Jim Gilliam sits with his back board-stiffÃ‚Â against the headrest of his bed, his legs dangling off the end. That's life when you're 6-foot-9. He has no hair, and he's about as white as they make white guys. He's not making a fashion statement, not trying to replace the lead singer of Midnight Oil. The breathing tube under his nose might have been your first clue.
Gilliam is the 28-year-old producer of Robert Greenwald's Uncovered: The War on Iraq (2004), Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism (2004), Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005), the just-released The Big Buy: Tom DeLay's Stolen Congress and, coming in mid-September, Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers. Gilliam's worsening fibrosis--he has only 17 percent lung capacity--has forced him to work on the latest Greenwald projects from his parents' third-story condo overlooking Newport Harbor. He's awaiting a donor who can provide two healthy lungs.
A single lung donation is rare enough, but Gilliam not only needs a pair, he needs a pair that will fit his long, thin frame. Even then, the long-term survival rate for lung transplants isn't what it is for other organs because of the difficulty in delivering medication directly to the lungs. For other organs, an injection or pills do the trick; inhalers for lung transplants are still in the experimental stage.
Out of his earshot, Gilliam's friends concede that they fear the worst. But Gilliam seems upbeat. He sounds like an upper-respiratory specialist when he talks about what's ahead, touting the high-quality care he gets at UCLA ("an amazing place") and how much better the one- and five-year survival rates for lung recipients are there compared to other hospitals.
The hospital that brought Gilliam into life was Hoag Memorial, just west of his parents' condo. But as a kid, he bounced around the country while his business-exec dad changed jobs. His parents were fundamentalist Christians who home-schooled Gilliam. When they lived in North Carolina, Gilliam wanted to attend community college and then enter the University of North Carolina as a junior, but his folks had other ideas: they pulled up stakes; moved to Lynchburg, Virginia; enrolled Gilliam's little sister in Jerry Falwell's high school; and gave Gilliam, against his wishes, just one choice for college: Falwell's Liberty University.
"I couldn't support myself, and it was the only thing they'd pay for," he said. "It started out a little rough, but it ended up being a blessing."
A self-taught computer whiz, Gilliam "was given free reign" of Liberty's "crappy computer lab. It took me from playing with an individual computer to having whole bunches of computers. It was a great learning experience."
"Then I got cancer ...."
In March 1996, Gilliam came down with a cold. His mother, Kathy, took her then-18-year-old son to a Lynchburg doctor who diagnosed bronchitis. But an X-ray detected a mass, and specialists arrived at a new diagnosis: a rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. As he was being treated with radiation and chemotherapy, Kathy fell ill. At first, doctors thought it was sympathy pains for her son, but it turned out to be a fast-moving cancer that took her life in August 1996. Four months after that, doctors informed young Gilliam he was cancer-free. Six months later, they told him he now had leukemia, which required more chemo, more radiation and a bone-marrow transplant.
Gilliam had left school amid the treatments and mourning. The college dropout, figuring he knew all there was to know about computers and the Internet--because, well, he did--wound up wowing the Lycos search-engine folks in Boston. He moved from there to LA and eCompanies, a venture-capital incubator for five different Internet companies; Gilliam ran the tech side of all of them.
"He was this really tall, big, gangly guy with a swath of red hair," says Ramin A. Bastani, head of one of those companies and now Gilliam's best friend. "We just hit it off. We were the youngest guys there, by far."
It would be hard enough not to miss a 6-foot-9 skinny white guy with a shock of red hair. But Gilliam also found other ways to draw attention.
"He just loved to dance in his chair," Bastani says. "Even if people were not watching, he'd be dancing in his chair. It was an amazing thing. It's sad, too, that he can't right now. But he'd do these chair dances and get all excited."
When it came to actual work, Bastani says Gilliam "understood technology better than anyone--how to make it functional and user-friendly. I appreciated it."
After a few months, Bastani left to form his own business. He's about to launch a new Internet real-estate company, and he has no problems leaning on his friend for advice. "He keeps abreast of everything and has all these ideas about business. He's the first person I go to. He's incredibly intelligent, articulate. He's the smartest guy I know."
Bastani, who describes himself as a socially liberal moderate Republican, witnessed Gilliam's move to progressive politics. "When the Bush administration came in, his frustration grew and grew," he says. "He really follows it. It's what he's passionate about."
Gilliam traces his leftward migration back to the day at Liberty he tried to defend creationism on an Internet forum: "I just got eviscerated." So he ignored what he'd been force-fed, investigated and eventually said to himself, "God, what an idiot I've been."
"I was not taught this stuff," he says. "It was amazing once I opened up and learned what the story was."
While at eCompanies, Gilliam continued nurturing his progressive political side.
"I never had the crazy college experience. I started reading and reading, and it showed me all the crazy stuff our president does. And I thought, 'Wait a second. This is important. Will I regret not having taken a stand doing what I could have done when I had the opportunity?'
"Even if it can't make a difference, you have to try. And it turns out you actually can make a difference."
His whole family eventually came over to his side politically, especially when his health worsened. "When something traumatic happens, it can be a wake-up call," he says.
The biggest wake-up call for Gilliam was 9/11. He left as chief technological officer at Business.com, an Internet business search engine, to "do something that was more meaningful." He began attending Democratic Party functions, "but that was just not happening." He moved over to MoveOn.org, attracted by their use of the Internet. Through MoveOn, he met a Hollywood producer who mentioned that Robert Greenwald "was looking for a tech guy. The next day, I was working on Uncovered."
"We'd already looked at 30 or 40 people, and then I was talking with someone who said they'd just met this guy at a MoveOn meet-up who'd be great," Greenwald says. "When Jim walked in--all 6-feet-9 of him--well, I'm 5-feet-6 and a half on a good day, and I have a general policy not to hire anyone taller than me. But when he walked in, that intelligence and commitment was apparent in the first second. I just knew he was somebody I needed to work with."
Asked what Gilliam brings to his Brave New Films company, Greenwald turns the question around: "What hasn't he brought to the table? He is an amazing warrior for truth and progressive values. He's just been a critical part of all of the movies. They wouldn't have happened in the way they happened if he were not working so incredibly hard and smart on the films themselves, the distribution of the films, all of that."
For Uncovered, Gilliam was primarily responsible for Internet research. For Outfoxed, he tracked down old video and continually taped Fox News. The Wal-Mart movie involved finding the "people stories" that personalize the mega-retailer's assorted misdeeds. For the upcoming Iraq for Sale, he's building a distribution network called Brave New Theaters, "The people-powered movie distributor."
Brave New Theaters cuts out theater chains and turns the living rooms of activists into movie houses. Gilliam says the "dirty little secret" about moviemaking is there is no way to make money showing films theatrically, that doing so is now just promotion for subsequent DVD sales, which is where films really make money.
Bastani believes Brave New Theaters has an added benefit: "It makes everyone a stakeholder. Jim understands that people who feel they're part of something become raging fans."
As evidence, he might point to the fact that Gilliam used only the Internet and Brave New Films' database of supporters to raise $350,000 for Brave New Theaters in one recent week.
"He just gets it," Bastani said. "His new model for how to raise money for movies is amazing."
That's not all that amazes him. Bastani and Gilliam were roommates when Jim's health got the best of him again. Killing the cancer is what's killing him now. The radical treatments scarred his lungs, leading to fibrosis. That forced Gilliam to move back in with his father, also named Jim, and stepmother, Maggie. They keep a blog on their son's medical condition. Doctors told him he needs new lungs in September 2005.
"The fact that he continues to do what he's passionate about is astounding," Bastani said. "I don't think there's an alternative for him. What else would he do? He's always doing. He's got an ability to make an impact through what he does. We see a lot of results from the movies he's done.
"It's baffling what he can still do. Sometimes, he can barely talk. His cough is not like a normal cough; he's really gasping for air."
"He's a warrior," Greenwald says in a New York accent that makes it sound like war-yuh. "If I e-mail him at 10 o'clock at night or 7 in the morning or Sunday afternoon, he responds immediately. He's got a great work ethic and a real intellectual curiosity to figure things out. What he's been doing, there are no models, no rules. You need a certain way of looking at things. He's not bound by 'this is the way it's always been done.'"
Jim Gilliam can sound like the slickest Hollywood producer when he seamlessly slides into a sales pitch for organ donations. Simply filling out the DMV form when you renew your driver's license and affixing the donor sticker to your license is apparently not enough. Gilliam urges potential donors to visit shareyourlife.org, join the national registry and make your loved ones aware of your intentions.
"Any donor can save eight lives," he says in a way that makes you think of eight total strangers and not the man you're looking at, the man in desperate need of two lungs.
During the time we talked, Gilliam complained only once about his health, and it was while he discussed his job. Looking over at what Bastani jokingly calls "Jim's command station"--a computer setup with three different flat-screen monitors seemingly affixed to one another atop a desk a few feet from his bed--Gilliam says that, given a choice, he's not sure he'd want to be doing so much computer programming for Brave New Theaters. "But I enjoy it, and it's led to a nice case of carpal tunnel."
"Carpal tunnel" hangs in the air a moment, almost hopefully, as if only that were the biggest problem facing Gilliam right now.
Recently, I was a hopeful for the Playboy magazine cattle call: "College Girls in Lingerie." Or maybe it was "College Girls and Lingerie." I'm not sure--I was too busy tending my boobs. Anyway, I embarked on this torrid tryst because as one who is often mistaken for a librarian (and not the "naughty" kind), I wanted to see how my rack ranked not only against bimbos, but against floozies and skanks as well. Here's how I did it:
1) Ate nothing but Special K cereal for two weeks and lost one pound. Reminded myself Marilyn Monroe was a size 14.
2) Found a 28-inch corset for my 31-inch waist and tightened it to 25 inches. Remembered I've come a long way, baby. Took an Advil for the lung-puncture wound.
3) Considered breast augmentation for my 36C rack. Instead, stuffed DKNY socks under my boobs.
4) Had professional hair Houdini Chris Bunyan at Crew flat-iron my naturally curly mane. Then at home, decided it needed to be flatter and burned a chunk off. Noted I was very punk.
5) Had a gal pal spackle my face with Lancome. Felt like Cleopatra--looked in the mirror and saw a Red Skelton Sad Clown face on Ecstacy.
6) Glued corn pads into my slippery, Delicious six-inch stilettos so my fishnetted phalanges wouldn't slide out the open toe. An hour later, while entering the audition waiting room, reminded myself of my staggering I.Q. when I noticed the corn pads were now stuck to the tops of my feet.
7) Sat in a peach pillbox of a hotel room with six peroxided, overtanned, triple-D waifs and talked about Kimberly's drunken handstand at the Captain Cream amateur night and Rachelle's storming of the Playboy headquarters in LA and getting 86'd for life. Giggled a lot and pictured archaeologists one day digging up coagulated water balloons.
8) While sponging up my dripping eyeliner in the bathroom mirror, caught a glimpse of my back fat spilling over the corset. Fluffed my hair over it and did a Tina Turner groove when exiting.
9) Feigned a lusty disposition as I entered the shoot room by pretending toppling off my stilts was a seductive gait. Felt superior when they bought it.
10) When the photographer asked me to remove my top and another man started filming me for the Internet, told myself that they were as impartial as my gynecologist and were not getting off on it. Shot daggers at them anyway.
11) Did my best Janeane Garofalo bit as I removed the socks from under my boobs for the big breast flash.
12) Unfurled my precious treasures and didn't think of my mother. Or my eventual bid for the presidency.
13) Called my mom. Considered running for the Senate instead.
14) Heard her gush with pride. Realized a mayoral position is more my style anyway.
15) Filled out an application to be an emergency substitute teacher.
Stacy Davies is calendar editor at Orange Coast Weekly, where this article originally appeared.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has always denied that former Laguna Beach cop, international arms merchant and convicted drug dealer Ronald J. Lister ever worked for the CIA or other U.S. intelligence agencies. But the FBI also insists that revealing the details of Listers various Iran-contra-era arms deals would compromise U.S. national security.
Its a claim that adds to the mystery surrounding Lister, who says he smuggled coke into California to raise cash for the CIA-backed Nicaraguan contras.
Was Lister a spook? You decide: the FBIs most recent release included more than 50 pages that were heavily censored for unspecified "national security" reasons. The agency also withheld five pages concerning Pyramid International Security Consultants, Listers Newport Beach-based company, which had offices in El Salvador and pitched "security work" to Salvadoran military officials, including death squad founder Roberto DAubuisson. The FBI said those documents "belonged to another government agency" but refused to identify that agency.
Through its lawyers, the Weekly has appealed the governments refusal to hand over uncensored copies of these documents.
According to a 1998 U.S. Justice Department Office of the Inspector General report, the FBI investigated Lister five times in the mid-1980s. One of those investigations involved the alleged sale of missiles to Iran. Another investigation involved the illegal transfer of weapons between Saudi Arabia and El Salvador. In yet a third probe, Lister testified for the FBI about a covert arms pipeline allegedly directed by Iran-contra co-conspirators Richard Secord and Oliver North. The FBI says it dropped those investigations because it could find no evidence Lister ever worked for North or the CIA (see Nick Schous "Crack Cop," July 13, 2001).
The newly released documents are mostly secret cables between the FBIs Panama office and the directors office in Washington, D.C., but they also include cables sent to the directors office from FBI stations in LA, San Francisco and Italy.
Most of the cables are so heavily redacted that they add little to whats already known about Listers unlikely rise from Laguna cop to international drugs and weapons smuggler. A June 6, 1983, letter from FBI headquarters to its legal attaché in Rome titled, "Pyramid, Technology Transfer, Neutrality Matters," is stamped "SECRET" and is completely censored to protect U.S. national security. Also deleted in its entirety on national-security grounds is a three-page memo from Sept. 13 of that year titled "Pyramid, Neutrality Matters."
Other cables are more helpful. On March 18, 1983, FBI officials in Panama told the directors office in Washington, D.C., that "the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, El Salvador, was the original source of information regarding Subjects presence in that country." The next few lines are deleted, but the memo continues, "Subject was described as full of hot air and as a small-time operator. Subjects activities in El Salvador do not appear to constitute a violation of U.S. law. Original rumor-type information that came to attention of economic section representative possibly was result of subjects bizarre behavior and appearance."
Listers "bizarre behavior" has been the subject of intense debate ever since it was first reported six years ago by Gary Webb, then a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News. Webbs controversial Dark Alliance series described an October 1986 early morning police raid on Listers Mission Viejo home. Still wearing his bathrobe, Lister told police he worked for the CIA and threatened to call his contact in Langley, Virginia. Police found surveillance equipment, military contracts and other high-tech gear in his home, but no drugs, so Lister remained free.
Three years later, police arrested Lister for dealing drugs in San Diego. After a few months in jail, he became a federal informant. Prosecutors later revoked his plea-bargain agreement, saying he had traveled to Mexico to meet with Colombian cartel figures. In 1991, a jury convicted him of cocaine trafficking. He appealed his sentence, claiming that he had testified before two federal grand juries about his involvement in a "major Central American cartel" that included certain "key figures alleged to have been involved in the Iran-contra scandal."
After completing a drug-treatment program, Lister walked out of federal prison in 1996, three years early. Hounded by creditors and unwilling to speak with the press, he has maintained a low profile in recent years. One of those creditors provided us with his cell phone number, but he failed to respond to several calls seeking his comment for this story.
He left his last known job for Ready Welder Corp., a San Pedro-based manufacturer of mobile welding equipment, four years ago. Ted Holstein, the companys owner, said he fired Lister after a year because he failed to sell a single unit.
"I didnt have much patience for the guy," Holstein said. "After I fired him, I got a bill from Bank of America saying Lister had posed as an executive with our company and had charged $16,000 to our credit card." Holstein said he never pressed charges because the bank said he didnt have to pay the bill.
Another former Ready Welder employee described Lister as a "shady" character. "Nobody knew where he lived," he said. "I got the impression that maybe he carried a gun, maybe he was hiding from people... He always seemed to be looking over his shoulder... His favorite thing was to say that he used to deal drugs down in Central America for the CIA and the contras."
I try to give President George W. Bush the benefit of the doubt. Really I do. So when he recently made a decision on power-plant emissions that essentially blew smoke in the face of a global-warming report he had requested from the National Academy of Sciences -- not to mention the Kyoto Protocol and other reasoned responses to global warming -- I figured maybe he has the same problem with scientists that I do.
I was spoiled by the white-coated beaker-tweakers in the science-fiction movies of my youth. They made their positions clear by running toward you shouting, "It's coming! We're all going to die! Aieeee!!!"
Growing up expecting such unequivocal statements in no way prepares you for the complexities and reasoned parsing of an actual scientific paper. I read the "Climate Change Science" report presented to Bush. The alarming concerns are all there, about man-made causes contributing to the greenhouse effect, which may make life on this planet untenable -- new temperature and weather extremes, flooding, drought, tropical diseases, extinctions, etc. But it is also a scientific paper, meaning that instead of "Aieee!!!" it says "uncertainty" a lot.
Factoring in the unknowable is an integral part of science -- nuclear physics is full of uncertainties and probabilities, yet the bombs still kill you -- but one could see how a soundbite-oriented president might read this report, scratch his nubby head and say, "Screw it. Let's go make some money."
Make it fast, though. When the National Academy of Sciences weighs in on a matter, you're not talking fringe wackos, but the best and the brightest of mainstream scientific thought. It has joined the consensus of other studies in predicting drought in the Great Plains (a.k.a. "the world's breadbasket"), rising sea levels, ecosystem collapse and such by the end of the century.
Two of the report's 11 authors are from UC Irvine: Chancellor Ralph Cicerone and Chemistry and Earth System Science professor F. Sherwood Rowland. I spoke recently with Rowland, a man with mobile eyebrows and a marvelously cluttered office in a building now named for him.
If anyone has cause to be peeved at the president, it's Rowland and the report's other august authors, who dropped everything last spring to produce the now-ignored report at the breakneck pace requested by the White House. Though Rowland has been branded an alarmist by Orange County Register editorial writers (for his previous research linking aerosols to ozone layer depletion), I couldn't coax an anti-Bush rant out of him no matter how I tried. He remained unflappably measured and detached in his responses, so much so that one suspects that if Rowland's head was on fire, he would busy himself measuring its carbon dioxide emissions. I'm not suggesting this objectivity is a bad thing. Scientists need it if they're going to be listened to, not that the media or Washington is.
After being subjected to skepticism and ridicule from the Wall Street Journal, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (who called Rowland "another Chicken Little") and other non-scientists, Rowland's theories on ozone depletion were ratified after a gaping hole was discovered in the ozone layer in 1985, and he was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1995. As for the continuing skepticism about global warming, he said, "There are people who simply don't believe in science, so there is no way you can discuss scientific results with them."
He said the initial White House response to the global-warming report seemed positive. "Our conclusion was that the man-made effect was a very important factor in the fact that the temperature is going up," Rowland recalls. "They seemed to appreciate that, and I thought their position was, 'We accept that global warming will occur, and we are going to prepare a response to it.' But their talk about 'uncertainties' last year spread to being 'maybe there isn't any global warming' or that maybe it was all a natural effect."
When it came time for action -- with the power-plant-emissions policy announced in February -- Bush dwelled on the report's uncertainties, saying it was too inconclusive to warrant risking a slowdown in the nation's economy, claiming that solutions result from growth. And a heroin addict might reason that more heroin will fix his problem. Bush was essentially saying that the richest, most polluting nation in the world is too selfish and immature to face the realities that other nations are facing and that we can only prosper by burning up our children's future.
This was me editorializing, by the way, not Rowland. He did note, though, that the uncertainty Bush has grabbed hold of is a double-edged sword. It is difficult to project how things will be 50 or 100 years from now, and conditions may not be as severe as many scientists are speculating. But they can also be worse in ways as yet unimagined.
Ironically, one of the sources of the report's uncertainty is scientists' not knowing what or how much human societies might do to slow their effect on global warming. Using that uncertainty as a reason not to act tends to make it more certain that the warming will be worse.
"Climate change in the next 50 to 100 years is probably going to have a mixture of things that are inconvenient all the way up to catastrophic," Rowland said. "The expectation is that the Earth in general will be a warmer place, but some places will be warmer, some colder. In most places, the infrastructure has been built with the present climate in mind. If 50 years from now, that's not the climate anymore, there will be aspects of the infrastructure that don't fit. For an affluent group, that may turn out to be merely inconvenient, but it may also, if it floods your island, be catastrophic locally."
At the risk of being accused of promoting class warfare, may I highlight the projection that the same folks who get rich causing global warming will be the ones best situated to coast through it -- able to move or rebuild -- while everyone else gets the stick? It is not a soothing notion that we'd find equality only in catastrophe.
Scientists don't see global warming as a steady dial indicating rising temperatures, but rather a sequence of feedback actions and switches. For example, the upper latitudes are warming faster than the rest of the planet, resulting in the exposure of more heat-absorbing soil and less heat-reflecting ice and snow, which then hastens the melting of ice and snow, which, while also raising sea levels, may cause a switch to go off in nature. "In the North Atlantic, the Gulf Stream carries warmth to Europe. One of the possible switches is that fresh water coming in from melting Arctic ice might turn off the North Atlantic circulation, making Europe a colder place," Rowland said.
While he listed a number of qualifying uncertainties with that, he considers global warming more likely than other threats attracting far greater funding and public attention.
"Look at the enormous amount of money spent on anti-missile defense," he said. "While there should be an amount of worry about stray nukes, if anyone wanted to use one against an American city, it would be far easier and more accurate to ship it here on a freighter than to build a missile."
When we spoke, it was before recent news that a chunk of ice the size of Rhode Island weighing 720,000,000,000 tons (that's 720 billion tons, heft fans) had disintegrated off the Antarctic ice shelf in the rapidly warming climate. "The speed of it is staggering," said British glaciologist David Vaughan, quoted in a seven-paragraph story on page 10 of the Los Angeles Times, which is better play than they usually give global-warming news.
I know that scientists need to maintain their dispassion and objectivity. That's part of their gig. But, inside, they're as human as the rest of us, and I'd like to think I speak for them in saying, "Aieee!!!!!!!!!!"
If you buy illegal drugs, you may be supporting terrorism, the Bush administration tells us in a $10 million ad campaign. Now, if you buy granola you may be buying illegal drugs, according to a barely-reported Federal Drug Enforcement Agency ruling made last October 9 that reclassifies your larders hemp granola, waffles, oil or other hemp food products as a Schedule 1 narcotic. Since then, the budding American hemp foods industry has been fighting for its life, waging an even less-reported legal battle that took a dramatic turn last week.
Under Bush appointee Asa Hutchinson -- the defeated ex-congressman who previously helped rescue our republic from Bill Clintons errant semen -- the DEA made an "interpretive ruling" on the Controlled Substance Act of 1970, determining that the law now covers any ingestible product that may contain any measurable amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive compound in pot), however minute.
In announcing the ruling in October, Hutchinson said, "Many Americans do not know that hemp and marijuana are both parts of the same plant and that hemp cannot be produced without producing marijuana." He might also have mentioned that the poppy seeds in your bagel contain trace amounts of opium, and that the level of THC in industrial hemp or in hemp food products is so negligible that youd be more likely to get high from reading the word "hemp" than you would from consuming pounds of hemp foods.
Most hemp products sold in America are grown in Canada, where government testing assures there are no psychoactive levels of THC present. Most American hemp food companies adhere to a standard of no more than 1.5 parts per million, while the concentration needed to even begin getting you high is some 10,000 times that. The DEA ruling, however, requires that there can be no discernable amount of THC whatever in the foods. At the DEAs website, the list of suspect products includes veggie burgers, snack bars, salad oil, beer, cheese or other items made with hemp. This, from the same administration that attempted to ignore studies about unsafe arsenic levels in our drinking water.
No studies have suggested there may be health or psychological problems related to consuming hemp foods; rather, they have been found to have considerable nutritional value. According to Mothers Market director of operations Paul Holden, "Hemp oil contains the highest concentration of essential fatty acids of any oil, as well as a complete protein and other valuable nutrients. Thats why people buy it. Its not a drug. This is an utterly nonsensical ruling."
The October ruling, which allowed a grace period for stores and consumers to dispose of their stocks, went into effect February 6, but within a couple of days a new grace period was allowed, until March 18, possibly to preempt an emergency stay requested in the Federal 9th District Court of Appeals by the Hemp Industries Association (HIA). That stay was indeed granted on March 7, and should remain until the court can rule on the validity of the DEA ruling. An emergency hearing is scheduled for April 8.
Though hemp foods were briefly illegal on Feb. 6, many local stores, including Mothers and Trader Joes, continued to stock them. That is no trivial matter, according to DEA public information officer Will Glaspy, reached at the DEAs Washington D.C. headquarters. Reached before the stay was granted, Glaspy said, "THC is a controlled substance, and any detectable amount of it is illegal. The burden is on the seller and buyer to make sure theyre dealing in a legal product. Technically, it could be a criminal matter."
That extends to you, the consumer, and to me who just finished a tasty Govindas Hemp Bar while writing this. (Its Ziggy Marley-approved! Come and get me, Copper!) While Glaspy said that the feds rarely prosecute simple possession cases--"I dont anticipate someone getting thrown in federal prison for possession of a granola bar with a minute amount of TCH in it" -- the fact remains that would be their call whether or not to prosecute you as a felon for that hunk of hemp cheese in your fridge.
"Its a real Catch-22," said David Neuman, VP of sales and marketing for Natures Path in Blaine, WA, which markets HempPlus waffles and granola. "Theyre saying, You can sell your hemp food product if theres no THC, but were not giving you the standards for saying theres no THC, and its a class one felony controlled substance. Many of our customers attorneys are insisting on written assurance from us that there is no THC in our product, and there isnt down to one part-per-million, which is as far as our testing goes. But if the DEA has some test that can show smaller amounts than that, then weve perjured ourselves or falsified documents."
Prior to the courts stay, Neuman said Natures Path was going out of the hemp foods business, at a cost of income and jobs. "And why?" he asked then. "No one has ever been intoxicated by hemp foods, ever. So what is the basis for this very radical action? There is none."
Reached at a health foods convention in Anaheim last weekend, he was in a more upbeat mood, having just posted a sign at the companys booth reading: "HempPlus wins, DEA defeated now taking orders."
"Trader Joes placed a truckload order today, and two days ago, we wouldnt have been able to fill that without fear of reprisal," Neuman said. "Our lawyers tell us to expect a summer-long debate, and were confident well win in the end, so were getting back into production. The court has granted an emergency stay and has scheduled an emergency hearing, which they typically only do when they realize that rights are being infringed."
"The DEA ruling was entirely a political decision. Its not a scientific one," claims David Bronner, president of Escondido-based Dr. Bronners Magic Soaps, and chair of the HIAs Food and Oil Committee. He said that many HIA organization members have continued to make and sell their products on the presumption that--lacking a clear scientific standard from the DEA -- it is sufficient that their products are THC-free by the Canadian standards.
Bronners product lines arent affected, as soaps, shampoos and other non-consumables dont fall under the ruling. Hes an ardent opponent of it nonetheless.
"As a company, we engage in a lot of ecological or socially progressive causes. Industrial hemp has so much potential to substitute for polluting petrochemicals or threatened timber stocks [Hemp also grows readily without pesticides or herbicides]. And the food markets are really the near-term market driver for industrial hemp. The nutritional profile of the seeds is so high that theres a lot of potential there to ramp-up the economies of scale so that hemp fiber can compete price-wise with timber and petrochemcial processes. Thats what motivates us," he said.
Like Neuman, hes confident the HIA will prevail in court. Meanwhile there is another challenge to the ruling via an unanticipated medium: NAFTA. Kenex Ltd., a leading Canadian hemp producer, has filed an arbitration claim arguing that the US ruling amounts to an unfair restraint of trade.
Bronner explained, "Under NAFTA, if the US government is going to institute something thats going to effect trade, it has to have some defensible reason, a scientific rationale. The DEA failed to conduct any sort of risk assessment or science-based analysis justifying a ban on trace THC in foodstuffs. Meanwhile the industry can demonstrate that there are no health concerns or interference with drugs tests or anything else. So theyre arguing through NAFTA that the US is closing their markets and raising a barrier to trade without following the NAFTA or WTO provisions."
Even prior to Octobers ruling, the DEA had busied itself by interdicting tons of sterilized hemp birdseed at the Canadian border, at least saving our birds from becoming felons. Unless the HIA prevails in court or NAFTA overrides the law (as it already has in instances usually detrimental to the environment or workers) beware of what you eat: It may contain a felony.
To find out more on the issue or to become involved, check out www.votehemp.com and www.dea.gov on the web.
It's Sept. 2, the day before Labor Day 2001, and inside the Shack, neo-Nazis are setting up band equipment and literature tables for another Sunday show of racist rock and recruitment.
Outside the Anaheim rock club, the scene is like the red-carpet runway at a Fascist Academy Awards. Reporters, placard-waving demonstrators and a stream of Nazis mingle at the club's entrance in north Anaheim.
Club staffers say they know nothing--or that they're preparing for a wedding reception. Co-owner John Terbay emerges to talk with reporters.
Terbay and his partner, Bob Gibson, are coming out of two years of denials to begin slowly acknowledging that their club has hosted a series of Nazi get-togethers.
The candor isn't complete. "I don't know what kind of bands are playing tonight," Terbay says.
Has he had White Power shows in the past?
"Yes, we've had them," he admits. "But I'm Lebanese. If I was supporting Nazis, my whole family would be out here." Terbay points to the 35 or so protestors waving signs ("NAZIS TO THE NUTHOUSE!" "HONK IF YOU HATE NAZIS!") and chanting ("NO NAZIS, NO KKK, NO FASCIST USA!"). The libertarians are out here, as is the Jewish Defense League.
And so are the Nazis, the Klan supporters and the skinheads. By 7 p.m., security is patting down customers at the front door. The fashion sense is what you'd expect--shaved heads, sleeve tattoos, tank tops or Skrewdriver T-shirts for the men, vaguely punk or Bettie Page looks for the women. A couple of guys arrive in uniforms--black pants, black neckties and white dress shirts with Confederate-flag patches on the shoulder (one pauses just before entering the Shack to give protestors the Heil Hitler salute). A woman with Tragic Kingdom-era Gwen Stefani blond hair, a white tank top and blue jeans rolled up at the cuffs pulls up in a Saturn, unloads a guitar case, glares at a protestor, and says, "If I wasn't pregnant, I'd kick your ass."
As darkness falls and the 8 p.m. show time nears, a muscled, tank-and-tats-sporting skinhead comes to the door to talk with reporters. His tattoos are pretty elaborate, but the SS emblems are unmistakable. He says his name is Tommy Romero (which may or may not be true--many of today's neo-Nazis are stingy with their last names) and says he's promoting tonight's show.
Romero says, "We have a right to free assembly and freedom of speech just like everybody else," that the Shack has hosted "from eight to 10 shows here, and there has been not one single incident," and that he represents the skinhead movement.
He hands out a statement titled "The Fascists Amongst Us." "It is difficult to imagine that at the dawn of the new millennium, censorship is rearing its ugly head once again," the statement reads. It goes on to complain that protestors outside the Shack are the real fascists, trying to stop neo-Nazis from exercising their right to peaceably assemble. "We will not allow ourselves, as freethinking individuals, to conform to their McCarthy-era style of Fascism. . . We've held many shows in the past without any incidents, and we will continue to do so."
Clandestine White Power shows aren't unheard of in Orange County. What's weird is that a commercial venue like the Shack would host one--or, rather, several since the club underwent an ownership change in February 1999.
Terbay and Gibson have offered evolving responses: (1) they have denied such shows ever took place; (2) they have said they are not sure White Power bands perform at their club because they're not much interested in the politics of their bands and can't understand the lyrics; and (3) they have said the shows have gone on, but hey, it's a free country, even for Nazis.
No. 3 is undoubtedly true, but it contradicts Nos. 1 and 2. And the Shack's fear of publicity raises questions about its commitment to No. 3, regarding which, let's say this: for two years, ending around the night of Sept. 2, the Shack's ownership worked assiduously to keep the Nazi shows top secret, staging most of them on unadvertised Sunday afternoons, referring to them as "private parties." Interviews with the Shack's owners, staff and representatives of anti-hate activist organizations make one thing clear: the shows were going on, but management didn't want the publicity.
And until recently, they succeeded in maintaining a low profile. Word that the Shack had become OC's Nuremberg-rally center got out just last month when an e-mail announcing an Aug. 19 Nazi fund-raiser fell into the hands of anti-racist groups. Mass-mailed by Blood & Honour and the Costa Mesa chapter of Women for Aryan Unity, the e-mail claimed the Shack would host supremacist bands Youngblood, Hate Crime and Warfare88 (H being the eighth letter of the alphabet, "88" is skinhead slang for "Heil Hitler"). The show would raise money for a compilation CD featuring like-minded pro-Nazi groups and, as the e-mail stated, "recruit all whites who are not already part of our great movement. Included with the CD will be literature and information to get these young white kids on the right track to discovering the truth." The e-mail suggested that people supporting the racist cause would be flying in from other states to attend.
LA-based Anti-Racist Action got hold of the e-mail and sent out a call to demonstrate, claiming that white supremacists have been showing up "at the Shack . . . for some months and laughing about the lack of opposition."
But on Aug. 19, there was no Nazi show, just a group of about 50 sign-waving anti-Nazi demonstrators, a TV camera crew, and a sizeable fleet of marked and unmarked Anaheim Police cars. There were no Nazis, skinheads, fascists, brownshirts, Klansmen or bigots--though the driver of an SUV sped past, waved an indistinguishable banner and shouted, "White power!"
A sign posted on the Shack's front door read, "Sorry for the inconvenience. The Shack would like everyone to know there is no show of any kind scheduled for Aug. 19, 2001, private or otherwise, and never was. We were not aware, nor can we control, what people put on the Web page." By late afternoon, someone had written on that sign, "The Shack supports Nazis."
In fact, the Shack was well aware that a White Power show had been scheduled for that day. Anaheim police say they called club management. Anti-racist activists say they did, too. Michael Novick of People Against Racist Terror says he spoke directly with a Shack owner who identified himself as Bob.
"He was real evasive," says Novick. "He said [the Shack's owners] couldn't be racists because he was married to a Mexican woman and his partner was Lebanese. He claimed that the show had been set up without their permission." When Novick asked Bob if the club had ever booked White Power shows, Bob pleaded ignorance, saying he doesn't understand the lyrics to most songs and that the bands he books are simply popular with the kids.
Until it was canceled, the Aug. 19 White Power fund-raiser was also all over racist websites. A July 29 posting on supremacist Tom Metzger's White Aryan Resistance website said Shack concertgoers should be wary: "Public gatherings are risky both physically and the fact that all such events are infiltrated heavily by Jew law enforcement both local and federal."
(Metzger himself was a special guest at the Shack during a June 24 White Power fest. According to one review of the show, OC-based rockabilly band Youngland dedicated their song "Thank God I'm a White Boy" to Metzger, who "couldn't resist running through the mosh pit with us and knocking into everybody for a few songs." He has also appeared at least one other time at a Shack White Power show).
Despite the calls and publicity, the Shack's denials continued until Sept. 2. Some Shack employees said Terbay and Gibson had often misled them. A freelance technician (who spoke on condition of anonymity) told the Weekly that one of the Shack's owners asked him months ago to work a Sunday White Power show but "didn't explain what the situation was and stuff. He was kind of evasive, but I took it anyway. When the show was going on, I remember a line of people in front of the stage who were Sieg Heiling. There were also KKK guys wearing white shirts with KKK emblems."
Another worker hired by the Shack (who also requested anonymity) was more turned off by the sight of children at the White Power shows. "There were kids, some who looked about 10 years old, up on the stage Sieg Heiling," he recalled. "That really made me cringe."
These days, Terbay and Gibson have dropped the denials. Now they say White Power shows are merely good business and evidence of their commitment to free speech. So why cancel the Aug. 19 show? "A band didn't make it," Terbay says. Or "one of the girls putting the 19th show on was recruiting, and we're not gonna make the Shack a recruiting place." What about the fact that reviews of shows dating back to 1999 suggest recruiting has been a regular feature of the Shack's White Power shows? Hasn't Terbay seen the literature tables inside his club? "Yeah," Terbay says, "I've seen literature there."
If you had to rattle off a list of current OC-area live-music clubs in less than 10 seconds (obvious answers: Chain Reaction, Gypsy Lounge, the Glass House, Din Din at the Bamboo Terrace, Lotus Lounge, Blue Cafe, DiPiazza's, Coach House, the Galaxy Concert Theatre, the Hub, Koo's Art Cafe, House of Blues, Sun Theatre, Tiki Bar, Club Mesa), the Shack probably wouldn't make the cut. It's almost hidden, located just north of the 91 freeway at 1160 Kraemer Blvd. in an unassuming Anaheim neighborhood of small-industry warehouses and business parks. And on its best-publicized nights, the place is alive with the sound of music for people who never quite got over the demise of radio stations KMET and KNAC. Before Terbay and Gibson took over in 1999, local bands played the club; since their takeover, the Shack has acquired a rep for hosting two kinds of bands: C-grade '80s hairspray acts tumbling deep into obscurity (think Bang Tango, LA Guns and Enuff Z'nuff) and campy tribute bands like the Atomic Punks, who specialize in David Lee Roth-era Van Halen.
And now Nazis. Even after the Aug. 19 debacle, even while they planned the Sept. 2 show, Gibson and Terbay denied knowledge of the White Power shows at the Shack. But counterevidence was mounting. Go to the website of West Virginia-based Resistance Records, which bills itself as "The soundtrack for white revolution." (The label is owned by William Pierce, author of the infamously racist novel The Turner Diaries, often regarded as seminal reading for Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh.) On that site, you'll find a review of a June 24 White Power show headlined by Brutal Attack. The review says the show took place "in Orange County, California, the Skinhead capitol [sic] of the world. The event was put on by American Front with the help of Vinland's Viking Security team. Resistance Records, Panzerfaust Records and Vinland Records all were present with merchandise tables set up. White kindred from all over the world came to witness what was possibly the greatest show the U.S. has ever seen."
The accompanying photos suggest it was a packed house that Sunday afternoon. Scowling, burly young Caucasian males with all-over body tats yelp into microphones. Angry white boys tussle with one another in the mosh pit. A band's guitarist picks away at a Gibson, on which "Orange County" is stenciled in old-English lettering. Most of the men in the crowd sport the standard skinhead uniform of closely-cropped Marine Corps hair, while the women appear attentive and rather shocking in their ordinariness; any one of them could be that sweet-smiling woman who checks your groceries at Albertson's or occupies that coveted office cubicle near the window.
But the greatest show ever? The photos are pretty typical concert shots--save for one in which several concertgoers salute Nazi style beneath a banner that clearly reads, THE SHACK.
The earliest evidence of a Shack White Power show is a review of a Dec. 18, 1999, show on the website of Youngland. Here, too, a photo of the band includes the Shack banner behind the stage.
But the review is more valuable because it provides at least one description of the Shack's evolution. Like most struggling acts, the review acknowledges, White Power bands have a tough time landing paying gigs; unlike most struggling acts, White Power bands have the additional burden of Adolf Hitler. For this reason, the review says, "What has to happen is plenty of logic and deception on the part of the bands to get on the stage." What sort of logic and deception? At this point, the review becomes a kind of Mein Kampf for the stage: "The way this show was booked was to frequent the club, make friends with the person booking shows, then call him up and say . . . 'Hey, Bro, I got a couple of bands that want to play; do you have any open shows?' On this occasion, the guy feel [sic] for it hook, line and sinker! He put all three bands on Saturday night as the headlining acts! . . . I think there was a look of concern on the promoters [sic] face when he saw 100 skinheads in his club."
But it's doubtful that look was really one of concern; Shack co-owners Gibson and Terbay say they will book just about anybody--as long as they behave themselves.
"We don't call them White Power bands, just rock bands," Gibson told the Weekly. "It's all just rock & roll. We don't cater to any specific group. I hire bands to entertain, not push their views. Our goal is to provide entertainment. We're accused of being racist. We're not racist. I don't put labels on people. You don't know what kinds of bands you got until they get here. We would say no to any group that causes problems."
And the White Power bands don't cause problems? "People are real respectful," he says. "We've had more compliments than complaints."
"We've been doing those kinds of bands for two years now," says Terbay. (He also says he has been present at every White Power gig the Shack has put on.) "We don't believe everything that the people who come into the Shack believe. But it's all about music. We give everybody a chance. We got black rap shows on Thursdays. We got an Oriental fraternity from UC Irvine come in. We never turn anybody away. It's all about business. We'll put on a show by anybody. Hell, I'd even give the people who protest us a show. And we're not racist. I'm full-bred Lebanese. I'm a brown man."
The local racist rock scene exists outside the Shack, of course. There's Radio White, the Orange-based, Internet music website that claims more than 100,000 hits. And there are such local bands as Extreme Hatred, whose Have A Nice Day album features a World War II-era photo of a German soldier shooting a man in the back of the head; superimposed on the soldier's head is a yellow smiley face. OC's Aggressive Force plays such hits as "It's Okay to Be White" and "OC Belongs to Me." And Youngland have this to say on their website: "OC is kind of unique because there are a lot of racialists here that aren't skinheads. We have supporters among the surfer, skater, rockabilly and punk scenes. Although most are not active in the movement, they are always willing to lend a helping fist in time of need."
White Power music is full of lyrics Joseph Goebbels would admire. "We hear the slogan 'White people awake, save our great race' twice per chorus, eight times in total throughout an entire song," wrote Resistance Records founder George Burdi of one track. "And if they play that tape five times a week and just listen to that one song, they're listening 40 times in one week, which means 160 times a month, and you do the math beyond that."
Whether Terbay and Gibson want to admit it, the Shack is now playing a major part in getting out the message. Because of the steady White Power gigs, Nazi/supremacist types have shown up regularly at the Shack on other, non-Nazi nights, giving the impression that outsiders aren't welcome. One young woman says she was at the Shack on a recent weekday night and "bolted out of there once I saw the kind of crowd that was hanging out."
Beyond the ethical problems, that might promise serious business trouble for the club.
"No club I know would ever book shows like that," says Chain Reaction booker Ron Martinez. "If nothing else, it's bad for business."
"They're going to have to face the fact that there's probably going to be an extensive boycott of the club," says Novick of People Against Racist Terror.
Abandoning denials for the higher cause of free speech and free markets, Terbay and Gibson offer no sign of surrender. Ditto for their skinheaded guests. The review of the June 24 Shack show ends with the ominous promise "Everyone in attendance seemed to understand how important it is for us to be able to leave behind our confrontational mindsets once in a while for us to come together with our people and celebrate the continuing success and growth of the White Racialist Movement. We look forward to the next show in OC."
The 1980s. The U.S. appetite for cocaine is insatiable. Everyone's snorting. Nancy Reagan's screaming, "Just say no!" The government decides to kick ass.
Uncle Sam goes straight to the source: Central America. South America. Any America that's not North America. We go down there. A familiar face smiles back. The CIA's been there for years. "What took you so long?"
The CIA had already hopped from one impoverished country to another. The CIA had already propped up one repressive regime after another. The CIA knows the drug trade. "Fight your silly Drug War," the CIA says. "Just don't fuck up our groundwork."
Their groundwork. They know the coke flow is immense. Immeasurable. Unstoppable. The CIA knows about the money. Fuck Woodward and Bernstein! Don't follow the money. It leads back to the CIA. You think Joe Sixpack funds these dictators? Hah!
There's enough lucre here to fund secret operations the world over. The Iranians need arms to fight the Iraqis. They helped put Ronnie Reagan in the White House. It's payback time.
Drugs are seized before they enter the U.S. Drugs are sold to buy arms. Arms are exchanged for hostages. Drug seizures are celebrated as major victories in the sham Drug War. Drug proceeds that fund black ops are better celebrated in private. In the Star Chamber. Clink your glasses. We win. They lose. They can die. Must die. God bless the Americas.
Ken Bucchi says he was a contract soldier in the CIA Drug War. He says the Agency recruited him out of Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. He says he endured rigorous training in a crater in the Nevada desert. He says his final exam was sinking drug boats in the Florida Keys. He says his graduation included bombing cocaine labs in Colombia.
Bucchi says he met with then-CIA director William Casey, who is now rotting in Hell. He says they developed Operation Pseudo Miranda. He says deals were made with the "coke lords," even Pablo Escobar. Bucchi says Operation Pseudo Miranda would stop half the cocaine coming into the U.S. How? By agreeing to allow the other half to arrive at its destination unimpeded. He says the big, protected cartels like Medellin turned the CIA on to smaller, competing drug operations. He says the CIA set about crushing the competition. All in the name of Operation Pseudo Miranda. All in the name of Nancy Reagan's sham Drug War. All in the name of America.
I was at another newspaper seven years ago. Ken Bucchi called. His New England accent was as thick as chowder. He'd just written a novel, CIA: Cocaine in America. A small "true crime" house published it. Would I interview him?
Interviewing an author is about as fun as a root canal with a rusty nail and no Vicodin. Reading an interview of an author is even worse. But how many guys claim to be spooks? It was worth at least a listen.
He walked into the conference room. Tan. Slim. Athletic. Handsome. Early 30s. Casually dressed, but nice stuff -- like you'd find in a nice men's shop. I listened.
I'll admit it now if I didn't admit to readers then: his tale was mighty convoluted. So was CIA: Cocaine in America. The lead character in Bucchi's fictional book was really Bucchi. Obviously. The lead character hobnobbed with dangerous drug lords. The lead character boned a fellow CIA soldier who turned out to be a total babe once you stripped her down. The CIA babe later died in his arms. The lead character may have had a secret meeting with then-Vice President George Bush.
May have? Well? Did you or didn't you? Don't know, Bucchi answered. The CIA often arranged meetings between contractors like Bucchi and impostors. He mildly apologized for the way some details were presented in CIA: Cocaine in America. "For storytelling purposes," he said, the publisher made him take a lot of literary license.
Sounded more like literary bullshit. Sounded like Ken Bucchi must be a nut. But something kept nagging at me. At the core of his story were fascinating details about an alleged CIA drug operation. Enough specifics to give Tom Clancy a boner the size and tensile strength of the Red October. How could someone make stuff like this up whole-cloth?
And details like these popped up again. Two years after our interview. The San Jose Mercury News. Reporter Gary Webb's groundbreaking "Dark Alliance" series chronicled the real-life CIA connection to crack cocaine sales on the streets of South-Central LA. But Webb has since been shit on. Heat came from other newspapers. The Los Angeles Times led the wolf pack. The Times didn't break the CIA-crack story, therefore it couldn't have happened. A Mercury News editor concurred. Webb's story was branded sloppy. He's now out of the biz.
Bucchi has since been shit on, too. But first we've gotta backtrack.
This much we know is true about Kenneth C. Bucchi: he did attend Murray State. Got a B.S. in criminology in 1984. Joined the Air Force a year later. His discharge papers say he was in aircraft maintenance. His discharge papers say he was a captain. That he was in for six years. That he received two Air Force commendation medals and an achievement medal. That he served in the Gulf War from 1990 to 1991. That he was discharged in '91.
He told me he left the service to become a private investigator. Two years later, he became a corporate investigator. Undercover. At the time we first met, he said he was living in California, spying on employees for a defense giant. Then he moved to Oregon to do the same thing at a paper plant.
His experiences led to his first nonfiction book, Inside Job: Deep Undercover as a Corporate Spy. It hit the bookstore shelves, and the TV yakfests started calling. Bucchi made the rounds. He also did radio: National Public Radio, Howard Stern, John Lydon (a.k.a. Johnny Rotten). During the Stern interview, Bucchi's CIA past came up. He told the shock jock that part of his training involved trying to keep a straight face while asking girls if they were wearing underwear.
The publisher of Inside Job is Granite Bay-based Penmarin Books, a small outfit with a big jones for the CIA. Publisher Hal Lockwood asked Bucchi if he had any other experiences worthy of a book. Bucchi mentioned Operation Pseudo Miranda. Bucchi showed Lockwood CIA: Cocaine in America. Lockwood looked at real documents Bucchi said backed up his story. What's that they say about truth being stranger than fiction? Lockwood wanted Bucchi's real-life CIA exploits on the printed page. Lockwood wanted Operation Pseudo Miranda: A Veteran of the CIA Drug Wars Tells All. It came out last year.
Bucchi made the media rounds again. Reluctantly. He didn't mind voicing his opinions on the latest spy incident in the news -- and there have been a bunch, in case you haven't been paying attention. But talking about his own involvement in The Life bothered Bucchi.
Fox called this past January. They wanted Bucchi to talk about Pseudo Miranda on the Jan. 29 O'Reilly Factor. Blowhard host Bill O'Reilly hedged his bets on the air. "Now, once you put this in a book, they said you were a psycho," O'Reilly said. It had come out somehow, despite supposedly sealed military records, that the Air Force had tagged Bucchi as "delusional." Bucchi tried to offer O'Reilly his defense. "So you can prove it by these documents that you have," the host remarked. "And we've looked them over. But, you know, documents can be doctored." Fox had called the CIA and the State Department. No comment. A common response.
From the time I first interviewed Bucchi in 1994 through his O'Reilly Factor appearance, no government agency ever publicly commented on his story. When he appeared on Fox News with former FBI directors a short time before O'Reilly to discuss the Robert Hanssen spy case, no one questioned the veracity of Bucchi's Drug War games. The closest he had ever gotten to official reaction was a couple of phone calls. Anonymous. Always women. Always late at night.
"You're rubbing the Agency the wrong way."
April 20, 2001. CIA-contract employees are flying a U.S. plane in the skies above Peru. They're tracking small aircraft. They spot a single-engine Cessna. Must be a drug runner. They radio for a Peruvian fighter jet. The jet shoots the plane down. Holy shit! It wasn't a drug plane! It was a missionary plane! An American woman and her baby perish in the crash.
The same American public that couldn't give two shits about that region before suddenly wants answers. CNN wanted Ken Bucchi to provide them. He was in the Rolodex as a former CIA contractor. He was in the Rolodex as having fought in the Drug War. He was in the Rolodex as being media-savvy. He apparently wasn't in the Rolodex for being "delusional." That wasn't important right now. The public demanded to know how such a horrific incident could happen?
Bucchi was booked on the April 23 CNN afternoon newscast. He laid out the shady ways the government works in the southern hemisphere. Anchor Stephen Frazier was appalled. Bucchi reasoned with him. Pseudo Miranda may have let half the drugs in, but at least no missionary planes were shot down back in the day.
Bucchi did so well that he was held over for that evening's telecast of The Point With Greta van Susteren. Among the other three guests was Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), one of the nation's leading critics of the CIA. Bucchi said the CIA purposely distances itself from contractors like those who sicced the Peruvian Air Force on what was thought to be a drug plane. Meanwhile, the CIA takes the credit for stopping 60 percent of the drugs coming out of Peru.
"Does anybody in America today feel like 60 percent of the drugs came off their streets?" Bucchi asked. Waters found those words revelatory. Like they came from on high. "Ken, I want to thank you for being the clearest voice that I have ever heard coming out of the CIA or any related agency about what is going on in this Drug War," she said. "Thank you, thank you, thank you!"
Someone was not amused. CNN got a call from the CIA. The Agency said Ken Bucchi was an impostor. The Agency said Ken Bucchi never worked for the CIA. The Agency said Ken Bucchi never was a CIA contractor. Van Susteren went on the air April 25. "I have a secret agency of the government telling me one thing and a citizen telling me another. I've seen and heard falsehoods from both before. Both positions are aired on CNN." Bucchi says that after Van Susteren read the statement, he got a call from a guy he knew from a secret CIA base in Arkansas who offered to confirm their shared experiences with CNN. Bucchi says he told him not to bother because his life would be turned upside down.
April 26. CIA spokesman Bill Harlow released what was apparently an unprecedented statement ("Apparently" because Harlow did not return phone calls seeking clarification):
On April 23, 2001, CNN aired a program during which they interviewed an individual named Kenneth Bucchi, whom CNN described as a "former CIA narcotics agent." During the program, Bucchi alleged that the CIA "basically had a complicit operation, a quid pro quo, if you will, with the drug lords of Colombia and essentially, what we [the CIA] did is put the lion's share of the market in small cash in drug lords' hands....
CIA spokesman Bill Harlow said the following in response to this allegation:
"Bucchi never worked for or was affiliated with the CIA in any way; he was neither an employee nor a contractor at any time. Bucchi's account of an operation supposedly working with the drug lords of Colombia is complete and utter nonsense -- it is fiction."
Harlow added that while the CIA usually declines to say whether or not a person has ever worked for the Agency, "this one has just gone too far."
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz pounced on the story. "CNN's Very Secret Agent: CIA says man's story is phony." Kurtz played up Harlow's prime directive while introducing Bucchi's defense this way: "In a rambling interview ..." He quoted Bucchi saying he can't prove he worked for the CIA, that he can't prove he wasn't delusional. Then the coup de grace: Bucchi used an "expletive."
Fucking Kurtz! Lockwood, the publisher, was livid. How could the Washington Post -- the vaunted Washington Post -- put out such one-sided trash? How could they take the CIA response at face value while ignoring Bucchi's facts? Lockwood checked those facts. Fox News checked those facts. They were solid.
Bucchi says Kurtz snipped his quotes. Bucchi says Kurtz ignored his documents. Bucchi says the great Howard Kurtz -- who loves going on TV to blast TV for rushing to put people on the air without thorough background checks -- relied on just one source for his story: the most secretive spy agency in the world.
Those Bucchi facts? The Air Force branded him delusional for running around and talking about Pseudo Miranda. So Bucchi sought Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) documents to back up his claims. Turns out the DEA was in on the operation. Bucchi filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. But the DEA's initial response in November 1990 says the DEA has no records on a Kenneth C. Bucchi nor an Operation Pseudo Miranda. Then Bucchi showed up on the witness list for Manuel Noriega. The pock-marked Panamanian dictator was being tried in this country for drug trafficking. Bucchi filed another FOIA request in 1991. This time, the DEA responded with seven reasons it could not release information on Bucchi or Pseudo Miranda, including "national security."
More facts? Noriega's flamboyant lead attorney Frank Rubino was on Larry King Live around this time. The host asked about the connection between Pseudo Miranda, the Panamanian leader, the Bush administration CIA and some fellow named Ken Bucchi. "Oh, if we had about two hours, I'd love to sit down and tell you what the connection is, but obviously, this is something we've discussed with our client," Rubino said. "It's an area of great interest to us."
More: Carlos Lehder was the Colombian transport guru of the Medellin cartel. He's at a theater near you. In Blow, he's the basis for the fictional character who partnered with George Jung, the American coke dealer portrayed by Johnny Depp. Bucchi says he wrote to Lehder seeking confirmation of the CIA's quid pro quo drug operation. Bucchi produced a letter whose return address says it's from Lehder inside an Illinois prison. "The topics and Pseudo Miranda program are very much intelligence affairs of the United States anti-drug proyects [sic]. I, Carlos Lehder, as a foreigner, shall not and must not involve myself in any internal affairs of your great nation, just as I disaprove [sic] of foreigners doing so in my country."
That "delusional" tag? Bucchi says Carl Bernstein called his air base for an interview about Pseudo Miranda. Air Force brass caught wind of it. They're still picking the shit out of the fan. Bucchi was hauled before the Top Guns. He offered to dodge any sensitive questions from the legendary journalist who helped break Watergate. Command reasoned that would be interpreted as "he's hiding something." Plausible deniability was in order. Trash the source. Bucchi's a nutbar. Wrap him up in a mental condition. The government would have to pay Bucchi, then just 30 years old, a full medical retirement for life. But it was a small price to pay to keep his records forever sealed due to a medical condition.
Bucchi fought back. He could be the first person in history to try to prevent the military from doling out full retirement benefits. To Bucchi, it was a small price to keep from being forever labeled "delusional." His attorney, Major Miles D. Wichelns, got it in the official record that an Air Force psychiatrist refused to diagnose Bucchi as delusional. The same psychiatrist ordered the Office of Special Investigations to look into Bucchi's claims about Pseudo Miranda.
The top dogs would not be denied. They took the case to D.C., where (Bucchi claims) a military board was supposed to determine whether his constitutional rights had been violated. Instead, the board reinstated his classification as "delusional." Case closed. No appeal. And just to make sure, the government tied it up in a bow: national security.
Is Ken Bucchi a nutbar? He admits he has no hard evidence that he worked for the CIA. Apparently, the Agency does not give pay stubs to spooks. No one involved in Pseudo Miranda knew their colleagues' real names (Ken Bucchi was Anthony Vesbucci). Wouldn't the Air Force notice Captain Bucchi missing from his post? He explained he often worked at a base in San Antonio, Texas, for days at a time. He says that, from there, he would be ferried by Air Force planes to his CIA missions, which would last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. "If I had to do anything that would take longer, I'd be put on 'temporary duty.' Everything was done so above board, I didn't think anything of it." Don't ask, don't tell.
So finally you have the crux of this spy tale: the same secrecy that the CIA uses to protect itself from scrutiny makes Bucchi's claims no more outlandish than your average political assassination, toppled government or inner-city crack cocaine operation.
"If you look at [whistleblowers] who've been on Primetime Live, 60 Minutes, all these shows, the military always uses 'delusional' to describe the person," Bucchi says. "It's very effective. Once they label you delusional and a reporter hears that, the media backs away. That's why you never see stories on the CIA. If I was on that side, I would use the same thing. If those DEA documents came out, you'd see a million stories on the CIA."
Bucchi takes pride that his story elicited an unprecedented response from Spy Central. "The fact that the CIA violated its own policy of not responding to whether someone was a contract agent compels them to respond to all such inquiries in the future lest they be asked what difference the present question poses vs. mine. That is how badly they wanted to shut me up. That establishes more clearly than I ever could the gravity of their role in the Drug War," he said. "Has the CIA ever done anything on par with Operation Pseudo Miranda that was unethical, illegal or immoral? If so, show me where they admitted to it. Does the fact that they have never willingly admitted to any such operation mean they've never conducted one? Can anyone make up a CIA story and get Langley to comment on record about its falsehood? I've seen all kinds of people on TV claiming to have worked for the CIA and claiming that the CIA was involved in the Kennedy assassination, but not once have I heard the CIA defend themselves and call assassination theorists liars or quacks. Is that because claiming the CIA-killed-Kennedy story has not 'gone too far?' Boy, do they have a false sense of priorities."
He's come up with several reasons why his case so spooked the spooks. CNN is on in bars and lounges and hotel rooms the world over. Maxine Waters apparently went back to Washington and raised holy hell. Then there was the biggest threat of all, the message Bucchi was trying to get across to viewers. This is it: the CIA makes pacts with government leaders and drug lords to control who is in power-and who is not-in Central and South America. Whoever has the arms has the power. The CIA gets to decide who gets the arms under the guise of the Drug War. America would not have even known of a CIA role down there had it not been for the missionary plane mishap. "There are probably other Peruvian families who have been shot down over the years that we do not hear about," Bucchi said. "We don't do that within our own borders because Americans would be outraged over people being mistakenly shot down, so we fight our battles on other borders."
He pitched this opinion to CNN's van Susteren: "We could save a lot of money if the government just went to Colombia and asked, 'How much for all the cocaine?' It's not that farcical. The cost would be tremendous, but it would still be less than what we are spending now for the Drug War. But then we would not be able to justify giving weapons to governments. If we bought it all, the drug dealers would have the same amount of money as the people in power. The CIA doesn't want leftist guerrillas or Pablo Escobars having the same power as the people they help put in power."
He's unsure whether that message will ever get through. "The media is mostly to blame," he said. "They shouldn't put their tails between their legs so quickly. They dismissed me so easily, but they won't be able to dismiss those people who were shot down as easily. If the media just believed me for a second, it would be easier to understand what happened in Peru."
Now Bucchi's got a wife and a couple of kids. His 40th birthday is just around the corner. Life's not so bad. He gets 50 percent of his military pay for the rest of his life. "I should for the shit they put me through," he interjected. He would even have all his medical and dental bills paid were he not afraid to return to a military base to visit a clinic. If put under anesthesia, "I probably wouldn't leave alive," he figured. He'd surrender all the pay and benefits "the moment they admitted I'm not delusional and, subsequently, confessed the truth about Pseudo Miranda."
He's now a pencil-pushing government bureaucrat. Personnel officer for a community redevelopment agency. How does a guy jump from being a maintenance officer in the Air Force to a corporate investigator for a defense giant to a bureaucrat for a city's redevelopment agency? Contacts. Former military contacts. Former CIA contacts. Truth is stranger than fiction.
But don't worry: he doesn't plan on writing a book that casts his new agency as a shadowy government entity (even if it is). Instead, he's writing treatments and screenplays for Hollywood. The Rock writers Douglas Cook and David Weisberg got Universal Pictures to fork over the high six figures for their pitch for Dixie Cups, which is based on Bucchi's Operation Pseudo Miranda. Bucchi got a fee that will mushroom into big bucks if that picture becomes a go.
Meanwhile, he's working on his own movie scripts and says he has sold a couple of pilots to the networks. Should Hollywood come calling, will he give the city his notice? "Yeah," he said, "obviously, I'd leave in a heartbeat." But no more books or scripts about his life in The Life. "I don't buy all this New Age psychology about confronting your past. Some things are better left in the past. Repressed memory is a good safety mechanism the brain pulls."
The CIA shit on Ken Bucchi, on the notion of an Operation Pseudo Miranda. But Bucchi may get the last laugh. Millions of Americans could line up around blocks to see a fictionalized version of his alleged Agency exploits on the Silver Screen. Finally, someone will believe it really happened.