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How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett

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On 6 February 1976, in his syndicated column in the New York Post, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Jack Anderson revealed to his readers that “the CIA once tried to bribe the Communist World’s most famous newsman, Wilfred Burchett, into defecting to the U.S. for $100,000.”

The attempted bribe happened in Korea in September 1953, during the talks to end the Korean war. In today’s money, the CIA’s $100,000 would be equivalent to $904,239.70 according to dollartimes.org. Why did the CIA try to buy my father, Australian journalist Wilfred Burchett in Korea in 1953? I don’t know. But I can guess…

My father confirmed the story in an article in The National Guardian (New York, Feb. 18, 1976). His answer to the offer, made by an American newsman on behalf of the CIA was “Nothing doing.”

I remember asking him in our home in Paris at the time: “Why didn’t you tell that story earlier? They accuse you of being a KGB agent, and now we learn that it was actually the CIA who wanted to buy you!”

His answer was: it would have been embarrassing and damaging to the reputation of the colleague who made the offer on behalf of the CIA.

In October 1974, my father appeared in the Supreme Court of New South Wales in Sydney. He was suing the editor of the Australian right-wing magazine Focus for defamation over an article which accused him of being a KGB agent. The allegations were based on the testimony of a former part-time KGB operative, Yuri Krotkov (aka George Karlin), who specialised in the sexual blackmail of foreign diplomats in Moscow. He defected to the UK in September 1963. In 1969, Krotkov/Karlin was called to testify before the US Senate Sub-Committee on Internal Security and named Jean-Paul Sartre, John Kenneth Galbraith, a number of distinguished diplomats and other personalities of being in the pay of the KGB. Among those named was Wilfred Burchett.

Wilfred Burchett had been a thorn in the US and Australian militaristic establishments ever since he blew the whistle on one of the greatest crimes against humanity: the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the long term effects of atomic radiation. He went on to report the talks to end the war in Korea from the North Korean- Chinese sides. And in 1969, when Krotkov/Karlin spun his tale, he was reporting the Vietnam War from the Hanoi-Viet Cong sides. He did it openly and publicly in articles and books published – and widely read – all over the world.

For the people sitting on the U.S. Senate Committee before which Krotkov/Karlin testified, the anti-war movement was a communist conspiracy orchestrated by Moscow. So to have one of the most prominent journalists reporting the war from “the other side” denounced as a KGB agent was a big bonus.

Australia’s right-wing Democratic Labour Party (DLP) scooped up the Burchett morsels from the Krotkov/Karlin testimony and published an article naming my father as a KGB agent in their monthly organ Focus. My father was advised to sue for defamation as non-action would be considered an admission of guilt. As he puts it in his Memoirs: he was in “a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation.”

To make a long and rather tedious story short, my father won and lost the defamation case. The jury found the article defamatory. It also found that it was a fair report of statements first made in the Australian Senate and therefore protected by Parliamentary privilege. Costs were awarded against my father. On appeal, the judges found that Wilfred Burchett had “suffered a substantial miscarriage of justice”, but ruled against a re-trial because of costs to the defendants. Thus to this day, Wilfred Burchett and the KGB remain synonymous Down Under, thanks to the diligence of certain Antipodean academics, news editors, journalists and assorted Cold Warriors, New Right ideologues and others. My uneducated, but reasonably well informed guess is that the whole thing was a cleverly set up legal trap into which my father fell. A classical case of red baiting from Senator Joseph McCarthy’s book of witch-hunting tricks.

Interestingly, apart from a recorded statement by former KGB agent and defector Krotkov/Karlin, the case was not fought over Wilfred Burchett’s alleged KGB connection, but over his role in Korea. He had been accused of fabricating the story that the US had waged biological warfare in Korea, that he had tortured Allied POWs to extract confessions and had brainwashed them. Former US POWs were flown from the US and joined a parade of former Australian military brass and POWs to testify to my father’s despicable conduct in Korea. After a two-week hearing, the judge addressed the council for the defence (the defamers):

You show me where there is any evidence on which the jury could find that it was true that he [Burchett] applied to become a member of the KGB, and then became one; that he was put on the pay-roll, that he indulged in espionage for the KGB… It seems to me that all these matters cannot go.”[1]

The judge advised the defense they would be better off pleading parliamentary privilege and that the defamatory article was “fair and accurate report of parliamentary proceedings.” Two questions were eventually put to the jury.

Was the article defamatory? The jury answered, yes.

Was the article a fair report of Senate proceedings? Yes.

Therefore the slander was protected by Parliamentary Privilege.

Costs were afforded against the plaintiff, Wilfred Burchett.

As my father writes in his Memoirs “I was expected to pay for the hanging procedure and even the weaving of the rope.” The Memoirs end on a bitter note “Thus, as far as Australian law and the press were concerned, the heretic Burchett was burned at the stake after all!”

There’s an interesting collection of documents on WikiLeaks that pertain to the case.

They are diplomatic cables from the U.S. Embassy in Canberra to the Department of State/Secretary of State in Washington. They are part of some 1.7 million official documents collectively known as “The Kissinger Cables”.

The first directly relating to Wilfred Burchett in order of appearance on the WikiLeaks site reads:

DEFAMATION SUIT BY WILFRED BURCHETT AGAINST DLP SECRETARY, SENATOR JOHN KANE:

…  MAIN ISSUES LIKELY TO COME UP AT TRIAL ARE RE-HASH OF OLD “GERM WARFARE” CHARGES AGAINST U.S. IN KOREA AND ALLEGATIONS MADE BEFORE U.S. CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE THAT BURCHETT WAS KGB OFFICER. NO PARTICULAR ACTION FOR U.S. TO TAKE, AS SUIT NOW IN HANDS OF COURT. WE MAY WELL FACE MODERN AUTO DA FE IN WHICH U.S. COULD BE “CONVICTED” OF “GERM WARFARE IN KOREA” WITH PROPAGANDA EVIDENCE FROM COLDEST DAYS OF THE COLD WAR…

… SUIT IS OF CONSIDERABLE INTEREST TO U.S. NOT ONLY IS SENATOR KANE AND DLP, WHO HAVE SUPPORTED MOST U.S. POLICIES IN EAST ASIA, DIRECTLY INVOLVED. DENIS WARNER, VETERAN MELBOURNE JOURNALIST WHO IS WELL AND FAVORABLY KNOWN TO EMBASSY, HAS MADE SIMILAR CHARGES AGAINST BURCHETT, ACCUSING HIM OF “TREASONABLE” CONDUCT DURING THE “GERM WARFARE CONFESSIONS” BY AMERICAN PRISONERS OF WAR IN KOREA… SUCCESSFUL SUIT BY BURCHETT WILL INEVITABLY BE REGARDED IN AUSTRALIA AND PERHAPS ELSEWHERE AS VINDICATION OF “GERM WARFARE” CHARGES…

… WARNER ALSO TELLS US THAT HE HAS EXCHANGED CORRESPONDENCE WITH SECRETARY KISSINGER ON BURCHETT AND THAT SECRETARY HAS BEEN “WONDERFULLY HELPFUL” IN PUTTING WARNER AND HIS LAWYERS IN TOUCH WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE PREPARING HIS DEFENSE IN SUIT SUBSEQUENT TO KANE TRIAL…[2]

A cable after the trial concluded informs:

WARNER (WHO WAS ELATED) SAID THAT TESTIMONY PROVIDED BY PAUL KNISS, UNITED AIRLINES CAPTAIN AND FORMER U.S. POW IN KOREA, HAD BEEN PARTICULARLY TELLING AT TRIAL. JUDGE, IN SUMMING UP CASE, REFERRED TO KNISS TESTIMONY AT LENGTH AS GOING LONG WAY IN DEMONSTRATING THAT GERM WARFARE IN KOREA WAS A MYTH… WARNER (WHO WOULD HIMSELF HAVE FACED SIMILAR DEFAMATION SUIT IF BURCHETT HAD WON) EXPRESSED HIS THANKS TO EMBASSY AND TO DEPARTMENT FOR EXTENSIVE ASSISTANCE IN OBTAINING BACKGROUND INFO ON ISSUES RELATED TO TRIAL.[3]

So the US Embassy in Canberra and the US State Department in Washington –  and no doubt many others – were nervous about “GERM WARFARE” and assisting the defendants in the Burchett vs. Kane defamation case. U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was personally involved and had been “wonderfully helpful”.

It is rather ironic that Henry Kissinger had invited my father to a breakfast meeting in the White House on 12 October 1971 to discuss Vietnam. Surely, he would have been informed of Wilfred Burchett’s KGB connection following the 1969 Krotkov/Karlin revelations before a U.S. Congressional Committee? One would think that an alleged KGB agent eating scrambled eggs with the U.S. Secretary of State in the White House, next to the Oval Office, would have posed a grave risk to the security of the United States of America. That meeting – initiated by Dr Kissinger – is mentioned with some anxiety in the cables:

ANY CHANCE GETTING REPLY CANBERRA’S 6969? BURCHETT NOW ON STAND AND USING ALLEGED MEETING WITH HAK [Henry Albert Kissinger]  TO SHOW HE WAS WORKING FOR PEACE WHILE BEING SLANDERED. UNDERSTAND PROBLEM WITH SECRETARY TRAVELLING BUT ANSWER URGENTLY REQUIRED AS TRIAL WILL PROBABLY CONCLUDE OCT. 30. EVEN NEGATIVE RESPONSE WOULD HELP DEFENSE BY KNOWING THEY WILL NOT HAVE US REPLY.

From Wilfred Burchett’s type notes of his meeting with Kissinger. National Library of Australia, Wilfred Burchett Papers

But let’s return to the September 1953 CIA attempt to bribe Wilfred Burchett. According to Jack Anderson, the idea originated with Maj. Gen. Blackshear Bryan, a top U.S. negotiator at Panmunjom, Korea. He discussed it with a newsman who was a U.S. intelligence officer during WWII. The newsman put it to the C.I.A. and a plan was hatched, including the $100,000 bribe to buy Burchett’s “life story”.

Which leaves me wondering what was the real story the U.S. military and the C.I.A. thought was worth almost a million bucks in today’s money?

The Kissinger cables suggest the U.S. State Department wasn’t too concerned with the Burchett-KGB allegations. But germ warfare made them very nervous. Wilfred Burchett was accused – and these accusations are repeated to this day – of fabricating the germ warfare “hoax” as part of a Chinese-North Korean propaganda campaign to discredit the U.S. and its Allies in Korea, of extracting confessions from captured U.S. airmen and brainwashing Allied POWs.

But then on 21 November 1977, in response to a hostile article in The New York Post, U.S. State Department spokesman, Hodding Carter III, said: “Insofar as the allegations about the KGB activities [of Burchett] are concerned, to be perfectly candid, we do not have independent information on this subject. We know that we have seen Mr. Burchett enlist in one law suit in which he was successful against a man who raised the question of his alleged involvement in brainwashing and other activities… The Court found that Burchett had been defamed…”[4]

In 1974, the U.S. State Department, under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, assisted the defendants in a defamation case in Australia against my father, Wilfred Burchett. In 1977, in the first year of the Carter Administration, the U.S. State Department dismissed the allegations.

So, no KGB, no brainwashing and “other activities”. What’s left then, of the case against Wilfred Burchett, apart from the fact that he reported two U.S. wars, Korea and Vietnam, from the “enemy” or “communist” side?

I believe Errol Morris’ superb documentary series Wormwood provides an answer. As do the Kissinger Cables.  And the answer is: germ warfare, one of the darkest secrets of the Cold War and the Korean War.

Wormwood investigates the death by defenestration or, as the investigation establishes, the assassination by the CIA of Frank Olson, a scientist working on a top secret  germ warfare program at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Frank Olson was convinced – and most likely knew for sure – that the U.S. was engaged in germ warfare in Korea.

On 28 November 1953, Frank Olson was thrown out a 13th floor window of the Statler Hotel in New York by CIA executioners to shut him up for good.

Two months earlier, in September 1953, the CIA offered Wilfred Burchett an almost one million dollar bribe in today’s money to switch sides in Korea.

The common thread in the two cases is Korea and bacteriological warfare.

Till the day he died, my father had no doubts that the United States carried out large scale experiments into delivery systems of bacteriological warfare. He had witnessed such an “experiment” on the ground in Korea.

Allegations of germ warfare in Korea are backed up by a substantial body of evidence collected by reputable scholars, reporters, investigators and others. It is refuted by scholars who claim it was a hoax concocted by the Soviets, Chinese and North Koreans.

The question is: does it matter? Does anyone care?

Eric Olson – son of Frank Olson, who was assassinated by the CIA because he knew too much and was tormented by that knowledge – cares. He spent his entire life trying to find out why his father plunged to his death. He got very close to the truth. But that truth, according to investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, is so secret that it can’t be revealed. (See my story in CounterPunch, 12 January 2018)

My father was vilified throughout most of his journalistic career as a communist propagandist, KGB agent, brainwasher, torturer etc. because he reported the truth about two wars in which the U.S. and  his own country, Australia, were involved. In 1953, the U.S. military and the CIA thought he was for sale. They were hoping to buy him and perhaps “turn” him or shut him up. But he was not for sale. And went on doing what his conscience and beliefs dictated him to do: report the truth as he saw it. In 1955, his passport disappeared and the Australian authorities refused to issue him one for 17 years. He was exiled from his country and his children, including me, were denied citizenship. If they were hoping he’d vanish for ever behind the Iron Curtain, they were wrong. He popped up on the Ho Chi Minh Trail with the Viet Cong and became one of the most influential journalists of the Vietnam War

He was reviled by war mongers and Cold War warriors for telling the truth. About Hiroshima, about Korea and about Vietnam. All scenes of terrible crimes against humanity: atomic bombs, napalm, chemical defoliants, mass civilian casualties, untold damage to every aspect of life. And yes, I have no doubt it about it, bacteriological warfare. That is, unleashing deadly bacteria, upon civilian populations. This is called evil. And that evil still lives among us. And it will live on, until it is exposed and eradicated. Like germs. And atomic weapons. And war in general.

See: Bug Offensive by Wilfred Burchett.

Notes.

[1] Memoirs of a Rebel Journalist, The Autobiography of Wilfred Burchett, UNSW Press, 2005, p 750

[2] Kissinger Cables, https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/1974CANBER06640_b.html

[3] Kissinger Cables https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/1974CANBER07196_b.html

[4] US State Department, Transcript of Daily News Briefing, 21 November 1977

 

 

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George Burchett is an artist who lives in Hanoi.

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