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Saint Colby and the Fifth Column

by J. Orlin Grabbe


When I first heard of William Colby's capsized canoe and disappearance near his place on the Wicomico River, I thought, "Well, maybe he won't be ragging on Jim Norman and me anymore." It was of course absurd that Norman and I had ever registered on Colby's radar screen in the first place. We were small fry: Norman was an unemployed journalist recently fired from Forbes Magazine, while I was rumored to be an ex-academic suffering a bad case of sunstroke.

Norman and I had met through the dead mediation of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster. In my peregrinations as a banking consultant, I had come across the fact of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) spying on domestic banking transactions, had thought this a bit too Big Brotherly for my tastes, and had written an essay entitled The End of Ordinary Money about the uses of the monetary system for surveillance. Jim Norman, a Senior editor at Forbes, had written about the same NSA covert project, pointing out that Vince Foster was one of its overseers on behalf of a Little Rock software firm. Norman's research pointed to another explosive issue, namely that at the time of Foster's death both Foster and Hillary Clinton were under counterintelligence investigation for selling U.S. secrets to the Israelis.

When Norman and I met in Reno, Nevada, I learned about one of his sources--the point man of a group called the Fifth Column. This person, Chuck Hayes, had a nice computer and could do some neat tricks with it-- things in some specific areas in which I was looking to educate myself. Hayes, meanwhile, had heard about my essay The End of Ordinary Money, which I had published on the Internet. Hayes, ex-CIA, got a copy from the CIA library, and liked it. Hayes and I hit it off right away, discovering an overlap of mutual interests.

For several years the Fifth Column had searched computer data bases, including foreign bank accounts, looking for evidence of political bribery, kickbacks, and related subversion of the U.S. Constitution and political process. They had uncovered the financial information concerning the Foster/Clinton espionage. They had also transferred millions of dollars from politically-related illegal accounts at off-shore banks in the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, and elsewhere to a holding account at the U.S. Federal Reserve.

Jim Norman wrote an article Fostergate for Forbes magazine about all this, an article which was cleared by the magazine's fact-checkers and lawyers, but at the last minute killed by Steve Forbes, through the urging of Caspar Weinberger, former Defense Secretary and Chairman of the Board of Forbes, Inc. I promised Norman that I would publicize his article through the Internet, and began a series on Vince Foster. The series also allowed me to raise the issues I had discussed in The End of Ordinary Money in a different way. The series generated a large Internet audience, including not only sympathizers to the cause of uncovering the cover-up, but also small coteries of others with counteragendas--including White House disinformation specialists, NSA email and usegroup monitors, and a myriad of others bent on establishing territorial rights to pieces of the story.

One example of the latter was Daniel Brandt, a researcher who made his living off the CIA by selling a database of undigested articles mostly critical of it. Brandt had identified "information warfare" as a new ploy to justify old intelligence budgets, and hence reports of the Fifth Column by Norman and me had to be part of this campaign. After all, Norman referred to Fifth Column members as "CIA hackers", and they were reported to be up to something good, so the story must be propaganda since everyone knew that organization never did anything worthwhile. Brandt then identified the ultimate source of all this "Fifth Column" disinformation as probably the "well-connected" Jack Wheeler, "a right-wing adventurer" and contributor to Strategic Investment (SI), whom I apparently gullibly believed. Neither my friend Wheeler nor I could think of any good reason why I would be getting information about computers or banking from Wheeler, but this theory apparently made sense to Brandt. (For the record, Wheeler is not "right-wing", whatever that is supposed to mean. He is philosophically a libertarian, although he was once head of Youth for Reagan, a conservative organization. Wheeler had come to admire Reagan when he heard a speech in which Reagan said, "There is no Left or Right. There is only Up or Down: Up toward liberty or Down toward tyranny." As far as connections, I assume Wheeler has a few, stemming from the time his grandfather was chief bodyguard to four successive U.S. Presidents--from Teddy Roosevelt to Warren Harding.)

But over at SI, Brandt's view was supported by William Colby, among others. I don't profess to know how much Colby was actually consulted with respect to SI editorial policy, but Colby was known to support the view that "Foster was killed but he wasn't a spy." (In Colby's own case, this view would be simply inverted: "Colby was a spy, but he wasn't killed.") Moreover, there was no Fifth Column and no high-level source would admit to having ever heard of this Chuck Hayes--hence Hayes was just another liar and huckster with a hidden agenda of his own. Colby, of course, knew very well who Hayes was, but had reasons to pretend otherwise. The most obvious one may relate to the circumstances by which Colby was removed as CIA director in 1977, an action in which Hayes was involved. But the more probable reason had to do with political turf, for it would become abundantly clear Colby was not in sympathy with the activities of the Fifth Column, as Colby himself had a little piece of the U. S. political process for sale.

SI relentless pursued the notion that the death of Vince Foster was not a suicide. It specialized in highlighting the ease by which the gaping holes in the official story could be exposed. But ultimately it could provide its readers no explanation for the continuance of the cover-up, because it initially rejected the true explanation: namely that at the time of his death Vince Foster was under counterintelligence investigation for selling U.S. secrets to Israel. Thus SI was not in a position to explain to its readers why the Whitewater Committee under Alfonse D'Amato would supposedly accept the Foster suicide verdict at face value. The simple explanation was that doing so allowed D'Amato to take on Bill Clinton through the Whitewater investigation without at the same time having to antagonize his constituents by pursuing a line of inquiry destined to expose a can of worms relating to Israel.

Yes, the Foster murder cover-up was an easy sham to see through. But no one wanted to bear the burden of doing so officially.

There were other people, naturally, who had different reasons for going along with this scenario of events, unrelated to issues of national security. British journalist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard would dump on the story by ludicrously claiming that a Swiss account number found on a paper from the trunk of Barry Seal's car (an account that turned out to have Caspar Weinberger's name attached to it) was really an aircraft number--thus providing one more reason not to believe those Jim Norman articles about plundered Swiss accounts. But then Evans-Pritchard had carried the information around for some time, in blissful ignorance of what he had. After all, the record from Seal was a series of letters--so how it could be a Swiss "numbered" account?

Meanwhile, William Colby told Washington journalist Sarah McClendon and others that Colin Powell would be the Republican nominee for President. But Colby wasn't able to subsequently explain Powell's failure to stand for office. After all, since the Fifth Column was a mythical entity, and the tales of political retirements inspired by financial disclosure was disinformation, then naturally the packets of financial information that were in fact delivered to Powell could have no bearing on Powell's political decisions. (The packets were said to have detailed millions of dollars of undeclared jewelry received from Kuwait, a stash of gold bars representing payoffs from military deals, and involvement in an arms network that does not hesitate to deal in proscribed products such as plutonium or to plunder U.S. military bases for goods in hot demand on the world market.)

But after Colby's death, how quickly he became Saint Colby. Rumors ran amuck. Since his death followed shortly on the heels of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's, surely a common hand was involved in both. Since Colby was the man who had revealed the CIA's family jewels in the 1977 congressional probe into intelligence activities, surely he was now dead for whistle-blowing of the same noble sort. Since Colby was an SI editor, and SI was a publication that relentlessly investigated the Vince Foster murder, surely Colby was a martyr to the cause of truth. Publications that had not heretofore acknowledged the existence of the Fifth Column now breathlessly reported that it "cannot be ruled out" that Colby was the head of it. The rush to deification was all quite nauseating.

Yes, there was definitely a Ron Brown connection, for at the time of Brown's death Colby was working with Brown in representing the interests of Vietnam to the U.S. This hardly shores up the argument for sainthood. Even those convinced a change in U.S. policy toward Vietnam is mandatory might wonder about the propriety of an ex-head of U.S. intelligence representing the interests of a foreign power. This is reinforced by the Brown association, since Brown himself reportedly asked Vietnam to deposit $700,000 in a bank account for his personal use as the quid pro quo for considering their requests for reconciliation.

Colby had made his reputation as head of the Vietnam-War era Phoenix project which had used computer data bases to track political "enemies" in Vietnam, many of whom were then targeted for assassination. The ruthlessness he showed there was not all that different from the ruthlessness he later showed toward ex-colleagues when it came time to cover his ass before congressional investigators. Colby's whistle- blowing was dictated by necessity, not choice.

Colby may have simply fallen out of his canoe and drowned. But if he was given a little nudge, one suspects he was out of line with respect to his foreign entanglements. And one seriously doubts the hands involved were the same as those involved in the death of Ron Brown. Ron Brown was after all (as I reported in Ron Brown's Loose Lips Seal His Fate) a threat to his business colleagues, and he met his fate as a result of a bomb triggered by a descending detonator aboard his plane. Information about the bomb on Brown's plane has already been released to British papers by MI6. Meanwhile, the damage control minions in the U.S. are desperately trying to see that the true story doesn't bleed back here overseas. Fat chance.

Unlike the Fifth Column, which has used information to expose political corruption, Colby was seemingly indifferent to the corrupt uses of information itself. In any event he wasn't around when the Fifth Column delivered a packet of information to Senator Bob Dole on Monday, May 13. On Wednesday, Dole then dramatically announced his resignation from the Senate to run full-time for President on a non-existent campaign budget, in the apparent presumption of a receiving a Republican nomination that will not come his way.

But don't be surprised if equally dramatic and convoluted decisions are announced by the Clintons in the near future.