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This edition of True Lies commemorates the possible sixtieth anniversary of the Secret Team (in its original incarnation, Operation 40), an organization that probably no longer exists. As legend has it, in 1959 then-VP Richard Nixon assembled a group of current and former clandestine operators to work for the government on matters too confidential to entrust to the military or mainstream intelligence community. In 1973, an ex-Pentagon official-turned-whistleblower L. Fletcher Prouty fingered CIA career clandestine operator Theodore “Ted” Shackley as the leader of this “Secret Team.” Shackley’s career certainly reads like an airport novel, but he denied Prouty’s accusations.

The Secret Team features prominently in Sea of Lies and End of Lies. For those who enjoy burned meat with their conspiracies, I’ve also tacked on my non-chef’s guide to grilling a great steak. (Just don’t set your house on fire as I almost did on the last-steak-of-the-fall in British Columbia last November.)

On the literary side, political thriller End of Lies launches in paperback on March 4 (just on Amazon) and on March 18 (Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Nook and many others) in eBook format. The paperback is $12 and makes a great doorstop while the eBook introductory price is a buck.

I’m spending this week bonefishing in the Bahamas. It’s a beautiful place and the people are even better, but if you don’t like six-foot-long sharks chasing your bonefish while you stand nearby in knee-deep water, then this might not be the gig for you.

Here’s hoping I’ll still have a leg to stand on in seven days. In the meantime, pass the sunblock and I’ll take another Kalik.

Bradley West, South Andros Island, March 2, 2019

Two strange men: L. Fletcher Prouty and Ted Shackley

In 1973 a former US Air Force colonel named L. Fletcher Prouty published The Secret Team: The CIA and its Allies in Control of the United States and World. Prouty was the Chief of Special Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Kennedy years, acting as the senior liaison between the shadow CIA tricksters he decries and the formal military. Prouty is the one who gave the group their most infamous nickname.

Here is the heart of Prouty’s accusations:

“This is the fundamental game of the Secret Team. They have this power because they control secrecy and secret intelligence and because they have the ability to take advantage of the most modern communications system in the world, of global transportation systems, of quantities of weapons of all kinds, and when needed, the full support of a world-wide U.S. military supporting base structure. They can use the finest intelligence system in the world, and most importantly, they have been able to operate under the canopy of an assumed, ever-present enemy called “Communism.” It will be interesting to see what “enemy” develops in the years ahead. “ [L. Fletcher Prouty, Alexandria, VA 1997]


You can find Prouty’s The Secret Team on Amazon in Kindle format for the giveaway price of $2.51, The Secret Team. It’s apparently a complex book, but it is said to pure gold for conspiracists starting with JFK’s assassination and going from there. I have downloaded it on my Kindle for the long plane ride back to Singapore.

Every good conspiracy needs a villain, and Ted Shackley, a.k.a. the “Blond Ghost,” fit the bill perfectly. Shackley was a senior CIA officer at the center of almost every dirty operation from the 1960s-1980s including the Bay of Pigs, the undeclared war in Laos, the Phoenix Program, the overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende, Iran Contra—pretty much JFK through Reagan.

Source: Spartacus Educational, Theodore (“Ted”) Shackley biography.

At the end of the newsletter, I’ve listed several sources where readers can dive more deeply into the Secret Team and Ted Shackley.

Cliff’s Notes on the Secret Team

For those who’d like a fictional take on how the Secret Team could have morphed into a right-wing deep state, below I’ve cut-and-pasted a conversation from End of Lies between China agent Yu Kaili and a Higher Love (the re-badged Secret Team) senior officer.

Ambassador Kleinwort said, “I wish to understand how much you know about the origins of our organization and the fifty-year quest that we stand on the threshold of fulfilling. Perhaps then you will be more tolerant and trusting in our intent.”

“If I had known there would be a test, I would have studied,” said Yu Kaili.

“Humor me. For both of our sakes, you need to understand the capabilities of the people with whom you hope to deal.”

“Fine. In 1959, Vice President Nixon formed Operation 40. The leader was a clandestine CIA senior officer, Ted Shackley. The group’s remit was to undertake operations too secret—and too illegal—to exist inside the CIA and the intelligence oversight framework. Shackley would soon become infamous for his role in planning the Bay of Pigs invasion. It is unclear whether Operation 40 played the lead or merely a faciliatory role in the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the subsequent coverup punctuated by Oswald’s murder and the farcical Warren Commission.

“In the mid-1960s, Operation 40’s locus moved to Indochina where a combination of illicit wars, narcotics trading and rogue operators led to unwanted notoriety around what was rebranded as the ‘Secret Team,’ though still led by Shackley and other Operation 40 alumni such as Edwin Wilson, Thomas Clines and Rafael Quintero. Based out of Thailand, the Secret Team stockpiled millions in dirty money and untraceable arms. By the 1970s, Vietnam was a lost cause and the operational HQ had shifted to Tehran. You became aware of the group at this time and helped pilot its long-term strategy. Nixon resigned in August 1974 but you remained inside the Ford Administration until Carter took office.

“The 1976 election is where matters went awry—in 1977 Carter appointed Stansfield Turner head of the CIA, and Turner fired Shackley. Even though the Blond Ghost was officially off the scene, Shackley’s people propped up the shah until he was ousted by Khomeini in 1979. The CIA handed the 1980 presidential election to Ronald Reagan in July when former DCI William Casey met the Iranians in Tehran. In return for military spares otherwise embargoed, the mullahs agreed to delay the release of the embassy hostages until after November, thereby forestalling an ‘October Surprise’ that could have swung the election back to Carter. For reasons I do not understand, Shackley and other Secret Team principals opposed Casey’s move. Perhaps it was because you felt a Carter reelection might make the country ripe for the coup you still plan forty years later.

“Shackley’s Secret Team was reborn in early 1981 as Higher Love. Through a mixture of covert operations and deep penetration agents, Higher Love tracks information flows that bear on all US foreign policy matters. For thirty-five years, your group has run parallel State and Defense Departments with objectives often in conflict with official government policies. You have tired of life in the shadows and have seized upon Russia’s blackmail and control of Republican Party candidate Douglas Ginger as the tipping point for a constitutional crisis that which will see the military emerge as the only sensible leadership alternative. This is a view President Liu conditionally also shares.”

“You have an impressive grasp of late twentieth century intelligence matters, as befitting the former head—however briefly—of China’s international spy agency.”

“Yet there are gaps in my understanding that you might remedy,” Kaili said.

“I make no promises,” Kleinwort said, “but ask away.”

“9/11 was Higher Love’s idea as were the ensuing Iraq and Afghanistan invasions. The required military buildup meshed with your organization’s longer-term objectives irrespective of short-term waste and distraction. At several junctures, the pending defeat of al Qaeda and Taliban forces left your group in a quandary. With al Qaeda’s senior leaders bought off, Higher Love’s solution was to covertly back the rise of al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, which metastasized into the Islamic State, Daesh.”

“Another conjecture that William of Ockham would have enjoyed.”

Source: End of Lies, pp. 71-73.

Cover design by Aneirin Flynn

A secret you can eat: grilling the perfect steak

I’m not much of a chef and offer my sole recipe to other culinary underachievers. If you, like me, lack the natural touch but like the taste of seared beef then read on.

To safeguard your ribeyes, sirloins and T-bones, please have a stopwatch handy and consider splashing out for a Taylor Compact Waterproof Digital Pen Thermometer ($12 on Amazon at Taylor Thermometer). This is an amazing tool, works across an insane range of temperatures  (-40F to 450F with dual C-F readout options). For the fishermen among us, it’s also waterproof and ideal for sampling river temperatures.

Start with best cut you can afford: the perfect steak is more nature than nurture. Remove it from the fridge a couple hours beforehand and let it warm up. At least an hour before cooking time, apply your preferred marinade or rub. (For wine aficionados, this is also a signal to pull a cork on a hearty bottle of red.)

For the marinade, I’m partial to Canada’s favorite,  “Clubhouse LaGrille’s Montreal Steak Spice” (heavy salt, red and black pepper, garlic, et. al.), but you can substitute your favorite seasoning.

I apply a thin layer of seasoning on both sides and then leave the steaks on the counter for at least an hour. Pre-heat the grill to 350F (C175). Set the stopwatch feature on your watch to 0:00 and judge the thickness of the steaks. Sear the meat at high heat on each side for one minute for each inch. At the timed halfway point, shift the steak a quarter turn to cross-hatch the sear marks. Then turn the steaks promptly and perform one more quarter turn on the flip-side. Within two-to-three total minutes, you’ve sealed in the juices and imparted a tasty char.

Now it’s baking time and the meat requires way less heat. I aim for 300F. In BC we have a four-burner gas grill with a cover. I turn off the two middle burners, turn down the outside units to “Low” and move the steaks to the back shelf at the top: avoid the heating elements/flames. At this point, you restart your stopwatch, but total baking time is contingent on the cook temperature, grill configuration, meat thickness and how long you seared the steaks in the first phase. I usually find that five-to-seven minutes (no need to turn) does the trick.

By this time in the evening, I’ve usually had a glass of wine … or three … and I’m less keen on eyeballing the steaks than I might otherwise be. That’s where Mr. Taylor’s probe earns it’s keep: you cook the steaks until the thinnest registers 135F in the middle. That’s your signal to cut the gas and pull the steaks off if you like’em medium rare. If you prefer a different degree of wellness, check out the Omaha Steaks Grilling Chart (Omaha Steaks Grill Chart) where there’s much more precision on offer.

Let the steaks set for three-to-five minutes before serving. In the meantime, fire the grill back up on high and once it hits 400F, scrape all the crud off the metal grate with a wire brush. If you live in the woods, bring that brush indoors or else a wild critter will eat it for the grease and fat content. (True story: in 2017 a young adult black bear ate the grill brush bristles. How do I know? Ever see a pile of bear poop littered with wire filaments? Ouch.)

Remember to turn the heat off when you’re done. Oh, and don’t forget your wine glass out on the porch, either. You’ll be needing that.

Further Reading

The Secret Team

Ted Shackley

For career highlights on Ted Shackley, see Nugan Hand Bank | Michael Hand and the Sunshine Band.  (July 2015).

Blond Ghost, David Corn (1994) is the definitive third-party biography.

Spymaster: My Life in the CIA (2006) is Shackley’s autobiography.