Testimony of Eric Hamburg

Los Angeles, California -- September 17, 1996
CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Our next witness is Eric Hamburg. Mr. Hamburg was the co-producer of the Oliver Stone movie Nixon, the former congressional staff assistant who was involved in the passage of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. Welcome Mr. Hamburg.


Co-producer of the Oliver Stone Movie Nixon and Former

Congressional Staff Assistant Involved in the Passage of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection

Act of 1992

MR. HAMBURG: I am a film producer here in Los Angeles working with Oliver Stone. As you mentioned I co-produced the film Nixon and also edited the book of the film. And in a prior incarnation before coming to Hollywood I worked for about eight years on Capitol Hill in Washington as an aid to Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts and also the representative Lee Hamilton of Indiana. And while on Congressman Hamilton's staff I worked extensively during 1991/92 on the legislation which became the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992. And it was this legislation, as you know, which created the Assassination Records Review Board. So it's very gratifying to be here and appear before you today.

I can assure you from personal experience that this bill could never have been past by Congress if not for Oliver Stone's film JFK. I can tell you more about the whole sequence of events if you're interested. But basically following the release of that film in late 1991, the Congress was inundated with letters from the American public demanding the release of the secret government files on the assassination. And many prominent members of Congress who had previously been indifferent to this issue, or even who had actively opposed release of the files, changed their positions shortly after the release of JFK. The American public have Oliver Stone and his film to thank for the legislation that created this Review Board and allowed the opening of the JFK files. And I hope no one has any doubt about that.

It was obvious then and is still clear today that the American people want to know the truth about who killed President Kennedy and why. That is why this law was past and this Board created. I hope that you will never lose sight of this fundamental fact as you pursue your work. The American people overwhelming believe that there was a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy. The poles over the years, starting long before Oliver Stone made JFK, have shown that 80 percent to 90 percent of the American public believe that there was a conspiracy and that they have not been told the full truth. These figures remain the same today.

While we do not yet know the full story, it is gratifying to know that an estimated two million to three million pages of government documents related to the assassination have been released since the passage of the JFK Bill. You can correct me if I'm wrong on those figures but that's what I'm told. The Review Board should be commended for the role that you have played in facilitating the release of these documents. And I would particularly commend you for fighting for the release of documents pertaining to the Garrison investigation, which have been withheld by New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick and also for seeking the release of some certain documents which the FBI has sought to withhold. It is very important that all of these documents be released and made public. It should be remembered that it was the intent of Congress to make all documents and files available in uncensored form to the maximum extent possible. Indeed, when this legislation was introduced Senator David Boren, who was then Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, stated that it was the intention of the bill sponsors that "99.99999 percent of all assassination related material should be made public. And only in the rarest circumstances would a name or a word be blacked out from a document." Unfortunately this standard has not been met. The FBI, and also in some instances the CIA, seem to have a mind set dating back to the days of the cold war, and Army intelligence to my knowledge has yet to release any documents, or almost any documents at all, and also very little I think from Naval intelligence. Frankly it is ridiculous, in my opinion, to think that 33 years after the events in question, there are still sources and methods to be protected. And in any case, the public's right to know about the facts about the assassination outweighs any such considerations after this length of time. In my view all of the documents from these agencies should be released unredacted as soon as possible. Any material that is withheld will simply serve to undermine public confidence in this entire process. I would just second in what Mr. Tanenbaum in that regard.

With this in mind I would like to make a few suggestions as to areas which I think can and should be pursued in relation to additional documents. One area that has been a particular interest to me personally has been the question of Cuba and the possible participation of Cuban exiles, that is to say anti-Castro Cuban forces, in the assassination plot. Most serious researchers who have studied the assassination have concluded that there were most likely elements of three groups involved in the plot, rogue elements of U.S. intelligence agencies, elements of organized crime, or the mafia, and elements of the Cuban exile groups in the United States. The plot, if there was one, most likely evolved out of the assassination plots against Fidel Castro which involved these three groups.

I have long felt that for many reasons, including barriers of language and culture, we have had perhaps the least understanding of the Cuban "element." For this reason, I was very interested when the Cuban Government put forward a semi-official version of their view of the assassination events in late 1993. I myself made two trips to Cuba in 1994 and spent a total of about two weeks there holding extensive meetings with General Fabian Escalante, the Cuban official in charge of their investigation of the JFK assassination. I also had additional conversations with General Escalante and his colleague Arturo Rodriguez at a conference last year in Rio de Janeiro. I was very impressed by the depth and extent of the Cuban's knowledge about these events and also the potential for useful exchanges of information and documents with the Cubans. Needless to say, Cuba is a communist country and is not a democracy, and any information emanating from Cuba must be treated with appropriate caution. Nevertheless, Cuba has a great volume of files and documents which are relevant to this case. They have many files dating back to the early 1960s on Cuban exile groups and specific individuals as well as mafia and CIA figures who were active in Cuba. Many of these would be very relevant to your work and would be of great interest.

As you may know, the House Select Committee on Assassinations did visit Cuba and met with Fidel Castro and other Cuban officials in pursuit of any information relevant to their inquiry. I believe in 1978. I would strongly recommend that this Board do likewise. Notwithstanding the fact that the United States does not maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba, I believe that the Cuban Government would be receptive to such an approach and would be willing to produce files and documents which have not yet been made public. This is a treasure-trove of information that has not yet been tapped and could be one of the most productive areas of inquiry left to be explored.

I'd just like to mention some specific points in trying to be helpful and put some new information on the record which has not been made public to my knowledge. Specifically General Escalante has stated in interviews conducted for the book ZR Rifle by Claudia Furiati, a Brazilian journalist, that he believes two Cuban exiles, Alatio DeValle and Herminio Diaz Garcia, took part in the assassination in Dallas. He told me that this was based on informant reports by Cuban sources which are in their files. He also named three Chicago mafia figures, Dave Yaras, Lenny Patrick and Richard Cain, which he believes were in Dallas and also involved in the plot. Again this is based, he says, on their informant reports. It would be very important to retain any documents which Cuba could provide to substantiate these claims, and he did show me files of such documents. But I did not retain copies of them. I am not an official representative of the U.S. Government, but they do exist.

I would like to mention a couple of other specific points which are examples of the kind of information which could be gained from the Cuban documents and also from related U.S. documents. These are specific points which I had followed up with General Escalante and on which he provided new information to add to what we already know from American documents. One is in the area of Lee Harvey Oswald's mysterious trip to Clinton, Louisiana in August of 1963. It has never been clear why Oswald went to Clinton or what he was doing there. I was intrigued by the fact, that according to information obtained by Jim Garrison's investigators, 0swald had told people in the Clinton area that he was living or staying with a Cuban doctor at the local hospital named Frank Silva, or Francisco Silva. I asked General Escalante to check his files and see if he had any information on this individual. He reported back that according to his sources Silva's full name was Francisco Silver Clarence and that he was related to a Frank Bartes, whose full name was Francisco Bartes Clarence. Bartes lived in New Orleans and was a close associate of Carlos Bringuier the head of the Cuban group, DRE, in New Orleans, who had a street brawl with Lee Harvey Oswald in August of '63. This incident took place shortly before Oswald's trip to Clinton. Bartes appeared at Oswald's court hearing after the incident on August 12, 1963 as a show of support for Bringuier. Bartes is discussed extensively in the book Oswald and the CIA by John Newman. I know you've heard from Mr. Newman before, where he is described as a CIA informant and operative. General Escalante even speculated that Frank Silva and Frank Bartes may actually have possibly been the same person since both shared the first and last names of Francisco Clarence. This information would appear to provide a Cuban connection to Oswald's trip to Clinton, which is very interesting. Obviously this should be followed up with a request for documents to corroborate this information. And it's my understanding that Doctor Silva is still living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I believe.

General Escalante also provided additional information on another mysterious exile named Carlos Roca, who is discussed in the book Oswald Talked by Ray and Mary La Fontaine. Roca was also member of the Cuban exile group DRE, which was funded and run by CIA under the code name of AMSPELL. The DRE issued a press release in Mexico City on December 8, 1963 stating that Carlos Roca and three other DRE members had been killed in a battle in Cuba's Excambre Mountains in mid-September of '63. The others were identified as Andre Tartabul, Julio Garcia and Sergio Perez. According to Escalante's information only Tartabul was actually killed in this battle. Furthermore he stated that Roca, according to him, was seen in Miami a day or two after the assassination of President Kennedy in the company of Juan Manuel Salvat another member of the DRE. According to Escalante's information they were on their way to Nicaragua at that time. Escalante said that Roca was also connected to Carlos Bringuier in New Orleans who operated a business there called Casa Roca or Roca House. Roca had gone to religious school in Cuba with Jose Bringuier, the brother of Carlos Bringuier, and after the Cuban revolution Roca had sought asylum in a Latin American Embassy in Havana along with Jose Bringuier, according to this information. Escalante also stated that his files indicated that Roca was a qualified single engine pilot. He pointed out that in Jim Garrison's investigation David Ferrie had told investigators that he traveled to Houston after the assassination and was supposed to pick up two of the assassins who were flying from Dallas in a single engine plane. One of them was a Cuban named Carlos who would be flying the plane, and Escalante speculated that this may in fact may have been Carlos Roca.

According to Escalante's files Mr. Salva was in Dallas, he says, during the week of November 2nd, went to Miami and then on to Nicaragua with Roca. He also stated that Mr. Salva allegedly was in Mexico City when the allegedly false story about Roca's death was published in early December. Escalante that according to his information Salvat was an agent of David Phillips of the CIA, as was Angel Gonzalez, the DRE in Mexico City who issued the press release. He told me that his source was a human source for intelligence and that he had filed some documents to substantiate this.

Escalante speculated that Roca and the other DRE captain's name in the press release Julio Garcia and Sergio Perez, may have been in the assassination of President Kennedy. He thought that after the assassination they were probably taken to a Cuban exile training camp at a place called Monkey Point in Nicaragua near the border with Costa Rica. He thought that they probably had been killed there between sometime between November 22nd and December 8th, and then a false press release was allegedly issued in Mexico City stating that they had been killed in a battle in Cuba in September. While I have no way to know if this is true, and I'm not endorsing Escalante's views, this is obviously an area which should be followed up. If there are documents to corroborate any of this they should be sought and made public. In Escalante's view the Cuba's exile groups DRE, Alpha 66, MRR and Commandos L, were all linked to each other and to the assassination. All available information and documents on these groups and others, such as CRC and other Cuban exile groups, UIR, there are a number of them, should be sought from both U.S. and Cuban sources in my opinion.

Escalante has also named another exile associate, Isidro Borjas, as being the person who was handing out leaflets with Oswald in front of the International Trade Mart in New Orleans on August 16th, 1963. You've probably seen pictures of these two men in their skinny ties handing out their leaflets. And this identity of this Latin appearing man has always been a mystery, so he's identified him. Brojas was also a member of the DRE. Borjas is also discussed in John Newman's book and I believe his picture appears there. He was interviewed by the House Select Committee, Borjas was, and told them that the DRE had relayed information to the CIA In August 1963, on Oswald's contacts with Bringuier in New Orleans. The DRE is discussed at length in both the Newman and La Fontaine books and is likely to have been a key group in the assassination conspiracy.

In this connection I would like to mention that it is my understanding that a large collection of files on the DRE have recently been donated to the University of Miami by Mr. Salva, who I referred to earlier. These should be sought by the Review Board and added to the Collection at the National Archives, since it will be recalled that the University of Miami, where they are presently located, was formerly the home of the CIA's JM/WAVE's Station, it may not be the most suitable repository for these documents.

Escalante also told me that Cuba has numerous files on David Morales, formerly the second in command of the JM/WAVE's Station. Escalante believes that Morales may have been in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963 and may have been in charge of the assassination operation on the ground in Dallas. He speculated that Morales may have been the person driving the Nash Rambler which allegedly picked up Oswald outside the book depository. Morales is discussed in the book The Last Investigation by Gaeton and Fonzi. Escalante also told me that according to his sources, Morales had met with Rolando Dubelo, alias Amlesh, who was a CIA asset, in Paris in September or October of 1963 as part of the CIA's ongoing effort to assassinate Fidel Castro. He believes that this was related to the plot against President Kennedy as well.

There's much more, but this should be sufficient to illustrate why I feel it is important to seek any files and documents pertaining to the assassination from the Government of Cuba. I hope that you'll pursue this area. I also think that the Review Board should seek any files on this matter held by other foreign governments, especially the governments of Russia, Belarus, France, Japan and Mexico. As you know Oswald lived both in Russia and what is now Belarus whose capital is Minsk for an extensive period of time. We know that the KGB had an extensive file on Oswald. Parts of this file has been made available to ABC news and to author Norman Mailer among others. The Review Board should also seek that file. The French government reportedly assisted in the publication of a book called Farewell America about the Kennedy assassination and would have files pertaining to what has been called the French Connection to the assassination. This is discussed in the book Conspiracy by Anthony Summers among others. And of course Oswald allegedly made a mysterious trip to Mexico in 1963. Any files on this held by the Mexican Government, for example, the DFS, which is their intelligence arm, should also be sought. Oswald also spent time at the Atsugi Air Force Base in Japan and the Japanese Government may have files on his time in Japan.

Another area which should be pursued is the question of Kennedy and Vietnam and whether the assassination may have had any relationship to Kennedy's efforts to end the U.S. involvement in the war, which has been the subject to considerable controversy. Government records on this issue should be sought by the Board, specifically a tape of a crucial national security council meeting of October 2nd, 1963 that was held by the Kennedy Library in Boston, this should be made public. Also all records of the Honolulu conference of November 20th and 21st, 1963, which dealt with this issue, should also be made public.

I would also suggest that the Review Board seek to obtain files and documents from the collections of private researchers and organizations. And as I'm sure you are aware, many of the prominent and private JFK researchers have their own extensive collections of documents as do some of the leading private research organizations. All of these collections should be sought and copies of these documents made available to the public at the National Archive to the maximum extent possible.

I'm also submitting a copy of a letter that has been sent to the Review Board by Marina Oswald Porter the widow of Lee Harvey Oswald. Mrs. Porter's letter details a number of areas of documents which should be pursued. It is my understanding that many of the documents mentioned in her letter still have not been released. And I would also like to mention that Mrs. Porter called me yesterday and asked me to submit an additional statement to you in connection with this hearing, and I've given some copies to Mr. Samoluk of that statement which is sort of a personal statement from here. So I would ask that that be included in the record.

Probably one year is not sufficient time for the Review Board to complete all the work which needs to be done, although I commend you for taking the action you have taken today to extend for an additional year. It would probably be a good idea for the Board to seek an extension of its term by Congress for perhaps another two years. But, if the Board is to extend its life it should also extend the scope of its work. One of the powers which has been granted to the Board by Congress is the power to subpoena witnesses and to take their depositions. I understand that this power has been used by the Board already in a few instances. I think it would be a good idea for the Board to make much broader of this power to take sworn statements from many key individuals who could provide information pertaining to the assassination and to possible sources of additional documents. Just to stimulate your thinking I'll just name a few. There are many people still living who could potentially provide useful information. A few such names might include Gerald Ford, George Bush, Richard Helms, Ted Shackley, Howard Hunt, Nestor Sanchez, Sylvia Odio, Juan Manuel Salvat, Carlos Bringuier, Antonio Veciana, Francisco Silva, Benny Patrick, Frank Elsworth, James Hosty, James Elrod and John Thomas Mason among others. While I'm not suggesting, I certainly do not mean to imply in any way that any of these people were involved with the assassination of President Kennedy, they could provide useful information to the Board and to the public. I think there's a myth that somehow the trail is cold and that no one is still living that could provide the information. That's not true at all. There are many people still living who could provide very useful information to you.

The Review Board has been entrusted with a great responsibility by Congress and by the American people. I hope that you will bear this in your minds as you pursue your work over the next year. I don't think that you will want to be remembered by history as the Warren Commission, the House Select Committee, and other official bodies have been remembered leaving a legacy of doubt, distrust and unanswered questions. The American people expect more from you. I commend you for the work you've done so far. You have set an important precedent for the opening up of closed chapters in our history, one which I believe should also be followed in other areas of our history as well. I hope that you will continue your work in the spirit of openness, accountability and in search for the truth wherever it may lead. Thank you.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Thank you, Mr. Hamburg. We're running a little short of time so we don't have time to ask any questions this morning. I hope that you will permit us to follow up with you on a number of these areas that appear to be very fruitful.

MR. HAMBURG: Sure, I would be happy to do that.

[Later in Hearing]

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Thank you very much.

Our last witness today is Mr. Steve Tilley from the National Archives. Before I ask Mr. Tilley to come forward if we ran out of time earlier in the hearing when Eric Hamburg was up, and I wonder Mr. Hamburg if you'd be willing to come back up. There's several members who have a couple questions for you before we turn to Mr. Tilley. Doctor Hall.

DR. HALL: Yes, Mr. Hamburg, thank you very much. I have two questions and I'm going to state them as succinctly as I can in the hope that you will respond with equal directness in view of the hour.

First I'm wondering, especially in light of the testimony we've heard this morning and the substantial disagreement I think that exists about what occurred at the assassination and the role and significance of the movie JFK whether you or Oliver Stone or Warner Brothers would be willing to share as part of the Collection of material that would go into the National Archives, those items that would pertain to the conclusions you reached in the film itself.

MR. HALL: Well, let me just set the record straight on one part. I cannot claim any credit for the film JFK. I wish I could. I personally think it was a great film. But I was in Washington at that time. I was working on Congressman Hamilton's staff. I was not a producer on JFK, although I was on Nixon. So I can't really speak for the making of that film. I could convey the request to Oliver. I'm not sure specifically, but whatever materials would be relevant to you that he could provide, or that we could provide, I'm sure that we would be happy to do that.

I don't really want to rehash the whole debate over JFK, I think that's been done adinfinitum. I mean, I think as we would say in Washington, I'm going to put Mr. Belin down as undecided and just leave it at that. He has a right to his opinion, and that's fine.

DR. HALL: My goal is not to rehash it either, and I think the Board's goal isn't that as well. But the film does I think serve an important purpose in the public debate and it would be interesting to have whatever materials figure in the reconstruction of the historical events that it depicts, the kind of sources, the kind of information that were used in the film. It might be an appropriate part of the JFK Collection.

MR. HAMBURG: Sure, absolutely. I think as far as the Garrison material, Zack Sklar, who was the co-author of the screen play had a lot of it because he had been the editor on Garrison's book On the Trail of the Assassins. That was how he came into the process. And he co-wrote the screenplay. And he had a lot of the Garrison files, which I believe he's donated to the AARC in Washington. He may still have some and we may have some materials. There was a lot of research that went into that film. I mean, I will say this, there was a book published -- Doctor Nelson was talking about the value of annotated manuscripts. An annotated version of this script was published, which contained all the sources that were used that were drawn upon. I think Oliver has made the point many times, there was nothing really new in that film. It was all drawing on the work that had been done by other researchers and investigators.

DR. HALL: Well there is I think kind of an interesting set of issues related to how one comes to make these conclusions and then transmits them more generally. And of course for those of us who have seen the movie Nixon there are similar assertions that are made in somewhat what strikes me in vaguer tones with a disclaimer at the end.

MR. HAMBURG: We did also publish and edit an annotated version of the Nixon script. I did edit that book. It's been published, it's available. In fact, I gave a copy to Mr. Samoluk. And you know we, again, did a lot of research from a lot of sources, not all of which agree with each other. And I would leave it to the historians to draw the final conclusions. We've had an exchange, as you know Doctor Nelson, she had published a piece criticizing Oliver, criticizing our film and we responded.

DR. NELSON: That's not quite.

MR. HAMBURG: Well let me just say this, I think there's considerable evidence for the proposition that Nixon knew about the plots against Castro, was involved in them. We drew on the work of Michael Beschloss, Arthur Schlesinger or Fawn Brody and John Newman among others who are very reputable historians. Now there may be other historians who disagree, that's fine. I do think though that members of the Board should be a little bit careful in expressing an opinion on issues which are relevant to the matters under review by this Board. I think that can lead to an appearance that there's a lack of objectivity, which I think can be very damaging to the credibility of the Board potentially. I think Mr. Tunheim knows as a Federal Judge, that if you were sitting on a case and you published an article expressing an opinion on the merits of the case that was under review, you would probably be recused from that case. So I just think that for the sake of objectivity it's important to be very careful about that.

DR. NELSON: Mr. Hamburg, my article, which was in the article of Higher Education, had to do with access to the Nixon documents. And I believe my point was that this is what happens when you don't release documents. So it was not a direct -- it had nothing to do with the JFK film. It had to do with the Nixon film, and actually had to do with what we are now doing, that is to say releasing documents.

MR. HAMBURG: No, I agree with your basic point that the Nixon --

DR. NELSON: I didn't want to mislead the audience.

MR. HAMBURG: We wrote a letter responding. I think --

DR. NELSON: Of course and that was fine.

MR. HAMBURG: -- some of the opinions expressed, that of peace. But, you know, I agree with that basic point. I would say on that point that Nixon in his own memoirs said that he was never able to get from the CIA all of the files that he had requested pertaining to Cuba and the Bay of Pigs and so on. This is in his own memoirs. And we've cited that in our book. But it's important to seek those files because as we've pointed out it was his own Chief of Staff Haldeman who expressed the opinion that the Bay of Pigs thing was Nixon's code word for the Kennedy assassination. There are references on the White House tapes, particularly June 20th and June 23rd, '72, to that matter. I think it would be worth trying to get from the CIA those files which Nixon himself as President was unable to obtain from the CIA.

DR. HALL: Again, in the interest of time, I wonder if I might pose a question to you here. Your testimony, both written and oral, has indicated that you believe the Cuban government would be receptive to the Board meeting with it with regard to materials that they hold ranging across a spectrum of activities including perhaps the operations of their own internal security officials, which of course would be interesting indeed. Can you tell me on what basis you reach that conclusion?

MR. HAMBURG: Well, as I said, I spent considerable time there. And I'm not an official government person, although I had worked on this legislation and worked in the Congress. I personally met with Fidel Castro with a number of his top officials and advisors and I spent many many hours and days with General Escalante who was in charge of their investigation. And I think they're very eager to present this information, but I think they're looking for --

DR. HALL: The Cuban government hasn't said to you, Gee, why don't you tell the Review Board that we would be delighted to speak with them on this matter.

MR. HAMBURG: No, they haven't said that specifically. But they did complain to me, for example, that the Warren Commission did not do enough to request information which they had within their purview. And I think the House Select Committee didn't really go as far as they could have with this. But, I'm just expressing my opinion. I think Mr. Gunn of your staff has actually met General Escalante at a conference in Nassau. I wasn't able to get to that conference. I'm just saying they have a lot of files. What he's told me is, basically these files go back to the period of '60 to '63. And they are not computerized or -- they have to go back and dig these things out, but they have voluminous files. They had a lot of informants in the Cuban community in Miami, in New Orleans, in Dallas and elsewhere, and they have a lot of files which basically are relevant to this matter which I think -- I think if an official request were made they would be receptive. Castro himself has made statements that he would make these available if they were requested.

DR. HALL: Thank you very much.

CHAIRMAN TUNHEIM: Thank you, Mr. Hamburg.

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