30 October 2003
According to the ‘conspiratorialist’ view, the US government has been and is, involved in a number of illegal conspiracies to manipulate events in order to pursue its agenda, both domestic and foreign. For example, the US government’s alleged involvement with or foreknowledge of 9/11 or, and perhaps even more to the point, it has been suggested that some of the more spectacular bombings that have occurred in Iraq over the past weeks including the bombing of the UN’s headquarters were instigated by the US as part of its political agenda. After all, without a major UN presence in Iraq, it becomes all the easier for the US to maintain its control, what better way to see off the ‘competition’ than to blow them away. It won’t be the first time or the last as the assassination of Orlando Letelier demonstrated, or US involvement in the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in 1967, or CIA involvement in the bombing of US military barracks in Beirut in 1982.
But perhaps what the narrow ‘conspiritorialist’ view of events often misses, is that far from being the result of ‘rogue’ elements or the ‘zeal’ or greed of the individuals involved, illegal US government involvement in conspiracies are the direct result of its policies. Policies that are so abhorrent that they have to be hidden from view, else they expose the hypocrisy of the Western ‘way of life’ and totally undermine the rationale for its actions.
Of course the capitalist press pour scorn on such ideas, yet history is littered with examples of the involvements of US imperialism with criminal enterprises of one kind or another as part of a larger political agenda, whether the Mafia in Cuba or drug smuggling in the ‘Golden Triangle’ or the cocaine cartels in Colombia, to name but a few.
Can we give any credence to this view of history? Aside from anything else, critics argue that it’s impossible to keep such complex and far-reaching plots a secret, there are just so many people involved, that sooner or later knowledge of the conspiracy is bound to reach the public. But the very existence of an admittedly small number of people who have pursued the conspiracies shows that they do leak into the public domain in spite of all the obstacles placed in the path of investigators.
The problem is, that when dealing with the enormous power of government – and its influence over the media and the judicial system – is proving it. Moreover, as with any fundamental challenge to the capitalist system itself, detractors will be marginalised and discredited by the established media as a matter of course. A current example that I have referred to here in earlier essays is that of the motive of oil in the invasion of Iraq, that even ‘opponents’ of the invasion put down to far-fetched notions or the paranoid fantasies of the ‘wackos’ who doggedly pursue these lines of inquiry.
But in a courtroom in Washington DC this past week, one conspiracy has resurfaced to haunt the Bush clique and because it extends back at least forty years, it shows that ‘conspiracies’ far from being an outlandish invention, are in fact, intrinsic to the US government’s operations. Operations that extend to the highest levels of government and involve US and foreign corporations that operates globally and involves most probably, billions of dollars of laundered money, let alone the death and misery it has caused on six continents.
When the law gets in the way of policy, for example the illegal export and sale of weapons, breaking the law creates the necessity to keep the operation secret. Enter the conspiracy. And in order to pursue its objectives outside the law, it has to form alliances with criminal organisations, create institutions for laundering the large sums of money needed, for example to purchase drugs that are in turn, sold for the purchase of weapons. In one case, weapons were actually stolen from US military bases for sale abroad.
Once started, there is no turning back short of total exposure that, as the Iran-Contra scandal showed, is still no guarantee that the culprits will be brought to book. Moreover, such criminal enterprises attract a host of ‘freelancers’ who of necessity, operate under the umbrella of US government protection. What other option is there? Exposure of the ‘freelancers’ inevitably invites exposure of the entire enterprise.
But in the event of exposure, either the government gives ‘national defense’ or ‘national security’ as the reason for not revealing its involvement or it simply denies any involvement, labeling it the ‘outlandish’ invention of wackos. But the facts speak for themselves. What needs to be determined is the role and extent these operations play in the execution of the imperialist agenda and to what degree they are still being used.
Nugan Hand Bank: the tip of an iceberg
On January 27 1980, near the town of Lithgow in Australia, two policemen found the body of Frank Nugan in his Mercedes, dead from a single rifle shot. The verdict was suicide. Nugan’s death revealed an international conspiracy that spanned six continents and involved a ‘who’s who’ of highly connected people both in government and business. A conspiracy that at least one aspect of which came to a conclusion in a Washington DC court this past week; the case of Edwin P. Wilson, one-time CIA operative turned ‘freelancer’.
“1982 CONVICTION OF CIA’S EDWIN WILSON OVERTURNED”
“Honesty comes hard to the government.”
That is what a federal judge said this week in a spectacular ruling that vacated the twenty year old conviction of former CIA officer Edwin P. Wilson on charges of illegally shipping explosives to Libya.
In his defense two decades ago, Wilson had claimed that he was “still working for the Company [CIA].” In response, the government had denied that the CIA had had contacts with Wilson following the end of his formal employment. This was untrue.
“There were, in fact, over 80 contacts, including actions parallel to those in the charges,” Judge Lynn N. Hughes wrote.
“Because the government knowingly used false evidence against him and suppressed favorable evidence, his conviction will be vacated,” the ruling said.
“This opinion refers only to the part of the record that the government has reluctantly agreed may be made public…. The governmental deceit mentioned here is illustrative – not exhaustive.”
The government can appeal the ruling or seek a new trial. Wilson remains in custody.
A copy of the 24 page Opinion on Conviction, dated October 27, 2003 is posted here:
As the judge said, the government “knowingly used false evidence against” Wilson. Moreover, even more damning evidence has yet to be revealed. The question is, why? What was it that the government wanted to hide, so much so that they were prepared to frame a man who was subsequently sentenced to 52 years imprisonment for ‘smuggling’ 10 tons of explosives and other materiél to Libya and elsewhere, including Southern Africa and the Middle East in the 1970s for the CIA?
But there’s much, much more to this case:
“Wilson’s questionable operations trace directly back to 1976 when Wilson, Shackley, Albert Hakim, Tom Clines and Richard Secord became involved together, they indicate that retired CIA Associate Deputy Director of Operations (ADDO) Ted Shackley and then CIA Director George Bush are likely guilty of perjury or providing false information to investigators. Since both denied any Agency connection to Wilson they are certainly guilty of obstruction of justice. They both denied repeatedly, and emphatically, to criminal and Congressional investigators in the late seventies and early eighties that Wilson was acting in any official role for
the CIA after 1971.”
The connections extend in almost every conceivable direction. For example, in a related case it emerged that:
“affidavits and other documents already filed in other court cases indicate that, in the mid seventies, Edwin Wilson orchestrated a series of missions known as Watchtower. Those documents, including the so-called “Cutolo Affidavit” specifically name Wilson as having directed operations in which Special Forces troops placed radio beacons inside Colombia so that CIA cocaine flights could land undetected in Panama.”
This is some years before the ‘guns for drugs’ saga initiated by Reagan as part of the covert war against Nicaragua was initiated that again, Wilson was a central player in as he was in the subsequent Iran-contra scandal.
But there’s even more to the Wilson saga as if this is not enough. Wilson who terminated his ‘official’ employment with the CIA in 1971 had, according to the court case over 80 subsequent contacts with the CIA, contacts that are no doubt, buried in the evidence the government won’t release.
We have to spread our net wider in order to gain some insight into what was going on back in 1981 and Wilson and the Reagan government’s involvement in the sale of cocaine to buy weapons and the role of banks in laundering the ill-gotten gains.
Drugs, Guns and Banks (again)
The saga has its beginnings during the Vietnam war. At the time, Wilson was smuggling weapons to the Middle East for the CIA. Wilson used the Nugan Hand Bank to launder money for his (the CIA’s) operations.
“In 1969 Michael Hand, a former Green Beret and one of the CIA agents stationed at Long Cheng when Air America was shipping opium, moved to Australia, ostensibly as a private citizen. On arriving in Australia, Hand entered into a business partnership with an Australian national, Frank Nugan. In 1976 they established the Nugan Hand Bank in Sydney (Commonwealth of New South Wales, 1982a, 1982b). The Nugan Hand Bank began as a storefront operation with minimal capital investment, but almost immediately it boasted deposits of over $25 million. The rapid growth of the bank resulted from large deposits of secret funds made by narcotics and arms smugglers and large deposits from the CIA (Nihill, 1982).”
The banks’s directors and officers included the following:
“Admiral Earl F. Yates, president of the Nugan Hand Bank was, during the Vietnam War, chief of staff for strategic planning of U.S. forces in Asia and the Pacific.
General Edwin F. Black, president of Nugan Hand’s Hawaii branch, was commander of U.S. troops in Thailand during the Vietnam War and, after the war, assistant army chief of staff for the Pacific.
General Erle Cocke, Jr., head of the Nugan Hand Washington, D.C. office.
George Farris worked in the Nugan Hand Hong Kong and Washington, D.C. offices. Farris was a military intelligence specialist who worked in a special forces training base in the Pacific.
Bernie Houghton, Nugan Hand’s representative in Saudi Arabia. Houghton was also a U.S. naval intelligence undercover agent.
Thomas Clines, director of training in the CIA’s clandestine service, was a London operative for Nugan Hand who helped in the takeover of a London-based bank and was stationed at Long Cheng with Michael Hand and Theodore S. Shackley during the Vietnam War.
Dale Holmgreen, former flight service manager in Vietnam for Civil Air Transport, which became Air America [the CIA’s airline]. He was on the board of directors of Nugan Hand and ran the bank’s Taiwan office.
Walter McDonald, an economist and former deputy director of CIA for economic research, was a specialist in petroleum. He became a consultant to Nugan Hand and served as head of its Anapolis, Maryland branch.
General Leroy Manor, who ran the Nugan Hand Philippine office, was a Vietnam veteran who helped coordinate the aborted attempt to rescue the Iranian hostages, chief of staff for the U.S. Pacific command, and the U.S. government’s liaison officer to Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.
On the board of directors of the parent company formed by Michael Hand that preceded the Nugan Hand Bank were Grant Walters, Robert Peterson, David M. Houton, and Spencer Smith, all of whom listed their address as c/o Air America, Army Post Office, San Francisco, California.
Also working through the Nugan Hand Bank was Edwin F. Wilson, a CIA agent involved in smuggling arms to the Middle East and later sentenced to prison by a U.S. court for smuggling illegal arms to Libya. Edwin Wilson’s associate in Mideast arms shipments was Theodore Shackley, head of the Miami, Florida, CIA station. In 1973, when William Colby was made director of Central Intelligence, Shackley replaced him as head of covert operations for the Far East; on his retirement from the CIA William Colby became Nugan Hand’s lawyer.”
Nugan Hand Bank ran into serious financial difficulties in the late 1970s and Frank Nugan allegedly committed suicide in Australia but the speculation is that he was murdered to keep him quiet. The Australian police found William Colby’s business card on Nugan’s body and “a typed list was found in Nugan’s briefcase, containing scores of names of prominent Australian political, sports, and business personalities. Next to the names were handwritten dollar amounts, mostly five- and six-figure sums”. In any event, his death led to an official investigation into Nugan Hand that revealed:
“that millions of dollars were unaccounted for in the bank’s records and that the bank was serving as a money-laundering operation for narcotics smugglers and as a conduit through which the CIA was financing gun smuggling and other illegal operations throughout the world. These operations included illegally smuggling arms to South Africa and the Middle East. There was also evidence that the CIA used the Nugan Hand Bank to pay for political campaigns that slandered politicians, including Australia’s Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (Kwitny, 1987).”
The late Jonathan Kwitney’s book “The Crimes of Patriots: A True tale of Dope, Dirty Money, and the CIA” contains probably the most thorough account of the affair written at the time (1987) of the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Agency, drug smuggling, fraud, money laundering and how the Nugan Hand Bank sat at the centre of a world-wide network that involved Bechtel and the Arab American Oil Company in Saudi Arabia, where the bank defrauded American workers of at least $1.5 million, through to supplying weapons to UNITA in Angola. The entire scope of the enterprise will probably never be known as following Nugan’s death, the Australian police ‘conveniently’ held off raiding the bank’s offices for a couple of days so that any incriminating evidence could be shredded. Present at the shredding “was a team of former U.S. military operatives in Southeast Asia, led by CIA veteran Michael Hand, and including the president of the Nugan Hand Bank, Rear Adm. Earl F. (“Buddy”) Yates, and the mysterious puppetmaster of Nugan Hand, Maurice (“Bernie”) Houghton.”
“One of the bigger mysteries surrounding Nugan Hand, the answer to which may be almost self-evident, concerns its branch in Chiang Mai, Thailand. (Indeed, Australian investigators reported that the idea for a Chiang Mai branch was suggested to Michael Hand by Murray Stewart Riley, a major Australian-U.S. drug trafficker now in prison in Australia.)
“Chiang Mai is the colorful market center for the hill people of northwest Thailand. Like few other cities on earth, it is known for one thing. More than Detroit is known for cars, or Newcastle for coal, or Cognac for brandy, Chiang Mai is known for dope. It is the last outpost of civilization before one enters the law-unto-itself opium-growing world of the Golden Triangle.
“If it seems strange for a legitimate merchant bank to open an office in Chiang Mai, consider this: the Chiang Mai Nugan Hand office was lodged on the same floor, in what appears to be the same office suite, as the United States Drug Enforcement Agency office. The offices shared a common entrance and an internal connecting door between work areas. The DEA receptionist answered Nugan Hand’s phone and took messages when the bank’s representatives were out.
“The DEA has provided no explanation for how this came about. Its spokes-people in Washington have professed ignorance of the situation, and DEA agents in the field have been prevented by the superiors from discussing it with reporters.
“The Drug Enforcement Agency has a history of working with the CIA at home and abroad; with drug money corrupting the politics of many countries, the two agencies’ affairs are often intertwined.”
Nugan Hand Bank operated in a ‘grey area’ between being a ‘proprietary’ such as Air America (the CIA’s airline) and being an outside corporation contracted to do business on behalf of various US government agencies.
“Australia’s Joint Task Force on Drug Trafficking released a four-volume report on Nugan Hand to Parliament in 1983, which determined that Nugan Hand had participated in two U.S. government covert operations; the sale of an electronic spy ship to Iran and weapons shipments to southern Africa, probably to U.S.-backed forces in Angola.
“Both the Iranian and African operations involved Edwin Wilson, a career CIA officer, purportedly retired, who was then working as a civilian on the staff of a super secret Navy intelligence operation called Task Force 157. In 1983, Wilson began serving a 52-year sentence in federal prison for supplying tons of plastic explosives, assassination gear, high-tech weapons, and trained personnel to Libya. He is also the main link between Nugan Hand and key figures in the Iran-contra affair.”
No wonder the US government wanted Edwin Wilson discredited and out of the way, preferably permanently. But the real issue here is the extent to which the US government pursues its policies extra-legally and the degree to which they are an intrinsic part of the way it operates. For in exposing the lies exposes the phony ‘morality’ that supposedly motivates the US government’s ‘ideals’. Revealing that in fact it has no compunction in engaging in a range of activities that put it in cahoots with international criminal cartels in pursuit of ‘higher’ goals, makes a mockery of its publicly stated policies. It gives credence the allegations that it knew about 9/11 in advance and chose to turn a blind eye as it suited its purposes to do so. Who can blame the ‘conspiracists’ for alleging US involvement in criminal actions that further its military/political objectives in the Middle East, when in any case, the invasion itself was illegal under international law to start with. It reveals a government that has no moral scruples whatsoever. That the only reason that it can get away with such activities is sheer power.
This is only a partial listing of all the available documents relating to Edwin Wilson and the CIA’s involvement in a broad swathe of illegal activities.
Federal Prosecutors Knowingly Used Perjured CIA Affidavit to Secure ’82 Convictions of CIA Agent Edwin Wilson
Morning in America and the Special Warfare Revival: Ronald Reagan to the White House
An Un-American Way of War
An excellent listing of books on the CIA
Control Freaks, Pushers, and a Nation of Junkies
Dealing in Death: The CIA and the Drugs Trade: How the CIA created America’s heroin and cocaine epidemics
Nugan Hand Bank-More Grist for the Mill
Ed Wilson’s Revenge
The Biggest CIA Scandal in History Has Its Feet in the Starting Blocks in a Houston Court House
Ex-CIA Agent Framed by the CIA and Federal Prosecutors
Part Two: Nugan Hand Bank
Reading List on Intelligence Agencies & Political Repression 1
The Chilean Connection: Saul Landau, IPS-TNI Fellow, and John Dinges
US military and CIA oversaw Far East drug smuggling for 20 years
The Flow of Funds: The Prosecution of the Private Operatives
United States v. Richard V. Secord