As LaRouche began his swing to the right in the mid-1970s, a certain degree of realism entered his thinking. Studying the failure in America of tiny "sect-like" storm trooper groups, he stated flatly that no such organization could ever grow into a "large-scale fascist movement" unless a "leading strata of capitalists and governmental agencies sponsor and direct such a development." He soon began to actively seek such sponsorship. Still influenced by leftist ideas, he turned to the agency that all leftists believe is the chief bankroller of anything and everything fascist: the CIA.
According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, NCLC members barraged CIA headquarters with phone calls in 1976 offering to provide briefings on international terrorism. They asked to speak with the director, George Bush, and even placed a call to his home. Commenting on these overtures, a CIA memo observed that LaRouche had "openly advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government" only two years previously, but that his organization appeared to be shifting its public posture "from one of violence to one reflecting more traditional, democratic values."
The late 1970s were an auspicious time for a private intelligence group aspiring to work with the government. The CIA was under a cloud of suspicion in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate, and had been forced to disband its domestic intelligence operations. Congress had quashed its efforts to halt a Marxist takeover in Angola. Carter's CIA director, Admiral Stansfield Turner, had fired several hundred covert action specialists. Many professionals were alarmed at what they believed were gaping holes in the nation's intelligence capabilities.
In 1977 New Solidarity began publishing attacks on Turner and President Carter for replacing deputy director E. Henry Knoche and firing the old boys. This culminated in LaRouche's "The CIA--Only a Caretaker Force," which claimed that "the once-feared premises at Langley have been degraded to a laundering agency for British and Israeli intelligence products....British and Zionist agents generally have the run of the premises....Menachem Begin runs Israel, and Moshe Dayan runs the United States."
The best solution, he suggested, was for CIA dissidents to put him in the White House. "I would pull together an effective overall U.S. intelligence capability within weeks," he promised. Just what he meant by an "effective" capability was already outlined in The Case of Walter Lippmann, his 1977 treatise on the need for a dictatorship in America. LaRouche advocated the centralizing of all U.S. intelligence functions under a single cabinet-level "Secretary for Political Intelligence." This super-CIA would be used for ''auditing" the entire executive branch and would operate its own propaganda machine to smash the influence of the liberal media.
In 1977 the LaRouchians sought out Mitchell Livingston WerBell III, a longtime CIA contract agent and former arms manufacturer in Powder Springs, Georgia. "WerBell represented a group of former military and intelligence people, who we thought were patriotic and, therefore, would be very upset about the kinds of policies that would be coming about with the Carter-Mondale administration," said Jeffrey Steinberg in a 1984 deposition, "I went down and met with him at his home and for a period of time there was a sort of continuing discussion...in which he was reading and circulating our material...."
Apart from the security staff’s hope that WerBell could become a political recruit, there was a more practical reason to cultivate him: If LaRouche was ever to gain any acceptance in the intelligence world, he would need a good public relations man with CIA ties. For WerBell the mixing of PR and spying was no novelty. He had once owned a PR firm in Atlanta, and he claimed to have done PR work as well as security consulting in the 1950s for Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Ferociously right-wing and formerly involved in many anti-Communist operations, WerBell was just the man to dampen down the dust cloud of suspicion created by LaRouche's Marxist past. In addition, he was the ideal cutout for any future serious dealings between the NCLC and the CIA. The latter wouldn't have to risk embarrassment by dealing with LaRouche directly; everything could be done through WerBell.
Like the LaRouchians, WerBell had a fondness for grandiose schemes. In 1966 he became involved in a plot to invade Haiti. Having trained the invasion force, he brought CBS-TV to cover the embarkation. Federal agents swooped down and arrested the plotters. Shortly thereafter WerBell obtained a contract with Papa Doc Duvalier to retrain the Haitian security forces.
In the late 1960s he developed the Sionics silencer, the world's first efficient machine-gun silencer, which became extremely popular among drug traffickers, Mafia hit men, and Central American death squads. Needing start-up capital, WerBell went to Stewart Mott, the noted philanthropist and antiwar activist. WerBell told Mott the device could be used as a lawn-mower silencer to fight noise pollution. Mott invested a substantial sum.
In 1974 WerBell sold Nevada real estate mogul and Libertarian Party leader Mike Oliver on a scheme to invade the island of Abaco and declare it independent from the Bahamas. It was to become a tax haven run on libertarian principles. With Oliver's backing, WerBell began to train a handful of mercenaries, and sent his friend Walt Mackem to the island to organize the trappings of a secessionist movement. As with the Haitian scheme, the feds swooped down. WerBell was arrested along with his co-conspirators, but the charges against him were dropped.
WerBell engaged in media self-promotion with the zest of Buffalo Bill Cody. He succeeded because, unlike most intelligence professionals, he was willing to discuss his past. He befriended the journalist Andrew St. George, who called him the "Wizard of Whispering Death" and wrote a number of articles about his exploits. WerBell also opened up to writer James Hougan, whose bestseller on the private intelligence business, Spook, contains many anecdotes about WerBell.
When his arms business failed, WerBell founded the Cobray International counterterrorism training school on his sixty-six-acre estate near Powder Springs, Georgia (called the Farm, after the CIA training center at Camp Peary, Virginia). He posed in a Scottish kilt on the firing range for The National Enquirer's rival, The Star, attracted laudatory coverage from Soldier of Fortune magazine, and gave himself a promotion to lieutenant general in the RFAA (Royal Free Afghan Army).
In Cobray promotional material, WerBell listed almost two-dozen antiterrorist operations in which he supposedly had participated since the 1950s. He told 20/20 that Coca-Cola had hired him to take care of kidnapping threats against its Argentine executives during the urban terrorist wave in the early 1970s. He said he let out the word: "We'll kill you. We'll go after your wife. We'll kill her. We'll go after your children. We'll kill them. Your cats, your dogs, your pigs and your chickens." It didn't seem to occur to WerBell that the Argentine terrorists were upper-middle-class city kids who wouldn't know your pigs and chickens from their Gucci loafers. Nevertheless, he claimed there were no more kidnap threats against Coca-Cola.
If LaRouche and his followers wanted to meet some real live spooks, WerBell was willing to oblige. He arranged several meetings that included CIA personnel. "You're damn right he did--I was there," said Gordon Novel, a New Orleans private investigator who lived for several months at the Farm in 1977. Jim Hougan recalls attending two meetings in an apartment at the Crystal City Marriott near Washington--referred to as a "safe house" by WerBell--where the LaRouchians explained their theories about British control of the narcotics traffic to former and active-duty CIA men.
WerBell invited LaRouche and his top aides down to the Farm to regale them with stories about Vietnam and introduce them to more spooks. One of these contacts was Major General John K. Singlaub (U.S. Army), who had spent a large portion of his career assigned to CIA covert operations in Asia and had once been CIA deputy station chief in Seoul. He first met with them while stationed in Georgia. After his retirement in 1978 they showed up at his lectures around the country and at a ceremony where he and WerBell were given medals by the Taiwanese government.
Although Singlaub dropped the LaRouchians after learning of their extremism, some of WerBell's friends were less fastidious. Ex-CIA agent Mackem advised them on the international drug traffic in 1978 while they were writing Dope, Inc., and continued to help them off and on. By 1986 they were paying him over $1,000 a month.
WerBell was a Liberty Lobby member and close friend of Willis Carto. His political views were thus in the same ballpark as LaRouche's on many questions. NCLC defectors recalled sessions where the two would chat away like old OSS cronies. (Although LaRouche had not served in the OSS, he had been a medic in Burma briefly near the end of the war.) Out of these conversations emerged a scheme as bold as the Abaco Revolution. In February 1979, LaRouche--once again decrying Admiral Turner's cutbacks at Langley--issued a call for "an outpouring of financial and political support" to establish a private intelligence organization to fill the vacuum created by the housecleaning at the CIA.
"What we propose," LaRouche said, "is a de facto augmentation of the resources of the [NCLC], thereby combining the core contribution to be made by the [NCLC] with the resources otherwise befitting a U.S. government intelligence service." He went on: "Such an agency, endowed by corporate...and other private sources, would immediately rehire those patriotic, trained former operatives of the CIA and related official agencies purged through British influence." LaRouche suggested in a follow-up article that certain trade unions (e.g., the Teamsters) should help finance this shadow CIA.
The idea of finding private sponsors for LaRouche's intelligence operation was shrewd. Some Teamster officials responded right away. But the proposal to merge the LaRouchians and various covert action veterans into a single organization was simply not workable. LaRouche's intellectualism didn't appeal to those who inclined toward traditional rightist groups. The Bay of Pigs veterans in Florida were interested in cocaine, not a coup d'etat. The rogue element among the old boys was preoccupied with laundering heroin money or smuggling arms.
Essentially this left LaRouche on his own--and with a problem galling to his vanity. The NCLC had impressive research capabilities, a telex network, a computer, and even a war room. But it lacked the crowning touch: its own "A-Team." LaRouche had learned during Operation Mop Up that most of his followers were klutzes, good only for ganging up on elderly Communist Party members. Even the toughest of his security staff were former college athletes with no military experience.
WerBell had a solution. Members of the security staff began trickling down to the Farm for a ten-day course (at $2,000 each) in "counterterrorism." New Solidarity boasted this was a "pilot project" for units to be attached to corporations and the Teamsters. WerBell, in a 1979 telephone interview, said it was simply training in "martial arts, pistol shooting, paramedical skills, the use of shotguns, rifle countersniper activity, countersurveillance, and the control of three-car caravans."
According to former NCLC members, the results were not very impressive. Although scores of LaRouchians took the training, followed by karate classes in New York, LaRouche himself had little confidence in them. For his personal security needs, he brought in professional bodyguards and moonlighting police officers. Nevertheless, the WerBell training provided a deep psychological satisfaction for LaRouche's followers. Here they were, pipe-smoking intellectuals hanging out with the world's deadliest anti-Communist he-men. First there was the "general" himself, adviser to death squads and owner of the world's largest private stockpile of automatic weapons. Then there was Colonel Drexel B. ("Barney") Cochran (USAF, ret.), a former unconventional warfare expert for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who taught classes at the Farm on how to defend oneself using a hatchet or a ballpoint pen. Next came Bert Waldron, a sniper instructor with 113 confirmed kills in Vietnam, and Jason Lau, the resident martial-arts master whose "incredible expertise" (according to Eagle magazine) enabled him "to walk...across ceilings like a human fly, remain crouched in a motionless position for hours while waiting for his prey, jump higher than people's heads; and pause, bird-like, suspended in the air."
It is possible there was more than meets the eye in all this, and that WerBell was psyching out the LaRouchians for the CIA to see if they could become useful in some form. If so, nothing would have been better than to put them through a boot camp while keeping LaRouche well supplied with bourbon and ice on the porch. When 20/20 did its report on WerBell in 1979, it included footage of LaRouche's followers undergoing training. It also included an interview with General Singlaub, who said: "In every place where Mitch has operated it's . . . been either as a contract employee or with the knowledge of the local CIA, even if they couldn't officially support it." He added that WerBell specialized in handling situations where "to try to get this through the Congress, to try to get this through the approval of the American people, would be almost impossible."
Whatever his motives, WerBell began to exert great personal influence over the NCLC security staff. "I’m very fond of some of them," he told me in 1979. "They're smart as hell." Jeff Steinberg chatted on the phone with him almost daily. It became a sign of status within the NCLC to have met "Mitch" and taken the training in Powder Springs. However, the NCLC leadership also invoked his name in a vaguely menacing manner to keep members of the national office staff in line. One member, after dropping out, walked around for weeks worrying he'd be cut down by a silenced machine gun.
At the outset WerBell learned that being LaRouche's handler could be a nerve-wracking job. LaRouche was persuaded in August 1977 that German terrorists were out to kill him. WerBell sent a Powder Springs police officer, Larry Cooper, to Wiesbaden to reorganize LaRouche's personal security. Cooper sat in on a political discussion with LaRouche and several top NCLC members during which LaRouche suddenly brought up the idea of assassinating President Carter, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, NATO general secretary Joseph Luns, and David Rockefeller. It could be done, LaRouche argued, with remote-controlled radio bombs activated from public pay phones.
WerBell had told Cooper that guarding LaRouche was a CIA contract job, and that Cooper therefore would be serving his country. But Cooper now realized that WerBell had not told him the entire truth. He called the Farm in a panic, and said he was coming home on the next flight and contacting the FBI. Gordon Novel was in the room with WerBell, and recalls that "the general went through the ceiling, immediately started calling Washington and canceling a lot of things and generated a kind of propaganda story, a cover story, to completely suppress the affair." Indeed, WerBell had cause for worry--his name had been connected with a radio-bomb assassination scheme once before: During the Nixon administration he had worked with a secret Drug Enforcement Administration unit under Lucien ("Black Luigi") Conein that had planned to assassinate Latin American drug dealers. As a consultant, he had devised remote-control bombs and had provided a business cover for Conein's unit. The plan was scotched when Senator Lowell Weicker found out about it and called hearings. WerBell refused to answer questions before the committee, earning the nickname "Mitch the Fifth" in right-wing circles. Apparently LaRouche had taken this incident and transmuted it in his own spy novel-saturated imagination into something that could land them both in deep trouble.
WerBell decided he'd better get LaRouche into a "reality state" fast or there'd never be an "accommodation between the CIA and LaRouche," Novel said. Shortly afterward, Novel had a falling-out with WerBell and left Powder Springs, He says he told the FBI about the Wiesbaden incident, but they showed no interest. This was a curious apathy indeed: If a leader of a Communist group or the Ku Klux Klan had discussed an assassination scheme in the presence of a law enforcement officer, as LaRouche had done, the government no doubt would have reacted instantly. The LaRouchians kept their White House press passes with Secret Service clearance. In 1984 Pat Lynch of NBC contacted Zbigniew Brzezinski about the incident; the answer from his office was "no comment."
The loose talk continued with impunity. According to a report prepared by former security staffers for The New York Times, a LaRouche aide briefed the national office staff in May 1979 on a plan for "selective assassination" of opponents. EIR later reported that an anonymous astrologer had named thirteen enemies of the NCLC who might die "within hours" of strokes and heart attacks if LaRouche was ever the victim of assassination or attempted assassination.
WerBell learned that one key to handling LaRouche was to provide him with illusory trappings of power. During his 1980 presidential campaign LaRouche was conveyed from the Atlanta airport to the Farm in a rented helicopter. Upon landing, he was warmly greeted by WerBell and some good old boys for the benefit of local Atlanta TV. They did all but play "Hail to the Chief." WerBell also provided guards for campaign events as a compensation for the Secret Service protection that LaRouche had been denied. But even when LaRouche was being manipulated on the psychological level, he somehow always manipulated right back on a level that really counts: His checks to WerBell began to bounce, and the Dooley Helicopter Company, whose services had been solicited using WerBell's name, went unpaid. WerBell dashed off a letter to LaRouche, together with a draft of a press statement that he threatened to release if LaRouche didn't pay up. "It is incredulous," WerBell wrote, "that an individual endeavoring to manage the economics and resources of a [Platonic] Republic is unable to cope with the finances of a small staff."
WerBell’s importance within the LaRouche universe seemed to decline in the early 1980s, as the LaRouchians found other intermediaries for their intelligence community dealings. WerBell was suffering from cancer, and he and LaRouche continued to quarrel over unpaid bills. But when he died in December 1985, LaRouche penned an unctuous obituary saying that he owed his life to WerBell--a reference to the assassination plots his adviser had supposedly foiled.
LaRouche's efforts to cultivate ex-spooks, part-time spooks, private spooks, and even imaginary spooks reached an extraordinary range of people in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He met with former CIA director William Colby but failed to impress him. His followers befriended CIA deputy director Ray Cline, a research fellow at Georgetown University's Center for International Strategic Studies, and persuaded him to meet with LaRouche, Cline continued to chat with them throughout the early 1980s. An especially prized contact was former CIA counterintelligence chief James Angleton, who granted a series of interviews to a security staffer. Defectors recall Jeffrey Steinberg shouting to an underling in the midst of an office crisis in the late 1970s: "Quick! Go brief Angleton!" (The LaRouchians eventually turned on both Cline and Angleton, accusing the former of "genocide" and the latter of plotting against them.)
The nets were spread as widely as possible. LaRouche followers set up a literature table at a conference of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO). They sent out a "Dear OSS Veteran" letter soliciting subscriptions to Executive Intelligence Review. They called former agents at home, asking them to sign Schiller Institute petitions, run for public office as beam weapons candidates, and donate money to save the NATO alliance. In 1984 Lieutenant Colonel Louis H. Atkins (U.S. Army, ret.), who had served in the CIA during the Korean War and was listed on the AFIO roster, was contacted at his home, Atkins listened politely, but when they importuned him for money and used his name on a list of endorsers without his permission, he became fed up. "I called the FBI," he said.
In the early years of the Reagan administration the LaRouchians established direct channels into the intelligence community. Admiral Inman appreciated their "flow of materials" to help fill the gap left by Turner's cutbacks. LaRouche was allowed to brief two aides to John McMahon, Inman's successor, at CIA headquarters in 1983. According to court papers, an aide to Federal Emergency Management Agency director Louis Guiffrida frequently met with the LaRouchians and even came to NCLC headquarters for a day's briefing. Jeffrey Steinberg visited the National Security Council eight to ten times between June 1983 and June 1984, according to his deposition in LaRouche v. NBC. Articles in EIR were peppered with quotes from unnamed "CIA Sovietologists" and "DIA analysts."
LaRouche's science adviser, Dr. Steven Bardwell, became convinced that the NCLC top leadership was prostituting itself to the CIA and the Reagan administration. Being himself a participant in several meetings with NSC staff members, he wrote an internal document sharply criticizing this trend shortly before his defection in early 1984. "At the point, nine months ago, that Reagan adopted an approximation of our policy [on beam weapons], our NSA/CIA/DIA 'connections' acquired a powerful hold over us," he complained. "We now began to bend our polemics, public statements, intelligence tasks, and terms of reference to suit our newly acquired clients.''
The capstone of the new policy was the hiring of ex-Pentagon spooks and self-styled CIA operatives who claimed to have special high-level sources. NCLC security staff reports circa 1984 contain numerous references to "the Major," a code name for Anthony W. ("Danny") Murdock, a former Army Special Forces officer who worked from 1976 to 1982 as a civilian foreign intelligence specialist at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. Murdock provided the LaRouchians with frequent security advice after leaving government service. According to Virginia law enforcement sources, he accompanied Jeffrey Steinberg on fact-finding trips to Guatemala. A June 1986 internal LaRouche memorandum says that Murdock received $3,000 a month in consulting fees and loans of tens of thousands of dollars, including a $12,000 loan that month.
In 1984 Murdock joined with Steinberg and Paul Goldstein to form a real estate partnership, Dan Bar Unlimited. (The "Bar" was Barney Cochran, who soon dropped out.) They purchased 4,500 acres of timber and farmland in Pulaski County, Virginia, and set up a firing range. According to Virginia authorities, paramilitary training for LaRouche security aides was conducted there beginning in 1984. A Vietnam veteran who lives nearby observed people in camouflage suits, their faces blackened "like for a recon assignment," training in a field. "I heard bursts of rapid fire, like an AR-15 on full automatic," he said. Another neighbor recalled frequent helicopter landings. Murdock had built a perimeter road around the farm and up to the top of the mountain, which was patrolled by jeep. The neighbors say that every Thursday night there would be a light on top of the mountain and a low-flying plane would come over, A 1986 LaRouchian memo mentioned transactions by courier totaling over $230,000 for the farm's expenses. The memo said these payments were being listed as "legal investigations," but warned this might not prove a very defensible position with the IRS. In 1987 court-appointed trustees seized the farm in partial payment of millions of dollars in fines levied on the LaRouchians because of their failure to comply with federal grand jury subpoenas.
By the mid-1980s the LaRouchians had over a dozen security-type consultants on their payroll, but the most assiduous were three men from Reading, Pennsylvania, who affected knowledge of vast intrigues. One said he was a CIA official and used a code name. The other two were known to the LaRouchians under their real names but claimed to be the cutouts for mysterious high-up people. Their ringleader was a man almost as brilliantly devious as LaRouche--Roy Everett Frankhouser.
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