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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.
Phillips was born in Fort Worth, Texas. He attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. Phillips established his ties to the intelligence community during World War II when, as a prisoner of war in Germany, he became a member of an escape committee, serving until his own escape.
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. 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.
Some researchers claim Phillips used the alias "Maurice Bishop" (not to be confused with the former prime minister of Grenada, Maurice Bishop). He used the pseudonym while working with Alpha 66, an organization of anti-Castro Cubans. Alpha 66's founder, Antonio Veciana, claimed that during one of his meetings with "Bishop", Lee Harvey Oswald was also in attendance. 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." 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.
Gaeton Fonzi believed Phillips was Bishop. In the HSCA's 1979 report, it stated:
The report went on to dismiss Veciana's testimony about the meeting:
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.
Phillips was subsequently himself accused of being a participant in the John F. Kennedy and Orlando Letelier assassinations. Philips successfully sued some publications for libel; retractions were issued and monetary damages were awarded. 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. After the death of former CIA agent and Watergate figure E. Howard Hunt in 2007, Howard St. John Hunt and David Hunt stated that their father had recorded several claims about himself and others being involved in a conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy. In the April 5, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone, Howard St. John Hunt detailed a number of individuals purported to be implicated by his father including Phillips, as well as Lyndon B. Johnson, Cord Meyer, David Sánchez Morales, Frank Sturgis, Lucien Sarti, and William Harvey. 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 possibly perjury charges. 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."
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).