Friday, January 4, 2008

The Big Con at Dealey Plaza


"President Kennedy’s assassination was the work of magicians," said Hevve Lemarr of French Intelligence. "It was a stage trick complete with actor’s accessories and props. And when the curtain fell the actors and even the scenery, disappeared. But the magicians were not illusionists, but professionals, artists in their own way."

It’s natural that well planned and executed covert operations are seen to be like magic tricks. That’s why covert operators are often called spooks.

The "spooks" we’ve come to know in the Great Game rank as power playing Knights, Bishops and Rooks. E. Howard Hunt was known as "Knight," and David Atlee Phillips, who was born on Oct. 31 – Halloween, was known to some as Mister "Bishop."

Then there’s Ed Lansdale, Frank Wisner, William Harvey, and George Joannides, now legends in their field. Each had covert aliases and code names to conceal their identities, or as the Cubans called them, "war names."

The use of aliases is only one attribute all covert intelligence operatives have in common. Other similar attributes include the use of post boxes, dead drops, safe houses, microdots, codes and ciphers, as well as standard trade crafts as outlined in Allen Dulles’ book "The Craft of Intelligence."

Of those who standout in the history of espionage during he Cold War - Phillips, Hunt and Lansdale, one thing they all had in common was they were trained in the arts of psychological warfare by a man they considered a legend among legends – Paul Linebarger.

Paul Linebarger’s lack of recognition is a testament to his success.

In his classes, often taught at night at his home, Linebarger didn’t just use his own book "Psychological Warfare," now recognized as a classic text on the subject, but had his students read David Maurer’s "The Big Con" for examples of how successful convert operations are planned and executed.

In the introduction to his book "Intelligence Wars – American Secret History From Hitler to Al Qaeda," Thomas Powers relates an interesting conversation he had with General William Odom at a party hosted by former CIA intelligence officer Haviland Smith.

Powers asked General Odom how the CIA could have uncovered and infiltrated Al Qaeda before 9/11.

General Odom, the former Army Chief of Staff and director of the National Security Agency said simply - "Like the Sting."

Like The Sting.

He was of course, referring to the popular, award winning film staring Robert Redford and Paul Newman, but was also giving away the secrets behind the magic, the secrets of the Big Confidence games.


The movie the Sting is based in part on Professor David Maurer’s "The Big Con," a study of street slang of the American confidence men of the early part of the last century. Maurer’s "The Big Con" was first published in 1940 and updated and republished later as "The American Confidence Man." The book began as a linguistic text on the slang and lingo of the grifters and confidence men, but became a manual on how the big confidence scams are played.

Maurer, a professor at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, wrote that, "My approach is simple. I determine who the good professionals are, secure their assistance, and work with them much the same as an anthropologist might work with an American Indian tribe he is studying."

"I have scrupulously refrained from passing any judgments with a moral bias. My only aim is to tell for the general reader, the story of American confidence men and confidence games, stripped of the romantic aura which commonly hovers over literature of the modern big-time criminal."

When Professor Maurer saw the movie "The Sting" when it first came out in the early 1970s, he felt like he was stung. Maurer recognized his story of The Big Con was the basis for the screenplay, without credit, authorization or restitution, and filed suit.

Eventually and reluctantly, the movie studio recognized and compensated Maurer before the case went to court. They could produce no other published work from anywhere that mentions Henry Gondorf, one of the movie’s protagonists (Played by Paul Newman), and a real life person and character in Maurer’s book. Gondorf, according to Maurer, was a bartender in and Big Con artist who set up "Big Stores" in the 1920s in Chicago, Atlantic City and New York, running the type of Big Cons portrayed in the film.

Unlike small con swindles, which usually take a sucker for whatever he has on him, the Big Con games bilked greedy and ripe victims for much larger sums, and depends upon actors performing a more complicated scheme as well as the cooperation of the local law enforcement.

Maurer defines a Big Store as "An establishment against which big-con men play their victims. For the wire and the pay-off, it is set up like a poolroom which takes race bets. For the rag, it is set up to resemble a broker’s office. Stores are set up with a careful attention to detail because they must seem bona fide. After each play, the store is taken down and all equipment stored away in charge of the manager."

Maurer, who interviewed many of Gondorf’s friends and fellow con-artists, explained that the purpose of the Big Con is to convince the Mark to deliver cash in a scheme that goes astray, with the Mark separated from his money but none the wiser to the real scheme. Big Con artists didn’t consider themselves thieves because their greedy targets really give them the money.

Everyone in the con, except the Mark, are actors, each having a name and a role to play. There is the Manager who sets up the store, the Roper, who is also known as "the Outside Man," who identifies the Mark, brings him to the store, and assists in fleecing him. The Mark is "a victim, or intended victim, someone with money from out of town. The local Dicks (Cops) are on the Take when the Fix is in, and paid off under the stipulation that local citizens wouldn’t be taken as Marks.

The Roper identifies and brings the Mark to the Inside Man, who Mauer identifies as "The member of a con mob who stays near the Big Store and receives the Mark whom the Roper brings. Inside men are highly specialized workers; they must have a superb knowledge of psychology to keep the mark under perfect control during the days or weeks while he is being fleeced."

When the deal goes down, everyone in the Store is part of the Sting except the Mark, who is given the convincer, then separated from his money and made to feel like its good that he got out without getting killed or arrested. After the best Stings, the Mark doesn’t even realize what really happened.

When General Odom told Powers that counter-intelligence agents operate "like the Sting," he meant that the best covert operations are conducted very much like the Big Con confidence schemes, as Paul Linebarger taught them.


It’s not even that surprising that General Odom would use the Sting as an example of how the crafts of intelligence works best, mainly because the best black artists in the CIA during the Cold War were trained by Professor Paul M. A. Linebarger (July 1913-1966), whose book on Psychological Warfare and Propaganda (Combat Forces Press, 1948; 1954) is the classic textbook on the subject.

Besides being professor of Asiatic Studies at John Hopkins, Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger was also a part time professor at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a transparent front for a CIA think tank. It wasn’t until after his death that Linebarger was exposed as being science fiction writer Cordwainer Smith, and that he had worked with E. Howard Hunt in Mexico City.

Those CIA recruits who were invited to take Linebarger’s SAIS classes, which he taught at his home at night, were required to use trade-craft in avoiding detection to get there so as to avoid being followed.

Among Linebarger’s students were E. Howard Hunt, David Atlee Phillips and Ed Lansdale, three of the most prolific covert operators during the Cold War.

When Paul Linebarger gave his lectures to young CIA officers, he warned them that these techniques should never be used domestically, or it would totally destroy our form of democracy. Well those techniques were used in the assassination of President Kennedy, and are being used today, and democracy has never been the same.

Another Big Store front in the assassination drama, besides Zenith Technical Services at JM/WAVE and the TSBD itself, was the President’s Suite at the Fort Worth hotel the night before the assassination. It was decorated with exquisite works of original art supplied by a friend of Ruth Paine from Philadelphia, a coincidental fact we would not even know had the President’s not called to thank her, his last phone call on this earth.

That the accused assassin worked at the scene of murder should not be surprising, especially if the Big Con techniques were used as suspected. Other accomplices probably worked there too. That the building, the Texas School Book Depository (TSBD) was owned by D.H. Byrd, the founder of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), should not be surprising either. Byrd was a close associate of many of those who benefited from the Dealey Plaza Sting – General Curis LeMay, Gen. Cabel and Art Collins.

Besides the Big Con that was Dealey Plaza and the Big Store that was the TSBD, there was Zenith Technical Enterprises, the false front for JM/WAVE, where the evidennce from Dealey Plaza and Oak Cliff lead back to.

As described by former Army officer Bradley E. Ayers, assigned there to train the Cuban commandos, JM/WAVE was set up like a con-artists’ Big Store. "…The Miami headquarters was covered under a civilian corporation known as Zenith Technical Enterprises. The station, or ‘company,’ was located on the University of Miami’s South Campus, adjacent to the abandoned Richmond Naval Air Station, which had been developed by the Navy during World War II as a dirigible base….They had missed no detail in setting up the false front of Zenith Technical Enterprises…a firm doing classified government research....There were phony sales and production charts on the walls and business licenses from the state and federal governments. A notice to salesmen, pinned near the door, advised them of the calling hours for various departments. The crowning touch was a certificate of award from the United Givers’ Fund to Zenith for outstanding participation in its annual fund drive."

Zenith Technical Services came complete with a front office, secretaries, photos and awards on the wall and a CEO, though in reality it was nothing more than a fake Hollywood wild west town façade.

"I was totally amazed that the cover branch was able to create new people, to change identities, appearances, credentials, passports, or whatever might be necessary for a specific mission," says Ayers. "Some agents had as many as three or four identities, each used for a different task. Characters and personalities materialized and disappeared as if by magic. I came away from the cover branch with a disconcerting awareness. I had always assumed that people were who and what they said they were. Suddenly it seemed apparent that, at least in the CIA, any person could simply be playing a cover role. I resolved that I’d never again accept anyone at face value. I did not know then that my resolve would return to haunt me."

Nor is it a coincidence that the head of JM/WAVE’s maritime operations Gordon Campell introduced Ayers to his "Outside man," using the same slang and terminology as the con-men Maurer interviewed for his book.

Then after the assassination of JFK, which Ayers suspects was an operation connected to the Cuban ops he was working with at JM/WAVE, the "Outside Man" is mysteriously killed in Ayers' presence, and Gordon Campbell, Ayers later learns, officially died in 1962, both leaving Ayers holding the black bag.

As Hevve Lemarr of French Intelligence said, "President Kennedy's assassination was the work of magicians. It was a stage trick, complete with actor's accessories and props. And when the curtain fell, the actors and even the scenery, disappeared. But the magicians were not illusionists, but professionals, artists in their own way."

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