Drexel Gibson and the Berlitz School

“One such American prisoner is Drexel Gibson, an American businessman who was arrested in Cuba on April 19, and since that time has been imprisoned….The latest information I have received is that the Swiss Embassy in Havana, through which discussions with the Cuban Government are taking place, reports that Mr. Gibson is being investigated for “activities against the state.””

HON. PRESCOTT BUSH
OF CONNECTICUT
IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
Monday, June 26,1961 (1)

Who was Drexel Gibson?

Drexel Gibson
‘What a nightmare!’ Says American in Cuban Jail (3)
Drexel Gibson was the owner of the Berlitz School of Languages in Havana, Cuba.  He had been operating the school for a little over two years.  His wife and son resided with him in Cuba until July of 1960, at which time his wife and son returned to the United States because of an existing medical condition in his son, that required multiple surgeries. (2)  He had returned to Havana to get his affairs in order as he intended to move back to the United States.  All of this changed on April 17, 1961 when the failed Bay of Pigs invasion took place.

 

The Imprisonment of Drexel Gibson

On April 19, 1963 Drexel Gibson arrived to find Cuban G-2 Agents, tearing apart his office.  He was promptly arrested and detained by the government. Many Americans were arrested as a result of the failed invasion. (4) Gibson was subjected to intense interrogation, as he was accused by the Castro government of working as an intelligence agent on behalf of the FBI, not the CIA.  His interrogations lasted for more than one month as they attempted to break him.  They wanted him to identify his “network” of spies and his methods for communicating with the FBI. (5) Gibson explained that he was subjected to psychological torture.  He was not fed, slept on a floor, and over his six interrogation sessions subjected to over one hundred hours of interrogation.  While there he suffered a broken finger that was not treated, resulting in his finger being permanently paralyzed. (6)

Was Drexel Gibson working for the FBI?

Gibson claimed that the entire focus of his interrogation was around the FBI.  After his month of interrogation he was moved to a prison.  There he was interrogated as well.  He was offered deals to cooperate, for example, medicine that he needed to treat an ulcer.  He did not confess.  Gibson had a theory about why the Cuban’s thought he was working for the FBI.

When Gibson returned home to be with his son in March of 1961 during his surgery, Gibson went to meet with the president of the Berlitz schools.  It was in this meeting that Gibson explained that there were some strange goings on at his school.  He was concerned with the growing number of employees that were Castro sympathizers.  It was on his advice that Gibson contacted the FBI and provided them with information on his employees. (7) Gibson believed that somehow, because of this meeting with the FBI, G-2 found out about it, and this was why they were interrogating him.

Cuban Intelligence interest in the Berlitz School Employees

arcazweb
Berlitz School of Languages (9)
Gibson reported to the FBI that there were a growing number of Castro sympathizers associated with his school. Not only did the FBI have an interest, but when he was interrogated by the Cuban Government during his incarceration, they too questioned him extensively about his employees.  (8) Gibson reported on the following employees and their associates to the FBI, Harold Spencer, Martha McCurdy, Iilah Warner, Claudia Beck, Angela Motsis, Rosanna Carfagno, and Christine Olson de Urriutia.  Some of these individuals had ties to the Fair Play for Cuba Committee.  Others had ties to Cuban intelligence, or worked for the Castro government. One had a relationship with Fidel Castro himself.  The Berlitz School was quite an interesting place, and Gibson had reason to be concerned.

Harold Spencer – Fair Play for Cuba

The_Times_Sun__Jul_21__1963_
The Times (Hammond, Indiana) July 21, 1963  (10)
In the CIA files on the Fair Play for Cuba Committee is potential verification that Gibson did report his concerns. One American that Gibson reported on was attorney Harold Spencer, who was from Chicago.  Spencer’s American wife was also employed by the Cuban government in the Ministry of Arts.  He was a leader of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee in Havana, an organization that had some of the Berlitz school employees. (11)

Spencer was described by one American newspaper as the

NARA Record Number: 1993.08.03.17:13:42:400063 INDEX CARDS
INDEX CARDS for CIA file  100-300-011 (13)
leader of over 150 American supporters of Castro in Cuba.  He hosted an English speaking radio show and was described as having a “squeaky” voice.  In the CIA files is file number 100-300-011 which was a file called the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (FPCC).  It consisted of 987 documents. The bulk of the documents were generated from the FBI and other agencies.  Inside of this file is information about Harold Spencer.  The information about Harold Spencer was placed into the CIA file after the interview with Gibson. This file also contained an FBI report about Lee Harvey Oswald being arrested in New Orleans for his activities involving the FPCC.   (12)

Ilah Werner and Berlitz School employee Martha McCurdy along with Harold Spencer celebrate July 4th in Havana while Drexel Gibson was imprisoned.
Ilah Werner and Berlitz School employee Martha McCurdy along with Harold Spencer celebrate July 4th in Havana while Drexel Gibson was imprisoned. (16)

Martha McCurdy and Illah Warner

The report of the interview with Gibson contained information about multiple Americans and Cubans employed by the Berlitz School.  Gibson reported that Martha McCurdy, one of his teachers since 1958, was a member of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. She was still in Cuba and lived with another American, Illah Warner, also a member of the committee. (14) In a newspaper editorial about Americans who went to Cuba to support Castro, the two ladies were described as “veteran” Castro supporters who worked for the cause in Miami and fled to Cuba in 1959. (15)

 

 

Claudia Beck & Angela Motsis

Another American that Gibson had employed was Claudia Beck.   She was no longer employed by the school, but was currently employed in the Cuban Ministry of Education.   One of his teachers, Angela Motsis, was married to a “Greek who was deported from the US and who now works in the Cuban G-2 as a technician.” Again, it is curious to see that there was such a close tie to the Cuban intelligence world working for his business. (17)

Rosanna Carfagno

Another employee of interest was Rosanna Carfagno, who was from NY.  She was arrested  at the same time as Gibson, but according to Gibson, she was released because friends of Castro had intervened on her behalf.  She most certainly did have important friends, Fidel Castro being one of them.  He met her in 1959 during his “Meet the Press Interview” in April of 1959. They spent time touring New York together and then on her Christmas vacation she went to Cuba, spent time with Castro, and was seen holding hands with him.  (18) Eventually she would move to Cuba and be employed by Drexel Gibson at the Berlitz School.

Christine Olson de Urriutia

Gibson informed the FBI about Christine Olson de Urriutia, who was married to the former president of Cuba under Castro.  Gibson states she was one of the best teachers he ever had, did not think she was active in groups, but was probably for Castro.  One of her close friends was married to Lorna Pinero.  Her husband, Manuel Pinero, worked for the Ministry of the Interior and G-2. Another employee with ties to the Cuban intelligence agency.  (19) Another employee with multiple connections to Castro and the Cuban government.

Was Drexel Gibson allowing the Berlitz School to be used to train anti-Casto rebels?

The document that contains the CIA interview with Gibson would indicate that he was not working with the CIA.  There are only two documents in the archives related to the Berlitz School and Gibson.  One document is an interview conducted by the Domestic Contacts Division of the CIA.  It was conducted after multiple interviews Gibson gave to the press.

Imigration Paperwork
Passenger List, October 31, 1961 (21)
Gibson was released on September 5, 1961.  He arrived back in Miami from Cuba with help from the Swiss government on October 31, 1961, yet there was no interview of him for months.The CIA did not interview him until December 23, 1961.  (20)This lack of interest and the fact that Gibson had been talking to the press prior to any contact by the CIA with him would mean that he was not of interest to the CIA.

 

Records show researcher Gaeton Fonzi never saw the CIA Gibson document.

The only person from the HSCA to review this document was Leslie Wizelman of the HSCA.   She saw the document as part of the review of the CIA files on John Martino. (22) At the time of her review of the document, the only part not redacted was one paragraph. The document had been redacted in 1962 to remove 3rd party information.  (23)

This redaction from 1962, is further proof that the CIA was not interested in the Berlitz School.  They were interested in the prisoner

Drexel Gibson Redacted
Gibson Redacted File viewed by HSCA (24)
with whom Drexel Gibson had been imprisoned with, John Martino. The rest was considered third party information.  According to this report, Gibson was not questioned at all about any sensitive materials, documents, or information that could have been found at the Berlitz School.  If there were training in the use of explosives conducted here, where was the evidence?  If the G-2 had searched his property fully and found something surely Gibson would have been executed as other Americans trying to overthrow Castro had been.

 

Ms. Wizelman would not have seen the information in 1978 about the Berlitz School based on the redactions.  According to the record sheet, this document was never seen by famed researcher Gaeton Fonzi, who was investigating leads in connection to the Berlitz School. The full document was released in 1993.  Gaeton Fonzi never wrote about Drexel Gibson in his book, The Last Investigation.  Nor was Gibson ever questioned by the HSCA in their investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Additionally, the June Cobb file reviewed by HSCA staffer Edwin Lopez, contained information about Castro’s girlfriend and Berlitz Employee, Rosanna Carfagno.  There was nothing in the file that would indicate that Carfagno went on to work at the Berlitz School in Cuba.  If Lopez had made the connection, it would certainly been passed on to Gaeton Fonzi as he conducted his research into the alleged CIA connections with anti-Castro Cubans.

Unanswered Questions

One has to wonder if Gaeton Fonzi did know about Gibson, what information could have been gained in his quest for the truth?   What could have been learned if this lead had been followed? The questions that I am left with are more than when I started and it frustrates me as a researcher.  The answers that I am seeking are not here and they may have passed us by as Drexel Gibson passed away in 1998. (25)   The questions that remain in my mind continue to challenge me.

Would the CIA have used the Berlitz School to train anti-Castro revolutionaries  if there were so many people working there who were pro-Castro?

Why didn’t Cuban intelligence accuse Gibson of working for the CIA?  If they had evidence that Gibson was working for the US government, why was he allowed to leave Cuba, when so many other were not?  Does this alone mean that he was NOT working for the United States Government?

If the government were interested in Drexel Gibson and concerned about the implications of his arrest and imprisonment in relation to CIA covert operations, why did they wait over three months to interview him after his release from Cuban prison?  Is this not a sign that he and the school were not part of any operations against Castro?

Are any of the employees still alive?  Can they be tracked down to provide insight into the work that was happening at the Berlitz School?

When I have finished researching in the past, I have always felt a resolution in my work. In this case, I am feeling empty and unsatisfied.  I am upset, because I have seen the documents by the HSCA requesting information on this topic, and it is obvious to me, that this information never made it into the hands of the investigators charged by Congress to leave no stone unturned.

Matt “The Hitman” Scheufele

(1)  UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Congressional Record PROCEEDINGS AND DEBATES OF THE 87/A CONGRESS FIRST SESSION VOLUME 107—PART 9 JUNE 26, 1961, TO JULY 14, 1961 (PAGES 11167 TO 12620) UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE WASHINGTON, 1961)

(2) IBID

(3) ‘What a nightmare!’ Says American in Cuban Jail, The Pittsburgh Gazzette, November 26, 1961,  George Clifford

(4) IBID

(5)JOHN MARTINO: OS/SAG FILES PROVIDED TO THE HSCA, pg 9  NARA Record Number: 1993.07.21.09:15:26:960620

(6)  ‘What a nightmare!’ Says American in Cuban Jail, The Pittsburgh Gazzette, November 26, 1961,  George Clifford

(7) JOHN MARTINO: OS/SAG FILES PROVIDED TO THE HSCA, pg 9  NARA Record Number: 1993.07.21.09:15:26:960620

(8) JOHN MARTINO: OS/SAG FILES PROVIDED TO THE HSCA, pg 10  NARA Record Number: 1993.07.21.09:15:26:960620

(9) Berlitz School of Languages, Calle 23 No. 171, Vedado. (Today the Ministry of Sugar) http://www.bc.gob.cu/english/financial_institutions.asp

(10) The Times (Hammond, Indiana) July 21, 1963, Page 21

(11) JOHN MARTINO: OS/SAG FILES PROVIDED TO THE HSCA, pg 11  NARA Record Number: 1993.07.21.09:15:26:960620

(12) [RESTRICTED] (Deposition of Mrs. Ann Elizabeth Goldsborough Egerter)NARA Record Number: 180-10131-10333

(13) INDEX CARDS, NARA Record Number: 1993.08.03.17:13:42:400063

(14) JOHN MARTINO: OS/SAG FILES PROVIDED TO THE HSCA, pg 10  NARA Record Number: 1993.07.21.09:15:26:960620

(15) Americans Join Castro’s Ranks, Fulton Lewis Jr Lakeland Ledger – Dec 26, 1961, pg 4  

(16) “Americans in Cuba Celebrate July 4”, The Militant, July 10 and 17, 1961.

(17) JOHN MARTINO: OS/SAG FILES PROVIDED TO THE HSCA, pg 11  NARA Record Number: 1993.07.21.09:15:26:960620

(18) Reel 11, Folder B – CIA/DO/LA FILE ON VIOLA JUNE COBB AS REVIEWED BY ED LOPEZ. pg. 60  NARA Record Number: 1994.03.08.13:30:54:000007

(19) JOHN MARTINO: OS/SAG FILES PROVIDED TO THE HSCA, pg 11  NARA Record Number: 1993.07.21.09:15:26:960620

(20) IBID

(21) Florida Passenger Lists, 1898-1963 for Drexel Gibson A3995 – Miami, Florida, 1957-1963

(22) JOHN MARTINO: OS/SAG FILES PROVIDED TO THE HSCA, pg 5 NARA Record Number: 1993.07.21.09:15:26:960620

(23)  JOHN MARTINO: OS/SAG FILES PROVIDED TO THE HSCA, pg 8 NARA Record Number: 1993.07.21.09:15:26:960620

(24)  JOHN MARTINO: OS/SAG FILES PROVIDED TO THE HSCA, pg 5 NARA Record Number: 1993.07.21.09:15:26:960620

(25) Ancestry.com. Florida Death Index, 1877-1998 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. Original data: State of Florida. Florida Death Index, 1877-1998. Florida: Florida Department of Health, Office of Vital Records, 1998.

 

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