Political activist Daniel Ellsberg became an icon in 1971 after he leaked The Pentagon Papers. This “act of conscience” helped turn public opinion against the Vietnam War, and contributed to the demise of President Richard Nixon, whose felonious minions, the infamous Plumbers, sent CIA officer E. Howard Hunt, and former FBI agent (and self-professed rat-eater) G. Gordon Liddy, to burglarize confidential files from Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. Hunt and Liddy thought they could trump the anti-War movement by showing that Ellsberg was a mentally deranged LSD-abuser, but their slap-happy plan backfired, and instead opened up the Pandora’s box of the CIA inspired dirty tricks the Republican Party relied upon (and still uses today) to wage political warfare.
Starting on March 9th, the Pentagon Papers story will be broadcast as a made-for-TV movie on the popular F/X network. Based partially on Ellsberg’s autobiography, the movie will star quirky James Spader as Ellsberg, and will feature Hayley Lochner as “the wife,” Jonas Chernick as CIA connected New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan, and Paul Giamatti as Anthony Russo, the man who went to prison on Ellsberg’s behalf.
Be forewarned: nowhere in this revisionist history will be audience be presented with the cast of Corsican drug smugglers and CIA agents that shaped Ellsberg’s sensibilities and sent him on his path to New Left notoriety. But as the reader shall see in this article, somewhere between the official Pentagon Papers story, and the CIA’s involvement in international drug trafficking, is a disturbing clash of facts from which Ellsberg will not emerge with his icon status intact.
Ellsberg And the Quiet American
The first thing the reader needs to know is that Ellsberg was not always a pacifist “dove” intent on ending the Vietnam War. At first he was an aggressive “hawk.” His militant approach to the Cold War ? he was all for nuking the Soviet Union ? was shaped during a tour of duty as a Marine lieutenant, and precisely because of his hard-line attitude, and his ability to articulate it, he was offered a job as a Defense Department analyst.
Then in 1965 he was assigned as a Pentagon observer to the CIA’s Revolutionary Development (RD) Program in South Vietnam. Here Ellsberg came under the influence of his mentor, CIA officer cum Air Force General Edward Lansdale. The mass murderer Graham Greene used as the model for Alden Pyle in “The Quiet American,” Lansdale was the architect of the CIA’s anti-terror strategy for winning the Vietnam War. When not engaged in typical RD Program “Civil Affairs” activities, such as helping the local Vietnamese build perimeter defenses around their villages, Ellsberg and his fellow RD advisors, under the tutelage of Lansdale, dressed in black pajamas and reportedly slipped into enemy areas at midnight to “snatch and snuff” the local Viet Cong cadre, sometimes making it appear as if the VC themselves had done the dirty deed, in what Lansdale euphemistically called “black propaganda” activities.
Functioning as a gruesome “shadow warrior” was not Ellsberg’s only claim to fame in South Vietnam. It will not be addressed in the TV docudrama, but Ellsberg was exceedingly charming and possessed with the uncanny ability to reproduce conversations verbatim–talents that made him a highly prized asset of John Hart, the CIA station chief in Saigon. Hart and the CIA’s foreign intelligence staff wanted to know what influential Vietnamese citizens and officials were privately thinking, and plotting, so they introduced Ellsberg into Saigon’s elite social circles, and he began reporting directly to station chief John Hart on matters of political importance.
And if what his CIA colleagues say is true, Ellsberg was not only as a superb spy, he was also as a swashbuckling swordsman who romanced numerous women, including the exquisite Germaine. One part French and three parts Vietnamese, Germaine was the object of every red-blooded American man’s desire, and when Ellsberg met her at a swinging Saigon party, the hot-blooded cocksman immediately rose to the occasion, heedless of the fact that she was engaged to an opium-addicted Corsican drug smuggler named Michel Seguin.
It is here, with Ellsberg’s love affair with Germaine, that the discrepancy between fact and fiction has its origins. According to Professor McCoy, at the time Ellsberg met Germaine, Ellsberg’s close friend, CIA officer Lucien Conein, was negotiating a “truce” with the Corsican gangsters who supplied South Vietnam’s top military officers and government officials with that most lucrative of black market commodities, heroin.
Ellsberg’s Perilous Peccadilloes
Legendary CIA officer Lou Conein was an Old Vietnam Hand. As a member of Detachment 202 of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), Conein had fought with the French Special Forces in Indochina in World War II. After the war he married a Vietnamese woman and remained in Vietnam. He joined the CIA upon its creation and after a tour of duty in Europe, he returned to South Vietnam in 1954, as an aide to the aforementioned Ed Lansdale, to help organize the CIA’s anti-communist forces in North Vietnam. As a measure of his knack for deceit and deception, it is worth noting that one of Conein’s favorite “dirty tricks” was “to stage funerals without a corpse, and bury the coffin filled with weapons for later use by the anti-communists.”1
“Black Luigi” Conein departed South Vietnam in 1958 after Lansdale had safely ensconced his Catholic prot?g?, Ngo Dinh Diem, as President of South Vietnam. Conein spent the next few years in the opium rich outlands of Iran as a military advisor to the Shah’s special forces. In 1962 he returned to Vietnam as a “floating emissary,” reporting directly to the Kennedy White House, while secretly coaching the cabal of generals that murdered President Diem and his opium-addicted brother Nhu on 2 November 1963.
After the bloody coup d’etat, Conein remained in South Vietnam, but not without further controversy. As noted, professor McCoy contends that Ellsberg and Conein formed a fast friendship at the exact same moment Conein was arranging a “truce” between the CIA and unnamed Corsican drug smugglers in Saigon.
Conein, however, adamantly denied the allegation that he arranged a drug-related “truce.” In a 1972 letter to McCoy’s publisher, he insisted that his meeting with the Corsicans, “had to do with ameliorating a tense situation engendered by Daniel Ellsberg’s peccadilloes with the mistress of a Corsican.”
Here we return to enchantress Germaine, her opium-addicted Corsican fianc?, Michel Seguin, and a new character in our passion play, Frank Scotton. In 1965 Scotton was ostensibly employed by the U.S. Information Service, though his undercover job as a CIA officer was forming assassination squads around Saigon in what was the prototype of the CIA’s infamous Phoenix Program. Through this experimental “counter-terror” program, which fell under Lansdale’s RD Program, Scotton and Ellsberg met and became the best of friends. In fact, it was Scotton who invited Ellsberg to the party where the fateful encounter with Germaine occurred.
What happened next is subject to conjecture–and it must be emphasized that in order to understand how the Discrepancy might occur, the reader must need be aware that rumors, whisper campaigns, and half-truths are the preferred weapons of political warriors. CIA dirty tricks and deceptions are meant to misdirect and discredit, so one must examine these statements closely to discover what is being concealed, and why. Complicating the already convoluted situation is the fact that Ellsberg’s closest friends, Lou Conein and Frank Scotton, were CIA officers. Which is not meant to cast guilt through association on Ellsberg, but it is intended to warn the reader that one must carefully study their conflicting stories.
Scotton and Conein, in separate interviews with this writer, claimed they warned Ellsberg to sever his relationship with Germaine. But Ellsberg, they said, would not be kept from his lover’s embrace. Scotton and Conein claimed that Michael Seguin hired a Vietnamese assassin to kill Ellsberg, but, they said, they were able to intercept the assassin before he could carry out his contract.
In an interview with this writer, Ellsberg admitted to having had the affair with Germaine, and he confessed that Seguin put a gun to his head and warned him to stay away from the woman they both cherished. But Ellsberg vehemently denied that either Scotton or Conein intervened on his behalf. Their stories, he said, were standard CIA disinformation, designed to make him seem beholden to former CIA comrades, and thus cast doubt on his motives for leaking The Pentagon Papers.
Theoretically, it seems logical to conclude that one of the conflicting stories hides an ulterior motive. And in a search of the recorded history of the time, there is only one source that sheds any light on the situation. All we know, according to Professor McCoy, is that CIA agent Lou Conein met with Corsican gangsters to arrange a “truce” regarding drug smuggling in South Vietnam, and that after this “truce” the Corsicans (including, one would presume, Michel Seguin) continued to serve as “contact men” for the CIA in the drug smuggling business.
This is where The Discrepancy reaches critical mass, for Ellsberg denies that his CIA mentor, Edward Lansdale, or his CIA friends, Lou Conein and Frank Scotton, were involved with Corsican drug smugglers.
Recapping: McCoy claims that Conein arranged a” truce” with the Corsican gangsters over drug smuggling in South Vietnam; Conein denied the allegation and said the meeting concerned Ellsberg’s affair with Germaine; and Ellsberg denies (1) that Conein and Scotton intervened on his behalf, and (2) that Conein, Lansdale and Scotton were involved with drug smugglers.
Who is telling the truth? Could a CIA officer with a photographic memory not be aware that his colleagues were involved with drug smugglers? Or is McCoy’s research fatally flawed? Did the alleged “truce” occur? Was the good professor, who has prompted so many people to question the CIA’s role in international drug smuggling, misled by dirty trickster Conein. Was the ulterior motive to move McCoy toward the Corsicans and away from the CIA’s unilateral drug smuggling operation? Thinking the Unthinkable
It was 1970 when the mainstream American press first reported the CIA’s involvement in international drug trafficking, and it was 1970 when the U.S. Senate launched a potentially explosive investigation into the CIA’s Phoenix “assassination” Program, a special unit of which was providing security for the CIA’s unilateral drug smuggling operation.
The House of Representatives launched deeper probes into CIA drug smuggling and the CIA’s Phoenix Program in early 1971, and, naturally, the CIA at this critical time took extensive countermeasures in a concerted effort to conceal these facts. What is relevant to the discrepancy is the that in June 1971, Daniel Ellsberg leaked the aptly named Pentagon Papers, shifting blame for the increasingly unpopular Vietnam War from the CIA to the military, while distracting public attention from the investigations of the CIA’s Phoenix Program and the CIA’s involvement in drug smuggling.
Ellsberg is aware of the rumor that Conein and Scotton asked him to leak the Pentagon Papers as part of the CIA’s disinformation campaign. But he shrugs off the insidious rumor as yet another instance of ? CIA disinformation designed to cast doubt on his motives for leaking The Pentagon Papers.
While it is definitely politically incorrect within what passes nowadays for the New Left to even make the suggestion, is it unthinkable that Ellsberg might have suffered such a whisper campaign in order to prevent his CIA friends from being indicted for drug smuggling and mass murder?
The Politics Of Heroin (And War Crimes) In America
After Ellsberg leaked The Pentagon Papers, the CIA’s plot to cover-up its unilateral drug smuggling operation moved forward with greater gusto. According to the Justice Department’s still classified DeFeo Report, Conein in the spring of 1971 was called out of retirement by CIA officer E. Howard Hunt and asked to become an advisor to President Nixon’s “drug czar” (and Plumber) Egil Krogh, on matters regarding “problems of narcotic control in Southeast Asia and the Pentagon Papers.”
Consider that in 1971 the relationship between the French intelligence service and Corsican drug smugglers in its employ was exposed after a series of spectacular drug busts made in America with the assistance of the CIA. Concurrently, Conein was called out of retirement and immediately, in June 1971, told McCoy about the “truce” with the French-connected Corsicans, one of who put a gun to Ellsberg head.
Consider also that Egil Krogh’s investigators stumbled upon the CIA’s unilateral drug smuggling operation at this time, and that in July 1971, President Nixon declared the burgeoning war on drugs to be a matter of national security. Nixon went after the CIA and quick as a flash, E. Howard Hunt (Conein’s comrade from OSS Detachment 202) bungled the bugging of the Watergate Hotel. Washington Post reporter and former Naval Intelligence officer Bob Woodward, then assigned to cover Nixon’s war on drugs, was approached by the still anonymous Deep Throat, and based on unsubstantiated rumors, incrementally engendered the Watergate scandal and effectively neutralized Nixon, and his war on drugs.
In the summer of 1972 came the publication of McCoy’s book, which implicated the CIA in Corsican drug smuggling operation in Thailand, Vietnam, Burma and Laos. But no CIA officer was ever indicted for drug smuggling. In fact, the CIA boasted that it was actually helping, by infiltrating the Corsican operation, to wage the war on drugs. Amazing as it may sound, McCoy’s exposure in 1972 of the French Connection drug smuggling operation also helped to divert public attention from the CIA’s unilateral drug smuggling operations.
That same summer of 1972, Lou Conein became a consultant to the newly created Office of National Narcotics Intelligence (ONNI) at the Department of Justice. After the Drug Enforcement Administration was formed in July 1973, Conein became chief of a special operations unit that in 1975 was investigated by the U.S. Senate for the dubious distinction of assassinating drug lords.
The Pentagon Papers, Drugs, and Political Assassinations
Today only questions remain. Why did Conein meet the Corsicans in 1965? Was the rumor of an assassination attempt on Ellsberg concocted to provide Conein with a plausible cover story for his “truce” with the drug smuggling Corsicans? If so, why does Ellsberg deny that his CIA comrades, Lansdale, Conein and Scotton, were involved in drug smuggling, as McCoy contends? And, finally, was McCoy deliberately led by Conein in a wide circle around the CIA’s unilateral drug smuggling operation?
Unless these questions are resolved, the truth about Watergate and the Pentagon Papers will continue to elude historians, and this quiet discrepancy will serve, like the TV movie based on Ellsberg’s autobiography, only to perpetuate the myths, mysteries, and half-truths that define American history–a history that hauntingly reflects standard CIA operating procedures.
DOUGLAS VALENTINE is the author of The Hotel Tacloban, The Phoenix Program, and TDY. His new book The Strength of the Wolf: the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1930-1968 will be published by Verso. Valentine was an investigator for Pepper on the King case in 1998-1999. For information about Valentine and his books and articles, please visit his website at www.douglasvalentine.com.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Valentine’s last article for CounterPunch was: An Act of State: the Assassination of Martin Luther King
1 Bart Barnes, The Washington Post, obituary section, 6 July 1998
Copyright 2003. DOUGLAS VALENTINE.