Document:Permindex - The International Trade in Disinformation
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Permindex - The International Trade in Disinformation
On the 12th February 1967, Rosemary James of the New Orleans States-Item newspaper discovered that Jim Garrison, District Attorney of New Orleans, had spent more than $8,000 on his own investigation of the assassination of John Kennedy. (The story appeared on the front page on February 20th.) Two weeks later the DA's office announced the arrest of Clay Shaw, a wealthy New Orleans businessman and real estate developer, on charges of conspiring to assassinate Kennedy. From then on Garrison's enquiry took place in the full glare of the world's media, making objective reporting and investigation virtually impossible.
It is not completely clear how Garrison's enquiry started or why Shaw became the chief suspect. It is said that Garrison became interested following a suggestion from Senator Russell Long, later named as a principal figure in the 'Save Hoffa' campaign. If Long's association with Hoffa undermined the credibility of the inquiry from the beginning, with the death of another leading suspect, David Ferrie, the whole affair degenerated into wilder and wilder theories.
Garrison had spent hours pouring over the third volume of the Warren Commission Report. He settled on two leads: the aforementioned David Ferrie, and one 'Clay Bertrand'. 'Clay Bertrand' appeared in the testimony of lawyer Dean Andrews who claimed that, following the assassination, he had received a phone call from 'Bertrand' asking him to represent Lee Harvey Oswald. Andrews already knew Oswald slightly having dealt with problems connected with Oswald's Marine Discharge papers; and 'Bertrand' from his involvement with same "gay Mexican kids". Andrews claimed they were friends of Oswald. But 'Bertrand' was never identified. Garrison "solved" that mystery. Clay Shaw was 'Bertrand'.
How this conclusion was arrived at has never been adequately explained. One story has it that Garrison's detectives sat round thinking of people in New Orleans whose name began with Clay. Someone suggested Shaw and the ball rolled on from there. When insurance salesman Perry Raymond Russo came into the picture and claimed he had attended a party where Ferrie, 'Bertrand' and Oswald had talked of assassinating Kennedy, the conspiracy was apparently proved.
But the evidence was flimsy at best. Shaw was a homosexual and may have had a relationship with Ferrie (also a homosexual) - pictures exist which suggest that. Shaw was connected to the CIA (as was Ferrie) but only in a minor way; while Ferrie had been involved in operations surrounding the Bay of Pigs. Ferrie had known Oswald for a long time: Oswald had distributed Fairplay For Cuba leaflets outside Shaw's International Trade Mart. But that is almost all the evidence, and much of it only emerged after the Garrison enquiry.
There is no evidence that Shaw ever met Oswald: the descriptions of Oswald and 'Bertrand' at the party that Russo attended are flawed. 'Oswald' was always 'Leon Oswald', and was physically more like the Oswald double, with his recent beard, than Lee Harvey himself. And Bertrand's forename was Clem - not Clay. Even underhypnosis Russo referred to Clem and at no point in the following months did he say that Clay Shaw was Bertrand. It was only when the trial came up that the two became intertwined; and by then Russo may have felt he had to fall into line.
The only substantial evidence that was presented at the trial was hard to dislodge because the witnesses were respected and not seeking media attention. Residents of Clinton claimed that they had seen Oswald, Ferrie and Shaw together in the town when black voters were registering. Hindsight suggests that while Oswald and Ferrie were probably there, the third person was more likely to have been Guy Bannister, not Shaw. Bannister fitted the description worked with, had known Ferrie and Oswald, and was heavily involved in racist and anti-civil rights activities.
What remains of Garrison's enquiry? He was certainly on the right track with Ferrie. His (Ferrie's) links to the anti-Castro Cubans, and contacts with the CIA/Organised Crime nexus put him in a position at least to know of the real conspirators. Garrison was also right to investigate the 'Bertrand' figure, although Dean Andrews was obviously frightened, his descriptions of 'Bertrand' becoming progressively more colourful - some obviously invented to conceal the real identity. As regards Shaw, no new evidence has appeared in the intervening years to associate him explicitly with the conspiracy. But at the time of the Garrison enquiry, such 'evidence' seemed to be flowering all over the place: and the seeds were coming from the most unlikely areas.
Clay Shaw was arrested on May 1st. On the 4th the Italian newspaper Il Paese Sera (referred to henceforth as IPS) carried an article on the Garrison enquiry which focused on the alleged activities of Shaw. IPS claimed that Shaw was one of the directors of the Rome World Trade Centre (Centro Mondiale Commerciale - aka CMC); that CMC was used as a conduit by the CIA for subsidies to anti-Communist groups; that CMC had links with the Italian Fascists; that CMC was affiliated with Permindex (Permanent Industrial Exhibitions); that Permindex had been expelled from Switzerland because of (undisclosed) criminal activities; that Permindex had financed the efforts of the OAS in France; and that CMC closed because of the publicity it had attracted, and had relocated in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Two days later a second article appeared giving more names and details. Permindex was linked to anti-Communist Ferenc Nagy, once head of the provisional government of Hungary. (He was forced to resign in 1947.)
"Another was Louis Bloomfield, an American agent who now plays the role of a businessman from Canada (who) established secret ties in Rome with Deputies of the Christian Democrats and neo-Fascist parties."
This "information" travelled the world, and even Moscow became interested in the Garrison inquiry. The telephone switchboard in Garrison's outer office
"blazed like a pinball machine gone mad... one Moscow journalist made six long distance calls without ever reaching Garrison himself."
Pravda's correspondent V. Yermakov wrote an article on 7th March, based on material printed in IPS and L'Unita. The French-language Montreal paper, Le Devoir, printed a translation of the Pravda article, and on 16th March, Le Devoir's New York correspondent, Lou Wiznitzer, produced a longer article on the Garrison inquiry based on the IPS material. This, in turn, formed the basis of a piece by Clark Blaise, Neo-Fascism and The Kennedy Assassination in Canadian Dimension (September 1968). And, finally this article in turn looks like the material used by W. W. Turner for his article in Ramparts (January 1968) which proved so influential in spreading the alleged Permindex-Clay Shaw connection.
Gradually the 'conspiracy' was becoming exaggerated. Associates of CMC became Directors; what were slight links became direct connections. An IPS article on 18th March announced that Shaw had organised Kennedy's visit to Dallas and had proposed the luncheon at the Trade Mart. Both assertions were untrue. From there on the Permindex "conspiracy" - which by now had become a hotbed of international assassins - was losing all touch with reality, and the myths became accepted by the less discerning assassination buffs. The myths were most publicly and thoroughly expressed in Paris Flammonde's book An Uncommissioned Report On The Garrison Inquiry which devoted a whole chapter to material, once again taken from the IPS articles. The wilder conspiracy theorists passed round The Torbitt Memorandum for years as if it were the Holy Grail, when what it contained was the same IPS information dressed up with the addition of the Solidarists, Hungarians, and Neo-Fascists - interesting in themselves, but whose relation to the assassination has never been established.
Bizarre was the appearance of the book Betrayal by minor ex-CIA operative Robert Morrow. Some people take the book very seriously but once again the same old meagre information was spread very thinly. Exactly what Morrow's motive was isn't clear since his links to the CIA and the Government didn't appear to stop his taking on the title ex-CIA. But the biscuit is taken by the US Labour Party who seem to have survived the last decade peddling absolute garbage about Permindex - the conspiracy not only including the Kennedy assassination, but also the domination of the West by the British(!) - supplemented by a disgusting dose of anti-Semitism.
This foreign material on Shaw and Kennedy was potentially fascinating but nobody seemed to notice that it was all coming from one direction - Communist sources: Il Paese Sera and L'Unita were both Italian Communist Party papers. And while some of the information seems to have been true, the way it was presented, and the distortion of the evidence suggest that this was a case of disinformation. And this wasn't the first time that IPS had disseminated half-truths. An earlier episode illustrates the international trade in disinformation and partly illuminates the Permindex connection. In 1961 French Generals prepared a putsch against President de Gaulle. Within hours of the mutiny on April 22nd, rumours had begun to circulate that the CIA had played a role in encouraging the revolt. Such rumours appear to have been based on the slim evidence that (a) General Maurice Challe, leader of the revolt, had been close to American military aides during his term of service with NATO and (b) that Richard Bissell, then Director of the Plans Division of the CIA, had met with Jacques Soustelle on December 7th 1960. (Soustelle was a French politician who had planned a previous unsuccessful putsch). Significantly for us, the rumours first appeared in print in the Rome daily, Il Paese Sera, which reported:
"It is not by chance that some people in Paris are accusing the American Secret Service, headed by Allen Dulles, of having participated in the plot of the four 'ultra' Generals.... Franco, Salazar, Allen Dulles are the figures who hide themselves behind the pronouncements of the 'ultras'. They arethe pillars of an international conspiracy basing itself on the Iberian dictatorships, on the residue of the most fierce and blind colonialism, on the intrigues of the CIA which reacts furiously to the advance of progress and democracy."
The rumours on April 22nd were launched cautiously by "a minor official at the Elysee Palace itself", according to Crosby Noyes in the Washington Star. Foreign Minister Courve De Murville told a few favoured journalists that Challe had been encouraged in his putsch by the CIA.
Pompidou was careful, suggesting that there was a plot backed by American money. He was clever enough to display concern without inferring CIA involvement, for he was about to go to the United States and knew that he would be asked about French attitudes to NATO. He was playing both sides in what became a battle between the pro-American sections in France and the Gaullists.
By the time Kennedy's Press Secretary, Pierre Salinger, arrived in Paris on 2nd May to make arrangements for Kennedy's forthcoming visit, the rumours had become well ingrained in the French press. Salinger had been briefed by the CIA's Helms who had categorically denied that the CIA had at any time sided with the rebel Generals. Helms admitted that agents had spoken with people around the Generals and had met with Soustelle, but said they had been part of a general fact-finding mission to see if the dissatisfaction with de Gaulle was great enough to cause them to revolt. Salinger was satisfied that the CIA had not gone too far in its mission, "Though the Generals could have misinterpreted it." Salinger asked De Murville if he had any evidence that the CIA was involved in the Generals' revolt, and when he said he had none, Salinger suggested that the French stop peddling the story. The next day De Murville appeared before the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies to testify that there was no evidence of US complicity.
But the rumours had worked, souring French-American relations; pushing de Gaulle into an anti-NATO corner; splitting the French Government so well that the wounds wouldn't heal until Pompidou met with Nixon in June 1970 to secure French-American relations.
It is against this background that we should view the book Farewell America, a Gaullist disinformation attempt to redress the balance in the French government in its relations with America. It is the perfect summation of Gaullist attitudes to the US and provides a key to their understanding. The whole military/industrial/political complex is portrayed as some sort of heart of darkness where Kennedy, because he displays a European outlook, must suffer. Only de Gaulle can stand up to this monster.
He is a realist...belongs to that great family of emperors who have always placed the interests of the state above sentiment - even when it caused their hearts to suffer."
For de Gaulle, foreign policy was the place where internal politics are played out and Farewell America is an attack on his enemies within the French State. The book had atremendous impact in Europe (but not in Britain) but was never published in the US, though copies were placed with Ramparts, W. W. Turner and the Garrison inquiry.
Of the Kennedy assassination de Gaulle said in 1964:
"Kennedy's murder will involve all sorts of consequences. Blood calls for blood. America is becoming less and less a stable country, one that can be relied on. It is returning to its old demons."
For France, the old demons were represented by the OAS, who had a long history of assassination attempts on de Gaulle. And on March 6th 1967, Il Paese Sera intimated that the OAS were partly financed by ...Permindex. Ferenc Nagy, President of Permindex:
"was said by the French press to be a munificent contributor to the philofascistic movement of (Jacques) Soustelle."
But what do we really know about the history of Permindex? Very little it seems. What I have pieced together comes primarily from a selection of newspaper clippings from Switzerland in the late 1950s and early 1960s. How accurate these are I can't say: the press cuttings are vague, internally inconsistent - Permindex was as much a mystery in the 1950s as it is today.
The origins of Permindex appear to lie in New Orleans in 1948 - probably with Clay Shaw's International Trade Mart. In 1956 Permindex - apparently representing a "group of American business interests" - decided to move into Europe and set up in Basle, Switzerland. Two companies were set up under the auspices of the Permindex mother company: Building Finance (AG) and Parkhof (AG). (AG just indicates that this is a private company.) These two companies were supposed to buy land and develop it with skyscrapers, parks etc - the press accounts at the time were full of grandiose plans. The President of Permindex was Ferenc Nagy. But it appears that he was not the controller of the companies - more a nominal head, a front man who would appear attractive to Government officials and politicians. The only director who appears to have been identified was George Mantello, a Rumanian in Swiss business and media circles.
Permindex's plans in Basle appear to have generated considerable commercial suspicion. None of its plans came to fruition and the Basle press, which had earlier devoted columns and columns to its plans, became critical. In 1961 the Basle Workers' Paper (and that's a literal translation from the German) accused Nagy and Permindex of being "a bunch of swindlers".(It was further alleged that Nagy had been in jail in Rome for fraud.) Nagy sued for libel, won the case, but was awarded very small damages (only 3000 old francs.) Shortly after the trial Parkhof (AG) went bankrupt and, as one of the papers put it, it became clear that what Nagy and Permindex had been up to was a basic con. The Public Prosecutor's Office in Basle appears to have been considering bringing criminal charges against the company but were leaned on by various Swiss politicians not to do so. (There is no documentation of this in the Basle paper and its veracity is unknown.)
It appears that all this bad publicity led Permindex to leave Basle of its own accord - not thrown out as IPS alleges. Permindex next moved to Rome where it set itself up as the World Trade Centre (CMC) in the buildings of what had been the World War 2 World Exhibition Centre.
In 1962 the Centre was opened at a ceremony attended by top Italian Government and political figures. The set-up once again seems to have appeared to be fairly mysterious to outside observers and by 1964 more bad publicity appears to have been generated and they shut down and moved to South Africa.
That, so far, is the extent of the evidence, though I do intend pursuing it further. Obviously such a shadowy company is open to all kinds of theories. It could have been used for economic intelligence, as suggested by Shaw. Equally, it could have been used to finance politicians. But where is the evidence for any of that? If there is such evidence I will bow to it; but for the moment it looks as if 'facts' took a back seat to the fascination with international conspiracies.
The Permindex disinformation campaign succeeded very well in Italy where it reached the level of questions being asked in Parliament and front-page media coverage. In the States though, it never really took off. The media had been turned off Garrison by the increasingly wilder theories, but it did help plant the idea of CIA involvement in the assassination in the public mind. That could be a mixed blessing - perhaps another part of the cover-up for other intelligence agencies (such as Military Intelligence) which may have played an equal or bigger role in the murder. The Garrison inquiry turned into a massive disinformation exercise by the CIA, anti-Castro Cubans, the Teamsters and the Mafia. The fall-out is still with us.
- The Garrison investigation was, to some extent, intertwined with the efforts of Teamster allies to prevent/terminate the imprisonment of Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa. The inquiry became a means of applying pressure to have the Government's chief anti-Hoffa witness, E.G.Partin, recant his testimony. Partin, it was claimed, was the connection between Ruby and Oswald. On this see P. D. Scott's Crime and Cover-up (Westworks, Berkeley, California; 1977) pp.27/28; and Edward Epstein's Counterplot (NY 1969) pp41/42.
- When Ferrie was removed from the payroll of Eastern Airlines in 1961, among those who intervened on his behalf was Long. On this see House Select Committee Hearings Vol 10 p 20 note 143.
- See Warren Commission Vol 2: testimony of Dean Andrews.
- Picture of Shaw and Ferrie in JFK: The Case For Conspiracy Peter Model and Robert Groden (NY 1976). Victor Marchetti's claim that Shaw was a domestic CIA contact confirmed recently by Freedom of Information release from the CIA. Ferrie appears to have never been formally employed by the CIA but worked through various CIA front organisations in anti-Cuban activities. He knew Oswald when he (Oswald) was a junior member of Ferrie's branch of the Civil Air Patrol.
- A similar 'Leon Oswald' appeared at Sylvia Odio's and at Ruby's club, though Jarnigan, who witnessed the latter, is generally dismissed. See House Select Committee Vol 10 and Penn Jones' Forgive My Grief Vol 1 p54.
- See Echoes of Conspiracy Vol 3 No 7 December 1981. On Bannister/Oswald, agood account is in A. Summers' Conspiracy (London 1980)
- Personally I think a more interesting figure than Shaw was Clem Sehrt, who knew Oswald's mother, had dealt with Oswald's Marine discharge, was close to Marcello's organisation, and had himself been asked to represent Oswald after the assassination. See Summers (note 6 above) p338; and HSCA Vol 9 p100.
- James Phelan in Saturday Evening Post May 6th 1967.
- See Current Digest of The Soviet Press Vol 19 No 10 1967.
- Lou Wiznitzer was an interesting journalist. He dismissed all American journals except I. F. Stone's Weekly and Ramparts. He was a Latin American specialist and reported the Cuban revolution in 1958, living in the Sierra Maestra with Castro and his men. He also found himself reporting on Angola, Laos, Congo, Cambodia etc. He had worked for L'Expresso (Rome) by which route he may have obtained the IPS material. IPS recently came back into the news. Calvi had been playing both sides, giving money to the Christian Democrats and the CP, who used the money to finance Il Paese Sera from 1975 onwards. See God's Banker Rupert Cornwell (London 1983) p72
- In The Assassinations ed. Scott. Hoch and Stetler (Pelican 1978)
- Paris Flammonde (NY 1969) Flammonde was the producer of the Long John Knebel Show, a chat show in New York. His next book was to be on UFOs. Knebel married Candy Jones, the subject of the 'mind control' book The Control of Candy Jones Donald Bain (London 1980)
- Betrayal: A Reconstruction of Certain Clandestine Events from the Bay of Pigs to the Assassination of JFK (Chicago 1976) The Torbitt Memorandum: Nomenclature of An Assassination Cabal (privately printed US circa 1970) Apparently the work of now dead lawyer, David Copeland. One can only hope he wrote legal briefs better than he wrote this. USLP: Dope Inc Jeffrey Steinberg and David Goldman (NY 1981)
- Il Paese Sera was financed directly by the Communist Party of Italy who had unofficial editorial control. Its editor Mario Malloni, was a member of the Soviet-backed World Peace Council. IPS, it has been said "consistently released and reported anti-American and pro-Soviet bloc stories which are either distorted or entirely false." Andrew Tully CIA (London 1962) p 45
- This section is based on Tully (above). Tully isn't to be taken as gospel, but in this case his account of these events has been confirmed since by others.
- At the December 7th 1960 meeting between Bissell and Soustelle was another man who the papers failed to mention - Phillipe De Vosjoli. He was head of French Intelligence in the US, and tipped off the Americans about the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba while he was stationed there. (Events portrayed in fictionalised form in Hitchcocks's film Topaz) Pro OAS, he was fired in 1963 because of his services for the CIA. His celebrated revelations in the CIA-sponsored La Comite (1975) showed the real extent of the dissension against Gaullist policy towards the US by French Intelligence (SDECE) officers. The Gaullists in France, including their loyal adherents in SDECE, and their dirty tricksters in SAC, were the CIA's arch enemies. The murder in 1965 of Moroccan exile leader Ben Barka, had de Gaullefuming. He was convinced the CIA were involved (they were) but couldn't touch them. "Collaboration with the CIA went beyond certain French intelligence units to the highest circles, to the men closest to de Gaulle". (The Great Heroin Coup Henrik Kruger (Montreal 1980) p 67. This included Pompidou, who was blasted verbally by de Gaulle but who could do little more than shout. One of those arrested was Marcel Leroy (later to ghost write De Vosjoli's La Comite). De Vosjoli managed to spring him from prison by blackmailing the SDECE and some French politicians. In a similar episode a Frenchman, believed to be a CIA agent code named QJ/Win, released 'soldier of fortune' and gunrunner Thomas Eli Davis from prison in Tangiers, just before the assassination of Kennedy. Davis knew Ruby and had a note on him referring to 'Oswald'. See The Ruby Cover-up Seth Kantor (US 1978)
- Richard Helms, Assistant Director of the CIA, explained to a Senate Internal Security Sub-Committee that there was a reason why Pravda was a day behind IPS in circulating the story: "Instead of having the story originate in Moscow, where every one would pinpoint it, they planted the story in Italy." Helms is not a man I would normally trust, but in these circumstances, can it be mere coincidence that virtually the same process happened five years later with IPS and the Pravda articles on Permindex?
- Pravda reported that "the traces of the plotters lead to Madrid and Lisbon, these hotbeds of fascism preserved intact with the money of American reactionaries and with the direct assistance of top NATO circles. The traces from Spain and Portugal lead across the ocean to the Pentagon and the CIA of the USA ...." (familiar lines). One of the conspirators, Zellier, had specifically mentioned Portugal, South Africa and Israel as supporters of the putsch. This prompted Challe to add that he would much prefer something else - the support of the US. But General Georges Heritier, Chief of the Combined Military Staff in Algiers, testified that whilst the Generals had wanted US support, it wasn't forthcoming. De Gaulle And The French Army Edgar S. Furniss (NY 1964) p54
- New York Post 5th May 1961. There were also reports that a determined campaign of anti-Americanism had started within Army circles in Paris. These circles made it known that they had 'irrefutable' proof of US support for the coup.
- See The Last Of The Giants C.L. Sulzberger (London 1972) p 638/9
- Farewell America James Hepburn (pseudonym) Frontiers Press (Liechtenstein 1968) p375
- The story of Farewell America is told in Warren Hinckle's If You Have A Lemon, Make Lemonade (NY 1976)
- A view recently rehashed by respected Kennedy assassination buffs Shaw and Fensterwald. In 1982 they tried and failed to obtain material on a possible 'French connection' in the JFK assassination. They were seeking material on the activities of Jean Souetre (aka Michael Roux, aka Michael Mertz) an OAS 'soldier of fortune' who may have been in Dallas on November 22nd 1963. TheShaw/Fensterwald document contains a wealth of detail but is let down in the end by the retread of various 'Garrisonisms', including the Clay Shaw/Permindex connection. See their Possible French Connection FOIA Civil Actions 80-1056
- The material on the 'real' history of Permindex is taken from correspondence with the Swiss and Canadian embassies in London, who have been very helpful, and from material supplied by the Swiss newspaper Neu Zuricher Zeitung; specifically from 4/16 January, 16 February, 13 December 1957; 7th January, 9th May 1958; 4th May 1959; 15th March 1963.