covert activities.

In his capacity as ‘KUBARK contact AMPATRIN’ (KUBARK being the CIA’s cryptonym for itself), Malone reported directly to JM/WAVE, the secret Miami-based CIA operations center that became the hub for its anti-Castro operations. He was soon spending considerable time in Miami, networking between different Cuban exile groups. A CIA cable, dated July 25th 1960, describes Malone meeting with representatives of the Movimiento de Recuperación Revolucionaria (MRR), a Cuban exile grouped founded by Manuel Artime – one of the CIA’s first major exile contacts and a later leader of Brigade 2506 during the Bay of Pigs invasion – in 1959. Another prominent MRR member was Tony Varona, later known for his close cooperation with Mafia figures like Santo Trafficante and his role in setting up exile training camps outside of New Orleans. Prior to this, Varona had worked inside Cuba was the aid of Frank Sturgis, a gunrunner who became a longtime CIA asset.

The CIA cable describes Varona and Malone meeting personally to discuss the potential acquisition of land on Andros Island (the largest island in the Bahamas). Malone then requested the CIA’s permission to dispatch Lowell Tash, the Kleberg ranch manager, to Andros to inquire about the purchase of ‘three or four acres’. The results of Tash’s endeavor are unknown, but Andros Island does become a recurring motif across a variety of anti-Castro ops. One FBI file suggests a potential link between Andros and the International Anti-Communist Brigade run by Frank Sturgis by reporting that he “is going to move the members of his secret army from the Miami area to a base of operations somewhere in the Caribbean area” with the aid of “an almost unlimited amount of money from a very wealthy Cuban” (one wonders if this is one of the Braga brothers). The file also notes that Sturgis may have deposited arms caches on Andros – a suggestion that resonates with an earlier CIA file listing Andros as a potential location for storing weapons. Earlier still, the FBI reported that Orlando Bosch – later implicated in the bombing of Cubana Flight 455 and perhaps the assassination of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier – intended to establish a training base and arms caches on Andros.

During the 1970s, the IRS investigation in the financial activities of the mob-linked Castle Bank and Trust also turned up connections between CIA operations and Andros Island. This is briefly summarized by R.T. Naylor in his book Hot Money and the Politics of Debt:

[Castle Bank] was established by Paul Helliwell, a former OSS China hand with a background in drug-trade intelligence. After the war, Helliwell had run CIA front companies in Florida. Through his Panamanian bank, and a companion institution in Florida, millions of dollars were funneled for covert military activity staged off Andros Island in the Bahamas. Castle also facilitated tax evasion and, in its trust-company capacity, voted the shares of certain nonresident owners of Resorts International, the top [Meyer] Lansky-era casino operation on Nassau.

To return to Malone and the CIA: the July 25th, 1960 cable also mentions that Albert Fernandez, formerly the head of the Cuban Sugar Institute and a close associate of the Bragas brothers of Malone, had recently left the island. Malone offered to broker an introduction between Fernandez and the Agency – and soon Fernandez, operating as head of the Unidad Revolucionario (UR), would be a CIA contact with the cryptonym AMDENIM-1. A few months later, in November 1960, Fernandez approached Malone “to ask assistance of Czarnikow-Rionda and the King Ranch of Kingsville, Texas, to help purchase [a] boat” located in New Orleans – the Tejana III. In December, the Bragas and the Klebergs put up $38,000 dollars – roughly half the cost – for the purchase of the ship. Shortly thereafter, the CIA would provide armaments and shielding for the Tejana, and it would be docked at JMBAR, an Agency maritime operations base located in Key West.

In January of 1961, Malone was meeting with a James Bowdin at the CIA and Robert Hurtwitch of the State Department. Present at the meeting was a figure named Charles Machen, a CIA officer credited as being a veteran of operations in Guatemala (likely PBSUCCESS, the sponsored coup against Arbenz) and Egypt. Malone thought that Machen was Bowdin’s superior, noting that in previous meetings Bowdin had taken lead, but this time Machen held the center stage. It is uncertain who any of these figures were, as I’ve found no additional information the CIA’s Bowdin and Machen. It’s quite possible that these names were aliases. Hurtwitch, on the other hand, was the State Department’s Special Assistant on Cuban Affairs.

1961 also saw Malone coming into contact with Frank Sturgis (a gunrunner who had been recruited by the CIA sometime in the late 1950s) and his close associate, Alexander Rorke (who would disappear in September 1963, and declared dead in 1968). At this time, Sturgis and Rorke were staging flights over Cuba to drop bombs and dump leaflets, and were in the process of establishing a base for anti-Castro operations. It is unclear if Malone knew that Sturgis and Rorke were working on behalf of the CIA, as he was reporting on their activities to the Agency. Between June 1961 and May 1962, a declassified cable tells us, Malone told the CIA that Frank Fiorini (an alias used by Sturgis) and Rorke were undertaking a variety of anti-Castro operations: leaflet dropping, maritime guerrilla warfare, and the raising of a squad of “50 men who were willing to engage in commando-type raids in Cuba”.

In August, a month before his disappearance, Rorke reached out to Malone concerning some upcoming operation being planned with Sturgis and Oscar Mascaro. The three “had an aircraft of an undisclosed type, and needed a boat”. Rorke was hoping that Malone could reach out to his “principals” as a financing. This could refer to the CIA itself, though it may also refer alternatively to the Klebergs or to Czarnikow-Rionda.

The connection to Sturgis/Fiorini and Rorke begins to stretch into some of the networks looping through the Minutemen, the John Birch Society, and the circles around Edwin Walker in Dallas that were touched on in the previous post. Sturgis seems to have recruited and/or instrumentalized the Minutemen into his International Anti-Communist Brigade by posing as the ‘number 2 commander’ of the Minutemen – and was even able to receive shipments of explosives from Robert DePugh, the founder of the Minutemen, in this capacity. Rorke, on the other hand, was associated with the Anti-Communist Liaison Committee (ACLC), and brought an FBI investigation down on the group by reporting his “private air raids” in Cuba to them. The ACLC, in turn, had been founded by Reverend Billy Hargis with help from the National Right-to-Work Committee. Hargis, a member of the John Birch Society, received funding from Dallas oilman H.L. Hunt – and, like Hunt, was closely tied to Edwin Walker. In February of 1963 (around the time he was being visited by Gerry Hemming, William Seymour and Loran Hall of the CIA’s Intercontinental Penetration Force), Walker and Hargis joined together to carry out “Operation Midnight Ride”, a “coast-to-coast” speaking tour “to alert the American people to the enemy within and without”.

Hargis would also recruit anti-Castro Cubans into his ‘Christian Crusade’ ministry. Among these were none other than Carlos Bringuier, the ranking member of the New Orleans chapter of the Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil who had encountered Lee Harvey Oswald pamphleteering for his Free Play for Cuba Committee on August 9th, 1963. On August 17th, Bringuier and Oswald participated in a radio debate alongside Ed Butler, the leader of the CIA-backed Information Council for the Americas.

Types of operators like Sturgis and Rorke, and Cuban exiles like Varona were not the only sorts of connections that Malone was forging in this time. He was circulating from New York to Texas to Florida and back again. A FBI memo from late March, 1962 gives a peek into his itinerary: on the 15th, he traveled to DC with Kleberg so the rancher could meet with Vice President Johnson to discuss the “Cuba problem and what course of action the US was going to follow in this matter”. Johnson told Kleberg that Kennedy was committed to a path of action where the island was concerned, but it would not entail using the US military. Five days later, Malone met with a CIA officer named Raford Herbert, the assistant to the high-ranking CIA chief of Western Hemisphere Division, J.C. King (who likely remembered the Klebergs from the days of Nelson Rockefeller’s CIAA-Brazil push). Herbert recommended that Malone and his associates – the Klebergs and the Riondas, no doubt – organize a group of senators “who are close to perfect agreement with ‘New Frontier’ and put pressure on Kennedy”.

That same day Malone paid a visit to his primary CIA contact, who posed a idea uncannily similar to Herbert’s. The contact told Malone that “the CIA continues to operate but not with the complete authority with which they would like to carry out their plans”. Perhaps Malone and his associates could remedy this situation by placing pressure on Kennedy by appealing to his brother, Robert Kennedy.

In early April, Malone met with Serafino Romauldi, the head of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organization’s [AFL-CIO] American Institute for Free Labor Development [AIFLD]. The AFL-CIO had long since been associated with the CIA since the Agency’s very inception (I would recommend the article ‘CIA, AFL-CIO, and Pinochet’ for a brief overview), and the AIFLD itself was used quite frequently in Latin and South America. Later, in 1963, Romauldi – who ran a CIA operation code-named ZRSIGN – and the AIFLD worked with J.C. King’s Western Hemisphere Clandestine Services to trade anti-communist unionists opposing the country’s President Goulart. Typical of Cold War-era labor, Romauldi’s political inclinations were hawkish and antagonistic to Washington bureaucracy. In his April meeting with Malone, Romauldi castigated Kennedy for “being pushed and pulled by the ‘Intelligentsia’. This intelligentsia included Arthur Schlesinger and Adlai Stevenson, who were urging the president to, in Romauldi’s words, “a relatively soft line on Cuba”. His suggestion was ultimately the same as Hebert and Malone’s CIA contact: take Kleberg and pressure Kennedy, maybe through appeals to Robert Kennedy.

It seems clear that at this point in time, the CIA was feeling roped-in by the Kennedy’s schizophrenic policies towards Cuba. A reoccurring motif in the meetings between Malone and the CIA is the use of American military forces in Cuba– a significant escalation from the hit-and-run covert ops that the CIA had been conducting for several years at this point (aside from the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion). What’s interesting is that in the same month that these began, there were proposals for military intervention into Cuba, the most notorious of which was the proposed Operation Northwood. Titled “Justification for US Military Intervention in Cuba”, Northwood opened the door for ‘false flag’ operations: the staging of terrorist attacks and other events made to look as if they were the work of Castro’s military. Northwoods was, in fact, a response to a request from Edward Lansdale – at the time deeply involved in anti-Castro operations – on possible actions for military involvement in the Caribbean. Given the timing, one wonders if Malone’s meetings and the uniform line offered by the slew of CIA officers and asset he was meeting with were a reflection of these circumstances.

Dangling Threads

Over time, the story of Malone, the Klebergs, and Riondas and their relationship to the CIA becomes murky, and at some point the paper trail simply stops (though it is clear the Malone was still in play as late as 1965). There are numerous dangling threads and sideways that splinter from this main-line that has been sketched here. This is an incomplete list of some of them:

David Atlee Phillips

What became of the man who seems to have first brought Malone in the CIA fold? A November 18th, 1961 letter from Allen Dulles to J.C. King lists Phillips as having been involved in JMATE– the CIA’s codename for the Bay of Pigs invasion. Listed alongside him was Carl Jenkins, a veteran (like Phillips) of the PBSUCCESS operation in Guatemala. Between PUBSUCCESS and JMATE, Jenkins had been dispatched to South Vietnam, where he served as a “special warfare advisor”. Post-JMATE, Jenkins was attached to a shadowy CIA program code-named AMWORLD, headed by Manuel Artime. As Larry Hancock describes in his essay ‘The Wheaton Lead: An Exploration’,

AMWORLD was vastly different from previous CIA covert operations, this is understandable. Hecksher, Jenkins and the small logistics staff functioned as advisors and coordinators rather than directly in either personal activities or actual military operations. Their role was to support financing, shipping and the purchasing activities that required supporting what was to appear as a totally independent and autonomous military initiative against Castro. A variety of commercial and civilian covers were required, not just for personnel but for major buys of deniable weapons from commercial arms dealers. Ships and barges of various types had to be bought or leased, transit papers arranged, and most importantly off-shore bank accounts established. And in addition to offshore accounts, deniable shell accounts were established inside the United States.

Phillips appears to have played a small supporting role in AMWORLD in his position at the CIA station in Mexico City, where he served under OSS veteran Winston Scott. But what Phillips is best known for is his connection to the episode concerning Lee Harvey Oswald’s alleged trip to Mexico. Shortly after the assassination of Kennedy, Gilberto Alvarado contacted the US embassy in Mexico City and relayed that, during a visit to the Cuban embassy, he had seen Oswald exchanging money with a red-headed man while discussing an assassination. The information was relayed to Scott, who dispatched Phillips to discuss the matter further with Alvarado at a CIA safehouse.

Phillips worked to promote Alvardo’s story within the CIA, while Scott himself was skeptical – he believed that Alvarado might have been working on behalf of Nicaragua to goad the US into military intervention into Cuba (interestingly, both JMATE and AMWORLD set up bases in Nicaragua, with the aid of the country’s security services). Likewise, the FBI pushed back against Alvarado’s claims following an interview session where he retracted his story – only to retell it again to the CIA. Peter Dale Scott refers to this as a variant of “phase-1” explanations for the assassination, set up to make it look as if Cuba was the culprit.

Tejana III and Albert Fernandez

The boat that was purchased with Czarnikow-Rionda and Kleberg monies by Malone’s friend Albert Fernandez was used in various missions. Fernandez’s primary role in the CIA’s operations was to execute “maritime raids”, and it appears that in 1961 the Tejana III was primarily used for a series of small-team infiltration operations, code-named Sandra I, II, and III. Sandra III saw the Tejena III utilized for a one-man infiltration job, carrying Felix Rodriguez to Cuba. Rodriguez has been perhaps the CIA’s most notorious Cuban asset: he had served on Brigade 2056, and shortly thereafter became attached the AMWORLD operation. His later career was equally notable: he gave Che Guevara’s final interrogation prior to his execution, he served as an adviser and black ops soldier in Vietnam, and worked closely with Oliver North in the operations that became known as Iran-Contra.

The Tejana III was used in operations ran out of Nicaragua, led by Artime; this may, however, have predated the AMWORLD operation. If this is accurate then it would have been JMATE-related.

As for Fernandez, his Unidad Revolucionario group would merge in 1962 with the Cuban Revolutionary Council. Malone aided in brokering this alliance.

One of Fernandez’s employees who worked on the Tejana III, Lawrence LaBorde, would become a person of interest in Jim Garrison’s inquiry into the Garrison investigation. Fernandex and LaBorde were operating from New Orleans when the boat purchasing was arranged, and Garrison turned up eye-witnesses that placed LaBorde and Guy Banister together. Garrison investigation documents named LaBorde as a “cooperative eyewitness”, even commenting that the legal team had “all the pieces” but were “putting them together wrong”.

Malone, the Klebergs, and the Riondas

Malone died in 1971 at age 56.

Robert Kleberg Jr. died in 1974 at age 78. King Ranch largely fell under the control of “a committee of senior family members led by Jim Clement, an East Coast–trained businessman who had married the daughter of one of [Robert] Kleberg’s sisters.”

Czarnikow-Rionda was purchased in 1969 by the Hawaiian agriculture firm C. Brewer & Company, and was dissolved in 1999. C. Brewer followed suit two years later.

George Atkinson Braga died in 1985, and his brother Bernardo Braga Rionda a year later.


4 thoughts on “JFK Series 3: Wall Street Goes to Cuba

  1. A couple of years ago, debating with Jehu on the reasons for Nixon’s (and John Connally’s) decision in 1971 to end the Treasury’s gold window, I called for research into the elite factionalism that you invoke. I listened to the taped discussion Nixon had with Connally (who, needless to remind you, was in the car when Kennedy was shot), but found it not very enlightening. Turning to Nomi Prins’ book (All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power) I just get the impression that Nixon was a President relatively independent from Wallstreet bankers. At the time (in 1971) Walter Wriston headed the First National City Bank of New York (“Citibank”). To me it seems Wriston represented a minority faction within the world of finance capitalists, but one that most strongly supported ending the dollar’s gold convertibility (indeed the ensuing neoliberal era of floating currency exchange-rates could be called the ‘Wriston Era’). First National City Bank, as a key international player on credit markets, also traded in gold abroad (which was prohibited within the US), and hence, it could take part in gold speculation (against the dollar). Btw, the bank’s gold expert was a guy called Miroslav Kriz.
    I have not come across much “conspiracy theory” stuff on the reasons for Nixon’s 1971 decision, although the topic of money does get attention elsewhere (eg creation of the Fed, or more obscurely, Kennedy’s position on silver iirc).
    Do you have an interest in researching deeper into banks (like foremost the company history of Citibank), or do you tend to class it as a mere subordinate interest group in society (as compared to eg the military complex)?

    Kind regards,


  2. Ed, have you bumped into this guy before (described as “Wall Street billionaire”)?:

    “In January 1971, Nixon named the Wall Street billionaire Peter G. Peterson chairman of the newly created Council on International Economic Policy, which interfaced with other executive branch groups, such as the National Security Council, and pushed significantly for closing the gold window and for corresponding moves toward liberalization in other aspects of international economic policy.”

    Closing the Gold Window: The End of Bretton Woods as a Contingency Plan
    Christoffer J. P. Zoeller
    First Published January 11, 2019
    (Zoeller did some archival digging)

    Anyway, why would Nixon appoint the CEO of Bell & Howell to this new council position? Maybe he wanted to avoid actual financial Wall Street guys?


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