To Protect and to Spin
Illustration by Alison Elizabeth Taylor
AN L.A. COP MEETS A BEAUTIFUL AND MYSTERIOUS DAME. HE falls hard; she lets him. They move in together, but she takes him for a ride, disappearing evenings, gallivanting about. She has no obvious source of income. But she's deep in-the-know about mobsters and guns. One day there's a bullet hole in her '65 Ford Comet; 48 hours later she dumps him. He chases her to New Orleans, where she's hanging with Mafiosi and military men. The cop is shot at. Back in L.A. he is followed. It gets to him. He checks into a psychiatric hospital for a spell. But he starts to figure things out. It's 1978, and his ex, he believes, is somehow hooked up with U.S. intelligence and the mob in a plot involving Iran, where radical clerics are threatening the regime of the Washington-friendly shah. And someone is worried this cop knows too much. He's being tailed, his home is broken into. He tells his superiors at LAPD. They do nothing. Fearing for his life, he retires from the department.
The story's not over. Years later, he cracks the case. His girlfriend, he concludes, was with the CIA, and her mission was to work with organized-crime lieutenants assisting Kurdish counterrevolutionary forces in Iran in return for access to Mideast heroin. The old guns-for-drugs business. In 1981, he gets a newspaper to print his tale. But his ex-lover-the-spy denies all and says he's nutso -- which, of course, is what you would expect a wily CIA operative to say. So the CIA gets off. The ex-cop's career is in the toilet. He takes a job at a 7-Eleven and is busted on his first shift for selling alcohol to a kid. A setup, right? For a while, his parents have to support him. Then in 1996, when his old nemesis, the CIA, is accused of scheming with L.A. crack dealers, the ex-cop has another chance to take down the Company. He tells the world the CIA in the late 1970s attempted to recruit him to protect its drug racket in South-Central. But his claim draws little attention; again, the CIA skates. But this former cop doesn't quit. He starts a newsletter, opens a Web site (www.copvcia.com -- get it?), and keeps pursuing the gang that wrecked his life. And then -- finally -- he unearths the CIA's most damaging secret, the ugliest truth imaginable about the Agency, information that could bring the CIA to its knees and topple an entire government. He's got the CIA by the short hairs. There's only one question: Can he get people to believe?
Is this the latest Mel Gibson vehicle? No, it's all true. Sort of. This is the self-proclaimed autobiography of Michael Ruppert, who was indeed a cop who got messed up over a relationship with a woman and who, 24 years later, has become a king of conspiracy theories, operating out of Sherman Oaks. He maintains that his research shows the CIA knew the 9/11 attacks were coming and that the U.S. government probably had a hand in executing the assaults. Why would the government do that? The short answer: so Washington, ever subservient to Big Oil, would have an excuse to bomb the hell out of the Taliban and make way for a regime in Kabul that would say yes-sir to U.S. oil transnationals eager to use Afghanistan for a pipeline from the oil and gas fields of Central Asia. He's been pushing this notion in speeches across the country, on radio, on his Web site (buy the video!) and in interviews with other Web sites. And he has found an audience. In February, he packed a theater in Sacramento. Recently, he spoke at a conference in Australia. He repeatedly has been on Pacifica radio, and KPFK, the Los Angeles Pacifica station, has used his 9/11 video as a premium when fund-raising.
Within the alternative 9/11 crowd, this once down-and-out cop reigns as the No. 1 conspiracy theorist, a man who preaches the real truth for the thousands prepared to believe the absolute worst about the government. I first took note of him several months ago, after I began receiving e-mails from people claiming Ruppert could show that the Bush administration had committed a most foul act: It had either been aware of the attacks and did nothing to stop them, or worse, it had helped orchestrate them. I wrote a column for two Web sites dismissing this and other 9/11 conspiracy theories. I expressed doubt that the Bush administration would kill or allow the murder of thousands of American citizens to achieve a political or economic aim. Having covered the national-security community for years, I didn't believe any government agency could execute a plot requiring the coordination of the FBI, the CIA, the INS, the FAA, the NTSB, the Pentagon and others. And -- no small matter -- there was no direct evidence that anything of such a diabolical nature had transpired. I questioned Ruppert's research and challenged one of his most significant pieces of evidence: the case of Delmart "Mike" Vreeland. An American who was jailed in Canada, Vreeland claims to be a U.S. naval-intelligence officer who tried to warn the authorities before the attacks.
After my article appeared, hundreds of angry e-mails poured in. Some called me a sophisticated CIA disinformation agent. Others attacked me for being hopelessly naive. (Could I be both?) I discovered Ruppert and Vreeland had a loyal -- and vocal -- following. Because there had been such an avalanche of support for Ruppert and Vreeland, I decided to take a second and deeper look at Ruppert and his chief witness. The picture got worse.
RUPPERT HAS LONG BEEN A PURVEYOR OF AMAZING tales. In 1981, he told the Los Angeles Herald Examiner that bizarre story about himself and his former lover, and the paper ran a two-part piece on him. Whatever the truth of this romantic encounter, the relationship apparently exacted a toll on Ruppert. In 1978, he resigned from the force, claiming the department had not protected him when his life was threatened. According to records posted on Ruppert's site, his commanding officer called his service "for the most part, outstanding." But the C.O. also said Ruppert was hampered by an "overconcern with organized-crime activity and a feeling that his life was endangered by individuals connected to organized crime. This problem resulted in Officer Ruppert voluntarily committing himself to psychiatric care last year . . . [A]ny attempts to rejoin the Department by Officer Ruppert should be approved only after a thorough psychiatric examination."
In 1996, Ruppert showed up at a community meeting in Los Angeles, where thenCIA Director John Deutch was addressing charges that the CIA had been in league with crack-cocaine dealers. Before television cameras and national reporters, Ruppert said the Agency had tried to sign him up in the 1970s to "protect CIA drug operations" in Los Angeles -- an allegation missing from the guns-for-drugs story published in 1981. In 1998, he launched his From the Wilderness newsletter, which examines what he considers to be the hidden currents of international economics and national security untouched by other media. On March 31 of last year, for instance, he published a report on an economic conference in Moscow that featured a speaker who worked for Lyndon LaRouche. "I share a near universal respect of the LaRouche organization's detailed and precise research," Ruppert wrote. "I have not, however, always agreed with [its] conclusions." Ruppert maintains that 20 members of Congress subscribe to his newsletter.
For the most part, Ruppert does not uncover, he compiles. That is, he assembles facts -- or purported facts -- from various news sources (some more credible than others) and then makes connections. The proof is not in any one piece -- say, a White House memo detailing an arms-for-hostages trade. The proof is in the line drawn between the dots. His masterwork is a time line of 58 events (at last count), which, he believes, shows that the CIA knew of the attacks in advance and that the U.S. government likely had a hand in them. Ruppert cheekily titled this document "Oh Lucy! -- You Gotta Lotta 'Splaining To Do."
In the time line, he notes that between 1991 and 1997, transnational oil companies invested billions of dollars to gain access to the oil reserves of Central Asia and that these firms -- particularly Unocal -- expressed interest in a trans-Afghanistan pipeline and wanted a compliant government in Kabul. Ruppert lists trips made to Saudi Arabia in 1998 and 2000 by former President George Bush on behalf of the Carlyle Group investment firm (without noting what actually transpired on these visits). On September 7, 2001, Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed an order restructuring the state's response to acts of terrorism. There's a German online-news-agency report from September 14 claiming an Iranian man called U.S. law enforcement to warn of the attack earlier that summer.
Ruppert's list cries out, "Don't you see?" Oil companies wanted a stable and pro-Western regime in Afghanistan. Warnings were not heeded. Daddy Bush had dealings in Saudi Arabia. Brother Jeb was getting ready for a terrible event. It can mean only one thing: The U.S. government designed the attacks or let them happen so it could go to war on behalf of oil interests.
SPACE PREVENTS A COMPLETE DISSECTION OF ALL Ruppert's dots. But in several instances, he misrepresents his source material or offers unsubstantiated reports as the almighty truth. Item No. 10, based on a Los Angeles Times story, says the Bush administration gave $43 million in aid to the Taliban in May 2001, "purportedly" to assist farmers starving since the destruction of their opium crop. Purportedly? Was the administration actually paying off the Taliban, perhaps trying to gain an opening for oil companies? That is what Ruppert is hinting. The newspaper, though, reported the U.S. funds "are channeled through the United Nations and international agencies," not handed to the Taliban. Unless Ruppert can show that was not the case, this dot has no particular significance.
Item No. 23 -- an explosive charge -- states that in July 2001 Osama bin Laden was admitted into a hospital in Dubai and met with a CIA officer. The story of this alleged meeting first appeared in Le Figaro, a French newspaper, last October in an article by freelancer Alexandra Richard. Citing only an unnamed "partner of the administration of the American Hospital in Dubai," she maintained bin Laden was treated at the hospital for 10 days. Her story also asserted "the local CIA agent . . . was seen taking the main elevator of the hospital to go to bin Laden's hospital room" and "bragged to a few friends about having visited bin Laden." But she provided no source for these details. The hospital categorically denied bin Laden was there. The meeting's existence -- unattached to a single identifiable and confirmable source -- can, at best, be regarded as iffy.
Ruppert also makes much of the fact that before September 11 parties unknown engaged in a frenzy of short-selling involving the stock of airlines and dozens of companies affected by the attacks. But does this mean the U.S. government ignored a clear warning? Ruppert assumes the U.S. and Western intelligence services "monitor stock trades in real time to warn of impending attacks." But he offers no evidence of that. Ronald Blekicki, who publishes Microcap Analyst, an online investment publication, says most of the short-selling occurred overseas -- which could well have escaped notice in the United States -- and was probably conducted by bin Laden backers and intimates.
What is curious is that news of the investigations into the short-selling has taken a quick-fade. The Securities and Exchange Commission will not say whether it is still investigating this trading. Suspicious minds, no doubt, can view the public absence of government interest as evidence of something amiss.
Item No. 12 on the Ruppert time line is one of the most popular among the 9/11 skeptics. Here Ruppert references a book, Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth, written by two French authors, Jean-Charles Brisard, a former intelligence employee, and Guillaume Dasquie, a journalist. The pair maintain the 9/11 attacks were the "outcome" of "private and risky discussions" between the United States and the Taliban "concerning geostrategic oil interests." They claim that during the course of secretive international talks concerning Afghanistan, the oil-hungry United States in July 2001 threatened the Taliban with a military strike. Brisard and Dasquie suggest that in response to this threat, bin Laden and the Taliban decided to hit first. But their thesis makes no sense. Did bin Laden pull together the 9/11 plot in two months? Or did bin Laden have all the elements in place but was not about to proceed with this horrific plot until the Bush administration pushed him too far? The authors do not prove their case, and what they dubbed "private and risky discussions" were, in reality, a laudable United Nations multilateral initiative to settle the political and military strife in Afghanistan.
This book -- the basis of one of Ruppert's most important time line entries -- is a shoddy piece of journalism, most of it completely unsourced. But Ruppert's task is not evaluating data; it's manipulating selected pieces of information that exist in the public record. If it's in print -- or on the Web -- it's good enough to use. Certainly, it is a public service to highlight material that may have slipped through the cracks of the mainstream media. For instance, Ruppert is right to wonder about a brief story that appeared on September 12, 2001, in Izvestia, the Moscow-based newspaper. Citing unnamed sources, the paper reported Moscow had warned Washington of the 9/11 attacks weeks earlier. Was such a warning actually transmitted? If so, who issued the warning and who received it? But a four-paragraph overseas-news item, pulled together in the frantic hours after the 9/11 strikes, is a starting place for investigation, not proof the Bush administration permitted or abetted the attacks. Ruppert does not know the difference between a lead and evidence -- an odd quality for a former police officer.
With his time line, Ruppert implies far more than he proves. It is a document for those already predisposed to believe world events are determined by secret, mind-boggling conspiracies of the powerful, by people too influential and sly to be caught but who leave a trail that can be decoded by those brave outsiders who know where and how to look.
IN HIS 9/11 "RESEARCH," RUPPERT CAN CLAIM ONE truly original find: Delmart "Mike" Vreeland. He is the flesh on the bones of Ruppert's the-dots-show-all time line. And thanks to Ruppert, Vreeland has developed his own devotees who believe Vreeland is the key to the mysteries of 9/11. Is Vreeland Ruppert's silver bullet against the CIA? It seems more likely he is a skilled but low-rent con man who seduced the ex-cop. On December 6, 2000, Vreeland, then 34, was arrested in Canada and charged with fraud, forgery, threatening death or bodily harm, and obstructing a peace officer. At the time, he was wanted on multiple warrants in the United States -- for forgery, counterfeiting, larceny, unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, narcotics, reckless endangerment, arson and grand theft. Months earlier, the Detroit News, citing law-enforcement authorities, had reported that Vreeland was an experienced identity thief. While Vreeland was in jail in Toronto, law-enforcement officials in Michigan began extradition proceedings.
On October 7, 2001, Vreeland, who was fighting extradition, submitted an exhibit in a Canadian court that he says shows he knew 9/11 was coming. The document is a page of handwritten notes. On it is a list that includes the World Trade Center, the Sears Tower and the White House. Below that, a sentence reads, "Let one happen -- stop the rest." Elsewhere is a hard-to-decipher collection of phrases and names. Vreeland claims he wrote this in mid-August 2001, while in prison, and had it placed in a locked storage box by prison guards. He says the note was opened on September 14 in front of prison officials. Immediately, his lawyers were summoned to the prison, according to one of them, Rocco Galati, and the jail officials sent the note to Ottawa.
"Mike Vreeland is one man who, in a rational world, could totally expose the complicity of the U.S. government in the attacks," Ruppert wrote in January 2002. He argues Vreeland's document is proof U.S. intelligence was aware of the coming attacks, and he refers to the note as a "warning letter."
It is no such thing, and though tantalizing, it provides no specific clues to the 9/11 assaults -- no date, no obvious reference to a set of perpetrators. In a telephone interview with me, Vreeland said that in the summer of 2001 he was composing a 37-page memo regarding his exploits as an intelligence operative, and that this page contains the notes he kept during this process. What of the memo? Vreeland won't share it. Who can confirm the note was indeed what he had placed in storage prior to September 11? Is it possible a switch was pulled? Vreeland maintains that during court proceedings, five Canadian jail officials affirmed he passed this document to the guards before September 11. When I asked for their names, Vreeland said the judge had sealed those records. Kevin Wilson, a Canadian federal prosecutor handling the extradition case, and Galati, Vreeland's lawyer, say no seal was ordered.
The note is a small piece of Vreeland's very big, alias-like story. He claims he was a U.S. naval intelligence officer who was dispatched to Russia in September 2000 on a sensitive mission: to obtain design documents for a Russian weapon system that could defeat a U.S. missile-defense system. He swiped copies of the records and altered the originals so the Russian system wouldn't work. As one court decision states, "According to [Vreeland], he was sent to Russia to authenticate these documents because he had originally conceived of the theory behind this [antiStar Wars] technology, when working for the U.S. Navy in 1986." While in Moscow, he also snagged other top-secret documents that, he claims, foretold the September 11 attacks. And now the U.S. government, the Russian secret police, organized crime and corrupt law-enforcement officials are after him.
Ruppert and Vreeland assert that Canadian court records support Vreeland's account. But court decisions in his case have questioned his credibility. In one, Judge Archie Campbell observed, "There is not even a threshold showing of any air of reality to the vast conspiracy alleged by the applicant." Judge John Macdonald wrote, "I find that the applicant is an imaginative and manipulative person who has little regard for the truth." This judge declared Vreeland's testimony "simply incredible." He did not believe that Vreeland was a spy or that he had smuggled documents out of Russia.
The Canadian judges had good reason to doubt Ruppert's primary -- and only -- witness. After I first wrote about Vreeland, I received an e-mail from Terry Weems, who identified himself as Vreeland's half brother. He said Vreeland was a longtime con man who had preyed on his own family. Weems sent copies of police reports his wife had filed in Alabama accusing Vreeland of falsely using her name to buy office supplies and cell phones in August 2000. Weems provided a list of law-enforcement officers pursuing Vreeland in several states. I began calling these people and examining state and county records. There was much to check.
According to Michigan Department of Corrections records, Vreeland was in and out of prison several times from 1988 to 1999, having been convicted of assorted crimes, including breaking and entering, receiving stolen property, forgery and writing bad checks. In 1997, he was arrested in Virginia for conspiring to bribe a police officer and intimidating a witness, and failed to show up in court there. In Florida, he was arrested in 1998 on two felony counts of grand theft and sentenced to three years of probation. He then skipped out. In 1998, he was pursued by the Sheffield, Alabama, police force for stealing about $20,000 in music equipment. In the course of that investigation, Sheffield Detective Greg Ray pulled Vreeland's criminal file; it was 20 pages long. "He had to really try to be a criminal to get such a history," Ray says. A 1999 report filed by a Michigan probation agent said of Vreeland, "The defendant has nine known felony convictions, and five more felony charges are now pending in various courts. However, the full extent of his criminal record may never be known, because he has more than a dozen identified aliases and arrests or police contacts in five different states." Judge Campbell called Vreeland a "man who appears on this evidentiary record to be nothing more than a petty fraudsman with a vivid imagination."
But Ruppert dismisses Vreeland's past, noting, "Vreeland has a very confusing arrest record -- some of it very contradictory and apparently fabricated." When I interviewed Vreeland, he said, "I have never legally been convicted of anything in the United States of America." And he added that he has never been in prison. In March, the Canadian criminal charges against Vreeland were dropped, and he was allowed to post bail. Paul McDermott, a provincial prosecutor, says his office considered the pending extradition matter the priority. Vreeland's extradition hearing is scheduled for September. And his story recently became even more incredible. On June 1, Ruppert posted a dramatic e-mail on a private discussion list, reporting a phone conversation in which Vreeland said he had just become violently ill after drinking from a bottle of wine sent to him by Alan Greenspan. "He didn't sound like he was faking at all," wrote Ruppert, who maintained Vreeland had been "poisoned." By the Federal Reserve Chairman? In a later e-mail to me, Ruppert said he had not published this report on his Web site, explaining, "since all of the information received was solely from Vreeland -- who was obviously disoriented and ill -- I couldn't go with a news story."
To believe Vreeland's scribbles mean anything -- as does Ruppert -- one must believe his claim to be a veteran intelligence operative sent to Moscow on an improbable top-secret, high-tech mission (change documents to neutralize an entire technology?) during which he stumbled upon records (which he has not revealed) showing that 9/11 was going to happen. To believe that, one must believe Vreeland is a victim of a massive disinformation campaign involving his family, law-enforcement officers and defense lawyers across the country, two state corrections departments, county-clerk offices in 10 or so counties, the Canadian justice system, and various parts of the U.S. government. And one must believe that hundreds if not thousands of detailed court, county, prison and state records have been forged. It is easier to believe that a well-versed con man either wrote a sketchy note before September 11 that could be interpreted afterward as relevant or penned the note following the disaster and convinced prison guards he had written it previously. Michigan detective John Meiers, who's been chasing Vreeland for two years, says, "The bottom line: Delmart Vreeland is a con man. He's conned everyone he comes into contact with . . . He doesn't want to come back here. He knows he's going to prison, and he's fighting. In the interim, he's coming up with a variety of stories."
RUPPERT IS CORRECT TO REMIND PEOPLE THAT official accounts must be absorbed with scrutiny. Clandestine agendas and unacknowledged geostrategic factors -- such as oil -- may well shape George W. Bush's war on terrorism. And there are questions that have gone unanswered. The CIA and the FBI possessed indications, if not specific clues, that something was coming and failed to piece them together. Why did U.S. air defenses perform so poorly on September 11 -- even though there had been signs for at least five years that al Qaeda was considering a 9/11-type attack? But questions are not equivalent to proof. As of now, there is not confirmable evidence to argue that the conventional take on September 11 -- bin Laden surprise-attacked America as part of a jihad, and a caught-off-guard United States struck back -- is actually a cover story. Ruppert, who has been chasing CIA ghosts for over 20 years, offers innuendo, not substantiation. The former cop hasn't made his case.
But this just in: At the end of May, the interim government in Kabul announced it was reviving plans to build that trans-Afghanistan pipeline. Did this mean Ruppert was on target? Did this pipeline revival mark the culmination of Bush's secret 9/11 plot? Not exactly. Unocal, the U.S. oil company that led the old pipeline consortium on whose behalf the U.S. government supposedly allowed the 9/11 attacks to occur, declared it was no longer interested in the pipeline. That hardly fits with Ruppert's they-let- it-happen-for-oil theory. No doubt, Ruppert has an explanation for this. And that explanation likely will supply one more reason for this ex-cop to continue his hell-bent crusade against the spies and thugs who two decades ago broke his heart but opened his eyes to a secret world that he, among only a few, can see.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.