Category Archives: Shadow Government
-H. L. Mencken
There is something in the air in America, something very big is happening. With the already lame duck Barack Obama administration having done more to delegitimize the myth that the government is there to serve the people and that the Bush years were but an aberration. Now after the Wall Street bailouts and the continuing exporting of American jobs to juice corporate profits, the undermining of serious health care reform and the escalation of both wars and the police state an extremely ominous undercurrent is rippling through the land and while still in the early stages it has the establishment terrified and circling the wagons.
The weekly column by Frank Rich of the damned librul [sic] New York Times is one of the first things that I read every Sunday morning and today’s offering is a mish-mash of conflation, myths and propaganda designed of course to protect the establishment. The piece, mockingly entitled The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged starts off with the foreboding two paragraphs which I excerpt:
No one knows what history will make of the present — least of all journalists, who can at best write history’s sloppy first draft. But if I were to place an incautious bet on which political event will prove the most significant of February 2010, I wouldn’t choose the kabuki health care summit that generated all the ink and 24/7 cable chatter in Washington. I’d put my money instead on the murder-suicide of Andrew Joseph Stack III, the tax protester who flew a plane into an office building housing Internal Revenue Service employees in Austin, Tex., on Feb. 18. It was a flare with the dark afterlife of an omen.
What made that kamikaze mission eventful was less the deranged act itself than the curious reaction of politicians on the right who gave it a pass — or, worse, flirted with condoning it. Stack was a lone madman, and it would be both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier or a “Tea Party terrorist.” But he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner. That rant inspired like-minded Americans to create instant Facebook shrines to his martyrdom. Soon enough, some cowed politicians, including the newly minted Tea Party hero Scott Brown, were publicly empathizing with Stack’s credo — rather than risk crossing the most unforgiving brigade in their base.
First off, I don’t really think that you can fairly lump all of the teabaggers into one group quite so easily, for example Glenn Beck, Ron Paul and Sarah Palin. Ron Paul is a consistently principled man who has done more to stand against the imperialist gangster state in the last several years than anyone elso other than maybe Dennis Kucinich who is much easier marginalized than Paul. Glenn Beck is a half batshit crazy multimillionaire former shock jock turned FOX propagandist and the faction of the Tea Party that he represents are largely igoramuses, racists and useful idiots who lack the principles of Ron Paul. Mega-star Sarah Palin is largely a creation of the Weekly Standard/Commentary crowd and has already come out to herd the teabaggers to the GOP and has the allure to reinvigorate the ‘Christian’ fascists of the Religous Right whose militant shocktroops served the Bush administration and the Republican party so well until the disastrous overreach of the Terry Schaivo debacle followed by the exposure of Ted Haggard’s secret life and the death of Jerry Falwell.
Hell, I guess you can count me in with the anti-government types now that the government no longer exists as an entity to maintain infrastructure, act in the common good and maintain a level playing field but instead has been hijacked and weaponized against the people as we can see in the police state that is being built. Any government that has become that poisoned really has to go in my opinion, the path that was taken after JFK’s execution has led us here and we can thank the internet for allowing those of use who are awake to rage against the machine. But the internet is soon going bye-bye, at least in its current incarnation and it will as usual be under the guise of protecting the sheeple from those big bad terrorists that are in actuality running our own government and have been doing so for a good long time now. I know of many liberals and progressives who are slowly starting to lose their idea of a big benevolent government and coming to the belated realization that in 2010 the government IS the enemy.
Per Rich’s column I also see the John Birch Society being dragged out again. The JBS has quite often been mentioned these days as a painted up fake devil. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, when not doing his moronic falsetto imitations of his opposite numbers on FOX and horseface Rachel Maddow have both been going after the JBS for months. I would not be understating it in saying the Birchers have been getting more free publicity from the comedians and corporate hacks on what passes for the liberal media than they have in decades, I would not be surprised if their membership numbers are up as well. Now as I have mentioned before, I have worked at times with the JBS in fighting intrusions on civil liberties which seem to scantly bother either the teabaggers who were nowhere to be found during the worst years of the Bushreich or the bleeding heart types whose great crusade in these times of tyranny, endless war and economic devastation seems to be forcing gay marriage initatives down the throats of a populace that just isn’t quite evolved enough to swallow it therefore only feeding the freaks on the extreme right more bloody red meat. But really, the JBS, while there are many things where I disagree with them are actually far more liberal than the Obama administration on civil liberties issues so perhaps therein lies the need to demonize them. God knows that we can’t have what was stripped away in the aftermath of the American Reichstag Fire by Bush and Cheney restored.
As for quoting off of anything from the Southern Poverty Law Center I would take that very warily. It is only natural for skeptics to question the agenda of the institution (just as that of the ADL) as any sort of a really legitimate source of information. They too are masters at conflation and depend on the presence of demons to exist, the more demons the better. The piece by Frank Rich in a prominent paper that builds on a previous New York Times Tea Party story by David Barstow entitled Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right that conjures up the specter of Timothy McVeigh shows that they are going to be conducting a witch hunt across the internet and chances are a good deal of the people who come to this site and many, many others are going to be the prey.
As I recall, the Tea Party actually began with the 9/11 Truth movement and then also the Ron Paul people, it was only after Obama’s election that the establishment hacks like Rick Santelli, Wall Street pimp and the insipid multi-millionaire Beck hijacked it with Republican backing. Now I would also suspect a certain level of hard-line Zionist infiltration like the laughably transparent Birthers (leader Orly Taitz is yet another Israeli right-wing shill) to discredit Obama for not nuking Tehran, you could see that when Sarah Palin appeared in Nashville for the high-roller version of the National Tea Party Convention wearing that Israeli flag pin and later said that Obama could be reelected were he to attack Iran. I know the way the Israelis operate and there is no way that they are not stirring the pot with at least the Beckers and Palinazis with lot of assistance from the American neocon propagandists but those useful idiots aren’t the ones that scare the bejesus out of the greedy swine who run this place.
Rich and the rest of the elite establishment seem to be extremely scared of the actions of Joe Stack who flew his plane into an IRS office. Now I am neither a right winger nor a teabagger but I did read the Stack ‘manifesto’ and it had a contempt for the entire rotten system as a whole and could not be easily stuffed into any pre configured cartoon character. I even wrote a piece called In Defense of Joe Stack where I condemned the use of violence but agreed with the anti establishment message. There is undeniably a growing sense of anger in America and with the left being pretty much a non-factor in directing the rage towards serious and constructive change it creates a vacuum which unfortunately has filled up with some of the worst type of miscreant that this country has to offer….along with a lot of others who just have nowhere else to go and are being used as human shields.
The fear of a Joe Stack whose grievances transcend the traditional left vs right paradigm by not only calling out the IRS but the the rancid piece of crap that is the national health care system, the crony capitalist government and closes with a line out of the Communist Manifesto sends shivers up the spines the real rulers of this country. The one thing about what Rich refers to as an inchoate movement is that it could very easily evolve into something that is a serious threat to the looters and blood barters and their tax the hell out of the rest of us to build their police state, fund their illegal wars and enrich their criminal buddies on Wall Street.
The thing about the guy killed in the IRS office, Vernon Hunter is also something that has been making the rounds a good deal lately, kind of reminds me the sort of raw cynicism when during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions was trolling the wreckage looking for a corpse that could bolster the case for the estate tax to protect multimillionaire chiselers. I had more than a few of the corpse humpers and ambulance chasers attack my piece on Stack over what was in essence collateral damage.
Maybe it makes me a bad person because I could give a rat’s ass about the guy who got killed in the building, just like the people who got blown up in 9/11 (I pretty much share Ward Churchill’s sentiment about the Little Eichmanns) whose deaths at the hand of the shadow government justified a new century of raw tyranny because in a way we are all guilty of participation in this monstrous system. Hell, I could get killed in my damned car on the way to or from work every day, I always had this problem with the big contradiction of the average American life being worth more than the brown and non-Christian women and children who have our tax dollar funded bombs dropped on them. Americans have a peculiar reverence for life, the trainer that got killed by the whale at Sea World is practically causing a national outpouring of mourning but how many people were eradicated by U.S. drone strikes, bombs gone off target or people who are dying right here in the good ole US of A due to poverty, starvation and lack of health care?
So basically the IRS is a representative form of a larger tyranny and Joe Stack happened to strike a blow against it , we can argue all day about ideology but when it all comes down to it there are only two life forms in America post 9/11, vampires and cattle. I do find it more than a bit cynical that the ‘left’ is canonizing poor Vernon as some kind of national victim in order to try to affix the ‘terrorist’ label that is used so often as a bludgeon against them by the fascist elements of the right. Failed crusades have a way of wearing people down especially when the pigs who run the system only care about who is yoking the slaves and delivering them to the man.
Rich seems to be keeping alive a certain storyline that is going to be used in order to justify Cass Sunstein style infiltrations, more police state measures (maybe even naked boy scanners in shopping malls) and a demonizing of many law abiding American citizens who are inadvertently being sucked into groups of potentially violent individuals including racist white supremacists that the GOP and the neocons have used as shock troops in the Tea Party Movement.
I believe that if it were cleaned up with a lot of the scum sent packing, Glenn Beck turned off and more of an anti-establishment, anti-war, anti-Wall Street and pro-restoration of civil liberties along the lines of a Ron Paul only with an acceptance of angry progressives and liberals who don’t drink the FOX fascist Kool Aid that the Tea Party Movement could become a formidable threat to the whole corrupt system.
Which is of course why it must be seen by a populace growing madder by the minute as nothing more than through a lens of demonizing the more ostentatious and vile elements.
Just my two cents
Under constant seige by the Dick Armey of Darkness and ambitious Jeb Bush protege Marco Rubio’s savage pandering to rabid right wingers, Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s office is according to a press release by Rachel Begley of Desertfae currently blocking the extradition of Octopus Murders suspect Jimmy Hughes.
Mr. Hughes is a key player in the nexus of black ops, arms dealing and shadow government activities that took place on the Cabazon Indian Reservation. I would recommend brushing up on the details by visiting KESQ TV’s website for Nathan Baca’s Emmy Award winning investigative series on The Octopus Murders. If Hughes is allowed to sing a lot of the darkest secrets of America’s clandestine government could come to light with devastating consequences. This is a massive story that encompasses the theft and modification of Inslaw Inc’s highly advanced PROMIS software, Iran-Contra, numerous murders including that of Cabazon Indian Tribal Council Vice Chairman Fred Alvarez (along with two friends) who was going to blow the whistle on the whole sordid affair as well as investigative reporter Danny Casolaro who was working on the story when he was ‘suicided’ back in 1991. There is also foreign espionage, illegal spying, blackmail, arms deals, drug trafficking and corruption that reaches into the highest levels of government.
I would refer to my four part series Main Core, PROMIS and the Shadow Government as well as visiting Rachel’s website Desertfae for background on this massive, decades running criminal enterprise. Charlie Crist is a master politician, back-slapping, flip-flopping con artist and empty suit whose fight for his very political career is taking place. Rubio and the teabaggers are sharpening their knives and perhaps it’s time for Florida’s Governor to call in some favors by obstructing justice in order to preserve his Senate campaign hopes. I have published Rachel Begley’s press release below:
Florida Governor Charlie Crist’s Office Stalls On Extradition of Jimmy Hughes Arrested on Murder Charges: “Octopus Murders”
November 6, 2009
Self-described Mafia hit-man James “Jimmy” Hughes, 52, was arrested on September 26 as he boarded a plane at Miami-Dade International Airport heading for Honduras. The fugitive warrant lists three counts of murder and conspiracy to commit a crime for the 1981 execution-style murder of Cabazon Tribal Council Vice-Chairman Fred Alvarez, his friend Ralph Boger, and Patricia Castro in Rancho Mirage, California.
Detective John Powers at the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in California, Central Homicide Unit – Cold Case Division, was assigned to investigate the 28-year-old triple homicide case about 2 years ago when Rachel Begley, the daughter of victim Ralph Boger, convinced the sheriff’s department to re-open the case.
Both Powers and Begley were aware of what they were stepping into when they launched their investigations. Today, their respective findings include information relating to Jimmy Hughes’ political and military connections in Honduras, as well as his political ties to the republican politicians in the US.
Rachel Begley & Det. John Powers Working: 03/02/09
Hughes has been held at Miami-Dade Metro West Detention Center since his arrest on 09/26/09. The extradition process involves a Governors Warrant being sent from the State of California to the office of Charlie Crist, Governor of Florida. During the time that the paperwork is being completed, Hughes is required to have a hearing approximately every 30 days. The State of Florida can hold Hughes up to 90 days while the paperwork is being completed, after which time, they reportedly must release him.
Today, for the second time, the hearing scheduled for Jimmy Hughes has been delayed. The hearing today was to take place before Judge Bertila Soto at 9:00am Eastern Time. Monica Torline, reporter for The Desert Sun confirmed today through both the County Clerks Office and the Miami Dade County State Attorney’s Office that the hearing has been moved a second time, this time being held on November 20, 2009.
Upon learning the news of the second delay, Rachel Begley decided to take action to find the reason for the delay. During the course of the day, she was able to confirm that Governor Charlie Crist’s Office has had the completed paperwork in their possession for over two weeks. She made multiple calls, left multiple voice mails, sent emails, and faxes to attempt to speed up the extradition of Jimmy Hughes.
After being transferred she was able to speak with multiple individuals in the legal department at the Governor’s Office. Rachel was informed by Kerry Owens that only one person is in charge of the extradition, Susan Smith, Florida State Extradition Coordinator. In attempting to speak with Susan Smith, Rachel was informed by a Heidi, within the legal department, that Susan Smith was not in court today due to her being at a conference. Rachel asked to speak with Susan Smith’s supervisor and was told by Heidi that her immediate supervisor is Charlie Crist and that nobody is allowed to speak with him nor leave him a voice mail.
Monica Torline of The Desert Sun wrote today, “Once we issue the warrant we are not involved in the extradition process as it moves through the court system,” Florida press secretary Sterling Ivey told The Desert Sun by e-mail Friday. Officials in the extradition unit of the Miami Dade County State Attorney’s Office said in most cases, the governor’s warrant is filed with the court during an extradition hearing.”
This extradition hearing has yet to take place. One must wonder how long the delays and stalling will take place? Will Jimmy Hughes be released due to the State of Florida’s stalling techniques or a technicality?
NOTE: For in-depth background details on the history of the triple homicide and Cabazon investigations see: “Octopus Cold Case File” dated June 23, 2009 http://desertfae.com/pressrelease.htm
Rachel Begley can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Was Hitler in Uniform on Cover of Mein Kampf?
The warning signs are ominous, ammunition shortages are at a record as angry white dumbasses arm themselves to the teeth for the coming race war against ACORN and Obama’s secret army and did you see…..why the nigger bastard was sitting within FEET of Moammar Qadaffi at the UN, you know, the UN, the ones who are going to carry out the implementation of the NWO, the one world government and the eugenics programs that will kill Christian white babies and rip God away from history. With the armed freaks ready to rile, their heads filled with FOX agitprop and dittohead dementia and marshalled by the beloved Glenn Beck (a man whose latest ghost written hunk of asswipe actually has him on the cover in a fucking fascist uniform), the man that a weird movement against Obama has coalesced. There is massive anger and unrest in Murka today and it’s not getting any better, each and every lie by the pundits and their whores in DC to prop up their bailed out stock market casino only exacerbates the fury as the Liliputiuns realize that trickle down economics only means that they are once again being pissed on by Gulliver.
Far more interesting than Beck himself is the increasingly futile effort to classify the protest movement to which he has connected himself. Here, too, confusion reigns. In part, this is due to the fact that these “tea party” and “9/12” protests are composed of factions with wildly divergent views about most everything. From paleoconservatives to Ron-Paul-libertarians to LaRouchians to Confederacy-loving, race-driven Southerners to Christianist social conservatives to single-issue fanatics (abortion, guns, gays) to standard Limbaugh-following, Bush-loving Republicans, these protests are an incoherent mishmash without any cohesive view other than: “Barack Obama is bad.” There are unquestionably some highly noxious elements in these groups, but they are far from homogeneous. Many of these people despised the Bush-led GOP and many of them loved it.
Add to all of that the fact that this anti-Obama sentiment is being exploited by run-of-the-mill GOP operatives who have no objective other than to undermine Democrats and return the Republicans to power — manifestly not the goal of many of the protesters — and it’s impossible to define what this movement is or what is driving it. In many ways, its leadership (both organizationally and in the media) is fundamentally at odds with the participants. How can people who cheered on the Bush/Cheney administration and who want to re-install GOP leaders in power (i.e., Fox News, Limbaugh, the right-wing blogosphere, GOP House members) possibly make common cause in any coherent way with those who are in favor of limited federal government power, reduced debt, privacy, and Constitutional protections — all the things on which the GOP relentlessly waged war for years? In one important sense, the “tea party” movement is similar to the Obama campaign for “change”: it stays sufficiently vague and unspecific to enable everyone to read into what they want, so that people with fundamentally irreconcilable views believe they’re part of the same movement.
But all that said, there are some identifiable — and plainly valid — underlying causes to these protests that are neither Republican nor Democratic, or even left or right. That’s when conventional political language ceases to be useful.
Is opposition to the Wall Street bailout (supported by both parties’ establishments) left or right? How about the view that Washington is inherently corrupt and beholden to the richest corporate interests and banks which, through lobbyist influence and vast financial contributions, own and control our political system? Is hostility towards Beltway elites liberal or conservative? Is opposition to the Surveillance State and endless expansions of federal police powers a view of liberals (who vehemently opposed such measures during the Bush era but now sometimes support or at least tolerate them) or conservatives (some of whom — the Ron Paul faction — objected just as vigorously, and naturally oppose such things regardless of who is in power as transgressions of the proper limits of government)? Liberals during the Bush era continuously complained about the doubling of the national debt, a central concern of many of these “tea party” protesters. Is the belief that Washington politicians are destroying the economic security of the middle class, while the rich grow richer, a liberal or conservative view? Opposition to endless wars and bankruptcy-inducing imperial policy generally finds as much expression among certain quarters on the Right as it does on the Left.
Here is a very interesting piece that I ran across courtesy of conspiracy researcher Jim Fetzer on the Cheney death squads. Anyone who truly understands the nature of the deep state and especially Cheney and Rummy’s involvement with the Shadow Government through their avid participation in Continuity Of Government (COG) programs knows that this is no earth shaking revelation. Of course there are death squads operational in America, the number of conveniently suicided or otherwise dead in fortuitous accidents is far too long to list here. So without further adieu here is Fetzer’s piece:
By Jim Fetzer (via Op Ed News)
Madison, WI (OpEdNews) April 12, 2009 –The stunning revelation from our nation’s premiere investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh, that Vice President Dick Cheney was running an “executive assassination ring” directly under his control and outside of the normal chain of command has raised the specter that the Vice President of the United States may have been murdering Americans. As a scholar who has invested a considerable effort in the investigation of the death of US Senator Paul Wellstone, this comes as no surprise. I and other experts with whom I have collaborated long since concluded that the crash that took his life and those of his wife, daughter, three aides and two pilots was brought about deliberately, where Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Karl Rove are the principal suspects. Other cases in which assassination appears all too probable include those of NFL star Pat Tillman and of 9/11 activist Beverly Eckert.
According to Paul Joseph Watson, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) did not originate with Cheney but was founded in 1980, which suggests that it may have been initiated by our then-Vice President George H. W. Bush, a former Director of the CIA. It consists primarily of Delta Force soldiers and SEALs, who are stationed at Pope Air Force Base and at Fort Bragg, NC. According to Watson, this assassination unit is still active under President Obama. The very existence of an operation of this kind raises questions of the utmost seriousness about democracy in America. What has become of this country when the expression of your political convictions and the pursuit of what you think best for this nation runs the risk of bringing about your termination? When our elected officials, like Hitler and Stalin, have the power to decide whether we live or die depending on their whims, this country has ceased to be the home of the brave or the land of the free.
Outing an “Executive Assassination Ring”
The story broke on Minn Post.com (March 11, 2009), when Eric Black wrote of a “Great Conversations” even at the University of Minnesota, where, during the question and answer session, Hersh reported not only that the CIA has been “deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state” but that a special unit of our military called the JSOC was set up independently of the normal chain of command, reporting only to the Vice President and to neither the Joint Chiefs or even the Secretary of Defense:
Congress has no oversight of it,” Hersh explained. “It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on.… Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the Ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on in the name of all of us.”
If the only targets were foreign terrorists who were threatening to attack the United States, of course, many Americans might be sympathetic and even forgiving. But, after publishing ten news columns, co-authoring a book, and following up with an expert in extending the scope of my research about the death of Senator Paul Wellstone, it would not surprise me whatsoever that Dick Cheney deployed one of these JSOC teams to bring about his death.
The crucial consideration in evaluating alternative hypotheses in cases like these—such as accident or assassination—is calculating the probability of the evidence on the assumption that each of them is true and comparing their values. These are known as “likelihood” measures of evidential support, where the hypothesis that confers the highest probability on the evidence qualifies as the preferable hypothesis. When the available evidence “settles down” (that is, points in the same direction), then the preferable hypothesis is also acceptable as true, in the tentative and fallible fashion of science.
The Death of Sen. Paul Wellstone
The plane crash that took the life of Senator Paul Wellstone occurred on October 25, 2002, just ten days before the election that pitted him against former St. Paul Mayor, Norm Coleman. It was widely known in Washington that the Bush leadership had targeted Wellstone for elimination, although most would have assumed that was politically speaking rather than literally. One of the first to raise alarms was Michael Niman, a professor at Buffalo State College, who enumerated reasons why they wanted to get rid of him. In an early article, “Was Paul Wellstone Murdered?” (October 28, 2002), he explained that Wellstone was the only progressive in the US Senate and an outspoken critic of the Bush administration. No one knew of Cheney’s assassination unit, but the circumstances of his death raised suspicions on their own. Control of Congress hung in the balance, since Jim Jeffords (R-VT) had left the Republican Party and become an independent. There were 50 Democrats and 49 Republicans.
On the day of the crash, several signs suggested to me that something was not right. The crash had occurred at about 10:22 AM/CT, but the site was not discovered until 11 AM/CT by Gary Ulman, the Eveleth-Virginia Airport assistant manager, who then landed and picked up the local fire chief so they could fly over the crash site—which was in a wooded, swampy area—and figure out the best way to bring equipment to the scene. Remarkably, when Rick Wahlberg, the Sheriff of St. Louis Country arrived there at 1:30 PM/CT, he encountered members of the FBI’s Rapid Response Team from St. Paul, whom he knew personally, who told him that they had been there since noon. Christopher Bollyn, a reporter for American Free Press, noted in an article published on October 29, 2002, this was remarkable insofar as Gary Ulman had not notified them. Indeed, when I calculated the minimal time it would have taken to fly from St. Paul to Duluth, rent a car and drive to the crash scene, they had to have taken off at about 9:30 AM/CT, which was the same time the Senator’s plane had departed. It was very strange.
Moreover, after the plane crashed, even though the wings (which carry the fuel supply) had been sheared off by the surrounding trees and the tail had broken off (a common occurrence in plane crashes), the fuselage burned so intensely for seven hours the firemen were unable to extinguish it and the bodies would not be recovered until the following day. Nonetheless, an FBI spokesman, Paul McCabe, would announce that night that there were “no signs of terrorist involvement”. That struck me as rather odd, because terrorists are simply assailants with specific political motivation, who do not have special access to techniques for sabotaging aircraft. Since the cause of the crash was not yet known, how could the FBI have possibly known? It would be more than a year before the NTSB would announce its findings. According to its official report, the plane crashed because the pilots had lost track of their airspeed and allowed the plane to crash.
The plane, a King Air A-100, was akin to the Rolls-Royce of small aircraft and had an excellent maintenance record. While there had been many exaggerated reports about the weather—Wolf Blitzer, for example, attributed the crash to freezing rain and heavy snow—those of us in the vicinity knew that was not true. Indeed, a local TV-news anchorman, Denny Anderson, who was himself a pilot, spent much of the day correcting those false impressions. It turned out that other planes had landed there earlier in the day and that Ulman had had no hesitation in taking off to search for the plane when he noticed it was overdue. A pilot in the local vicinity, who had been out taking pictures across water in close proximity of the airport, sent them to me. It was clear by studying them that there was no rain, much less freezing rain. Indeed, the NTSB would eventually conduct simulations of the flight with pilots from Charter Aviation and, even though they had them fly abnormally slowly, they were unable to cause the plane to crash.
The NTSB Report
The NTSB pinned responsibility for the crash on the pilots. The principal pilot, Richard Conry, however, had some 5,200 hours of experience, an Air Transport Pilots certification–which is the highest civilian qualification short of astronaut—and had passed his FAA “flight check” just two days before the fatal flight. His co-pilot, Michael Guess, was not as highly qualified, but he was a competent pilot for a plane that did not require two. Indeed, one of the ironies of the FBI’s announcement is that Guess turned out to have known Zacharias Moussaoui, an accused 9/11 conspirator, whom he had met at the Pam Am International Flight Academic in Eagan, MN, where he had allegedly “inadvertently” allowed Moussaoui access to a computer program about flying a Boeing 747. So not only could the FBI not have known there was “no terrorist involvement” the evening of the crash but the co-pilot would turn out to have actually had contact with an alleged terrorist.
Several features of the crash caught my attention early on. Although there were two pilots, there had been no distress call. A loss of air speed brings with it a loss of altitude, and the plane had crashed two miles south of the airport, apparently flying on the wrong azimuth. I began to ask myself the probability that two pilots would neglect their air speed, their altitude, and their azimuth. If we assume that these are independent events that might happen, say, one time in a hundred—an absurdly high frequency—then for one pilot to neglect all three would be equal to 1/100 x 1/100 x 1/100 = 1/1,000,000 or one time in a million. And there had been two of them, where the probability that they would both neglect those factors was equal to 1/1,000,000 x 1/1,000,000, a very small number. And the plane was equipped with a loud warning alarm to alert them of any risk of stalling.
The more I investigated the case, the more peculiar it seemed. An odd cell-phone anomaly was reported to me, where the driver, passing just south of the airport en route to the funeral the senator had planned to attend, heard a loud wailing and war-belling sound, unlike anything he had heard before. I contracted an Australian colleague, John P. Costella, who has a Ph.D. in electromagnetism, and asked him if this could have been an effect of the use of a high-tech weapon, which could take out all the planes electronics, including its navigation system, communication system, and stall warning alarm. It would turn out that the props were on idle when it crashed, which the NTSB was unable to explain. A directed-energy weapon could not only have taken out the plane’s electronics, including its communications and navigation systems, but flipped the solenoids that control the pitch of the props and set them to “idle”. The more that I studied the case, the more it appeared that the plane was not under their control. They had apparently been unable to stop it.
By this time, I had published ten columns on the case in an alternative newspaper in Duluth, which had led a Native American scholar from Northern Arizona University to contact me and offer to be co-author if I were disposed to turn my research into a book. We had both learned of an incident shortly before the crash where veterans at a meeting in Wilmer, MN, had learned from Wellstone that he had been threatened by Cheney, who told him that, if he opposed the administration on Iraq, there would be “severe ramifications” for him personally and for the state of Minnesota, which I confirmed with veterans who were there. He (Wellstone) had gone ahead and made a speech opposing the invasion of Iraq, which he thought might end his political career. Instead, he surged ahead of Coleman and was running 6-8 points and gaining at the time of the crash. Rove’s hand-picked candidate was going to lose to Wellstone.
We announced the publication of AMERICAN ASSASSINATION (2004) at the National Press Club exactly two years after the crash. My co-author, Don “Four Arrows” Jacobs, and I observed that the official account of the crash had a vanishing probability and that the NTSB had only considered accident-compatible alternatives, but that if you considered the possible use of a small bomb, a gas canister or a high-tech, directed-energy device, then the latter would confer a high probability upon the evidence, including the lack of any distress call, the odd cell-phone anomaly, and reports I had confirmed that garage doors in the vicinity had opened spontaneously that morning. I flew John to Minnesota and we visited the crash scene together in 35 degree-below-zero weather, picking up pieces of debris, studying the damage to the trees, and making other observations. He and I would also review some 2,500 pages of official documents and studies on which the NSTB report was purportedly based, where its report ran only sixty pages.
John Costella made the remarkable discovery of an odd meteorological phenomenon in the atmosphere above the crash site, where clouds that were normally loaded with ice were filled with water instead. This would be otherwise inexplicable, since the heat from the intense fire would fall off as a function of distance from its location. But it would be a predictable effect of the use of a directed-energy weapon. We authored a report, “The NTSB Failed Wellstone”, summarizing our findings, which Michael Ruppert would publish in his “From the Wilderness” newsletter. Indeed, his own research would lead him to the same conclusion, as he explained in his CROSSING THE RUBICON (2004). Ruppert had even been contacted by someone in the business of assassinations (“wet work”), who told him that some reinvigorated old white guys were in charge, that they were nobody to screw around with, and that he could anticipate there would be other “strategic accidents” in the future.
My own inference is that this was a small-scale conspiracy, which might have involved as few as ten persons. The King Air A-100 is manufactured by Beechcraft, which is owned by Raytheon. A military-industrial colossus, this company also owns numerous patents for directed-energy weapons. I believe it could have been as simple a matter as a phone call from one of the directors of Charter Aviation to Dick Cheney, telling him that Wellstone would be aboard. After consultation with Rumsfeld and Rove, a phone call to Raytheon would provide the information necessary about the best way to take the plane down. A small team from the JSOC could be entrusted with the assignment, where the crucial problem would be to lure the plane into the kill zone, apparently by manipulating the on-board GPS system, which is completely under military control. I even discovered corroboration that this is how it was done, as I have explained in a one-hour video lecture about 25-30 minutes into the program.
The Death of Cpl. Pat Tillman
There are typical signs that something is wrong in the case of deaths that have political ramifications. These include obfuscation about the cause of the event, especially by creating a false “first impression”, which tends to stick in the minds of most Americans. In the Wellstone case, it was that the cause had been the weather. In the case of Pat Tillman, it was that he had been killed in a fire-fight in Afghanistan. Although I shall not discuss it with the same degree of detail, the Tillman death appears to bear the signs that this, too, was an assassination. An article on Tillman in Wikipedia, exclusively based upon public sources, provides ample indications of the blatancy with which political killings can take place and then be covered up, especially by assassins who were themselves members of the military. (To insure its availability, I have archived it here under “Assassination”.)
An NFL star who enlisted in the Army in May 2002, he apparently became disenchanted with the conduct of the war. He not only did not support President Bush for reelection, but encouraged others to vote for John Kerry. According to his mother, a friend of his had arranged for him to meet with Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus from MIT and one of our nation’s most respected public intellectuals, who, no doubt, could have launched him into prominent orbit as an outspoken opponent of the war. In my opinion, the prospect of having a macho, NFL-complement to Cindy Sheehan—one who might inspire the nation to reconsider our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan—would have been a powerful incentive for removing him from the public arena in the minds of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Karl Rove. The use of these special operations military serving as an ‘assassination ring’ in this situation may very well have been irresistible.
According to Wikipedia’s entry about him, Tillman was redeployed to Afghanistan and, on April 22, 2004, he was killed. The Army initially claimed that he and his unit were hit by an ambush on a road outside a village not far from the Pakistan border. The Army Special Operations Command initially claimed that there was an exchange with hostile forces, but an investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense concluded that his death was due to friendly fire “aggravated by the intensity of the firefight”. Another, more thorough investigation, concluded that hostile forces had not been involved in the firefight and that two allied groups fired on each other in confusion after a nearby explosive device was detonated. But it also makes these points:
* No evidence of enemy fire at the scene has ever been produced;
* The lieutenant general who withheld details of Tillman’s death from his parents for months told investigators “he had a bad memory, and could not recall details of his actions” on more than 70 occasions;
* According to The Washington Post, on May 4, 2005, the Army’s own investigators were aware that Tillman had been killed by being shot three times in the head;
* Army doctors told the investigators that these wounds suggested murder and urged them to launch a criminal investigation, which would not be pursued; and
* Army attorneys congratulated each other in emails for impeding criminal investigation as they concluded that Tillman’s death was the result of friendly fire, and that only administrative, or non-criminal, punishment was indicated.
Evidence and Likelihoods
When we consider the alternatives of accident or assassination in this case, we have to compare their likelihoods In relation to the available evidence. If Tillman had been killed accidentally, even by “friendly fire”, then what is the probability that no evidence of friendly fire would be produced, that the Lt. General would suffer 70 “memory lapses”, that the corporal would have been shot three times in the head, that honors would be bestowed upon him, that the doctors would have suspected he was murdered, and that Army attorneys would impede criminal investigations? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to conclude that something is very wrong here. The probability of these effects appears to be very high if he was deliberately taken out and very low if his death was accidental, friendly fire or not.
And there is more. On July 26, 2007, for example, the AP received official documents stating that the doctors who performed the autopsy suspected that Tillman was murdered. High ranking officers knew better at least four days before his nationally televised memorial service during which he “was lauded as a war hero for dying while engaging the enemy”. Members of Tillman’s unit burned his body armor and uniform. Tillman’s diary was never returned to his family, and its whereabouts are not publicly known. As a former Marine Corps commissioned officer, I affirm that this treatment of the personal property of a deceased is not proper procedure. The missing diary is especially striking, since diaries are legally admissible as evidence in courts of law and would have attested to his state of mind.
Some prominent news personalities have figured out that something seems to be wrong. On July 26, 2007, for example, Chris Matthews reported that Tillman’s death might have been a case of fragging (of the deliberate killing of a soldier by his comrades at arms) because the bullet holes were tight and neat, suggesting that he was shot at close range. Matthews based his speculation on a report from the doctors who investigated Tillman’s body. The following day the AP reported that a doctor who examined Tillman’s body after his death wrote, “The medical evidence did not match up with the, with the scenario as described,” also noting that the wound entrances appeared as though he had been shot with an M16 rifle from less than 10 yards (9 m) away.” Even his mother, in her disturbing book, BOOTS ON THE GROUND BY DUSK (2008), has been shaken by the way the military has handled the death of her son.
The Official Finding
On March 26, 2007, the Pentagon released their report on the events surrounding Tillman’s death and cover-up. The report reads in part:
we emphasize that all investigators established the basic facts of CPL Tillman’s death — that it was caused by friendly fire, that the occupants of one vehicle in CPL Tillman’s platoon were responsible, and that circumstances on the ground caused those occupants to misidentify friendly forces as hostile. None of the investigations suggested that CPL Tillman’s death was anything other than accidental. Our review, as well as the investigation recently completed by Army CID, obtained no evidence contrary to those key findings.
The denial of contrary evidence appears to be contrived. If the doctors even suspected murder, if there were three shots to the head, and if they were tightly grouped and appeared to have been fired from close range by an M-16 from less than 10 yards away, the “friendly fire” scenario looks more and more like deliberate misinformation. Tillman is not the kind of man his fellow soldiers would frag. On the contrary, he is just the kind of guy—and football star, no less—his fellow soldiers would have respected and admired. He’s the kind of guy they would have written home about! Indeed, the article confirms that Tillman “was popular among his fellow soldiers and had no enemies”. They harbored no reason to murder him.
He may have been killed by a member of the armed forces, which could have been obscured by the use of the phrase, “friendly fire”, but it would not have been by his comrades in arms. Interestingly, there are reports of snipers in a second group of troops that encountered Pat’s squad shortly before an explosive device went off and the shooting started. This looks like an idea situation in which a designated assassin, who was a member of this second group, could have used the chaotic conditions created by the detonation of a distracting explosive device to take out a man who could have become an outspoken opponent of the war, especially if the members of this ring are military. In my opinion, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rove would not have let his opposition to the war become public knowledge. His death does not appear to have been an accident.
The Death of a 9/11 Activist
The plane crash that took the life of 9/11 activist Beverly Eckert troubled me because of its striking similarities to the crash that took the life of Paul Wellstone. The plane, a Bombardier Q400, was an excellent commuter carrier with a 74-passenger capacity. Like the King Air A-100, it had no history of mechanical problems. Philip Trenary, the head of the Pinnacle Airlines that operated the plane, stated, “It’s an aircraft that’s had flawless service.” Reports of the weather appear to have been greatly exaggerated, where the plane, like the King Air A-100, was equipped with sophisticated de-icing equipment. Moreover—and this is especially notable—there was no distress call from the plane. According to an early report, Flight 3407 came straight down out of the sky, killing 50 persons, including Eckert.
There have been several stories about the crash in The New York Times, for example, including “Crew Reported ‘Significant Ice Buildup’ Before Crash” (February 14, 2009), “In Plane Crash, Loss of Momentum Still a Mystery” (February 15, 2009), and “Recreating a Plane Crash” (February 19 2009), where Matthew L. Wald offers speculation that the crew might have “overreacted” to a computerized flight-control system “trying to protect the aircraft from flying too slowly, going into a stall and crashing”.
Unfortunately, there are a number of disturbing signs that what we are being told does not add up. Consider the alleged ice-buildup. That report seems to be contradicted by the transcript of the final communications, as What Really Happened has highlighted, which has been compounded by another exaggerated report about the ice build-up in The New York Times. A very difference impression comes from Last moments of Buffalo Flight 3407, Webmaster’s Commentary, What Really Happened, on February 13, 2009 (http://www.whatreallyhappened.com/) as follows:
Read the transcript of the final communications from Colgan Flight 3407 in Buffalo.
No mention of ice being a problem for aircraft.
There is a brief incidental mention that there is an area of icing, but it is clear that nobody sees this as a problem. No mention of any problems at all.
3407 is there one moment, then gone the next.
Now, look at this line from the transcript:
17:40 – Delta 1998: Uh negative, Delta 1998, we’re just in the bottoms and nothing on the TKs …
Listening to the tape, it sounds like what the pilot of 1998 said was
“… nothing on the TCAS.”
TCAS (pronounced T-cass) stands for Traffic Collision Avoidance System, which sends out a lower power non-directional radar pulse and listens for any aircraft transponders in the vicinity in order to warn pilots of close approaching aircraft.
So, what the pilot of Delta 1998 is saying is that at the time Air Traffic Control asked him to look for a Dash-8 [Bombardier] at 2300 [feet altitude], 3407’s radar transponders had quit working.
One final note:
If the Air Traffic Controller is telling the pilot of Delta 1998 to look at 2300 feet altitude for the Dash 8, then that means the last altitude reading returned to the ATC was 2300 feet.
Air Traffic Radar never received a return showing a loss of altitude, which strongly suggests that the aircraft’s entire avionics (aircraft electronic control) system quit working while the plane was still half a mile in the air.
Now this suggests to me that the reason there was no distress call is that the aircraft’s entire avionics system quit working while the plane was still half a mile in the air. What could possibly explain this? There are several disturbing parallels with the Wellstone crash: the plane was an excellent aircraft, very forgiving, with sophisticated equipment, including for de-icing; the weather reports have exaggerated conditions, which were actually rather mild, where other planes had had no problems coping with them on their approach into Buffalo; and both of the pilots were well-qualified. I am also struck that Beverly Eckert, a 9/11 widow, was aboard the plane. The situations here, including political motivation, appear to be parallel.
Why Beverly Might Matter
She was a prominent 9/11 activist whose husband had died that day in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. She had actually met with none other than President Barack Obama shortly before flying back to Buffalo to honor her late husband’s birthday. She was a member of “The Jersey Girls”, four 9/11 widows, whose efforts to promote an investigation of 9/11 made a crucial contribution to the creation of the commission, which President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney had opposed. It is no exaggeration to observe that Cheney and the Neo-Cons—to this day—fear more than anything else a bona-fide, objective investigation into 9/11 (motive). Because Obama kept Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense, no doubt, lingering elements of Cheney’s operation, including members of the assassination ring, almost certainly still exercise influence within the Pentagon (means), where, as in the case of Wellstone, this flight could very well have offered the perfect occasion to take her out of the equation (opportunity).
The argument has been made that Beverly was not committed to 9/11 as “an inside job”, which may have made her all the more threatening. For a woman whose husband was killed on 9/11, who had refused to take the government’s proffered compensation—widely regarded as “hush money” in the 9/11 movement—her insistence upon further investigation of the case would have been alarming to those who were involved. Bush and Cheney were adamantly opposed to any investigation and, when they were forced to create a commission of inquiry, they did their best to manage it from within. In fact, Mike Ruppert’s book, CROSSING THE RUBICON (2004) makes a powerful case for the inference that Bush had placed Cheney in control of the 9/11 attack. While Henry Kissinger’s appointment as Executive Director was thwarted, that of Philip Zelikow was not, even though his self-described area of expertise is neither science nor history but the creation and maintenance of public myths. (Since these entries are subject to alteration, I have archved the original to which I refer here.)
He thus appears to have been perfect for the task he was assigned, since THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT (2004) has been refuted on virtually very significant count. The buildings were designed to withstand even multiple impacts of commercial aircraft, the fires burner neither long enough nor hot enough to cause the steel to weaken, much less melt. The towers were destroyed from the top down, largely turned into very fine dust in just 10 seconds apiece, which is nearly the speed of free fall, even though, from the 80th floor down in the South Tower and the 96th in the North, they were both stone cold steel. The method by means of which this was done remains a matter of intense debate, but there are indications that, among other means, explosives and incendiary devices were employed. Public discussion of 9/11 is something they desperately want to suppress, since it has been the justification for the “War on Terror”, including the attacks upon Iraq and Afghanistan, restrictions upon civil liberties, and all the rest.
Where Things Stand
Use of plane crashes to take out your political opponents offers a virtually “fool proof” method. Unless the Attorney General declares a crash site to be a crime scene, the NTSB is restricted to the investigation of only accident-compatible alternatives, such as that the plane, the pilots, or the weather were responsible for the crash. Indeed, an even more peculiar policy of the NSTB is that its “official reports” are not admissible evidence in courts of law [49 USC 1441(e)]. The procedure, therefore, is simple. Take out your opponent using a plane crash, have a complicit or compliant Attorney General decline to declare it a “crime scene”, and the only recourse for the NTSB is to investigate it as an accident. That is what happened in the case of Paul Wellstone and will undoubtedly be followed in the case of Beverly Eckert. If Ruppert is right—and I believe that he is—then the murder of 50 more Americans to protect himself would have been “small potatoes” for Cheney.
While the evidence concerning Wellstone establishes his death as an assassination beyond a reasonable doubt, the same cannot yet be said about Eckert. There are reports that she was heading on to Chicago to meet with Federal Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald with new evidence related to 9/11 and that Russian satellites detected (what is described as) a “low level” electromagnetic emanating from an area near the eastern part of Lake Erie shortly before the plane plunged to the ground. The probability that a reliable airplane with qualified pilots would lose its capacity to communicate and fall to the ground absent a precipitating cause appears to be negligible. Indeed, the recent death via plane crash of Mike Connell, an IT wizard who appears to have been in a position to have stolen elections for Bush, occurred at a time the attorneys who were deposing him thought he was about to “spill the beans”.
Even though this assassination unit does not appear to have originated with Cheney, it appears all too probable that these groups or sub-units within it have been the cover for “wet work”, including assassinations and unofficial acts of terrorism, since their inception. In the case of Senator Paul Wellstone, no alternative to assassination can explain the evidence. In the case of Cpl. Pat Tillman the only alternative would appear to be that the Army, knowing he had been killed by “friendly fire”, wanted to capitalize upon his death for the sake of recruiting, a motive that can be subsumed by the assassination alternative. The phrase “friendly fire” is a euphemism for “an American soldier”, who appears to have committed this killing. I expect additional evidence to clarify the death of the 9/11 activist Beverly Eckert, but there is a discernable pattern here. In relation to the question with which we began, therefore, “Has Cheney been murdering Americans?”, the research I have reviewed suggests that the answer, alas!, appears to be an unequivocal “Yes!”
Professor Fetzer’s website is at: www.d.umn.edu/~jfetzer/
“I don’t say this to my people. They’d think I’m nuts. I think the CIA killed Dorothy Hunt”
Time, July 8, 1974
One workday morning in the capital, early in October 1972, McCord got a call from Gerald Alch, his CREEP-appointed attorney of that moment. Alch said he had important news to convey, could they meet for lunch. When they met, says McCord, Alch’s opening words were, “I have just come from Bittman’s office [White House attorney William Bittman]. Nobody gets up on that (witness) stand during trial. In return, they will get executive clemency, money while in prison and rehabilitation afterwards.” Alch assured McCord that this was a good deal under the circumstances. “Nobody,” he repeated, “gets up on that stand.”
Alch then asked McCord, “Why aren’t you taking the money from Mrs.Hunt?” In McCord’s account of Watergate, A Piece of Tape, from which I borrow this dialogue, he writes, “I went over my concerns that the whole business had the appearance of a control mechanism to keep the men quiet prior to the Nixon election by the use of money as a weapon and tool. Between that concern and the surveillance I had experienced on the 19th of September, I had decided to take no further money in order to be completely free to pursue whatever course of action my conscience dictated without being obliged.”
McCord says Alch “berated” him for taking this stand, then popped a question which McCord found “rather unusual in the wording and context.” Said Alch, “Just what would it take for you to turn state’s evidence?” McCord says Alch’s tone and manner made it clear that he was not sponsoring this alternative. It was “as though he were feeling me out for someone else.” McCord told Alch that he would follow his own course of action. Alch, he notes, “fell silent at that statement.”
MACHO BARKER: The next day I got a call. “Do you recognize my voice?” And I said yes. It was Dorothy Hunt. She told me to go to Miami and stay in the airport and meet the next flight of the same line. I made sure that Dorothy was not being followed, and then we went to my home. She said, “From now on I will be your contact,” and it was quite evident that the Dorothy that I had known had a split personality, because for the first time she used operational terms that Howard and I had always used. She said n ot to trust Rothblatt too much, that she didn’t like him. She said to start figuring out how much assistance we would need. Up to this time, we had not any at all. She said remember the spirit of the old organization – that if you are caught by the enemy, two things will be done: (1) every effort will be made to rescue you, and (2) all expenses and your family will be taken care of. Even today, the families of those who were lost at the Bay of Pigs are being aided, and that is something you expect on a mission.
Late October 1972. Dorothy Hunt called Colson’s office in an agitated voice demanding to speak to Colson, who declined. By Colson’s later account she was “upset at the interruption of payments from Nixon associates to Watergate defendants.”
November 15. Colson met with Nixon, Haldeman, and Ehrlichman in the Laurel Lodge presidential office at Camp David to play a tape of Hunt expounding his blackmail threat. That same afternoon, Dean flew to New York with this tape to play it for Stams and Mitchell, meeting in safe rooms at the Metropolitan Club. A week later, Hunt called Colson in order to have it recorded that “…we are protecting the guys who are actually responsible…and of course that is a continuing requirement, but at the same time, it is a two-way street….”
Late November. McCord: “In addition, Mrs. E. Howard Hunt, on or about November 30, 1972, in a personal conversation with me, stated that E. Howard Hunt had just dictated a three-page letter with Hunt’s attorney, William O. Bittman, had to read to Kenneth Parkinson, the attorney for the Committee to Re-elect the President, in which letter Hunt purportedly threatened to ‘blow the White House out of the water.’ Mrs. Hunt at this point in her conversation with me also repeated the statement which she too had made before, which was that E. Howard Hunt had information which would impeach the president.”
December 2 (Saturday). The president met at Key Biscayne with Colson and Rebozo to discuss the growing blackmail threat. Dorothy Hunt in Washington meanwhile was hounding Colson’s secretary, Joan Hall, with phone calls about “the problem.” She demanded that Hall get the word to Colson to get the word to Nixon “to get something done about it.”
Mitchell was ultimately reached, and he reached for Dean. Mitchell told Dean to use some White House cash to get the Hunt situation settled down. Haldeman came into the picture as well as their implicit electronic audience. His function indeed forces him in his ceremonial innocence (pretend ignorance) to teach the Nixon-person how to be the Nixon-president before an unseen listening audience which they both pretend not to notice.
Dean continues with a precise summary and an understated suggestion which manages to say to Nixon the man that he certainly must employ his own special resources in this flight to prop up the presidency. Though Dean always talks to the mask of Nixon-president, he still has his sense of limits, as though carelessly, laid across Nixon’s private parts. Thus the poignancy of Dean’s next speech:
DEAN: …. So what are the soft spots on this? Well, first of all, there is the problem of the continued blackmail which will not only go on now, but it will go on while these people are in prison, and it will compound the obstruction of justice situation. It will cost money. It is dangerous. People around here are not pros at this sort of thing. This is the sort of thing Mafia people can do ….
Now the dialogue unwinds, constantly returning to the question of Hunt.
NIXON: Your major guy to keep under control is Hunt?
DEAN: That is right….
NIXON: ….the vulnerable points being, the first vulnerable points would be obvious. That would be one of the defendants, either Hunt, because he is most vulnerable in my opinion, might blow the whistle and his price is pretty high….
…You can’t keep it out if Hunt talks….
…I think Hunt knows a hell of a lot more….
…You have no choice on Hunt….
And finally, breaking at last into a hole utterance:
…But my point is, do you ever have any choice on Hunt? That is the point. No matter what we do here now, John, whatever he wants if he doesn’t get it – immunity, etc., he is going to blow the whistle.
Then this cabalistic exchange at a later meeting the same day in which Haldeman and Ehrlichman sail in over Dean’s head:
DEAN:…Hunt has now sent a blackmail request directly to the White House.
NIXON: Who did he send it to? You?
NIXON: Or to me?
DEAN: Your counsel.
HALDEMAN: That is the interesting kind of thing, there is something there that may blow it all up that way and everything starts going in a whole new direction.
EHRLICHMAN: The he would hurt the Eastern Asian Defense. [?] Right there. That is blackmail.
The FBI and the Crash
The criticism of the official pilot-error theory of the Hunt crash has been overwhelmingly identified with Sherman Skolnick, a Chicago-based private investigator, and his colleague, companion, and bodyguard, Alex Bottos, who has a murky background and claims former FBI, CIA and narcotics connections. Skolnick and Bottos are a pungent Dickensian pair. Skolnick has been confined from birth to a wheelchair. He is intense, loud, overbearing, quick, suspicious, sometimes merry, all upper torso and arms, boisterous, gnomic-faced. Bottos is more somber and sepulchral. He says he was at Opalaka in 1960-61 with Hunt on the Bay of Pigs campaign. He carries a pistol and is fond of flashing it. He dresses with old-fashioned nattiness and polishes to a high gloss both his black hair and black patent leather loafers. Skolnick and Bottos have seen each other through great controversies. They project an ominous, swirling, shadowy atmosphere, Skolnick wheeling and challenging, Bottos in a tailored flak jacket brooding on collapse.
The instrument of their collaboration is Skolnick’s Citizens Committee ot Clean Up the Courts. Their most spectacular hit so far – until United flight 553 – was Chicago’s once-immaculate liberal, Governor Otto Kerner, whom they discovered and exposed in a race-track payoff scheme. Skolnick and Bottos have also helped put away several Illinois Supreme Court judges on corruption counts.
Skolnick was instantaneous in charging that the crash of United flight 533 was the result of sabotage and that there was a big Watergate connection. IN the weeks immediately following the crash, he claims to have received a flood of information from protected inside sources supporting him in this belief. He also tried to make that information public, thus to generate a controversy and a demand for a new investigation of the crash.
In the furor of claim and counterclaim that followed, Skolnick’s voice often reached an intensity that many found hysterical. Anyone who disagreed with him about anything (your author included) he denounced as a secret agent of the CIA. The controversy over his personality came to interfuse with the controversy over the crash. He made it easy for his detractors to ridicule him for rampant paranoia and to ignore his specific claims as wild raving.
Yet in the instances in which the dispute has been resolved by a subsequent factual disclosure, Skolnick’s contentions have been substantially borne out. The question of FBI involvement in the crash investigation is the perfect case in point.
The Boeing 737 had barely hit, said Skolnick, before the crash site was aswarm with large numbers (he sometimes said “carloads”, sometimes “200,” sometimes “dozens”) of “federal people” who shouldered Chicago police and firemen asise and kept to themselves why and on what authority they were doing so. When I first encountered the array of Skolnick’s arguments about the crash, I dismissed this particular item – the 200 FBI agents prowling the wreckage within moments of the crash – as an improbable piece of melodramatic adornment. In my original summary of Skolnick’s case in the Boston Phoenix (May 15, 1973), I left the point out altogether, concentrating on what I regarded as his more impressive arguments.
But then came the disclosure, as a result of Skolnick’s agitation in Washington, of the two letters which I reprint in their entirety below. The first is from the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, John Reed, to acting FBI Director William Ruckelshaus. The second is Ruckelshaus’s reply. The NTSB is a putatively independent branch of the Department of Transportation with responsibility for investigating all accidents involving commercial airliners. It investigated the crash of United 533. The NTSB chairman’s letter is dated June 5, 1973.
Dear Mr. Ruckelshaus:
As you may know, the National Transportation Safety Board is currently investigating the aircraft accident of the United Air Lines Boeing 737, at Midway Airport, Chicago, on December 8, 1972. Our investigative team assigned to this accident discovered on the day following the accident that several FBI agents had taken a number of non-typical actions relating to this accident within the first few hours following the accident.
Included were: for the first time in the memory of our staff, an FBI agent went to the control tower and listened to the tower tapes before our investigators had done so; and for the first time to our knowledge, in connection with an aircraft accident, an FBI agent interviewed witnesses to the crash, including flight attendants on the aircraft prior to the NTSB interviews. As I am sure you can understand, these actions, particularly with respect to this flight on which Mrs. E. Howard Hunt was killed, have raised innumerable questions in the minds of those with legitimate interests in ascertaining the cause of this accident. Included among those who have asked questions, for example, is the Government Activities Subcommittee of the House Government Operations Committee. On the basis of informal discussions with the staff of the Committee, it is likely that questions as to what specific actions were taken by the FBI in connection with this aircraft accident, and why such actions were taken, will come up in a public overhearing at which the NTSB will appear and which is now scheduled for June 13, 1973.
In order to be fully responsive to the Committee, as well as to be fully informed ourselves about all aspects of this accident so as to assure the complete accuracy of our determination of the probable cause, we would appreciate being advised of all the details with respect to the FBI activities in connection with this accident. We would like to have, for example, the following information: the purpose of the FBI investigation, the reasons for the early response and unusual FBI actions in this case, the number of FBI personnel involved, all investigative actions taken by the agents and the times they took such actions (including the time the first FBI agents arrived on the scene), and copies of all reports and records made by the agents in connection with their investigations (we already have copies of 26 FBI interview reports; any other documents should be provided, therefore).
While we have initiated action at the staff level between our agency and yours to effect better liaison and avoid engaging in efforts which may be I conflict in the future, we have determined that some formal arrangement – in the nature of an intra-agency memorandum of agreement of understanding, for instance – would seem appropriate. It would clearly delineate our respective statutory responsibilities and set forth procedures to eliminate any future conflicts. We would therefore appreciate it if you would designate, at your earliest convenience, an official with whom we may discuss this matter and with the authority to negotiate such a formal agreement with the Safety Board.
In the interim, however we would like to receive, in advance of the scheduled June 13, 1973, public oversight hearing, the specific information concerning the actions of the FBI in connection with the Midway accident and the reasons therefore, in order to enable us to be as fully responsive as possible to the House Subcommittee.
(Original signed by John H. Reed, Chairman)
FBI Director Ruckelshaus answered on June 11, 1973.
Dear Mr. Reed:
Your letter dated June 5, 1973, concerning the FBI’s investigation into the crash of a United Air Lines Boeing 737 at Midway Airport, Chicago, Illinois, on December 8, 1972 has been received.
The FBI has primary investigative jurisdiction in connection with the Destruction of Aircraft or Motor Vehicles (DAMV) Statute, Title 18, Section 32, U.S. Code, which pertains to the willful damaging, destroying or disabling of any civil aircraft in interstate, overseas or foreign air commerce. In addition, Congress specifically designated the FBI to handle investigations under the Crime Aboard Aircraft (CAA) Statute, Title 49, Section 1472, U.S. Code, pertaining, among other things, to aircraft piracy, interference with flight crew members and certain specified crimes aboard aircraft in flight, including assault, murder, manslaughter and attempts to commit murder or manslaughter.
FBI investigation of the December 8, 1972, United Air Lines crash was instituted to determine if a violation of the DAMV or CAA Statutes had occurred and for no other reason. The fact that Mrs. E. Howard Hunt was aboard the plane was unknown to the FBI at the time our investigation was instituted.
It has been longstanding FBI policy to immediately proceed to the scene of an airplane crash for the purpose of developing any information indicating a possible Federal violation within the investigative jurisdiction of the FBI. In all such instances liaison is immediately established with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) personnel upon their arrival at the scene.
Approximately 50 FBI Agents responded to the crash scene, the first ones arriving within 45 minutes of the crash. FBI Agents did interview witnesses to the crash, including flight attendants. Special Agent (SA) Robert E. Hartz proceeded to the Midway Airport tower shortly after the crash to determine if tower personnel could shed any light as to the reason of the crash. ON arriving at the tower, SA Hartz identified himself as an FBI Agent and explained the reason for his presence. He was invited by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) personnel at the tower to listen to the recording made at the tower of the conversation between the tower and United Air Lines Flight 553. At no time did SA Hartz request to be allowed to listen to the tapes, SA Hartz identified a sound as being that of the stall indicator on the aircraft. The FAA agreed that SA Hartz was right and immediately notified FAA Headquarters at Washington, D.C.
The FBI’s investigation in the matter was terminated within 20 hours of the accident and on December 11, 1972, Mr. William L. Lamb, NTSB, was furnished with copies of the complete FBI investigation pertaining to the crash after it was determined there was apparently no violation of the DAMV or CAA Statutes.
In order to avoid the possibility of any misunderstanding concerning our respective agencies’ responsibilities and to insture continuing effective liaison between the NTSB and the GBI, I have designated SA Richard F. Bates, Section Chief, Criminal Section, General Investigative Division, FBI Headquarters, Washington, D.C., telephone number 324-2281, to represent the FBI concerning any matters of mutual interest.
William D. Ruckelshaus
Based on the facts agreed upon by both sides, it is at least apparent from these letters that the FBI was all over Dorthy Hunt at the time of the crash, despite Ruckelshaus’s protest that Dorothy Hunt’s presence on 553 was “unknown to the FBI at that time.” There is no obvious way such a large response as fifty agents within the hour could have been generated from a standing start as of the moment of the crash itself. The closest FBI office is forty minutes from the crash site and there are never fifty agents available at once without warning. It is tradition that FBI agents do not gather in offices waiting for calls but stay in the field. When a really obvious intelligence agent, Hungarian Freedom Fighter Lazlo Hadek, died in a crash the next summer at Boston’s Logan Airport, leaving a trail of secret NATO nuclear documents strewn down the center of the runway, the FBI was barely able to get a solitary agent to the scene on the same day as the wreck. That this same FBI could get fifty agents to the scene of the Chicago crash within an hout is to my mind an interesting piece of information. How could the FBI have done this if it had not had Dorothy Hunt’s airplane, for whatever reason, under full company-scale surveillance before the crash ever happened? And why might the FBI have been doing that?
Note in this connection that it was specifically the airplane itself that was being followed, and not the person of Dorothy Hunt. That is, no FBI agent was aboard the plane. If the FBI was tailing Dorothy Hunt, why was she not being followed on the plane? Was it that her flight was too sudden? But it was delayed on the ground for fifteen minutes. Michelle Clark of CBS, who was on the same flight, knew she was going to be on it and may have been her companion in the first-class cabin. The Hunts took enough time at the airport to buy $250,000 worth of flight insurance.
Ruckelshaus does not meet Reed’s main questions. He reads the book with a straight face as though Reed had asked him what were the statutory grounds of the FBI intervention instead of why, suddenly, this time and no other time, and so massively, and hence with such a semblance of advance contrivance, were these grounds taken up and acted upon. One understands that the FBI will always be able to demonstrate a rudimentary legal basis for whatever it takes in its head to do. What we wan to know is where these whims and fancies bubble up from.
We wonder finally what in the world made the FBI think 553’s crash might have been a case of “willful disabling of a civil aircraft,” or of “crimes aboard the aircreft in flight, including assault, murder and manslaughter?” Not that any of this necessarily happened or did not but the FBI does not usually behave as if it might have. Does it? How does Ruckelshaus account fro this, especially in view of his assertion that the FBI acted with no knowledge of Dorothy Hunt’s presence? What was the chain-of-command activity and what were the reasons that so many FBI agents waiting to move when the plane came down?
The Plumbers and the Crash
The White House also responded immediately to the crash. Nixon moved Egil Krogh, Alex Butterfield, and Dwight Chapin, three of his remaining special agents, to positions of vantage around the crash investigation.
Krough was the organizer of the Nixon White House’s Special Investigative Unit, the “Room 16” group. Chapin was a key Haldeman aide who recruited and directed Segretti in his sabotage and espionage tasks. Butterfield, who so airily exposed the White House secret taping system on Friday, July 13, was a Haldeman man from UCLA, where their wives were sorority roommates. He has an Air Force background and some of his biographies say he flew with the Blue Angels. He served Nixon as White House liaison with the CIA.
There is how these agents were deployed in the days following the December 8 crash.
On Saturday, December 9, 1972, Krough was suddenly made an undersecretary of the Department of Transportation, the DOT being the seat of larger bureaucratic responsibility for the crash investigation. There was no prior announcement of this appointment. There was no explanation of why it had to be implemented the same day it was announced, a Saturday, not normally a business day in Washington. Once installed in the DOT, Krough proceeded to pressure the NTSB to speed up its reports and restrain its criticism of DOT or face “discipline.”
Ten days later, on December 19, Butterfield was appointed administrator of the Federal Aviatioin Administration, the parent body of the actual technical-investigation arm, the Bureau of Aviation Safety. Butterfield’s appointment was delayed to March because of a provision prohibiting any military or retired military officer from holding the position Nixon wanted to move him into. As when General Alexander Haig joined Kissinger’s National Security Council later, Butterfield had to resign his commission temporarily.
Early in January, Chapin left the White House behind a story that he was being drummed out because of his role in the activities of CREEP. He soon joined the staff of United Air Lines Chicago office as a “director of market planning.” He was present every day at the NTSB public hearings into the 553 crash that opened on February 28, 1973, in Chicago. He spent some of his time fending off Skolnick and Bottos and some of it intimidating the media with licensing threats.
Then there is the matter of Richard Spears.
In May 1973 stories reached the Senate Commerce Committee, overseer of the NTSB, that “officials of the White House or the Department of Transportation were trying to improperly influence members of the [Safety] Board in the pursuit of their lawful duties.” On May 3, Charman Warren Magnusen (D-Wash.) asked Chairman Reed to respond to these stories.
On May 9, exposed as a Plumber in the Fielding burglary, Krogh resigned his post as number two man in the DOT.
Magnussen’s inquiry motivated Reed and the Senate Commerce Committee to convene the sessions of May 21 and 23. These sessions were attended only by Senator Howard Cannon (D.-Nev.), although Senator Frank Moss (D.-Utah) submitted two questions to each witness remotely suggesting a suspicion of sabotage. But the most important development at these hearings was the clash between a Nixon appointee to the NTSB, General Manager Richard Spears, and the director of the Bureau of Aviation Safety, C.O. Miller.
Spears became a “consultant” to the NTSB in January 1971 shortly after the end of the term of Senator George Murphy (R.-Cal.), whom he formerly served as administrative assistant. Spears moved in as the head of the NTSB after a Nixon-inspired change in the regulations created the position of “NTSB general manager” and defined it as a political-patronage job. Spears had no former experience in the field of aviation safety, a specialized technical field.
According to Miller, Spears immediately began trying to run the NTSB. A quarrel developed between them. It boiled up in February 1973 just as the NTSB hearings into the Hunt crash were opening in Chicago. As BAS director, Miller was the boss of the technician, William Lamb, who would oversee the entire program of investigation, analysis and report on the crash of 553.
Late in February, Miller took off from his normal duties to attend a sixty-day Federal Executives Institute. When he was safely out of the building, Spears replaced him in the BAS directorship and let it out that his duties would be different upon return. Before Miller could return to challenge this personally, Spears himself rewrote the NTSB’s definition of “probably cause” of a crash, directed NTSB investigators to make fewer safety recommendations, and called for quicker completion of investigations and reports on all projects, including the 553 crash.
Miller returned for confrontation in April. He testified that Spears told him, “I have got orders from the only people that hire and fire me to become chief operating officer of the NTSB.” Asked by Senator Cannon how he interpreted this, Miller said he thought it meant that Spears “had some knowledge of some power base in the executive branch. One of the very serious impacts on the effectiveness of our Bureau, in my opinion, has been the use of this reference to outside power to, in a sense intimidate the people who perhaps are a little more concerned about their jobs than I am, to get things done without question.”
Miller’s appeal to the full NTSB was successful. He was restored to his former position as BAS director. Somewhat later, however, he began complaining of heart trouble and was obliged to retire.
What are we to make of Nixon’s evidently intense interest in the crash of the Hunt plane? FBI men intervening so quickly at company-level force; the three secret Nixon agents fanning out to positions of control around the crash investigation; Spears going to the report-writing center, cutting directly into the 553 investigation: What might all this mean?
This brings us to the detailed technical analysis of the NTSB report on the crash. It is a boggy and noxious area to explore because in entails necessarily technical exposition. At the same time, it is in the technical areas that our institutions have found strength before, so let us plunge ahead.
The Analysis of the Crash
We briefly and tersely dismissed Sherman Skolnick’s claims. We investigated thoroughly and found not a shred of evidence indicating the Dorothy Hunt plane was sabotaged.
September 23, 1974
The technical questions of fact and interpretation in the crash of United 553, for better or worse, have taken from in the course of a polemic set in train by Skolnick’s early accusations of sabotage and cover-up. In this section, we will take up several particular questions emerging from this polemic.
We begin with the question of cyanide poisoning not because it is the strongest of Skolnick’s claims – indeed it is much the weakest – or because it is the most important, which it is not, but because it is the question on which Skolnick’s critics have concentrated most of their fire.
Then we will move to consider the more substantial technical doubts about the precise mechanisms of the crash, most of which involve questions also first articulated in some form by Skolnick.
Finally we will take up the theory of the crash developed by the NTSB and advanced in their final report, “Aircraft Accident Report 73-16, United Airlines, Inc., Boeing 737, N9031U, Chicago-Midway Airport, Chicago, Illinois, December 8, 1972,” dated August 29, 1973.
The Question of Cyanide
James Walsh, administrative assistant to the Cook County coroner, told James Brady of New York magazine, “We found seven bodies which contained enough cyanide to kill them. We are not saying cyanide killed them, but that there was enough of it to have done so.
Brady notes that Walsh refused to say whether or not the pilot’s body contained cyanide. But Skolnick had already unearthed FAA technical exhibit No. 6A, docket No. SA-435, entitled “Human Factors Group Chairman’s Factual Report,” by C. Hayden LeRoy. Page 8 of this exhibit contains in its entirety a typewritten table introduced by the words, “Federal Aviation Administration, Civil Aeromedical Institute, Aviation Toxicology Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, examined specimens from three aircraft occupants. Results were as follows.” Among other things, the table shows that the three whose bodies were examined by the Civil Aeromedical Institute were Captain Whitehouse, Flight Officer W.O. Coble, and a first-class passenger otherwise unidentified. (According to NTSB spokesman Slattery, Dorothy Hunt was flying in the first-class cabin forward, just behind the cockpit.) By the item, “Cyanide (Conway Diffusion, NaOH),” the value entered for Captain Whitehouse is 3.9 micrograms per milliliter. In the columns for Coble and the first-class passenger there are hyphens indicating that the test for cyanide was not carried out on them.
What does it mean that Whitehouse had 3.9 micrograms per milliliter of cyanide in him? For the record, let us first note that the NTSB had some trouble in establishing that figure. The Chicago coroner’s office reported to begin with that Whitehouse’s blood showed cyanide in the amount of 0.211 milligrams per milliliter, an extremely high tamount which by itself would establish a prima facie case of foul play.
There are a few problems with this simplification, however.
Dr. Smith proceeded to analyze a blood specimen from the pilot (but not the others) to see how much cyanide actually was present, and the value he came up with was not “an innocuous” 0.211 micrograms per milliliter, which is the value arrived at by assuming that there was an error in the placing of the decimal point. Rather, it is the 3.9 micrograms per milliliter value we found in Exhibit 6A. That value, in the first place, does not bear our the Chicago coroners’ guess that their assumed error was in the decimal; there is still a difference of a whole magnitude between their adjusted value of 0.2 micrograms per milliliter and Dr. Smith’s new value of 3.9 micrograms per milliliter. And in the second place, 3.9 micrograms per milliliter is not an innocuous level, a fact which even Dorfman concedes indirectly when he notes that this “is the highest blood cyanide reading [Dr. Smith] has ever recorded in a crash victim.”
Dorfman continues: “A research toxicologist I consulted confirmed that while a concentration of 3.9 micrograms is more than enough to kill, it is quite possible – depending on the concentration of cyanide gas in the air and the physical condition of the victim – to inhale that much before death occurs.
Very well, but observe how far this shifts the grounds of the argument. A moment before, we were being told that the pilot died a normal cyanide death, period. Now we are only being told that it is not absurd on the facts to speculate that he did.
The NTSB report states (pg 13) that “elevated hydrogen cyanide levels were found in the captain and in six fatalities in the crash,” but it says nothing of the new record poor Whitehouse set and does not pause to tell us what these “elevated levels” were, even though it notes (p. 14) that “smoke inhalation with carbon monoxide asphyxia and blood cyanide accumulation” was finally determined to have been the cause of the captain’s death. It merely explains that the plastics used extensively in the cabins of commercial airliners give off hydrogen cyanide as a gas when burned.
The crash was indeed followed by an intense fire in the center section, mainly in the first-class cabin where Dorothy Hunt and Michelle Clark were traveling. But there was little fire in the captain’s half of the cockpit, possibly because the nose and cockpit section broke off from the cabin and split in half. The NTSB report states (p. 12): “The left side of the cockpit and the left forward entry door were relatively intact. The captain’s seat was intact and sustained only minor fire damage.” And in any case, not to be too elementary, the possibility of a crash-normal cyanide gas poisoning would hardly cancel out the possibility of a non-crash-normal cyanide gas poisoning (as with a canister delivery mechanism). The existence of a convenient explanation (as in the use of potassium and cortisone as poisons) is actually the leading advantage of such a method.
It is certainly true, as Dorfman says, that Skolnick goes beyond the evidence in a self-discrediting way in claiming that the shadows like the above demonstrate intentional poisoning in the 553 crash. Here Skolnick seems at his most lurid, turning, in Dorfman’s words, every “assumption” into a “conclusion,” every “hunch” into a “fact”.
Still, Skolnick’s informed misses teach us more of the truth of Watergate power politics than the baseless reassurances Dorfman prefers. That is because, first, Skolnick’s overall conception of what goes into politics, wheat constitutes it, what comes out, is currently rooted in real experience. So even wandering at his most hysterical through dismal swamp, as perhaps with the cyanide question (and perhaps not), Skolnick still makes more sense and does more good teaching than those who use modest rhetoric to tell us there is nothing wrong. Something in fact may be quite wrong, the wrong may be of Satanic magnitude, and there is no way the standard statistic-ridden, political-sociology models employed in conventional federal-academic discourse can even focus the structured character of what is wrong. These models, these assumptions, give us a lone madman here and a lone madman there, as though our time’s violent assault on presidential figures were the purest contingency, purest acts of God, unstructured, random events lying outside the events constitutive of “politics” proper and of no greater interest to the “political scientist” than the normal airplane accident or normal heart attack.
Finally, as inadequately supported as it no doubt is, Skolnick’s assertion about 553 and cyanide poisoning still ought not to be dismissed altogether. A palpable residue of doubt remains, partly because the authorities have seemed so anxious to shut the question up, but also partly because these are not bare, naked allegations. In view of the extreme political sensitivity of Dorothy Hunt’s death, it might appear to the trusting among us that the public officials responsible would bend over backwards to follow every shadow of doubt all the way through to the end. What had they to fear? As it was, the very day after the crash, even as Plumber Krogh was being scrambled to the number two spot at the Department of Transportation over the FAA and NTSB, the official voices began their choral chant that there was no possibility of sabotage,” not a shred of evidence,” and let slip no chance to heap more vituperation on Skolnick. The FBI was saying no sabotage within twenty hours of the crash, before it was even announced to the public that Dorothy Hunt was among the victims, and NTSB spokesmen were saying it early in May at a moment when the analysis of the data had barely begun. There is too much intensity in this, too much head-shaking. Too much protest betokens fear of some discovery. It reeks of cover-up whether it is one or not.
In view of the report of the Cook County coroners and Dr. Smith’s own results in the retest of the captain’s blood, for example, why did Dr. Smith and the NTSB not press to examine the other seven or ten or twelve bodies said to contain “elevated levels” of cyanide? In view of the queer behavior of the FBI, why was not every angle looked into, every doubt openly faced, before the curtains started being closed on the play?
I have been nagging some version of this question, or it me, through many passages of this book: why the cover-up? A paragraph from the short-lived polemic that flared up between Dorfman and me in the Nation contains what may be a hint of an answer. Dorfman wrote:
I do not disbelieve in conspiracies. I have helped uncover a few myself. My quarrel is not even with Oglesby’s own treatment of the December crash, which he suggests has been carefully hedged about with distinctions between what is known and what needs to be known. Rather, I take issue with, and he defends, a style of political thinking [i.e. Skolnick’s] which turns assumptions into conclusions and hunches into facts, which are in turn [note:] broadcast to an increasingly receptive public content that, since the forces at work are not only beyond their reach but omnipotent, there is nothing they can or need do about public problems.
In other words, gentle reader, it is you despair that Dorfman fears. If you come to think that such theories as the sabotage theory of the Hunt crash are not crazy on facts, and that such things can actually happen and the offender not be caught, then your faith in politics will wither and die, and where shall we all be then.
To this I answer, first, that there is no point in trying to set preconditions on the truth. Either the airplane was sabotaged or it was not, just as John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and George Wallace either were or were not attacked by conspiracies acting behind cover stories of lone, mad, diary-writing gunmen. And either we can do something about this or we cannot. Nothing whatever is served by hiding from the question. If we cannot, then indeed the age of politics is behind us and we are the creature of new millennium.
Second, Skolnick’s track record does not entitle his detractor to such airy contempt. Dorfman may be unable to muffle a boast about helping to “uncover a few” conspiracies himself (he is too modest to remind us what they were), but Skolnick is something else. We have already noted his major works: the bust of some half-dozen federal and other judges in Illinois and Indiana, including three members of the Illinois Supreme Court, and the exposure of Kerner in 1969.
Finally, something in the turn of Dorfman’s last phrase in the above passage reminds me again that what academic liberals are typically so worried about is not the lapse of people’s faith in politics so much as the lapse of their faith in the politics of the current system. But it is the power and invisibility of that system’s demonstrated current corruption that threatens political demoralization, not the fact that a handful of people with virtually no resources are trying to expose it, analyze it, name it, and raise in public forums the question of direct political action to do something about it. To Dorfman I say, if that is what we are really talking about, preserving the people’s faith in a corrupt political system, I know I am not the only democratic-minded patriot who will say, let it bleed.
Skolnick and others have raised much more substantial questions about the actual mechanisms of the crash of United 553: that the in-flight recorders were stolen from the wreckage, that the altimeter was sabotaged, that the runway system at Midway was used irregularly on this landing, that an electronic landing aid was unaccountably switched off at a crucial moment, and that the crew failed even to take not of, much less to act on, the actuation of a cockpit stall-warning signal designed expressly to be imperative.
The Flight Recorders: The Boeing 737 caries two data-recording systems, both designed to survive crashes of much greater violence than that of 553. In the shock test, each package must withstand the blow of a five-hundred-pound steel bar dropped from ten feet. This is because their only purpose is to help crash investigators determine as absolutely as possible the cause or causes of a crash.
One is the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), a super-quality but otherwise ordinary tape recorder system wired through a network of microphones to tape a whole range of cockpit sounds – the distinctly different clicks, chimes, rattles, horns, and whirrs of the controls – besides every word of cabin conversation and any signals incoming from outside the aircraft, as from a tower, another airplane, or an electronic beacon on the ground. In other words, it is designed to record the total acoustical signal environment of the crew. This record of the cockpit acoustical environment is so sensitive that General Electric engineers, working with a tape that had been badly damaged (see below), were nevertheless able to reconstruct from its acoustical data precise thrust settings, left and right, for each of the 737’s two tail-mounted jet engines, right up to the moment of impact.
The other is the Flight Data Recorder (FDR). It is by far the more important of the two from the standpoint of technical crash analysis. The FDR keeps a continuous graph-paper trace on the stat of the aircraft’s nerve center, the Central Air Data Computer, mounted with the FDR in the tail because that is the safest part of the aircraft. The FDR records such parameters as air speed, barometric (coarse) altitude, transponder (fine) altitude, and aircraft roll and pitch angles, and it also records instrument presentations to the crew in order that errors in instrumentation can be discriminated from errors in sensing or servomechanization or the like.
The critical points in connection with the CVR and the DRR are threefold:
First, the NTSB did not recover these instruments from the crash, even though its technical team was already in the field early Saturday morning. News accounts at the time said that both recorders were turned over to the NTSB team by James McConaugh, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation, who actually held a little ceremony of handover to which he invited a handful of newspeople. No one asked, however, what the Department of Streets and Sanitation was doing with these instruments. They could not have simply tumbled into the street. The NTSB report tells us in fact that the nose and the tail sections of the aircraft suffered relatively little damage. News accounts incuriously note that the two recorders “had been recovered from the wreckage.” They do not pry into such questions as: By whom where they recovered, and in what way, and under what power and authority, whether by streets and Sanitation people or others?
What would Streets and Sanitation people know about extracting these recorders from a still-burning wreckage? Not that they could know nothing, but what did they know? In the immediate aftermath of a horrifying mid-afternoon plane crash in the heart of a residential neighborhood, when there were survivors still screaming in the wreckage, why would Streets and Sanitation people be in such a hurry to save the flight-data recorders? Not that there could be no innocuous explanation for this, but what is it? And if Streets and Sanitation gog the recorders from the FBI agents also present, as seems likely, then the question is: Why was Pat Gray’s FBI so hot to get its hands on the technical instruments needed for a precise reconstruction of the crash?
The second critical point bears on the state of the Cockpit Voice Recorder. A Dwight Chapin-inspired Chicago news story from the March NTSB hearings in Chicago ran as follows:
“United Air Line investigative committee members are suggesting that hydraulic pump failures may have contributed to the crash. They point out that the Cockpit Voice Recorder was filled with hydraulic oil when recovered from the wreckage, and some four days were required in the laboratory to clean the tape sufficiently for it to be played back to Safety Board listeners.
There is no mention of this oil, however in the NTSB’s final report, or of any need to treat the CVR tape in any way whatsoever, never mind for four days, before unnamed minds accounted it fit to be heard by the NTSB investigators.
The report reads, ‘Although the CVR showed evidence of extreme fire and heat damage, the entire tape was recovered with only moderate damage to a non pertinent area” (p.8); although another passage tells us that the normally high fidelity “CVR tape contained a high-level background noise which tended to mask meaningful frequency data.” (p.16); and in another context (p.8) notes without explanation that there were “variances” of up to six seconds in the “times of identical events recorded by Air Traffic Control sources [ground based] and the CVR.” The transcript of the last eight minutes of the CVR tape, printed in the NTSB report as Appendix F, shows fourteen “unidentified voice” entries and ten “unintelligibles,” ever so reminiscent of those other transcripts boiled in oil.
Or was Haig’s Sinister Force at Chicago, too?
The third critical point involves the all-important Flight Data Recorder, the one mounted in the tail near the Air Data Computer. The FDR shows that the crew did not get a suggestion of any FDR failure until about eight minutes later than that, and that up until about five minutes before the crash, the circuit and tape functions were still indicating positive.
Without exploring this side canyon, the NTSB report nevertheless acknowledges the importance of the simultaneous loss of capability in both recording systems at once: “The absence of FDR information, the [inherent] imprecision of the data, and the high ambient noise level of the CVR recording preclude a precise determination of the nature and tempo of events during the 60 seconds from the call for the final descent check until impact” (p.26)
The altimeters. Skolnick claimed shortly after the crash that the flight instrument actually sabotaged on 553 was the altimeter. He said his information from an FAA source inside the investigation was that the diaphragm of a barometric-pressure-sensing device had a pinprick in it. The NTSB established that the pilot’s altimeter had no such pinprick and showed that the copilot’s instrument was smashed too badly in the crash for a positive determination to be made.
There the NTSB laid the matter to rest and proceeded with its own reconstruction. In the course of this reconstruction, however, it appeared that there were indeed serious technical peculiarities in the performance of the altimeter system as a whole.
There are actually two independent altitude measuring and display systems on the Boeing 737, one for the pilot and one for the copilot. Each system begins with a barometric-pressure-sensing device mounted outside the aircraft on “independent Pilot-static probes which have no common connections.” The signals from each sensor go to one of two Central Air Data Computers (CADC) which continue the parallel redundancy of the system. Each CADC then supplies inputs to identical and independent altitude indicators, one at the pilot’s instrument console and the other at the copilot’s.
Indeed, the altitude-measuring system’s only catastrophic failure is the situation in which both the pilot’s altimeter and the copilot’s altimeter fail or malfunction in precisely the same way, in precisely the same magnitude, at precisely the same time. I am not a mathematician and will not try to compute the probability that these three conditions will ever be met in actual performance, but one’s inner ear says that the chance would be low, all the more so because of the unsurpassed reliability performance record of the Boeing 737. The only wreck this model ever had was the wreck it got into a mile and a half short of Midway.
What do you know, these three conditions appear nevertheless to have been met in the case of the crash of 553. “Both CADC units were capable of normal operation,” reads the NTSB report (p. 24), “but their altitude synchros, as recovered, showed an altitude higher than that of the crash site. The altitude differences, which could have been transmitted from the [independent] CADC units to the captain’s and first officer’s servo altimeters, were 157 feet and 103 feet, respectively.”
These are not trivial errors in either altimeter by itself, and it is putting it mildly to say that they are not trivial when they occur in the two independent systems at once.
Runway Utilization: Midway is an old airport with few of the modern electronic instrumentation systems which jet flight has come to depend on. One of its runways, however, runway 13R, is longer than the others and better equipped for jets. It has an electronic glidescope, a system that automatically tells the captain whether he is descending at the right altitude and rate throughout the whole length of the initial approach. Wind not being a factor (a light 4-6 knots at the time of the crash), it is the runway normally assigned to the few airline jets that still land at Midway instead of O’Hare. Use of this runway is all the more appropriate under conditions of low overcast, as on December 8, when the ceiling was about five-hundred feet.
The question of when and why flight 553 was reassigned to runway 31L, which is shorter and lacks a glidescope, is lost in the confusion of the lost “approach clearance,” that is, the word given, or in this case not given, by O’Hare tower (which handles all the graffic circulating around Chicago) and Midway’s story was never told. The whole question of O’Hare’s hand-off of 553 to the Midway tower is muddy with irregularities.
Related to the evident uncertainty in the cockpit of 553 about the landing procedure is the question of the light private plane, a two-prop Aero-Commander, that landed just ahead of 553 on Runway 31L. The more appropriate runway for such a small plane was 31R, which parallels 31L. Indeed, at one point the CVR transcript shows that Midway considered having the Aero-Commander go to that runway, but then changed its mind.
Less than twelve seconds later, with no communications intervening, the Midway tower sent its next and last message to 553: “United five fifty-three, execute a missed approach, make a left turn to a heading of – one eight zero, climb to two thousand.”
Nineteen-and-a-half seconds later came the crash. There were no future communications between the tower and 553 either way. The reason Midway gave for the wave-off was that 553 was going too fast and the distance between it and the Aero-Commander had closed to an unsafe margin. ON its first approach to the runway, 9VS had been well ahead of 553, some three miles. Unaccountably, its pilot requested a missed approach clearance from Midway tower and was given permission to pull up, circle, and come back for another try, all without giving place to 553 coming in behind it out of its holding pattern. The reason for the Aero-Commander’s missed-apporach request is not given in the NTSB report.
The Kedzie Outer Marker: Skolnick’s original claim was that the Kedzie Localizer/Outer Marker was turned off as 553 passed over it. This is a vertical electronic beam emitted by a transmitter located on Kedzie Avenue, 3.3 miles from the runway, on direct line with runway 31L. Especially in overcast conditions, it is needed to ensure that landing aircraft are headed in properly toward the runway.
The NTSB report ignores Skolnick’s assertions and puts a good face on the performance of the Outer Marker. The CVR transcript shows the Kedzie beacon tones sounding just after 553’s approach is handed over from O’Hare to Midway tower, a little less than two minutes before the crash. No irregularities are noted, and in its only remote approach to the point, the report says only (p.7) that “all navigational facilities associated with this approach procedure were flight-tested by the FAA immediately after the accident and wer found to be operating within prescribed tolerances. None of the flights using the localizer before or after the accident reported any problems.”
One must have access to the part of the CVR transcript not published with the NTSB final report to know of the following snatch of dialogue from the cockpit:
“Is Kedzie Localizer off – off the air, is that it?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Is Kedzie Localizer off the air? There’s an inbound, ah, there’s an in-bound on 31.”
As to the significance of the shut-off of the Kedzie Outer Marker, the NTSB report scatters fragments of the answer throughout its pages and never brings them together so that the meaning can come out clearly. On page 9 it tells us that 553 crashed “1/4 mile to the right of the localizer approach course.”
From the report in Appendix D, we learn that the magnetic heading of the path of the wreckage across three city blocks, hence the heading of the aircraft at impact, was 340 degrees.
From Appendix E we learn that the magnetic heading of runway 31L was 312 degrees. Thus, a little more than a mile-and-a-half after it had crossed the suddenly turned-off Kedzie beacon, in spite of the fact that its crew was turning 553 left for the missed-approach exercise in the moments just before impact, it was still a quarter-mile off course to the right on a magnetic heading in error by 28 degrees. This is precisely the kind of error that the electronic marker system is installed to prevent.
The Stickshaker: The eeriest technical oddity about this crash is the behavior of the flight crew when the stickshaker went off.
The stickshaker is a no-uncertain-terms warning device installed in the cockpit expressly to warn the flight crew if the airplane is ever in danger of going into a stall. It is operated by the Air Data Computer, which constantly monitors and reflects upon the airplane’s total flight state, including the airspeed, engine thrust, and aerodynamic configuration. By aerodynamic configuration is meant the positions of the variety of movable surfaces on the wings and tail – tabs, flaps, spoilers, landing gear, etc. – that affect the drag and lift of the airplane while moving through the airstream. Under some combinations of airspeed, thrust, and aerodynamic configuration, drag exceeds left, the nose spools up, and the aircraft stalls. If a stall happens at a high altitude, the plane will go into a spin; if at a low altitude, as with 553, it will crash tail first.
The stall is thus an eventuality not to be trifled with, and the designers of the super-safe Boeing 737 make it as unlikely an event as they can, partly by building into the crew’s control system a stall-warning device designed for absolute infallibility.
The warning system has two parts. One is a noisemaker in the roof of the cockpit. Its alarm is described as sounding something like a rattlesnake but louder. It is made to sound as alarming as possible, since its purpose is to get the crew to do something. The other part of the stall-warning system, from which the over-all system gets its name of “stickshaker,” is a mechanism for actually shaking the flight controls in the pilot’s and copilot’s hands. It produces something like the jerking felt in the steering wheel of a car when load exceeds power and the engine begins to lug, except that the stickshaker action is purposely mor eintense.
Commercial airline pilots say the stickshaker warning system should b ehard and felt only during training flights. “The sound of the shaker,” says the NTSB’s chief investigator, William Lamb, “should trigger an immediate alarm” in the crew.
The fact is that in the case of 553 it produced no apparent reaction whatsoever, though it came on twenty seconds before the crash and stayed on all the way to the end. The transcript of the well-oiled, well-cleaned CVR tape has it that two seconds after the stickshaker alarm went off, and unidentified voice in the cockpit spoke “two to three hurried words at very low amplitude and masked by noise of the stickshaker” (p. 52): the stickshaker went off simultaneously with the word “execute” in Midway tower’s abrupt command, “United five fifty-three , execute a missed approach.” Six seconds later, Flight Officer Coble “was almost languid” (NTSB report, Appendix F) in response to the tower’s command to “make a left turn to a heading of – one eight zero, climb to two thousand.” “Okay,”
Coble radios the tower, “left turn to one eight zero – left turn, okay?” A preliminary NTSB statement said, “The inquiry, which is far from concluded, has found that the final words of the plane crew showed no concern or alarm about the planned landing” and that “no vocal or other indication was received from United’s three-man flight crew that an emergency had developed onboard. Instead, the voice of Second Officer E.J. Elder [the final NTSB report assigns this speech to Coble] was almost languid as he responded to Midway tower’s instruction to ‘take it around again, you are too close to the Aero-Commander ahead.’” (This last language, incidentally – about being too close to the Aero-Commander – is quoted here in the NTSB statement as though it were the actual language of the tower, but no such words can be found in the CVR transcript or Appendix F.)
The stickshaker warning signal that was not evidently noted by the crew of 553 was not noted by tower personnel either until (in the story Ruckelshaus told Reed) FBI Special Agent Robert E. Hartz “proceeded to the Midway Airport tower shortly after the crash to determine if tower personnel could shed any light as to the reason for the crash….After listening to the [tower’s] tapes, SA Hartz identified a sound as being that of the stall indicator on the aircreft. The FAA agreed that SA Hartz was right and immediately notified FAA headquarters at Washington D.C.”
How is this to be explained? What chance is there that the sound of the stickshaker was electronically imposed on the tapes by some Startrekish internal device as the “de-gaussing gun” with which Charles Colson once considered erasing the White House tapes from a position beyond the White House grounds? I do not know if an instrument that can do that exists, but we know for a fact that the CVR tape transcript published in the NTSB report gives not the slightest indication of any vocal or operational reaction by any of the three flight crew members to the activation of a warning system designed to be irresistible. That intrigues me. If I had been the NTSB and known that the tapes had been in the possession of the Nixon-Gray FBI and Shicago Streets and Sanitation and/or others for twenty hours, I should hav einquired further into it.
The NTSB did not. But then, Krogh and Spears and Butterfield were telling them to hurry.
To sum up the is much, I am saying that we face serious technical doubts in six areas connected with the crash of this airplane:
1: The elevated levels of cyanide shown in the pilot’s body and at least six others aboard the flight.
2: The fate of the flight recorders, including:
a) the missing fourteen minutes of the FDR record;
b) the oil-pollution and “special treatment’ to which the CVR tape was subjected for four days and the garbled nature of its final input to the investigation;
c) the irregular way these vital instruments came into the hands of the NTSB though Streets and Sanitation.
3: The parallel and common errors occurring simultaneously in the captain’s altimeter system and the copilot’s altimeter system, physically independent of each other.
4: The irregular utilization of the runways.
5: The malfunction of the Kedzie Outer Marker on an apparently exclusive-to-553 basis, leading 553 a quarter-mile astray inside a mile and a half.
6: The apparent failure of the crew to respond in any way to the activation of the stickshaker stall-warning system.
I am not saying that these technical doubts cannot possibly be resolved in innocuous ways or that they constitute by themselves a proof of the sabotage theory of the plane crash. I am saying only that they have not yet been resolved, innocuously or not. In the Appendis to this book, I argue further that the NTSB’s technical explanation of the crash, a “pilot-error” theory, is based on assumptions contradicted by the NTSB’s own technical findings. What remains to be seen is whether a more likely reconstruction of the event can be put together.
The Sabotage Theory
I have mentioned Skolnick’s bodyguard and companion Alex Bottos. Following is ann outline of the story he tells of the Hunt crash.
In September 1971, Bottos and other Skolnick associates quietly began investigating records of the Lake County Coroner’s Office in connection with a number of mysterious deaths of people figuring in one way or another in court actions pending in Hammond, Chicago, and Omaha against former executives of Northern Natural Gas Company and an assortment of public officials in Hammond and East Chicago.
This is the same Northern Natural whose lawyers Blodgett and Krueger will bring the so-called Mitchell documents aboard United 553 a year and a half later.
Northern Natural had been accused of a basic big-utilities bribery scheme involving the regional price structure and the seduction of pliant officials in a variety of levers-of-power positions. The indictment was originally to have been drawn in June of 1972. It was delayed by the stir created by new Skolnick-Bottos disclosures to the effect that the case had precipitated a string of cover-up crimes including murder and the falsification of death records. By September, when the information was that the documents finally brought $5 million on the underworld market.
As Bottos saw it, this meant that the Sarelli mob had something to do with the 553 crash. The way he pieced the story together, a group which Bottos occasionally follows General Haig in calling “the Sinister White House Force” was strongly desirous that several passengers aboard 553 not reach Chicago alive: Dorothy Hunt, because of her involvement in the blackmail operation; Michelle Clark of CBS, because she could put Dorothy Hunt on the gib stage; Krueger and Blodgett, because they had the Mitchell documents, part of the Huntmail. Because of the short time in which the technically difficult job had to be contracted for and carried out, the Sinister Force betook itself to the Syndicate group with the greatest technological capability of carrying it out, the Sarelli group. The hit group then employed a technique classically indicated for do-or-die situations, the use of double cutouts, i.e., of a number of independent hit-men each acting in ignorance of the others to get rid of the same people. The kill mechanisms employed overlapped and produced the overkill of 553. Bottos claimed also the elements of the FBI and other federal agencies were involved.
The 553 investigation was meantime heating up on its own burner and Skolnick and Bottos, pressing their views where they could were demanding, but not winning, a chance to present evidence at the NTSB public hearings.
On March 1 Skolnick presented the NTSB Board of Inquiry chairperson, Isobel Burgess, with a letter outlining his claims and requesting an opportunity to present them in a regular public session. Burgess rejected this petition on the spot without comment or explanation.
On March 2, Skolnick denounced the hearings as “a sham and a pretense” and filed suit against Burgess in the Cook County District Court.
On March 5, Bottos was suddenly taken prisoner by federal marshals acting on the order of another Chicago federal judge.
Without formal charges, hearing, or trial, Bottos was spirited away for sixty days of “mental observation” at the Federal Medical Facility in Springfield, Missouri, a prison-hospital long reckoned by the cognoscenti to be the main high-technology dungeon of the high-technology state, a “Clockwork Orange” subcellar. Bottos was released without harm after about forty days owing to the intervention of the Northwest Indiana Crime Commission, a citizen’s watch agency connected with Skolkick. By this time, however, the Sarelli case had gone by and he had not given his testimony.
Bottos is convinced that it was to keep him from testifying in the Sarelli trial that he was taken off to Springfield. A point cited against him in the “mental observation” period, in fact, was that he had been pushing so irrationally hard to be heard as a witness in that case. Davidson and Roller wanted him out of the picture, he came to believe, because they were protecting the Sarelli-White House link in the 553 crash.
This was only obliquely denied by Peter Vaira, Davidson’s successor as head of the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Strike Force in Chicago. Vaira told me in a telephone interview in late September 1974 (before all the CIA stories broke). “We did not put Alex on the stand because once he gets started, God almighty, he’d be all over the place. He talks about the CIA, the Bay of Pigs, all kind of weird stuff. Says he knew Howard Hunt at the Bay of Pigs. We figured the jury’s got enough problems. So we used the agent who listened into Alex’s conversations.”
The result even so was convictions for Sarelli and Chiodo. But as Vaira added sadly, “Unfortunately for us, they both got quick probation. I’d have thought they’d have done time. They got a lot of money.”
One of course lacks the means to evaluate the Skolnick-Bottos version of events from a distance; no doubt it is lurid and frightening. It goes beyond the image-frame of normal politics and so gives us an unwelcome, vertiginous sense of suddenly not understanding politics anymore. The act imputed is indeed so monstrous tha the imputation itself seems a monstrous act. Would this Sinister Force of ours really kill so many innocent people to protect itself? Would it actually do that? In the time of Mai Lai? Secret wars? Allende? Dallas? Memphis? Los Angeles? Laurel? Fred Hampton’s bedroom in Chicago? The Audubon Ballroom in Harlem? The road to Selma? Jackson State? Kent State? Watergate?
“Over the last two weeks I have encountered just such an apocalyptic situation, where I and the Department of Justice have been asked to be part of something that is fundamentally wrong.”
(Excerpt from Deputy Attorney General James Comey’s draft letter of resignation to President Bush, dated March 16, 2004, which Comey did not in the end send.)
“Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull”
(George Orwell: 1984)
I: Main Core and PROMIS
Suppose that the United States Government, or more likely an unaccountable privatized intelligence colossus empowered by the reaction to the 9/11 attacks and fueled by the rampant cronyism of a system long ago gone rotten had a surveillance tool capable of peering into the most private aspects of American lives on a whim. Now suppose that the new growth industry of a previously unthinkable futuristic police state was already in place, fully operational and has been online and has actively been being utilized for domestic spying for years before those two airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center. The ‘terrorist’ attacks were used as the justification for every unconstitutional reigning in of civil liberties ever since that heinous September morning seven years ago when the reset button was hit on two and a quarter centuries of American history and we all stepped forth into the brave new world of perpetual war, fear, suspicion and vengeance into a parallel reality in a place that would come to be known as The Homeland. What if this surveillance industrial complex was in possession of a database that was so large and so powerful that not only could it instantly process and retrieve the most minute or intimate aspects of a citizen’s lives but was also able to utilize extremely sophisticated artificial intelligence capabilities to actually predict likely patterns of future behavior.
Such a huge database would be able to use cutting edge technology funded with taxpayer dollars and awarded to unaccountable private corporations largely through ‘business as usual’ no bid contracts to create the most invasive tool of oppression this country has ever seen. This database would rely on software that was capable of performing social network analysis based on block modeling technology to monitor all forms of electronic communications, all internet searches, all debit and credit card transactions, all travel arrangements, all library records, all bank activity and all telephone records. It would then be able to use the data to not only find links between persons who already know and interact with each other but to categorize each individual into a particular group that possess similar behavioral and purchasing habits. These groups could then be further divided into subgroups and further analyzed in order to determine under some loosely defined and largely unknown guidelines whether they could potentially represent a threat. While all of this may sound like some sort of futuristic dystopian nightmare straight out of Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report and “Precrime” it is very real and it goes by the name of Main Core. For example, if you are selling a bicycle and run an advertisement in your local newspaper and you happen to receive a call from a Muhammad who is interested in your bicycle and Muhammad happens to have certain friends who have relationships with an organization that is determined by some unknown criteria to be a potential terrorist organization then the call that you received from Muhammad would then in all likelihood place you in the database and subject to an increased level of scrutiny at best and at worst in jeopardy of being picked up and held indefinitely without any sort of judical review.
This techoology is being used today absent any form of legitimate oversight, with a Constitution that has been eviscerated by the Bush-Cheney-Rove Axis of Evil, a vast gulag network of top secret prisons and ‘detention facilities’ and the decidedly anti-American new phenomenon of state sanctioned torture. Throw in an overworked, systematically dumbed-down populace that has been propagandized by the corrupt institution that is the corporate media machine with it’s clever use of fear and loathing and scientific development of advanced mind control techniques who despite the infinite wisdom of our forefathers would gladly sacrifice their liberty for the any sort of temporary safety (no matter that it is fleeting) and there exists today in ‘The Homeland’ a perfect petri dish for an authoritarian fascist society.
It is though a very sophisticated form of fascism unlike more outwardly obvious regimes that we have known in the past. Author Bertram Gross published a book back in 1980 that was entitled Friendly Fascism, Jim Garrison once said that “fascism would come to America in the name of national security”, and author Kevin Phillips in his 1983 book Post-Conservative America warned of the potential of an “apple pie authoritarianism” and a coming society in which: “the Star Spangled Benner would wave with greater frequency and over many more parades; increased surveillance would crack down on urban outbreaks and extreme political dissidents”. This very accurately describes post 9/11 America where any semblance of reason has been abandoned for cheap flag-waving pimped off as patriotism, criticism of authority has made into potential treason by the highly paid shills for neoconservative doctrine, sloganeering and demagoguery have replaced discourse, critical thinking is becoming extinct and just as George Orwell so accurately predicted Big Brother is now watching over us, protecting us and ensuring that we understand that war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.
But I digress…
Main Core has received attention in two recent articles, one a piece by investigative journalist Christopher Ketcham entitled The Last Roundup (which also looks at Continuity of Government programs but more on that in a little while) and Tim Shorrock entitled Exposing Bush’s Historic Abuse of Power. Both articles tie Main Core to the now legendary PROMIS software, an extremely advanced program designed to aid federal prosecutors in case management tracking. PROMIS could pull and put together a wide range of data from disparate sources into a single record. The PROMIS software was created by INSLAW Inc., a company owned by a former NSA intelligence officer named William Hamilton. PROMIS was to have been licensed to the U.S. government in the early 1980’s before the technology boom became widespread but was then stolen by the seamy officials in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department. The software was modified for espionage purposes to include a ‘back door’ that could be used for spying on those that it was sold to and in a detail that should be especially relevant with the economic crisis that threatens to crash the global financial system, the software could also be used to track in real time (in order to manipulate?) stock market transactions, once can certainly speculate as to how such a tool could have contributed to an economic catastrophe as we are now facing if it were used for such a thing. It is important to keep in mind the period when PROMIS was stolen in the early 1980’s and the fact that the techology boom was still years in the future which should give one an idea to just how far advanced and therefore how important that it was to those who would use it in order to promote a sinister agenda.
Mr. Shorock’s piece goes into the relationship between PROMIS and Main Core in some detail:
According to William Hamilton, a former NSA intelligence officer who left the agency in the 1970s, that description sounded a lot like Main Core, which he first heard about in detail in 1992. Hamilton, who is the president of Inslaw Inc., a computer services firm with many clients in government and the private sector, says there are strong indications that the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance operations use Main Core.
Hamilton’s company Inslaw is widely respected in the law enforcement community for creating a program called the Prosecutors’ Management Information System, or PROMIS. It keeps track of criminal investigations through a powerful search engine that can quickly access all stored data components of a case, from the name of the initial investigators to the telephone numbers of key suspects. PROMIS, also widely used in the insurance industry, can also sort through other databases fast, with results showing up almost instantly. “It operates just like Google,” Hamilton told me in an interview in his Washington office in May.
Since the late 1980s, Inslaw has been involved in a legal dispute over its claim that Justice Department officials in the Reagan administration appropriated the PROMIS software. Hamilton claims that Reagan officials gave PROMIS to the NSA and the CIA, which then adapted the software — and its outstanding ability to search other databases — to manage intelligence operations and track financial transactions. Over the years, Hamilton has employed prominent lawyers to pursue the case, including Elliot Richardson, the former attorney general and secretary of defense who died in 1999, and C. Boyden Gray, the former White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush. The dispute has never been settled. But based on the long-running case, Hamilton says he believes U.S. intelligence uses PROMIS as the primary software for searching the Main Core database.
Hamilton was first told about the connection between PROMIS and Main Core in the spring of 1992 by a U.S. intelligence official, and again in 1995 by a former NSA official. In July 2001, Hamilton says, he discussed his case with retired Adm. Dan Murphy, a former military advisor to Elliot Richardson who later served under President George H.W. Bush as deputy director of the CIA. Murphy, who died shortly after his meeting with Hamilton, did not specifically mention Main Core. But he informed Hamilton that the NSA’s use of PROMIS involved something “so seriously wrong that money alone cannot cure the problem,” Hamilton told me. He added, “I believe in retrospect that Murphy was alluding to Main Core.” Hamilton also provided copies of letters that Richardson and Gray sent to U.S. intelligence officials and the Justice Department on Inslaw’s behalf alleging that the NSA and the CIA had appropriated PROMIS for intelligence use.
Hamilton says James B. Comey’s congressional testimony in May 2007, in which he described a hospitalized John Ashcroft’s dramatic standoff with senior Bush officials Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card, was another illuminating moment. “It was then that we [at Inslaw] started hearing again about the Main Core derivative of PROMIS for spying on Americans,” he told me.
Through a former senior Justice Department official with more than 25 years of government experience, Salon has learned of a high-level former national security official who reportedly has firsthand knowledge of the U.S. government’s use of Main Core. The official worked as a senior intelligence analyst for a large domestic law enforcement agency inside the Bush White House. He would not agree to an interview. But according to the former Justice Department official, the former intelligence analyst told her that while stationed at the White House after the 9/11 attacks, one day he accidentally walked into a restricted room and came across a computer system that was logged on to what he recognized to be the Main Core database. When she mentioned the specific name of the top-secret system during their conversation, she recalled, “he turned white as a sheet.”
An article in Radar magazine in May, citing three unnamed former government officials, reported that “8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect” and, in the event of a national emergency, “could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and even detention.”
The INSLAW/PROMIS story reached deep into the darkest bowels of an increasingly secretive and malevolent National Security State that had manifested itself in the Reagan administration, the arms for hostages ‘October Surprise’ deal that sank Jimmy Carter’s bid for re-election leading to the Reagan-Bush hostile takeover of America, Iran-Contra, BCCI, media manipulation (see Robert Parry’s excellent special report for Consortium News entitled Iran Contra’s ‘lost chapter’), Oliver North’s swashbuckling adventures with C.O.G., drugs for guns and subversion of Congress all were components of Reagan’s government, a government that he hypocritically railed against for its intrusiveness and yet presided over while the shadow government that would rise again with the Supreme Court installation of George W. Bush as president with many of the key operatives of Reagan and George H.W. Bush’s dark shops of oppression being given key positions in this brazenly lawless administration that has brought America to the brink of fascism.
Ketcham’s The Last Roundup is particulary of interest in that he examines the now infamous 2004 visit of Bush administration officials Alberto Gonzalez and Andrew Card to the hospital room of Attorney General John Ashcroft who had been stricken with pancreaitis after acting A.G. James Comey refused to sign off on the reauthorization of what was an illegal surveillance program related to Continuity of Government. The story is fascinating in that it not only illustrated the length to which the Bush-Cheney junta would go to in order to keep their dirty little programs in place but also for the high speed chase through the streets of Washington and the race up the hospital stairs that Comey engaged in to beat Gonzalez and Card to the sedated Ashcroft to take advantage of a sick man, when John Ashcroft actually comes out looking like a heroic figure it becomes very apparent of just how grossly un-American that this flagrantly criminal administration truly is. James Comey went on to give testimony to Congress over the hospital room showdown and more details are available from blogger Glenn Greenwald in his piece entitled What illegal “things” was the government doing in 2001-2004? and in Barton Gellman’s new book Angler and exerpts were recently published in the Washington Post which part one and part two can be read for more information on the back story behind the surveillance reauthorization. Murray Waas also has done a story on whether former Attorney General Gonzalez created a set of falsified notes to provide a cover story for what occurred while trying to bully Comey and Ashcroft into signing off on the obviously illegal surveillance program.
Excerpts from Ketcham’s story are chilling:
According to a senior government official who served with high-level security clearances in five administrations, “There exists a database of Americans, who, often for the slightest and most trivial reason, are considered unfriendly, and who, in a time of panic, might be incarcerated. The database can identify and locate perceived ‘enemies of the state’ almost instantaneously.” He and other sources tell Radar that the database is sometimes referred to by the code name Main Core. One knowledgeable source claims that 8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect. In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.
Of course, federal law is somewhat vague as to what might constitute a “national emergency.” Executive orders issued over the past three decades define it as a “natural disaster, military attack, [or] technological or other emergency,” while Department of Defense documents include eventualities like “riots, acts of violence, insurrections, unlawful obstructions or assemblages, [and] disorder prejudicial to public law and order.” According to one news report, even “national opposition to U.S. military invasion abroad” could be a trigger.
Let’s imagine a harrowing scenario: coordinated bombings in several American cities culminating in a major blast—say, a suitcase nuke—in New York City. Thousands of civilians are dead. Commerce is paralyzed. A state of emergency is declared by the president. Continuity of Governance plans that were developed during the Cold War and aggressively revised since 9/11 go into effect. Surviving government officials are shuttled to protected underground complexes carved into the hills of Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Power shifts to a “parallel government” that consists of scores of secretly preselected officials. (As far back as the 1980s, Donald Rumsfeld, then CEO of a pharmaceutical company, and Dick Cheney, then a congressman from Wyoming, were slated to step into key positions during a declared emergency.) The executive branch is the sole and absolute seat of authority, with Congress and the judiciary relegated to advisory roles at best. The country becomes, within a matter of hours, a police state.
Under law, during a national emergency, FEMA and its parent organization, the Department of Homeland Security, would be empowered to seize private and public property, all forms of transport, and all food supplies. The agency could dispatch military commanders to run state and local governments, and it could order the arrest of citizens without a warrant, holding them without trial for as long as the acting government deems necessary. From the comfortable perspective of peaceful times, such behavior by the government may seem far-fetched. But it was not so very long ago that FDR ordered 120,000 Japanese Americans—everyone from infants to the elderly—be held in detention camps for the duration of World War II. This is widely regarded as a shameful moment in U.S. history, a lesson learned. But a long trail of federal documents indicates that the possibility of large-scale detention has never quite been abandoned by federal authorities. Around the time of the 1968 race riots, for instance, a paper drawn up at the U.S. Army War College detailed plans for rounding up millions of “militants” and “American negroes,” who were to be held at “assembly centers or relocation camps.” In the late 1980s, the Austin American-Statesman and other publications reported the existence of 10 detention camp sites on military facilities nationwide, where hundreds of thousands of people could be held in the event of domestic political upheaval. More such facilities were commissioned in 2006, when Kellogg Brown & Root—then a subsidiary of Halliburton—was handed a $385 million contract to establish “temporary detention and processing capabilities” for the Department of Homeland Security. The contract is short on details, stating only that the facilities would be used for “an emergency influx of immigrants, or to support the rapid development of new programs.” Just what those “new programs” might be is not specified.
In the days after our hypothetical terror attack, events might play out like this: With the population gripped by fear and anger, authorities undertake unprecedented actions in the name of public safety. Officials at the Department of Homeland Security begin actively scrutinizing people who—for a tremendously broad set of reasons—have been flagged in Main Core as potential domestic threats. Some of these individuals might receive a letter or a phone call, others a request to register with local authorities. Still others might hear a knock on the door and find police or armed soldiers outside. In some instances, the authorities might just ask a few questions. Other suspects might be arrested and escorted to federal holding facilities, where they could be detained without counsel until the state of emergency is no longer in effect.
That Main Core and PROMIS are linked raises some extremely provocative questions in regards to intent on the subversion of the Constitution and the overthrow of the legitimate government by a shadow government using the Continuity of Government infrastructure. Ketcham also references a massive 1993 piece for Wired Magazine entitled The INSLAW Octopus that none other than the infamous rogue operative Lt. Col. Oliver North was using PROMIS for illegal surveillance purposes:
Lt. Col. Oliver North also may have been using the program. According to several intelligence community sources, PROMIS was in use at a 6,100-square-foot command center built on the sixth floor of the Justice Department. According to both a contractor who helped design the center and information disclosed during the Iran-Contra hearings, Oliver North had a similar, but smaller, White House operations room that was connected by computer link to the DOJ’s command center.
Using the computers in his command center, North tracked dissidents and potential troublemakers within the United States as part of a domestic emergency preparedness program, commissioned under Reagan’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), according to sources and published reports. Using PROMIS, sources point out, North could have drawn up lists of anyone ever arrested for a political protest, for example, or anyone who had ever refused to pay their taxes. Compared to PROMIS, Richard Nixon’s enemies list or Sen. Joe McCarthy’s blacklist look downright crude. This operation was so sensitive that when Rep. Jack Brooks asked North about it during the Iran-Contra hearings, the hearing was immediately suspended pending an executive (secret) conference. When the hearings were reconvened, the issue of North’s FEMA dealings was dropped.
North’s involvement with Continuity of Government programs including REX 84 has long been known and while Col. North no longer is active in such programs (at least not to the knowledge of anyone) a larger part of the C.O.G./shadow government infrastructure continued to breed in darkness and secrecy and on that most glorious day for American fascism, 9/11/2001 went live under the guidance of one of its most ardent and longtime architects, Vice President Richard B. Cheney.
The secrets of Main Core, PROMIS and other variations of the monstrous tools of an out of control shadow government are the veritable crown jewels of the police state and every effort has and will continue to be vigorously employed to stifle any investigations through the official channels. Is there really any doubt that these surveillance systems aren’t being used for raw political purposes and for blackmail? How much serious opposition has the Bush-Cheney-Rove Axis of Evil met in their systematic dismantling of the Constitution over the past eight years? In the ongoing exploitation of the ‘terrorist’ attacks of 9/11 that have been used to justify each and every incursion on American civil liberties and thugs like Dick Cheney and David Addington acting as the muscle for the shadow government (as is evident in the stories linked to above) the footfalls of those little cat feet grow louder and louder.
Now if PROMIS was being used by Colonel North as a part of Rex 84 back in the 1980’s when the Continuity of Government plans were being tweaked, FEMA being set up for the eventual incorporation into the Department of Homeland Security and financial transactions as well as communications already being monitored what does that say about the current state in which we all find ourselves in? Every new police state measure has been implemented largely after being conceived in secrecy under the premise of ‘national security’ and NSPD-51 has allowed for the executive branch to issue a declaration of martial law under which the roundup of dissidents for detention (or worse) will be conducted. And this has all been non-reviewable by Congress, a supposedly (at least according to the Constitution) a co-equal branch of government. When a Congressman named Peter DeFazio was last year denied access to the NSPD-51/C.O.G. plans by the Bush administration it was yet another example of what has been a disturbing pattern. The Main Core list of potential ‘enemies of the state’, the assignment of troops to NORTHCOM, the ongoing frantic efforts of the neocons to launch a war with Iran, the threat of the Cheney cabal being further exposed, the deteriorating economy and the growing public anger at government along with a loss of faith in public institutions all add up to something very dark that is about to come to fruition after decades of planning.
None of this is about terrorism at all, it never has been. It is all about the implementation of a fascist style dictatorship in America.
(This is the first installment of what will be an ongoing series)
Watergate is a labyrinth we traverse in three directions in the following essays on Howard Hughes, Dorothy Hunt, and James McCord. My central claim is that the arrest of the Watergate burglars was the result of a set-up, that it was no more an accident that the Plumbers were caught than that they were in the offices of the Democratic National Committee to begin with, that there were actually two secret operations at Watergate, colliding invisibly as hunter and prey.
The issues joined in this incredible intrigue are the general issues of the struggle between Yankees and Cowboys. The essay on Hughes takes up the Yankee/Cowboy theme at length and sets out to show in concrete detail how the larger forces thus indicated can be seen at work in the history of Hughes and his battles and wars, first against the East Coast banking combines around the Rockefellers, then against the international crime Syndicate under Lansky. We follow step-by-step the evolution of the general features of the Yankee/Cowboy, Rockefeller/Hughes, Hughes/Lansky conflicts into the particular features of the Watergate confrontation.
The essay on Dorothy Hunt’s death in an airplane crash argues that the crash was the result of sabotage with a Watergate-related motive, bearing on the crisis of the Howard Hunt/White House blackmail scheme. I don not know or pretend to know how or by whom this plane was brought down, any more than I know who killed the two Kennedys and King. But just as in those cases, the careful review of the material evidence indicates that we are once again in the presence of an official deception in a capital case.
The McCord essay then explores in detail the anomalies surrounding McCord’s person and role in Watergate. The argument is that McCord did not blunder, that there was no slip-up to it when he left the telltale tape on the door, that he was actually an anti-Nixon double agent responsible to Yankee interests, pointman in another Yankee attempt at counter-coup – this one a success.
The Hughes Connection
Howard Hughes’s name surfaced in the story of Watergate on May 20, 1973. When James McCord told the Ervin committed and its media audience of an abandoned 1972 White House plot to steal certain documents from the safe of editor Hank Greenspun’s Las Vegas Sun. Greenspun was an ally of Robert Meheu, the top Hughes aide who connected the CIA and the Mafia in 1960, who came to prominence in the Hughes empire late in 1970. McCord testified that his fellow Plumbers, Hunt and Liddy, were to have carried out the break-in and theft of the papers and that Hughes interests were to have supplied them with a getaway plane and a safe hideout in an unnamed Central American country.
What could the Greenspun documents have been? Why should both Hughes and Nixon have been interested enough in them to attempt a robbery?
Liddy said [testified McCord] that Attorney General John Mitchell had told him that Greenspun had in his possession blackmail type information involving a Democratic candidate for President, that Mitchell wanted that material, and Liddy said that this information was in some way racketeer-related, indicating that if this candidate became President, the racketeers or national crime syndicate could have a control or influence over him as President. My inclination at this point in time, speaking as of today, is to disbelieve the allegation against the Democratic candidate referred to above and to believe that there was in reality some other motive for wanting to get into Greenspun’s safe.
For their own reasons, the senators were not tempted to follow that thread in their public examinations of McCord. But the investigative staff took a few more steps, and some independent but related court cases came to term, and it thus became possible to build a reasonably solid speculation about the role Hughes and his empire played in the Watergate confrontation. It is still not possible for outsiders – i.e., ordinary citizens – to form more than a rough sense of the underlying truth, but the following provisional reconstruction may sharpen our impression of the quality of the Hughes mystery and show why we cannot be satisfied with the conventional sense that it belongs only to the realm of the eccentricities of the rich, not to the realm of world-historical politics.
Hughes unites in his single person all the major sides of Cowboy capitalism’s current situation: its compromised relationship to organized crime, its servility towards militaristic authority, its last-ditch entrepreneurial desperation and bitterness, its gradual transformation into multicorporatized (i.e., monopolized) business structure in spit of all. Yet Hughes was not the ally of big crime, and he was not finally Nixon’s friend.
In 1935, when Bebe Rebozo was opening his first gas station in Miami and Richard Nixon was at Quaker school and Meyer Lansky was launching his Cuban projects and David Rockefeller was cutting his banker’s teeth on Depression economics, Howard Hughes at thirty was flying a widely admired aircraft of his own conception, design, and fabrication, the Hughes H-1 Racer, to a world speed record of 352 miles per hour. Two years later he set the coast-to-coast flying record of seven hours and twenty-eight minutes. In 1941 he flew around the world in a Hughes-modified Lockheed Lodestar, demonstrating the feasibility of a world air transportation network. Congress struck a medal for him in 1941 for his aviation exploits. He was a force behind the Lockheed Constellation, the first American high-speed passenger transport, replaced only by the big jets of the fifties. He was a force behind the big jets.
In World War II, as we noted in chapter 2, there was a great feeling of insecurity about the sea lanes. Industrialist Henry Kaiser suggested that the best way to beat the Nazi submarine menace would be to make giant airplanes that could take over the work of ships. Hughes found that idea congenial and got behind it. Shortly he and Kaiser had a contract calling for the delivery in 1944 of three monster flying boats designed to fly nonstop from Honolulu to Tokyo loaded with two battalions of armed infantry or equipment.
By delivery date, the hull was barely begun and at least another year of work remained. In a foretaste of later troubles at Hughes Aircraft, the works manager quit, Hughes dawdled at replacing him, and twenty-one engineers resigned en masse protesting they were without leadership.
In February 1944, the contract was cancelled. Hughes flew to Washington to tell the War Production Board that his and Kaiser’s HK-1 Hercules was not only the biggest airplane in the world, it was also a flying laboratory that would influence the direction of aviation development for decades. Would it not be foolish to waste the time and money already invested?
President Roosevelt was an admirer of Hughes. The contract was rewritten, cutting back from three planes to one.
Hughes returned to California, work resumed, FDR died, the war ended, Lansky founded the Strip, Nixon won his first election, and in 1947 Republican Senator Owen Brewster of Maine angrily exposed the fact that the U.S. government had paid Hughes $66 million for XF-11s and the HK-1 and had yet to receive a single airplane.
Hughes was not alone in his vulnerable position. The United States spent some $825 million for warplanes and some $6 billion for other weapons that were undeliverable at the end of the war. Possibly Brewster recalled the impact of the Merchant-of-Death hearings at the end of World War I and sensed that Hughes’s Hollywood playboyism would make him a soft target on profiteering. And Brewster knew that Hughes was connected in a potentially scandalous relationship with the late President’s son, Col. Elliott Roosevelt.
Hughes had a Hollywood aide by the name of Johnny Meyer whose job was to pick up the tab for the entertainments that Hughes provided those who would do him favors. Meyer told the Brewster committee that between 1942 and 1945 he laid out about $160,000 of Hughes’s money for entertainment of military and government officials. A large part of that, he said, provided for the entertainment of Col. Roosevelt.
Besides the connections of a good name, Col. Roosevelt had the additional advantage of being chief of the Requirements Division of the Army Air Force Reconnaissance Branch. He was treated with due respect when he visited Hughes’s Culver City works in the summer of 1943 and by the way plunged into a brilliant public romance, leading to marriage with actress Faye Emerson. Meyer and Hughes provided the Roosevelt-Emerson party with race-track tickets, liquor, hotel rooms, lavish dinner parties, black market nylons, and a wedding party.
The calendar showed that it was in the welter of those heady days that Col. Roosevelt made the recommendation that won for Hughes a $48 million contract to produce the ultimately unproduced forerunner of the XF-11.
The colonel got his piss and vinegar and charged into the committee room to defend his honor, but possibly helped Brewster make a larger point by denying “with all my heart and soul that Johnny Meyer ever got me a girl” and pushing hard the lame assurance that he never made “recommendations that would have in any way endangered the lives of the men under me.”
Now what could Hughes do? Had he not told Meyer to pay out this money? Had he not plainly hustled for the favors of a man whose influence was worth tens of millions to him in war contracts? Had his bribes not been shamelessly accepted by this officer-son of the president? Had the probably purpose of the bribes not been realized? Had not the contracts been awarded on the president’s approval? And then to top all, the planes had never even been delivered. Was it worse than wasteful? Was the XF-11 a straight rip-off? Was the Spruce Goose not an unflyable travesty from the start?
So Hughes came to the hearing tieless in an open shirt, sloppy work pants, and an old brown fedora to defend himself. He began by accepting and then brushing aside Brewster’s charges about influence buying: “All the aircraft companies were doing the same thing,” he said.
I believe Meyer patterned his work after what he saw in other companies. I don’t know whether it’s a good system or not. But the system did obtain. And it certainly did not seem fair for all my competitors to entertain while I sat back and ignored the government and its officials. You, Senator, are a lawmaker, and if you can pass a law that no one can entertain Army officers and you can enforce it, I’ll be glad to abide by it. I never wanted to bother with it. If you can get others to do business that way, I’ll be glad to do so, too.
Then he bore down. Influence was not even the real issue in the hearing, he said, no more than the issue was his guilt or innocence in the question of delivering the airplanes.
The hearings, said Hughes, were part of a well-heeled Wall Street conspiracy to force him out of control of TWA. Senator Brewster in particular was privy to this conspiracy, Hughes claimed. Brewster was acting as its agent in pushing these hearings on Hughes. Said Hughes to a startled committee:
If Senator Brewster really believed me guilty of obtaining war contracts by improper means, he would not be romancing me on the side, inviting me to lunch, and making appointments over the telephone to see me in California. I charge specifically that at a lunch in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., last February, Senator Brewster in so many words told me that the hearings need not go on if I agreed to merge the TWA airline with Pan American Airways and go along with the bill for a single overseas airline.
And with that was launched an explicit and fateful confrontation between Yankee and Cowboy business forces.
Brewster was close to Juan Trippe, the president of Pan American Airways. Pan Am was (and is) controlled by a high-powered Wall Street banking consort around Rockefeller interests. Trippe’s proposal was that the Congress legislate the merger of all of America’s overseas airlines into a single giant carrier. The argument for this was of the essence of postwar Yankee consciousness. In the wake of the war and under the intense and numerous pressures of European reconstruction and the Cold War, European capitalism found it convenient to the point of necessity to organize government-industry cartels as a means of generating large amounts of finance capital quickly. In practical terms, that meant that America’s several transoceanic airlines would have to compete against one big united West German fleet (Lufthansa), one big united British fleet (BOAC), and so on. How could we maintain our competitive position in international air transportation unless we too resorted to a national cartel?
Hughes could see through that. So the Yankee banks had taken a liking to his airline, had they? And wanted to melt it into their airline, did they? Fancy that.
Tempers in the hearing room became short. At a certain point the subcommittee’s chairman, Senator Ferguson, wanted to go back to influence peddling and get away from the question of Brewster’s relationship to Rockefeller and the Trippe plan. To do this, he wanted to bring Johnny Meyer back to the witness chair, but Meyer was not in the committee room when his name came up.
“Do you know where Meyer is?” Ferguson said to Hughes?
“Will you see that he is here at two P.M.?”
Pause. “I don’t know that I will.”
Newsreels show Hughes calm and self-possessed. Ferguson could not think what to say, so Hughes sat back and continued, “Just to put him up here on the stand beside me and make a publicity show? My company has been inconvenienced just about enough. I brought Meyer here twice. You had time for unlimited questioning.”
“The chair feels that as president of the company, you should know where Meyer is. I must warn you of possible contempt. Give me your answer to the preceding question.”
“I don’t remember.”
“I’ve just asked what your answer was.”
“I don’t remember – get it off the record.”
Ferguson slammed his hand on the desk. “Will you bring Mr. Meyer in here at two P.M.?”
“No. No, I don’t think I will.”
In a matter of moments, the hearing had turned into a shouting match. Brewster was desperate to regain the offense and chose to attack Hughes’s pride by attacking the flying boat. He attacked its very concept, as though it were only the expression of the vanity of an individual and not of the hubris of an entire class. He called the plane “Hughes’s flying lumberyard”
I had to sweat five weeks in Washington to prevent cancellation of the contract from the start because a lot of people in government didn’t like it. We got pushed around everywhere. I had to build up a staff of engineers from scratch. I designed every nut and bolt that went into this airplane. I designed this ship to a greater degree than any one man has ever designed any of the recent large airplanes. I worked for eighteen to twenty hours a day for six months on this plane. If the flying boat fails to fly, I will probably exile myself from this country. I have put the sweat of my life into this thing, and $7,200,000 of my own money. My reputation is wrapped up in it. I have stated that if it fails to fly, I will leave this country, and I mean it.
The hearings adjourned till November. Brewster retired to his home base. In spite of the “poisoned arrows” Hughes had hit him with, Brewster was confident enough to say, “My moral code will compare favorably with that of this young man [of 42] who found time while others were fighting the war to produce The Outlaw.”
Early in November, before the hearings recommenced, Hughes moved the Hercules to specially built hangar at Long Beach, where it was reassembled and prepared for flight (and where it sat until 1975, when it was broken up for museums).
The Brewster side sneered at the Spruce Goose and predicted that the tables would be turned on Hughes when the hearings reopened. Hughes answered by inviting the whole of the Brewster committee to California for the Hercules’s first flight. Brewster did not accept, but others on the committee had fallen under Hughes’s charm or become intrigued with him and so came and saw and were conquered all over again, this time by his creation, this gigantic plywood flying boat with a tail ten stories tall and wings of 320 feet (60 percent larger than the 747’s). But though its pieces were “as neatly fitted as a mandolin,” it was still too early. It was wooden. Wood was wrong for such immense stresses and strains. It was powered by piston engines delivering too little thrust. It was a prefiguration of something still to come, not yet completely possible.
Yet on the last of several taxi runs at Long Beach that day, as Hughes explained, “it just felt so buoyant and light, I just pulled it up.” He climbed to seventy feet and sailed along at that altitude for about a mile, then brought it down, satisfied evidently, because that was the single solitary flight of the Goose-Hercules. Brewster was destroyed.
The unmasking of Brewster of a deep-dyed conspiracy of Yankee bankers plotting to take TWA off Hughes’s hands gives us a startlingly unobstructed glimpse into the workings of national power elites. It puts in sunlight the fact that a Yankee conspiracy against Hughes, aiming to take over TWA, existed as early as 1947. It shows us again how mainstream an instrument conspiracy is, how the best families do it, how it reaches the highest and squarest levels of business and government, how it is behind many events that seem disconnected, as with the Brewster hearings and the Trippe plan. It even shows how a rock-ribbed Republican stalwart from the superstraight state of Maine can thunder and roar and tear up about other people’s moral deficiencies at the very moment and in the very act of conspiring with other, higher powers in a rip-off scheme of his own, still more perverse because it uses and humiliates the Congress as a whole. This is very deep corruption. It says something about where the moral gloom that overcame America in the fifties came from.
The Soviet Union secretly exploded its first A-bomb late in August 1949. A month later Truman gave the world the news that the American nuclear monopoly was broken.
Shortly thereafter, Colorado Sen. Edwin Johnson accused Atomic Energy Commission Chairman David Lilienthal of conspiring to turn over U.S. atomic secrets to Britain. Lillienthal answered with an impassioned warning against the domination of the military in foreign affairs and resigned in the midst of a tense situation.
On February 1, 1950, against the advice of the AEC, Truman ordered the go-ahead on development of the H-bomb.
On February 9, in Wheeling, West Virginia, Sen. Joe McCarthy told an assembly, “I have in my hand 57 cases of individuals who would appear to be either card-carrying members or certainly loyal to the Communist Party, but who are nevertheless helping to shape our foreign policy.”
Yankees countered. In February and March the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Millard Tydings of Maryland, spolke out in a series of Senate speeches against the “defeatism” of the Truman line on Russia and communism, arguing that the presumption of inevitable conflict would lead to conflict inevitably. Tydings urged Truman to start moves toward a world disarmament conference. Connecticut’s Sen. Brian McMahon, chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, called also for conferences with the Soviet Union and argued that the best way to save the peace would be a program of massive aid to the poor countries. And Harrison Salisbury reported from Moscow that the Russians wanted to meet with the Americans to discuss A-bombs and disarmament – Yankees for an early détente.
Then on April 28, in a big speech to the always right-wing American Newspaper Publishers Association, Herbert Hoover proposed expulsion of the Communists from the United Nations and the formation of “a new united front of those who disavow communism.” The speech was met with a “thunderous, almost impassioned ovation.”
Yankee publicist and secret Round Table member Walter Lippmann leapt into the breech. Was there not a fatal contradiction in the stance of these “old guard Republican forces?” he asked. How could they “reconcile their warlike and crusading fervor against communism and Soviet Russia with their growing opposition to the European Recovery Plan, military aid, Point 4, and all the other measures of that sort?”
At the same time, the view which the Yankees denounced as isolationism was actually a rival internationalism – a rival strategy of expansion. Precisely in the manner of the Yankee Atlanticist looking to Europe, the Cowboy Frontierists looking to Asia were moved to view the problems of American life as originating in external pressures. As the Yankees were instinct with the need to reconstruct and consolidate in Europe, the Cowboys were instinct with the like need to maintain the Open Door in Asia.
And precisely as Hughes saw his wide open spaces being rationalize and regulated out from under him by the combined powers of the Establishment East, constantly encroaching, so he saw the traditional means of escape being sealed off by the rise of revolutionary communism in Asia. This is perhaps how he and so many other hard rightists could come to think of the New York bankers and the Reds as being in on the great rip-off together.
Hughes joined in the fight against banker’s communism so fiercely because it touched him so intimately, right in his airplane company. In the struggle that followed, like Joe McCarthy at the same time, Hughes found himself misaligned against the Pentagon, the institution with which has political relations might have been most agreeable.
The issue was the old and recurrent one of corporate control and accountability. Hughes Aircraft Company had built up its position dramatically in the previous few years under the management of former Air Transport Command Chief General Harold George and the technical leadership of Simon Ramo from Cal Tech and Dean Wooldridge from Bell Labs. At the end of 1953, when the trouble long brewing between Hughes and his management team broke out, HAC sales stood at $200 million a year, almost every dollar of it a top military secret.
The trouble between Hughes and his Hughes Aircraft Company team began in the late 1940s when Ramo, Wooldridge, and George demanded a face-to-face meeting with Hughes to argue for a new lab, needed they said, because of the expansion of the company’s defense contracts. Hughes agreed to a new lab, but proposed to build it in Las Vegas. The HAC people were horrified. They wanted the research center and the production center together. They fought their boss’s proposal. Hughes was angry and stubborn but at last gave way and let the lab be built in Culver City.
How can we characterize this rebellion? The technostructure, as John Kenneth Galbraigh and, after him, such other liberals as Andrew St. George would come to call it, wanted only to discharge its ultimate duties to its capitalist owner and master and therefore to its owner’s customers. It wanted to make big money and to help secure the country against military threats. So from its standpoint, it had not rebelled against its owner at all, it had only asserted the powers of rational action inherent to its contract, had only insisted upon its right to do what it was being paid to do.
But the more fundamental significance of this rebellion is that it showed that management and ownership, former indivisible politically, had diverged. Now they were not altogether as tight as before. It appeared now that management could actually sustain its bureaucratic interests over the objection of the owner, and especially could do this if the company was in effect a single-source-supplier to the Pentagon of major weapon system components. And if to own a (defense) company was no longer to control it, then which end was up in the world of private capital and the American state?
In approximately June 1952, HAC management concluded that HAC’s growth under their leadership had inspired jealousy in the parent organization, the Hughes Tool Company board of directors, to whom they were accountable, and that Noah Dietrich, the so-called financial wizard of the Hughes empire from the beginning was the main power on the Toolco board, was actually hatching a plot to seize control of HAC away from themselves.
The occasion of the clash was an HAC revolving credit fund that General George wanted to establish at $35 million. Dietrich unilaterally and arbitrarily cut this back to $25 million. The HAC management team insisted that this posed a threat to national security. They threatened to complain to the Air Force. Hughes met with them a second time, but was unwilling to listen to their most important general complaint, that the company’s once commanding position in the industry was being destroyed by Dietrich, who at best (they said) was misapplying the finance principles of boomtown oil to an altogether different business situation, and who at worst was maliciously engineering the troubles at HAC in order to fight off an imagined play for his own power.
Hughes reminded the rebels that Dietrich was a champion-class professional and that his sense of HAC’s true needs could not be discounted. There was a perspective, larger, after all, than that of a mere division like HAC, namely, that of the Hughes empire as a whole. And larger even than that was the perspective of Hughes the person, the rugged individual. What was good for HAC (or later, TWA) might not be good for Toolco, just as what was good for Toolco might not be good for Hughes the person. And Hughes the person, said Hughes, still happened to be in command.
Well, answered the technostructure, was national security not a perspective still larger than that of Hughes the person?
Which is when Hughes started thundering: “Communism! Communism!”
Fortune somehow saved the following dialogue:
HUGHES: You are proposing to take from me the right to manage my own property, I’ll burn down the plant first.
GEORGE: You are accomplishing the same effect without matches. I do not intend to preside over the liquidation of a great company.
George thereupon quit, soon followed by Ramo and Wooldridge and virtually the whole of the top technical staff behind them. Secretary of the Air Force Harold Talbott flew to Culver City to meet with Hughes and find out what was happening. He found Hughes furious. They were all troublemakers, he said. The company would be better off without them.
TALBOTT: You have made a hell of a mess of a great property, and by God, as long as I am Secretary of the Air Force, you are not going to get another dollar of new business.
HUGHES: If you mean to tell me that the government is prepared to destroy a business merely on the unfounded charges of a few disgruntled employees, then you are introducing socialism, if not communism.
TALBOTT: I intend to see that the Air Force contracts are protected.
The overriding issue of modern capitalism, the issue of individual control versus social accountability, could hardly have been more frontally joined than between these two forces, free enterprise and the anti-Communist military, more usually imagined as locked in embrace eternal.
Hughes being Hughes, with his capacity for putting all his excesses in one basket, was fighting out the very same issue at that very same moment in a separate province of his empire. He had picked up the movie studio RKO in 1948, and it had promptly begun crumbling in his fingers. The explanation universally given for this business disaster was the same as the explanation given in the HAC case tumbling along at the side, the Spruce Goose case a little behind, and the TWA developing underneath. The explanation was always that Hughes was a foolish, neurotic, procrastinating crank whose compulsive retention of control over the least rivet made him catastrophically unsuited for the management of large-scale corporate systems.
“It is impossible to estimate the damage done to RKO by Howard Hughes,” said Fortune from the commanding financial heights of Yankeedom. “Where is the accountant who can set a figure on the hundreds of intangible losses that came from Hughes’s inability to produce enough movies? With adequate production, RKO would have been able to develop stars of its own, rather than buying them from other studios at fancy prices…. The Hughes regime at RKO was about as dismal as it could be… “ The assault on his ownership continued with $30 million in stockholder lawsuits that suddenly materialized out of nowhere.
In a double jam, crossed two ways for being a good capitalist in America, land of the free, etc., Hughes was at last forced to roll up RKO into a ball and sell out to Akron interests. His profit was more than $7 ½ million over his purchase price, but now he was shut out of the movie business and he had not wanted that.
It is not known for a fact that Hughes supported Nixon financially in the early part of Nixon’s public career, from 1946 to 1952. Dietrich maintains that onward from the late forties, Hughes financed a great many politicians – “governors, congressmen, senators, judges, yes and vice presidents too.” Still this was written well before the fact and Dietrich may only have been recalling the famous “Hughes loan” of 1957.
This well-known but not so well understood episode is the first definitely recorded significant transaction between Hughes and Nixon. What Nixon got from Hughes was $205,000 for the benefit of brother Donald, whose Southern California fast-food chain was failing (it finally went broke anyway). What Hughes got from Nixon was approval of a previously denied St. Louis-Miami route for TWA, government reversal of a ten-year-old decision against letting Hughes lend TWA $5 million from HAC coffers, recomputation of mail transport credits to TWA generating a multimillion-dollar refund out of what had been a TWA debt, SEC approval of a TWA stock transfer that it had turned down four times previously, reversal of an unfavorable IRS judgment against Hughes’s Medical Institute in Miami, and the dropping of a Justice Department antitrust action against Toolco.
The Hughes loan was expensive for Nixon. In fact, the Nixon-Hughes relationship throughout is charged with negativity and mutual destructiveness. IN the current instance, word reached Nixon in the waning days of the 1960 presidential campaign that Kennedy scouts had discovered the Hughes loan and that Kennedy was waiting until just before the election to expose it, leaving Nixon no time to recover. Nixon decided therefore to break the story himself, hopefully thus to deflate it.
That proved a foolishly speculative decision. Nixon told the story and it erupted in his face. Possibly that was what kept Nixon out of the White House in 1960. Almost certainly it kept him out of Sacramento in 1962 when it boiled up again. Then came the crescendo of 1972, Watergate, the reappearance of Hughes as a weight on Nixon. Hughes is Nixon’s nemesis. It will appear in the following that Hughes may also be Nixon’s victim.
The Flight of TWA
To understand Nixon at the time of Watergate, we must understand Hughes in 1970 and thus his situation in Las Vegas. To understand that, we must first know what made him go there. And that brings us to the battle for TWA, the exemplary illustration from the world of contemporary big business of the Yankee/Cowboy conflict in play, paradigmatic of the working contradictions of American capitalism, and along with the wreck of the Penn Central, the towering commercial conflict of the sixties.
Hughes acquired Transcontinental and Western Airlines and four smaller lines in 1939 and merged them into Trans World Airlines, pumping up the new corporation with an investment of $90 million of his own funds. He controlled 70 percent of its stock. It was his airline in a sense that no airline has ever belonged to any single person.
And this was indeed the crux of the struggle about to take place. Hughes wanted a banker who would lend him what he needed, then let him run his own business, but the bankers wanted to change the private Hughes empire into publicly traded properties.
David Tinnin makes this the central point of his detailed account of the Hughes-TWA affair, Just About Everybody Vs. Howard Hughes (Doubleday, 1973),, upon which my summary is based. Hughes, ,he writes, “was fighting for a very personal cause – to retain sole possession of the country’s last individually owned industrial empire. The Fricks, the Rockefellers and the Fords had long since relinquished absolute ownership of their enterprises. This man alone held out.” One doubts Tinnin’s use of relinquish in this case, first because he is blurring the important distinction between “possession” or “ownership” and control, but more importantly, because the evolution of Rockefeller-Morgan magnitude power, displayed so awesomely in this fight, is in no respect of history of relinquishing; it is rather a history of how great financial power begets still greater financial power, and how financial power risen to new degrees necessarily begets new institutional requirements, and how these requirements ultimately come to transcend and dominate the personalities of specific princes. David Rockefeller does not share Hughes’s autonomy as of 1960, but that is not because he has relinquished anything, it is because his empire weights in the vicinity of $303 billion and is inextricably bound into a vast design of interlocking corporate powers reaching far beyond the Chase Manhattan Bank itself. As a consequence, it cannot be supported by the structures of individual personality. There was nothing smallish about Hughes’s estimated worth of $3 billion, but that didn’t even put him in Rockefeller’s class. Hughes’s control structures are therefore faster, but also lighter in weight.
This difference tends to be concealed in the Hughes-Rockefeller TWA fight as a difference of personal style. People on the Yankee side think themselves more cultivated. Those on the Cowboy side think themselves more virile. Tinnin might even be saying Rockefeller is more modest than Hughes, since he no longer struggles for so much personal control, and less eccentric, since his accomplished control seems so rationally bureaucratized. But the stylistic differences between them actually originate in the larger patterns of their unequal and differently structured empires. Tinnin’s own rich narrative makes it plain the Hughes lost because he was the weaker of the two powers, not because he was eccentric or old-fashioned or on the wrong side of the law, and a thousand times not because he was any more grasping than his adversaries or less willing than they to relinquish what he thought was his.
The Brewster prelude past, the great Hughes-vs-Rockefeller fight for TWA began to move toward its main battles slowly in the fifties with the coming of the age of jet transport aircraft. New engine technology developed under pressures of the Korean was made the Boeing KC-135 possible, and in 1955 the Air Force gave Boeing permission to produce it commercially as the 707. The airlines wanted and needed the new jets but were in no financial shape to buy them out of cash reserves, which were badly depleted in the Eisenhower recession.
Enter the big Eastern financial consortium formed up around Dillon, Read and Company and in one way or another involving the Metropolitan, the Equitable and the Prudential insurance companies plus Irving Trust, Chemical Bank New York Trust Company, Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company, the Bank of America, and the Chase Manhattan. They had the money the transition to jets would need, saw the airlines’ needs as opportunities, and were just willing to do whatever the could to establish control over this new high growth sector of the national transportation system.
TWA was in worse shape to receive the jets than the other big airlines. This was partly because Hughes miscalculated the tempo at which the transition to jets would take place. He thought there was time for one more generation of propeller aircraft and so he bought for TWA a fleet of Lockheed Jetstream Super Constellations, possibly the most graceful planes of their kind, the China Clipper of flight. Too late. Other troubles arose from his persisting too long in the hope that a jetliner partly of his own conception and design, the design forerunner of the Convair 880, could be produced on a competitive schedule. It was finally not produced at all owing to a decision made by Convair’s major creditors, Prudential and Chase Manhattan. Yankees everywhere.
So Hughes had been waiting for a jet that now was not coming. He had depleted his cash and credit in the top-dollar purchase of piston-engine airplanes that had become obsolete before they could be delivered. Antitrust regulations prevented his financing a TWA jet fleet from the immense profits of Hughes Tool or Hughes Aircraft, so he had to find external sources. And the Eastern banks were on the march to take the airline away, much more earnestly now than in 1947, their strategy the classic one: (1) make him a debtor, (2) foreclose.
First Hughes had to be convinced to take the Easterners’ money. Once that happened, TWA’s management could gradually be made accountable to the bankers’ combine rather than to Toolco’s board of directors. The plan drawn up by Dillon, Read & Company was many times revised, discarded, picked up and revised again, but its main elements stayed the same. The insurance companies would put up $90 million, the banks $70 million, and Toolco $100 million (through purchase of TWA subordinated debentures). With this loan of $260 million, TWA could pay off a sizable accumulation of debts and acquire its jet airplanes.
The terrible catch of it all from Hughes’s standpoint was that in order to get this loan he would have to turn over the management of TWA to a three-person voting trust in which he would have one vote and the lenders two.
Hughes badly wanted this not to happen. Through his chief counsel in the TWA matter, Chester Davis, he argued that he was being raided by a financial conspiracy whose underlying purpose was to take away his airline. Said Davis, “There is a conspiracy, certainly concerted action, among these defendants [i.e., the banks in Hughes’s countersuit]. These are not bare naked allegations.
The larger world got a small taste of Davis’s style in 1973 when he was called before an executive session of the Ervin committee to tell what he knew about the mysterious $100,000 Hughes gave Nixon on 1969 and ’70, the money Rebozo said he kept for three years without touching and then gave back. Davis came to the hearing with a suitcase packed with that much cash and the words, “You want the money, here’s the goddamn money,” dumped its contents on the table. Tinnen calls him “forceful, blunt…irrepressibly obdurate.” At the time Toolco retained him for this job, he was chief of the trial department of a powerful Wall Street firm. He soon set up his own office to deal exclusively with the Hughes case. (His partner in the new all-Hughes firm – one of the more engaging coincidences of Watergate – was Maxwell Cox, brother of the special Watergate prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who was fired by Nixon in the famous Saturday Night Massacre, according to some reports, for coming too close to the Hughes connection. Or was it because the Hughes connection was coming too close to him?)
Davis’s rival attorney was John Sonnett, another all-star of another super-heavy Wall Street firm. Sonnett was more conventional than Davis in manner but equally suited to his task. On June 30, 1961, he launched the struggle by filing a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (in Wall Street’s Foley Square), an antitrust action against Hughes on behalf of TWA.
An antitrust action by a company against its owner? Sonnett’s argument was that TWA’s chronic money problems and the constant and expensive turmoil of its upper management were all attributable (as usual) to the eccentricity of Hughes. If Hughes would leave TWA alone to behave in accordance with good business principles, TWA would make money, but he would not leave it alone, so it lost money. By rejecting the earlier versions of the Dillon, Read plan, Hughes had in effect kept TWA from getting jets at the same time as the other big lines, costing TWA money in lost profits.
How much? Scores of lawyers toiled for thousands of hours over TWA’s complex financial records and arrived at a precise figure. Hughes’s refusal to accept financing when financing was needed and available from the Yankee banks had cost his airline exactly $45,870,435.95. The rule of settlement in such cases is to multiply the damages by three, add fees, then start charging interest on the amount owed every day it remains unpaid. The bill to in this suit worked itself up to about $160 million.
To show the court the depth of Hughes’s managerial irresponsibility to his own airline and his unfitness for motherhood of a pubic utility, Sonnett fastened onto the episode in 1957 when Hughes flew off to the Bahamas with one of the first of the new Jetstreams to be delivered to TWA, No. 313. TWA was short of airplanes and losing blood rapidly. If it could get its big new liners into service on the lucrative long-distance routes quickly enough, it might recover. Hughes knew this. Had he not gifted the Nixon brother to the tune of $205,000 that very summer to win Civil Aviation Board approval of the plush St. Louis-Miami route for TWA? Then what possessed him to take this badly needed equipment on a vacation?
He flew No. 313 every day for a month, landing and taking off over and over in the bright Atlantic sunshine, as though he were its only possible test pilot. It made no apparent difference to him that his executives at TWA were screaming. They were his executives, they worked for him, not he for them, just as No. 313 was his airplane to do with as he pleased, as indeed what of TWA’s was not his personal property? If what he pleased to do cost TWA money, that meant only that it cost him money, and his money was his business, was it not, and was it not the whole meaning of American capitalism that nothing was allowed to interfere with that privileged intimacy between a businessman, his property, and his money? He flew No. 313 back alone one night across the country to Los Angeles. He told the mechanics to change the engines and said no more about it.
Well, what was the use of being a rich man if you couldn’t take off in your airplane for the Bahamas when you wanted to? One might ask why he didn’t fly his own plane instead of TWA’s, like other rich men. But this distinction between “his” and “TWA’s” was precisely the distinction he was fighting not to accept. The idea that TWA might have an identity, never mind a will, that was in any way separate and alienable from his own proper person was, for Hughes, simply wrong, was a bad idea, a mistake in thinking.
Remember too that Hughes’s tenacity in the cause of big airplanes was rooted less in proved successes than in a faith that solutions to the many technical problems that exist. The solutions would come with new metallurgy, new electronics, new magnitudes of concentration of technology and capital, mountain ranges of technical and administrative bureaucracy beyond anything Hughes’s generation had yet seen. These were still to come. IN his time, the task was still to determine whether the vision of “the airways” was illusion or reality. In retrospect, the airways may seem to have been realized quickly and logically. Hughes’s life bears out the old truth that for those involved in the actual making, the individual concrete steps are often uncertain and accidental and dangerous. Hughes had personally experienced nothing but trouble in getting big airplanes to fly. In 1946 he had nearly been killed test piloting the XF-11 when a but in the electronic control system suddenly, in mid-flight, reversed the thrust of the propeller on the righthand engine.
Then a scant year and a half later had come the failure of the Goose-Hercules. True, it had flown, had proved itself an actual airplane, had saved Hughes’s reputation and extended his legend and given him a dramatic final triumph over Senator Brewster. But for all its eight engines, it did not begin to have the power Hughes knew he needed for safe flight, and it took him just a few taxi runs up and down Long Beach and one mile-long flight at seventy feet to understand and accept that.
Ten years later, down in the Bahamas in 1957, Hughes at last found himself at the controls of an airplane that solved the former problems (in piston-engine terms) and with considerable engineering and design elegance. But the Jetstream was obsolete even as he proved it out. The problems it solved so well were being put behind. The jets were coming on and everything was being changed by this faster than Hughes thought it would be.
As Sonnett told the story of No. 313 before the New York court five year later, it was only more proof of Hughes’s madness, a madness, Sonnett argued, that disgraced TWA, spoiled its profitabilities, and made its sharpest executives want to resign. TWA could not be allowed to remain the plaything of a crank. The airlines were public utilities. TWA had a schedule to keep, like the rest of them. Its managers were morally bound to pursue maximum profit lines to the enrichment of the owners. Hughes’s eccentricity, in other words, had made it impossible for others to fulfill their bounden contract duties thoward him. And in this, said Sonnett, was Hughes himself not culpable on his own terms, a criminal under his own law?
Chester Davis answered that TWA had indeed been hurt, but not by Hughes. It was the Eastern banking cabal, he charged, that had nearly wrecked the company, and it had done this though conspiratorial efforts to force its financing plan upon Hughes, when Hughes had known perfectly well that his plan was only the opening wedge of a takeover campaign, a raid. Hughes did not need New York’s bankers to tell him that he needed money in the amount of $100 million a year for two or three years. That was plain on the situation’s face. If the Dillon, Read group actually cared that much about the health of TWA as an airline rather than as a future Rockefeller property, they would prove their concern better by staying out of Hughes’s efforts to secure more favorable financing terms elsewhere.
One of Hughes’s alternative plans, for example, involving nine banks plus Corvair and Lockheed, fell through at the last minute because Convar’s main creditors vetoed its participation. The creditors were Prudential and Chase Manhattan, leading members of the Dillon, Read consort. At about the same time, top officers of Equitable and Metropolitan, major TWA creditors, advised TWA President Charles Thomas to resign, which he did in a rancorous public episode that cost Hughes dearly in prestige.
Then the lenders drew on their powers as TWA creditors in a handful of smaller loans to force TWA not to accept any aircraft from Hughes. This crippled other financial schemes Hughes was working on which entailed the purchase of the new jets by Toolco. Toolco, which easily could afford them, would have leased them to TWA on easy term. The lenders also unilaterally advanced the due dates for two fo these loans.
Only after these moves had put him up against the wall did Hughes capitulate to the Yankee plan. He asked only that he be allowed to repay the loan at any time without penalty. But not even that was acceptable to the Yankee bankers. “We have made up our minds,” said Ben Sessel of the Irving Trust. “The banks do not want to do business with Howard Hughes.”
Either Hughes would accept the Dillon, Read plan with its penalty clause, its high interest rate, and its voting trust, or the lenders would foreclose, throw him into bankruptcy and TWA into receivership, seize Toolco and open its files, and sell off enough of its assets to meet Hughes’s obligations to themselves, his creditors.
Hughes’s cash and credit position was badly deteriorated by this time. He was forced to send a squad of his security men to the Corvair plant in San Diego to seize dome dozen 880s being readied for delivery to TWA and hold them at an isolated corner of the airfield. He could not allow them to be delivered because he could not pay for them. The angry Sessel said, “It is time for Howard Hughes to realize that he is in the hands of the banks and will do what we say.”
But how had this happened? It has happened, said Davis, because the banking conspiracy wanted to get TWA. The banks cared little how badly their manipulations might damage the airline before they got it. “During the years from 1947 through 1960,” said Davis, “TWA realized earnings before taxes of $95,600,000. Upon information and belief, TWA in 1961[when the banks were in control] lost in excess of $30 million.
So Davis attacked with a countersuit by Toolco against the banks. The major claim was that the Easterners had conspired, first, to keep TWA from getting capital from anybody else but them, and second, to impose the voting-trust stipulation that completed Hughes’s loss of control. This is what disrupted TWA’s jet procurement program, forced Hughes to accept financing at loan-shark rates, and created TWA’s bad situation. Hughes’s putative eccentricities had nothing to do with it. Because of this conspiracy, said Hughes, TWA had suffered damages in the amount of $45 million and Toolco in the amount of $77 million. Time three equals $366 million. That was Hughes’s answer to the bankers $160 million suit against him.
Sonnett’s original antitrust action against Hughes was based simply on the idea that Hughes owned Hughes Aircraft Company, presumably a manufacturer of aircraft, and so was disallowed under the antitrust laws from owning an airline too. To this, Davis answered, first, that as Sonnett ought to know, the Federal Aviation Act exempted the airlines from antitrust regulation; second, that issues such as those raised by Sonnett’s action ought to be raised before the Civil Aviation Board, not in the courts; and finally, that the CAB had in fact spoken on precisely these questions when it first approved Hughes’ s original acquisitions. Davis asked the court the throw the case out.
We jump ahead ten years to January 1973 when the Supreme Court at last spoke on TWA v. Hughes to note that this is exactly and completely the position finally upheld. Justice Douglas, writing for the majority, adopted the line of reasoning Davis had taken from his first day on the job, namely,, that the case ought never to have gone to court. Jurisdiction belonged with the CAB; the antitrust law did not apply. So much for a few hundred thousand hours of the highest-price lawyering downtown Manhattan has for sale, with combined fees running close to $10 million.
But that was 1973. Until then, Hughes lost every battle. In 1960 he was forced to accept financing he did not want under provisions that left him powerless over his own company. In 1965, on the strength of Sonnett’s ultimately flawed antitrust argument, he was forced to divest himself of his 78 percent holding and get out of TWA and the airlines altogether. And in 1970, he was told by the court that he owed $160 million in damages to the very people who had robbed him of his airline.
How could there have been so wide a difference between the final judgment of the Supreme Court and the earlier judgment of the district and appellate courts? The lower court judges involved and the special masters they appointed to hear the depositions were angered by Hughes’s refusal to appear in person and be deposed like everyone else. The 1970 judgment against him was partly motivated by their irritation over this. Yet to award, on grounds of mere default, the largest amount of money in damages ever awarded by any court seemed a large, wild thing to do. This is why Special Master Herbert Brownell, who heard the depositions for Federal District Judge Charles Metzner, took almos a year to study the arguments and make his report. Then Judge Metzner took nineteen months more to study Master Brownell’s report and affirm its recommendations.
Moreover, at every step of the way, Davis appeared to have the better of the debate with Sonnett, so clearly as to color the speculation that Hughes lost in some part because the game was being played in the other side’s arena with hometown referees. Once, in 1964, Davis almost won the Supreme Court review that might have given him his win ten years before it finally came. The Supreme Court hid just made a ruling in a strikingly similar case, the U.S. v. Pan American World Airways, W.R. Grace & Co., and Pan American-Grace Airways (shortened to Panegra). The ruling in that case seemed exactly to support Davis’s central argument, i.e., that jurisdiction lay with the CAB, not the courts. But the very next moment, with no explanation, the Supreme Court accepted Sonnett’s contention that the decision to review the TWA v. Hughes case had been “improvidently granted.” Apparently the justices thought either there was no need for a review or that a review was not yet possible, but the practical effect was the irrevocable dismissal of Hughes’s countersuit. The default judgment against him was allowed to stand and the presumption of his guilt was supported.
So the wheel would remain in spin for another eight years, first causing Hughes to divest his TWA stock, then requiring the painful hearings to determine the precise amount he would hav to pay the new owners of his old airline for the damage he had done in trying to keep it from them.
The divestment occurred on May 3, 1965. Ordinarily the sudden sale of so much stock would depress the price, but the community had followed TWA v. Hughes closely and understood why Hughes was selling, so the price was firm at $86 a share. Merrill Lynch handled the transaction with the h elp of 410 other domestic and foreign underwriters. Public sale of the six-and-a-half million shares took half an hour. The underwriters deducted their fee of $4 per share, then wrote Hughes a check for the remainder: $546,549,771. Taxes reduced this to about $486 million free and clear. Only the Ford stock sale of 1956 was bigger.
So Hughes was out one airline and his overall empire had been brutally shaken by those five years, and more was coming, and worse. But at the moment, as of the sale of TWA, he had ready cash again and could start looking for another game.
(To Be Continued)
The Yankee and Cowboy War