Friday, June 2, 2017

UNWITTING: Testing the Limits with MKULTRA

Chapter Five: Mastering Minds 
(The Secret War on William Pierce)

When Bill Pierce’s real troubles began he had no solid evidence that mind control projects were being actively pursued by the federal government. For years he sounded like a crank, paranoid and possibly delusional. But once the surviving MKULTRA documents were declassified in 1977 – most of them were destroyed before they could be reviewed by Congress -- his descriptions and personal experiences in the 1950s and 60s began to look uncannily close to the experiments actually being pursued by the CIA at the time.
       Even prior to MKULTRA,  considerable research had been done by the government on amnesia, hypnotic couriers and efforts to create a Manchurian Candidate – a label commonly used after the release of a 1963 conspiracy thriller with that title. The CIA’s goal was to develop “brainwashing” techniques and program subjects with a hypnotically implanted trigger, thus turning them into secret agents who wouldn’t remember what they had done. In scientific terms, the objective was to deliberately and experimentally create dissociative identity disorders, with associated amnesia barriers, and use this technique in both simulated and actual covert operations.
      MKULTRA was officially launched by the Central Intelligence Agency on April 3, 1953, and continued for a decade until it was rolled into another project, MKSEARCH, in 1964. That ran for another eight years, until CIA Director Richard Helms ordered most of the MK documents shredded in June 1972. Despite this, and redactions to most documents that did survive, they revealed that there had been hundreds of separate sub-projects.
      In an August 1963 “Report of Inspection of MKULTRA,” Deputy CIA Director Marshall Carter acknowledged a problem: “Research in the manipulation of human behavior is considered by many authorities in medicine and related fields to be professionally unethical, therefore the reputations of professional participants in the MKULTRA program are on occasion in jeopardy.” Beyond that, “the testing of MKULTRA products places the rights and interests of U.S. citizens in jeopardy.” As a result, the paper trail was being kept to a bare minimum, operational control was delegated to the Technical Services Division (TSD), and the entire project was exempted from audit.
      During the preceding ten years the “avenues to the control of human behavior” had expanded to include “radiation, electro-shock, various fields of psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and anthropology, graphology, harassment substances, and paramilitary devices and materials.” Under a heading titled “Advanced testing of MKULTRA materials,” the 1963 CIA report asserted the “firm doctrine in TSD that testing of materials under accepted scientific procedure fails to disclose the full pattern of reactions and attributions that may occur in operational situations.” It added that TSD “initiated a program for covert testing of materials on unwitting U.S, citizens in 1955,” the same year Pierce said his own troubles began.
      The ultimate test for any drug, device or technique, argued the report, was “application to unwitting subjects in normal life settings. It was noted earlier that the capabilities of MKULTRA substances to produce disabling or discrediting effects or to increase the effectiveness of interrogation of hostile subjects cannot be established solely through testing on volunteer populations.”
      To keep the loop small and secure, “certain cleared and witting individuals in the Bureau of Narcotics” provided various drugs for testing on those “deemed desirable and feasible.” Some of the most “feasible” subjects were informers and criminals. But as the report added, “the effectiveness of the substances on individuals at all social levels, high and low, native American and foreign, is of great significance and testing has been performed on a variety of individuals within these categories.” In some cases, “the test subject has become ill for hours or days, including hospitalization in at least one case.”
      Bill Pierce was no longer teaching at Syracuse in 1962. After a year at West Virginia University, he had moved to Stillwater to teach at Oklahoma State University that September. But he was still writing letters to prominent individuals and newspapers about “right-wing extremism” and “security procedures." 
       Then suddenly, in mid-October, he was removed from his teaching duties and ordered by the university administration to undergo a psychological examination. According to Pierce, "extremists" were trying to discredit him. But some students, along with the manager of a local coffee shop, told President Oliver Willham that Pierce was the one creating disturbances. Word rapidly spread across campus that he was “psycho.” It was precisely what he feared and had been writing about. 
      In a letter by Pierce published in the Oklahoma City Times on Oct.19, 1962 the primary focus was the arrest and hospitalization of Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker, whose fiery rhetoric had helped to spark a violent riot on the University of Mississippi campus. On September 30, after hundreds of people were wounded and two were killed, Walker was arrested on charges including sedition and insurrection.
      Attorney General Robert Kennedy ordered Walker held in a mental institution for 90 days of psychiatric examination. But the decision was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union and psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, who argued that psychiatry should not be a political tool. After five days Kennedy backed down and Walker was released.
      Pierce certainly didn’t agree with Walker’s politics. But he did identify with the situation. “Admittedly, Walker’s extreme views on ‘liberals’ and his alleged defiance of the government (including alleged incitement to violence) suggest mental unbalance," he wrote,  but the presumptions of enforced mental tests and/or treatment should cause us grave concern."
      “It is only a short step from psychiatric tests for rioters to psychiatric tests for victims of crime and political persecution,” Pierce warned. “A favorite technique of the latter is clever misuse of the ‘psychopath’ label; and, even worse, revolutionary devices of psychological warfare and brainwashing capable of crippling almost any human being, and in such a manner that the victim’s factual description of the attack sounds like mental illness.”
     A few days after his letter was published a police officer and sheriff’s deputy showed up at his apartment with a warrant for his arrest, apparently at the instigation of President Willham. Sheriff Charlie Fowler had never met Pierce before, yet the detention order  claimed that Fowler had “personal knowledge” that he was violent and showed the potential to injure himself or others.
     A week later, Pierce was involuntarily committed. More ominously --  and without him realizing its significance -- he had been placed in the care of Dr. Louis J. West, one of the CIA’s leading MKULTRA doctors, a cutting-edge scientist who had once killed an elephant with an overdose of LSD.

To be continued... 

Chapter One: Wrong Turn
Two: Naming Names
Three: Unwanted Voices
Four: Chung's Way

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Progressive Vermont: The Winding Road to Fusion

For most Vermonters the biggest stories five years ago were the state’s response to Hurricane Irene -- the state’s worst natural disaster since 1927, the struggle over closure of Vermont Yankee, and passage of the first-in-the-nation universal health care system. After almost a decade the state also had another Democratic governor, Peter Shumlin, who pledged to usher in single-payer health insurance and usher out Yankee. Meanwhile, around the country people were starting to rally to Bernie Sanders' economic critique.
     The larger story, in the Green Mountains and beyond, was the sea change in public discourse – from anti-government rage to a more progressive focus (also angry) on economic inequality and concentration of wealth. At the time conservatives called the new movement class warfare, but it actually reflected an overdue recovery from a period of national amnesia. 
      The pace of change was quickening – revolt across the Middle East, Greece and other countries on the verge of economic default, plus a titanic struggle for the soul of the US in the presidential race. Democrats were experiencing Obama Fatigue, while among the leading Republican candidates Mitt Romney had the organization and the money. But he was a member of the 1%, a “vulture capitalist” who seemed to lack core principles.
     From Vermont to San Francisco, thousands were protesting the growing wealth disparity between the rich and almost everyone else. Using social networks and a collective approach the Occupy movement had spread rapidly to hundreds of cities, gaining momentum as unions and politicians offered support. According to a Gallup poll, 44 percent of Americans felt that the economic system was personally unfair to them. More to the point, the top 1 percent had greater net worth than the “bottom” 90 percent. And in an unusual generational twist, more people under 30 viewed the general concept of socialism in a positive light than capitalism.
     The number of Vermonters living in poverty had changed little in the previous 40 years, moving almost imperceptibly from 12.1 percent in 1969 to 11.5 percent in 2009. In early 2012 Vermont Interfaith Action – part of a national group that was looking for solutions to “systemic issues that prevent our most vulnerable citizens from enjoying the quality of life God intends for us all” – confronted several lawmakers and Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding with this disquieting reality at the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington.
     The gist was that state government had failed to effectively address economic inequality. The event, billed as an “economic action,” attracted about 125 people from a variety of faith communities on a wintry Sunday afternoon. The issue of poverty was being “held hostage to a shortage of funds created in part by the refusal to ask wealthy Vermonters to do more,” the report’s authors declared. They accused state leaders of having succumbed to fear “by some who claim that raising taxes on the wealthy will result in capital flight.”
     When asked if he would work to avoid cuts in social programs by raising taxes on the wealthiest Vermonters, Tim Ashe joined the two other senators, Democrat Sally Fox and Progressive/Democrat Anthony Pollina, in saying they were on board. Rep. Martha Heath, who chaired the House Appropriations Committee, was more equivocal. It would depend on balancing various needs, she explained, and urged those in the room to make their case at legislative hearings.
     State funding was being misallocated, Ashe charged. He pointed specifically at the Vermont Training Program, a Department of Economic Development initiative that subsidized wages and trained employees in new and existing businesses. Although the emphasis was supposed to be on enterprises that could not afford to fund training, profitable enterprises like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and General Electric Aviation in Rutland had received more than $400,000.
     When his turn came to speak Pollina pointed to a drop in median family income for Vermonters. Inequality was greater than at any time since the 1930s Depression. But his prescriptions, beyond some tax changes, were to improve the process for setting the state budget and develop a state bank, an unlikely proposal that had been part of the Liberty Union Party’s platform four decades before.

From Outside to Inside 

Anthony Pollina was elected to the state Senate in 2010, and joined Tim Ashe as the second Progressive leader to run successfully as a fusion candidate with both the Democratic and Progressive nomination. It was his first term in office. Yet Pollina had entered statewide politics with a splash many years earlier. In 1984, he had won an insurgent victory in the Democratic primary for US Congress, then decisively lost in the general election to Jim Jeffords, the popular incumbent.
     He didn’t run again for 16 years, but served during the 1990s as Senior Policy Advisor to then-Congressman Sanders. He also fought for campaign finance reform legislation that established public funding for statewide political campaigns. In 2002, however, when his campaign for Lt. Governor failed to qualify for public funding Pollina filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn the law.
     Running for governor as a Progressive in 2000 Pollina received 9.5 percent in a crowded field with Republican Ruth Dwyer, who received 37.9 percent, and incumbent governor Howard Dean, who won with 50.4. Two years later, in the race for Lt. Governor, he received 24.8 percent in a three way race, behind Shumlin, with 32.1 percent, and Brian Dubie, who won with 41.2. Dean had retired, and was planning a race for President. Michael Badamo ran for governor as a Progressive – without much support from the Party, and got only .6 percent. Jim Douglas was elected.
     In 2004, Peter Clavelle, in the midst of his last term as the mayor, returned to the Democratic Party and challenged Douglas’s first re-election bid. Douglas won again, this time with 57.8 percent. Clavelle received only 37.9. The Progressive Party didn’t field a candidate for governor that year, on in 2006.
     Pollina ran for governor again in 2008. But at a July press conference the Progressive leader announced that he would appear on the ballot as an Independent. It was “by far the best way” to build a coalition, he now claimed. The decision raised questions about his reasons and the future of the party.
     Both Sanders and his predecessor Jeffords had been embraced as Independents, Pollina argued. But Sanders became an Independent in the late 1970s after several disappointing runs as a third party candidate. At the time he publicly announced that the timing wasn’t right for a new party. He had since served four terms as Burlington mayor and eight as a US Congressman, before running for the US Senate in 2006. In every race he ran as an Independent.
     Jeffords, on the other hand, was a life-long Republican, serving in the US House and Senate for decades. He left the GOP in 2001, citing deep differences with the Republican leadership and the Bush administration. It turned out to be his last term, and there was no way to know how Vermont voters would have responded had he attempted to run for re-election as an Independent.
     Pollina’s reasons were different. He had devoted years to building Vermont’s Progressive Party, and had declined to enter the Democratic primary earlier the same year, saying he had no intention of running as anything but a Progressive. “You know, I’m a Progressive,” he told columnist Peter Freyne. “I’m not going to leave the Progressive Party to become a candidate of another party.”
     Doing so "would undermine people's faith in me and also in the process," he said,  " I woudn't be too surprised if there were Democrat who would accuse me of being oportunistic in switching parties." Once he announced the intention to switch his status, Democrats did exacty that. "This is about opportunistic decision-making," Democratic Party Chair Ian Carlton told The Burlington Free Press.       
The underlying question raised by Pollina’s decision was whether it was more important to build a party or win a race. Thirty years earlier Sanders had faced the same choice, made it, and held office almost continuously since 1981 – as an Independent. Although the unofficial head of the state’s progressive movement, he never joined a party and didn’t feel accountable to any partisan line. At times he was criticized for not doing enough to build an alternative to the Republicans and Democrats. He ignored the critique.
     By running as an Independent Pollina claimed that he hoped to build on his Progressive base, possibly as high as 25 percent, attracting voters who had no allegiance to the other two major parties. If he succeeded, in theory the chances increased that neither Democratic challenger Gaye Symington nor Douglas would get 50 percent. If that happened, Vermont’s Legislature would pick from among the top three vote getters. It seemed like a long shot.
     Traditionally, Vermont lawmakers went with the person who received the most votes – but they weren’t required to do so. Democrats had a 60-vote edge in the state legislature, not counting the six Progressives and two Independents in the House of Representatives. If Symington, Speaker of the Democrat-dominated House, came in first or a close second, they might well choose her over Douglas. If Pollina beat them, even by a few votes, he could plausibly argue that picking anyone else would be undemocratic. At least theoretically, he could create that situation by getting no more than 34 percent.
     Abbott’s endorsement indicated that the Progressive Party’s leadership backed his play. As Pollina argued, they didn’t want to let a label get in the way of victory. On the other hand, the party's leadership had misjudged its base in the past. A prime example was Burlington after Clavelle, when leadership backed the Democrat but the grassroots recruited an upset winner, Bob Kiss. 
     Pollina’s 2008 campaign won the support of the three largest unions in the state. The Vermont-National Education Association backed an independent candidate for governor for the first time. He also received support from the Gun Owners of Vermont, a "libertarian" connection Sanders also made in campaigns. When the votes were counted, however, he came in with 21.8 percent, just a tenth of a percentage ahead of the Democrat. Douglas won again, this time with 53.4 percent.
      Two years ater Pollina ran for the state Senate --and won -- as a Progressive and Democrat. Since then Stae Auditor Doug Hoffer and Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman have taken the same path to victory. 


This article is adapted from Progressive Eclipse, available from Amazon, based on reporting for VTDigger. To download a sample:
 PROGRESSIVE ECLIPSE: BURLINGTON, BERNIE AND THE MOVEMENT THAT CHANGED VERMONT

Thursday, May 4, 2017

UNWITTING: Setting the stage for harassment

Chapter Four: Chung's Way
(The Secret War on William Pierce)

In June 1955, about a month after an unsettling talk about Communism and government surveillance with Lilian Hartwell, a new boarder at his home in Syracuse, Bill Pierce attended a Saturday evening cocktail party in town. Students and faculty members were there, including Math Department Chairman Kibbey and Kai Lai Chung, a professor and probability expert who introduced himself to Pierce as the son of a Taiwanese official.
       Kai Lai Chung was no typical member of the Syracuse faculty. Pierce had no way of knowing it, but he was from Hangzhou, a right-wing Kuomintang stronghold until the People's Liberation Army invaded the city and placed it under Communist control on May 3, 1949. 
       At that point the group, known as KMT, retreated to the island of Taiwan. There they used brutal tactics against suspected communists and developed a secret police force to conduct surveillance of political opponents. It continued as the ruling party on Taiwan until reforms instituted from the late 1970s through the 1990s gradually loosened its grip.
       Chung entered Tsinghua University in 1936, a well-connected 19-year-old who initially studied physics. In 1940, he graduated from the Department of Mathematics of National Southwestern Associated University, where he subsequently worked as a teaching assistant. During this period, he studied number theory with Lo-Keng Hua.
       Hua had produced some important work while at Cambridge University, establishing his fame in the international math community. Nevertheless, after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1938, he chose to return to China, where he was appointed full professor at Tsinghua even though he lacked a degree. With much of China under Japanese occupation Tsinghua, Peking, and Nankai University had merged into the Southwest Associated University in Kunming, capital of the southern province Yunnan. Despite his academic isolation during the war years, Hua produced some first-rate mathematics.
       After Japan bombed Changsha, the remaining staff, faculty and students at Tsinghua fled a thousand miles to China's remote and mountainous southwest and joined with others to create the National Southwest Associated University, known as Lianda. For the next eight years, they worked in makeshift quarters that were often subjected to bombing campaigns by the Imperial Japanese forces. Despite shortages of food, equipment, books, clothing and other essentials they nevertheless ran a modern university, making Lianda University famous nationwide for producing and hosting most of China's prominent academics, scholars, scientists and intellectuals.
      One of the most promising students was Chung, who was ultimately chosen in 1944 for the Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship Program, a highly competitive, US-funded project that brought Chinese talent to America. Chung arrived at Princeton in December 1945 and obtained his Ph.D. there two years later. His dissertation, “On the maximum partial sum of sequences of independent random variables,” was written under the supervision of John Wilder Tukey and Harald Cramér. 
      Cramér, a Swedish mathematician and actuary who specialized in statistics and probabilistic number theory, was Chung’s Ph.D. advisor. Math chair at Stockholm University at that time, Cramer was also the first Swedish professor of Actuarial Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics. In 1950, he became President of Stockholm University.
      More intriguing was Chung’s other advisor, John W. Tukey, who helped to design the first H-bomb. The program was headed by his friend John Wheeler. In 1945, John von Neumann had enlisted Tukey for a computer development project funded by the Defense Department. Mathematicians were essential to the development of nuclear weapons, especially to test the feasibility of a design through calculations.
      Within a decade Tukey’s promising protégé Chung had taught at some of the leading US schools, moving between University of Chicago, Columbia, UC-Berkeley and Cornell University. In short, Chung had traveled in elite academic circles for years, a loyal anti-Communist who had benefited from those connections. Arriving at Syracuse University, he made contact with another, very different mathematician -- Bill Pierce.
      Shortly after Pierce accepted a drink from Chung at that off-campus party in Syracuse, he began to experience extreme effects. “I felt that I was going to pass out,” he told me. “The next day I was too sick to move, with severe pain in my jaw and head.” The landlady was away, but the overly solicitous Mrs. Lilian Hartwell brought him breakfast and medicine. 
      “I managed to teach my classes, but for the rest of the term my mind was hazy, as though from an anesthetic,” Pierce said. “It would be nearly five years before I discovered what had happened, and almost ten before I could prove it.”
      What exactly was he alleging? And more important, could he prove it? Basically, Pierce claimed that Chung had drugged his drink, knocking him out and setting the stage for “auditory harassment” through a miniature transmitter implanted to replace a filling in one of his teeth.
      It sounded highly unlikely, more likely delusional – that is, until Pierce opened his briefcase and pulled out correspondence with the chief of the Physical Sciences Division of the Department of the Army, a page from Dental Abstracts, and a US Air Force report titled, “Application of Miniaturized Electronic Devices to the Study of Tooth Contact in Complete Dentures.” 
      The response from the Army official said yes, it was possible to hear voices or radio programs through tooth fillings “because of the various materials used in fillings together with accidental ingestion of other particles near the fillings, and the subsequent chance of rectification of signals generated by strong radio waves.” Of course, this wasn’t conclusive. But a notice in Dental Abstracts added another piece to the puzzle with this announcement: 
      “A radio receiver smaller than half a sugar cube has been developed by U.S. Army electronics engineers who say it easily can be further miniaturized. Besides being tiny, a significant feature of this short-wave superheterodyne is its variable tuning.” In other words, the Pierce's claim wasn’t unreasonable: the intelligence community could actually have a tiny, tunable short-wave receiver the size of a tooth. 
     Still, could it be implanted in someone’s mouth? The Air Force report indicated that this had already been done with dentures, mainly to study tooth contact. One photo showed a tiny transmitter with a diameter less than the average tooth. 
      The intelligence community even had a street name for this type of harassment device – shark-bite.

Next: Mastering Minds
Chapter One: Wrong Turn
Two: Naming Names
Three: Unwanted Voices

Friday, April 21, 2017

Making Peace with the Planet Won't Be Easy

It had arrived again, the day that newspapers, TV and magazines had been hyping. April 22, Earth Day, or, as it was known in 1990, "The Dawn of the Environmental Decade." But despite the sunny skies and big promises to "clean up the planet," I was uneasy.
   Should I have been more content? Maybe. After all, the news that we faced a crisis of global, potentially catastrophic proportions was finally reaching the masses. I had been urging people to take individual and collective action since the first Earth Day twenty years before. Yet most of the "save the planet" messages, and even an emerging eco-consciousness, felt unsettling rather than reassuring.
       On the previous Friday, for instance, CBS's Dan Rather had reported that we were making headway in reducing smog over many US cities. Really? In most urban areas residents faced smog levels up to 150 days a year. Rather's report and others seemed misleading. The idea that environmental protection laws passed after the original Earth Day had produced real gains provided a false sense of security.
Ecological Security Logo 
      Newspapers congratulated themselves for using recycled paper. But there was no sign of reducing the amount of mindless pap promoting a "consumer society" that perpetuates waste and pollution. And of course, major corporations touted their newfound commitment to environmental protection while conveniently omitting their toxic crimes.
      Time Warner sponsored The Earth Day Special and promised to do its part. But what about Time magazine? asked my son. He knew that its 30 million glossy copies were produced on non-recyclable paper every week. 
     Too cynical? It was Earth Day, after all. Time to forgive and recycle, right? But I just couldn't buy into the "we can do it" mood. Something simply wouldn't leave my mind. Reality. Things were getting worse, not better. The hype no longer convinced me that "we will do it," at least until we understood was was really wrong.
      Celebrating Earth Day was educational and fun. But I wasn't impressed, and either was the planet.
      Maybe the problem was too much information. For several months I had been part of a local environmental task force. We'd looked into what Burlington, Vermont could do to create more "ecological security." That phrase, used to name a conference I'd organized to bring together the peace and environmental movements, was an attempt to refocus locally at the end of the Cold War. Our insecurity, it suggested, stemmed from diverse threats to the natural world. The Task Force was expected to create a factual record and come up with bold yet feasible remedies.
      We managed to develop a respectable list of first steps, among them proposals for a local ban on the use or sale of all products producing CFCs, the creation of citywide bike lanes, buying development rights to the delicate Intervale area, establishing a collection and storage facility for hazardous wastes, and a community panel to oversee biotechnology operations at the university. Like lists of "simple things you can do" being distributed at the time, such changes were clearly necessary. Still, on reviewing their work, some Task Force members felt defeated.
      Had we succeeded only in developing another laundry list, while failing to identify the underlying problems? Wouldn't other actions by the government and private interests negate the improvements we suggested? No funds for recycling had been included in the new Public Works budget. And despite a stated commitment to explore alternative transportation, the city administration still proposed new roads and the expansion of others. Some even thought it advisable to build a road over the edge of a recently closed landfill. Without limits on development and changes in energy production, even not-so-simple things would have a negligible effect.
      Despite the best intentions, the Ecological Security Task Force had fallen into a trap described by Barry Commoner in his book, Making Peace with the Planet. Environmental degradation was built into the design of the modern means of production, he argued, and therefore traditional "control" approaches to environmental protection are bound to be inadequate. Trapping or even destroying pollutants merely postpones or shifts the problem. The only way to eliminate a pollutant is to stop producing it. Once produced, it's too late.
      What this suggests is the need for a radical set of changes in lifestyle and production practices. Not to minimize the "every person can make a difference" viewpoint, big institutions do have the biggest impacts. At the local level, government, the university, the hospital complex and the commercial sector would all have to take major steps to reduce waste, stop using or producing non-recyclable or toxic materials, and re-use as often as possible. Voluntary action alone wouldn't cut it.
      You'd have to be living in an oil drum not to see the problem. Air pollution, the Greenhouse Effect, ozone depletion, hazardous waste, acid rain, vanishing wildlife, garbage islands, and more. Plus the dangerous drift of society. Natural products replaced by synthetic petrochemical creations; natural agricultural fertilizers by chemical alternatives; trains, trolleys and buses by private, inefficient and polluting cars; reusable goods by throwaways. Shops, vehicles, factories and farms had become seedbeds of pollution.
      And this was before we understood the phrase "climate change" or began to experience "extreme weather." 
      Although its charge stopped at the city line, the Ecological Security Task Force recognized that the problems did not. They could only be addressed through regional and broader cooperation. Looking only at the bottom line, corporations had produced much of the mess. But the public was being asked to handle the clean up. In general, environmental laws passed since the first Earth Day had not dealt effectively with what industry produced.
      When General Electric proudly proclaimed that it would review the environmental impacts of its products and spend $200 million on protection, it was important to keep in mind its rarely mentioned 47 contaminated toxic waste sites, past radiation experiments, toxic releases and status as one of the world's major nuclear contractors.
      The challenges are enormous. But what can make a difference is an active, even angry citizenry. And this was another reason for my Earth Day blues. Despite all the study and talk, I could not see the groundswell of popular outrage that was needed for a successful movement. Sure, recycling was catching on and the state was "environmentally conscious." But being conscious isn't enough. There must be real demands, ones that force all levels of government to use their purchasing and regulatory powers to eliminate polluting technologies and products, and also rapidly develop alternatives. In particular, the planet and its inhabitants cannot afford the squandering of resources, both material and human, that more than $1 trillion a year in world military spending represents.
       We also need alliances that force businesses and governments to prevent pollution at the source. And it won't get easier as we go along. Steps like halting the production of toxic chemicals or the use of nuclear energy won't be embraced with nearly the enthusiasm of a general "save the planet" campaign. Every time people press for an ecological goal, the response is bound to be a competing economic need. After postponing action for so long, the clean up won't be cheap.
      So yes, I am skeptical. It's easy to tell ourselves that "minor" sacrifices will be enough, or that corporations will factor in the environmental impacts as they assess the balance sheets. But these artificial entities are designed to make money, not to protect anything. Under the current capitalist system, they are machines that use the air, water and land without calculating the long-term costs. Meanwhile, most people in the developed world have not truly acknowledged that their lifestyle is built on environmental waste and degredation. As Paul Erhlich put it, there aren't too many people, just too many rich people. 
      Will we wake up in time? Are we finally getting serious? These days I wouldn't bet on it. But I look forward to being wrong.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Blind Ambitions: Iran, the Shah and His Friends

To George Meany the Shah of Iran was "a murderer and robbed his country blind." The AFL-CIO leader made that assessment in November, 1979 while simultaneously condemning the "blackmail" strategy of armed, mostly young Iranians who had seized the US Embassy in Tehran. 
      Yet despite his distaste for both sides, Meany still thought US should defend the dying monarch. Murderer or not, said the labor leader, "for some reason he was our friend."
      But whose friend was Mohammed Riza Pahlevi? And why were they friends for so long? Only after he departed the "Peacock throne" did the truth start to emerge, especially about his long and deep ties with David Rockefeller, Henry Kissinger and Allen Dulles, a trail of greed and repression that went back decades and continues to produce unsettling, often brutal consequences.
      The Shah was a crucial, often demanding partner in building Iran into a petrochemical powerhouse and US regional gendarme for the Persian Gulf. The arrangement had allowed the Pahlevi family to amass an estimated $25 billion, much of it managed by Rockefeller's Chase Manhattan Bank. Toward the end, as the exiled dictator wasted away from lymph system cancer, Kissinger and Rockefeller remained trusted financial advisers. They were also instrumental in securing his controversial admission to the US in late October, 1979. But by then their shared vision had been crushed by a Muslim revolution.
      The alliance dated back to the 1950s, even before Chase became Iran's premier bank. It began when the National Front, led by Mohammed Mossadegh, proposed in 1952 that the British-controlled oil company be nationalized. Rockefeller and the C.I.A. had other ideas -- to help the military put the Shah back in power and win a share of Iranian oil for the major US oil companies. 
      As the public learned only years later, the coup was financed, with the approval of C.I.A. Director Allen Dulles, for a modest $100,000. Dulles claimed that Mossadegh was attempting to create a Communist state, a convenient and effective pretext to install a ruler who was willing to represent US interests in the region. Through long-term contracts, oil interests did extremely well after that, while Chase handled much of the money and loaned the regime at least $4 billion. Some private deals were also cut, one involving large personal payments to the Shah, Rockefeller and Dulles, funneled through the National Iranian Oil Company and Swiss banks.
      Long before the Iranian takeover of the US embassy, the post-Shah government knew all this and began transferring funds out of the Chase London branch. But anger turned to rage when word leaked out that the Shah's old friends, Kissinger and Rockefeller, were urging US Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to grant him asylum. Resisting at first, Vance eventually gave in, setting off a diplomatic disaster even worse than the one that followed the Shah's flight from his country.
The Trilateral Commission briefs President Ford 
    Predictions that the monarch would fall had circulated long in advance. But they were rejected by another friend with Rockefeller connections, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, the man in charge of Iranian policy throughout the Carter administration. Before that assignment he had been the founding director of the Trilateral Commission, a transnational corporate league assembled by Rockefeller in 1973. Once in the White House he supported the build up of Iranian military forces, following the policy established by Kissinger. And he assumed, in spite of pessimistic C.I.A. reports, that the Shah would (and should) survive in power.
       As demonstrations escalated Iranian capital, largely hoarded by the many millionaires created by the oil boom, fled the country. Yet even after George Ball, a former Under-Secretary of State and Trilateral member, filed a report concluding that the Shah was finished, White House policy did not budge. Ball's findings, received by Carter a full year before the revolution, were never officially released. 
      Instead, Vance tried to establish contact with Muslim leaders close to Khomeini. But that approach was also blocked by Brzezinski. Keeping the Shah in power seemed to trump other considerations -- from the possibility of a working relationship with the new regime to the danger of a hostile Iranian population armed with sophisticated weapons and technology. They also had an economic weapon, oil.
      No matter who accused the Shah of crimes against humanity, however, some old friends remained faithful. One reason was control of his wealth after he was gone. But there was another. In some cases his friends were also accomplices in his crimes.
      In the 1950s, for example, after restoring the Shah to power, the C.I.A. funded and guided Iran's secret police, SAVAK. Trained by both US and Israeli Intelligence agencies, it became infamous as one of the most brutal tools of "legalized" terror, a worldwide network of 60,000 agents who specialized in harassment and torture of the regime's opponents.
      With covert US funding, the Shah also helped provoke a rebellion in Iraq. Beginning in 1972, over $16 billion was channeled to Kurds who were conducting an armed struggle against the central government. Kissinger embraced the plan, and made sure it was implemented over the objections of the State Department by bypassing the Forty Committee, which normally approved such covert operations. 
      It was a cynical move. Neither Kissinger, Nixon nor the Shah actually wanted the Kurds to win. The main point of the war was to sap Iraq's resources, setting the stage for eventual treaty concessions.
      A US House Select Committee report on the C.I.A. acknowledged at the time that the Kurdish operation was initiated as a favor. By this time, the Shah was able to get such concessions in exchange for his partnership. But it was secret enough that the arrangements were confirmed in person with John Connally, who was about to join Nixon's re-election campaign. 
      Aid to the Kurds continued for several years. Meanwhile OPEC quadrupled the price of oil, vastly expanding Iran's oil revenues. During the same period, the regime purchased more than $12 billion in arms from the US. But the Kurdish rebellion ultimately outlived its usefulness. Once a treaty between Iran and Iraq was signed in 1975, covert aid to the Kurds was abruptly withdrawn.
      The day after that treaty was signed, an all-out search and destroy mission was launched, scattering the rebel forces. All pleas, even from C.I.A. personnel stationed in the region, fell on deaf ears. Kissinger and Nixon meanwhile refused aid for the refugee population that US funding had helped to create. Asked to explain the betrayal, Kissinger responded, "We're not missionaries."
      And after all, giving the Shah what he wanted had produced lucrative oil concessions, billions for arms manufacturers, and a false sense of security for those worried about alleged Communist incursions. On the other hand, he also drove his country into debt and maintained his power with repressive tactics that bred a deep hostility among millions of Iranians. 
      The fall of the Shah was probably inevitable. But by ignoring warning signs and refusing to adapt his "friends" turned that loss into a global disaster.

This article first appeared in the Vermont Vanguard Press in November, 1979. Here is the original version.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

From Fabian Socialism to Class Struggles: Looking Both Ways on the Road to Revolution

BY GREG GUMA
  
In Edward Bellamy's 1888 best seller a time traveler went a 
century forward, "Looking Backward" from a future when the 
work week has been drastically reduced, products and services 
are delivered instantly and everyone retires at forty-five with 
health benefits. Transported to the same year in Dons of Time, 
Tonio Wolfe interrupts a debate with William Morris at a London 
soiree and discusses modern problems with Ignatius Donnelly.

"That's William Morris," said Annie Besant. "Wallpaper, carpets, curtains and all that. These days he's a revolutionary." Five years ago, she explained, Morris had joined the Democratic Federation, then the only active socialist organization in the country. But the businessman knew nothing about Marx or Henry George. He was an aesthete and an instinctive rebel. As a result he split the Federation a year after joining it, and formed the Socialist League.
      Last year he split again when the anarchist faction asserted itself.
      "As much as I would like to join the chorus I'm afraid I cannot," Morris announced. "We have moved past the point where propaganda will turn the tide. We are on the road to revolution - or oblivion. The corruption of society is complete, is it not? Well, all right, then the time has come for a new order, not another manifesto."
      "And what is this order -- is it imposed by force, does it include nationalization and control of individual initiative?" It was a comment from someone in the crowd, just beyond Tonio's view. That voice, so familiar. He strained to see.
      Ignatius Donnelly looked exactly as Tonio remembered him from the View Room, piercing blue eyes, stocky frame, commanding presence. "I enjoyed and appreciated Progress and Poverty," he said, an acknowledgement of Henry George's grand opus. "His argument is logical, and in terms of Ireland it may be correct. There is no way to justify such vast quantities of land in the hands of so few."
      "Your point, sir." Morris didn't appreciate being interrupted mid-rant.
      "But personally, I remain too much a Jeffersonian to embrace nationalization and so-called panaceas like the single tax. Such ideas strike at basic rights and the very fundamentals of society."
      "What rights?" A challenge from the crowd.
      "The right of any man -- or woman -- to enjoy the fruits of his labor," Donnelly said defiantly. "Without that we relapse into barbarism."
      "I think we've heard enough of the American position," Morris cut in. "So, what can the Society do about the individualist strain? I suspect any educational project on the other side of the pond will run a bit longer than the masses can afford."
      "America will follow its own road," Donnelly insisted.
      "And who will lead it, sir? You?"
      "Maybe he will," blurted Tonio before he could stop himself. Dozens of faces turned his way. Realizing what he'd done, he quickly added, "as governor in the great state of Minnesota. You are the Farmer Labor Party candidate, are you not?"
      "I have that honor," acknowledged Donnelly, a bit shocked that anyone in the audience recognized him. The room erupted into spontaneous applause. Donnelly basked in the moment.
      "You know him?" Annie was impressed. "I do as well actually, we met briefly last spring. Interesting man -- strange ideas."
      Tonio thought: There goes another time commandment. This is not inconspicuous.
      As the debate continued, they retreated outside for a private moment. Donnelly needed to know something about the random American who had come to his defense. Annie re-introduced herself and apologized for Morris, insisting that there was enough room in the Fabian Society for differing views on the issues he raised.
      Tonio kept his introduction vague, then inquired about Donnelly's latest book, The Great Cryptogram.
      "That's why I'm here instead of campaigning at home," the politician explained. "It's my second trip this year. But this one will be brief, a few paying engagements and I'm gone. Where are you staying, we should meet."
The Great Cryptogram: The book
 Donnelly was in London to promote.
 
       In February, he'd attended a Labor Alliance convention but failed to notice a growing rift between farmers and the Knights of Labor. After he left for England the Alliance endorsed a St. Paul banker named Albert Scheffer as its candidate for governor. This upset the unions, which hadn't been consulted. Scheffer was playing the angles, seeking the Republican nod while talking about temperance and tariffs. The establishment sensed a split they could exploit, while Donnelly's labor friends launched a plan to draft him. A letter from one ally, reaching him in London, said he was "the only man in the state in whom the people have confidence."
      "It was an awful dilemma," Donnelly lamented. "Meanwhile, savage insects ravaged the wheat. For the first time in twenty-five years we didn't have a bushel to show this season. And the Bank of Minnesota was making unpleasant noises about some debts. Still, the party leaders promised to raise a substantial war chest. In a sense I suppose my critics are right. I really can't say no to a nomination, one more chance to put my case before the people."
      "Then what are you doing here?"
      Donnelly flashed a devilish grin. "Money goes farther and the food is cheap. But seriously, it's all the Republican's fault. They may be many things but they are not stupid. In the end they didn't nominate Scheffer. Instead they went with Bill Merriman. Do you know who that is? Why should you? He's the man I supported for Speaker of the House just last year, a solid supporter of many of our issues, including the usury bill. Yes, he is also a banker, but I have to say he is essentially an honest fellow who seems to want fair, economical government."
      He had decided to withdraw from the race after several friends in the GOP arranged an invitation by the Republican National Committee to speak on behalf of Ben Harrison in New York. But at a meeting the pols suggested, without much subtlety, that should Harrison become President, well, Donnelly's contribution would not be ignored. He despised such vote buying and influence peddling. On the other hand, he thought James Blaine's decision to break the GOP convention deadlock and back Harrison had given him a solid edge.
      "It's also really what Kate wants," Donnelly admitted with some embarrassment, "for me to be paid for all the campaigning and perhaps to secure a federal appointment at some point."
      "What did you decide?"
      "I declined," he said glumly. "I had to. I'm in pretty hot water at home over that. And meanwhile, the Alliance hasn't been able to raise the promised funds for the governor's campaign. So, as to why I'm here, the honest answer would be, I'm in hiding. Hopefully, by the time I start home word will begin circulating that my withdrawal is imminent. Eventually, I will have to bite the bullet and make the endorsement."
      "Won't your labor friends feel betrayed?"
      "I'm not looking forward to that discussion."

Terror in the Air

Donnelly was a pleasant host but a bit mercurial. He would begin most days like a fighter in training for a match, but then get distracted or preoccupied for hours by some minor statistic or news item. He'd then regroup and pen some letters, corresponding rapid-fire with family and friends in Minnesota and Illinois. On the other hand, he would fret over a single line in a note from Kate Donnelly saying the bank might seize a parcel of land. Then someone would call and he'd be off in fine form with a list of talking points in hand. He was a whirlwind, no vortex required.
      That evening Tonio was in the sitting room on Duke Street when he returned with news of a new assault on rationality. Near Ratcliffe Highway he'd watched a crowd pursue a hapless seaman, trailing and surrounding him with curses and accusations. He was "Leather Apron," they shouted, and "the Ripper." He wasn't of course. If the police hadn't arrived in time, Donnelly thought they might have killed the fellow.
      "Who was he in the end?"
      "No one, just someone with red paint stains on his pants. But they held him, for his own protection. It's mayhem out there."
      "Talk about deja vu," Tonio mumbled.
      "How so? I've never seen a thing like it. People are frantic, suspicious of everything. There's a smell of terror in the air."
      Tonio wasn't sure how to respond. The mood actually reminded him of the period after 9/11, as well as several cities he had visited in recent years, desperate neighborhood in tough times, and too many lives wasted. How could he begin to explain that? "I was thinking about my novel," he answered instead.
      "Really." Donnelly sounded skeptical but curious. "The one about the detective who tracks a killer into a cave? What happens next? They didn't let you get very far the other night. Do tell, where does he end up?"
      What could he say? In Edward Bellamy's book the time traveler went a century forward, "looking backward" from a future when the work week has been drastically reduced, products and services are delivered instantly and everyone retires at forty-five with health benefits. "The nation is the sole employer and capitalist," Bellamy wrote about the year 1988. All industrial production has been nationalized and goods are equally distributed. There is no need for dissent, and crime, though not completely eliminated, is handled as a medical issue, well on its way to the dustbin of history.
      Quite a fantasy, he thought, very much the conservative Tea Party's nightmare.
      "Actually, in my book the detective comes to this time to catch the killer and eventually takes him back," Tonio pitched. Technically, he wasn't breaking rules. He wasn't revealing anything about the Jump Room or claiming to be a detective. The way he saw it, there was no reason to think any fantasy he concocted would have any impact. And if it did, well, he was stuck here and would just have to do what felt right.
     "Wonderful," cheered Donnelly. "What kind of future is it? Peace and harmony?"
      "I wouldn't want to give away too much. That would spoil the ending. But let's begin with technology," he offered, and commenced an elaborate description of modern marvels like air travel, air-conditioning, mass communications and other features of the high-tech world he missed, a place where everything seemed possible and almost anything was for sale.
      "And yet there is enormous inequality. A very few, just one percent, have almost half the wealth, while most people don't have basic security. Many are hungry and brimming with rage. Guns are everywhere. It's a heavily armed, alienated and unhappy society, I'm sorry to say, a mockery of its past, glittering on the outside but sick inside, prone to arbitrary and senseless violence, and littered with unnecessary victims. Sometimes, for no apparent reason, someone simply goes berserk, and executes dozens in public, then kills himself, or commits what we call suicide by cop."
      He stopped before getting into nuclear weapons and genocide, fearing they would sound too extreme or too debilitating if believed.
      "Terrible. But possible." Donnelly sat down to enjoy the performance. "Tell me about women. Are so many still forced to sell themselves on the streets?"
      "On the streets? Maybe not so much. There are private clubs for that type of thing. But pimps are bigger than ever. I mean, the word has become a verb. Still, in many places women are afraid to go out alone at night."
       "Why's that?"
      "Fear of rape, robbery or murder." Donnelly remarked that it sounded like London these days. Tonio had to agree. "Some women have learned to defend themselves," he continued. "In fact, some are as strong or powerful as any man. But they make the same mistakes."
     "Fascinating. Has humanity at least solved problems like crime, illness and poverty?"
      What a question. The straight answer was no. But instead he talked about the kafkaesque criminal justice system and byzantine corrections industry, balancing that with improvements in life expectancy and medical care.
      "Have we at least agreed that people have a right to end their own lives?"
      "Not yet," Tonio said, taken aback by his interest. "But professionals do tell us how to live."
      "You paint a grim picture, almost anti-Bellamy. And who are the rulers of this dystopia? Has royalty made a comeback?"
      "Not officially, but we do have dynasties and hand out titles. First at this, best of that. And people are celebrated just for being well-known." He'd moved from narration to role playing along the way.
      "A corrupt paradise, you might say a commons pillaged by violence and greed."
      "Elementary, my dear Donnelly."
      "Then it's a matter of choosing sides," the old politician concluded. "Ask yourself: What really threatens humanity, the few who break some arbitrary rules or challenge the government, or those who control the economy and the government, and enact laws causing millions to suffer and die? It's obviously a rhetorical question. But I do wonder, in this troubled future of yours, is progress and reform still possible?"
      Tonio had no clever plot twist to cover that. 

Greg Guma is the Vermont-based author of Dons of Time, Uneasy Empire, Spirits of Desire, Big Lies, and The People’s Republic: Vermont and the Sanders Revolution.  Based on real events, these recreations were excerpted from Dons of Time, Part Three: Gilded Nights, Chapters 31 (Society), 32 (Choices) and 33 (Another Normal). From Fomite Press, also availabe from Amazon.

Want more time travel? Try Annie Besant: London's 1st Wonder Woman or Finding Annie Besant 


Friday, March 10, 2017

Living with Conspiracies: From the Illuminati to Kennedy

Uncovering a secret plot can quickly become a dead-end trip, guided by the researcher's paranoid half-fantasies and the eerie vibration that everything is under hidden control. Yet you don't have to be paranoid to realize that history isn't only what scholars write, and that newspapers often edit -- and sometimes even alter -- the facts that they report. 
     Secret societies do exist, conspiracies both above and below ground; so do groups with manipulative and often deadly game plans. But not all of them are bent on control: some are aimed at altruistic goals, and others are just plain stupid. No one group as yet has humanity under its thumb. On the other hand, conspiracies are quite real and not to be underestimated. 

I. THE BILDERBERGERS

A top secret group with the name Bilderberg is hard enough to swallow. But if you add that it used to meet annually, with no press coverage, and make major international policy decisions, the usual reaction is an arched eyebrow. "Poor guy," friends will likely say. "He's finally gone off the deep end. Bilderbergers? Pretty weird."
     The name actually came from the hotel in Oosterbeek, Holland used for the first session in 1954. After that, meetings were held around the globe, including a 1971 gathering in Woodstock, Vermont. "The purpose of the conference," said Prince Bernhard, the Dutch aristocrat who promoted the group and chaired meetings for more than 30 years, "is that eminent persons in every field get the opportunity to speak freely without being hindered by the knowledge that their words and ideas will be analyzed, commented upon and eventually criticized in the press." At the time, Bernhard, who had married Holland's Princess Juliana, was a spokesman for NATO as well as Dutch interests in South America.
     Nevertheless, U.S. Senator James Buckley wrote in 1974 that, "I don't subscribe to the theory that there exists an organization of international bankers called the Bilderbergers." A strange reaction since his brother, William F. Buckley, was on the guest list that year.
     Or consider this oddity. In response to an inquiry in 1975 a U.S. Justice Department official said the White House knew nothing about the Bilderbergers. Yet President Ford attended meetings of the group throughout the 1960s, and Donald Rumsfeld, then the president's assistant, knew the group as "an open forum for the exchange of ideas."
     After the Woodstock, Vermont session, one hotel employee put it succinctly: "They get together once a year to talk about what is going to happen in the world."
     Officially, the meeting in Woodstock, convening April 23, 1971, was billed as "an international peace conference." U.S. State Department officials had conferred about security arrangements with Vermont State Police. The state supplied 30 men in plain clothes to support a private, armed security force, the FBI and Secret Service, even though Vermont officials said they knew nothing about the event. One-hundred-fifty guards and officers blanketed the sleepy town of 1,600, sealing off Laurence Rockefeller's hotel and estate. Everything was set for the arrival of 85 leaders from around the world. Limousines brought them from Lebanon, New Hampshire, where an air shuttle from Boston had been arranged.
     Although Bernhard issued a terse press statement when his plane touched ground at Boston's Logan Airport, one participant, Francois Duchene of the London Institute of Strategic Studies, who attended with then British Defense Minister Denis Healey, later explained that, "America must face a Western Europe and Japan that are more independent." That fit, since one scheduled topic was, "A change in the U.S. role in the world."
     To Major Glenn Davis of the Vermont State Police it was "a hairy scene. No one seemed to know just who was in charge of what." But in the conference room, once all employees had been cleared from the building, order reigned. Seating was arranged alphabetically with Bernhard at the head of the table. Remarks were normally limited to five minutes, with two "working papers" as discussion foci.
     Henry Kissinger, then Nixon's National Security Advisor, missed the first session, but became the main event when he delivered a briefing on U.S. plans. Months later, he was charged by conservatives with "leaking" plans for Nixon's China trip and a devaluation of the dollar. After the 1971 Bilderberg conference banks and major corporations shifted capital out of the U.S., mainly to West Germany. Nixon's China initiative eventually became public information. And in December, the dollar was devalued, resulting in gains for people who had already converted to European currency. A "change in the U.S. role" was under way, and the Bilderbergers may have helped make it happen.
     Private groups like the Bilderbergers, which have helped to build our current system of de facto global management, don't actually discuss peace. Rather, their concern is managing the world economy. Originally, Bilderberg meetings served to strengthen the Atlantic alliance, and gradually became an "open conspiracy" to develop consensus among political and business leaders beyond the power of nation-states. In the early 1950s, Prince Bernhard brought the idea to the CIA, and with its assistance nabbed support from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations. The money flowed through the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, whose director, Joseph Johnson, coordinated U.S. Bilderberg activities.
     Over the years the group became a model for transnational diplomacy, lending support to European integration and oil company policies. Its steering committee was virtually a who's who of international finance; David Rockefeller, Gabriel Hauge (Manufacturer's Hanover Trust), Emilio Collado (Standard Oil, later Exxon) international lawyers such as Arthur Dean and George Ball. All U.S. steering committee members were also members of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which dominated US foreign policy planning after World War II.
     Take George Ball, for example. A long-time CFR member, director of the Trilateral Commission, Undersecretary of State, and lawyer with Lehman Brothers. Or Arthur Dean. CFR member, partner in Sullivan and Cromwell law firm, whose partners included John Foster and Allen Dulles. Before World War II Sullivan and Cromwell worked with German chemical and steel monopolies. By the time the Bilderbergers began to meet, attorney Allen Dulles had become CIA director. Small world.

II. WAR AND PEACE WITH THE CIA

Evidence of conspiracy can begin with questions like this: What group has financial ties to the megabuck empires of Rockefeller, Rothschild and Morgan, philosophical roots in Fabian Socialism, and was instrumental in creating the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund? If you haven't guessed, it also publishes a monthly journal called Foreign Affairs. Its resident members and "international citizens" form an aristocracy of financiers, academics, lawyers, journalists and public officials that has planned US foreign policy since the 1940s.
     Columnist Joseph Kraft, a member at the time, once called this semi- secret elite a "school for statesmen." If you haven't figured it out yet, the answer is the Council on Foreign Relations, or CFR. And its objective for half a century has been nothing less than to "create a new international order." To most leftists that reads like US imperialism; to right-wingers it translates roughly as world government. You know, the invisible government. The establishment. The people who brought us the Vietnam War and offspring like the Trilateral Commission, all in the name of "peace."
     The CFR began rolling at the Majestic Hotel in Paris, May 19, 1919, just as the World War I peace talks were winding down. The meeting to create an international planning group was called by "Colonel" Edward Mandell House, Texas oil man, power broker and presidential advisor, whom Wilson called his "alter ego." The Colonel's Paris conference was geared to generate support from finance czars (the gold-dollars alliance of Rothschild and Rockefeller) and liberal internationalists. And so it did.
     By 1950 the CFR controlled most American cabinet posts, and its members were a new nobility: Nelson Rockefeller, Averill Harriman, Dean Rusk, Walter Lippman, and Allen Dulles, to name but a few.

The Hitler Connection 

When Allen Dulles died in 1969, President Nixon said, "In the nature of his task, his achievements were known to only a few." Dulles' task from the 1940s on was intelligence gathering, disinformation and covert operations. Dulles viewed it as a craft, and managed to elevate espionage to "professional" status. As much the architect as the prosecutor of the Cold War in the 1950s, he handled the CFR's "dirty tricks."
     Back in 1919 Dulles had attended the Paris talks with Colonel House, then joined the U.S. State Department. By the late 1920s he had become a partner in the Wall Street law firm of Sullivan and Cromwell, which worked with Adolph Hitler's financial agent to acquire the largest German monopolies, steel and chemicals, as clients. Dulles joined the board of the Henry Schroeder Trust banking group in the 1930s, while Schroeder bankrolled the Nazis.
     But allegiances changed when the war began. Dulles left the firm and began spying at a high level in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), a new U.S. intelligence and subversion network. In 1944 the spymaster got to work on two covert missions: liquidating the Fuhrer and working out peace terms with other Nazis without letting Russia find out.

A Network of Agents

Espionage is the business of secrecy, manipulation and deception. It breeds conspiracies, including hidden networks of mercenaries that transcend national interests. In the summer of 1944 such a network blanketed Europe as the Allies broke into German territory.
     One spy on the job was George deMohrenschildt, a career agent who knew German intelligence well from work with the Abwehr 2 (Nazi spies within the U.S.) before the war. In the 1940s he shot film in Poland, built ties with French and German agents, and scouted for oil interests.
     Allen Dulles was running OSS operations in Switzerland, while another agent, Joseph Retinger, promoted Polish liberation from Germany. Like deMohrenschildt, Retinger also had oil contacts; his were Mexican, dating back to the 1920s. He had worked in London with the exiled Polish government. In August 1944, at age 58, he parachuted into Nazi territory near Warsaw just before liberation, bringing cash to Polish nationalists.
     Meanwhile, Allen Dulles, who had urged U.S. entry into the war on grounds of "enlightened selfishness," was handling other parts of the plan. With German Abwehr and diplomats he tried to assassinate Hitler, and although the plots fizzled, Hitler soon died -- presumably a suicide. A year later, following Retinger's lead, Dulles sparked the Cold War by scheming to cut Russia out of the surrender negotiations.
     What's the point of recounting all this cloak-and-dagger stuff? Simply that the old networks never die, and this one led to President Kennedy's death and beyond.
     The daring Joseph Retinger went on to become the philosophical father of a united Europe, as well as the man who urged Prince Bernhard to launch the Bilderberg conferences. Allen Dulles, of course, went well beyond the OSS, which amassed a $75 million budget and developed a worldwide network by the time Truman disbanded it.
     Dulles attended Bilderberg sessions, drafted the master plan for the CIA, and ran the agency for nine years, beating back legislative drives to crack the web of secrecy. His friends said he had a "zest for conspiracy." Be that as it may, he believed that, "We cannot safely limit our response to the Communist strategy of take-over solely to those cases where we are invited in by a government still in power."
     He felt so strongly about taking the initiative that the CIA overthrew a leftist regime in Guatemala in 1954. But five years later the CIA saw new trouble: Fidel Castro.
     And that's where deMohrenschildt fits in. After the war, he resettled in Dallas, renewing his ties with other anti-Communist Russians. He worked on contract with both the CIA and oil companies, his cover occupation "petroleum geologist." His walking tour from Dallas to Panama in 1961 landed him in Guatemala City, where he made contact with anti-Castro Cubans and mercenaries revving up for an invasion called the Bay of Pigs.
     Two years later, working with money from right-wing Dallas oil baron H.L. Hunt, a core of CIA agents unhappy with Kennedy's crackdown on "the company," and some bitter Bay of Pigs survivors, deMohrenschildt had found a new mission: helping to arrange the assassination of a president. Coordinating things for him locally was an FBI informer -- Jack Ruby.

III. CONSPIRACIES ILLUMINATED

When John Kennedy visited Dallas in November, 1963 the American dream was shattered and Camelot died. Ever since then we've been looking for the how and why of his assassination. Was it Oswald alone, or a conspiracy? Was Cuba involved, and what role did Jack Ruby and others play?
     Ex-agent Robert Morrow told his version to the House Assassination Committee in 1976. The assassination team, he claimed, combined CIA agents and anti-Castro Cubans with whom he had worked on schemes to run guns and pump bogus money into Cuba. On November 22, 1963, according to Morrow, it went this way:
     Three teams were in place by 12:30, linked via walkie-talkie to Guy Bannister, a former Chicago FBI chief who subsequently handled anti-Castro operations in New Orleans. Two men were stationed behind a stockade fence near the grassy knoll, with another two inside the county court building overlooking Dealey Plaza -- one of them Jack Ruby.
     Ruby had also worked in Chicago in the 1950s, a mafia "soldier" accused at the time of murdering the treasurer of the Waste Handlers Union. In Dallas Ruby built ties with police while running a bar, and ran guns to Cuban exiles under orders from CIA agent Clay Shaw. Ruby also worked with George deMohrenschildt, the veteran spy with ties to H.L. Hunt.
     Lee Oswald, the apparent fall guy, was in the Texas Book Depository that day, according to Morrow, but probably on the second floor -- while a "second Oswald" fired from the sixth-floor window.
     Ruby's police contacts came in handy after the job. In The Assassination Tapes, researcher George O'Toole reveals that Ruby knew Sgt. Gerry Hill, who not only found the rifle shells but had arrived early at the shooting of Officer Tippit and helped to arrest Oswald. He may have arranged evidence to implicate Oswald before the investigation began.
     The coverup was almost instinctive. Hoover and the FBI were embarrassed at having used Oswald as an informer. The CIA was directly implicated, since several conspirators had worked on covert Cuban projects -- even after the Bay of Pigs. False trails threw investigators off the scent, the most insidious of these promoted by a newsman, Lonnie Hudkins, shortly after Kennedy's death. Hudkins said that the President was killed in retaliation by Cuban agents, including Oswald, when they learned about US plots to assassinate Castro. But Hudkins was a friend of Jack Ruby's, working with him in gun smuggling days. He was also a former employee of both the CIA and H.L. Hunt.
     Morrow claims that it wasn't Cubans, but rather a group within the CIA that wanted to stop Kennedy's drive to subordinate "the company" to the Defense Intelligence Agency. They and Cuban exiles also had a specific grudge -- namely, that Kennedy had held back on naval support during the Bay of Pigs invasion. Oil interests and organized crime also had something to gain: a "liberated" Cuba open to investments and an independent CIA.
     Since the 1960s many conspiracy "theories" have been advanced. One that received especially favorable press coverage was the work of Edward Jay Epstein, He nabbed $500,000 from Reader's Digest for his tale of Oswald the Marxist, who gave U-2 spy plane secrets to Russia and then worked through the FBI, yet killed Kennedy on his own. It was Lonnie Hudkins' story all over again. (Epstein was back at it in 2016 with a similar take on Edward Snowden, straining credulity to make the case that Snowden isn't merely a traitor but also a spy.)
     In the 1960s, when New Orleans D.A. Jim Garrison was starting to break open the Kennedy conspiracy, Epstein attacked Garrison in print. That drew praise from CIA honcho Richard Helms, a friend of Clay Shaw's, who circulated the writing as a model debunking of the conspiracy theory. While Epstein prepared his book, Legend, in the late 1970s, several important sources died suddenly, either shortly before or after meeting him. In March 1977, deMohrenschildt talked with Epstein, and within minutes was found dead of gunshot wounds. The old spy had just agreed to testify on his part in Kennedy's death.
     Kerry Thornley, who was in the Marines with Oswald and later founded the "Discordian" religion, developed another theory. He believed the culprits were the Bavarian Illuminati, a 200-year-old secret society. Oddly enough, Jim Garrison thought for a while that Thornley was the "second Oswald." In time, Thornley came to think that Garrison, and even his own friends, were Illuminati agents.
     "All conspiracy buffs are persecuted eventually," wrote Robert Anton Wilson, author of the epic conspiracy trilogy, Illuminatus. Wilson actually knew Thornley and watched his obsession consume him. But Wilson managed to transcend paranoia, transforming the strange, divergent theories surrounding Kennedy's death -- and other conspiracies -- into satire.
     In Illuminatus the death of Kennedy is part of a fact-and-speculation history which begins in Atlantis and extends into politics, mythology, and the realm of the occult. The central mystery is the true identity of the Illuminati: Are they defunct, as the Encyclopedia Brittanica claimed, a secret society founded in 1776 and suppressed by the Bavarian government within 10 years? Was the eye-in-the-Pyramid an Illuminati symbol given to Thomas Jefferson by a stranger in a black cloak?
     Is the Council on Foreign Relations the latest manifestation of the original Illuminati? Are they controlled by bankers or anarchists, Jesuits or Satanists? Were they revived by the nazis, or are they, instead, extraterrestrial visitors who want to help humanity evolve?
     Wilson argued that the world has room for many competing conspiracies, the sacred and profane. And he had the good sense to consider and question all of them.
     Pursuit of hidden knowledge leads naturally to one conspiracy or another. Personally, my theory is that global chaos, being generated by some "conspirators" in their quest for political and economic power, is a prologue to man's next evolutionary step. This doesn't lessen the pain or oppressive power of elites. But it can help to point the way. If humans are ever  to reach higher intelligence, the power of conspiracy must be broken at its roots -- the ethic of secrecy and deception. This calls for something difficult: eyes-open trust and positive energy to combat the negativity inherent in the lust for power.
     "Positive energy is as real as gravity," argued Wilson. If so, the antidote to negativity -- and conspiracy -- is to "come back with all the positive energy you have." He called that the final secret of the Illuminati.

This essay was originally published in February 1998 in Upstart Magazine and Toward Freedom.