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Introduction: Continuing discussion of Tom O’Neill’s opus Chaos:  Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties , these programs illustrate the “post-democratic” state of American politics by presenting the career of a veteran CIA officer named Reeve Whitson.
- Was alleged by Iranian immigrant Shahrokh Hatami to have phoned him with knowledge of the killings of Sharon Tate, et al, before the crime was reported by the news media and before law enforcement even arrived at the crime scene!
- Was alleged by the LAPD’s top investigator and Sharon Tate’s father (a Colonel in Army intelligence) to have been deeply involved with the Manson investigation.
- Was alleged by attorney Neil Cummings to have maintained some kind of surveillance on the Cielo Drive home, as part of some sort of work he was doing for the intelligence community.
- Was confirmed as an officer of the CIA by his own ex-wife.
- Was known to have felt that he was–in the end–betrayed by the faction of the CIA for which he worked.
- Was able to pull strings in a pivotal way: “. . . . A British film director who himself claimed to have ties to MI5, [John] Irvin said that Whitson got meetings ‘with minutes’ at “the highest levels of the defense industry—it was amazing.’ ”
- Was apparently a close associate of retired General Curtis LeMay, George Wallace’s Vice-Presidential candidate in 1968.
- Was associated with LeMay when the latter became vice-president of a missile parts manufacturer, which was headed by Mihai Patrichi . Patrichi was a former Romanian army general and a member of the Romanian Iron Guard , whom we have spoken about and written about in many programs and posts . The Iron Guard was part of the Gehglen “Org,” the ABN  and the GOP .
- Was associated, through his intelligence work with Otto Skorzeny  and his wife Ilse.
- Was the special adviser to the chairman of the board of the Thyssen firm , also as part of his intelligence work.
Concluding the discussion, we present O’Neill’s discussion of Lawrence Shiller and Jerry Cohen, two journalists believed by many Warren Commission critics to be media “intelligence assets.”
Both Schiller and Cohen helped to shape the “official” version of the Manson Family operations and both cropped up in the context of the JFK assassination as well.
. . . . I wanted to see . . . if Manson had any credible connections to the government or law enforcement, and if I could link him to the police infiltrations of leftist groups I’d read about. Then, as if I’d conjured him from thin air, someone emerged who fit into the puzzle. He seemed to have wandered into Southern California from the pages of a spy novel . . . . His name was Reeve Whitson, and his intersections with the Manson investigation suggested a dimension to the Tate-LaBianca murders that had been wiped from the official record.
It started with Shahrokh Hatami, Sharon Tate’s friend and personal photographer. When I spoke with Hatami over the phone in 1999, he’d never given an interview about the murders. Sorting through his memories, he recalled something he’d never been able to explain.
At seven in the morning on August 9, 1969, Hatami got a frantic phone call from a friend. Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he listened as the caller delivered the terrible news: Sharon Tate and four others had been murdered in her home on Cielo Drive. Afterward, in numb terror, he and his girlfriend switched on the radio and listened all morning for further reports. They had to wait a while. As Hatami later learned, that call came ninety minutes before the Polanskis’ maid had arrived at the house, discovered the bodies, and ran screaming to the neighbors, who called the police. Unwittingly, Hatami had become one of the first people in the world to hear about the murders—all because of his friend.
That “friend” was Reeve Whitson, whom Hatami characterized as “a mystery man”—a phrase I’d hear a lot as I researched him in earnest. A close friend of Tate and Polanski, Whitson had a talent for discretion. When people remembered him at all, he was usually on the periphery, coming and going, his purpose unknown, his purpose unknown, his motives inscrutable. . . .
As well it should. Hatami’s testimony was a dramatic high point. Before the packed courtroom, he explained that five months before the murders, he’d been visiting Sharon Tate when he noticed someone on the property. Hustling toward the front door, he found a short, scraggly Manson standing there. Manson asked if Terry Melcher was around. Hatami wanting to be rid of him, sent Manson around back. He knew that Rudi Altobelli lived in the guest-house, and could tell him where to find Melcher.
. . . . To get some sense of Whitson’s role in the case, I looked his name up in the trial transcript. It appeared four times, all during Hatami’s testimony. It was Whitson, he confirmed on the stand, who brought him to [Vincent] Bugliosi during the investigation. And yet Whitson never appeared in Helter Skelter, which gave an otherwise detailed account of Hatami’s story.
Hatami’s story proved that Manson knew where the house on Cielo Drive was, and how to get there. And it added some tragic foreshadowing: since Tate, Sebring, Folger, and Frykowski were in the room behind Hatami, this would be the one and only time Manson laid eyes on his future victims.
The problem, Hatami revealed to me, was that he’d never been confident that it was Manson he saw that day. His uncertainty meant nothing to Bugliosi and Reeve Whitson, who coerced his testimony anyway. “The circumstances I was put through to become a witness,” Hatami said, “I didn’t like at all.” Whitson told him “‘Hatami, you saw that guy, Altobelli said so, we need another person to corroborate it.’” . . . .
Hatami demurred, and Whitson turned the screws, effectively threatening him with deportation—he said he’d ensure that Hatami, an Iranian without U.S. citizenship, wouldn’t be able to get another visa. If he wanted to stay in America, all he had to do was say he’s seen Manson that day at Tate’s house. Not long after, Whitson brought Hatami to his car and showed him his gun. Although Hatami didn’t know Whitson too well, he took the threat seriously—he believed that Whitson really had the means to deport him.
“I was framed by Mr. Whitson,” Hatami told me. “I was never sure it happened that way. I had to save my ass.” Bugliosi and I were still speaking then, so I asked him if he knew Whitson at all. Hatami thought that was “rubbish.” “Bugliosi knows him very well, “ he said. “I could not have been a witness without Reeve.”
He was right. Because the defense suspected that Bugliosi and Whitson had, indeed, coerced Hatami’s story, they called on Bugliosi to explain himself at the trial. Under oath, but out of the presence of the jury, Bugliosi tried to answer for the fact that he’s interviewed without a tape recorder or a stenographer. Who was in the room when Hatami talked? “Just Reeve Whitson, myself, and Mr. Hatami,” Bugliosi replied. the judge decided that Hatami couldn’t testify to having seen Manson. The jury heard only that he house when a man came to the door, and that he sent the man to the guesthouse.
But of course, Bugliosi had forgotten that he’d supplied Whitson’s name under oath. Whitson wanted it that way. He served his purpose and then disappeared, Hatami said, like “a piece in a chess game.”
If Whitson was a chess piece, who was moving him around? He’d died in 1994, so I couldn’t ask him. Hatami gave me the names of people who might’ve known him Almost invariably they told me the same thing: that Whitson had been an undercover agent of some kind. Some said he was in the FBI, others the Secret Service. The rough consensus, though, was that he was part of the CIA, or an offshoot special-operations group connected to it.
. . . . I’d already spoken to Frenchie LaJeunesse, the FBI agent who’d contributed to Five Down on Cielo Drive. I called him again to ask whether Walter Kern was really Reeve Whitson.
His answer: “Yes.” In fact, the publishing deal couldn’t have happened without Whitson, LaJeunesse said. “Reeve Whitson was a part of putting the book together, the linchpin between all of us.”
It was Lieutenant Helder, the lead investigator for the LAPD who’d assigned Whitson the pseudonym of Walter Kern, to protect his undercover status—hardly a step one would take with an ordinary “amateur sleuth.” “Reeve didn’t want his name associated with a book,” La Jeunesse said, even long after the Manson case had been solved. “Not on the jacket, not even in contracts—he didn’t even want money.”
In effect, I now had written proof from the LAPD’s head investigator, and from Sharon Tate’s own father, that Reeve Whitson was smack in the middle of the Manson investigation from the start. . . .
Maybe the most compelling evidence came from Neil Cummings, a lawyer who’d known Whitson since ’84. Several people had told me he was among Reeve’s closest confidants, so I took him to lunch. I hadn’t told him about Hatami’s claim–that Whitson had called him before the bodies were even identified–but he corroborated it independently.
According to Cummings, Whitson was in a top-secret arm of the CIA, even more secretive than most of the agency. He talked a lot about his training in killing people, implying that he’d done it at least a few times. And when it came to Manson, he “was closer to it than anybody,” Cummings avowed:
“He was actively involved with some sort of investigation when it happened. He worked closely with a law enforcement person and talked quite a bit about events leading up to the murders, but I don’t remember what they were. He had regrets for not stopping them, for doing something about it.
He had reason to believe something weird was about to happen at the [Tate] house. He might have been there when it happened, right before or after–the regret was maybe that he wasn’t there when it happened. He told me he was there after the murders, but before the police got there. He said there were screw ups before and after. I believe he said he knew who did it, and it took him a long time to lead police to who did it.
Whitson had the Tate house under surveillance, Cummings added, which is how he knew something was going to happen. On the night of the murders, he’d been there and left. . . . .
. . . . Sure enough, I reached his ex-wife, Ellen Josefson (Nee Nylund), by phone in Sweden. Josefson didn’t beat around the bush.
“He was working for the CIA,” she said. “That is why I am worried to talk to you.”
“Was she sure about that?”
“Yes, I am sure.” She and Reeve had met in Sweden in ’61, she explained. They fell in love in an instant. Before the end of the year, they’d married and moved to New York. In those days, he was undercover as a journalist, producing pro-Communist pieces as a ploy to meet radicals. This, he seems to have hoped, would lead to more contacts in Russia. It was a scheme so elaborate that someone from the Polish embassy was involved, she remembered, and in due time, Whitson was bringing Russians to their place.
“I got furious with him,” she said. “I was very anti-Communist.” How could she have married a pinko? That’s when Whitson felt he had to pull the curtain back. He explained that it was just part of his work for the agency—something he was otherwise ill inclined to discuss. . . .
. . . . A British film director who himself claimed to have ties to MI5, [John] Irvin said that Whitson got meetings “with minutes” at “the highest levels of the defense industry—it was amazing.” He was “on the fringes of very far-out research” for the government, “not discussed openly because it verges on the occult.” He added that Whitson “had very good connections with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office” and pull with immigration officials, as Shahrokh Hatami had said. . . .
. . . . Then came Otto and Ilse Skorzeny, the most sinister of Whitson’s friends. They were Nazis—genuine, German, dyed-in-the wool Nazis. The United Nations listed Otto Skorzeny as a war criminal. He’s been one of Hitler’s most trusted operatives, leading the manhunt of one of the Fuhrer’s would-be assassins and spearheading a secret mission to rescue Mussolini. After the Third Reich fell, Skorzeny safeguarded the wealth of countless Nazis and helped disgraced war criminals settle into new lives around the world. Brought to trial before a U.S. military court, Skorzeny was alleged to be “the most dangerous man in Europe”—but he was acquitted, having made himself an asset to U.S. intelligence. His wife, the Countess Ilse von Finkelstein, was once a member of the Hitler Youth; a shrewd businesswoman known for her beauty and charm, she negotiated arms deals and contracts for German engineering companies. Irvin had met Ilse many times through Whitson. When she got drunk, he said, “she was always doing Heil Hitler salutes!” . . . .
. . . . His [Whitson’s] resume was scant from the fifties through the seventies, after which it covered more ground than seemed possible for a single life. He was the special advisor to the chairman of the board of Thyssen, among the largest corporations in Germany. . . .
. . . . Colonel Tate was just one of his friends in high places. Usually, in the same breath, Whitson’s friends named another military bigwig: General Curtis LeMay.
. . . . LeMay, a former Air-Force officer nicknamed “Bombs Away LeMay,” had retired in ’65 and turned to defense contracting, where one critic feared that he “could e more dangerous than when he was Air Force Chief of Staff.” He moved to L.A. to become the vice president of a missile-parts manufacturer, but it fizzled, a did LeMay’s brief political career. After that, Mr. Bombs Away had spent his retirement roaming the city with Mr. Anonymous [Reeve Whitson.] . . . .
. . . . Though I never figured out what LeMay and Whitson got up to together, it was plausible that they were tied up in Charlie Baron’s cabal of right-wing Hollywood friends, the ones who, Little Joe told me, had “done terrible things to black people.” (George Wallace, who’d chosen LeMay as his running mate in his’68 presidential bid, as among the nation’s most notorious racists.) .
“I’m sure he knew Baron,” Whitson’s friend John Irvin told me. . . . +
. . . . Le May was hired by Networks Electronic in 1965. The high-security facility, which had a contract with the Defense Department, was located in Chatsworth, California,less than five miles from the Spahn Ranch. The company’s founder and president, Mihai Patrichi, was a former Romanian army general who was a member of the Iron Guard . . . .
. . . . In his final years, Whitson was destitute and disgruntled, telling rueful stories of the “Quarry”–his term for the section of the CIA he worked for–and trash-talking the agency. Once you’re in, he told one friend, “You really are a pawn.” In his dying days, the government had said, “You didn’t even exist to us.” . . . . About a year before he died, seeing the thriller The Pelican Brief, Whitson leaned over in the dark of the cinema and told a friend, “I wrote the yellow papers on everything that happened.” With a hint of nostalgia, he explained that “yellow papers” detailed interrogation techniques, including a procedure in which a man had a plastic tube inserted in his rectum, peanut butter smeared on his scrotum, and a rat dropped in the tube. . . .
9. Concluding the discussion, we present O’Neill’s discussion of Lawrence Shiller and Jerry Cohen, two journalists believed by many Warren Commission critics to be media “intelligence assets.”
Both Schiller and Cohen helped to shape the “official” version of the Manson Family operations and both cropped up in the context of the JFK assassination as well.
. . . . In ’67 Schiller had published the first book to attack the conspiracy theorists around John F. Kennedy’s assassination, staunchly supporting the official explanation for JFK’s death. That same year . . . Schiller wormed his way into the Dallas hospital room of Jack Ruby, who’d killed Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. The reporter emerged with the only recording ever made of Ruby’s confessing to the murder. Schiller released it on vinyl that year. Notably he’d taped Ruby saying that he hadn’t killed Oswald as part of a conspiracy, thus shoring up the government’s official line. . . .
. . . . I did find a trove of documents in the National Archives showing that Schiller had been citing as an informant for the FBI in 1967 and 1968, sharing confidential information with the Bureau about Mark Lane’s sources. . . .
. . . . Others had made similar claims about Cohen and Schiller. Pete Noyes, a TV investigative reporter who’d written a book on the assassinations of President Kennedy and his brother Robert, said that Cohen, a friend, had pressured him to abandon the project. If Noyes dropped the publication of the book, Cohen promised him a plum job at the Los Angeles Times. Noyes declined the offer, but he was disturbed by how much Cohen knew about his unpublished work. A few weeks later, he was fired from his job at CBS News. Cohen was “a strange little guy,” Noyes told me. He wondered why his onetime friend tried to quash his book, and he suspected that Cohen had played a role in his firing, too. Although he could never p[rove it, Noyes was fairly certain that Cohen was a CIA asset. . . .