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Steal This Book: The Publishing Misadventures of a CIA Whistleblower

The decorated cold-warrior Air Force Colonel Leroy Fletcher Prouty would have turned 100 last June. Today few remember him, but those who do may recall him as an arch military intelligence insider who alerted the nation to the capture of reins of government by the intelligence establishment, from the Korean Conflict forward to this day. He served his country under five presidents, first as an Army Air officer who saw service in Africa, South Asia, and Japan in WWII, ending up an Air Force Major assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.[1] As Chief of Special Operations there, he coordinated CIA and military activities between JCS, directorates of the CIA, the National Security Council, and teams in the field. A key player, Prouty was privy to top-secret planning and policy documents and lists of CIA plants in civilian and military organizations, including CIA front companies. There was little he didn’t know about how the agency operated its clandestine operations and little anyone around him knew more about. His Rolodex must have been amazing.

But then, having retired with accolades in 1964 to work as a banker and now and then a bit of a fixer, he wrote a book exposing it all that ruffled a lot of institutional feathers. In almost unbearable detail, The Secret Team (Prentice-Hall 1973) detailed how from the get-go, Allen Dulles’ CIA insinuated itself into national institutions to become a driver of policies and armed interventions that few officials would or could resist. Both John F. and Robert F. Kennedy tried to rein in the agency and tragically failed. Prouty’s 1993 book, JFK: The CIA, Vietnam, and the Plot to Assassinate John F. Kennedy, served as grist for Oliver Stone’s film JFK by methodically piecing together evidence for an inside job that brought the president down.[2]

That book’s Epilog (inexplicably missing from the paperback version) contains some fairly juicy tidbits, assuming they weren’t fake news. In it, Prouty describes a meeting at a “Businessmen’s Club in Manhattan at which unnamed bankers and defense contractors were in an uproar over the rumor that JFK would decamp US forces from Vietnam:

An elderly member, who used to visit the Dulles family in their summer home on Henderson Bay, leaned over toward the center of that small group and almost in a whisper said that his boys had just completed a ten-year war in Vietnam. The total was in the thousands, and the cost ran into the billions of dollars. Then he looked around the group of old cronies and snarled, “That goddamn Kennedy bastard has been working all summer with some of Old Joe’s Irish Mafia and his favorite generals and they are planning every which way to get us out of Vietnam. This can’t happen. He’s got to go. Right now he’s a sure thing for reelection and then there is Bobby and after him Teddy. I tell you that Kennedy has got to go.”

But it was The Secret Team that most occasioned the ire of the intelligence establishment, especially for its workaday descriptions of the methods by which the CIA usurped power and leveraged authority to become a self-selected branch of the Executive and the military, using techniques borrowed from Machiavelli to J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI to get its way. Ineffectual attempts were immediately made to suppress the book, which was twice reprinted. More successful was the campaign to deep-six the second edition, a paperback put out in 1979 by Ballantine Books. Of the 100,000 printed, few remain available today, selling on Amazon for $342 and up. (Amazon sells used copies of the original hardback and a Kindle version of it for more reasonable amounts.)

That notwithstanding, thanks to the efforts of Prouty’s widow and acolyte Len Osanic (who runs The Col. L Fletcher Prouty Reference Site, from which part of this article was taken), the paperback was reissued in 2011 via SkyHorse Publishing, with a Foreword by Jesse Ventura. And, if the most recent version of TST you crave, eager reader, you needn’t bother to buy it. Go straightaway to a convenient, complete, and free Web edition that ratical.org, has cached for your inspection.

* * *

Prouty lived in Arlington Virginia, where he died at 84 and continues to occupy from Arlington National Cemetery. He was writing articles and giving interviews up until the end. Somehow I doubt he could have made it much past retirement without some protection from the inside, out of concern for his files and Rolodex if nothing else. His texts continue to exert influence despite concerted efforts to suppress them. In the Author’s Note from what would have been TST’s third edition (taken from ratical.org) he explains how he came to publish his book and how the suppression manifested itself:

After I had given the manuscript of the original draft of this book to my editor at Prentice- Hall, in 1972; and had received the galley proof of the first edition back from him, he called me to suggest that I keep it in a safe place at all times. He told me that his home had been broken into the night before, and he suspected it was an attempt to steal his copy of that galley proof. He said, “They didn’t get it. It was under the seat of the Volkswagon.”

A few days later a nationwide release by the well-known Washington columnist, Jack Anderson, appeared across the country, “Book Bares CIA’s Dirty Tricks”. In that column, Anderson reported that the CIA had contacted a well-known bookstore in Washington and asked one of the employees to see if he could get a copy of the galley from me, and agreed to pay him $500, if he did. I agreed to meet him at my home that evening.

I suspected his call, but invited him anyway. In the meantime I set up a tape recorder in the umbrella stand near my front door and arranged for it to turn on when I switched on the overhead on the front porch. With that arrangement, I recorded the whole visit including his final burst, “They promised me $500.00, if I got that galley proof.” I took that tape to Anderson, and it was the basis of his March 6, 1973 column. The underground attack didn’t quit there.

After excellent early sales of The Secret Team during which Prentice ­Hall printed three editions of the book, and it had received more than 100 favorable reviews, I was invited to meet Ian Ballantine, the founder of Ballantine Books. He told me that he liked the book and would publish 100,000 copies in paperback as soon as he could complete the deal with Prentice-Hall. Soon there were 100,000 paperbacks in bookstores all around the country.

Then one day a business associate in Seattle called to tell me that the bookstore next to his office building had had a window full of books the day before, and none the day of his call. They claimed they had never had the book. I called other associates around the country. I got the same story from all over the country. The paperback had vanished. At the same time I learned that Mr. Ballantine had sold his company. I travelled to New York to visit the new “Ballantine Books” president. He professed to know nothing about me, and my book. That was the end of that surge of publication. For some unknown reason Prentice-Hall was out of my book also. It became an extinct species.

Coincidental to that, I received a letter from a Member of Parliament in Canberra, Australia, who wrote that he had been in England recently visiting in the home of a friend who was a Member of the British Parliament. While there, he discovered The Secret Team on a coffee table and during odd hours had begun to read it.

Upon return to Canberra he sent his clerk to get him a copy of the book. Not finding it in the stores, the clerk had gone to the Customs Office where he learned that 3,500 copies of The Secret Team had arrived, and on that same date had been purchased by a Colonel from the Royal Australian Army. The book was dead everywhere.

The campaign to kill the book was nationwide and world-wide. It was removed from the Library of Congress and from College libraries as letters I received attested all too frequently.

That was twenty years ago. Today I have been asked to rewrite the book and bring it up to date. Those who have the book speak highly of it, and those who do not have it have been asking for it. With that incentive, I have begun from page one to bring it up to date and to provide information that I have learned since my first manuscript.

In the beginning, this book was based upon my unusual experience in the Pentagon during 1955-1964 and the concept of the book jtself was the outgrowth of a series of luncheon conversations, 1969-1970, with my friends Bob Myers, Publisher of the New Republic, Charlie Peters, founder of The Washington Monthly, and Ben Schemmer, editor and publisher of the Armed Forces Journal, and Derek Shearer. They were all experienced in the ways and games played in Washington, and they tagged my stories those of a “Secret Team.” This idea grew and was polished during many subsequent luncheons.

After my retirement from the Air Force, 1964, I moved from an office in the Joint Chiefs of Staff area of the Pentagon to become Manager of the Branch Bank on the Concourse of that great building. This was an interesting move for many reasons, not the least of which was that it kept me in business and social contact with many of the men I had met and worked with during my nine years of Air Force duties in that building. It kept me up-to-date with the old “fun-and-games” gang.

After graduating from the Graduate School of Banking, University of Wisconsin, I transfered to a bank in Washington where in the course of business I met Ben Schemmer. He needed a loan that would enable him to acquire the old Armed Forces Journal. During that business process I met two of Ben’s friends Bob Myers and Charlie Peters. We spent many most enjoyable business luncheons together. This is where “The Secret Team” emerged from a pattern of ideas to a manuscript.

As they heard my stories about my work with the CIA, and especially about the role of the military in support of the world-wide, clandestine operations of the CIA, they urged me to write about those fascinating nine years of a 23-year military career. During the Spring of 1970 I put an article together that we agreed to call “The Secret Team”, and Charlie Peters published it in the May 1970 issue of The Washington Monthly.

Before I had seen the published article myself, two editors of major publishers in New York called me and asked for appointments. I met with both, and agreed to accept the offer to write a book of the same name, and same concept of The Secret Team from Bram Cavin, Senior Editor with Prentice-Hall.

After all but finishing the manuscript, with my inexperienced typing of some 440 pages, I sat down to a Sunday breakfast on June 13, 1971 and saw the headlines of the New York Times with its publication of the “purloined” Pentagon Papers. [Any reader of the “Pentagon Papers” should be warned that although they were commissioned on June 17, 1967, by the Secretary of Defense as “the history of United States involvement in Vietnam from World War II [Sept 2, 1945] to the present” [1968], they are unreliable, inaccurate and marred by serious omissions. They are a contrived history, at best, even though they were written by a selected Task Force under Pentagon leadership.]

One of the first excerpts from those papers was a TOP SECRET document that I had worked on in late 1963. Then I found more of the same. With that, I knew that I could vastly improve what I had been writing by making use of that hoard of classified material that “Daniel Ellsberg had left on the doorstep of the Times,” and other papers. Up until that time I had deliberately avoided the use of some of my old records and copies of highly classified documents. The publication of the Pentagon Papers changed all that. They were now in the public domain. I decided to call my editor and tell him what we had with the “Pentagon Papers” and to ask for more time to re-write my manuscript. He agreed without hesitation. From that time on I began my “Doctorate” course in, a) book publishing and, b) book annihilation.

As we see, by some time in 1975 The Secret Team was extinct; but unlike the dinosaur and others, it did not even leave its footprints in the sands of time. There may be some forty to fifty thousand copies on private book shelves. A letter from a professor informed me that his department had ordered more than forty of the books to be kept on the shelves of his university library for assignment purposes. At the start of the new school year his students reported that the books were not on the shelves and the registry cards were not in the master file. The librarians informed them that the book did not exist.

With that letter in mind, I dropped into the Library of Congress to see if The Secret Team was on the shelves where I had seen it earlier. It was not, and it was not even in that library’s master file. It is now an official non-book.

I was a writer whose book had been cancelled by a major publisher and a major paperback publisher under the persuasive hand of the CIA. Now, after more than twenty years the flames of censorship still sweep across the land. Despite that, here we go again with a new revised edition of The Secret Team.

One last caveat. Don’t expect to learn anything new on Wikipedia. His page has been repeatedly doctored to remove any reference to prouty.org and cast him as an unreliable source. Even in his serviceman’s grave, the longwinded Leroy Fletcher Prouty continues to be cashiered, but still heard.

Notes.

[1] Leroy Fletcher Prouty (January 24, 1917 – June 5, 2001) was Chief of Special Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President John F. Kennedy in 1962-63. Prouty earned the position after nearly ten years in the Pentagon providing military support to CIA clandestine operations. Prouty was awarded the Legion of Merit for his efforts, and after his retirement in 1964 was further awarded a Joint Chiefs of Staff Commendation Medal by General Maxwell Taylor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In the 1970s, Prouty became a writer and historical commentator, focusing on Cold War history, the activities of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Kennedy assassination. The character “X” in Oliver Stone’s 1991 movie JFK was based largely on Prouty, who acted as a consultant on the film. (From proutypedia.)

[2] Conservative Marquette University Associate Professor of Political Science John McAdams (currently suspended for criticizing a graduate assistant on his blog for abridging a homophobic student’s First Amendment rights by preventing him from speaking in class) vociferously disagrees with Prouty and other JFK assassination conspiracy theorists on his (Marquette) site Kennedy Assassination Home Page. See its subpage labeling Prouty as an “All-Purpose Conspiracy Expert.” Yet, McAdams takes the assessment of Prouty (that he has a “wacky imagination”) by General and regime-change expert Edward Lansdale at face value. Prouty asserts that Lansdale was present at Dealy Plaza at the moment JFK was killed and had unaccountably billeted Prouty to Antarctica at the time to chaperone a party of VIPs.

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Geoff Dutton is an ex-geek turned writer and editor. He hails from Boston and writes about whatever distortions of reality strike his fancy. Currently, he’s pedaling a novel chronicling the lives and times of members of a cell of terrorists in Europe, completing a collection of essays on high technology delusions, and can be found barking at Progressive Pilgrim Review.

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