Tuesday 19 April 2011

Spy v. Spy (Part I)

We know that Scientology and United States government agencies have spied on each other over the years: what is less clear is whether they ever collaborated.

In his cheerfully cynical memoirs, The Game Player, former CIA operative Miles Copeland mentions a scheme put into action in the early-to-mid 1950s by colleague Bob Mandlestam called “Occultism in High Places (OHP).

The idea was simple: given that some world leaders had the habit of consulting astrologists and other “occult” advisers, they needed to ensure that the ones they consulted were those who had been properly primed by the Agency.

The astrology scheme paid off when a seer they had planted on President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana persuaded him to travel to China. That facilitated the CIA-backed military coup which unseated him. President Sukarno of Indonesia was apparently also successfully manipulated through similar “occult” channels, writes Copeland.

Mandlestam also used Frank Buchman’s Moral Rearmament (MRA) movement, a spiritual-political hybrid which in the post-war years presented itself as an alternative to both communism and capitalism.

Astrology, was one thing, wrote Copeland: “But the arrangement we made with Moral Rearmament gave us useful secret channels right into the minds of leaders not only in Africa and Asia but also in Europe.”

Scientology too, had its uses.

When Bob made similar arrangements with Scientology, the brainchild of another nut, this one a science-fiction writer named Ron Hubbard, we were on our way to having a political action capability which would make the high expensive, largely ineffective and largely overt “covert action” of Bill Casey’s CIA seem trivial by comparison. “MRA will hit ‘em high, and the Church of Scientology will hit ‘em low!” Bob liked to boast, and he was right.[1]

Copeland does not explain just how Mandlestam sought to use Scientology and whom he was hoping to influence. Nor is it clear to what extent, if any, the movement or its leader L. Ron Hubbard, were witting participants – especially as earlier in his book, he mentions another scheme to infiltrate Scientology.

…we planted an agent in the Scientology cult who became a ‘clear’ under the tutelage of Ron Hubbard himself, and then demanded and got more and more ‘operation expenses’ … to be turned over, in addition to his own life’s savings, to the cause of dianetics.[2]

It is far from obvious then, who ended up playing whom.

We know from documents already released that the CIA was investigating Hubbard and Scientology as early as 1957.[3] But there is much that remains to be clarified as to the precise nature of Mandlestam’s operation and Scientology’s place in it. For the moment however, the CIA isn’t talking.[4]

Hubbard’s early career and the empire he subsequently built around Scientology betray a fascination with two fields: the occult and intelligence activities. Official versions of his life from Scientology have always denied any hint of the first; when it comes to talking up his intelligence credentials however, they have pushed well beyond the bounds of credibility.

The movement’s authorised version of his life states that he worked for U.S. Naval Intelligence and, to be sure, he did – but not in the rather glamorous way the movement would have us believe.

One Scientology account of his war service describes his duties as having included “counter-intelligence and the organization of relief for beleagured American forces on Bataan” in the Philippines.[5] In fact, Hubbard’s work  in the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) was rather more prosaic, as researcher Chris Owen has shown.

From the outset, Hubbard had wished to join ONI… This did not mean covert undercover work, however, as is quite clear from various pieces of correspondence. On April 21, 1941 the Navy Department notified ONI [Office of Naval Intelligence] that “Mr. L. Ron Hubbard is applying at Navy Yard, Washington, for a commission in the Naval Reserve, I-V(S), for assignment to duty in the Public Relations Office.”[6]

Scientology has even tried to use Hubbard’s supposed naval intelligence duties to explain away his association with the occult. For this is how they account for his involvement with Jack Parsons and the California chapter of English occultist Aleister Crowley’s Ordro Templi Orientis (OTO).

The way Scientology tells it, Hubbard actually “broke up black magic in America.”

‘Do what thou wilt…’

Aleister Crowley – mountaineer, poet, occultist, founder of the Thelema religion and a pretty useful chess player – was not your average Englishman. His credo, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law” is open to all kinds of sinister interpretations. It does not, after all, read like an invitation to a life of self-denial.

Today, Crowley’s followers argue that this was not an injunction to licentious hedonism – but given their prophet’s robust pursuit of the sex-and-drugs lifestyle, one could be forgiven for thinking so.

Crowley (1875-1947), the self-styled “Great Beast 666”, spent a great deal of time and energy attacking Christianity (presumably a reaction to his upbringing in the Plymouth Brethren, not the most tolerant of Christian sects).

He was not shy of provoking controversy and certainly deserved some of the bad press he received over the years.[7] But there is perhaps rather more to him than headlines such as the “Wickedest man in the World” suggest.

In 1945, as Hubbard’s navy career was coming to an end, he moved into the Pasadena mansion owned by Jack Parson. It was a rather bohemian community already peopled by a colourful collection of characters.

Parsons, then 31, was a leading scientist with the California Institute of Technology, one of the pioneers of rocket fuel technology. Tall, dark and handsome, he came from a monied family and had inherited the mansion from his father.

Parsons was also obsessed with the occult: a leading figure in the OTO in California, he corresponded with Crowley – and most likely subsidised the aging, ailing mystic from his personal fortune.

So Hubbard arrived, his charisma switched to full power, charming the pants off most of his fellow guests, Parsons include – though not everyone was impressed. Nieson Himmel, another guest at the mansion, told journalist Russell Miller:

I can't stand phoneys and to me he was so obviously a phoney, a real con man. But he was certainly not a dummy. He was very sharp and quick, a fascinating story-teller, and he could charm the shit out of anybody. He talked interminably about his war experiences and seemed to have been everywhere. Once he said he was on Admiral Halsey's staff. I called a friend who worked with Halsey and my friend said “Shit, I've never heard of him.”[8]

Alice Cornog, another guest, was rather more succinct. “I thought he was a bastard, I disliked him thoroughly,” she told writer George Pendle.[9]

Hubbard quickly struck up a warm relationship not just with Parsons but with his then lover Sara “Betty” Northrup (her middle name was Elizabeth). The following year, Hubbard, Parsons and Northrup participated in a rather lurid magical ritual called the Babalon Working. Its purpose, as he himself wrote, was “to obtain the assistance of an elemental mate.”[10]

Whatever Parsons was expecting from the ritual, what he actually got, as he later acknowledged, was a harsh lesson on his “false and infantile reliance on others”. [11]

Parsons had entered into an arrangement with Hubbard which was meant to involve buying yachts on the east coast, sailing them round to California – or transporting them overland if that proved cheaper – and selling them at a profit. The main investor of course, was Parsons, who put several thousand dollars of his money into the venture.

Crowley had already been subjected to Parsons’ effusive letters regarding his magickal workings with Hubbard. He at least saw what was coming. “Suspect Ron playing confidence trick,” he cabled to one of his OTO associates. “Jack evidently weak fool. Obvious victim prowling swindlers.”[12]

Sure enough, Hubbard ran off with Betty, a yacht and Parsons’ money.

When in 1969 the Sunday Times published an account of this episode in Hubbard’s life, Scientology reacted furiously, insisting in a statement that “Hubbard broke up black magic in America”.

Hubbard’s mission was successful far beyond anyone’s expectations. The house was torn down. Hubbard rescued a girl they were using. The black magic group was dispersed and destroyed and has never recovered. [13]

All of which will come as a surprise to the OTO, which is still active today, maintaining Crowley’s colourful legacy.

Nor does the official line from Scientology explain why Hubbard described Crowley as “my very good friend” in a 1952 lecture, even recommending his book, The Master Therion. He also made approving references to Jack Parsons in his later writings.[14]

The Prouty affidavit

In 1987 Russell Miller wrote Bare-Faced Messiah, his unauthorised biography of Hubbard, devoting a chapter to this episode, which followed The Sunday Times’ interpretation of events.  Again, Scientology tried to play the intelligence card.

By this time Scientology had enlisted the help of L. Fletcher Prouty, a former U.S. Air Force officer with a background in intelligence, to support this “intelligence” defence. So when Bare-Faced Messiah was published, Prouty was on hand to denounce Miller’s version of events.

Prouty set out his findings in a detailed 1985 affidavit. [15] Two years later he attacked Miller’s biography in an intemperate letter to Miller’s publishers, in which he denounced the writer as a “pseudo-biographer”, likening his account of Hubbard’s life to letting Judas write “The Life of Christ”.

Miller had taken the pedestrian line of relying on the published record; Prouty however, as a declared expert, knew the real story was in the papers that were not there.

In his letter to Miller’s British publishers, Michael Joseph, he wrote:

Almost all of Hubbard's millitary record is replete with markings that signify deep intelligence service at the highest levels. Many of his records, copies of official records, revealed that even the originals had been fabricated in the manner peculiar to the intelligence community in a process that we call "Sheep Dip". I myself have supervised a lot of that function in the offices I managed during 1955-1964. [16]

Prouty’s line then, was that Hubbard’s official war records had been altered to conceal his intelligence activities. On the basis of this argument of course, just about anyone could cook up an heroic intelligence record on the basis of what was “sheep-dipped” from his files.

Hubbard himself told his followers: “What is true is what is true for you.” So if you want to believe that Hubbard swindled Parsons and ran off with his girlfriend as part of a covert intelligence operation, the Prouty affidavit certainly helps – but only if that is what you want to believe.

If you confine yourself to the published facts however, the evidence tells the rather less flattering story set out in Miller’s book.

Forged documents

More recently, Scientology has switched from relying on documents that cannot be revealed, to revealing documents that cannot be relied upon.

Lawrence Wright’s recent investigation of Scientology for The New Yorker included a rebuttal of evidence the movement advanced to show that Hubbard was a war hero. [17] Wright recounts how Scientology’s PR flak Tommy Davis:

…later sent me a copy of what he said was a document that confirmed Hubbard’s heroism: a “Notice of Separation from the U.S. Naval Service,” dated December 6, 1945. The document specifies medals won by Hubbard, including a Purple Heart with a Palm, implying that he was wounded in action twice. But John E. Bircher, the spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, wrote to me that the Navy uses gold and silver stars, “NOT a palm,” to indicate multiple wounds. Davis included a photograph of medals that Hubbard supposedly won. Two of the medals in the photograph weren’t even created until after Hubbard left active service.”

The Notice of Separation Davis supplied to Wright differed in crucial respects from the official one The New Yorker had obtained from the National Archives in St. Louis.

Wrights showed the document supplied by Davis to a veteran researcher at the National Archives: he concluded it was a forgery.[18]

Whatever Hubbard might have claimed, his early career showed a greater affinity with occult matters than with intelligence. With the success of Scientology however, he was able to give free rein to his ambitions in the latter field.

[1] The Game Player: Confessions of the CIA’s original political operative, Miles Copeland, Aurum Press (London), 1989, pp 176-177.
[2] Copeland, op.cit., p121.
[3] Russell Miller and other writers, refers to CIA file 156409.
[4] A 2005 Freedom of Information request I submitted to the CIA produced no information.
[5] From the official site Ron the Poet.
[6] From “Naval Intelligence”, Chapter 3.3 of Chris Owen’s meticulously researched Ron the “War Hero”: L. Ron Hubbard and the United States Navy.
[7] For those of you have haven’t been reading your Dennis Wheatley “the Great Beast 666” is of course a provocative reference to the Christian version of the Devil, as featured in the Book of Revelations.
On the website of the OTO’s US Grand Lodge we find: “This Law is not to be interpreted as a license to indulge every passing whim, but rather as the mandate to discover one's True Will and accomplish it; leaving others to do the same in their own unique ways.”
Crowley himself was asked to explain what the words of this injunction meant, during a 1934 libel trial in London. He told the court: “There is no end to what they mean, but the simplest application to practical conduct is this: That no man has a right to waste his time on doing things which are mere wishes or desires, but that he should devote himself wholly to his true work in this world.”
He denied it was an invitation to practise black magic. “To begin with, the basis of all Black Magick is that utter stupidity of selfishness which cares nothing for the rights of others. People so constituted are naturally quite unscrupulous. In many case, Black Magick is an attempt to commit crime without incurring the penalties of the law. The almost main instrument of Black Magic is murder, either for inheritance or for some other purpose, or in some way to gain personally out of it.” (From Perdurabo, The Life of Aleister Crowley by Richard Kaczynski, New Falcon Publications, 2002, Chapter 19: “The Black Magic Libel Case”, p383.)
Leaving the aside – for sake of argument – the reference to murder, it could be argued that this definition of black magic is not a bad fit with Scientology: one cannot help wondering if Hubbard interpreted Crowley’s “Do what thout wilt…”injunction more in terms of the will to power. He was certainly very much about bending people to his own will but that’s another article entirely.
[8] From “Black Magic and Betty” Chapter Seven of Russell Miller’s Bare-Faced Messiah.
[9] From “Rock Bottom”, Chapter 11 of George Pendle’s, Strange Angel: the Otherwordly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons (Harcourt, 2005).
[10] From Parsons’Liber 49, or The Book of Babalon.
[11] Op. cit: Parsons acknowledges his “…false and infantile reliance on others…” is the self-analysis section in Liber 49, or The Book of Babalon, which itself is an account of the magickal working. This more confessional part of the document is reminiscent of Hubbard’s own affirmations (or admissions), in which he attempted to analyse himself in much the same way. Parts of this Hubbard document were entered into the record in the Church of Scientology of California v Gerry Armstrong (1984). And as the record shows, Hubbard’s spiritual memos to himself included: “Men are your slaves”. There is a whole separate article waiting to be written on Hubbard’s role in the Babalon Working: the record Parsons leaves suggests that he was very much manipulated by Hubbard throughout the process.
[12] Miller, op.cit.
[13] See here for the original article and here for Scientology’s rebuttal.
[14] Philadelphia Doctorate Course lectures, December 5, 1952 (elsewhere in the lectures he makes reference to Crowley’s Book of Law). In subsequent reprints of these lectures, the Crowley references were deleted: see Helle Meldgard’s “Scientology’s Religious Roots” in Studia Missionalia, Vol. 41, 1992. Hubbard refers to Parsons as a genius in “Education”: Professional Auditors Bulletin 110, April 15, 1957. See also, PAB 103, January 1, 1957. There is no evidence that Crowley and Hubbard ever met or even corresponded: Crowley knew about Hubbard from Parsons’ initially glowing reports – and from the more sceptical accounts of other OTO members concerned at the degree of influence Hubbard exercised over Parsons. Crowley’s written references to Hubbard make it clear that he was no admirer.
[15] This Scientology website has reproduced what appears to be a copy of Fletcher’s affidavit: certainly it resembles one I came across in the archives of INFORM, in London, back in the 1990s.
[16] Prouty’s October 4, 1987 letter to Miller’s British editors Michael Joseph. For a detailed refutation of Prouty’s argument, see Chris Owen’s “The Intelligence Connection?”Chapter 4.2 of Owen op. cit.
Prouty was also a regular contributor to Freedom magazine, a Scientology publication happy to publish the conspiracy theories of Prouty and other self-proclaimed intelligence specialists – provided, of course, they fit with their own world view. Here you can get access to Prouty’s book JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy and here is a detailed critique.
[17]The Apostate: Paul Haggis v. the Church of Scientology, The New Yorker, February 2001.
[18] See here for the sidebar investigating the authenticity of the document Scientology supplied, with reproductions explaining why the expert concluded they were forgeries.