David Morales is a widely discussed figure in regard to a JFK conspiracy; I deal with him at length in SWHT and again in NEXUS. However Morales’s career, like that of Lansdale discussed in my last post, gives us a much broader contest in which to understand the complex relationship between the CIA and American covert military activities – a relationship that evolved substantially over the period of a couple of decades.
Morales came into the CIA from the Army and while his early assignments were with State Department cover, his assignment was to Operations and his operational specialty was as a paramilitary trainer. As I discuss in NEXUS, it seems likely that Morales played a key role in constructing a “training” syllabus used in Guatemala which eventually became known as the CIA “assassination manual” (assassination tactics were only part of the training). Later, in his Cuban assignment, even in his Embassy assignment in Havana, he certainly had close contact with the Batista Secret Police (that got him identified as a CIA operative and resulted in a warrant for his arrest).
In Miami, Morales served as the lead trainer for the Cuban exiles who were to perform paramilitary intelligence roles and destined (by planning not reality) to become the new, free Cuban intelligence service.
After Miami, Morales was moved to become COS of a CIA logistics base in southern Laos (having been effectively given its own war to run in Laos, the CIA was scrambling for manpower and Morales had worked for Shackley who was assigned to run the Laos war). Ffollowing that, Morales and other former JM/WAVE staff including Tony Sforza, were assigned to the CIA role (teamed with Army and Marine officers) in what started out as Provincial Reconnaissance Teams and eventually evolved int the Phoenix project – which meant they split their duties between intelligence collection and distribution and actual involvement in military operations. For the most objective discussion of Phoenix I’ve found so far, I would recommend Prados’ book “William Colby and the CIA”, as Colby was involved in both the precursors and the Phoenix project. Prados does solid leg work in showing what the program really ended up doing vs. how it was viewed (with considerable denial) in Washington.,
So – where is all this going. Where it goes is that Vietnam and Phoenix became the prototype for the rest of Morales’ career and the archetype for much of what CIA operations did in the following two decades, especially in Latin America. What it meant is that CIA officers would shift from running their own covert operations (such as PB/SUCCESS or the Cuban secret war) and effectively be integrated into a role with the Pentagon (with its Military Assistance Command, and its Special Operations Division) focused on what was called “counter terrorism” but which pragmatically be described as “regime maintenance”. In the 50’s and early 60’s it had focused on “regime change”, but by the 70’s the CIA became heavily involved to protecting a host of established regimes (yes, there were exceptions like Chile), which evolved into military dictatorships.
That’s where we find Morale’s career going as well, with his return from SE Asia only to go to work as a “consultant” for the Pentagon in counter insurgency and counter-terrorism and travel throughout Latin America and Central America working with military assistance commands and in country police and military forces. What we begin to see at that point is much more intertwining of training and advisory roles with foreign military and police forces.
And if you thought there was limited oversight of CIA operations when they were working with exiles and guerrillas and actually managing their own projects with their own staff….well let’s just say that even deniablity can be escalated…..