John Newman, General Odom and the Sting at Dealey Plaza
John Newman is a saint and champion among us not only because he teaches us how to read official documents, how to translate cryptic codes and ciphers, and breaks things down into understandable hypothesis, but for how he came to learn the secret crafts of intelligence himself.
Before becoming a distinguished university professor and yoga master, Newman served honorably as a military intelligence officer and analyst and for two years as assistant to General William Odom, who himself served as the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence (ACSI) and the National Security Agency (NSA), both of which are super secret national intelligence agencies.
Other than Newman’s past affiliation with Odom, the only other published reference to Odom that I am aware of are in Thomas Powers’ “Intelligence Wars” (2004, NY Review of Books), and they both give good instructions on military command and control as well as what makes a good covert intelligence operation.
One reference concerns Odom when he was the military assistant to President Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, and was informed, at three o’clock in the morning, that the Soviet Union had launched 220 missiles targeting the United States, while the other reference concerns how the intelligence officers adapted David Mauer’s Big Con “Sting” for covert operations.
In Powers’ “Intelligence Wars’ (p. 351) he writes: “It was in (a) climate of heightened fear and apprehension late in the Carter administration that the American nuclear command and control structure was upset by a series of false alarms – erroneous reports from technical systems that an attack was under way. In the most dramatic of these episodes the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), from its bomb-proof post deep beneath Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, informed Colonel (later General) William Odom, military assistant to Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brezezinski, that the Soviet Union had launched 220 missiles targeted on the United States.”
“Odom, at three o’clock in the morning, called Brzezinski, who prepared himself to notify the President in time for the U.S. to retaliate – that is, within three to seven minutes after the Soviet launch. Soon Odom called again to confirm the bad news, adding that the revised, now-correct number of attacking Soviet missiles was 2,200 – the long-dreaded, all-out, Pearl Harbor-style first strike intended to destroy American missiles in their silos. Brzezinski did not wake his wife, he was convinced everyone would soon be dead. But just before he was about to call President Carter, Odom called a third time to say it was all a mistake – someone at NORAD had loaded the computer-controlled warning system with exercise tapes used for simulating war games. Nothing to worry about! Brzezinski went back to bed.”
I know a little bit about war games, as I have worked for the Army as a COB – Citizen On the Battlefield, often playing a bad guy with the Opposition Force – but the idea a nuclear war could be accidently started over a computer glitch is absolutely amazing.
Hollywood had fun with this story as they produced the fun movie “War Games,” but more series films have been made that make the same case – “Fail Safe,” “Dr. Strangelove – or How I Learned to Love the Bomb,” and “Seven Days in May,” all provide believable scenarios of potential catastrophe, sometimes averted.
The other Powers’ reference to General Odom in "Intelligence Wars" (p. xxxv) takes place at a cocktail party of intelligence officers.
As Powers relates it: “But old hands in the agent running business would not tell you….How they might go about it was described to me indirectly a few years back at the sixtieth birthday party for a retired intelligence officer named Haviland Smith.”
“Among the guests at Smith’s party,” Powers relates, “was General William Odom, who held two big intelligence jobs before retiring – first as the Army Chief of Staff for Intelligence (ACSI), followed by three years as director of the National Security Agency (NSA). I asked Odom at the birthday party how he met Smith, who had a very different sort of career.”
Powers: “Smith spent his working life in the CIA’s Directorate for Operations (previously called the Directorate for Plans), and he spent most of it in the field. He told me once that the work was hard but had its pleasures – for example, the sheer gut thrill of making a successful brush pass on the streets of Moscow while hawk-eyed KGB watchers were on every street corner trying to make it impossible. What Smith was trying to hand over, or retrieve, he did not tell me; that was classified. But he made no secret of the glow of triumph that came with success. Smith was a born operator, and Odom met him while seeking advice.”
Powers asked Odom how he came to meet (Haviland) Smith.
“When I was ACSI I talked to Haviland about my Army clan,” Odom told me. “It’s the endless problem – should the Army be trying to run agents at all?”
Of course the CIA is technically prohibited by its charter from operating within the United States, though it manages to skirt that law whenever it seems prudent. But the Army has no such restrictions, other than not engaging in police functions, and Army intelligence was used extensively during civil disturbances, especially civil rights, inter-city riots, in Memphis when MLK was killed, and whenever a national or regional emergency requires the Army’s mobilization. Even at Woodstock, the Army Reserves came though when the governor called it an emergency and they provided needed food, medical services and even a helicopter to shuttle the musicians to the stage so the show could go on.
The Army runs agents all over the world, and domestically, and no one seriously asks the question whether “should the Army be trying to run agents at all?”
But the other half of the question Odom asked Haviland Smith, “what makes a good case officer?”
“Haviland said, ‘Did you use that movie with Robert Redford and Paul Newman – The Sting?’”
“I said yes. He said, ‘That’s it – the con!”
Ah, yes, The Sting and the Big Con – which tells us that Haviland Smith took Paul Linebarger’s class in which he assigns his students to read David Mauer’s book “The Big Con,” which was adapted for the screen as “The Sting.”
David Mauer, a Kentucky linguistics professor, took up a study of slang, specifically slang used by confidence men who take pride in swindling rich marks without using violence or actually stealing it.
It was while compiling the unique slang of these confidence men that Mauer learned the art of the Big Con, as it is portrayed in the movie “The Sting,” which itself is one of the slang words that describes the moment the mark turns over the money to the inside man in the course of a Big Con swindle.
When Maurer saw the movie he immediately knew that the screenplay was based on his book, and he sued the producers. And while the screenwriters claimed they never read Mauer’s non-fictional book, they could provide no other source for the name “Gondorf,” a primary character based on a real person who was the best insideman in playing the Big Con. Mauer won the case.
And in following John Newman’s analysis of the Kennedy assassination, it is imperative that we adopt the same research technique employed by Mauer in his study – gain the confidence of the confidence men and get them to tell us the secrets of the Great Game that they were playing.
Instead of the street slang they developed to secretly communicate among themselves, we must learn the language, slang – argo used in the Great Game of intelligence and security – learn the differences between officers, agents, operatives and assets, the role of the cut-outs, codes, crypts and ciphers in order to read the documents that we now have, as they are all shrouded by those whose intent was to deceive.
As the French intelligence agent said, what happened at Dealey Plaza was like a magic trick – complete with smoke and mirrors, but once you understand how the magic trick works, how the Big Con is played, it isn’t so magical after all.
And for coming to understand this we have General Odom, Haviland Smith and Thomas Powers to thank for giving us “The Sting” and The Big Con as examples of how a good covert action is run and how a good case officer works. And we have John Newman to thank for explaining it all to us in a clear and concise language we can understand.
In his class on covert and clandestine crafts that Paul Linebarger taught, and used “The Big Con” as a textbook, he also told his students that these political cons should only be used against our overseas adversaries, and not used domestically, “or the whole system will fall apart.”
Well since Dealey Plaza, Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra and Russian/Wiki Leaks, - the whole system has fallen apart, though you would think that since we now know how the trick is played, we wouldn’t fall for it again, and again.