Site Map

THE COVERT WAR AGAINST ROCK -- CHAPTER ONE

A [KILLING] FIELD DAY FOR THE HEAT

TIME MACHINE:  THE SWING KIDS

Swing Kids involves a very small footnote to a very large historical event.  In Nazi Germany in 1939, we learn, while Hitler was rounding up Jews and launching World War II, a small group of kids wore their hair long and danced to the swing music of such banned musicians as Benny Goodman and Count Basie.  Occasionally they got into fights with the brownshirts of the Hitler Youth Brigades.

If the Swing Kids had evolved into an underground movement dedicated to the overthrow of Nazism, we might be onto something here.  But no.  A title card at the end of the film informs us that some of the kids died at the hands of the Nazis, and others were forced into the German army and killed in battle ... [1] Roger Ebert, Film Review, March 5, 1993

In 1967, an increasingly subversive form of music melded with politics in San Francisco.  Still eclipsed by federal classification are the tactics of the intelligence sector in the destabilization of the lives of politically-tuned musicians on the fringe of the anti-war movement, as revealed before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a leaked intelligence memorandum submitted for the record on April 26, 1976:

Show them as scurrilous and depraved.  Call attention to their habits and living conditions, explore every possible embarrassment.  Send in women and sex, break up marriages. Have members arrested on marijuana charges. Investigate personal conflicts or animosities between them. Send articles to the newspapers showing their depravity. Use narcotics and free sex to entrap. Use misinformation to confuse and disrupt. Get records of their bank accounts. Obtain specimens of handwriting. Provoke target groups into rivalries that may result in death ["Intelligence Activities and Rights of Americans: Book. II,  April 26 1976, Senate Committee with Respect to Intelligence Report]

For the first time since its creation, the warfare state meticulously erected by the Dulles brothers, J. Edgar Hoover, Dean Acheson, General Douglas MacArthur, Henry Kissinger, Richard Nixon and an army of anti-Communist cold warriors was threatened by an increasingly militant segment of the population. "Fascists" and "Pigs" burned in effigy on campus from sea to psychedelic sea.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation rose to the challenge. Many rock musicians of the day struggled for a place in the American pantheon of stardom only to experience ferocious political repression.  "That's what killed us," recollects Roger McGuinn, lead guitarist for the Byrds. "We got blackballed after drug allegations in 'Eight Miles High,"' and Hoover's spies never seemed far away. "They'd been chasing after us because somebody left some hashish in the airplane coming back from England. So they came down on us in a recording studio and said, 'Whose is this?' Of course nobody claimed it." On one occasion, on tour in Iowa, David Crosby, lounging on the balcony of a Holiday Inn, whiled away the time before a concert firing .22 caliber blanks with a slingshot at a brick wall about thirty feet down. A group of "Rednecks" staying at the Motel played poker at the ground level, and riled by the tiny explosions, "started climbing over the balcony, fuming, 'Guys died in Iwo Jima for punks  like you," McGuinn recalls. "They were pounding on Crosby, when suddenly the FBI appeared. You know, 'FBI, son. Break it up!' They took these guys out and sent them off to their room. I don't know if  it was just a coincidence, but what were [the FBI] doing in the middle of Iowa? From then on I used to be looking over my shoulder, thinking the government was after me." [2]

The deaths of Byrds' guitarists Clarence White in July, 1973, and Gram Parsons two months later, have long been grist for speculation.  Clarence White and his brothers were packing the car after a show in Palmdale, California -- the home of Lockheed (military contractor and CIA haunt) -- when Clarence was struck by a drunk driver named Yoko Ito. Alan Munde, a banjo player for the White Brothers when they toured England and Sweden in the spring of 1973, recalled in  an interview taped at the Tennessee Banjo Institute that White then lived "near Lancaster, California, where his mother and dad had  lived.... But that's where Edwards Air Force Base was, and that's where there was a lot of aircraft industry up there, and Roland [White's dad] worked there ... and then Clarence bought a house ... and [performed] at a club, you know, that Clarence had played many many times before he was with the Byrds, to pick, and was just comin' out loadin' up the stuff, and had put the stuff in the trunk and walked around to get into the car, and the lady came by and side-  swiped the car and hit him, and knocked him on down the road, and Roland had just walked around to the front, and he was -- you  know, they don't know that, but he was hit also and knocked over the hood of the car, by the lady and you know, Clarence was, you know, 150 feet down the road." [3]

"The driver of the car, Yoko Ito," according to a brief in Nashville Babylon (1988) by Randall Riese, "was booked on suspicion of felony drunk driving and manslaughter." The glassy-eyed Ms. Ito was reportedly pregnant, yet had gone on an alcoholic binge, picked a fight in a bar and capped off the evening by running over a popular musician and dragging him down the road, completely unaware of the fatality. Clarence White came tumbling over the hood of her car, and yet she didn't know that she'd even struck a pedestrian.

White's close friend Gram Parsons, a sometime Byrd with his own band, the Flying Burrito Brothers, was laid low at the Joshua Tree Inn shortly after midnight, September 19, 1973 (one day before singer Jim Croce was killed in an airplane crash, resulting, according to press reports, in the filing of a $2.5-million lawsuit against the FAA by the singer's widow -- the tree that killed him was not indicated in the map of the airport runway prepared for Croce). "The circumstances of  Gram's death were shrouded in mystery," writes Rolling Stone correspondent Ben Fong-Torres. [4] Initially, the press reported that Parsons died of "heart failure," like Jim Morrison before him, "due to natural causes." His death certificate, however, signed by Dr. Irving Root, states that Parsons was claimed by drug toxicity over a period of weeks. Traces of cocaine and amphetamine were detected in his urine, and a high concentration of morphine. The latter was found in his  bile and liver. Convincing on the surface -- until it is considered that morphine toxicity requires that the drug be found in the blood. It wasn't.  Forensic tests did detect alcohol, but no drugs were found in his bloodstream, so the cause of death was not an overdose, as many have since claimed, and drug toxicity is still possible but highly unlikely.

Dr. Root noted that Parsons had reached "toxic levels of drug  intake," and sustained them for  weeks. (The source of supply has never been publicly identified. A rumor has it that Gram had been buying drugs from a woman, now  deceased.) Dr. Margaret Greenwald, a San Francisco coroner, told  Fong-Torres that narcotics accumulate over time in the liver and  urine. The morphine and trace deposits indicate not that they killed him, but that "he'd been using [those drugs] for a long period of time," she explained. [5]  So the exact cause of death remains a  mystery and there is no hope of exhumation to resolve critical inconsistencies because Parson's cadaver was stolen at the Los Angeles International Airport in transit to New Orleans for burial and burned at Joshua Tree.

GRAM PARSONS BACKSTAGE.  PHOTO:  JOHN LOMAX III

The coffin heist was perpetrated by Phil Kaufman, road manager for the Flying Burrito Brothers. Kaufman was a fledgling Hollywood actor before he met Parsons. In the meantime, he'd been arrested on drug charges and sentenced to Terminal Island Correctional Institute in San Pedro, California. It was here that Kaufman met Charles Manson, then an aspiring rock musician. Kaufman wrote about his first contact with Manson in an autobiography, "there was a guy playing guitar in the yard one day at Terminal Island. And it was Charlie, singing his ass off." When Manson was released, Kaufman, from prison, put him in touch with contacts in the Los Angeles music industry. Kaufman was released from prison in 1968. He moved in with Manson and lived with him for a couple of months, met and befriended the Rolling Stones that summer, and in August was introduced to Parsons [6]. Gram Parsons was one of many unexplained casualties on the periphery of Manson's cult.

Many musicians of note shared McGuinn's suspicion that Big Brother was stalking them. Evidence that they were not suffering from paranoid delusions was deposited in the 1980s at the FBI's reading room in Washington, D.C., scores of declassified files. This collection included seven pages of notes on Jimi Hendrix, 89 on Jim  Morrison, and, oddly, 663 documents about Elvis Presley. (Presley's file opens early in his career, when "concerned" conservatives petitioned J. Edgar Hoover to "do something" about this swivel-hipped, slack-jawed, decadent despoiler of American adolescents. A former spy ripped off a letter to the FBI in 1956 to complain that Presley had masturbated on stage with his microphone to "arouse the sexual passions of teenage youth." The complainant confessed: "I feel an obligation to pass on to you my conviction that Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States." [7])

But the attentions of Hoover's agents were lavished not only on Top 40 pop idols. Even a celebrated conductor of Leonard Bernstein's caliber could be stalked by the Feds -- the FBI monitored his every move for more than thirty years.

On July 30, 1994, the London Times reported "Intelligence files on [Leonard Bernstein] reveal that the bureau spent countless hours examining his links with associations deemed either Communist or subversive." Bernstein swore under oath in 1953 that he was not affiliated with the Communist Party in any way, and three decades of unrelenting spying by the Bureau, beginning in the mid-'40s, failed to produce a scrap of evidence to the contrary. "It also observed his support for the civil rights and anti-war movements, in particular the Black Panthers ... Bernstein, however, was known by both his friends and family as a man who espoused liberal causes in a totally arbitrary manner." [8] Bernstein was a liberal with an audience that respected his beliefs, and Hoover's secret police watched him as closely as they would any anarchistic, dope-addled rock idol.

One agent provocateur on the FBI payroll, Sarah Jane Moore, the would-be assassin of President Gerald Ford, observed the Bureau's counter-revolution from the inside. She described an atmosphere of cynical acrimony in a note to reporters curious about her motive in the assassination attempt:

"The FBI directed me to people and organizations seriously working for radical change ...

"There was no coordination not even any communication between these groups. The whole left as a matter of fact seemed disorganized, strife-ridden and weak. And I realized the reason for this was the FBI, whose tool I was, who clearly and correctly saw the strength and power of the idea of socialism, realized it represented a very real danger to our profit-motivated corporate state and who had declared total covert war against not only denim-clad revolutionaries but also against all progressive forces, even those working for the most acceptable 'American' reforms." She explained:

I listened with horror once to a bright young agent as he bragged about his abilities in the area of anonymous letter writing and other forms of character assassination, not of big important leaders, but of  little people as soon as they showed any leadership potential. The Bureau's tactic is to cut them down or burn them out before they realize their potential.

I remember Worthington (my Bureau control) saying, "You don't seem to realize that this is war!" He thought the next two or three years would be the most crucial in our nation's history. His greatest fear at that time was that the left would rediscover the documents and ideas from the first and second American revolutions and use them to spark a new revolution.

He said that these words are as powerful today as ever and that properly used (actually he said "cleverly" used) the people could be aroused by these ideas and would fight again to achieve them.

That explains my political beliefs. It does not explain why in the name of a dream whose essence is a deep love for people and a belief in the essential beauty and worth of each individual, I picked up a gun intending to kill another human being.

When I was getting ready to go public regarding my spying activities, a journalist attempting to verify some facts was told by the FBI that if the story appeared I would be in danger.

This warning was repeated to me by the FBI with the additional suggestion that I should leave town.  Charles Bates told me that of course they couldn't stop me from talking, but that I was placing myself in  danger if the story appeared. He stated that at any rate he was not going to allow the FBI to be embarrassed. If there was anything they didn't like in the story they would simply see that it was edited out, that they had done that before, that he had "friends" on that particular paper somewhat higher up than the reporter level.

I had already had a phone call saying I was next that was just after the murder of a friend.  Now friends and foes alike vied with each other to warn me, each claiming to have heard from sources they refused to name that I was to be "offed" or at the very least beaten.

Beyond a certain point pressure and threats are counter-productive.  When one is threatened to a point where one is convinced; that is, when I finally accepted the fact that I was not going to be able to get  away -- that I wasn't willing to pay the price -- the realization I would probably be killed ceased to frighten -- it brought instead a sense of  freedom. [9]

Conservatives, blind to the slag-pile of political corruption within their own ranks, suspected a Soviet conspiracy in the rising challenge to authority and organized against the storm.

In 1970, three weeks after Nixon invaded Cambodia, Edwin Meese III -- the godfather of the far-right political school christened by the Washington Post (on January 26, 1984) the "Alameda Mafia," then Governor Ronald Reagan's legal affairs secretary -- observed in a McCarthyesque lecture delivered at a state law enforcement conference, "The challenge is clear. The enemies of society who are here in California are willing to sacrifice a generation of youth to obtain their  objectives. They are not only willing but desirous of losing an international conflict. They will not stop at endangering life and indeed they have killed several and injured thousands." The solution: "Maximum photography, maximum evidence gathering by officers who are not involved in the actual [political demonstration] control activity" -- maximum spying, maximum keeping of secret files on private citizens. [10]

At the federal level, the CIA was already pursuing similar objectives under the aegis of an illegal domestic operation code-named CHAOS. Among the political targets of CHAOS, count Black Panther Geronimo Pratt, framed for the murder of two radicals on a tennis court in Santa Monica, California. Pratt was subsequently released from prison in June 1997, 27 years after his sentencing, because it was proven that a witness had lied on the stand. [11] The International Secretariat of Amnesty International issued a press release the following year citing the court's "failure to disclose crucial  information about a key prosecution witness in the trial of Geronimo ji Jaga [Pratt] -- a former leader of the Black Panther Party released last year." This stonewall, insisted AI, "should result in the reversal of his conviction and finally put an end to 27 years of injustice." [12] Pratt is generally considered a target of COINTELPRO, the FBI's notorious counter-surveillance program, but Pratt is aware since requesting his files under FOIA that CHAOS agents hitched horses with the Bureau to drag the Panther into an erroneous conviction.

Politically active hippies were also fair game. One victim of the onslaught was the underground press, according to Donna Demac, an instructor in interactive telecommunications at NYU, "that diverse assortment of publications that ... empowered many of the social movements of the 1960s." The CIA and FBI "collected information on each paper's publisher, its sources of funds and its staff members. Many underground newspapers were put out of business when they were abandoned by advertisers who had been pressured by the FBI. The Bureau also created obstacles to distribution, fomented staff feuds and spread false information to create suspicion and confusion." [11]

The Central Intelligence Agency and its military counterparts, covert templars of the ruling caste, watched the dissent movement's rise with growing anxiety; the Operation was the Agency's response to civil unrest and cultural upheaval.  If nothing else, the word CHAOS implied that officials of The Firm were aware of the social upheaval they were about to unleash upon an unsuspecting proletariat.

Freedom of Information Act requests for the most sensitive files are consistently denied.

"During six years [1967-1972], the Operation compiled some 13,000 different files, including files on 7,200 American citizens," concluded the Rockefeller Commission, which failed to pursue leads to settle critical allegations. The files inspected by the CIA's in-house committee concerned some 300,000 individuals and political organizations, and the CIA's Directorate of Operations created an index of some seven million names. [14]

Leaks were handled at the top. In April 1972, an article by Victor Marchetti, an ex-CIA officer, "CIA: The President's Loyal Tool," appeared in The Nation, charging the Agency with deceiving and manipulating the media, and co-opting the youth movement, cultural organizations and labor. William Colby, then the CIA's executive director, recruited John Warner, a deputy general counsel, to halt the publication of a book that Marchetti planned to publish on the criminalization of the CIA. Warner turned to White House aides John Ehrlichman, the head Plumber, and David Young, a right-wing extremist from Young Americans for Freedom, a Nazi front for "conservative" agents emigrating to the U.S. from Munich. Together, they obtained approval from President Nixon to drag Marchetti into court  where US District Court Judge Albert V. Bryan, Jr. ordered him to submit the book to the Agency for redaction. [15]

Operation CHAOS was the inevitable mutation of covert domestic ops conceived during the Eisenhower administration and its directive to monitor emigre political groups on domestic soil. A reformed insider, Vern Lyon, former CIA undercover operative and current director of the Des Moines Hispanic Ministry, writes that the directive led the CIA to establish a network of proprietary companies and covers for its domestic operations. So widespread did the network  become that in 1964, President Johnson allowed CIA Director John McCone to conceive "a new super-secret branch called the Domestic Operations Division (DOD), the very title of which mocked the explicit intent of Congress to prohibit CIA operations inside the US."

The classified charter of the DOD mandated the exercise of "centralized responsibility for the direction, support, and coordination of clandestine operational activities within the United States." This would include break-ins of foreign diplomatic sites at the request of the National Security Agency (NSA). Lyons: "The CIA also expanded the role of its 'quasi-legal' Domestic Contact Service (DCS), an operation designed to brief and debrief selected American citizens who  had traveled abroad in sensitive areas." The DCS also helped with travel control by monitoring the arrivals and departures of US nationals and foreigners. In addition, the CIA reached out to former agents, officers, contacts and friends to help it run its many fronts, covers and phony corporations. This "old boy network" provided the CIA with trusted personnel to conduct its illicit domestic activities. [16]

A massive destabilizing effort was waged against the peace and civil rights movements. The Army's Counter-Intelligence Analysis Branch collected personality profiles, mug shots and compiled "blacklists" of anti-war activists, stored them on computer-files and microfilm reels. The Pentagon's intelligence operatives, disguised as reporters, gathered information at peace demonstrations -- the "Midwest Audiovisual News," an Army intelligence front, interviewed Abbie Hoffman at the 1968 police riot in Chicago. [17]

The military program came complete with "operations centers," direct lines to local police, teletype machines to field intelligence units, street maps, closed-circuit video, and secure communications channels. A 180-man "command center" appeared in 1968 following the riots in Detroit. By 1969, the center was housed in a $2.7-million war room in the cellar of the Pentagon. [18]

This was the year Richard Helms prepared a CIA research paper on the antiwar movement entitled "Restless Youth" for Henry Kissinger. The cover letter explained, "in an effort to round out our discussion of this subject, we have included a section on American students. This is an area not within the charter of this agency, so I need not emphasize how extremely sensitive this makes the paper.  Should anyone learn of its existence it would prove most embarrassing for all concerned." But a small group at the CIA's Office of Security was already monitoring student organizations in the  Washington, D.C. area. Helms expanded the domestic spying operation with the creation of the Special Operations Group (SOG), directed by Richard Ober, one of the "Deep Throat" candidates, to conduct "counterintelligence." This was the direct precursor of CHAOS. SOG operatives provided the CIA Office of Current Intelligence with scuttlebutt on the peace movement. Within a couple of years, domestic operations swelled to meet the perceived threat to military-industrial rule, even paralleling the growth of antiwar protest. [19] But invisibly, in the shadows of the resistance.

In 1974, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh exposed CHAOS in the New York Times. Hersh reported that the CIA had conducted a massive spying and covert operations program on domestic soil.  The story inspired the Church and Pike hearings of 1975. These investigations verified Hersh's allegations. But the media, especially the leading newspapers and news weeklies, ridiculed and reviled Hersh.  The Washington Post, Newsweek and editorial pages across the country actually questioned his sanity and dismissed the story as a whimsical "conspiracy theory." Time rushed to the Agency's defense. "Many observers in Washington who are far from naive about the CIA nevertheless consider its past chiefs and most of its officials highly educated, sensitive and dedicated public servants who would scarcely let themselves get involved in the kind of massive scheme described." [20]

_______________

Notes:

1. Peter Wicke, a music historian at Hummboldt University in Berlin, emphasizes that the Nazi suppression of jazz and swing was motivated largely by economics. "January 30, 1933 marked a deep cut for some forms of popular music under the fascist dictatorship in Germany.  The new ruling powers left no doubt about their role in the arts with the renewal of Germany. A once flowering European center of music expired into the Agony." Propaganda expenditures directed against the emergent musical movements "targeted the economic competition of the American music industry," and, oddly enough, "the Jewish population -- who had less to do with jazz than the other subpopulations of Germany."  American recordings were banned, but Telefunken Studios artists Peter Kreuder's Orchestra, Heinz Wehner's Swing Band and Kurt Widmann were promoted in Nazi Germany, and the business of jazz recording continued after the prohibition was enacted against imports, "not undisputedly, but evenly, without closer inspection, minus the annoying competi tion from overseas." The corporate influence on Nazi policies concerning jazz and swing music contributed to "a beautiful banknote of private feeling" in Germany. See Peter Wicke, "Populare Musik im Faschistischen Deutschland: http://www2.huberlin.de/inside/fpm/wicke2htm .

2. Bruce Pollock, When the Music Mattered: The Musicians Who Made it Happen Tell How it Happened, New York Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1983, p. 86.

3. Randal Morton, "Alan Munde's Interview," Clarence White Chronicles, no 14, September 13, 1998.

4. Ben Fong Torres, Hickory Wind: The Life and Times of Gram Parsons, New York, St Martin's, 1991, p 228.

5. Fong-Torres, pp. 200-201.

6. Fong-Torres, pp 116-17.

7. "Rock Heroes on the FBI Record," Correspondent (UK), October 1, 1989.

8. Tom Rhodes, "Files show FBI tried to settle score with the maestro of radical chic: London Times, July 30, 1994, p. 11.

9. Sarah Jane Moore, correspondence with Linda-Marie, Internet posting, http://www.playink.com/sjmore.htm .

10. Edwin Meese, executive secretary to Governor Reagan, untitled lecture typescript, 1970, released under FOIA request.

11. Geronimo Pratt interviewed by former Black Panther Lee Lew-Lee, 1997 Angus Meredith, in Secrets:  The CIA's War at Home (Berkeley. University of California Press, 1999): "The FBI's COINTELPRO [was] run in collaboration with CHAOS." (p 69).

12. "USA: Crucial information 27 years too late for Black Panther leader: Amnesty International press release, AI INDEX. AMR 51/41/98, 1 July 1998.

13. Donna A, Demac, Liberty Denied: The Current Rise of Censorship in America, New Brunswick, Rutgers University Press, 1990, p 77.

14. Rockefeller Report to the President by the Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States, June 1975, New York, Manor Books, pp 23, 41.

15. Angus Mackenzie, Secrets: The CIA's War at Home, Berkeley University of California Press, 1999, pp 43-44.

16. Verne Lyon, "Domestic Surveillance:  The History of Operation CHAOS," Covert Action Information Bulletin, Summer 1990.

17. Blanche Wiesen Cook, "Surveillance and Mind Control: Howard Frazier, ed., Uncloaking the CIA, New York: The Free Press, 1978, p 178.

18. Daniel Brandt, "The 1960s and COINTELPRO:  In Defense of Paranoia," NameBase NewsLine, no 10, July/September 1995.

19. Thomas Powers, The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA, New York: Pocket Books, 1979, pp 314-15.

20. Kathryn Olmsted, "Watchdogs or Lap Dogs?" Albuquerque Weekly Alibi, July 21, 1997.

Go to Next Page