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Joseph Trento: Prelude to Terror

John Simkin

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Joe Trento does not mention the assassination of JFK in his new book, Prelude to Terror. However, I believe that this was the most important book on the assassination published in 2005.

Trento’s book is based largely on interviews carried out with Edwin Wilson, Tom Clines and Shirley Brill. Trento also uses documents provided by Wilson. Critics will claim that Trento is over-reliant on Wilson. He seems to believe everything Wilson has told him (he is more wary about accepting some of the information provided by Clines). Brill is also believed, although as Clines’s former badly treated girlfriend, she obviously has her own agenda. Despite these problems, I agree with Trento, that Wilson and Brill are telling the truth. My problem with Wilson is that I don’t believe he is telling the full story. His main concern is to prove that he was set-up by Ted Shackley. He tells us virtually nothing about what Wilson, Shackley and Clines were up to in the early 1960s. I think there are reasons why Trento has not explored these areas. Hopefully, Joe will be willing to discuss these issues here:


The first chapter takes a look at the activities of Allen Dulles and Prescott Bush. He looks in some detail at Bush’s business dealing during the Second World War. On page 3 he states that John J. McCloy and Allen Dulles were both involved in covering up Bush’s dealings with Nazi Germany. Of course, McCloy and Dulles were also both members of the Warren Commission. I believe this is highly relevant but Trento ignores this connection.

McCloy was also German High Commissioner after the war. In February, 1951, he ordered the release of Alfred Krupp from Landsberg Prison. Krupp was tried as a war criminal at Nuremberg. He was accused of plundering occupied territories and being responsible for the barbaric treatment of prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates. Krupp was found guilty of being a major war criminal and sentenced to twelve years in prison and had all his wealth and property confiscated.

When he was released, Krupp had his is property, valued at around $45 million, and his numerous companies were also restored to him. He was not the only wealthy war criminal released by McCloy. Is it possible that Krupp and his Nazi colleagues went on the fund CIA illegal covert activities? In other words, was McCloy part of CIA’s “Secret Team” as early as 1951? If that is the case, could this be the reason why he was on the Warren Commission with Dulles in 1964?

Trento quotes John Loftus to argue that “Bush and his associates did not invest in Nazi-controlled companies out of any ideological devotion to Hitler, but because this was simply good business practice”. I disagree with this proposition. A significant number of businessmen in the US and the UK supported the Nazis in the 1930s for “ideological reasons”. The main reason for this was that they supported the way the Nazis were dealing with the threat of socialism and communism. Remember, the first thing that Hitler did when he gained power was to put left-wing activists in concentration camps (the Jews were dealt with at a later date).

This was very popular with right-wing elements in the Western World (it of course helps to explain why the Pope and the Catholic Church refused to condemn what was going on in Nazi Germany). I believe that people like Prescott Bush, Allen Dulles and John McCloy did have ideological reasons for their political activities. After all, the main thing that drove the CIA agenda was the perceived fear of communism.

In Prelude to Terror, Joe Trento argues that Ted Shackley’s “Secret Team” began during the Carter presidency. Carter had campaigned against the “rogue CIA” and promised to do something about it. When he took office he sacked George Bush as director of the CIA. He initially selected Ted Sorenson to become the new head of the CIA (that would have been interesting as he was one of JFK’s aides who had doubts about the Warren Commission). However, he was blocked by the Senate and instead he appointed Stansfield Turner, who was ordered to clean-up covert operations. In August, 1977, Turner ordered that the CIA reduce the Directorate of Operations by 823 positions. People like Shackley and Clines were told their careers were finished. Trento argues that it was at this point that Shackley decided to privatise some of CIA’s covert operations. The money for these activities came what was called the Safari Club. This was established when George Bush was director of the CIA. This was admitted by a speech made by Prince Turki (February 2002). He claimed:

“In 1976, after the Watergate matters took place here (in the US), your intelligence community was literally tied up by Congress. It could not do anything… In order to compensate for that, a group of countries got together in the hope of fighting Communism and established what was called the Safari Club. The Safari Club included France, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Iran. The principal aim of this club was that we would share information with each other and help each other in countering Soviet influence worldwide, and especially in Africa.”

Turki admitted that Saudi Arabia had taken over financing some covert operations. The Safari Club needed a network of banks to finance its intelligence operations. According to Joe Trento: “with the official blessing of George Bush, Sheikh Kamal Adham transformed a small Pakistani merchant bank, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), into a worldwide money-laundering machine” (page 104).

Shackley used some of this money to run some covert operations that could not be traced back to the CIA. He also used Edwin Wilson to use his companies to raise money for other operations. This included arms dealing and drug running. Trento argues that it was this decision that compromised US intelligence and led to 9/11.

According to Trento, Shackley’s “manipulation of the CIA bureaucracy allowed Osama bin Laden’s fundraising to thrive, as al Qaeda flourished under Saudi and CIA protection.”

I go along with most of Trento analysis of this situation. However, there is considerable evidence that this privatisation of some covert operations began as early as 1962. Some of this evidence appears in Trento’s book, but it is not accepted by him because it conflicts with the theory that the CIA was behind the assassination of JFK. In his book Secret History of the CIA, Trento argues that Fidel Castro was behind the assassination (based on information supplied by James Jesus Angleton).

My theory is that the Shackley’s Secret Team began in 1962. The key figure in the operation was Paul Helliwell. He was transferred to Miami in 1960 to provide business cover for the CIA’s Cuban operations. This is where he meets Ted Shackley and Tom Clines. After the Bay of Pigs he become CIA paymaster for JM/WAVE (page 29, The Prelude to Terror). Helliwell got some of this money from arms and drug dealing. In this way, Shackley is able to finance unofficial CIA operations. I believe one of these operations was the assassination of JFK.

This was the beginning of Shackley’s use of anti-Castro Cubans assassination teams. Shackley later used these same people (most of them had been members of Operation 40) to murder people in Laos, Vietnam, Chile, etc. This nearly came unstuck with the killing of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Kapen Moffitt in Washington on 21st September, 1976. Two of Shackley’s Cubans, Virgilio Pablo Paz and Dionisio Suarez carried out the assassination. George Bush was able to block the internal investigation that suggested that Shackley was responsible.

These illegal Shackley operations were financed by Paul Helliwell. He did this via CIA fronted companies such as the Sea Supply Corporation in Bangkok and the Castle Bank & Trust in Nassau. As a result of an IRS investigation of Castle Bank, Shackley needed another way of paying for his operation. In 1976 he arranged for two of his former CIA operatives in Laos and Vietnam, Michael Hand and Bernie Houghton, to establish the Nugan-Hand Bank in Australia. He also employed Edwin Wilson as his “cut-out” to organize these illegal drug and arms deals. It was also used to pay for assassinations of people who posed a danger to Shackley’s clients.

However, the Nugan Hand bank collapsed in 1980. Both Frank Nugan and Michael Hand were eliminated. According to Trento, Edwin Wilson was sacrificed to the authorities in order to distance the CIA from these activities.

With the demise of Nugan Hand Bank, the CIA had to rely on the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) to fund its activities. The money for these operations came from Saudi Arabia and this again provides a link to 9/11 and enhances the theme for Trento’s book.

This book raises the issue of how the political perceptions of an historian influences the way he uses the sources. As Daniel Brandt’s review on his Namebase site points out:

“Joseph Trento is a veteran intelligence reporter who can claim inside access for his books. For example, his book "Widows" was co-authored with William R. Corson, who had a long career in U.S. intelligence at a fairly high level. Trento's "Secret History of the CIA" benefited from interviews with James Angleton, the counterintelligence chief who had a closet full of axes that he spent many years grinding, and who was eventually fired from the CIA. Similarly, "Prelude to Terror" is essentially based on rogue agent Edwin Wilson's account of how he was framed by Ted Shackley. While everything Trento has ever written may be absolutely true, for all we know, he is too close to his sources for our tastes. Internal spook wars may be interesting, but they don't contribute anything to the issue of what the U.S. is doing to the rest of the world. What if all of Trento's sources really do belong in prison? Where does that leave us?”

The problem with Prelude to Terror is that Joe Trento still believes that James Jesus Angleton is a reliable source. Angleton has provided Trento with his CIA framework. Everything he heard from Wilson had to be fitted into this ideological paradigm. This means that certain evidence has to be ignored. For example, Daniel Sheehan is not mentioned in the book. This is strange as Trento’s account of Shackley’s activities is very similar to the one provided by Daniel Sheehan in his affidavit (12th December, 1986). Why does Trento ignore Sheehan as a source? Nor does he mention Gene Wheaton in the book. He was of course Sheehan’s main source in 1986. Wheaton also told Sheehan that Shackley’s Secret Team was involved in the assassination of JFK. Wheaton repeated this claim to the Anne Buttimer, Chief Investigator for the Assassination Records Review Board, in July, 1995, and in a filmed interview in 2005. He also claimed that Carl Jenkins, Chi Chi Quintero and Irving Davidson were also involved in the assassination.

This is of course why Trento does not wish to acknowledge Sheehan and Wheaton as sources. He only likes part of their story. The fact that Shackley’s Secret Team began in the early 1960s clashes with his view that Castro was behind the assassination of JFK. Trento can therefore be accused, like George Bush and Tony Blair, of “cherry-picking” his evidence. As a result, he only tells part of the story. It will therefore be left to someone else to tell the full account of Ted Shackley’s role in the corruption of the CIA.

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I have read your review of Prelude to Terror, which I hadn't heard about, and must get. My own book on which I am working will cover some of the same material, including Prince Turki's quote about the Safari Club.

Helliwell figures in at least four of my prose books, including my last; and I believe I may have been the first to "out" him, back in 1972 in The War Conspiracy. In Cocaine Politics (p. 92) I talk about him and Castle Bank, and how Castle was succeeded by Nugan Hand. How important Shackley was to that succession I do not know.

Your own views are interesting. They are also a little conjectural in places. On only one point do I consider you demonstrably wrong: when you claim that Wheaton was Sheehan's main source. The heart of the Christic affidavit and case was the bomb attack in Costa Rica which injured Tony Avirgan, and about this I believe Wheaton said exactly nothing. The main source was Jack Terrell, as I describe at length in Cocaine Politics; and the initial Christic case collapsed when the courts ruled, I think outrageously, that Terrell's tstimony in a Costa Rica court could not be considered.

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Your own views are interesting. They are also a little conjectural in places. On only one point do I consider you demonstrably wrong: when you claim that Wheaton was Sheehan's main source. The heart of the Christic affidavit and case was the bomb attack in Costa Rica which injured Tony Avirgan, and about this I believe Wheaton said exactly nothing. The main source was Jack Terrell, as I describe at length in Cocaine Politics; and the initial Christic case collapsed when the courts ruled, I think outrageously, that Terrell's tstimony in a Costa Rica court could not be considered.

This is not the case. Please find below the complete Sheehan affidavit issued on 12th December, 1986. Sheehan does not mention Tony Avirgan in this affidavit. As I have said before, the two main sources for this information was Gene Wheaton and Carl E. Jenkins (although Jenkins was later to claim that Sheehan misunderstood his information.

1. I am a duly licensed attorney at law, admitted to practice before the State and Federal Courts of the State of New York in both the Northern and Southern Districts of New York.

2. I am duly licensed and have been admitted to practice before the Courts of the District of Columbia, both local and Federal and I am in good standing before both the Bar of New York and the Bar of the District of Columbia.

3. I have practiced law before the courts of New York and numerous other states in our nation since 1970, having served as counsel in some 60 separate pieces of litigation in the states of New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Florida, Oklahoma, Ohio, Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming and Mississippi.

4. I graduated from Harvard college in 1967 as an Honors Graduate in American Government, writing my Honors Thesis in the field of Constitutional Law, and was the Harvard University nominee for the Rhodes Scholarship from New York in 1967. I graduated from Harvard School of Law in 1970, having served as an Editor of the Harvard Civil Rights)Civil Liberties Law Review and as the Research Associate of Professor Jerome Cohen, the Chair of the International Law Department of Harvard.

5. While at Harvard School of Law, I served as a summer associate at the State Street law firm of Goodwin, Proctor and Hoar under the supervision of Senior Partner, Donald J. Hurley, the President of the Boston Chamber of Commerce and Massachusetts Senatorial Campaign Chairman for John F. Kennedy. At this firm I participated in the case of BAIRD v EISENSTAT, under Roger Stockey, General Counsel for the Massachusetts Planned Parenthood League (establishing the unconstitutionality of the Massachusetts anti-birth control law) and in the Nevada case, under Charles Goodhue, III (establishing the constitutional right to bail in criminal extradition cases, including capital cases). While at Harvard School of Law, I authored "The Pedestrian Sources of Civil Liberties" in the Harvard Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review and I served under Professor Milton Katz, the President of the International Law Association, as the Chairman of the Nigerian Biafran Relief Commission responsible for successfully negotiating the admission of mercy flights of food into Biafra in 1968.

6. While serving as a legal Associate at the Wall Street law firm of Cahill, Gordon, Sonnett, Rheindle and Ohio under partner Theodore Shackley and Thomas Clines directed the Phoenix Project in Vietnam, in 1974 and 1975, which carried out the secret mission of assassinating members of the economic and political bureaucracy inside Vietnam to cripple the ability of that nation to function after the total US withdrawal from Vietnam. This Phoenix Project, during its history, carried out the political assassination, in Vietnam, of some 60,000 village mayors, treasurers, school teachers and other non) Viet Cong administrators. Theodore Shackley and Thomas Clines financed a highly intensified phase of the Phoenix project, in 1974 and 1975, by causing an intense flow of Vang Pao opium money to be secretly brought into Vietnam for this purpose. This Vang Pao opium money was administered for Theodore Shackley and Thomas Clines by a US Navy official based in Saigon's US office of Naval Operations by the name of Richard Armitage. However, because Theodore Shackley, Thomas Clines and Richard Armitage knew that their secret anti-communist extermination program was going to be shut down in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand in the very near future, they, in 1973, began a highly secret non-CIA authorized program. Thus, from late 1973 until April of 1975, Theodore Shackley, Thomas Clines and Richard Armitage disbursed, from the secret, Laotian-based, Vang Pao opium fund, vastly more money than was required to finance even the highly intensified Phoenix Project in Vietnam. The money in excess of that used in Vietnam was secretly smuggled out of Vietnam in large suitcases, by Richard Secord and Thomas Clines and carried into Australia, where it was deposited in a secret, personal bank account (privately accessible to Theodore Shackley, Thomas Clines and Richard Secord). During this same period of time between 1973 and 1975, Theodore Shackley and Thomas Clines caused thousands of tons of US weapons, ammunition, and explosives to be secretly taken from Vietnam and stored at a secret "cache" hidden inside Thailand.

The "liaison officer" to Shackley and Clines and the Phoenix Project in Vietnam, during this 1973 to 1975 period, from the "40 Committee" in the Nixon White House was one Eric Von Arbod, an Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs. Von Arbod shared his information about the Phoenix Project directly with his supervisor Henry Kissinger.

Saigon fell to the Vietnamese in April of 1975. The Vietnam War was over. Immediately upon the conclusion of the evacuation of U.S. personnel from Vietnam, Richard Armitage was dispatched, by Theodore Shackley and Thomas Clines, from Vietnam to Tehran, Iran. In Iran, Armitage, the "bursar" for the Vang Pao opium money for Shackley and Clines' planned "Secret Team" covert operations program, between May and August of 1975, set up a secret "financial conduit" inside Iran, into which secret Vang Pao drug funds could be deposited from Southeast Asia. The purpose of this conduit was to serve as the vehicle for secret funding by Shackley's "Secret Team," of a private, non-CIA authorized "Black" operations inside Iran, disposed to seek out, identify, and assassinate socialist and communist sympathizers, who were viewed by Shackley and his "Secret Team" members to be "potential terrorists" against the Shah of Iran`s government in Iran. In late 1975 and early 1976, Theodore Shackley and Thomas Clines retained Edwin Wilson to travel to Tehran, Iran to head up the "Secret Team" covert "anti-terrorist" assassination program in Iran. This was not a U.S. government authorized operation. This was a private operations supervised, directed and participated in by Shackley, Clines, Secord and Armitage in their purely private capacities.

At the end of 1975, Richard Armitage took the post of a "Special Consultant" to the U.S. Department of Defense regarding American military personnel Missing In Action (MIAs) in Southeast Asia. In this capacity, Armitage was posted in the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand. There Armitage had top responsibility for locating and retrieving American MIA's in Southeast Asia. He worked at the Embassy with an associate, one Jerry O. Daniels. From 1975 to 1977, Armitage held this post in Thailand. However, he did not perform the duties of this office. Instead, Armitage continued to function as the "bursar" for Theodore Shackley's "Secret Team," seeing to it that secret Vang Pao opium funds were conducted from Laos, through Armitage in Thailand to both Tehran and the secret Shackley bank account in Australia at the Nugen-Hand Bank. The monies conducted by Armitage to Tehran were to fund Edwin Wilson's secret anti-terrorist "seek and destroy" operation on behalf of Theodore Shackely. Armitage also devoted a portion of his time between 1975 and 1977, in Bangkok, facilitating the escape from Laos, Cambodia and Thailand and the relocation elsewhere in the world, of numbers of the secret Meo tribesmen group which had carried out the covert political assassination program for Theodore Shackley in Southeast Asia between 1966 and 1975. Assisting Richard Armitage in this operation was Jerry O. Daniels. Indeed, Jerry O. Daniels was a "bag-man" for Richard Armitage, assisting Armitage by physically transporting out of Thailand millions of dollars of Vang Pao's secret opium money to finance the relocation of Theodore Shackley's Meo tribesmen and to supply funds to Theodore Shackley's "Secret Team" operations. At the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, Richard Armitage also supervised the removal of arms, ammunition and explosives from the secret Shackley/Clines cache of munitions hidden inside Thailand between 1973 and 1975, for use by Shackley's "Secret Team". Assisting Armitage in this latter operations was one Daniel Arnold, the CIA Chief of Station in Thailand, who joined Shackley's "Secret Team" in his purely private capacity.

One of the officers in the U.S. Embassy in Thailand, one Abranowitz came to know of Armitage's involvement in the secret handling of Vang Pao opium funds and caused to be initiated an internal State Department heroin smuggling investigations directed against Richard Armitage. Armitage was the target of Embassy personnel complaints to the effect that he was utterly failing to perform his duties on behalf of American MIAs, and he reluctantly resigned as the D.O.D. Special Consultant on MIA's at the end of 1977.

From 1977 until 1979, Armitage remained in Bangkok opening and operating a business named The Far East Trading Company. This company had offices only in Bangkok and in Washington, D.C. This company was, in fact, from 1977 to 1979, merely a "front" for Armitage's secret operations conducting Vang Pao opium money out of Southeast Asia to Tehran and the Nugen-Hand Bank in Australia to fund the ultra right-wing, private anti-communist "anti-terrorist" assassination program and "unconventional warfare" operation of Theodore Shackley's and Thomas Cline's "Secret Team". During this period, between 1975 and 1979, in Bangkok, Richard Armitage lived in the home of Hynnie Aderholdt, the former Air Wing Commander of Shackley`s "Special Operations Group" in Laos, who, between 1966 and 1968, had served as the immediate superior to Richard Secord, the Deputy Air Wing Commander of MAG SOG. Secord, in 1975, was transferred from Vietnam to Tehran, Iran.

In 1976, Richard Secord moved to Tehran, Iran and became the Deputy Assistant Secretary of defense in Iran, in charge of the Middle Eastern Division of the Defense Security Assistance Administration. In this capacity, Secord functioned as the chief operations officer for the U.S. Defense Department in the Middle East in charge of foreign military sales of U.S. aircraft, weapons and military equipment to Middle Eastern nations allied to the U.S. Secord's immediate superior was Eric Van Marbad, the former 40 Committee liaison officer to Theodore Shackley's Phoenix program in Vietnam from 1973 to 1975.

From 1976 to 1979, in Iran, Richard Secord supervised the sale of U.S. military aircraft and weapons to Middle Eastern nations. However, Richard Secord did not authorize direct nation-to-nation sales of such equipment directly from the U.S. government to said Middle Eastern governments. Instead, Richard Secord conducted such sales through a "middle-man", one Albert Hakim. By the use of middle-man Albert Hakim, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Secord purchased U.S. military aircraft and weapons from the U.S. governament at the low "manufacturer's cost" but sold these U.S. aircraft and weapons to the client Middle Eastern nations at the much higher "replacement cost". Secord then caused to be paid to the U.S. government, out of the actual sale price obtained, only the lower amount equal to the lower manufacturer's cost. The difference, was secreted from the U.S. government and Secord and Albert Hakim secretly transferred these millions of dollars into Shackley's "Secret Team" operations inside Iran and into Shackley's secret Nugen-Hand bank account in Australia. Thus, by 1976, Defendant Albert Hakim had become a partner with Thomas Clines, Richard Secord and Richard Armitage in Theodore Shackley's "Secret Team".

Between 1976 and 1979, Shackley, Clines, Secord, Hakim, Wilson, and Armitage set up several corporations and subsidiaries around the world through which to conceal the operations of the "Secret Team". Many of these corporations were set up in Switzerland. Some of these were: (1) Lake Resources, Inc.; (2) The Stanford Technology Trading Group, Inc.; and (3) Companie de Services Fiduciaria. Other companies were set up in Central America, such as: (4) CSF Investments, Ltd. and (5) Udall research Corporation. Some were set up inside the United States by Edwin Wilson. Some of these were: (6) Orca Supply Company in Florida and (7) Consultants International in Washington, D.C. Through these corporations, members of Theodore Shackley's "Secret Team" laundered hundreds of millions of dollars of secret Vang Pao opium money, pilfered Foreign Military Sales proceeds between 1976 and 1979. Named in this federal civil suit to be placed under oath and asked about their participation in the criminal "enterprise" alleged in this Complaint is probative of the criminal guilt of the Defendants of some of the crimes charged in this Complaint.

Plaintiffs and Plaintiffs' Counsel, The Christic Institute, possess evidence constituting "probable cause" that each of the Defendants named in this Complaint are guilty of the conduct charged.

If further detailed evidence is required by the Court to allow the Plaintiffs to begin the standard process of discovery in this case, the failure to place it in this Affidavit is the function of the short time allowed by the Court for the preparation of this filing, it is not because the Plaintiffs lack such evidence.

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