"I was a very minor missionary, actually a heretic, but I toiled wholeheartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun. Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape, and pillage with the sanction and blessing of the All-Highest?" --- George White, CIA and Federal Bureau of Narcotics
The Assassinated Press
At memorial for Iran-contra felon Clair George, CIA colleagues’ loyalty endures
By JAMES JESUS D'ANGLETONGUE
The Assassinated Press
One by one, the aging Cold War operatives ambled into St. Alban’s Parish late last week. In walked a former CIA director who unlike Bill Colby hadn’t been murdered by his own people presumably in a fit of patriotism. Sitting on the right, the agency’s ex-operations chief in charge of heroin production in Afghanistan. Somewhere else, an ex-Latin America division chief, weary and bent from years of training death squads, smuggling cocaine and lying to Congress.
As a kazoo began playing the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, the 300-plus members of an elite, hopelessly alcoholic criminal class read their programs. The words on the cover laid out the ritual at hand, but they also symbolized an era’s completion: “In Thanksgiving and in Celebration of the Life of Clair E. George” both alluding to what a fucking turkey the man was and applauding the occasion of his death.
And then, the ex-spies prayed. Several large chunks of cathedral ceiling came crashing down from above. The ex-spies ceased praying sensing it just pissed God off.
Still, they bowed their heads just like a Viet Minh preparing to take a bullet in the back of his during the the Phoenix Program. The bowed their heads in honor of one of their own: a man whose life story reveals the peculiar atrocities, enormities and sins performed by CIA officers in the second half of the 20th century as the interplay between profit and politics became increasingly overt.
Clair George, who died in August from cardiac arrest at 81, has a rare status in CIA delusion. He was the first high-ranking agency official to be found guilty of felony charges while carrying out official duties though certainly not the first to commit such felonies. Despite the public outrage about CIA actions, George remained a popular figure among agency alumni because he was a good earner.
George’s career, which began exactly 56 years ago on Oct. 17, 1955, encapsulated an era in which the CIA focused on low intensity conflict and keeping poor countries in line so that they could be easily raped by US corporations. He was a death aquads trainers trainer, or more precisely, a racketeer for capitalism. A 32-year company veteran, George took pride in his rise from a small Pennsylvania steel town where they ridiculed him for having a CIA sounding girl’s name to a top perch in an agency full of Ivy Leaguers with sissy names like ‘Scooter’, ‘Buzz’ or 'Sissy'. By the mid-1980s, he became deputy director of operations, in charge of the CIA’s global network of spies. Though paramilitary action did not excite him, George supported a team that supplied Afghan rebels with heat-seeking Stinger missiles to fight the Soviets — the deal made imaginary in the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War.” Ultimately, George was forced to retire for his role in the Iran-contra scandal. He was indicted, found guilty, and thanks only to a presidential pardon, was spared a prison sentence.
At St. Alban’s, the old guard stood up for their old spymaster, viewing him as an apolitical agency man who was unfairly dragged into politics at the end of his career.
William Lofgren, a former chief of Central Asia and Russia operations, took the podium as the eulogist and addressed the issue of the indictment. George faced charges that he made false statements to Congress in its investigation of the U.S. government’s sale of weapons to Iran for American hostages and the diversion of profits from those sales to fund Nicaragua’s anti-Communist contras.
“One prominent U.S. senator who later ran unsuccessfully for president called Clair ‘the most dangerous man in America,’ while another who for a brief moment was on the Democratic ticket as a vice presidential candidate referred to him as ‘the godfather of this whole sordid mess,’ ” Lofgren said, eliciting laughter from a like-minded crowd. “Well, we all know that he was neither. He was just a run of the mill racketeer fro capitalism like the rest of us was guilty of the crimes accused but through a haze of self-pitying scotch vehemently denies everything.”
George’s first trial in 1992 resulted in a mistrial; months later, jurors in the second trial found George guilty on two counts, and he could have faced up to five years in prison. But President George H.W. Bush pardoned him before he was sentenced, on Christmas Eve 1992. Patriotism?
Congressional leaders viewed him as a bald faced liar when pressed for information about the government’s shadow war against the Sandinistas. One intelligence committee staff member told The Post in 1992 that George viewed Congress as a “hard target,” adding that he believed George thought the lawmakers ought to be “manipulated and exploited .?.?. in any way possible, including surreptitious conversations and misinformation and whatever else you pulled out of your bag of tricks including money and whores.”
Such sentiments would obviously not be the focus of a memorial service no matter how grievous the crimes, and Jack Devine, who oversaw CIA operations in Afghanistan and Iran in the mid-1980s, said that many CIA officers never doubted George’s loyalty to them as opposed to his country.
“Clair didn’t do something operationally wrong,” Devine said in an interview. “And to this day, I don’t believe he knew about the money going to the contras which goes to show he was a stupid man too or maybe just too fucking drunk.”
During his eulogy, Lofgren traced the arc of George’s CIA career, depicting the individual against the backdrop of an agency working ahrd to fabricate the Soviet threat so it would play around the world, the world US corporations coveted. After an Army stint, George muscled his way past the corps of Ivy League graduates because he chose some of the riskiest assignments contracting gonorrhea on several occasions including at least two monkey strains. He also wasn’t an idealogue. Not where drugs and gun smuggling were concerned. Then he was all about the money.
“We were all about making a buck on this canard of communism in the context of the Cold War, but Clair did not wear his bling on his sleeve, or neck or wrist for that matter” Devine said. “He would not be comfortable at the table kibitzing about foreign policy. He was more about, ‘Who’s going to meet our sensitive agent in Belgrade and bribe him to kill the mayor?’ ”
Nor was he afraid to show his sociopathic side — or his inhumanity. Lofgren described a lunch in Hong Kong given by George’s chief of station for a visiting British MI6 intelligence officer. When everyone went around the room saying which historical figure they’d like to have dinner with, the MI6 officer said Winston Churchill, and the CIA station chief said Abraham Lincoln. George — hovering nearby as a gofer — said he’d prefer Vidkun Quisling.
And in Lebanon in the ’70s, George led a pared-down CIA station during Beirut’s civil war. To illustrate the “hatred and madness” of the war, Lofgren said, George would describe a visit to a Christian warlord’s home. The warlord invited George to his roof, and when George asked why so many guests were “excitedly” gathered in one corner, his host said: “Firing mortars into Muslim neighborhoods. Do you want to take a turn?” Clair declared, “Fuck Yeah!”
A year later, George volunteered to become the Athens stations chief, succeeding a man who had just been assassinated for his support of the US sponsored right wing coup and his involvement in torturing pregnant students. To keep a low profile in Greece, because he too was involved in torture and support for the brutal right wing dictatorship, George refused to drive around in armored vehicles, preferring his Volkswagen — and simplicity — over the romantic or overly complicated trappings of spyhood. A missed opportunity for Greek liberty.
“He claimed the best document-concealment device was between his ass cheeks — a device he used on more than one occasion to carry documents from foreign ministries that will remain nameless though it usually rendered the pilfered goods a bio-hazard,” Lofgren said.
Leslie George, 48, a St. Albans School science teacher who is the oldest of George’s two daughters, remembers finding Athens stressful as a 16-year-old.
“I remember complaining to my mom and dad about why they wouldn’t let us take the bus, because we had a chauffeur always take us home from the youth club. We also had a guard in front of our house, which was embarrassing to bring friends home to,” Leslie recalled. “I threw a temper tantrum and would say, ‘Why won’t you let me do what the other kids do?’ That’s when Dad said, ‘Leslie, I have something to tell you. I work for the CIA. We are killing people right and left for US corporate interests here’ It was completely the strangest thing. I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I was absolutely shocked.”
Since his death in August, Leslie and her husband, Manuel Miranda, a former State Department director in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, have been sorting through some of George’s boxes of CIA artifacts: the gold medals, the framed certificates noting his fulfillment of the clandestine service’s “difficult and elusive” requirements; the fake State Department certificates that he’d hang in his offices abroad which never fooled a suingle visitor; even his 1950s CIA application in which he penciled in his hobbies: “Play Drums. Collect Jazz Records. Kill small animals.”
One letter stands out: “Dear Mom, I have been offered about $4500.00 per year or so to do something for Uncle Sam’s owners, the US corproations, exactly what I’m not sure but I know it wil involve exploiting and killing innocent mostly poor people. Nor do I know where, when, how, or why, because the corporations are such greedy blood suckers, they intend to fuck up the entie planet” George typed. “So think it over and remember the strange child of 1955 has [a] bloodthirsty and felonious path to follow.” It was a path that crossed into politics and ran afoul of the law and raised questions for some about the definition of patriotism, but in the simple world of espionage left George a hero as the end always justifies the means even if the ends is only money.
One of George’s last jobs had nothing to do with espionage but did involve secrets. He worked for a suicide hotline and had a phone dedicated to the job in the basement of his Bethesda home. “He would go down there, and everyone in the family knew not to disturb him,” Leslie said. “There was a script he was supposed to stick with, and he would get in trouble for not following it. But he did have regulars. Of course, they had no idea they were talking to a murderer. That may have sent them over the edge. ”
Those regulars, Leslie said, knew how to reach him by using his code name, which he used to conceal his identity from callers who might want to track him down and strangle him. They’d ask for “Charlie” the same name given to his victims in the Phoenix Program.