In this exclusive interview with Andrew Kreig, author of Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters (Eagle View Books, June 2013), we discuss the findings behind his most recent research into President Obama’s contentious past, the current and historical impact of the intelligence services on American politics, and the Mitt Romney, Mormon-inspired presidency that might-have-been.
Boiling Frogs Post: Early on in Presidential Puppetry you talk about your visit to the National Archives with Wayne Madsen, a fellow investigative reporter, who showed you a New York Times article from 1977 asserting that Business International Corporation, President Obama's first job after graduating from Columbia University in 1983, was, at one point, a CIA front company. Did that discovery form the early inspiration for your book?
Andrew Kreig: Yes, it did. Wayne Madsen, the former Navy intelligence officer and national security analyst, took me over to the National Archives in February 2009 to show me how to look up de-classified documents, and like most people right at that time we thought we had a whole new big change from the Bush administration. In fact, I’m based right in downtown Washington, right across the street from the National Archives; the parade came right by my office on Pennsylvania Avenue in late January. So this was quite a jolt to see this New York Times article. It started the unraveling of mysteries that did result in the book, as you pointed out.
BFP: It’s interesting because, on the one hand, working for the CIA obviously doesn't automatically implicate a person. Your own mother, for example, would occasionally brief the agency as a globetrotting author/editor in the 1960s, and you also note that informants, in many cases, aren't always aware of what their research is really being used for in the first place. With that said, if a former intelligence asset winds up president of the United States one day, do you believe that that one aspect of his or her life is really grounds for throwing their entire biography into question?
AK: First, I’m going to try to be very neutral when you say “implicate” someone. That has a certain sense that it’s bad. I’m trying to be neutral in this reportage and say that my own mother, as you noted, was, out of a sense of patriotism, an asset, and many other people are working for government agencies both as a livelihood, but also out of a sense of patriotism, so it’s not positive or negative. It’s fact. That’s the way to approach it. But it’s an indication of a part of a biographical record. In my view, we spend a lot of time in the media and in the public consciousness paying attention to things that are far less important. For example, New York Daily News this week, and many other publications, are trying analyze the facial expressions of President Obama as he momentarily talked to a fellow leader at the Mandela funeral. And all of that stuff is almost nonsensical compared to whether his career may have been enabled by the Central Intelligence Agency. I don’t want to talk too long, but let me try to respond to the guts of your question. This document I found, it’s more of an indication leading to much greater research both of President Obama’s latter career, his previous career, and that of his family background. In fact, the story really develops even broader than that. The larger story is not just his job after he graduated from Columbia University. Most important is what his current policies are right now, but also this century’s history of utilizing the intelligence organizations to recruit assets and do their job.
BFP: A great deal of scholarship has been devoted to examining Obama's personal memoir, Dreams from My Father, not only scrutinizing the contents therein, but even calling into question the author's authenticity as the person who actually penned it to begin with. What sort of general thoughts do you have on this intriguing work of autobiography?
AK: The facts are rather obvious about what I think is most important. It doesn’t have footnotes. It uses composite characters. It doesn’t even have an index to make it easy to look up different parts. And this is from a former editor of the Harvard Law Review, and those of us who know something about law reviews [know] it’s incredibly detail-oriented work. The footnoting that goes into a law review is incredibly detailed and precise. And, to me, as a law school graduate myself, it’s a conscious decision by Barack Obama to write a book that has no index and no endnotes. He’s entirely used to that. And so I think the larger question is not what assistance he may have gotten—because everyone who writes a significant book gets assistance—it’s: why did he choose to create a book that makes it extremely difficult for anyone to follow his story, except through a narrative of composites? And I think that helps, at least in a small way, to underscore my thesis. The research on Presidential Puppetry, which is my second [book], has been very intensive; over four years, and I’ve read or at least leafed through hundreds of books, and it’s led me to get all kinds of theories about publishing history. Even though my mother was a successful book author, I’ve learned a lot more about it. I’m much less impressed than previously over the fact that somebody’s had a book published. I mean, it’s an important achievement, but—particularly those who are in public life and have a healthy contract and so forth—they’re able to get all kinds of combinations of co-authorship, ghostwriting and research assistance that are incredibly common in higher levels of authorship. To debate whether [President Obama] received surreptitious help in writing his book—that’s not a scandal, in my mind. Even if he did, it’s not really worth investigating that much. And I don’t mean to denigrate other peoples research. I’d be interested if somebody had some big finding. But at the end of the day: so what? It’s doubtless the case that Clinton’s received help drafting books, or the Bushes, or anybody else.
BFP: Taking into account that Obama was really an unknown on the national stage at the time that his book was released back in 1995—that kind of plays into the general theory a little bit, doesn’t it?
AK: It does. I think there’s actually much more solid evidence. Here’s what I would take as a very intriguing fact. A lot of this is circumstantial, but ultimately the question is: why aren’t people asking more questions? At the precise time that he was working with Business International in New York in approximately 1984, that was when he was dating Genevieve Cook, who was, until last year, his long lost lover from that era. David Maraniss, a writer from the Washington Post, spent a couple years writing a biography of Barack Obama’s early years, and the big discovery in his research was finding Genevieve Cook and persuading her to talk about her life and her memories with Barack. Maraniss wrote extensively about this and that was part of the major publicity for his book when it came out. He’s got a sentence or so in his book mentioning that her father, Michael Cook, was head of a board in Australia. Maraniss doesn’t really make too much of this, but the board was Australia’s equivalent of our National Security Council. I believe he had been an ambassador to Indonesia in the ’60s. And Genevieve Cook’s step-father, Philip Jessup, was quite prominent. He came from a diplomatic U.S. family and later led a big billion-dollar mining company in Indonesia. So what we have here is very high-powered connections to not simply security agencies, but what I call in the book the “puppet master class” of mega-corporations that are involved in the global empire. One could say about any of these scenarios, “Well, anybody who goes to an Ivy League university like Columbia may meet or fall in love with someone who has a wealthy or prestigious or governmental family.” And that’s certainly the case. However, there are just interesting questions that are not pursued by virtually any of these authors, and it just seems that you have these little dots that nobody wants to connect. “Oh, he worked for a CIA front company.” “Oh, he’s dating, in his first big love affair, for quite a long time, the daughter of the head of the National Security Council of Australia.” And nobody wants to talk about it. So, in many ways, my book is just connecting the dots. Quite frankly, I can’t say—even after connecting dozens of these dots—with one-hundred percent accuracy, or even ninety-eight percent accuracy, that I absolutely know everything. But we’ve got to start somewhere. The fact of the matter is that those in the New York Times and Washington Post who have the access and the ability to ask questions do not want to ask the logical questions that my research leads to.
BFP: Could you talk a little more about your research process?
AK: I guess part of it, which also comes from all my experience as a newspaper reporter and other life experiences; part of it is just a basic questioning of almost anything and being open to new information. Here’s kind of an inspiring method: as a young newspaper reporter I was assigned by my boss at the Hartford Courant, the largest newspaper in Connecticut, to cover courts. I was led over to the courthouse and introduced to judges and prosecutors and defense attorneys by an old-time reporter. His name was Dennie Williams. And during the beginning of the tour I met the Strike Force prosecutor from the Justice Department who went on to become the head of the whole Strike Force of the entire country against organized crime, Paul Coffey, a very distinguished public servant. He was based in Hartford, and when he met me he said with a little smile, “Remember in your reporting, the government is always right.” He said it with a smile so I could tell he was joking, but that’s often the attitude of those in government, and that’s, I guess, in a certain sense, what motivates them. But here’s what my predecessor said at the end. He sort of touched me on the arm and said, “Remember in your reporting that, for some of the people coming through this courthouse, you’re the last chance they’ve got.” So, you see, in a sense, everyone’s busy and we don’t have time to look into everything, but some situations where people are actually innocent or they’re framed—or maybe they’re not innocent, but they’ve done something that is not as bad as it looks—those of us who get into this field have an obligation to poke around. To fast-forward to the book process: it involves reading and obtaining books, a lot of Googling and talking with people; some are official status, others are investigators or even disreputable people who may have information. One of the things that’s rare about Presidential Puppetry is that I’ve drawn heavily from all parts of the political spectrum. For example, some of the research from extreme right-wingers about President Obama is helpful, sometimes in a way not as they intended. By the same token, I’ve gotten a lot of information from the left. So it all goes into the stewpot, or what do you call it?—goulash—and out comes the book.
BFP: It does all seem to rest upon keeping that open mind.
AK: Here’s an example that in a way goes back to one of your earlier questions. Many who are very conservative bash President Obama for his friendships with Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn and other radicals, but what some of these conservatives really haven’t imagined is: suppose some of these radicals are agent provocateurs or government agents themselves. I’ve questioned them on it. They hadn’t even thought of it. They think, “Well, once someone says radical things, that must mean they are and have always been a radical.” I document in the book that the CIA was actually funding one of the first presidents of Students for a Democratic Society, Paul Potter. They were funding the Daily Worker, which is the American communist newspaper. And this is so off the charts of conventional thinking, but we know, if we just look at the documents, that the CIA was doing it, and internally they were proud of it. And the concept of why, which again goes back to the puppet category, is to control leading messengers from all parts of the political spectrum. Not everything, but enough to help control the dialogue no matter where events take us. The public needs to know that this is a deeply textured play that we watch on the political scene, not just what it appears to be.
BFP: There’s also an interesting parallel between the puppet masters and their puppets in that, in one sense, the masters of course act as great enablers, but likewise they always have full control to completely reverse their candidates’ good fortune. For instance, if it ever got out that Obama, while working for the intelligence agencies, had spied on radical blacks in Chicago, or, in the case of Clinton, Vietnam protestors while he was in college—those types of allegations are potential career-killers for those seeking the Democratic ticket.
AK: That’s partly why it doesn’t come out, because the Democratic Party functionaries and those who swear allegiance to the Democratic Party, they’re not going to like my book unless they’re open-minded and want to get out of the matrix and see things as they really are. But many people are quite comfortable in the matrix and just don’t want to know, or think it can’t be true that their heroes would have done some things to rise up out of the hatch. In the case of President Clinton, you referenced it, but it’s a fairly brief interlude. There’s evidence that, according to some expert observers, in his attempt to escape the draft he was cooperating with intelligence agencies. And I’m just connecting the dots. But that was quite common then. It is what it is.
BFP: Digging deeper into the past and looking at it from the full spectrum with Obama, Clinton, both of the Bushes, Reagan—where does it stop, exactly?
AK: It stops at Jimmy Carter. Here’s why. [In Presidential Puppetry] I make the statement that all recent U.S. presidents have been secret assets of the CIA or FBI before they entered politics, and that means Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush before he was the CIA director; going back to just after he graduated from Yale in the 1940s, and of course Clinton, the younger Bush, and Obama. The reason it stops at Carter is [because] Carter was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, so he was a uniformed military member, and those before Carter are predominantly World War II veterans. There’s not a question of becoming confidential assets. They were in the military as young people. So they had that experience there. I’m trying not to be positive or negative—actually, it’s positive. I’m just saying: there’s a very strong connection to the military forces that the public today doesn’t realize, but people should just know it as basic biographical information. That’s not to say [President Carter] hasn’t had connections afterwards. Just quoting from a relevant part of the book: when Carter began to think about running for president, the Trilateral Commission invited him [for an interview]—this is a kind of Rockefeller-founded not-quite-secret-society, but it’s a big foreign policy group that David Rockefeller created. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who became a national security advisor in the Carter administration, is actually quoted in one of his own books. After [the Trilateral Commission] interviewed Carter—before he ran for president—Brzezinski said to one of his colleagues: “I think we found our candidate for the presidency.” So it shows how circular this is. Brzezinski was, in a sense, at that time, the main foreign policy guru for the Rockefeller family on the Democratic side, while Henry Kissinger was the main apparatchik for the Rockefeller array of goals on the Republican side. So they’re kind of the estranged puppet masters. And here Brzezinski picks Carter, in effect saying, “We’re gonna put our weight on him to be president,” and then Carter picks Brzezinski to be his top national security advisor, and Brzezinski goes to Columbia University after office and, gee, who went to Columbia University? [Laughs] Now, we don’t quite have a connection that anybody’s able to talk about directly between Brzezinski and Obama, but I’m not sure people have pushed that hard on that question. By the way, all the records are secret. Nobody wants to ask, “What’s the big secrecy of records of Columbia or high school or law school?” What’s the issue? You see, it goes back to what we were talking about before. Why is there no index in his book? Here’s a story I’ll just share that was a part of the process. I was at the National Press Club, where I go here in Washington, and I was chatting with a bureau chief of a major newspaper. I’m not gonna name the person, but I said, “Well, what’s the big secret about President Obama’s school records? Why didn’t someone just ask for them?” And the bureau chief said: “Rahm Emanuel wouldn’t like it,” who was the chief of staff at that time. And I said, “So what?” And the person said, “Well, you don’t want him mad at you!”
See, that’s the kind of mentality, that there’s all these reporters who would ask any question, but they’re worried that there might be some reprisal; that they wouldn’t have access if they decide to write a book or some story. And they’re basically worried about their jobs. All these newspapers are cutting back staff and they’re worried that the boss will say, “Yeah, people don’t seem to like you at the White House; we can’t find a good job for you.” That’s maybe a little bit dramatic. But it can also just be that—maybe they won’t lose their job, but maybe they’re just not invited to some function. And it’s just not worth it to antagonize people by asking for something like a transcript of the President’s records. We in the public and we other researchers who are not over there everyday, we just have to ask, “What’s the secret?” What are they trying to hide? Here’s what it likely is—but I don’t know, because we don’t have the records! It’s likely to be evidence that could help researchers like me weave together a fuller picture of his life. Maybe he had a course or an independent study with Brzezinski, and maybe—I’m just speculating—but maybe part of the reason that so few people remember Obama at Columbia is that part of his independent study was overseas, and who knows what that might have been? And if, let’s say his independent study was overseas with some professor, whether Brzezinski or someone else who has a big national security connection, then people might say, “Well, I wonder if this person recommended him to go to Harvard Law School.” Then you see where the whole thing goes? And, you know, maybe not, but this is a two-term president of the United States and—again, going back to my journalism circles quite often, particularly as I got more advanced in this research, I would ask people just basic questions. “What do you think President Obama’s mother did for a living? What do you think his career was?” Or I’ll ask about cabinet members. And, by the way, at least half of my book is about Republicans. It’s quite in-depth on the Bush family, Romney, Paul Ryan, and others. But I ask reporters who cover some of these beats basic questions about biographies or things that I’ve discovered and they just don’t know, because they don’t have the flexibility, either in terms of time or assignment, to develop alternative sources of information. It’s very focused on official comments; responses by the opposition party. It’s kind of a dialogue between the Republican and Democrat officials. What I’ve discovered is you’ve got this puppetry again, and nobody is saying, “Well, what are the elites, what are the enablers, what are the Wall Street people who are organizing this—what are they seeking to achieve and make the public think about?”
BFP: To stay on the subject of control: beyond politicians’ fear of being blackmailed or scandalized, or of losing votes or support—
AK: It can be much harsher than that. For lack of a better word I’ll talk about sociopaths, who are involved in this type of stuff: the one-percent of the population that has no conscious. So when they want to punish someone it can be much more than that. It can be exposure of sexual secrets, loss of job, loss of freedom, criminal prosecution, targeting family, and just creating excruciating choices for people. And in the case of foreign leaders it can be airplane accidents and other matters that may result in death. So the consequences are potentially quite serious. In fact, I quote in the book one key advisor to President Obama saying that his transition team in 2008 and 2009, after he was elected, feared a revolt if the President undertook certain actions, such as prosecuting the CIA for torture activities. The revolt would not be the ordinary person in the street, it would be presumably high-level officials. So the threats here are quite serious. And much of the book goes into the history of surveillance, which of course came into the news this year, but I was researching that long in advance of the Snowden revelations. It really ties into the theory, because, through my research, sources, and documentation, it’s clear that the agencies have the ability to encompass all of our electronic communications, store it, and retrieve it. So that means members of Congress, the Senate, and political candidates. Much of this capability is delegated to contractors. Remember, Snowden was a contractor who wasn’t employed directly by the government at the end of his career. So if somebody has the ability to capture and retrieve virtually all communications, this can lead to sexual blackmail or other things of blackmail, because politicians—I mean, I’m right here in Washington. I’m very familiar with the situation. Politicians have to raise money, and they’re not going to raise much money unless they pretend to be grateful to their donors. Actually, they are grateful. And it can happen that those who want favors from politicians are hiring extremely attractive and friendly lobbyists, male or female, or just arranging parties where attractive people come onto the government officials who are here separated from their families. So if one has access to all these electronic communications a situation for ongoing blackmail is ever-present, and we in the public have to understand that it’s not just about surveillance. It’s about using surveillance to extract government action.
BFP: The threat of death facing politicians is something I don’t think we always really think about, either.
AK: Well I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve recently finished the last part of the Readers Guide to the JFK assassination. It’s an ambitious project that just came up because it’s the fiftieth anniversary. It’s relevant to my book for exactly the reasons that you mentioned. But as I got more deeply into the research on the JFK assassination—there’s a reason that there’s more than two thousand books about him; more than a hundred this year alone. It’s quite likely that the public is not hearing the full story about that assassination, that there in fact was a conspiracy to kill Kennedy that involved Oswald, but it’s quite possible that he did not fire a shot, or at least the shot that hit Kennedy. And it’s highly unlikely that his shot killed him, because the medical evidence indicates that Kennedy was shot from the front with the fatal bullet. I was just down at several conferences in Dallas, had a good look, took photos of the scene, and it’s—well, I’ll just give the title of my last column: “JFK’s Murder, the CIA, and 8 Things Every American Should Know.” But going back to your original point: the chance of assassination has got to weigh on every president. The public is trained to think that assassins are lone nuts. Well, that’s not necessarily the case. Actually, just today, in reaction to my story—I’ve been in e-mail communication with Oswald’s girlfriend from 1963, Judyth Baker. She wrote a book about her experiences. She thought he was a pretty nice guy. In fact, she wants to be buried next to him. I also just got an e-mail from a Russian physician, Ernst Titovets, who was Oswald’s best friend during his time in Russia, and Titovets also thinks that Oswald was not the type to kill anyone. And all of this—I mean, it doesn’t by itself prove the case, but we remember that Oswald said he was just a patsy, a person who was setup to look guilty. That’s another area where the mainstream media just doesn’t want to connect the dots and explore this. They may have a little bit in their coverage, but when the Washington Post draws an official diagram a couple of weeks ago that says: “Here’s where Oswald shot the bullets that killed Kennedy,” there’s no alleged in there. It’s conclusive. And one of the things I point out in the book is how deeply complicit with the CIA the Washington Post and other mainstream media were at this time. I mean, the publisher of the Washington Post was having weekly dinners with Frank Wisner, who was head of the CIA’s program of outreach control to the news page. And the Washington Post spiked a column by former President Harry Truman on December 22, 1963, in which Truman, who created the CIA, argued in his column that it was getting too powerful and needed to be brought back under control. And the Washington Post killed Truman’s column, and other media didn’t even pick it up. So this is the kind of hidden control that our supposedly free press submits to on certain issues. And it’s [for] patriotic reasons, but ultimately I think the public deserves to know they’re not getting the full story.
BFP: I know we’ve mostly been discussing the actual presidents, but Presidential Puppetry takes a really deep look at Mitt Romney as well. On the subject of his Mormon beliefs, you wrote that the conventional news media is “reluctant to draw the connection between his secrecy, moneymaking, and religion.” Why do you think that is?
AK: I think it’s an exact parallel to the medias treatment of Obama; that they don’t want to get into things that he doesn't want to get into, like his intelligence background. Here, Romney made it clear that he didn't want to talk about his religion. [There were] some feature stories in a few places. It really was once-over lightly. And I think it’s important to understand, even though he lost the election narrowly, how close we came to having a religiously motivated administration of those who believe in a religion that’s not really been examined. Both the Romney family and his chief of staff and close colleague, Mike Leavitt, the former HHS secretary, their families go back to the founder of the religion, Joseph Smith, and my book traces back the creation of this religion: the quest for digging for gold, the creation of a bank with no assets, and the extremely controversial history of the founder of the church, who was actually murdered while he was running for president of the United States in 1844 by citizens of Illinois who just despised him and his religion and polygamy. And it’s important to understand that the Romneys and Leavitts go all the way back to that period. I trace it through to the campaign era. So here’s Mitt Romney, who ran for president twice, and this whole part of his life has not been examined. There’s some very interesting relationships with his company Bain, with Howard Hughes—here’s one of the most fascinating people of the entire 20th century, Howard Hughes, and the person who controlled the Hughes empire at the end was the father of Mitt Romney’s long-time business partner at Bain. Howard Hughes was of course involved in defense contracts, the CIA, the mob, and all kinds of things. You would just think, if the major news media was really trying to sell newspapers, which is sometimes used as an attack—“Oh, they’re just trying to sell newspapers!”—actually, it’s much worse than that, because if they were just trying to sell newspapers they would get into some of these issues because people would be interested. I mean, how could you not be interested in Howard Hughes and some of these other things? But the fact of the matter is, to take the Washington Post [as an example]: they recently have been making only four-percent of their money from circulation, which means sales in newspapers, and only fourteen or fifteen-percent from advertising. So the issue is: they’ve got other agendas besides reporting the news and selling newspapers. People said, “Well, maybe things will be better after the new owner.” Well, maybe. I mean, he founded a very outstanding consumer-friendly company, Amazon. But the new owner—in addition to sitting on this incredible database of what everybody in the country buys and wants, and the most powerful news organization still in Washington, the Washington Post—his company Amazon just won a contract to handle the advanced data needs for a certain government agency. That agency is the Central Intelligence Agency. People can say, “Well, it’s all separate, because he personally owns the Washington Post. There can’t be any cross-pollination of any of these entities, can there?” Well, who’s asking that question?
Washington, DC-based Andrew Kreig is an investigative reporter, attorney, and public affairs strategist listed in Who’s Who in the World since the mid-1990s. He currently leads the non-partisan Justice Integrity Project’s legal reform efforts found on the web at www.justice-integrity.org. From 1996 to 2008, he led the Wireless Communications Association in its worldwide advocacy. In 1987, he authored Spiked: How Chain Management Corrupted America’s Oldest Newspaper, a pioneering case study. He holds a law degree from Yale and the University of Chicago, and a history degree from Cornell, and he has lectured on five continents about public affairs and business. His latest book, Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney, and Their Masters, was published by Eagle View Books in June 2013. Read the BFP book review here.
Mark Mondalek – BFP contributing author, is a writer and editor based in Detroit. Follow @ Twitter