Leaked Cables Shed Light on Mystery American Behind Philippine Presidential Assassination Conspiracy

Pres. Marcos
On Saturday, the 26th of November, 1972, the Milwaukee Journal reported that a US citizen and former Vietnam veteran by the name of Edward Lehman had been apprehended for being the alleged trigger man in a "rightist conspiracy" against the government of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. The Journal reported that Lehman was "one of several Americans involved in the attempt to kill Marcos," with Lawrence Tractman implicated as a Hong Kong contact.

The Chicago Tribune, however, would go on to report on the 16th of December that the alleged shooter's real name was in fact August McCormick Lehman, a native of Tennessee. Further, Lawrence Tractman was identified by the Chicago Tribune as Lawrence Truckman of California.

On February, 1977 the Washington Post identified Lawrence Truckman as Lorry Tractman, and detailed that August McCormick Lehman had been sentenced to 6 years hard labor for the assassination plot, but that his treatment had been:

"Unusual for a person accused of so serious a crime... allowed to marry the daughter of an officer in Marcos' personal security forces. The wedding was held at the presidential palace, Marcos' security chief gave the bride away and the president himself congratulated the groom. Lehman and his wife and baby have been living in a detention house in the officers' section of one of Manila's military camps."

The next year, in 1978, the Washington Post would detail that Mr. Lehman had been pardoned, and that he had "expressed his loyalty to Marcos and has been set up in Manila export business by Marcos' intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Fabian Ver." General Ver was the type of character whose own son suspected he had killed Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr. due to his opposition to President Marcos' martial law decree.

On the 21st of September, 1972 President Marcos declared martial law and assumed emergency powers. According to the Philippines Official Gazette:

Sen. Benigno jr.
"A week before the actual declaration of Martial Law, a number of people had already received information that Marcos had drawn up a plan to completely take over the government and gain absolute rule. Senator Benigno S. Aquino Jr., during a September 13, 1972 privilege speech, exposed what was known as “Oplan Sagittarius.” The Senator said he had received a top-secret military plan given by Marcos himself to place Metro Manila and outlying areas under the control of the Philippine Constabulary as a prelude to Martial Law. Marcos was going to use a series of bombings in Metro Manila, including the 1971 Plaza Miranda bombing, as a justification for his takeover and subsequent authoritarian rule."

Senator Benigno Jr. was, naturally, arrested after delivering his speech and would later be assassinated in the 1980s after returning from exile. It thus behooves the mind that a brutal dictator not afraid to murder important political figures somehow decided to express sympathy for one Mr. Lehman. Who was that mystery American, and how was he able to rehabilitate himself after attempting to assassinate a power-hungry, ruthless autocrat?

Leaked diplomatic cables from the Henry Kissinger State Department show that US Embassy officials in Manila believed that a military tribunal would have "undoubtedly little difficulty in finding Mr. Lehman guilty of conspiracy to assassinate [Marcos,]" suggesting that it was in his best interest not to press for an "early trial or release." [1]

When US Embassy officials met with General Ver in April of 1973, they worried that they had not had contact with Mr. Lehman in months, but the General told them that "failure to arrange a meeting with consul on one occasion might have been because Lehman had not wished any visitors." [2] Embassy officials would later go on to describe General Ver as "figuratively" holding the key to Lehman's cell door. [6]

The story takes an interesting turn when the month after, in May of 1973, the State Department sends a cable to the Manila Embassy asking for "reports on routine visits" with Lehman. The cable itself admits it is unusual to ask for reports on routine visits, but that there was "interest" in the case due to "special facts." [3]

Two months later, in July of 1973, the State Department sent a cable to Manila concerning Mr. Lehman, but it has been sealed under Executive Order and was not leaked along with the rest of the Kissinger cache. [4] The month after, the embassy learned that Mr. Lehman had been charged with "conspiracy," something which baffled US officials because there was no conspiracy statute in Philippine law. [5] Nonetheless, the charges seemed to not bother Mr. Lehman, and he would later go on to refuse hiring counsel. [7]

A subsequent cable, from November of 1973, informs the US Embassy in Manila that there was no basis in US law to revoke Mr. Lehman's passport and force his return to the United States. This indicates that officials in Manila wanted to forced Mr. Lehman to return to the US should he be released. [8]

By December of the same year, embassy officials visiting Mr. Lehman seemed to indicate that he would soon be freed, but by January had lost hope and felt resigned to staying in prison for a long time. [9] [10] There was no explanation given for the change in attitude, but cables sent in May, July, August, and September of 1974 indicate that something was going on at very high levels; the cables are sealed under Executive Order. [11] [12] [13] [14]

A second cable from September begins to shed light on the fact that the US government was hiding information from Mr. Lehman and his family; President Marcos met a US delegation and told them that he needed Mr. Lehman's confession to put pressure on the families of two other co-conspirators. [15]

According to a cable sent in December of 1974 by none other than Henry Kissinger himself, there was extreme "congressional interest" in the Lehman case. [16] Subsequent cables after Kissinger's message are sealed under Executive order. [17] [18] [19] [20]

After Kissinger's intervention, it becomes apparent that President Marcos was persuaded to allow US officials to talk to Mr. Lehman without the presence of Philippine guards in the visitation room. At that point, Mr. Lehman began singing like the conspiratorial canary:

"In explaining his role in plot to assassinate President Marcos, Lehman told de Joya [lawyer] that he came to Philippines on June 20, 1972 to assist Larry Tractman in a scheme to extract money from former Senator Sergio Osmena Jr. He said that at no time was there any intention on his part of killing President Marcos, but that his job was to pass as a firearms expert, an area in which he claims to have no expertise. Following his arrival in Philippines he claimed to have worked on several weapons which were given to him, damaging them so they would become unusable. Although he admitted fashioning a silencer for a rifle and being flown to Osmena's ranch in Cebu [island] to test it, he informed De Joya that it was ineffective. In Lehman's discussion of his relationship with Larry Tractman, he expressed his opinion that Tractman was also being paid by President Marcos to arrange Osmena's alleged assassination plans to fail." [21]

Upon telling his side of the story to Mr. De Joya and the embassy official, Mr. Lehman decided not to retain the services of Mr. De Joya because the price was too exorbitant, firing him on the spot. As soon as Mr. De Joya left the room, Mr. Lehman told the embassy official that: "De Joya had been sent by Osmena or Marcos' followers to gather additional information."

This means that the story the former Vietnam veteran told about not being a weapons expert but still having enough knowledge to prevent the armaments from functioning was a complete fabrication, something to throw De Joya off.

By May of 1975, Mr. Lehman was ready to act as state witness in exchange for a reduced sentence. During a brief court recess, he told US Embassy officials that he could "blow up" the entire government case, and feared that they "might try to kill him" in order to prevent this.  [22]

When the first hearing was held, Mr. Lehman testified that he and Larry Tractman had procured a Winchester .270 rifle, and that a third American -- Pincus -- had been hired because of his mafia connections in New York. Mr. Lehman stuck to the story he had told his previous lawyer, De Joya, about not knowing of the plot to kill Marcos before landing in the Philippines, that he could not reveal the plot because a conspirator was a relative of former vice-President Lopez and that this would guarantee his death if he revealed the plot to President Marcos. [23]

The case against Lehman began to unravel at the next hearing, with former Manila Mayoral candidate Eduardo Figueras testifying that Senator Sergio Osmena Jr. and Larry Tractman were the brains behind the operation. Figueras told the court that when he and Tractman traveled to New York, they met with Sam Cummins, a US arms dealer, who convinced them to use the explosive chemical astropac during a state visit by Indonesian President Suharto, but when the explosive failed, they imported Mr. Lehman, described by Figueras as a "gunman." [24]

By June of 1975, the case against Lehman took an even worse turn, and the charges against him were elevated from "conspiracy to assassinate the president" to "rebellion." On the 9th of June, Lehman phoned the embassy twice, and told them he had seen an affidavit wherein a Philippine intelligence operative serving as witness for the state names Ambassador Henry Byroade and then-defense attache Colonel Alfred Patterson as being involved in the plot against Pres. Marco. [25]

Ambassadorial hitman?
After Mr. Lehman spoke on the phone about Ambassador Byroade and Colonel Patterson, his fortune improved dramatically and astronomically. Two months later, in August of 1975, Mr. Lehman had redeemed himself, and he was getting married, in a wedding attended by General Ver. They had decided to allow him to establish a corporation to "procure automotive and equipment spare parts from the US for the Philippine government," with General Ver becoming by Philippine custom his "compadre." [26]

Ambassador Byroade, a Brigadier General by age 32, was intimately involved in the overthrow of Mohammed Mossadegh, the liberal Iranian leader whose fall followed decades of the US-backed dictatorship that fed the rise of the Islamic Republic. In a 1956 telegram sent to London, Amb. Byroade wrote regarding Mossadegh's plans to nationalize Anglo-American oil companies in Iran: "What we were trying to do really is to set up a big cartel which is contrary to American domestic economic policies, but that's what we thought the foreign affairs of the United States required."

Ambassador Byroade was on a "skiing trip" in Iran shortly before the US-installed Shah fell and the Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power with his Islamic Revolution.

The Manila embassy had a couple of more meetings with Mr. Lehman after he sang on Ambassador Byroade over the phone, in 1977 and 1978, but the diplomatic cables from those two meetings are shrouded in so much secrecy that not even their original classification is made available, only the fact that they were sent. [27] [28] After those meetings, Lehman became a ghost.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28 [Warning to US personnel: public disclosures of classified documents do not alter the documents' classified status or automatically result in declassification of the documents.]