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Sat

09

Jan

2010

Intelligence, You Say?
Saturday, 09 January 2010 10:12
by Stephen P. Pizzo

Among all the talk this week of "systemic failure" within our intelligence agencies, I may be among the few not at all surprised that Nigerian got on a plane with explosives in his crotch. And I wasn't the least surprised to hear that seven CIA agents got blown up by one of their own operatives in Afghanistan.

This "systemic failure" of which you hear so much about in the wake of each of new intel screw up is nothing new, it's been around a very long time. To claim that our nation's intelligence agencies are loose cannons on the deck of our ship of state would be an understatement.

Actually the term should be plural — as in "systemic failures," because there's more than one. Analyzing intelligence collected is surely one, and failures there were why that guy got on a flight to Detroit. But there's another "system" that's failed, and failed, and failed... the system intel folk like to call "HUMIT," or human intelligence. The CIA has a long history of entrusting parts of national security to .. let's see, how do I put it?... nuts, screwballs, crooks, drunks, even the certifiably insane.

And that's why seven veteran CIA agents were blown up in Afghanistan a few days ago.

Since winter is a good time to curl up with a ripping good yarn, let me tell you one, a true one even.

(I encourage you to view the formerly Secret documents towards the end of the piece that I link to from my files. They're the salt and pepper in this stew.)

Back in the mid 1980’s, while working on a book about the S&L debacle, I and my co-authors almost immediately began running into some real characters who'd been caught with their hands in S&L’s tills. Of course they claimed innocence, as most of crooks do. But these guys had a twist to their alibis that caught our attention. They claimed they weren't stealing money, but rather were “working for the CIA.”


Before we go on I need to stop and orient those readers too young to remember the Ronald Reagan 1980's. Congress had cut off funding for aide to the anti-communist Contras fighting in Nicaragua. But the Reagan administration was determined to support them anyway. The problem was money. Congress had slammed the nation's wallet shut for any and all matters relating to the Contras. But somehow money continued to show up to fund secret operation and arm shipments to the Contras. We would learn only later that one of the ways the administration was getting that money was by illegally selling US missiles out the backdoor to Iran.

But there's strong evidence that there were other self-funding scams afoot, one of which may have been to take advantage of recent S&L deregulation to loot federally-insured thrifts across the nation. It apparently dawned on someone in the administration that, if Charlie Keating could do it and get away with it, why not the CIA?

And that's exactly what these characters caught stealing money at failed S&Ls,claimed — that they were either laundering CIA cash or creating phony companies and real estate deals, taking out giant loans, defaulting on them and passing that dough — or at least some of it — onto the CIA. That money then would be used to finance what Congress refused to finance. The "reasoning" seemed to be that, since S&Ls were federally-insured, if they drove a few into insolvency the depositors would be paid back with government money, money that those "damn liberals in congress" should have approved in the first place.

On the face of it the claims of these characters made after getting caught red handed, were ridiculous. I mean, to put it mildly, these characters were no James Bonds. Rather they were characters — and not in good ways. As we tried to unravel fact from fiction in their claims we reached out to a source who would know, a retired CIA officer whose job at the agency had been managing the agency’s “field operatives.” Before the interview began he laid a tape recorder on the table and turned it on. The penchant for drama apparently doesn’t fade in retirement. We told him about the people we were running into and told him what they were telling us and we asked him if any of it could possibly be true. After all, we said, these guys were, well, kinda nutty.... no wait... REALLY nutty.

He told us that, while he didn’t know anything about the folks we were talking to, he said that it was possible some of them were telling us the truth, or something with truth in it. Here's a synopsis of what he told us:

The Agency finds people like that by scoping out county firing ranges and small airports. We pick those places because that’s where Walter Mitty-type guys hang out. When we identify a prospect we go up to them, flash our CIA IDs and ask, ‘How would you like to work for your country?’ If they agree we first groom them for work we don’t want to get personally involved in and that would require deniablity should their cover get blown. They are told very little actually. They are given a very narrow task to perform. The first task we give them is to secretly report back to us on another new operative we team him up with.

We asked him why the CIA would take such a risk, since more than a few of these people had long records as petty criminals, liars, braggarts and exaggerators deluxe.

“Yeah, exactly,” he replied. “...if they get caught or start talking out of school, our reply is,‘What? You’going to believe us or a guy like that?'”

Shortly after that I got a call from one of the strangest of these characters. His name was Joe Kelso and he had been trying to get me interested in some "documentation" he claimed to have on CIA operations in Costa Rica involving secret arms deals with the Contras. I could hear noise in the background so I asked him where he was calling from. His reply:

“Steve, I'm calling you from a field telephone. That's all I can say.”

Well, wasn't that colorful! Except I could hear cars coming and going from a gas station..you know, "ding, ding, ding." He was calling from a damn pay phone. But in Joe’s world it was a “field telephone.”

Then I asked him about the “evidence” he claimed to have.

“Where’d you get these documents you claim to have, Joe?”

There was a long, dramatic pause...

“Steve, (pause for effect)... six men are sucking dirt today because they asked that question.”

Ooookay. That’s when I figured, with cheap dialog like that, Joe was living his own B-movie fantasy. I told Joe if he had anything he thought was valuable to mail it to me, and that was that. I never heard from Joe again.

Fast forward five years. I’m in the library at Sonoma State University which had just gotten the complete microfilmed files from Iran/Contra investigation, including Ollie North’s hand-written desk diary. As I poured over the diary, a name jumped out at me... Joe Kelso. It seems Joe had gotten arrested in Colorado and Oliver North was concerned enough to call the US Attorney there. (See scanned diary page.)

Deeper among the Iran/Contra material was this handwringing telex from another of Ollie North's colorful "contractors," his buddy in Costa Rica, John Hull. Buckle up, because when you're approaching John Hull you're about to arrive at City Hall, Crazy Town. (The link to his name above and the partial scan of his telex will take you there.)

At this time Hull was running a remote ranch in the jungles of Costa Rica used by North to supply arms to the Contras in violation of a congressional ban. As you can see from the telex, Hull was all atwitter over an incident in which a strange American had been captured lurking around the ranch by Costa Rica troops. Hull wrote that he was alerted to trouble by machine gun fire as the troops fired at the man. The Costa Rican troops had been advised by their own intelligence folks that the American was "highly dangerous." So, preferring to kill him than risk getting killed themselves, they'd opened fire on him. Only Hull's intercession saved the man's life.

Who was that guy? Yep, like Freddy Kruger, he was bacccck .... Joe Kelso.



What the hell was Kelso really up to? Did he really work for anyone besides himself? It only got murkier the deeper we dug. We learned that Kelso and another guy got themselves arrested in Colorado for allegedly trying to sell a dummy ground-to-air missile to a ATF undercover agent posing as a middle easterner. But in short order Kelso was released from jail. His attorney claimed to me that he had no idea who had hired him, but that it wasn't Kelso. On top of that he claimed he didn't know who paid his legal bill, but again, it wasn't Kelso, — who by this time had been spirited out of the country, later to turn up in Eastern Europe where he claimed he was doing "undercover work for the DEA." In 1998 he shows up on the witness list of closed-door Congressional Hearings on the CIA's Inspector General's Report on CIA drug trafficking. Kelso is describe there thus:

" (A) Freelance investigator/informant who revealed DEA corruption in Costa Rica which connected to CIA. Gave a 3 volume deposition in Avirgan v. Hull in So. Florida. Yet also turns up connected to CIA laundering of C-130 aircraft through the Forest Service." (More)

Over the years Kelso has made dozens of claims of affiliation with US intelligence, every such claim denied by those agencies as “ridiculous.” But well into the 1990's Kelso's name was still popping up, often in lawsuits like this one.

Amazing as it might seem, if Kelso were telling the truth, it would not have been out of the ordinary. There's no shortage of hard evidence the CIA used known criminals and employed "dodgy characters" during this period. (See here) And, let us not assume anything has changed since, because it hasn't. Remember the CIA's hot source, "CurveBall?" That nut's "intelligence" help steer us into the war in Iraq. And very recently there's this guy, who not only scammed the CIA (US taxpayers) out of at least $30 million but was still was able to land a new military-related contract months later.

So goofball-operative Joe Kelso wouldn't have been an exception if he were indeed on the CIA/DEA's payroll(s).

Personal observation: Conspiracy theory fans love to use the Joe Kelso's of the intel-world as proof of complex, wide-ranging government conspiracies like the 9/11 Inside Job theorists. But I remain unconvinced. I tend to believe that what it all really represents is the nexus of our Keystone-Cop-ish intelligence services and ordinary, common sociopaths. Now, that's not to say it's not a serious and dangerous "systemic" problem. Clearly it is. After all, these kind of nut-cases have, just over the last decade, gotten us into wars, gotten tens of thousands of innocent people killed and cost us hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars — and that not even counting the $60 billion Congress allocates each year for US intelligence agencies.

So, why does it continue?

This is good place to stop this tale and explain something to those who have never tried to unravel one of these criminal/intel/crazy people tales. Any reporter who wants to continue his or her career in journalism quickly, and sometimes painfully, learns to run away from these kind of stories as fast as their little reporter feet can take them. These stories are like crack cocaine ... a real rush at first, but in the end you'll either lose your job or lose your mind or both.

And that's just the way intelligence agencies like it. There's nothing like a discredited reporter or two bleeding credibility in public to discourage other reporters from pursuing stories like this — especially the kind that begin with some perp screaming, “You can't arrest me. I'm working for the (fill in intel agency name.)

Now retired I sometimes reminisce and spin one of these tales out over drinks with friends, and every time eyeballs roll. I'm no longer surprised by that. After all, most folks will never meet the characters I met, or hear tales they spin, or see the once classified documents that fill my files to this day. I was careful, maybe overly so, which is why I avoided getting bogged down in any of these La Brea Tar Pit stories. Others were not so lucky.

Which is not to say I didn't write about them, I did. I just knew when to put the pipe down and walk away once I'd reported, as best I could, what I'd learned. I didn't expect my stories would change a thing, and I was right. Nothing has changed. (Obama Not to Fire Anyone Over Intel Failure)

And so, boys and girls, that's how seven CIA agents got themselves blown up in Afghanistan by one of their own “operatives” last week.

End of story? Forget about it.

More Show and (In)Tell

I mentioned above the kind of "characters" who find their way into the CIA's employ. Here's another great example. — Heinrich Rupp. We ran into Rupp while investigating the failure of Auroa Bank in Colorado. (Man a lot of this crap happens in Colorado for reasons I can't explain.) Harry ended up going to prison, screaming "CIA" all the way. Like Kelso, Rupp's resume within the conspiracy community is a wild ride. He became legend in the since largely discredited "October Surprise" conspiracy tale.

During Rupp's trial the US Attorney in Denver did query the CIA about Rupp's claims that he was "one of them," and got this very narrow response from the Agency. We also got our hands on a few cables that seem to confirm Rupp's claims that he was deeply involved in secret arms deals abroad, particularly with Iran. (Here's one of those cables. )

Not one to take incarceration lying down, Rupp shot off an angry letter to then President H. Bush. Here's that remarkable letter, which he signed with has real name followed by, what one can only assume was his code-name - "Scorpio 688."

I tell ya, you can't make this stuff up. So, sleep well America. They're gonna scan us naked when we want to fly but be secure in the knowledge that the best and brightest are.... oh hell, who are we kidding? Even the City of Mayberry had enough sense to only give Deputy Barney Fife a single bullet. Kelso, Rupp and God only knows how many other fruitcakes were (and still are) being given the security clearances, false passports and get-out-of-jail free cards. Oh, and money. Our money.

To quote another nut, former Congressman James Trafficante, "Beam me up, Scotty."

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