Hollywood recently released the first behind-the-curtain account of the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency and its relationship with a secret society at Yale University known as Skull and Bones. HIGH TIMES asked the world’s leading authority on the group to help us separate truth from fiction.
High Times | Nov 2007
By Kris Millegan
I hope you are lucky enough to meet someone you trust. I regret to say. I haven’t.
-Dr, Fredricks [Michael Gambon] in The Good Shepherd
The Good Shepherd is Robert De Niro’s effort to mine the dramatic materials at the very real-life nexus of secret societies, intelligence agencies and recorded history, apparently in an attempt to forge a Godfather-style franchise.
But one is left wincing at the thought of The Good Shepherd. Part II, given that the film begins and ends with the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and its aftermath, with the assassination of JFK and its attendant wilderness of conspiracy lurking just over the horizon, Will the “right people” end up washing the blood off their hands in a sequel, laying the action off on some mob operation gone rogue, which then had to be covered up for “the good of the country”? All just an honest mistake….
But I seem to be getting ahead of myself. I have often been asked. ‘What do you think of the movie The Good Shepherd? And the best response I could usually offer was: “Well. I haven’t seen it yet.” I’d been aware of the film for several years, and followed its progress to the silver screen, but I don’t get out much. Then, finally, the DVD version of the film wound its way to our local store, and I picked up a copy to see what I could find. My first viewing brought up a host of indignant furies, all riled at the historical hubris of the tale and the simple fact that most of the characters in it and even the film’s central story of betrayal are amalgamations at best, and total confabulations at worst. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that you shouldn’t watch this movie, As a matter of fact. I recommend it highly — but with caveats, as will soon become clear.
Similar emotions were probably experienced by the relatives of Mafia members when The Godfather came out: contempt for its errors, but still a satisfaction at seeing a film with some semblance of reality, accurately portraying the Mafia’s attitudes, atmosphere and activities while, at the same time, exposing a very tragic and very real group that plays by its own rules and affects us all … immensely. Being an intelligence brat. I can only speak about The Good Shepherd, but if you’re interested in the views of Mafia whelps. I suggest reading Mafia Princess by Antoinette Giancana, or maybe watching some Growing Up Gotti on A&E.
But then, my own dad wasn’t a big boss; he was just a lesser boss, someone who had been in some very interesting places at some very interesting times, which had given him an overview of the agency beyond the standard compartmentalization. The last overt job that my father, Lloyd S. Millegan, had with the CIA was serving as a branch chief, the head of the East Asia Research Analysis Office. Before that, he’d been in the Office of Strategic Services (0SS) and a few of the other alpha-named agencies that eventually morphed into the CIA. After his initial contact with the intelligence community in 1936. as an 18-year-old exchange student at the University of Shanghai. He joined the OSS before World War II. In 1943, he entered the world of deep politics, “monitoring” Gen, Douglas MacArthur and his staff for the OSS and its boss, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Dad had many interesting adventures in those days, including running guerrillas and (ironically) getting sued by the Japanese government for his actions in sequestering the Japanese-puppet Filipino government’s library during the Battle of Manila, before the US troops arrived there in 1945.
My father quit the CIA in 1959. He’d already started toward the exit after a trip to South Vietnam in 1956, where he’d met an interesting real-life character named Edwin Lansdale, who could conceivably play a big part in The Good Shepard. Part II [assuming there is one], and who had recently taken control of the opium trade in the Golden Triangle, Dad started talking to me about all this in 1969, which led me to begin exploring a phenomenon that officially doesn’t exist: CIA involvement in narco-trafficking.
Which leads to my biggest beef with the film: Instead of touching on the CIA’s illicit drug-trade connections, now well documented as going back to the early postwar era, the story offers up the standard Hollywood-cliche mole maze, set against the disingenuous dialectic of the Cold War. Thus, the first major sin of The Good Shepherd is one of omission: no mention of the long-standing role that drug trafficking has played in the agency’s arsenal of “dirty tricks.”
Nonetheless, it is through the routine spy story that the movie interjects one of its greatest truths, albeit through the lips of a tortured Russian defector stoned on LSD:
Soviet power is a myth, a great joke. There are no spare parts; nothing is working — nothing. It’s nothing but painted rust. But you, you need to keep the Russian myth alive to maintain your military-industrial complex. Your system depends on Russia being perceived as a mortal threat. It’s not a threat. It was never a threat. It will never be a threat. It is a rotted, bloated cow.
How might this sobering fact be received by the audience, coming as it does from the mouth of an enemy agent tripped out on acid, appearing in a fictional film based upon an unreliable chronicle? Might it just covertly confirm the reality that many know to be true — but without causing the uproar that such a significant revelation should engender?
Around this real-life charade revolve some other themes of the movie, leaving us with an insight into Napoleon’s famous dictum: History is a set of lies agreed upon. For when even “honorable” men lie, who is trustworthy? What is real? Are our secrets safe? Do secrets give us safety? And at what cost?
My good friend Antony Sutton was ostracized from academia for uncovering the truth that forces in the West had been propping up the USSR since its inception, there even having been surreptitious Western help in producing the war materiel that was used to kill American soldiers in the Vietnam War. Tony demanded that the evidence he’d gathered be published. He was instead warned, “not to break his rice bowl.” .
Finally, to force the issue, Tony released his own book. He was unceremoniously tossed out of the Hoover Institute at Stanford for this act of courage. His career was ruined, his family became estranged and his integrity was betrayed — but because of Sutton’s act of righteous defiance in 1973, there is cold, hard proof of what the psychedelicized Soviet agent sagaciously spouts in this 21st-century morality play.
Will the film’s revelation of this manipulation of public opinion — this strategy of tension, this “playing” of a false Soviet threat — be trumpeted, trumped or simply filed away among the many other “facts” of the day? For this speaks deeply to our common perceived reality and shared experiences — especially of boomers, who as young children were being shoved under desks for “protection,” in a world about to be blown to smithereens … over ideology.
Antony Sutton paid the disgraceful price of being ridiculed by many, then ignored for the rest of his life. Deftly pigeonholed, his effort at speaking truth to power was sullied, entering the common discourse as per the Big Lie axiom: The truth must be available, but only in a way that makes it easily discarded.
Soon, the only place that a person could find Tony’s books was in a John Birch Society bookstore, which for most people immediately tainted what he had to say. Tony was never a member and abhorred the group. Interestingly, when researching the JBS, a person finds a very, convoluted history — one with spook fingerprints all over it. (Was part of the JBS’s operational capability to associate conspiracy research with the domain of wacky old white men concerned about precious bodily fluids, Commie boogiemen and such?)
Which leads us to another grim reality disclosed within this Hollywood fantasy: the very real manipulation of the Fourth Estate, and thus our collective civic understandings and abilities, by intelligence agencies, political hacks, corporate flacks and bureaucrats using propaganda techniques to spin “truth out of lies.”
In The Good Shepherd, the following is spoken by Phillip Allen (William Hurt] as he hands off the film’s protagonist, Edward Wilson (Matt Damon], to Wilson’s English handler in wartime 1941 London:
You are going to have to learn, and as quickly and thoroughly as possible, the English system of intelligence, the black arts, particularly counterintelligence — the uses of information, disinformation, and how their use is ultimately … power. They have agreed to open up their operations to us — they can’t win the war without us — but they don’t really want us here…. Intelligence is their mother’s milk, and they don’t like sharing the royal tit with people that don’t have titles.
Phillip Allen is clearly patterned, at least in part, after longtime CIA chief Allen Dulles, especially since, in the movie, Allen resigns — as Dulles did in real life — after the failed Bay of Pigs operation in 1961.
Philip Allen is also supposed to be a member of Skull and Bones’ class of 1912, and the top three guys at the agency in the movie are Bonesmen, which is historically inaccurate. This is not to say that Yale and its secret-society system — especially Bones — haven’t played a huge part in the structure and execution of our country’s intelligence operations, for they have, and of course Allen Dulles was part of this power establishment. So, even by Hollywood’s historical standards, this is in the right ballpark.
But for me, many features of Phillip Allen also evoke Bonesman Prescott Bush, the grandfather of the current Bonesman in the White House, and the father of another member of Skull and Bones: the former head of the CIA and ex-president, George HW. Bush.
For Prescott Bush was more than an investment banker for the Nazis (read: the creation of an enemy) who later became a US senator, partly through the suppression of the news that the companies he’d run had been seized in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act. Prescott had begun working with the intelligence community during World War I, and he maintained those contacts until his death. Also, Prescott Bush raised money for — and was on the board of directors of — the CBS television network, which was founded by William Paley, the former deputy chief for psychological-warfare operations on the staff of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
And, probably most telling, Prescott — along with his son, Prescott Jr.; future CIA director William Casey; and corporate economist and intelligence gadfly Leo Cherne — founded the National Strategy Information Center (NSIC) in 1962. Some of NSIC’s early funding went to the London-based World Forum Features, which in turn circulated CIA-authored disinformation and manipulative news articles worldwide. They hoped that the “news” from these articles would subsequently be picked up and reported as fact by the US media, a process that spooks call “blowback.”
Other material discrepancies in the film abound, such as putting the wrong dates on several scenes of historical fact; books appearing in the movie before their print date; and city buses full of people going to work on Sundays. And, as students of deep politics know, the real story of the Bay of Pigs is this: JFK went to bed the night before having given the okay for the necessary air support for the invasion. That directive was then “bungled” by presidential advisor and Skull and Bones member McGeorge Bundy, because the Bay of Pigs “invasion” was a planned debacle, leaving in place a convenient “enemy” to rattle fear in American souls and dollars out of the US treasury. It also gave operational cover for other adventures and tied an albatross around the new president’s neck.
The reality is much stranger than the fiction. In fact, the essence of this might be suggested by some words spoken by De Niro’s character, Gen. William ‘Wild Bill” Sullivan, the first director of the OSS: “I am concerned that too much power will end up in the hands of too few…. It’s always in somebody’s best interest to promote enemies — real or imagined.” The reality has surpassed the cine-fiction. How far? Well….
“[M]en linked to the structures of United States intelligence” was how an Italian Senate investigation described the perpetrators of the 1980 Bologna train bombing, an act of terrorism that killed 85 people and injured over 200. The bombing was part of a series of actions carried out over many years in Italy, targeting the political left by essentially blaming and demonizing it for acts done covertly by agents of the right. The plan, part of Operation Gladio, sought to terrorize the populace into voting for strong right-wing governments in order to suppress the left.
“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from the political game. The reason was quite simple: to force … the public to turn to the state to ask for greater security” was how Operation Gladio participant Vincenzo Vinciguerra put it later during his testimony to Italian authorities.
Operation Gladio, which was initially sold as a “stay-behind force” in case of the Communist takeover of Western Europe, was instead used for psychological warfare and political manipulation. Terrorism, assassination and subverting the electoral process were just a few of the deeds carried out using fascist elements, cult members, secret government agents, gangsters and covert military units.
Similarly, in Belgium, after large public protests over the nuclear-tipped missiles being based in their country, a “state security destabilization operation” was undertaken — as one participant called the series of mass killings in the mid-1980s dubbed the “Supermarket Massacres.” Investigations by the Belgian parliament determined that the goal was to instill fear and discord, trigger repressive measures, and create the pretext for stricter state control. The killers were later linked to state security, neo-Nazi groups and even to Wackenhut, a firm with US intelligence ties.
Operation Northwood was another “false flag” terrorist operation, this time emanating from the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US Department of Defense via a study-group report entitled “Justification for US Military Intervention in Cuba,” The scheme was backed by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Lyman Lemnitzer, with the Joint Chiefs specifically supporting a proposal to down an aircraft supposedly carrying” college students off on a holiday,”
James Bamford, in his 2001 book Body of Secrets, wrote: “Operation Northwoods had the written approval of the Chairman and every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for innocent people to be shot on American streets; for boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba to be sunk on the high seas; for a wave of violent terrorism to be launched in Washington, D.C., Miami, and elsewhere. People would be framed for bombings they did not commit; planes would be hijacked. Using phony evidence, all of it would be blamed on Castro, thus giving Lemnitzer and his cabal the excuse, as well as the public and international backing, they needed to launch their war,”
How much of our history is simply psychological warfare, including the traumatizing of the masses through fear, the creation of false enemies, media manipulation, electoral theft and other terrorist acts, all done as a means to an end?
“[A] mind-set that thrives on secrecy and deception … encourages professional amorality — the belief that righteous goals can be achieved through the use of unprincipled and normally unacceptable means,” wrote ex-CIA officer Victor Marchetti in his book The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence. And my ex-CIA father, in a 1979 newspaper interview, stated: “When you work for the CIA, the ends justify the means.”
Is that the brutal reality behind the horrific acts of Sept. 11, 2001? Was this watershed event a managed tragedy, an occult means to invoke repression and war? Are Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda the strategic invention of yet another enemy in a long series of created malefactors? Is it possible for us to learn and then change the way of world from the enlightened dialogue of the silver screen?
Everything that seems clear is bent and everything that seems bent is clear. Trapped in reflections, you must learn to recognize when a lie masquerades as a truth….
—Dr. Fredricks, in The Good Shepherd
So, as the Romans used to say, caveat lector! Let the reader beware —or, in other words, pay attention, and don’t believe everything you read (or see, or hear). Please hearken to those words of wisdom, but do not attempt to pass a history exam having watched The Good Shepherd … at least in my class.