'CIA Agent' Alive And Well In Costa Rica?
By BOB FORD
News-Journal Staff Writer
John O'Hare, the self styled CIA agent who recruited a handful of Daytona Beach men into a "covert" operation here last year, "sounds as if he worked for the CIA," according to an internationally known soldier of fortune who worked for the CIA as a "contract agent."
Gerry Patrick Hemming who has appeared before U.S. Senate investigators and bared plots and plans for the Central Intelligence Agency's domestic operations, was interviewed by telephone this week from his Miami office about any possible connection O'Hare might have had with the CIA.
Hemming, a 6'-6" former Marine and Special Forces sergeant, said he knew O'Hare during maneuvers with the Army Reserves in the late '60s in South Florida. "I think he'd been around the "Company" (CIA) for a long time as a contract employe," Hemming said. "You just don't use the Company's name and get away with it for long!"
"If an operation like O'Hare's goes on for any length of time, there's no way it could escape the notice of the Company. If Langley (CIA headquarters in McLean, Va.) doesn't do anything to quash the thing then it's a Company operation. If the man is an imposter they'll burn him," Hemming said.
"First they'll get him in trouble, then they'll . talk to him. If he still persists, if he's really stupid, the'll really put the screws to him."
O'Hare convinced several people to help him set up a communications post here during the fall and winter of 1974. O'Hare, also known as Colonel Richard Gray and P. Harrison, recruited a former sheriff's deputy, William Russell; Steve Van Vorhees, an assistant state attorney, and Johnny Kern, owner of the Bali Jr. restaurant on Mason Ave.
They all say they believe he was a CIA agent and still do. The hush-hush project was scrubbed early in 1975, with the reported death of O'Hare. Kern, Russell and Van Vorhees never saw the body, which was in a sealed casket and have expressed doubts O'Hare is really dead.
Hemming agreed O'Hare is probably still very much alive. "All the Company men get buried now and then," Hemming quipped. "It's called 'uping and dying'." He explaind: "Something goes wrong with the operation and you have to up and die (laughing)."
"After he dies he gets a new set of paperwork (identity) and operates somewhere else," Hemming said. "He's probably in Costa Rice right now working the Panamanian operation - that's where all the money is - that's where the mercs (mercenaries) are now."
Hemming had a quick answer for North Florida FBl chief Arthur Nehrbass
assurances from the CIA that O'Hare was not an agency man. "Bull! They
(the FBI) just get the runaround. That's the name of the game. One agency's
business is not the business of another. The Company is going to protect
Asked about Nehrbass' statement that the CIA "wouldn't lie to us,"-Hemming
retorted, "Some of these guys actually believe that! They've got a lot
of Boy Scout types in the Bureau and other agencies and they actually believe
that crap." A long time associate of Hemming's is Mitchell WerBell, a former
OSS man and one of
the founding fathers of the CIA. WerBell has also been characterized as "the top gun, and master armorer of the CIA". He is an internationally licensed gun dealer and is believed to maintain close ties with his former employer, the CIA.
WerBell was interviewed by telephone from his home in Atlanta by The Morning Journal. He said he is getting tired of attacks on the CIA and, regarding O'Hare's possible link as a Company man: "They (the CIA) just don't work that way and I'm confident it wasn't an agency operation." WerBell then quickly added: "I'm also certain of another thing--you'll never know!"
"Why don't you dig the guy up and find out if he's the one?" WerBell
was told that would take a court order to exhume the body. "You might find
it (the coffin) empty." Asked about the FBI,- assurances that O'Hare wasn't
CIA, WerBell agreed with Hemming about the CIA denial. "Hell, they'd lie
Hemming supported Kern's theory, that O'Hare didn't con the local people because little money changed hands_ and. O'Hare didn't really make any profit; from the venture. Hemming also strongly supported Kern's expressed belief that O'Hare intended to support the covert: "safe house" on Kern's Lake Disston property by importing narcotics.
"That's a common operation for the Company," Hemming said. "They're in the intelligence business - they're not moralists or reformers; they're not in the law enforcement business."
"A Company man may get a free ride once a week to finance the operation and make a little on the side," Hemming said. He explained "a free ride is sanction to smuggle drugs without reprisal.
Two private investigators also say they're convinced O'Hare was "genuine CIA" and planned to finance his operation with drugs. Jim Jones, owner of Suncoast Security and Detective Agency in Daytona Beach, has interviewed several dozen persons in Florida who knew O'Hare. Jones: "I think this was !an agency sanctioned operation to be. executed by contract agents, but the funds dried up during Senate investigation into the CIA and the contractors were cut loose to finance themselves."
Kennard Smith, a private eye* in Washington who completed a 40 page
report for Kern, also says he believes O'Hare was an agent. Smith said
he's been close to the intelligence community for many years and has talked
about the O'Hare case with several close associates who are former CIA
"It was a Company sanctioned operation, but on a contract basis. The Company knew about it - there's no way it couldn't have known about it," Smith said.
The Morning Journal was able to track down a high ranking officer in Special Forces Reserves who knew O'Hare up until 1972. The officer gave this account of his recollection of the man.
"He wasn't actually a member of our unit. He always showed up for drills wearing an Air Force uniform and the insignia of a staff sergeant. He also had Airborne (paratrooper) wings and said. he'd been a member of the 82nd Airborn. Division during World War II.
"He was an extremely resourceful man and highly motivated. Anytime we needed something, he seemed to know how to get it. Once when we needed an airplane for a parachute jump exercise and we were unable to get one from the Army or the Air Force, O'Hare called an admiral he knew and soon a Navy plane appeared properly equipped for a parachute operation."
The operation in which O'Hare was engaged here was described to the officer, who admitted there was no way he could know if O'Hare were involved in covert activities. But he did say: "I doubt Jack O'Hare was ever a CIA agent."
"Jack O'Hare was not Lawrence of Daytona." the officer remarked. "I
think somebody hallucinated a Topaz type operation and, quite frankly,
it sounds more like a Toonerville Trolley."