Wild’s Thing

A former Thompson Coburn partner — tarnished by the Michael Lazaroff scandal — now works as a lawyer for the University of Missouri. His duties include pitching the sale of Mizzou’s property in St. Charles County, a plan that could result in a controversial subdivision being built near the KATY Trail. As the plan edges forward, the school continues to rely on Thompson Coburn’s skills to oversee a wide range of its financial affairs. Mizzou says there’s no conflict of interest. 

Go Tigers!: Mizzou lawyers Kevin Hogg (left) and Steven R. Wild appearing before the St. Charles County County Council on April 9.

In 2016, attorney Steven R. Wild left his partnership at the St. Louis silk-stocking law firm of Thompson Coburn to become a public servant. At his former firm, he had specialized in finance and real estate law for 17 years, cutting $1 billion in complex agreements that melded public and private interests.  Wild’s new employer — the University of Missouri — acquired his legal acumen for an annual salary of $130,000, a pittance considering his level of expertise.

It was a serious mid-career move for a lawyer of his prowess, a choice that must have demanded considerable deliberation. But for Mizzou, at least, the decision to hire Wild was a slam dunk. The university was well aware of the law firm’s sterling reputation because it has been a client of Thompson Coburn for decades.

With the exception of one incident earlier in his career, Wild possessed impeccable credentials, too. Wild’s intimate familiarity with the law was matched by decades spent forging professional contacts in the legal and business worlds. Mizzou hired a consummate insider, a Vanderbilt-educated lawyer with one of the top law firms in the state.

All of this would be academic, if not for the role he now plays in the controversial land sale approved by the St. Charles County Council last week. On June 25, the council voted five to one, with one abstention, to allow the University of Missouri to sell property in its Missouri Research Park to NT Home Builders, a St. Charles-based residential development company owned by real estate tycoon Greg Whittaker.

The proposal had been the subject of discussion before the Council for months, and Wild was one of the university’s point men. When he attended the April 9 St. Charles County Council meeting in support of the university’s property sale, his presence did not go unnoticed. Council Chairman Dave Hammond kowtowed and offered laurels. Hammond was so accommodating he bumped up Wild and another university barrister to appear before the council ahead of the attorney representing the developer, an ingratiating gesture that signaled the clout that the Mizzou’s  legal team wields. When viewed from council’s side of the dais, nothing about Hammond’s fawning behavior was inappropriate  On the contrary, it was a display of courtesy and decorum. Wild’s role didn’t even require a speaking part. All he had to do is show up. The public performance, scripted by Roberts Rules of Order,  could not have appeared more innocuous.

What’s gone down behind the scenes, however, is anybody’s guess because council’s executive sessions are held behind closed doors.

A state Sunshine Law request for information submitted to the university last week by StlReporter  — asking for details of the sales agreement between the university and the developer — was denied by the school’s custodian of records. “This is the final response to your Sunshine Law request,” wrote Paula Barrett, the University of Missouri’s Custodian of Records. “The documents responsive to your request are closed.” Barrett cited fine print in a state statute that prohibits the public from being informed of the terms of the sale of public property before the state closes on it.

As if  these stealthy maneuvers were not enough, there’s another nettlesome problem with the deal that hasn’t been broached until recently. The land the school is intent on ridding itself of is adjacent to the Weldon Spring Conservation Area, which is contaminated with radioactive waste. The Department of Energy has declared that area safe for recreational purposes, but unsafe for full-time residency. During months of public discussion, this thorny detail was never mentioned by the university.

With its reputation hanging in the balance, Mizzou is counting on its rainmakers in its legal department to quickly close the sale and simultaneously maintain some semblance of public trust. It’s a tricky act to pull off.

To assure the public that the university’s actions are beyond reproach, Wild is required to recuse himself from any cases involving Thompson Coburn, says Christian Basi, a University of Missouri spokesperson. “In a nutshell, there is no conflict of interest,” says Basi. While a partner at Thompson Coburn, Wild never engaged in any legal work involving land surrounding the golf course, Basi says, referring to the property where the residential development is planned. Wild’s professional experience, says Basi, is a “strength,” and his presence “adds experience to the office of general counsel at the university.”

But that’s where the curtain falls. The university stopped short of revealing any details of the sale, citing the confidentiality clause of the state statute. Upholding the letter, if not the spirit of the law, the Mizzou is not obligated by law to reveal details of the deal until its done.

Thompson Coburn is equally reticent. Reached for comment on last week, Bill Rowe, a spokesman for Thompson Coburn, declined to give details of the law firm’s relationship with the university, citing client-attorney confidentiality. But the spokesman confirmed that the University of Missouri remains “a significant client in a variety of areas.” Lack of transparency surrounding the deal, including withholding the sale price from the public and declining to consider other offers, has led to rumors of political corruption.

This much is not secret: Mizzou has bet its financial future on the soundness of Thompson Coburn’s advice. In 2014, for example, the law firm handled the issuance of nearly $300 million in revenue bonds for Mizzou. The stakes have risen even higher in recent years. Declines in enrollment have strapped the university’s coffers. As its fiduciary, Thompson Coburn is bound to make decisions based on the interests of its client’s longterm solvency. The highly valued acreage in St. Charles County overlooking the Missouri River is among the university’s disposable assets. It is easy to understand why any financial advisor would counsel the school to sell given the circumstances. Whether such discussion took place is uncertain. 

The ties that bind Thompson Coburn and Mizzou together go beyond the bottom line, however. There is a personal side to the longstanding affair, too. Wild’s former law partner Tom Minogue — the chairman of the firm– is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri St. Louis and currently sits on the Chancellor’s Council at UMSL.

Be True to Your School: Thompson Coburn Chairman Tom Minogue

For months, the contentious issue has spurred critics to send hundreds of emails to their elected officials, demanding the plan be scrapped. Adversaries have packed the gallery at St. Charles County Council meetings, and also posted informational notices along the KATY Trail. Moreover, the St. Charles County Planning and Zoning Commission sided with the opponents, recommending rejecting the plan 8 to 1 earlier this year. Nevertheless, the county council inexplicably gave the green light to the plan last week, allowing the sale of the property to move forward.

By law, real estate transactions are a matter of the public record, but the negotiations preceding the closure of the deal are not. This rule is applicable even when the one of the sales parties is a state-owned, public institution. It’s a loophole that allows Mizzou, in this case, to hold secret talks and withhold all the details of the sale of public land the from taxpayers. In most situations, deals like this would probably not raise an eyebrow. But building a pricey subdivision near a popular state park and a a state-owned conservation area is an exception to that rule. Adding to the controversy is the Department of Energy’s restrictions on nearby land use, which prohibits full-time occupancy on adjacent property due to the presence of radioactive contamination. To seal a sketchy deal like this requires masterful salesmanship and extensive legal skills.

As an associate, Wild honed his skills at Thompson Coburn, learning the art of the deal by following in the footsteps of more senior members of the firm. Beginning in the late 1990s, he cut his teeth hashing out complex real real estate issues, including representing the St. Louis Marketplace in litigation related to the city of St. Louis’ use of tax-increment-financing to take residences through eminent domain for a private retail development. Michael Lazaroff, Wild’s mentor, was the mastermind behind that boondoggle.

Lazaroff left Thompson Coburn in 2000 in the wake of a corruption scandal that rocked the law firm. He was disbarred and pleaded guilty to pocketing $500,000 in under-the-table payments from Station Casino from 1994 to 1996. Station Casino has a dark past. Its founder was a known associate of the Civella crime family of

Former Thompson Coburn partner Michael Lazaroff.

Kansas City, and was implicated in skimming money from Las Vegas casinos in the 1970s for the Mafia. In 2000, hearings conducted by a special investigative committee of the state legislature probed illegal meetings Lazaroff held on behalf of his client — Station Casino — with the then-chairman of the gambling commission.

At the same time, Lazaroff was also convicted for making illegal political campaign contributions that involved Wild’s cooperation. Wild and three other lawyers took part in the scam. With Wild’s cooperation, Lazaroff skirted federal campaign finance laws that then limited the amount of contributions by having his colleagues contribute money for him and then reimbursing them. The donations were made to the campaigns of then- Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore and Bill Bradley. The secretary of Former U.S. Sen. Thomas Eagleton, a senior partner at Thompson Coburn, was also implicated. Wild and the others involved in the illegal bundling of contributions issued an apology and were not charged.

That was 18 years ago. Nothing much seems to have changed in the intervening years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Making a Killing on Hot Property

A subsidiary of Cerberus Capital Management — a shadowy equity firm with political clout —  has quietly tapped into the housing market in North St. Louis County, turning a tidy profit by renting homes to low-income tenants with help from the feds. The problem is some of its properties border radioactively-contaminated Coldwater Creek. 

When North County resident Bob Terry viewed a KMOV-TV news report last week about a New York-based real estate company buying up homes in his old neighborhood, he immediately noticed one glaring omission — the account failed to mention that the properties border on radioactively-contaminated Coldwater Creek.

The Florissant native alerted others to the flub via Facebook, pointing out that the streets featured in the news segment — Mullanphy Road and Aspen Drive —  were next to the stream that is known to have been polluted by nuclear waste dating back to the Manhattan Project, some of which is still being cleaned up by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Every house on those two streets faces or backs on the creek,” wrote Terry, who grew up in the neighborhood. In his Facebook post, Terry questions why the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development would subsidize low-income rental property in an area known to be contaminated with radioactive waste.

“Folks desperate to get in there have no clue,” says Terry. “The new folks are getting taken advantage of. [Whereas,] the longtime, older residents are stranded with declining property value,” he says. “Many got sick and died there.”

The the absentee landlord and long-distance benefactor of this federal largesse is CSMA-BLT LLC, a Delaware-registered corporation and subsidiary of Cerberus Capital Managment,  the monstrous equity firm based in New York City that is valued at $30 billion.

The privately-owned conglomerate, co-founded by Stephen Feinberg, began acquiring the properties in 2015 during the Obama administration, when it purchased more than 4,000 residential properties in the Midwest and Florida from BLT Homes, including more than 600 in St. Louis County, according to county assessor records.

Cerebrus’ top dog Stephen Feinberg, chief of Trump’s Intelligence Advisory Board.

It didn’t take long for the acquisition to yield taxpayer dollars. By 2016, the Cerberus subsidiary received more than $480,000 in federal funding for its government-subsidized rental properties in St. Louis County , according to KMOV. Monthly rents for the residences in Florissant average $1,000 or more. Cerberus’ investors include government and private pension funds, non-profit foundations, major universities and insurance companies.

Besides real estate, Cerberus holds a wide range of other assets, including Dyncorp, a huge defense contractor that supplies mercenaries and covert operatives to the military-intelligence establishment. The investment firm divested itself earlier this year of Remington, the arms manufacturer that mass produced the AR-15 assault rifle used in the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre.

Cerberus was founded in 1992 and is named after the three-headed dog that guards the gates of hell in Greek mythology. The firm has longstanding ties to the Republican Party. The boss of its international arm, for example, is former Vice-President Dan Quayle,  who was implicated in the an Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan-Bush era.

As in all administrations, buying presidential influence comes with a hefty price tag: Cerberus CEO Feinberg contributed nearly $1.5 million to a pro-Trump PAC in 2016. As a result, his generosity has garnered him even more access to the corridors of power inside the White House.

Feinberg, who is said to be unusually secretive in both his personal and business affairs, was quoted in Rolling Stone magazine as telling shareholders in 2007: “If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper, … we will do more than fire that person. We will kill him. The jail sentence will be worth it.”

At this point, he probably could get away with murder.

Last week, President Donald Trump appointed Feinberg to be chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, which oversees national security issues and provides advise to the executive branch on matters related to various intelligence agency operations, including those of the CIA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Footnote Worth Noting

Stormwater runoff from West Lake Landfill, April 30, 2017. (Photo by Robbin Ellison Dailey)

Factoring in punctuation marks and MDNR’s double-talk changes the equation of the latest findings at the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill site. 

In many ways, the test results released by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources last month are as unclear as the turbid stormwater the agency collected from the drainage ditches outside the perimeter the West Lake Landfill Superfund Site earlier this year.

Equally perplexing is the press release that accompanies the findings, which concludes that radioactive materials present in the sampling are not even from the West Lake Landfill. Moreover, the analysis is an of interpretation of data that itself is admittedly flawed, according to a footnote that explains two asterisks that appear in the listed test results.

The MDNR collected the stormwater samples on April 30 following heavy spring rains and then sent them to a contracted laboratory for testing. The press release does not reveal the name of the laboratory. The lab measured the samples for gross alpha and beta particles, along with total uranium and combined radium content, according to the MDNR. The analysis then compared the findings to stringent Missouri drinking water standards, concluding that radioactivity in the stormwater runoff was within permissible limits with one exception:  Gross alpha amounts exceeded the benchmark level and could not be fully attributed to either radium or uranium.

The samples were then tested for thorium, which is when the analysis appeared to have gone sideways. According to the MDNR: “The results do not indicate that the radionuclides in the sample are radiologically impacted material from West Lake Landfill.” If the thorium in the stormwater runoff from the landfill didn’t come from the landfill — where did it originate?

The MDNR attributes this anomaly to “the relatively low activity level of West Lake Landfill related radionuclides in the sample.”  The agency adds that Thorium-230 activity levels are similar to other thorium isotopes and that the waste from the landfill would be expected to have higher relative Thorium-230 levels.

If community members are confused by this explanation, it’s because the MDNR’s choice of  words and its explanation of the numbers are both as clear as mud.

The list of test results show that separate samples taken on April 30 found Thorium-230 in the landfill runoff at more than two pico curies per liter, but those findings both have asterisks behind each number. At the bottom of the chart, the presence of the asterisks are explained as follows: “Due to smaller aliquot volume, Thorium-229 laboratory tracer likely interfered with the result, causing it to be biased higher than actual Thorium activity by an approximated amount of 1.36 pCi/l [pico curies per liter].” 

 

In other words, the MDNR is attributing the elevated Thorium-230 to a laboratory error or miscalculation, and slashing the estimated amount by more than half.   The key phrases in this terse explanation are “likely interfered with” and “approximate amount.” Neither term sounds remotely scientific.

There is only one certainty in the MDNR’s test results: Radionuclides above background levels have migrated off the Superfund site and into the roadside ditches outside the West Lake Landfill on St. Charles Rock Road.

The MDNR’s conclusion: Further monitoring of the stormwater is recommended.

 

 

Spy vs. Spy?

In 2015, the Russian news service landed in North County to cover the troubles at West Lake Landfill and Coldwater Creek. The question now is whether the CIA mounted a counter-intelligence operation here.

KWMU reporter Vérinique La Capra aims a microphone at  Mary Oscko as cameras captured the moment in August  2015 at the Hazelwood Community Center.

It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely place for an espionage operation to take place than the Hazelwood Civic Center. But recent revelations by the U.S. intelligence community suggest that it may have been one of the locations in North St. Louis County where a secretive propaganda battle quietly played out in August 2015.

Hundreds of people gathered at the civic center for a community meeting that month had no inkling they were bit actors in this Cold War revival. The overflow crowd that jammed the conference room on August 20 attended  out of concern for the health of their families and the safety of the community. Radioactive contamination leftover from the Manhattan Project and its aftermath still plagued the St. Louis suburbs and residents wanted answers from government officials about the long-delayed clean ups.

Questions were asked, testimonials were given and frustrations were vented at the event, all captured on video by camerapersons, including at least one with ties to RT America, the Russian foreign news service.

In the heat of the moment, those present were not aware that they were pawns in a larger political struggle between the U.S. and Russia. Evidence of the covert chess game didn’t surface until January of this year, long after the meeting had faded in the community’s collective memory.

That’s when the CIA took the unprecedented step of releasing a classified report on alleged Russian interference in American politics. The unusual act by the agency was spurred by the continuing controversy over Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Those allegations remain the focus of  congressional investigations, and a probe by an independent counsel appointed by the Justice Department.

Allegations of the hacking of email accounts of Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton and her campaign staff by Russian operatives prompted the CIA’s release of the report. But the majority of the declassified information in the report is unrelated to the furor over whether Donald Trump and his cronies benefited from the alleged Russian intrusion.

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RT honcho Margarita Simonyan briefs Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in October 2012 in Moscow. (photo courtesy of the CIA’s declassified report)

Instead, the CIA released an intelligence assessment put together in 2012  that details how RT America is allegedly used by the Kremlin as a propaganda tool to cast the U.S.  government in a bad light.

The obvious question this now raises is whether the CIA mounted a domestic counter espionage campaign to offset the perceived damage being inflicted by the negative image that the Russian news service allegedly broadcast not only in America but to a global audience via the Internet.

The CIA report was compiled in 2012 three years before the Russians showed up in North St. Louis County and four years before the U.S. presidential campaign. Though classified, it can be assumed that its contents were shared with the White House and other federal departments and agencies.

It is therefore reasonable to surmise that the CIA and other government agencies were not simply monitoring Russia’s interference in America — but actively combatting it with their own surreptitious operations.

If this is true, it begs the question as to whether American intelligence assets were present at the Hazelwood Civic Center that sultry, late summer evening back in 2015.

Only The Shadow knows.

Correction: Originally, this story identified the meeting as taking place at the Machinist Union Hall in Bridgeton. Instead, the meeting took place at the Hazelwood Community Center. 

 

The CIA’s French Connection and Other Footnotes to History

At right, Irving Brown, American labor leader and CIA spy.

CD Stelzer peers into the CIA’s murky operations and finds ‘Old Europe’ ain’t what it used to be.

(written for Ireland’s Island magazine in 2006)

Former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld set the stage for the conflict in January 2003. Vexed by Germany and France’s opposition to United States plans to invade Iraq, Rumsfeld labeled the two nations as ‘Old Europe.’

‘Germany has been a problem and France has been a problem,’ Rumsfeld told Washington’s foreign press corps. ‘But you look at vast numbers of other countries in Europe, they’re not with France and Germany. … They’re with the US. You’re thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don’t. I think that’s old Europe.’

The comment led to a diplomatic war of words and pointed to the growing rift between America and its longstanding allies. Three years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, mounting domestic opposition to the war in Iraq forced Rumsfeld to resign under pressure. The administration of George W Bush now finds itself politically eviscerated, mired by escalating violence in Iraq and weakened diplomatically elsewhere abroad.

In ‘Old Europe,’ opposition to US foreign policy has moved from words to action.

German prosecutors in Munich issued arrest warrants in February for 13 Central Intelligence Agency agents for the alleged kidnapping of Khaled el-Masri, a Lebanese-born German citizen. Munich prosecutors are basing their case on evidence provided by authorities in Spain, Italy and the European Union. The German charges preceded by about a week those issued in Italy against more than two dozen CIA operatives for the alleged abduction of Hasan Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, from Milan in February 2003. The Italian trial is scheduled to begin in June. The kidnappings are part of a covert CIA programme of ‘extraordinary renditions’ in which terrorist suspects are illegally nabbed and flown to undisclosed locations for interrogations. In both cases crew members of Aero Contractors, a CIA-connected company based in North Carolina, are named as participants. According to the charges, Aero employees transported el-Masri to Egypt and Omar to Afghanistan, where they were allegedly tortured.

A report approved by the European parliament in mid-February accused the governments of Ireland, Britain, Germany, Italy, Poland and other European Union states of permitting the CIA flights to operate within their borders. Base on a 12-month investigation, the report found that Ireland allowed 147 CIA flights to use Irish airports. In addition, European investigators concluded that nine CIA kidnap victims passed through Ireland on their way to so-called ‘black sites,’ where torture was allegedly used to gain information. The report says the Government’s acceptance of US diplomatic assurances failed to protect human rights as obligated under the law. It also criticised Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern for withholding some information to the committee investigating the CIA flights.

As evidenced by the indictments and EU report, the CIA continues to operate in much of Europe. Some activities are apparently conducted in plain sight, more overt than covert. In Northern Ireland, for instance, the three-member Independent Monitoring Commission, which oversees demilitarisation of loyalist and republican factions, includes Richard J. Kerr, a retired deputy director of the CIA. Despite his espionage background, the involvement of a former top American spy doesn’t seem to raise any eyebrows in Dublin or Belfast.

Overall, however, the CIA’s current involvement in internal European affairs pales in comparison to the Cold War era.

The defeat of Nazi Germany by allied forces in 1945 set the stage for a power struggle between victors, with Britain and the US on one side and the Soviet Union on the other. In July 1947, fearing that Western European governments would fall under the influence of Soviet communism, the United States implemented a multi-billion-dollar foreign aid package – the European Recovery Plan – more commonly known as the Marshall Plan. The four-year programme, named after then-US Secretary of State George Marshall, is credited with leading the way for economic recovery in much of postwar Western Europe.

A few months later, US President Harry S Truman made another decision that would have lasting impact. He signed the National Security Act of 1947, creating the CIA.

In the autumn of 1947, the nascent intelligence agency would set a course of action that would be repeated dozens of times in years to come. To further US foreign policy objectives, the CIA would employ various proxies, including criminals, to infiltrate and ultimately subvert political parties, labor unions and other organizations. Politicians would be bought. Elections thrown. Coups engineered. Murders carried out. All in the name of democracy and freedom.

It all started in Marseilles, France.

In October 1947, the conservative mayor of Marseilles hiked public transit fares, sparking outrage among downtrodden workers. Fueled by the frustrations of postwar poverty, a Socialist-Communist coalition mounted a boycott of the city’s trams. Political tensions escalated for the next month, culminating in the events of November 12, when mass protests erupted. That afternoon Communist city councilmen were attacked at a city council meeting. In the evening, the violence spread. Gunfire wounded several demonstrators, killing one. The suspects in both the beatings and shootings were political allies of the mayor, members of the Corsican gangs that ruled the Marseilles underworld.

Brothers Antoine and Barthélemy Guerini, Marseilles leading Corsican gangsters, were arrested for the shootings, but within days charges were dropped, after police witnesses inexplicable recanted testimony. Meanwhile, Marseilles’ unions went on strike, which pushed the Confédération Génerale du Travail (CGT), France’s leftist labor affiliation, to follow suit nationwide. Millions of workers walked off the job in industries throughout France.

Marseilles’ dockworkers represented the most militant of the strikers. Their closing of the port of Marseilles threatened to derail the Marshall Plan. Moreover, in the eyes of Washington policy wonks, the French labor strife smacked of Soviet subversion. To stem the perceived red tide, the CIA called upon two leaders of the American labor movement to act in its behalf.

The CIA’s chief labor assets were Jay Lovestone of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and his top lieutenant Irving Brown. Over the next decades, the two men would use their respective positions in the international labor movement to clandestinely manipulate trade unions throughout the world.

For his part, Lovestone had perfect credentials: he helped found the Communist Party in the US. His long association with Local 22 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union provided further cover. In 1929, Lovestone and the Lovestonites, as his minions came to be known, severed ties with Moscow following an ideological dispute the previous year. By 1944, Lovestone had shucked his communist ties altogether and moved up the bureaucratic ladder to head the AFL’s rabidly anti-communist Free Trade Union Committee (FTUC), the organization’s international arm.

Marching in lockstep with Lovestone’s political reversal, Brown moved the FTUC in the same direction in Europe. To counter the 1947 general strike in France, he devised a strategy of splitting the left by pitting the socialists and communist against each other. With the cooperation of Lovestone, Brown used money diverted from the US garment workers to set up Force Ouvrière, a non-communist union in France. After Brown installed Leon Jouhaux, a French socialist as its leader, the union broke with the communist-led CGT federation. When American union dollars dried up, Brown tapped the CIA for funding.

Losing little time, the agency funneled an estimated $1 million into the French Socialist Party, allowing it leadership to orchestrate a successful campaign against the strikers. CIA largesse bought cooperation of politicians such as Marseilles Socialist Gaston Defferre and Socialist Interior Minister Jules Moch. As a result, the latter official purged communist sympathisers from the ranks of law enforcement and then sanctioned savage police attacks on the picket lines.

More importantly, the CIA helped forge a lasting alliance between the Marseilles Socialist Party and the city’s Corsican gangsters. With money and arms supplied by CIA operatives, the Corsicans harassed communist union officials, and assaulted and murdered rank-and-file unionists. Overwhelmed by the reaction, the CGT called off the strike on Dec. 9. The CIA’s arranged marriage of Marseilles’ Socialists and the Corsican underworld endured for the next 25 years.

In 1950, the CIA sealed the bond by calling on Marseilles’ Socialists and their Corsican enforcers to once more do its bidding. In January of that year, Marseilles’ dockworkers, the vanguard of French labor, ordered a selective boycott of American military cargoes bound for the French colonial war in Indochina. The CGT endorsed the boycott a month later and the shutdown quickly spread to other sectors of French industry.

To crush the labor stoppage, the CIA channeled $2 million through the US government’s Office of Policy Coordination. Brown, the CIA’s European labor asset, used some of the money to furnish Corsican strongman Pierre Ferri-Pisani with Italian strikebreakers. By mid-April the dockworkers strike had been broken.

Due to their strong-armed support of the strikebreakers, the Guerinis’ political fortunes improved immediately. Having first aided Marseilles Socialist Gaston Defferre during the resistance movement, the two brothers had now established a secure footing in his postwar municipal government. Mayor Defferre and the local Socialist Party would employ Guerini bodyguards and campaign workers for the next 17 years.

The CIA nurtured partnership also wrought unintended financial benefits for the Marseilles underworld. With the waterfront now under its domination, the Guerinis and other Corsican outfits found themselves free to pursue their most profitable venture – heroin trafficking. Within months of breaking the dockworkers strike, the port of Marseilles began manufacturing and exporting large quantities of heroin to the United States, according to the Politics of Heroin by Alfred W. McCoy. At its zenith in 1965, the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics estimated that Corsican syndicates operated as many as 24 heroin-processing plants in or around Marseilles. French traffickers smuggled nearly five tonnes of pure heroin into America that year, according to the bureau. As a consequence, US heroin addiction skyrocketed.

The French connection relied on a steady supply of raw materials: opium from Turkey and morphine from Lebanon. Once refined, heroin shipments often traveled a circuitous sea route, entering the US either through Cuba or Canada. With their political connections at home, the Guerini brothers’ had literally found a safe harbour. But for the far-flung enterprise to succeed, it needed a well-established wholesale buyer.

The American Mafia filled that role.

Honouring a request by the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), the state of New York in 1946 granted Salvatore C. ‘Lucky’ Luciano an early parole under the condition that he be deported to Sicily. The unusual clemency was based on his supposed wartime cooperation. During his incarcertion, the ONI conducted extensive interviews with the notorious Mafia chief. With his criminal partner Meyer Lansky acting as a liaison, Luciano provided leads that, according to the Navy, helped secure New York harbor and also prepare the allies for the invasion of Sicily.

After he arrived in postwar Sicily, Luciano’s innate entrepreneurial spirit led him into the narcotics trade. He swiftly cornered the market by diverting legally produced heroin, manufactured by Shiapareilli, an Italian pharmaceutical company, to the United States. When that scheme collapsed, Luciano turned to the Corsican syndicates in Marseilles, including the Guerini brothers. Lansky again acted as the Mafia don’s emininence grise, hashing out an agreement in 1951 soon after the CIA had crowned the Guerini brothers overlords of Marseilles’ waterfront. Lansky, the American mob’s financial wizard, then went to Switzerland to set up untraceable bank accounts through which to launder the drug proceeds.

The French connection, at least the Guerinis control over it, fell apart in 1967, when a gang war claimed the life of Antoine and led to the imprisonment of Barthélemy. That same year, the United States belatedly bankrolled a crackdown on Turkish opium production.

By then, however, other Corsican traffickers had begun to shift their interests to Southeast Asia, where US troops, coincidentally, had replaced French forces. Not surprisingly, the CIA would also play a prominent part there, too. In 1973, press accounts alleged that Air America, the CIA’s proprietary airline, had participated in heroin smuggling in connection to the agency’s secret war in Laos.

In modern day Europe, 60 years after the fall of Nazi Germany, the Cold War is a fading memory, but the CIA continues its misdeeds on the continent. Only the names and faces of the enemy have changed. The communist ‘menace’ of the former Soviet Union has been replaced by the so-called ‘war on terror.’

In this new era, though, the agency no longer commands the dominant position it once did. Across the breath of Europe there has been an undeniable shift in public perception and political power. Italy, Germany and other European Union states are now demanding respect for their individual sovereignty and adherence to the rule of law. Despite this, the US is not expected to approve the extradition of the CIA agents wanted for kidnapping. The accused may, nevertheless, be tried in absentia, setting the stage for a spectacle that would further damage America’s tarnished reputation abroad.

When it comes to ‘Old Europe,’ the US may have better served its geo-political interests if it had chosen to honour its elders.

America’s Propaganda Mill

The origins of modern propaganda, which continues to support America’s endless wars, dates back to World War I and is joined at the hip with the creation of the public relations industry. 

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), Aug. 21, 1991
by C.D. Stelzer

300px-National-security-league-app-1918.jpg

“The Road to Baghdad,” one of many titles on display in the downtown Mercantile Library’s reading room, doesn’t chronicle the latest military conflict. Instead, this example of yellowing journalism — part of an exhibit called “Words at War” — details the Turkish conquest during World War I.

One of David Cassens’ first duties after becoming a curator ot the Mercantile five years ago was creating an annotated catalog of World War I ephemera. Included are 394 propaganda titles from the era, many with anti-German views expressed by the British, French and eventually American propagandists.

“These pamphlets were sent to libraries, churches, schools, private individuals, even Rotary Clubs,” says Cassens. The intent was to sway American public opinion, he says. Ultimately, the campaign succeeded.

Like all good propaganda, the tracts contained elements of truth, says Cassens: “Unrestricted submarine warfare, the destruction of historic towns and the deportation of civilian populations to Germany to work on the labor force — these are all things did happen.” Germany’s ally, Turkey was also responsible for the first modern holocaust: the murder of about 1.5 million Armenians, says Cassens.

Despite all of this, before the Unites States joined in the allied effort, many influential members of the large German-American community in St. Louis argued for neutrality. Former library staffers recall German patrons objected to the material, Cassens says. So most of it was discreetly shelved and went unread.

Ignoring wartime hysteria didn’t make it go away. Germans were being stereotyped in the European propaganda as barbarous Huns. As the United States became drawn into the conflict, anti-German propaganda began to flourish here as well. One pamphlet, part of a “Patriotism Through Educations Series” issued by the National Security League, was called “The Tentacles of the German Octopus in America.” Written by a librarian and professor of history at the University of Syracuse University, it warned about German schools, churches, cultural societies and newspapers.

Another pamphlet, published by the U.S. government in cooperation with the St. Louis Republic, a daily newspaper, attributed all wartime rumors to German spies. The tract, titled “The Kaiserite in America: One Hundred and One German Lies,” implored traveling salesmen to report the identities of gossipmongers to the Committee on Public Information in Washington, D.C.

“You have met him, Mr. Commerical Traveler, … The agents of the Imperial German Government are busily spreading throughout the country all sorts of poisonous lies and disquieting rumors and insidious criticisms of the Government and its war-work. And in no place have they been busier than in tyhe Pullman smoking cars and the hotel lobbies.”

Mass paranoia bore its consequences. Cassens’ own great-grandparents, who immigrated from Germany, lived in Galanbeck, Ill. During the war, he says, the town’s name was changed to Hamel.

Assimilation had become a matter of survival for millions of German-Americans. Many were forced to kiss the American flag or sing the national anthem as a demonstration of allegiance. Those who chose to retain their ethnic identities or expressed divergent poliital views risked intimidation, jaile and even death. Armed guards patrolled the entrance to the nearby German settlement of Maeystown, Ill. for a brief time during World War I, says local historian Gloria Bundy. The sentries were posted in response to vigilantes from Williamson County whbo had threatened to abduct the Rev. Paul Schultz, the town’s minister for conducting services in German.

In St. Louis, Charles H. Weisberg, head of the German American Alliance in Missouri, was indicted on charges of violating the newly enacted Espionage Act for allegedly making disloyal remarks to two St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters. Although he was later acquitted, Weisberg’s organization dissolved because of the war hysteria.

The most tragic result of doughboy jingoism came just after midnight on April 5, 1918, when a drunken Collinsville, Ill. mob lynched Robert Paul Prager, a German immigrant and socialist whom they suspected of being a spy.

Words at War is on public display in the Mercantile Library reading room (on the sixth floor of the Boatmen’s Bank building, 510 Locust St.) through Sept. 8. Library hours are 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday. A booklet describing the exhibition is for sale, and Cassens will give a tour and lecture on Wednesday, Aug. 28 at 5 p.m. For reservations, call 621-0670.

When Security Itself Becomes a Threat

Republic Services, owner of the radioactively-contaminated West Lake landfill,  employs a security guard service with historical ties to the CIA, DOE and State Department.  

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The motto emblazoned on its vehicles is “Securing Your World.”  But G4 Security Solutions’ job in Bridgeton, Mo. is a tad more parochial: It guards Republic Services’ polluted property.  The gig sounds like little more than a standard rent-a-cop deal. But there are reasons to suspect otherwise.

As the underground fire continues to burn unimpeded towards the radioactive waste at West Lake, things have heated up on the surface as well.

Vigilance became a corporate imperative following protests staged by the Earth Defense Coalition on March 31. In the wake of that demonstration, Republic, the owner of the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill, pledged to prevent future disruptions of its business from occurring, and G4S Security Solutions is responsible for keeping that promise.

The protest shutdown Republic’s trash sorting operations at the location for 12 hours, after environmental activists blocked the entrance of the troubled landfill, demanding the EPA relinquish control of the site and handover the clean up duties to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The security company finds itself in the middle of a battle between private interests and public health. Despite its central role in the controversy,  G4S’s presence has garnered little attention until now.

Patrolling the perimeter of the West Lake Superfund site is the most obvious part of G4S’s job description.  Whether the security company has additional duties related to protecting Republic Services’ interests is unclear. But if the history of the security company’s operations are any indication, G4S’s role at West Lake may involve more than just manning the guardhouse at the front entrance.

That’s because the British corporation inherited the cloak and dagger reputation of Wackenhut Security, after merging with the notorious American espionage firm in the early 2000s.  The cost of that buyout was pegged at $500 million.

Besides offering guard services, Wackenhut specialized in intelligence gathering, and keeping tabs on millions of American citizens suspected of being left-wing subversives or communist sympathizers.

George Wackenhut, a former FBI agent, founded the company in the 1950s during the McCarthy era.  In the intervening years, Wackenhut Security grew in size and influence, scoring hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts from federal agencies, including the Department of Energy and U.S. State Department. By the early 1990s, Wackenhut Security was known as the “shadow CIA,” because of the clandestine services it offered to the intelligence community both at home and abroad.

G4S, Wackenhut’s successor, was founded in 2004, when the British multinational security company Securicor merged with a Danish counterpart, Group 4 Falck.

Today, G4S Security Solutions is inextricably tethered to Wackenhut’s tainted legacy. Its British parent company boasts more than 60,000 employees in 125 nations, and is reputedly among the largest employers in Europe and Africa.  Closer to home, its American operation has the dubious distinction of being the employer of Omar Mateen, the mass murderer who killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at an Orlando nightclub last year.

Not surprisingly, G4S Security Solutions denies any culpability for that horrid act.  The Jupiter, Florida-based company, after all, can attribute the mass shooting by its longtime employee as being a random act of violence. It’s not quite as easy to deny the nefarious legacy of Wackenhut Security, however.

G4S now owns it.

By the mid-1960s, Wackenhut was known to be keeping dossiers on more than four million Americans, having acquired the files of a former staffer of the House Committee on Un-American activities. In response to congressional reforms in the post-Watergate era, Wackenhut donated its cache of blacklisted individuals to the virulent anti-communist Church League of America in Wheaton, Illinois, but didn’t give up access to the information. The league cooperated closely with the so-called “red squads” of big city police departments from coast to coast  that spied on suspected communist agitators.

By the early 1990s, Wackenhut was the largest provider of security services to U.S. embassies around the world, including U.S. State Department missions in Chile, Greece and El Salvador, where the CIA was known to have colluded with right-wing death squads.

Wackenhut also guarded nuclear sites in Hanford, Wash. and Savannah River, S.C.  and the Nevada nuclear test site for the Department Energy and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission.

As the company gained more power, it recruited an influential board of directors that included former FBI director Clarence Kelley and Defense Secretary and CIA deputy director Frank Carlucci. William Casey, President Ronald Reagan’s CIA director, served as Wackenhut’s lawyer before joining the Reagan administration.

There is also evidence during the Iran-Contra era of the 1980s that Wackenhut worked for the CIA to supply the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with dual-use technology that could be utilized to make chemical and nuclear weapons.

It could be argued that G4S Security Solutions’ current services at West Lake are unrelated to its predecessor’s tainted past. But many of the residents of St. Louis whose lives have been impacted by Republic Services’ radioactively-contaminated landfill would likely not agree that history is inconsequential.

They already know better.

 

 

To Russia with Love

At the height of the Cold War, the St. Louis city streets director took a hiatus to help build a chemical plant in the Soviet Union for a subsidiary of Slay Transportation. Meanwhile back in the Gateway City, the same company was busy developing a process for disposing of contaminated waste in area landfills.

If this were part of the plot of a spy thriller, it would be hard to suspend disbelief. Midwest business and politics have never been a hotbed of international intrigue. Nevertheless, despite  the anti-communist fervor of the Cold War era,  then-St. Louis Mayor John H. Poelker — a former agent in J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI — granted a subordinate time off  to work in the Soviet Union.

In December 1975, William J. Wilson, then-director of the St. Louis Street Department, took a leave of absence to work on a chemical plant in the Soviet Union for Ecology Controls Inc., a subsidiary of Slay Transportation, a St. Louis-based company owned by Missouri Democratic powerbroker Eugene Slay. The local trucking magnate had no previous experience in international business, but his firm did transport materials for Monsanto and Mallinckrodt Chemical, two St. Louis companies that did.

Wilson, a Slay crony and a chemical engineer, was hired by the city in May 1973 by Mayor John H. Poelker — a former FBI agent. Prior to his work for the bureau, Poelker Poelker was employed by the DuPont Co. in St. Louis. He had hired Wilson at the urging of St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Francis R. Slay, Eugene Slay’s cousin. The late Francis R. Slay is the father of Francis G. Slay, the former mayor who left office earlier this month.

 

In 1979, Wilson’s close ties to Slay became the subject of  a federal grand jury impaneled to probe whether riverfront leases and mooring rights granted by the city to Slay Transportation received favored treatment.  By then, Wilson had quit his post as city streets director to become general manager of Bi-State Development Corp., St. Louis’ mass transit agency.

The Soviet chemical plant, which was located 800 miles southwest of Moscow, was built to produce synthetic parasecrol, a material used in rubber products. Ecology Controls Inc., the Slay subsidiary, was a subcontractor of Ste. Entrepose, a French corporation. Wilson was paid $30,000 by Ecology Controls for his work on the project. He spent approximately three weeks in the Soviet Union. Wilson did the remainder of his work from St. Louis, while continuing to work full-time as the city’s streets director.

At the same time, Ecology Controls was also pursuing other ventures, including a process for disposing of chemically-contaminated waste in area landfills without harming the environment. Collis C. Bryan, a former Monsanto chemical engineer and Parkway School District chemistry teacher, was involved in that project.

Ecology Controls Inc., which was incorporated in 1971, remained an active corporation in Missouri until April 2011, when it merged with J.S. Leasing Company Inc, another Slay-owned company.

The Mayor’s Partner

Gerhard J. Petzall, a former law partner of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, was a director of Spectrulite Consortium Inc., which owned and operated an Eastside plant contaminated with radioactive waste.  After the problem came to light, the company forced its union work force to strike, filed for bankruptcy, and then reorganized under a different name, selling half the business to a foreign conglomerate. 

I collared outgoing St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay at the Earth Day celebration in Forest Park back in 2013 and asked him for a spot interview. He  told me then that he didn’t have time to go on camera for even a few minutes to talk about St. Louis’ longstanding radioactive waste problem.  He was too busy that sunny Sunday afternoon promoting some other well-intentioned environmental cause. It might have been recycling. As a result, the mayor does not appear in our documentary, The First Secret City.

But Richard Callow, the mayor’s longtime political consultant, does make a cameo appearance in the film. Aside from representing the mayor, Callow has also been a local spokesman for Republic Services, the giant waste disposal company that owns the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill Superfund site in North St. Louis County. In that role, Callow has acted to tamp down public concerns about the severity of the environmental and health problems related to the troubled landfill.

Callow, however,  is not the only link between the mayor and the radioactive waste that has plagued the region since it first began piling up as a byproduct of Mallinkcrodt Chemical’s work on the Manhattan Project.

As it turns out,  Gerhard J. Petzall — the mayor’s former law partner — has past ties to the now-defunct Spectrulite Consortium Inc., a company that owned a plant  in Madison, Illinois contaminated with radioactive waste from the Cold War.  Missouri incorporation records  show that Gerhard J. Petzall, a senior partner in the politically-connected law firm of Guilfoil Petzall & Shoemake, sat on the board of directors of Spectrulite for years and continued  act as an attorney for the company until 2009.

By that time, Slay was in his second term as St. Louis mayor. Slay was a partner in Guilfoil Petzall & Shoemake for 20 years prior to becoming mayor.

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The problems at Spectrulite began in 1957 when the foundry was owned by Dow Chemical Co. Dow processed uranium at the plant between 1957 and 1961 under a subcontract with St. Louis-based Mallinckrodt Chemical Co., which was working for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Dow’s work caused radioactive debris to accumulate on overhead girders — where it was ignored for decades. In 2000, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers oversaw a partial radioactive cleanup at the Spectrulite plant.

The Department of Energy conducted the first radiological testing at the facility in March 1989, which showed elevated levels of Uranium-238 and Thorium-232. A story published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the previous month had spurred the government to do the testing. The story was based  in part on the earlier research of Kay Drey. In 1979, the St. Louis environmental activist had interviewed a terminally-ill truck driver who had delivered uranium ingots from Mallinckrodt Chemical in North St. Louis to the Dow plant in Madison. The truck driver attributed his lung cancer to his occupational exposure to radiation in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The plant at Weaver and College streets operates today as Magnesium Elektron of North America, a non-union company and a subsidiary of Luxfur Group of Great Britain. After going bankrupt in 2003,  Spectrulite’s owners sold the company, but continue to hold a stake in the operation and the property itself.

Oddly enough, Spectrulite  remained an active corporation in Missouri — with Petzall’s name appearing in its annual reports long after the business had filed for bankruptcy in federal court in East St. Louis, Ill.  The records show that Petzall continued to be listed as a director of the corporation until 2003, and his name still appeared as a counsel for the by-then non-existent company until 2009.  Spectrulite never operated its manufacturing plant in Missouri. The plant was located across the river in Illinois. But the bankrupt, Illinois-based company, which had been sold to a foreign concern, remained an active corporation in Missouri for six years after its apparent demise; proof that there is life after death at least in the legal world.

Mayor Slay leaves office next week, after serving an unprecedented four terms.  Petzall, the mayor’s legal mentor,  will celebrate his 86th birthday in June.

A Secret Biological Intelligence Program

In 2007, the same congressional committee that years later refused to transfer authority for the clean up of West Lake Landfill to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, investigated the awarding of a Homeland Security bio-surveillance contract to SAIC, the giant defense contractor.

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Leidos offices in St. Louis at 2327 South Grand Blvd.

 During President George W. Bush’s administration, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce announced an inquiry into the National Bio-surveillance Integration System, an intelligence gathering operation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security administered by the Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC).

The House committee was then apparently interested in whether the bidding process was rigged.

In 2013, SAIC spun off a large portion of its classified government work by forming another company, Leidos. Both SAIC and Leidos have received  multi-million-dollar contracts to do clean up work  for the  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Formerly Utilized Site Remediation Program (FUSRAP) in St. Louis, including the continuing cleanup of Coldwater Creek in North St. Louis County.

In addition to its environmental engineering component, Leidos is the largest private cyber espionage outfit in the nation with estimated government contracts worth $60 billion. The company employs 80 percent of the private-sector work force engaged in contract work for U.S. spy and surveillance agencies, including Homeland Security, the CIA and NSA.

Leidos also has a contract with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources through its  federal facilities management division.

The earlier creation of the National Bio-surveillance Integration by Homeland Security through its contract with SAIC has received little subsequent attention. The program was authorized by President George W. Bush under Presidential Directive 10. Its stated mission was “to provide early detection and situational awareness of biological events of potential national consequence by acquiring, integrating, analyzing, and disseminating existing human, animal, plant, and environmental bio-surveillance system data into a common operating picture,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The Department of Homeland Security further describes the classified program as follows: “The National Biosurveillance Integration Center (NBIC) integrates, analyzes, and distributes key information about health and disease events to help ensure the nation’s responses are well-informed, save lives, and minimize economic impact.” 

Spurred by the outcries of concerned residents about potential health problems associated with chronic exposure to radioactive waste, the St. Louis County Health Department in conjunction with the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry have taken an active interest in the radioactive waste issue in the St. Louis region.  Whether Homeland’s Bio-Surveillance operation is monitoring conditions in St. Louis independently or with the cooperation of these other government agencies remains unknown.

Other community activists have long advocated taking away the control of the West Lake Landfill Superfund site in Bridgeton, Mo.  from the EPA and putting it under the control of the Corps of Engineers FUSRAP program, which has authority over the other St. Louis area radioactive sites.  But despite bi-partisan support of the St. Louis area congressional delegation, a bill slotted to shift control died in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce last year.

The West Lake Landfill Superfund site is owned by Republic Services Inc., the second-largest waste disposal company in the U.S. The company’s chief spokesman is Russ Knocke, a former top spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

The presence of a top-secret operation inside an AT&T building near West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton adds another murky hue to an already cloudy picture. The facility is presumed to be controlled by the National Security Agency but may house some other unknown government covert operation.