Tag Archives: East Germany

The death of an Italian archaeologist who knew so many 20th century secrets

Maurizio Tosi, highly-regarded archaeologist

My shoulder in 1991 - pulverised in two places

Uncovering the past: my shoulder was pulverised in two places

In 1995 I wrote the autobiography of comedian Malcolm Hardee.

‘Ghosted’ seems such a strange word to use.

In 1997/1998 I almost wrote the autobiography of someone else: an Italian archaeologist.

His opinion was that archaeology and biography were very similar: both involved uncovering the past from fragments and sometimes having to simply guess what had really happened. Sometimes, he suggested, it is even the same with autobiographies.

Yesterday morning, I woke up with a pain in my lower back and hips and upper legs. I was hit by a truck in 1991. One long-term effect it has had on me is that the bottom of my spine is slightly damaged. The bones occasionally go slightly ‘out of alignment. What usually happens is that I get a pain on one or other side of my hips and, as it mends, the pain moves round my waist and ends up at the bottom of the spine – where the real trouble lies – and then it goes away.

Initially, the problem is perceived to be somewhere it is not. Normally it takes about three nights of sleeping on the floor for the pain to go away.

This morning, at around 02.30am, I was lying on my bedroom floor unable to get to sleep because I could find no position to lie in that did not give me an awkward nerve-end-tingling pain.

For no particular reason at all – except that it came into my head – I decided to Google the phrase Maurizio Tosi death and this came up

The obituary of Maurizio Tosi which I Googled

The obituary of Maurizio Tosi which I stumbled on

MAURIZIO TOSI (1944-2017) 

February 26th, 2017 

“A leading figure in Italian archaeology and Co-Director of the Italy Oman international research program studying the beginnings of navigation and long-distance trade in the Indian Ocean died at the age of 72 yesterday in Ravenna, Italy. The cremation ceremony will take place at Ravenna on this next Monday at 3.30 pm. Friend and colleagues are organizing a commemoration in Ravenna on March 5th at 3 pm.”

I had not thought about him for years. Today is Wednesday. It would seem he died on Saturday with his funeral two days ago and I haven’t thought about him for years. Strange that I looked him up.

We were both fascinated by Shelley’s poem Ozymandias which ends:

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

I never wrote Maurizio Tosi’s autobiography.

I had met him by accident at Ashgabat airport when we were both leaving Turkmenistan in 1995.

In 1997, in London and in Rome, we discussed the background to his autobiography.

In 1998, I travelled to Italy again to chat to him in Rome, Sienna, Bologna, Ravenna, Milan and on the island of Pantelleria.

Eventually, the project fell through because he tried to financially screw a friend of mine. His attitude to honesty was as variable as the wind in the deserts he often professionally frequented. He was a highly troubled man but also highly intelligent. Or, at least, well-read.

A younger Maurizio Tosi in one of the deserts he frequented

A younger Maurizio Tosi in one of the deserts he frequented

There were nine drafts of the book, some in the first person; some in the third; some in a mixture of both.

The book’s title was to have been Traveller.

When we had first discussed the idea of the book, he had e-mailed me:

“In archaeology, in history and in politics, the mistake that’s often made is looking at effects, not at primary causes. If you want to know why something developed, you have to look back in time before it existed: at what caused it to exist and develop in the way it did. It is the same with people and the same with me.”

Since childhood, he told me, the mind inside his skull had always felt it was in a darkened cave, looking out – frightened – at a world it did not understand.

When I had first suggested the title Traveller for his autobiography, he had reacted in a characteristically OTT way.

“Yes! yes!” he had cried dramatically (in an e-mail). “Traveller! It has so much meaning! I travel through time. I travel through different lands. I travel to escape from reality. I travel because the day-to-day details of everyday life are a problem for me. They always have been. It is all the little things that drive me to distraction – bills, banks, mortgages, paperwork, bureaucracy. I can’t live alone, but I can’t stay faithful to any woman with whom I live. I want stability, but I get bored by it when I have it. Traveller is the ideal title! It is so symbolic!”

It was like listening to someone impersonate an Italian.

“And you are also a fellow traveller,” I said.

One key point in his life had been in 1967.

Le Monde 2013 - Maurizio Tosi, archaeologist and ex-spy Advisor to the Sultan of Oman, the Italian palaeoethnologist was also an intelligence officer of the Soviet bloc.

2013 Le Monde article on “Maurizio Tosi, the archaeologist & ex-spy”

He was in communist East Germany when the Cold War between the Soviets and the West was at its height. Most of the people he had worked with in his Soviet-backed Network had already been caught – they had ‘disappeared’ – some had been captured by the West, some had been disposed of by the East. He was the last one left of those he knew.

He told me he had been in West Berlin and had been asked to deliver an envelope to a town in East Germany. He knew the envelope contained microfilm, because he had made the same delivery before. He had no overnight visa for East Germany, so he had to get a train back to East Berlin by 11.00pm and return through the Friedrichstrasse security checkpoint into West Berlin before midnight, otherwise he was in trouble.

He told me: “East German Security was separate from the police. Everything was separate. Everything was chaotic. There were so many different agencies all working separately from each other – sometimes in competition with each other. I didn’t have full coverage. It wasn’t as if I was officially working for the East German secret service. I was working for the Network but the complete implications of that were uncertain. I knew my network was handled by part of a section of East Germany’s security system and was linked to the Soviet Union, but things had changed. Everything had changed that year.

Erich Apel

The East German politician Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’

“When the East German ‘Planning Minister’ Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’ in 1965… when Apel was made to die in 1965… it sent a signal to all marginal people like me. Apel had been one of the masterminds and controllers of our subversion operation and when it was said he ‘shot himself due to depression’ it was clear something was changing very fundamentally.

“Our entire project of undermining and fighting American power in the Third World – and ultimately in Europe – was falling apart. Ché Guevara had already – and very clearly – been abandoned in Bolivia.”

Maurizio Tosi had been part of a network run by the East Germans for the Soviet Union. He had been trained partly in Europe, partly in Cuba, partly in South America. His job as an archaeologist meant that he could legitimately be in ‘fringe’ areas – Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. He was in Afghanistan when the Soviet tanks rolled in.

When we talked, it was mostly on tape.

“I dislike lies,” I warned him, early on.

“But ambiguity?” he had asked.

“Ah,” I replied slowly. “I’m fascinated by ambiguity. And by…..”

“Me too,” he had interrupted.

“…..and by amoral characters,” I had completed.

Maurizio Tosi in his office in 1998

Maurizio Tosi in his 1998 office was “fascinated by ambiguity”

During one of our chats he told me, as we sat in his book-lined room in Rome: “One of the most famous legends of Central Asia tells of a horseman. The horseman is the standard-bearer of the great Khan. As the Khan’s army are entering a city after a glorious victory, the standard-bearer sees a dark lady looking at him. The dark lady has fearsome eyes, as if she is looking right inside him. He becomes scared that this woman is a witch and she has put the Evil Eye on him, so he goes to the great Khan and tells him his fears and says he wants to go to another city.

Of course! says the great Khan. Give him the finest horse we have! Let him escape!

“So the standard-bearer takes the fastest horse in the Great Khan’s army, rides off across the desert and, in record time, arrives at the other city. Then he sees the dark lady standing by the city gates, waiting for him. She looks at him, smiles and says:

I was so worried. I knew I was due to meet you here today but, when I saw you in that other city so very far away, I was worried that you would not reach here in time for our appointment.

“And the standard-bearer realises that the dark lady with the eyes that look right inside him is Death. I always feel I am running like the standard bearer,  that there is never enough time and I know I will never complete what I should do.”

RIP Maurizio Tosi (1944-2017)

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Nudity among the English, the East Germans, art colleges and comedians

Matt Roper chatted to my eternally-un-named-friend yesterday

Matt chatted to my eternally-un-named-friend yesterday

“What’s it like being naked on stage?” my eternally-un-named-friend asked my temporary lodger Matt Roper in my living room last night.

Matt is performing with the Greatest Show on Legs in Totnes, Devon, next Friday night. This inevitably involves performing the naked balloon dance.

“You’ve just got to get on with it really,” replied Matt. “there’s no time to consider being nervous or not nervous: you’ve got to go on and do it. I think it’s a great honour to be naked on stage with nothing but a balloon and your socks on as part of Martin Soan’s Greatest Show on Legs.”

“I’m just going to urinate,” I said and went upstairs to the toilet. My iPhone kept recording.

Martin Soan chats to an audience member after last night’s show

Martin Soan stands around naked

“Martin is quite used to being naked,” my eternally-un-named-friend told Matt after I had left. “He’s done this sort of show a lot, so he ends up just standing around almost forgetting he IS naked. In my family, we were very familiar with walking around naked in the house. John’s family was not.”

“My family was not a nudie house at all,” said Matt.

“You didn’t sit and chat to your sister while she was in the bath?” asked my eternally-un-named-friend.

“We probably did when we were all little,” said Matt. “I was by far the youngest. At what point does it stop?”

“In Germany,” said my eternally-un-named-friend, there’s a park in Munich where everyone’s naked.”

“And,” said Matt, “when the East German state was in existence, nude beaches and nude life was a big part of the state culture, because you can have equality when everybody’s naked.”

“But in England,” said my eternally-un-named-friend, “it’s not acceptable at all.”

Matt Roper, Alex Frackleton and Czech friend

Matt (left) is not un-used to oddity

“Maybe I’m a little bit different,” said Matt, “because I’ve been so much submerged into alternative culture with Totnes and all of that. And nudity isn’t a big deal at festivals. Being naked and drunk at festivals, covered in mud.”

At this point I came back in the room.

“John doesn’t walk naked around the house at all,” said Matt.

“Ye Gods,” I said. “What have I missed?”

“Martin,” said Matt, “is in better shape than all of us in the Greatest Show on Legs and he’s the oldest.”

“It’s his lentils,” said my eternally-un-named-friend.

“Is that what you call them?” I asked.

“They’re keeping him fit and regular,” continued my eternally-un-named-friend. “And he doesn’t have a sweet tooth.”

“No,” said Matt, “ but he smokes and drinks and…”

“It just goes to show what poison sugar is,” said my eternally-un-named-friend. “He’s been here at John’s and you bring out the chocolate and he doesn’t touch it.”

“Martin,” said Matt, “banned sweets for his two daughters when they were growing up. I think he used to let them have sweets or chocolate on a Saturday. His daughters thought that sweets were illegal except on a Saturday. I grew up on all sorts of shite. Lots of E numbers and crisps.”

My eternally-un-named friend in Nuremberg

My eternally-un-named-friend has been a life model

“Did you mention you were a life model,” I asked my eternally-un-named-friend.

“I was sort-of comfortable about it,” she explained, “except I wanted to be actually drawing instead of being the model. And keeping still is a real drag.”

“For how long?” asked Matt.

“Possibly a half hour. But within ten minutes you’re in agony. You can’t find a position to stay in that’s comfortable unless you’re flat on your back.”

“I’m saying nothing,” I said.

“Where was this?” asked Matt.

Goldsmiths and other arts colleges.”

“Were you happy with the results?” asked Matt.

“No. They were just averagy.”

“How old were you?” I asked.

“In my early twenties.”

“How about naked balloons?” Matt asked. “Would you be comfortable with nudity for comedy purposes?”

“What? Me doing it?” asked my eternally-un-named-friend.

“Yes.”

The Greatest Show on Legs' balloon dance

A previous Greatest Show on Legs balloon dance

“I would not be comfortable with me doing something DRESSED for comedy purposes!” she laughed.

“The trouble with including a woman,” I said, “is that the balloon dance with the Greatest Show on Legs is asexual…”

“Yes,” said Matt. “That’s why we keep our socks on. There is something that de-sexualises it. Three naked men with their socks on.”

“I thought Martin should advertise socks,” said my eternally-un-named-friend. “I thought he could get sponsorship. He was wearing £30 spotted socks that his eldest daughter had got him when she was working at a posh men’s clothing company.”

Martin Soan earlier this week, naked on radio

Soan wore socks on Schaffer’s radio show

“On stage?” asked Matt.

“No,” said my eternally-un-named-friend. “He was on a Lewis Schaffer‘s radio show and he had decided to do it naked.”

“There was,” I said, “a Malcolm Hardee Awards Show I staged in Edinburgh where a woman comic told me she wanted to take part in the naked balloon dance and I thought about it but figured you couldn’t add a naked woman because it would become sexual and then, also, there’s a physical problem because she has three bits to hide with two balloons whereas a man only really has one bit.”

“Why would it be sexual if you added in a woman?” asked Matt.

“I dunno,” I said. “I just felt it would.”

“I saw a funny act,” said my eternally-un-named-friend, “where a woman had a balloon stuffed down her shorts and she was taking the piss out of the Ch… the Ch…”

“The Chechnyan freedom fighters?” I asked.

“The Chipperfields?” suggested my eternally-un-named-friend.

The Chippendales,” I said.

“Have you ever,” Matt asked my eternally-un-named-friend, “seen women at a male strip show: the way they behave?”

“Only on television,” she replied.

The Full Monty has a lot to answer for

The Full Monty movie has a lot to answer for

“Years ago, when I was eighteen,” said Matt, “I worked in a pub up north and they had a strip night in one of the rooms and I was on the bar and they were doing obscene things to the strippers.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Everything apart from full sex.”

“Oral?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Matt.

“This was just an ordinary pub?” I asked.

“Just an ordinary pub. I can’t remember what the occasion was. It could have been the Sandbach Ladies’ Darts Society.”

“Did they have erections?” asked my eternally-un-named-friend.

“The Sandbach Ladies’ Darts Society?”

“No. The guys.”

“Yes. But they kind of go out and, I guess ‘fluff’ themselves and then tie it up with an elastic band to keep the blood…”

New Legs (left to right) Adam Taffler, Matt Roper, Martin Soan use sanitised rubber bands

Greatest Show on Legs demonstrate one use for rubber bands

“Oh gawd!” said my eternally-un-named-friend.

“…to make it look erect,” continued Matt, “when it’s perhaps not naturally erect.”

“Tying it with an elastic band?” said my eternally-un-named-friend.

“I think that’s pretty common,” said Matt.

“Well,” I said, “the Greatest Show of Legs always carry elastic bands for their Michael Jackson’s Thriller routine…”

“Which brings us back to Totnes,” said Matt.

“Are you the permanent third member of the Greatest Show on Legs?” I asked. “After the second we can’t mention.”

“I think it will probably have a rotating cast of members.”

“You will be rotating members?” I asked.

“Let’s talk about Totnes on Friday 21st,” said Matt. “The naked balloon dance is coming home. It was invented in Totnes. And (Matt’s on-stage character) Wilfredo, too, was invented in Totnes.”

“Both?” I asked.

“It is a fantastic place to live,” said Matt, “and it’s full of very creative, interesting people – a nice community – but there’s a very precious, almost slightly pretentious side to its attitude to art or artists’ attitude to their own art.”

“You don’t want to be quoted saying that,” I suggested.

“I’m quite comfortable saying it,” said Matt. “Martin and Malcolm (Hardee) had come across a group of militant feminists who were having a weekly meeting about how to wipe out Chinese foot-binding.”

“I think,” said my eternally-un-named-friend, “that John wrote about it in a blog.”

“I might have done,” I said. “I don’t read my blogs.”

“So they just created the balloon dance,” said Matt, “as a kind of statement.”

Wilfredo comforts Copstick (with her damaged left arm) by tickling her chin

Wilfredo seduces comedy critic Kate Copstick

“And,” my eternally-un-named-friend asked Matt, “you created Wilfredo because…?”

“I was sick and tired of how seriously people were taking themselves and…”

“Keep talking,” I said, “I’m watching the penguin…”

The John Lewis Christmas ad was on TV.

“I’m watching the penguin too,” said Matt.

I switched off my iPhone and we watched the penguin.

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Russian & Soviet sleeper agents in Western Europe and the death of Ché Guevara

British newspapers are getting their knickers in a twist over Katia Zatuliveter who was working as a Parliamentary Assistant and Researcher for Mike Hancock, the Liberal Democrat MP who is currently on police bail over an alleged indecent assault against a female constituent; he also sits on the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Russia as well as the House of Commons Defence Select Committee. The Security Service aka MI5 apparently reckon Katia Zatuliveter is a Russian agent. Stranger things have happened.

WikiLeaks have also recently released documents claiming modern-day Russia is, in effect, run by the Russian Mafia.

In 1995, when I was in Turkmenistan, I met and later almost wrote the biography/autobiography of a man who had been a Soviet ‘sleeper’ agent working in South America and Western Europe during the Cold War. He had been part of a network of agents run on behalf of the Soviets by East Germany’s ‘Economic Planning Minister’ Erich Apel. But then something happened and, in this extract from tape recordings, he tells what happened to him one dark night in East Germany back in 1967, when cracks were starting to appear in the Soviet Union…

*** *** ***

It was all falling apart. Ché Guevara was abandoned on his operation in Bolivia in 1966/1967 and then killed by the Americans. Between 1965 and 1968 – between the ousting of Khrushchev and the attack on Prague – the Soviet Union was closing itself in and creating a big, expensive conventional army and a shadow economy. It was closing down its destabilising operation around the world.

By 1967, most of the people I had worked with in the Soviet-backed Network had already been caught – they had ‘disappeared’ – some had been captured by the West, some had been disposed of by the East. I was the last one left of those I knew. I was in West Berlin and had been asked to deliver an envelope to a town in East Germany. I knew the envelope contained microfilm, because I had made the same delivery before. I had no overnight visa for East Germany, so I had to get a train back to East Berlin by 11.00pm and return through the Friedrichstrasse security checkpoint into West Berlin before midnight, otherwise I was in trouble.

East German Security was separate from the police. Everything was separate. Everything was chaotic. There were so many different agencies all working separately from each other – sometimes in competition with each other. I didn’t have full coverage. It wasn’t as if I was officially working for the East German secret service. I was working for the Network but the complete implications of that were uncertain. I knew my network was handled by part of a section of East Germany’s security system and was linked to the Soviet Union, but things had changed when Erich Apel ‘committed suicide’ in 1965.

When Apel was made to die in 1965, it sent a signal to all marginal people like me. Apel had been one of the masterminds and controllers of our subversion operation and when it was said he ‘shot himself due to depression’ it was clear something was changing very fundamentally. Our entire project of undermining and fighting American power in the Third World – and ultimately in Europe – was falling apart.

I took a metro to Friedrichstrasse, then a cab to another station. At about 3.30pm, I stepped into the very last carriage of a train, despite orders that I should board a carriage in the centre. The train arrived in the German town of Frankfurt an der Oder at about 4.30pm, when it was already getting dark. Because I was in the last carriage, I didn’t get out directly in front of the station building as ordered. Instead, I walked along the platform and discretely down the side of the station building. There were three men in expensive leather coats waiting inside the station; there was a black saloon car waiting behind the station with its engine running. I went silently back to the railway line and walked along the tracks away from the station.

Then the men came looking for me.

When they couldn’t find me, they sent for the soldiers – the VoPo.

I was an irregular; I was a Westerner. I was not supposed to be there. I had an envelope with microfilm showing heavens knows what. The soldiers started to close in on where I was hiding. There was a little passage for water under the railway tracks – something just a little bigger than a pipe. I pulled my dark sweater up to cover the white collars of my shirt. I crawled into the narrow little culvert and held myself up in the top of the passage by pressing my hands and feet against the vertical side walls. It was totally dark outside the culvert. I heard the boots of the soldiers coming closer on the stones by the railway track and I was terrified because, by then, I knew I had been sent by my Controller into a trap. My own side were going to catch, imprison, torture and possibly shoot me.

The muscles in my arms and legs were straining, I was aware of my own heart pounding. I saw an armed VoPo soldier come to the end of the darkened passage in which I was hiding. The VoPo man was outlined by the lights behind him. He held a sub machine-gun in his hands, wore an East German uniform and his dull metal helmet reflected no light. I was hiding about six feet into and up in the roof of the passage. The armed soldier squatted down and silently looked in, waiting until his eyes adjusted to the darkness. Then he saw me, took one step into the passage, looked me in the eyes, pointing his gun at me, and did something very strange. He took his machine-gun and turned it behind his back, which was a very dangerous thing for him to do. I could have been armed, although I was not. He took a few more steps into the passage, completely unprotected, and looked up into my face. We could see each other’s eyes and he said to me in German:

“I am your contact. I have the stuff.”

He gave me the password and, at first, I didn’t believe it.

I gave him the envelope with the microfilm in it.

“But who are you working for? I asked him.

“The other side,” he told me.

“What other side?”

“It’s neither of the two you’re thinking of. The Americans. The Brits.”

Even as early as 1966 or 1967 the Soviet system was disintegrating. They had started to fight each other within the system. There was money from oil, money from gas, blackmailing. The Red Army became more important than the networks…

Under Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union decided it no longer wanted to be leader of the Third World or to convert and subvert other countries to socialist ideologies. Nor to become the world’s industrial leader. What became important was to keep power internally by having a strong army – the biggest army and navy in the world – and to sell resources for hard currency. Russia is a country full of natural resources. Why bother becoming a rich industrial nation or risk giving power to the workers? With the profits from the sale of natural resources, the Soviet Union could buy industrial products from other countries. Better clothes, better cars. Give the people enough to keep them quiet and pocket most of the vast profits yourself.

Politicians under Brezhnev could become personally immensely rich by selling gold, oil and gas. The Party of the Russian People became the Party of the Russian Mafia. Under Brezhnev, the shadow economy became more important than the real economy. Eventually, it ruined the country.

To disguise the fact they had opted out of Third World subversion, they armed everyone they could. They sent huge stockpiles of weapons to Mozambique, Egypt, Nicaragua so that the locals could fight their own wars without involving the Russian Army or Soviet-backed irregulars run by the East Germans, Czechs or Cubans.

As part of this process, Ché Guevara was betrayed by the Russians in 1967.

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UFOs, toad-vomiting, the KGB, the CIA and Saddam Hussein’s gay marriage

I went to the first day of the Fortean Times‘ UnConvention at the University of Westminster today to see comedian Helen Keen’s hour long show It Is Rocket Science! which blends science, comedy and bizarre facts and unusually sat among even more bizarre fare. She was wildly enthusiastic, even by her high standards.

Fortean Times is the self-proclaimed ‘Journal of Strange Phenomena’ which non-readers assume concocts loony stories of crop circles, UFOs and conspiracy theories but which regular readers know casts a sceptical eye on anything strange and apparently inexplicable.

Presentations in today’s UnConvention included Ian Ridpath comprehensively demolishing the so-called Rendelesham Forest UFO Incident by going back to the original sources – US Air Force reports, UK police records and audio tapes actually recorded at the time – to reveal rational and arguably even mundane explanations of allegedly alien events which have escalated into OTT UFO myth – basically, he convincingly argued that the alleged ‘alien craft’ was a combination of a known falling fireball that night and a local lighthouse’s flashing light. It was an interesting dissection of how a myth gathers momentum.

As was Jan Bondeson’s talk on “The Bosom Serpent” – hundreds of years of stories of snakes, frogs and even a hen lurking inside people’s bodies. Jan, a senior lecturer and consultant rheumatologist at Cardiff University by day, came over as a cross between Dr Strangelove and Jimmy Carr with a droll line in dry humour. I was particularly impressed with his telling of the true tale of Catharina Geisslerin, the so-called Toad-Vomiting Woman of Altenburg, and how the cure for another historical figure’s frog-vomiting was to drink three pints of horse urine. Well, I guess that would cure you of complaining about anything else although the alternative remedies of luring snakes out of their lair in people’s stomachs by enticing them with sweet-smelling milk or cheese or even using an improvised fishing rod seem a tad easier.

Then there was Mark Pilkington on myth-making by the world’s Intelligence services and tales of how a Chinese lantern can become a time-travelling Nazi flying saucer and how Communist insurgents in the Philippines were routed by the CIA’s leaked fictional rumours of a winged vampire (something only topped by Helen Keen’s revelation in It Is Rocket Science! of American plans in World War II to attack mainland Japan using thousands of bats with miniature bombs attached to them).

Aside from Mark Pilkington’s tales of the KGB’s First Directorate and their successful plot to spread a false rumour that AIDs resulted from CIA plans to develop a genetic and/or ethnic weapon… and the Rand Corporation’s 1950 paper by Jean M.Hungerford on “The Exploitation of Superstitions for Purposes of Psychological Warfare”, I was particularly interested to hear that the US Government’s short-lived Psychological Strategy Board as long ago as the early 1950s had suggested using existing respected cultural organisations to spread stories.

In the 1990s, I knew a Western European who, during the Cold War, had been a deep cover sleeper agent for the Soviets. He had been ‘run’ via the East Germans. When he was caught by the Americans in Germany, they debriefed him in Washington, but not in any CIA or Defense Department building. He was instead debriefed by the CIA in the offices of a major international cultural magazine.

The most fascinating thing I learnt during today’s UnConvention, though, was about Generoso Pope Jnr, a man I had never heard of before. Formerly employed by the CIA’s psychological warfare unit and with links to the Mafia (his son’s godfather was mob boss Frank Costello), Generoso Pope Jnr bought the New York Enquirer in 1952 (allegedly with money from Costello) and re-named it the National Enquirer, spawning future stories which not only claimed that the existence of the Mafia was a myth concocted by the Communists but also, via its sister paper the Weekly World News, publishing stories of an alien face on the Moon, the dead Elvis Presley seen working in local grocery stores and a gay marriage between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden with the happy couple adopting a shaved ape baby named Robert, who posed as a human child.

Now THAT’s what I CALL a conspiracy theory!

And who would have thought either the Mafia or the CIA had a sense of humour?

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