Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Infamous....

Below are the stories of a few influential spies whose names today are as shadowy as their deeds.


Sid Reilly (MI6?)--When Ian Fleming was asked to describe the character James Bond in his upcoming novel Casino Royale, Fleming replied, “He’s good. But he’s no Sid Reilly, you know.”

The Russian-born Reilly (codenamed ST-1) has the reputation of being the greatest spy who ever lived, partly because Reilly bragged about his own exploits. Nonetheless, his womanizing, daring and competence are legendary. He contributed a lot of intelligence information to Allied forces during WWI from Russia. It is believed that he attempted to thwart, and then stymie, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 by conspiring with the White Russians still inside the Soviet Union. Official sources credit him with delaying Soviet influence over Eastern Europe by thirty years. Unofficially, no one was 100% sure whose side he was really on. One thing that all sides agree on: he was murdered by someone in the USSR; either by Communists trying to halt his attempts at insurrection; or by White Russians who suspected him of working for the Communist Party.


Elizabeth Amy Thorpe Pack (MI6, OSS, CIA)--Many consider socialite Betty Pack (codenamed Cynthia), a native of Washington, DC, to be one the greatest American spies who ever lived. Her exploits are legendary. If your father or grandfather stormed the beach at Normandy during the D-Day Invasion, you might, in fact, owe your very existence to her.

Pack began her career helping out Sir William Stephenson in an operation designed to goad the United States into a UK-US alliance. During WWII, she parachuted behind enemy lines to find blueprints for the Great Enigma Machine, a first-generation signals scrambler. She managed to smuggle them out of Germany, thus providing Room 40 of British Intel all the information they needed to reverse engineer a machine that some previously believed more legend than real. As a result, the Allies intercepted the bulk of German communications from 1943 to the end of the war.

Her most infamous caper had to do with securing the go-code for the D-Day Invasion. Allied forces, though a series of ruses, tried to convince German command that the invasion would take place in Calais, instead of Omaha Beach where it actually occurred. Yet the Germans were beginning to suspect the ruse.

The Allies had to know where German ships were stationed, so they asked Pack to see if Axis defense estimates were located at the Vichy embassy in Washington. She had been carefully cultivating an embassy target, Vichy press attaché Charles Brousse, whom she suspected of being secretly anti-Nazi. When pressed for time, she finally informed him that she was a spy, and that he was her target. Nevertheless, she had to know Axis plans, and asked him for his help in sneaking into the embassy, and he agreed.

Posing as a randy diplomat looking for a private place to do the nasty, Brousse convinced a guard to let him and Cynthia into the embassy late at night. Outside of the window where the plans were kept, an unnamed ex-con, whom Cynthia recruited for the mission, drugged both the back entrance guard and his dog, allowing another ex-con (referred to only as “The Georgia Cracker”) to climb up to the second story office via rope so that he could break into the safe that held the secrets.

It took some time for them to do all of this. Meanwhile, another guard had begun routine rounds, and it looked certain that they would all get caught. Thinking quickly, she told the safecracker to hide in a closet. She then told Brousse to take off all his clothes, while she did the same. The pair then proceeded to have sex on the desk, so when the guard walked in on them, he got embarrassed, and quickly left. Once safely away, the Georgia Cracker had time to finish his work. They successfully photographed several volumes of Axis naval ciphers, which left little doubt that the Germans were putting all of their eggs in the Calais basket, thus ensuring the success of the Normandy invasion.

American and British officials estimated that Pack’s actions saved the lives of over 100,000 Allied military personnel. After the war, she and Brousse fell in love, married, and lived happily ever after at the latter’s castle in Spain.


Fräulein Dr. Hauptman Elsbeth Schragmüller (Imperial German Army)—You don’t know her by name, but her legend lives on. A 1969 movie titled Fräulein Doktor, starring Suze Kendall in the title role, gave us the clichéd Nazi dominatrix character, one who would flourish in that flick, the subsequent Ilsa series starring Dyanne Thorne, and in countless films, TV shows and S&M sites around the Internet.

Screenwriter Diulio Coletti based his Nazi dominatrix on Schragmüller, who had some of the same attributes. As one of the first generation of women allowed to study in German universities, she received a commission upon joining the German Army. Because she was, for a time, their only female officer, they allowed her to design and wear a special uniform made of leather, which she accessorized with her ever-present riding crop. And, like the Nazi dominatrix character, she had a reputation for brutality and ruthlessness. The similarities end there, however, for Schragmüller was never a Nazi, and had retired from active service long before WWII. In fact, she passed away in 1941, years before war's end.

Historically, many regard Schragmüller as an important spymaster, who ran a school for espionage in Belgium that trained Axis spies during WWI. There, she would recruit Allied soldiers (mostly through blackmail) and others interested in becoming spies, and train them. She put her riding crop to good use on the mentally slow. She would also intimidate the hell out of her students by slowly, methodically, loading a revolver in front of the entire class and aiming at someone giving her a stupid response.

After training her spies, she dispatched them into the field and administered their reports. She was so successful at eliciting important Allied information that she had to create a legendary ruse to throw the enemy off the track (more about this in a future post).

After resigning her commission, Schragmüller spent a good deal of her time taking care of her invalid mother in Switzerland. During the 1920s, she lived in nearly total obscurity. But after their ascension to power in 1933, the Nazis, completely unbeknownst to her, re-fashioned her as something of a folk hero. For PR reasons, the Nazis looked for her, and found someone claiming to be the heralded spymaster. The Nazis celebrated this woman for about a week until news reached the real Dr. Schragmüller, who briefly came out of seclusion to expose the imposter.

More colorful spies on the way.

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Monday, November 27, 2006

HUMINT Resources

Below are descriptions of various types of spies.

Agent Provocateur--A spy who infiltrates enemy organizations and demonstrations in order to goad them towards violent or idiotic action. If succsessful, this type of spy will help discredit the enemy organization. If the organization refuses to act violently or stupidly, the agent provocateur might then cause some type of disruption (most often vandalism) in the name of the enemy. (See False Flag-Operation in the previous post.)

For example, when Martin Luther King attempted to lead a peaceful protest of Memphis sanitation workers in March of 1968, a tiny contingent began to riot, which caused thousands of dollars in property damage and left one young agitator dead. Marrell McCullough, an agent provocateur, instigated the event. Although he posed as the leader of a militant youth group, McCullough was actually a Memphis Police Department undercover officer, and FBI asset.

The resulting violence discredited King, who attempted to come back to Memphis in April to conduct a peaceful march. Before he could, the Reverend was gunned down by an unknown assassin. Officer McCullough happened to be on the scene at the time.

Assassin—They kill targets. Their methods vary greatly depending on the nature of the victim and the objective of the hit.

Sometimes, a single sniper’s bullet serves the purpose. Sometimes, the hit should look like natural causes (e.g. cancer, heart attack), or a freak accident (e.g. car crash). Yet, there are times when the assassin is instructed to make the hit obvious in order to frighten others into compliance. On the day Jim Garrison informant David Ferrie died (February 22, 1967) in New Orleans, his paymaster in the Bay of Pigs operation, a man named Eladio del Valle, was beaten, stabbed, shot in the heart at point blank range, and hacked with a machete in Miami, FL. Authorities in both cities found del Valle’s and Ferrie’s corpses at almost the same exact time.

Asset—A spy who works under contract for an intelligence service, and at the direction of a case officer. In days of yore, assets were called ‘secret agents.’

Case Officer—An intelligence service officer assigned the task of recruiting, organizing and managing spies in the field.

Courier—A spy who takes information from one place to another. Such people tend to be real jet setters who normally travel a lot for business reasons (e.g. businesspersons, entertainers, airline crews).

Dead Letter Drop—A spy who hides documents or hardware in a special place (a hollow tree, for example) for another spy to pick up later. This allows people to pass information without being seen together.

Defector-In-Place—A double agent who secretly becomes the citizen of a foreign government, but nevertheless stays in his or her home country, where they are in a position to pass along information to their adopted homeland.

Deep Cover Assets (also called Sleepers)—People who sneak into a foreign country and pose as one of its citizens for years and years until they are needed by their intelligence service. Over the course of time, they ingratiate themselves to local communities through volunteer work and good deeds.

The KGB was so adept in placing deep cover agents inside the US, rumors abounded that the Soviets trained such spies by creating exact replicas of major US metropolitan areas.

Floater—A part-time spy, perhaps a limo driver, bellhop, or someone else likely to be close to a target for mundane reasons.

Forensic/Technical Specialist—Much of today’s espionage relies on a number of gadgets and counter-gadgets. Spy agencies could always use a good engineer. They could also use good doctors, attorneys and historians. I once knew a spy who was a forensic accountant for one of the major US spy networks. His job was to infiltrate various organizations (suspected drug cartels, for example) and trace money trails in elaborate and deliberately confusing ledgers.

Hacker—A new breed of spy, who tries to gather information about a target by hacking into their computer system and/or accounts.

Mole—A double agent embedded in the executive structure of an enemy intelligence organization. In a very famous case of the 1950s-1960s, the second highest official in British Counterintelligence (MI5) was in fact a KGB agent named Kim Philby.

Nightcrawler—A spy who frequents bars, nightclubs, racetracks, bowling alleys, or other areas of nightlife to monitor a target, or recruit new spies.

Not-witting—A type of spy who will live his or her whole life completely unaware that he or she has ever done intelligence work. For example, suppose that Ms. X and Mr. Y are spies that have some message to exchange. Electronic communication is either down or monitored, so they have to make some physical contact. Yet, they can’t be seen together. They might, according to a pre-arranged plan, both go, at different times, to a crowded bar. The bartender comes over to Mr. Y and asks if he wants another drink.

“Yeah,” says Mr. Y. “And buy one for that lady down at the end of the bar.

The barkeep dutifully approaches Ms. X, shuffles a napkin in front of her and says, “The guy down at that end of the bar wants to buy you a drink. What’ll it be?”

“Gin and tonic,” responds X.

So, the bartender serves the drink and rings it up on the cash register. After taking a bill from Y, the male spy asks, “So what did she have?”

“Gin and Tonic.”

Y thanks him, finishes his drink and leaves. X leaves sometime later. The message has been transmitted and received. How? The specific drink requested, gin and tonic in this case, exemplifies what spies call ‘open code,’ whereby ordinary words and phrases have pre-arranged meanings. More to the point, the bartender helped them in this communication, acting in the role of courier. That makes the barkeep a not-witting.

Notional Asset—Quite literally, a spy who doesn’t exist. When an intelligence service scores a big coup against an enemy organization, they might invent a fictional spy, a notional asset, to take credit for the massive leak. If the enemy starts to chase the spy who doesn’t exist, then that takes heat off of the spy who actually got the information. Sometimes, the enemy will begin to suspect that they’re following a notional asset. If they do, the other agency might then entrap some poor slob off the street, and then set him or her up as the phantom spy so that the enemy now has a face to go along with the name. A good example of notional assets can be found in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller North by Northwest.

Raven—Male sex spies. See Swallow.

Saboteur—Someone who blows up bridges, breaks machinery, or in some ways damages the equipment or infrastructure of an enemy.

Sayan (Sayanim, pl.)—An interesting type of spy used primarily by the Mossad, Israeli intelligence. A sayan is someone who is simply a foreigner with loyalty to the state of Israel, and willing to help the Mossad function in his or her home country.

For example, the Mossad might want to send an officer to New York City to spy on a target living in a high-rise apartment building. The Mossad officer would most likely go to a sayan who is a real estate agent, and can find an apartment in another building with a direct view into the target’s pad. If the target winds up shooting the agent, the latter could go to a sayan who is a physician, one who will treat the wound without reporting it to the police (as required by law in the case of gunshot wounds).

Secret Agent—See Asset.

Spymasters—The executives who assign cases, plan missions, and manage the collection of intelligence and the execution of operations. A fictional example of a spymaster would be James Bond’s boss, M (played wonderfully by Dame Judi Dench). Former spy-turned-novelist John le Carré derisively calls this mixture of spy and administrator an ‘espiocrat.’

Swallow—Female sex spy. See Raven.

Walk In—Someone who walks into a foreign embassy from off the street and offers his or her services. If the spy is close to a target, or has some unusual skill, or is in otherwise good position to do unnoticed surveillance (e.g. a police detective), the foreign intelligence organization might take the walk-in up on his or her offer.

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Saturday, November 25, 2006

I’ve Got the Yo-Yo….

Below are a few examples of spy jargon

Black-Bag Job—The surreptitious breaking and entering into a business or private residence in order to plant monitoring devices, or evidence. Sometimes, a black-bag job consists of simple burglary, i.e. the theft of papers or other personal property. The FBI relied heavily on black-bag jobs during the 1950s and 1960s, despite the fact that they were then against the law. Because of the USA PATRIOT Act, some black-bag activities are now legal in the United States.

Black Operation—A covert operation that violates the laws of the country where the action takes place. Activities could include theft, kidnapping, assassination, and insurrection.

Black Propaganda—Communication designed to persuade a large number of people through false information.

Sometimes, the information is directed against a foreign population. Just as often, however, black propagandists target their own nation. For example, in 2003, Prime Minister Tony Blair declared on the floor of Parliament that Saddam Hussein had the capacity to hit the UK within a span of forty-five minutes. Fear of imminent attack led some in England to support an invasion into Iraq, at least initially.

Blowback—Depending on the context, the term blowback could have two slightly different meanings: (1) getting hurt by your own trap; and (2) planting false information in a foreign source in order to persuade members of another country, only to have your reporters repeat the false information in your own country.

For example, the CIA fed misinformation to Ahmed Chalabi before the Iraqi invasion. Judith Miller of The New York Times used Chilabi as a source, and consequently repeated the misinformation to millions of people in the US.

Dangle—Like putting a worm on the end of a fishing line, an intelligence service might dangle one of its spies in front of an enemy intelligence service as a possible double agent. The spy looks as though he wants to work for the enemy, but in reality is still loyal to his previous employer. In effect, the dangled spy serves as a triple agent (or re-doubled agent).

Dry Clean—To shake a tail.

Electronic Intelligence (ELINT)—Gathering information through such electronic devises as bugs, long-range microphones, video cameras, etc.

Emotional Attachment—This occurs when a spy develops a fondness for one of his or her agents, or perhaps even an enemy target, especially after working closely with them. In some cases, spies have fallen in love with their targets and married them.

False Flag Operation—A covert op performed under the guise of an enemy organization, often using the enemy’s uniforms, weapons, tactics, communications forums and/or language. The purpose is to commit an act that will inflame public sentiment against enemy organizations, thus providing a rationale for overt action against them.

Honey Trap—Site, often a bedroom or hotel room rigged with cameras and other surveillance equipment, where operations involving sex take place. The KGB excelled in the training of female officers to pose as American citizens (complete with American accents), and lure unsuspecting embassy workers into a hotel room. Once the clothes were off, and the nastiness began, a senior KGB officer, armed with Polaroids of the tryst, would barge into the honey trap and blackmail the American official into spying for the USSR. You see, it’s against the law for such people to fraternize with the enemy.

Human Intelligence (HUMINT)—The practice of gathering information through a network of carefully managed, and strategically placed spies.

Measles—An assassination. See Wet Job.

M.I.C.E.—An acronym that explains why people become spies. It stands for Money, Ideology, Compromise, and Ego.

Moonlight Extradition—The practice of kidnapping someone and spiriting him or her off to a country that legally sanctions torture. In recent years, the practice has received a lot of media coverage as ‘rendition.’

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)—The gathering of information from published sources (e.g. books, magazines, newspaper, radio and television shows). President Jimmy Carter established the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) in 1978 for the purpose of finding classified information that actually made it into print. The ISOO also evaluates and develops declassification policies.

Proprietary—A business, organization, foundation or institute that serves as an agency front. Arguably, the most famous proprietary was CIA-owned Air America, a cargo airline. Another famous CIA proprietary, The Double-Check Corporation, funneled money for operations against Cuba during the early-1960s.

Sheep Dipping—The process of whitewashing any and all potential intelligence and military affiliations of a spy. The spy then does the same job for a private company sympathetic to the needs of the intelligence service.

Signals Intelligence (SIGINT)—The gathering of information through such intercepted communications signals as radio, satellite, television or telephone transmissions.

Turn—To convince an enemy spy to work for you as a double agent.

Walk the Cat—To discuss a failed operation step-by-step from the end to the beginning to see where it screwed up.

Wet Job—An assassination, so named because of the bloodshed involved. See Measles.

White Operation—A covert operation that does not violate the laws of the targeted country. This would include propaganda and other public relations measures. One example of this would be the Intrepid affair, a British operation directed against the United States during the 1930s. The goal of this particular mission was to get the US to end its isolationist policies and join the UK as military, geo-political and intelligence partners.

White Propaganda--Communication designed to persuade a large number of people through accurate information. Sometimes, the best way to convince people is to simply tell them the truth. Other times, the truth can be taken out of context, or spun, so much that it becomes misleading.

My favorite example: in the 1950 Georgia Senate Democratic Primary, US Representative George Smathers attempted to unseat the incumbent, Sen. Claude Pepper. During his campaign, Smathers accused Pepper of (1) matriculating during college; (2) practicing nepotism with his sister-in-law; and (3) practicing celibacy before marriage. Smathers further alleged that Pepper was a “shameless extrovert,” and a “practicing homo-sapiens” whose sister was a known thespian in “wicked New York.”

Smathers crushed poor Pepper by 60,000 votes.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

Gemstone Plug

As posted earlier, I am delaying posting anything in depth on the Gemstone File pending further developments. Many of those developments have to do with the publishing of an upcoming book, The Gemstone File: A Memoir, by Stephanie Caruana. Ms. Caruana worked with both Mae Brussell and Bruce Roberts, and is an integral part of the Gemstone legend. She gave me permission to post the back cover copy of the book jacket before she had a chance to put it up on her own site, but I didn't think it quite right to scoop a journalist. From the looks of it, those interested in Gemstone should find this book quite interesting.

Includes 225 pages from Bruce Roberts' original letters and reproductions of several of the hand-written pages.

PLUS Another Smoking Gun at Dealey Plaza?

"Who knows the contents?... Did Dean read it?"--Richard Nixon, President. The White House Transcripts, 1973

"I gave [the 2 manila envelopes in Hunt's safe] to [Acting FBI head, L. Patrick] Gray.... He burned them."--John Dean, Nixon's White House Counsel. The White House Transcripts, 1973.

"I never heard of the Gemstone File.... Good luck with your project."--John Dean, Author, Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush, 2004. Private note, 2006.

"Gemstoned Again! ...A 24-page rant that many believe deserved an early death on the conspiracy circuit, but one that shows a remarkable durability of interest."--Kenn Thomas, Author, Publisher, Steamshovel Press. Co-author: Inside the Gemstone File, 1999.

"Early in 1983, while visiting a friend in London, I was given a copy of the Skeleton Key to the Gemstone File. Fascinated by its revelations, I devoured the document in one sitting, unable to put it down. A few years later, in Australia, I was given another copy. 'Here, take this, make another photocopy of it, and pass it on,' the person told me. I took their copy (of a copy of a copy) and passed it on to someone else.'Pass it on,' I repeated, as many had before. And now, more than 20 years after Bruce Roberts, author of the original Gemstone File, died in 1976, his manuscript has become legendary. The Skeleton Key to the Gemstone File, by Stephanie Caruana, is perhaps the world's best circulated document, one that is mentioned in dozens of books on the Kennedy assassination and the role of the Mafia in the affairs of the United States and other countries throughout the 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's."--David Hatcher Childress, Author, Publisher, Adventures Unlimited Press. Co-author: Inside the Gemstone File, 1999.

"We're all in the dark, out in the cold and denying our hostile surroundings when it comes to interpreting what 's going on in this ever more deranged nation. Like the best conspiracy theories, the Skeleton Key to the Gemstone File slashed through the darkness like white light. We're not certain what we're looking at, but it sure is dazzling."--Jonathan Vankin, co-author, 80 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time, 2004. The Gemstone File, Jim Keith, editor, 1992.

"Friends and neighbors! I did not write the Gemstone File, or the Skeleton Key to the Gemstone File."--G. Gordon Liddy, Convicted felon, Watergate "plumber". WJFK Radio show, interview with Jonathan Vankin, 1992.

"In 1976, Larry Flynt handed me a manuscript, the Skeleton Key to the Gemstone File. A few days later, he was shot in a small town in Georgia... Over the last 18 years, working from the Skeleton Key, I have uncovered more than 1500 pages of documentation."--"Richard Alan", author, The Gemstone File: Sixty Years of Corrupt Manipulation Within World Government: Detailing the Events Surrounding the Assassination of JFK, 1992.

"A series of letters written to his mother...repetitious gibberish, libelous...unsubstantiated.... I will sell my copy to the first publishing company willing to print it, for $100.000."--Mae Brussell, Researcher. Inside the Gemstone File, 1999.

To read later posts in this series, click here.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Adventures of the HMS Bull

A few years back, I wrote a song about the JFK Assassination. These are the lyrics. Maybe one of these days, I’ll record it. Then again, one of these days I might learn how to convert songs into an mp3 format.

I went out to sea
To see a distant land.
When I got tired of my landlocked job,
Had to make another plan.
[Sailor’s Hornpipe]

The captain of the ship was this old man,
Who liked to bend your ears.
Tell you funky stories ‘bout an earlier cruise
If you bought him a couple of beers

On the ship that got its name
(Bull!)
From the captain of its fame.
(Johnny Bull!)

If they had a thing on the ball,
They’d have named it nothing at all,
Instead of something totally off the wall
Like the Bull.

It’s a ship.

It’s

The Bull ship!

Slide, slide, slide
Across a painted sea.
Slide, slide, slide,
He’d say, “Just between you and me,

“I took a little trip to Dallas once
In the fall of ’63.
Telescope in hand, from the crow’s nest, man,
Wasn’t nothing much to see,

“Except a little fellow with a really big gun
Looking out a window sill.
Taking target practice on the people down front.
(Guess that’s how he got his thrills)
[Sailor’s Hornpipe]

“He had a funny bullet that zigged and zagged.
Least that’s what I told the judge,
Who wanted me to go and testify,
But I didn’t want to budge.”

From the ship that got it’s name,
(Bull!)
From the captain of it’s fame.
(Johnny Bull!)

If they had a thing on the ball,
They’d have named it nothing at all,
Instead of something totally off the wall,
Like the Bull.

It’s a ship.

It’s

The Bull ship!

Slide, slide, slide.

Slide, slide, slide.

It took a lot of patience and an awful lot of beer
Not to take him seriously.
‘Cause when you got down to the knuckle brass tax
That was who he wanted to be.

And we all heard the story ‘bout a million ten times,
From the cook to the rest of the staff.
And when I heard him say, “Well, I remember the day….”
(Ha!) It made me want to laugh.

‘Cause he never told the truth
(Bull!)
Ever since he was a youth
(Johnny Bull!)

Oh, I rolled my eyes about.
Every time he opened his mouth,
I looked up north and south
And said, “Here come the Bull!”

It’s a ship.

It’s

The Bull ship!

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Timing Is Everything

On December 23, 1963, exactly a month and a day after President Kennedy's assassination, former President Harry S Truman published an op-ed piece about the covert operations capacity of the CIA. He wrote:

I never had any thought. . . when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations. . . Some of the complications and embarrassment that I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role. . . I would like to see the CIA be restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President and whatever else it can properly perform in that special field and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere

We have grown up as a nation respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position, and I feel that we need to correct it.
Television cameras caught Truman's quiet fury over the events in Dallas on live national television only moments after Kennedy's death. With the timing of the letter so close to the assassination, do you suppose Harry was trying to tell us something?

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Remember

In honor of the forty-third anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination, I'm including one last Mae-Brussell-related item, a letter to her from Lee Oswald's mom.



The text reads:

December 24, 1976

Remember always--

The charges against my late son are false.

Sincerely
Marguerite Oswald

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gemstone

Obviously, a lot of conspiracy evidence contains a mixture of truth, lies, and red herrings. Because of that, the conspiracy theorist has to guard against accepting information willy-nilly simply because it sounds plausible. By the same token, he or she doesn’t have the luxury to dismiss an item out of hand because it sounds ludicrous.

Mae Brussell didn’t simply collect scads of information. She also critiqued various tidbits for accuracy, relevance and context. Never was this rigorous methodology more important than when an enigmatic 351-page document came her way.

It began in 1972, when Bruce Roberts read Mae’s article on Martha Mitchell in The Realist. Roberts contacted Brussell through Paul Krassner, and gave her a collection of letters and other writings. She would have taken them straight home, but she and her companion noticed someone following them on the way back. They stopped at a restaurant hoping the pursuers would get tired of waiting for them, and then move on. They went back to their car to find that someone had ransacked it. Fortunately, Mae kept the papers on her person the entire night.

The document's contents chronicled a secret history in which Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis headed a powerful multi-national criminal organization that had been dictating world events for several decades. Among other things, Roberts alleged that Onassis ordered JFK’s assassination, and then took his wife as a trophy. He also alleged that Onassis murdered Howard Hughes in 1970, and then imprisoned a double to take his place, allowing him to control Hughes’ aviation and gaming interests, not to mention the proprietary companies that Howard ran for the CIA.

Doesn't this sound like the plot of a James Bond movie?

Actually, it is the plot of a James Bond movie, specifically Diamonds Are Forever. All you have to do is substitute Jimmy Dean for Howard Hughes, Charles Gray for Onassis, and SPECTRE for Ari’s alleged criminal operation, what Roberts referred to as MMORDIS (Moldering Mass of Rotten Dribbling Infectious Shit).

“Why did Roberts write all this venom about Onassis?” you might ask, about now.

Roberts claimed that Onassis stole something from him, namely a process for creating artificial rubies. Hence, when Brussell began the task of archiving the document, she put it in a file labeled “Gemstone.”

I had planned to conclude this series by the end of the week. But recent developments have convinced me to suspend the two remaining posts on this topic for awhile. My deepest gratitude to Gary Buell and Stephanie Caruana for their advice and help on this series.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Mondo Brussellis

Here’s a look at a few more people who either inhabited or orbited Mae Brussell’s world. Some of them you probably have never heard of. Some of them you definitely have. Either way, each is fascinating in his or her own right. Many of them contributed greatly to conspiracy research and culture.


Tom Davis

Tom Davis was a friend of Mae Brussell’s, and a dedicated researcher. During his life he collected many clippings and other research materials on his own (In fact, I’ve been informed that his collection may have been even larger than Mae’s). He ran a highly esteemed business that sold political books via mail order. After Mae’s death, he briefly maintained Mae’s archives.


John Judge

Like Mae, John Judge studied the entire twenty-six volumes of the Warren Commission Report, and has spent a good deal of his life independently researching the connections between the political murders of the 1960s and later. He has co-founded a number of research organizations, among them The Committee for an Open Archives, an anti-secrecy in government group, 9/11 CitizensWatch, and The Coalition on Political Assassinations. His writings have appeared in numerous publications and websites, and he frequently speaks on radio and in lecture halls.

Mae knew Judge well, and entrusted him to maintain her archive after her passing. He looked after them for a short time before they ultimately wound up in the care of Virginia McCullough. Many conspiracy researchers, whether they agree with him or not, respect the thoroughness of his work, and hold him in high esteem.


Dave Emory

Dave Emory was a protégé of Mae Brussell’s, and an associate. He has continued to do copious research into arguably Mae’s biggest concern, namely the infiltration of fascistic elements within the governments of the US and UK on the international, national, and sometimes even the local level. Formerly broadcasting on the Pacifica network’s flagship station (KPFA), he continues to broadcast via tape on a number of stations across the nation, among them WFMU which maintains a partial archive on the Internet (with links to both the full archives, and to the Spitfire page that outlines the contents of each individual episode). His radio show quite easily calls to mind Brussell’s own broadcasts in terms of the format and the rapid-fire dissemination of a dense volume of information and documentation. One broadcast he participated in at KPFA, titled “Spooked,” provides a concise and excellent primer on conspiracy issues, and does so with humor.


Elmer Davis

After Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to the Washington Post and New York Times in 1971, someone broke into the office of his psychotherapist. In 1975, Nixon administration officials John Ehrlichman, Egil Krough, and G. Gordon Liddy were convicted on conspiracy charges related to the break-in. Meanwhile, Elmer Davis, a man completely uninvolved with any political intrigue, had already been convicted and sentenced to Folsom Prison for the very same crime.

Mae Brussell had a number of prison informants, among them Davis. Convinced of his innocence, she wrote a number of letters on his behalf, in effect telling California penal authorities that she would provide him with a place to live and a job. For a brief period in 1974, he assisted her research, and appeared at least once on her radio show. Unfortunately, their work together ended in a tempestuous romance. Paul Krassner wryly described it as “a match made in conspiracy heaven.”


Virginia McCullough

Virginia McCullough never met Mae, but knew of her through her writings, radio broadcasts, and her association with various Brussells Sprouts. In 1993, she offered to house Mae’s archives, for she had the room to do so in her house. More important, she had already begun her own research collection and knew how to properly care for such documents. For that reason, many of Brussell’s adherents assumed (correctly) that Mae’s archives would be in safe hands.

McCullough currently serves as the Curator of the Brussell Archive, and as such displays a sincere interest in preserving the integrity of Mae’s legacy and collection. She also maintains the website NewsMakingNews.com, which continues the tradition of Mae Brussell in its examination of current events and players in the light of their historical contexts. More important, McCullough has independently researched a number of important issues for many years using her own insights and methodology.

Perhaps the most critical aspect of McCullough’s work is that it illustrates conspiracy research as a thoughtful and rigorous component of political education, one that lives, grows, adapts, and learns from it’s past mistakes. Simply by carrying on her own research, and crediting that of others, she has provided a helpful context for the legacy of Mae Brussell, John Judge, Tom Davis, and others of that generation of post-JFK researchers.


Jim Garrison

Orleans Parish District Attorney Jim Garrison relied on a number of volunteers in his prosecution of Clay Shaw for the crime of conspiring to murder President Kennedy. Mae served as one of those volunteers. Among other things, she gave Garrison the tip about Lee Oswald’s sham employment at the Reilly Coffee Company near Guy Banister’s office.


John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Paul Krassner introduced Mae Brussell to John Lennon and Yoko Ono in July of 1972. At the time, the Lennons were trying to find Yoko’s eight-year-old daughter Kyoko, who had been kidnapped by her ex-husband Tony Cox. They had a tip that Kyoko might have been in the Carmel area, and Krassner suggested they stay at Mae’s place. Brussell, an ardent Beatlephile, was more than happy to accommodate them.

Lennon and Ono financially supported some of Mae’s work. In addition to donating $5,000 to publish an issue of The Realist that primarily consisted of Brussell’s article on Martha Mitchell, they also bought her a computer. According to McCullough, the computer remained unopened in its original box for the rest of Mae’s life.


Larry Flynt

The founder of Hustler, arguably the most controversial porn magazine ever, Larry Flynt became interested in Mae’s work after his publishing company purchased The Realist in 1977, and hired Paul Krassner as editor. Flynt personally funded the weekly duplication and shipping of Mae’s taped broadcast to every member of Congress. Although some legislators criticized Brussell for associating with someone of Flynt’s reputation, Mae pretty much understood that the information she provided had to reach the public some way, and if it were through a pornographer, so be it. Moreover, she saw the attack of her work on those grounds as hypocrytical.

Currently, Flynt’s interest in conspiracy research continues, and he maintains a (work-safe) website that outlines his interest and political views.

My sincerest thanks to Ms. Virginia McCullough for her sage advice on this series.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Parts Left Out of Conspiracy Theory

Krassner not only attacks establishment values; he attacks decency in general.—ABC newsman Harry Reasoner

To classify Krassner as a social rebel is far too cute. He's a nut, a raving, unconfined nut.—FBI memo asking Life Magazine not to publish further essays by Paul Krassner.

The FBI was right….This man [Krassner] is dangerous--and funny; and necessary.—George Carlin.

I predict that in time Paul Krassner will wind up as the only live Lenny Bruce.—Groucho Marx

As you could probably ascertain from the above, Paul Krassner (above left) stands out as arguably the most prominent conspiracy researcher associated with Mae Brussell. Born in 1932, Krassner distinguished himself early as a violinist, and performed at Carnegie Hall at the tender age of six. Upon reaching adulthood, however, his interests drifted more towards satire. He founded The Realist, a counterculture magazine influenced by the snarkiness of beatnik culture, in 1958. During the 1960s, he co-founded the Yippies with Abby Hoffman and Jerry Rubin. Like Hoffman, he also performed standup comedy at the suggestion of his friend Lenny Bruce.

The Realist reflected Krassner’s political views, which, although radical and leftist, were still rather conventional in terms of accepting the official version on many issues (with the exception of the war in Vietnam). Upon meeting Brussell in February of 1972, his consciousness and the scope of the magazine would expand. He encouraged her to write two articles for his magazine: one in which she would outline Lee Oswald’s function in the JFK assassination; and another in which he wanted her to compare Nixon’s ascendancy to power with that of Adolf Hitler.

While working with her on the two projects, the vast amount of information she had already collected in her files pretty much blew him away. In a 2003 article, Krassner recollected his impression of seeing Brussell's files for the first time:

I stayed overnight, devouring material from Mae’s massive files. The next morning, my head was still swirling in the afterglow of a fresh conversion. Previously, my religion had been Coincidence, but now it was becoming tempered with Conspiracy. On the bus back home, I pondered the theological question Mae had posed: "How many coincidences does it take to make a plot?
On her radio show, Brussell spoke often of Krassner, especially since he was her favorite editor. Sometimes, you can hear a tinge of motherly concern about him, especially when forced to sell off the The Realist to Larry Flynt’s publishing company, and take on a job as Hustler’s literary editor. (I found that somewhat funny, since there was only ten years difference in age between the two.)

Krassner’s coverage of such stories as the kidnapping of Patricia Hearst embroiled him in the official investigation after publishing a fictionalized interview with the fugitive heiress. Apparently the FBI and other Intel agencies did not share his sense of humor.

It would perhaps be misleading to characterize Krassner as a conspiracy researcher. To this day, he refers to himself as ‘an investigative satirist.’ Yet, through his “Parts Left Out Of” series, a number of satirical pieces purporting a behind–the-scenes view of controversial events (e.g. “The Parts Left Out of the Patty Hearst Trial,” “The Parts Left Out of the Kennedy Book,” et cetera), his fiction, his writings about Mae, and his continual vigilance, Krassner has already contributed substantially to paranoid culture.

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Saturday, November 11, 2006

"The Queen of Conspiracy Theory": Mae Magnin Brussell (1922-1988)

Mae Brussell (left), was the daughter of a prominent, wealthy, conservative Beverly Hills rabbi named Edgar Magnin. She attended Stanford University, where she majored in philosophy. Several weeks before her scheduled graduation, she left school to marry the first of two husbands. For forty-one years, she seemed quite content to devote her life to her family in the role of homemaker. On this date in 1963, in fact, her mind was consumed with the numerous burdens, sacrifices and responsibilities that society expects from such women. Eleven days later, however, her life would change swiftly, drastically, and permanently.

The November 22, 1963 assassination of President John Kennedy sent Mae (along with many other US citizens) into a state of shock and confusion. Yet, she noticed, over the following forty-eight hours, how many of the items related in the news coverage of events didn’t seem to add up. When she saw, along with millions of viewers, Jack Ruby gunning down Lee Oswald on live national television, something clicked inside her. She spent a good deal of the next few months following the investigation into Kennedy’s death, and in 1964 purchased a copy of the Warren Commission Report, where she noticed so many inconsistencies and logical errors that she suspected a massive cover-up.

During the 1960s, Brussell continued her research on the JFK assassination after her family’s move to Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA (approx, 120 miles south of San Francisco), where her investigation expanded after finding a number of connections between the assassination and figures involved in US Intelligence, organized crime, and myriad corporations, some of which were tied to or funded by the CIA (e.g. Permindex). The subsequent assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King led her to believe that these ties ran deep under the surface of public life.

By the 1970s, Brussell’s sphere of inquiry had branched out into numerous avenues of research that included the inner workings of shadow government, the attack on American culture and values, the financial transactions necessary for funding illegal domestic operations, mind control, the development of social control mechanisms, and the consequences of multi-national corporate hegemony.

In short, Mae became a full-fledged conspiracy theorist. She began appearing as a guest commentator on KLRB (Carmel--A Tulsa, OK now owns these call letters), a mom and pop radio station owned by Bob and Gloria Barron. Her stint there blossomed into its own show, Dialogue Conspiracy. She made a number of guest appearances on Pacifica network stations KPFA (Berkeley) and WBAI (New York) during the 1970s, and consequently influenced subsequent generations of conspiracy and alternative political theorists.

If you’ve never heard one of her broadcasts, or read any of her articles, Mae’s a pretty difficult person to comprehend at first, for she was a stark paradox of conflicting stereotypes comfortably existing within a single psyche. Part charmer, part curmudgeon, part hipster, part square, part mother, part little old lady, part Jessica Fletcher, part sweetheart, and part bitch, Brussell confounded some, and inspired many more, in the process creating a legion of admirers (known as Brussell Sprouts) who carry on her research to the present day.

Mae could be a bit of a crank at times. After devoting years to conspiracy research, she began to suspect a number of plots against herself, personally. In the aftermath of the assassination attempt against President Ronald Reagan, Brussell identified the arrested shooter, John Hinckley, Jr., as the man who had stalked her the previous year. She also cancelled her radio show on a number of occasions because of perceived threats against her family--once when her son took ill, and again when she discovered that the employer of her daughter’s boyfriend had ties to a rightwing group with nazi interests. These personal concerns followed another daughter’s 1970 death in a suspicious automobile accident. Mae also wondered if Intel might have caused the cancer that ultimately claimed her life in 1988.

While one might be tempted to chalk the above to delusions, in Mae’s case, that’s kinda hard to determine. You see, the main reason why she gained so many followers and admirers was because she was so often proven right. She exposed the CIA connections to Watergate and Iran Contra, and the mind control program of Vacaville Medical Facility long before official sources stipulated guilt or complicity. In one dramatic example, she uncovered a conspiracy to assassinate Robert Kennedy in March of 1968. That month, Rose Kennedy (RFK’s mom) happened to be in California. Brussell wrote a note that carefully outlined the conspiracy, and urged the Kennedy matriarch to insist on tightened security when her son traveled to LA for the upcoming presidential primary. She then muscled her way through the Kennedy entourage to place it directly in Rose’s hand.

Of course, history would show that this was a pretty futile effort.

Brussell was no seer. And her excellent track record had little to do with dumb luck. Rather, she put every ounce of her education to good use, rigorously systematizing her research into what would eventually expand to thirty-nine file cabinets. She had the time and patience to sift through voluminous quantities of written material (government records, newspapers, books, etc.). Most important, she cultivated a number of informants from many walks of life.

In a sense, one might better see Brussell not as a conspiracy theorist, but rather as the philosopher that her training led her to become. She was a true theorist in that she had developed an underlying understanding of how power relates to world affairs. But even more important, she left us with a powerful reason to continue conspiracy research: namely, to inform political activism. She came to feel that uninformed activism is pointless (while our friend K9 would say that it’s downright funny). And she believed that conspiracy research for the sake of conspiracy research was a self-indulgent waste of time, or in her words, “a peep show.”

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The We Sell Anything Store; by X & Y

Last August, I posted a skit that I co-wrote and performed with my old spy friend, Y. Just in case you don’t think spies and scholars can have a sense of humor, here’s a skit that we wrote for our TV show. After reading it, I’m sure you’ll agree that spies and scholars have absolutely no business doing comedy.

CUT IN:
INT. STORE--DAY

X stands behind the counter of a small store, and smiles at his lone customer, a LITTLE OLD LADY, who browses while he delicately arranges knick-knacks. Y enters dressed in expensive, but tacky clothes.

X: Whoa! You’re dressed to kill. What's the occasion?

Y: I just won the lottery.

X: I see. And you’re doing a little shopping?

Y: Yeah, and I caught a glimpse of your store from that new shop across the street. You know, the Partridge Family Lunch Box Emporium?

X: Sure. Been there many times.

Y: And the name of the place was interesting: The We Sell Anything Shop. Tell me, why do you call it that?

X: Because, we sell anything.

Y: Cool.

X: And judging from that suit your wearing, you'll buy just about anything too, won't you.

Y: Okay, Mr. Smart Ass, let's see if this place is worth my time. Gimme a pack of Marlboros.

X reaches under the counter

Y (cont.): And while your down there get me a beer.

X emerges with a pack of Marlboros and a Budweiser.

X: That'll be $3.95.

Little Old Lady: (Calling from aisle) Hey, sonny! You got The Reader's Guide Travel Guide USA?

X: Which edition, please?

Little Old Lady: 1994.

X again reaches out from under the counter and hands her the book as a very PRETTY WOMAN enters the store.

Y: You know, I could also use a Turkish sword, a bar of beauty soap, a pair of fuzzy dice, a Porsche and a pack of garlic flavored chewing gum.

X produces everything but the Porsche.

X: There you are. Turkish sword signed by Suleiman the Magnificent, soap, dice, and a pack of Wrigley's garlic gum.

Y: What happened to the Porsche?

X: Oh, that's right. What year, color and model?

Y: Diablo red 1973 Spider.

X takes a set of keys from his breast pocket, and rings it up.

X: It's parked out back, registration in the glove compartment. That'll be, including the beer and the cigarettes, $172,666.95.

Y: Say, you really do sell everything, don't you? I was just kidding about the Porsche.

X: Sorry, no refunds.

Y: No problem. Listen, now that I got some money, I want to invest some of it in collectibles.

X: You mean like baseball cards, comic books? Stuff like that?

Y: Sure, unless you got something better.

X: Hmm. How do you feel about real estate?

Y: Great. What's your best deal?

X takes out a large notebook marked "REAL ESTATE,” and thumbs through it.

X: Here's one. No neighbors, some water, spectacular view--

Y: How much?

X: Five cents an acre.

Y: Don't tell me. Is it Florida swampland? Oceanside property in Arizona?

X: No. It's on Mars.

Y: Mars? You mean you sell real estate in outer space?

X: Sign says, "We Sell Anything." Look here's another listing for a new restaurant on the moon.

Y: Restaurant on the moon? How's business?

X: Not so good. Great food, but no atmosphere.

Y: I’m surprised you can say that with a straight face. But you gotta admit some things ain’t for sale.

X: That's not true. Everything is for sale. We even got yo’ mama in the back room.

Y: Really? Is she expensive?

X: Nope. Just five cents an acre.

Y: All right. What about love? Do you sell love?

X draws a heavy sigh and shakes his head.

Y (cont): Aha! Gotcha!

X: Oh no. We sell love, but trust me. You don't want it.

Y: What do you mean, "I don't want it"? I don't think you sell it. You're going to have to change the name of your store to "We sell Anything Except Love."

X: I'd rather not sell it to you.

Y: I demand that you sell me love. I'm an adult. I can make my own decisions. And I want to buy love, dammit. Now if you got it for sale, give it to me or I'll report you to the Better Business Bureau.

X: Have it your way. That'll be twenty-five cents.

Y: A quarter?

X: That's all love is worth. A quarter.

Y reaches into his pocket and produces a coin.

X (cont): That's a Canadian quarter.

Y pulls out another coin. X takes out a small white pill from behind the counter. Y picks it up and examines it.

Y: That's it?

X: That's it. Just swallow it.

Y gulps down the pill. The Pretty Woman drapes her arms around him.

Pretty Woman: Hey, sexy. Where have you been all my life?

The Little Old Lady swats the Pretty Woman in the face with her book.

Little Old Lady: Buzz off, sister! I seen him first.

Pretty Woman: Did not.

Little Old Lady: Did too.

Each woman takes an arm for a game of tug of war, with Y as the rope. Five MACHO GUYS in bowling shirts and with bowling balls enter the store.

MACHO GUY 1: Hey, dudes! Get a load of the ass on that one!

The men join the women in the battle for Y’s affection. X shakes his head and leaves as the seven suitors begin to rip him to shreds. Blood spurts everywhere.

Y: (Screams) Help! Call 911! Anybody got a bandage? Tourniquet? Kleenex?

FADE OUT

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Perversions of Science: Consider the Source

Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, the authors of The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, relied in large part on research done by J. Philippe Rushton and twelve other academics whose published works could be found in a journal titled Mankind Quarterly. Mankind Quarterly began in 1961 in response to a growing international civil rights movement that questioned the legitimacy of government policy based on ethnicity and race. The editorial board of Mankind Quarterly saw social equality as an irrational cultural response that denied the reality of “hard science.” According to their website, the magazine’s founding:

…took place against the background of a widening gulf between the biological and social sciences. Cultural and social anthropologists tended to align themselves with the leading dogma of the day, and began to deny the relevance of biology to behavioral and cultural phenomena. Conversely, biological (physical) anthropologists aligned themselves with the "hard" sciences, many describing themselves as human biologists rather than anthropologists in an attempt to distance themselves from a social anthropology that they no longer saw as scientifically sound. In many places, these divisions persist to the present day.
While the journal itself looks mighty impressive, Mankind Quarterly has a history of publishing research that couldn’t make it into refereed, or peer-reviewed journals. On the surface, that would indicate a substantial lack of quality scholarship. But the problems of MQ go much deeper into the history of the founders themselves.

Henry Garrett, one of the journal’s founders, belonged to The International Association for the Advancement of Ethnology and Eugenics (IAEEE), the White Citizen’s Council (a group that comedian Dick Gregory aptly characterized as the KKK, but without the sheets), The Northern League, a neo-nazi offshoot, and the Liberty Lobby, an organization based on the writings of American nazi Francis Yockey, and founded by Yockey’s protégé, Willis Carto.

Another founding member of Mankind Quarterly, Corrado Gini, had previously founded Comitato italiano per lo studio dei problemi della popolazione (The Italian Committee for the Study of Population Problems), a eugenics program in 1929. Two years earlier, he published a biological rationalization of totalitarianism in his 1927 book The Scientific Basis of Fascism.

In 1978, Roger Pearson, a founder of the aforementioned Northern League, took editorial control over Mankind Quarterly. Pearson, who once bragged about hiding the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, associated with a number of fascists, among them Carto, with whom he co-founded another journal, Western Destiny. As Tim Wise noted, Western Destiny’s schtick consisted of railing against “Jewish culture distorters [seeking to] capture the minds, morals and souls of our children,” a sentiment that echoed with the blood libel mythology that anti-Semitism has maintained for centuries.

While the research of Mankind Quarterly obviously had an agenda, neither its pages nor the studies they contained could have been possible without money. The funding for both the journal and its studies was granted by a private organization calling itself The Pioneer Fund, established in 1937. On its FAQ page (which kinda gives you an indication of the mindset over there since it’s titled “Controversies”), The Pioneer Fund bends over backwards to distance itself from The Bell Curve and charges of racism by pointing out that they only funded the studies that led to the book’s conclusions, and they furthermore admitted to a small degree of intelligence overlap in the comparison of race—i.e. that a few non-whites were actually smarter than some whites.

The Pioneer Fund projects itself as an objective supporter of science, but its founders also had a not-so-hidden agenda. The first director of the Pioneer Fund, Wickliffe Draper, came from old money as a Mayflower descendant. As one of his own geneticists told The Nation in a 1960 interview, “[Draper] wished to prove simply that Negroes were inferior.” It’s next director, Harry Laughlin, accepted an Honorary doctorate from Heidelberg University in recognition for his contributions to the nazi’s own eugenics program in 1936. The director after Laughlin, Frederick Osborn, wrote that the nazi sterilization program was “the most exciting experiment that had ever been tried.”

By now, you’ve probably noticed that a lot of The Bell Curve rested on faulty research undertaken and funded by scientists and organizations that wanted to steer Western powers down the garden path of ethnic hegemony, and perhaps even genocide. While some might think the notions of racial or ethnic superiority so passé as to be beyond belief, the book’s popularity and promotion during the previous decade, and its lingering influence in the present day, show that we are all still getting the hard sell on biological determinism.

You’ve also probably noticed that many of the players of this research had links to the nazi movement of Germany, the fascist movement of Italy, and the white supremacy movement of the United States. We have no problem linking the first two movements. After all, Hitler did meet with Mussolini on a number of occasions. Linking these two movements to American totalitarian factions, however, should give us pause to wonder if nazism had spread temporally and geographically beyond Germany of the 1930s and 1940s.

After all, if it waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck, and goose steps like a duck….

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Perversions of Science: It’s Not the Size of the Data that Counts, It’s How You Use Them

This post includes information found in Tim Wise's "Armed with a Loaded Footnote: Sloppy Statistics, Bogus Science and the Assault on Racial Equality."

Although anthropometry works well as a means of identifying someone, replicating their features, and telling you what celebrity you look like, it has always run into severe problems when some one attempts to use it to explain psychological, moral, and personality characteristics. That wouldn’t be so bad if we were talking about a dry academic premise once considered by mainstream science and, after testing, proven invalid. But its use in the eugenics movement infected the government policy of many nations, with flesh-and-bone people paying the consequences for a false assumption. Local and national governments coercively sterilized hundreds of thousands. Universities humiliated scores of thousands by forcing them to pose nude. Millions died during the Holocaust.

Yet the attempts to link physical characteristics to psychological traits and intellectual abilities to one’s appearance persist to this very day. As it turns out, a few scientists lured by easy grant money, lucrative book deals, and perhaps even their own prejudices, still try to prove that a human’s worth, goodness, and intelligence are determined by his or her body. Such scientists find support in individuals and groups that want to find some way that they, and people like them, are genetically superior to everyone else.

Eugenics studies centered on males have often attempted to correlate penis size with intelligence. An 1898 study by the French Army Medical Corps compared the genital size of Nigerian medical students and Czech soldiers. While no one really knows the purpose of this original study, the data from it became the cornerstone of Dr. J. Philippe Rushton’s (Biology, University of Western Ontario) research. Adding to this study interview information collected from random males shopping in Toronto malls, and perhaps from other sources that correlated measurements of genitalia with a biography of the subject (perhaps the posture photos), Dr. Rushton concluded that the size of a man’s penis was in inverse proportion to his intelligence. He then figured that since Africans and their diasporal descendants possess the biggest members, they are the least intelligent people on Earth. Conversely, Asian men and their descendants have the smallest digits, and are thus intellectually superior.

Dr. Rushton’s beliefs might have languished in well-deserved obscurity had Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray not cited them in the 1994 book The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, which argued that genetic attributes explained ethnic disparities in intelligence and class. The book received high praise amongst many American conservatives and neo-conservatives, who lauded its daring and implied repudiation of the Affirmative Action programs developed by Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Judging from its appearance on The New York Times bestseller list, a lot of people took it quite seriously as a scientific study.

As fast as it flew off of bookshelves, The Bell Curve drew criticism from virtually all scientists for its flaws in methodology, faulty analyses, and the book's tendency to contradict its own data. Most of all, the book’s validity hinged on the largely discredited sources it cited.

The problems with The Bell Curve are too numerous and profound to cite here in detail, but we can examine a few. First off is the assumption that there is such a thing as distinguishable human races. We are all mostly clones of each other, since 68% of all human genes are identical. Secondly, an important 1982 study done by Drs. Masatoshi Nei and Arun Roychoudhury (Biological and Medical Sciences, Brown University), and later published in their 1988 book Human Polymorphic Genes: World Distribution, showed quite compellingly that two people from different ethnic groups could easily have more genetic similarity than two people within the same ethnic group. After all, only .032% (at most) of human genes separate a white person from a black one, .019% a white person from an Asian one, and .047% a black from an Asian.

Herrnstein and Murray committed a big methodological faux pas by using statistics that seemingly came from nowhere. Research demands that you cite where you get information so that future investigators can check the validity of it, or get a better understanding of its context. The authors claimed that average IQ scores for Latino immigrants and blacks were 91 and 84 respectively (i.e. at the low range of normal and slightly mentally handicapped, respectively), yet they offered no citation. We have no idea where these data come from. For all we know, they simply pulled them out of thin air.

Then again, The Bell Curve's findings contradicted many of its premises. The authors coin a term, ‘the Flynn Effect,’ a statistical curiosity in IQ testing first noted by New Zealand political scientist James R. Flynn. IQ tests are normalized, or in other words graded on a curve of sorts. You take a representative population, administer IQ tests, and then find the average number of correct responses. That average is established as an IQ of 100 points. But because of the Flynn Effect, each subsequent generation of test takers has to answer more and more questions correctly to get a score of 100.

You can debate amongst your family members whether or not this proves that children are more intelligent than their parents. I would guess that kids aren’t really getting smarter, although they are receiving more information because of the ubiquity of mass media, the Internet in particular. But even if you think you’re smarter than your ma and pa, then you would also have to concede that your intelligence is not genetic, for you have their genes—and that’s the whole premise of the study.

Murray and Herrnstein’s most egregious error was their over-reliance on shoddy research. Dr. Rushton, Dr. Richard Lynn (Psychology, University of Ulster), and eleven other scholars that formed the core of the authors’ thesis had something in common other than an interest in the subject matter. They received funding from the same source, a private organization founded in the 1930s for the sole purpose of proving racial superiority.

If you think that sounds rather Nazi-ish, stick around for the last installment in this series.

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