David Sanchez Morales was born on 26th August, 1925. He spent his early life in Phoenix, Arizona. A Mexican-American, Morales was later to be nicknamed El Indio because of his dark skin and Indian features. As a boy his best friend was Ruben Carbajal. After his mother divorced his father he was virtually adopted by Carbajal's parents.
Morales attended Arizona State College in Tempe (now Arizona State University) during the 1944-45 school year, before moving to Los Angeles and attending the University of Southern California (1945-46).
Morales joined the United States Army in 1946 and after basic training was sent to Germany where he was part of the Allied occupation force. According to Ruben Carbajal, Morales was recruited into army intelligence in 1947. However, officially he was a member of 82nd Airborne. It was during this time he began associating with Ted Shackley and William Harvey.
In 1951 became a employee of the Central Intelligence Agency while retaining his army cover. The following year he joined the Directorate for Plans, an organization instructed to conduct covert anti-Communist operations around the world.
In 1953 he returned to the United States and after a spell at the University of Maryland he assumed cover as a State Department employee. Morales became involved in CIA's Black Operations. This involved a policy that was later to become known as Executive Action (a plan to remove unfriendly foreign leaders from power). This including a coup d'état that overthrew the Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 after he introduced land reforms and nationalized the United Fruit Company. After the removal of Arbenz he joined the staff of the US embassy in Caracas (1955-58). During this time he became known as the CIA's top assassin in Latin America.
Morales moved to Cuba in 1958 and helped to support the government of Fulgencio Batista. In 1960 Wayne S. Smith was a State Department officer in the American Embassy in Havana. Smith tells the story of being in a bar in Havana with Morales. After a heavy drinking session Morales began talking about the CIA’s secret operations that involved frog men operating out of Guantanamo Bay. Smith told Gaeton Fonzi (The Last Investigation) that Morales was very indiscrete when drunk. According to fellow CIA agent, Robert N. Wall: "He (Morales) was a rough-neck. He was a bully, a hard-drinker and big enough to get away with a lot of stuff other people couldn't get away with.
In November, 1961, William Harvey arranged for Morales to be posted to JM/WAVE , the CIA station in Miami. Morales was operations chief for the CIA's covert operation to train and infiltrate teams into Cuba to destabilize the Castro government. Morales reported directly to veteran Agency covert operator Ted Shackley, who was the Agencys Miami bureau chief. In May, 1962, Morales was seconded to ZR/RIFLE, the plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. During this period he worked closely with David Atlee Phillips, Tracy Barnes, William Pawley, Johnny Roselli and John Martino.
Some researchers such as Gaeton Fonzi, Larry Hancock, Noel Twyman, James Richards and John Simkin believe that Morales was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It has been suggested that others involved included Carl E. Jenkins, Rafael Quintero, William Pawley, Roy Hargraves, Edwin Collins, Steve Wilson, Herminio Diaz Garcia, Tony Cuesta, Eugenio Martinez, Virgilio Gonzalez, Felipe Vidal Santiago, Theodore Shackley, Grayston Lynch, Felix Rodriguez, Thomas Clines, Gordon Campbell, Tony Sforza and William (Rip) Robertson.
According to CIA agent Tom Clines, Morales helped Felix Rodriguez capture Che Guevara in 1965. "We all admired the hell out of the guy. He drank like crazy, but he was bright as hell. He could fool people into thinking he was stupid by acting stupid, but he knew about cultural things all over the world. People were afraid of him. He was big and aggressive, and he had this mystique. Stories about him permeated the Agency. If the Agency needed someone action-oriented, he was at the top of the list. If the U.S. government as a matter of policy needed someone or something neutralized, Dave would do it, including things that were repugnant to a lot of people.
In 1966 Ted Shackley was placed in charge of CIA secret war in Laos. He recruited Morales to take charge at Pakse, a black operations base focused on political paramilitary action within Laos. Pakse was used to launch military operations against the Ho Chi Minh Trial. In 1969 Morales moved to Vietnam where he officially worked as a Community Development Officer for the International Development Agency.
Morales moved to Chile in 1970. He was a member of the team that used $10 million in order to undermine left-wing forces in the country. Morales told friends that he had personally eliminated several political figures. He was also involved in helping Augusto Pinochet overthrow Salvador Allende in September, 1973.
After arriving back in the United States Morales moved to Washington where he became Consultant to the Deputy Director for Operations Counter Insurgency and Special Activities. Larry Hancock believes that during this period he provided advice to right-wing governments (Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Brazil and Argentina) as part of Operation Condor.
According to his friend, Ruben Carbajal, in the spring of 1973, Morales talked about his involvement with the Bay of Pigs operation. He claimed "Kennedy had been responsible for him having to watch all the men he recruited and trained get wiped out". He added: "Well, we took care of that SOB, didn't we?"
Another example of Morales indiscretion was allowing his photograph to be taken by Kevin Schofield at the El Molino restaurant on 4th August, 1973. The picture appeared in the Arizona Republic with the following text: “Feted by friends at a fiesta Saturday was former American counsul to Cuba, David Sanchez, left, who was in that country when Castro took over… In government service for 28 years, Sanchez is now consultant in the office of deputy director for Operations Counter-insurgency and Special Activities in Washington.”
Soon afterwards Morales left the CIA. However, he continued to make regular trips to Washington. When asked about this by his friend Ruben Carbajal, Morales replied: “Oh, they run into some problems, I have to go up there and take care of them. These people never let go of you.”
Morales built a new house at El Frita, which is about half-way between Willcox and the Mexican border. Morales told another friend, Robert Walton, that he had put in the best security system in the United States. Walton said, “What do you need so much security for? You're still thirty miles from the Mexican border.” Morales replied, “I'm not worried about those people, I'm worried about my own."
Gaeton Fonzi, staff investigator for the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HUCA) found out about Morales from CIA asset, Paul Bethel, who worked for David Atlee Phillips. It was suggested that Morales might have been the “Latin-looking” man seen with Lee Harvey Oswald in New Orleans during the summer of 1963.
Fonzi had also read David Phillips’s autobiography, The Night Watch: 25 Years of Peculiar Service. It includes a reference to a CIA agent who used the code-name Hector (William (Rip) Robertson) and his “sidekick ‘El Indio’, a massive American of Mexican and Indian extraction I had seen only briefly during the revolt (the CIA-stage 1954 Guatemala coup) but was to work with in other operations over the years.” El Indio was Morales.
When Fonzi interviewed David Atlee Phillips on behalf of the HSCA he asked him about Morales. Phillips said that Morales was an unimportant figure in the CIA and suggested that he might have died as a result of his heavy drinking. At this stage Morales was still alive. What is more, Morales was far from being an important figure, he had in fact been Chief of Operations at JM/WAVE in 1963 and at the centre of the operation to kill Fidel Castro. Fonzi also discovered that Morales had worked very closely with John Rosselli, who also played a key role in the plots against Castro. Rosselli was to be one of the first people to be interviewed by the HSCA but went missing in July 1976. His body was later discovered in the Intracoastal Waterway in North Miami. He had been cut up and stuffed into a 55-gallon steel drum.
Morales began to worry about his own health during the HSCA investigations. Rip Robertson had died in 1970 and could not be interviewed. William Pawley committed suicide in 1977 when he was asked to appear before the HSCA. The other key figure, in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, CIA officer, Carl E. Jenkins, had remained deeply undercover and was not being investigated by the HSCA.
David Sanchez Morales made his last trip to Washington in early May, 1978. Ruben Carbajal had a drink with Morales a few days later. Carbajal told him he looked unwell. He replied: “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Ever since I left Washington I haven’t been feeling very comfortable”. That night he was taken to hospital. Carbajal went to visit him the next morning. As Carbajal later recalled: “They wouldn’t let no one in, they had his room surrounded by sheriff’s deputies.” Later that day (8th May) the decision was taken to withdraw his life support. Morales’s wife, Joanne, requested that there should not be an autopsy.
In a letter sent to John R. Tunheim in 1994, Bradley E. Ayers claimed that nine people based at JM/WAVE "have intimate operational knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the assassination" of John F. Kennedy. Ayers named David Sanchez Morales, Theodore Shackley, Grayston Lynch, Felix Rodriguez, Thomas Clines, Gordon Campbell, Rip Robertson, Edward Roderick and Tony Sforza as the men who had this information.
Bradley E. Ayers was interviewed by Jeremy Gunn of the Assassination Records Review Board in May, 1995. According to Gunn: “Ayers claims to have found in the course of his private investigative work, a credible witness who can put David Morales inside the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on the night of June 5, 1968 (RFK’s assassination)."
In January 2004, E. Howard Hunt gave a taped interview with his son, Saint John Hunt, claiming that Lyndon Baines Johnson was the instigator of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and that it was organised by Morales, Cord Meyer, David Atlee Phillips and Frank Sturgis.
While researching a documentary, Shane O'Sullivan discovered a news film of the Ambassador Hotel on the day Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated. Bradley Ayers and other people who knew them, identified David Sanchez Morales, Gordon Campbell and George Joannides as being three men in the hotel that day. An article about this story appeared in The Guardian and on BBC Newsnight on 20th November, 2006.