© 1997 David Guyatt. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.
Danny Casolaro was jubilant. He had just cracked the biggest story of his life. A freelance journalist, Casolaro had, for a year, been investigating a shadowy group he called "The Octopus." Regularly fed sensitive information by sources within the CIA and Mafia, Casolaro believed he had uncovered a secret network of prominent individuals who orchestrated a series of criminal conspiracies. Better still, he had the evidence to prove it.
Another Dead Journalist
Paul Wilcher was investigating possible government involvement in the October Surprise and the Inslaw PROMIS story. By May 1993 he told friends that his information had gone "beyond" Casolaro, and acknowledged fear for his life On 23 June 1993, he was found dead in the bathroom of his apartment. Wilcher's investigation records are missing. Unusually, FBI and CIA personnel were quickly on the scene. As with Casolaro, Wilcher's bathroom was thoroughly cleaned the next day. His body was cremated before identification was independently confirmed, and without complete forensic examination. Cause of death has not been established.
Membership of the "Octopus," included highly placed figures in the Reagan and Bush administrations and powerful individuals in the US intelligence community. More disquieting, Casolaro, had evidence that linked both these to senior figures in organised crime. All three operated together, he believed, in perpetrating massive swindles and engaging in widespread political fixits. It was an explosive story. One final meeting with a new "source" would wrap the story up. Despite recent death threats, he journeyed to a motel in Martinsburg, West Virginia, in high mood to meet his informant.
The next day, Saturday, 10 August 1991, Casolaro was found dead in the bathtub of his motel room. Naked, his wrists had been slashed open a dozen times. Local police officers were quick to arrive and with a cursory examination concluded suicide. His briefcase containing sheaf's of documents relating to his story - which never left his side - was missing. Without notifying his family, Casolaro's body was illegally embalmed, impeding subsequent autopsy. Prior to his death, Casolaro had warned his brother Tony, "If anything happens to me, don't believe it was accidental." Casolaro also gave the same message to special FBI agent Thomas Gates, who was investigating volatile Mafia figure and CIA insider, Robert Booth Nichols. Nichols was a source for Casolaro's investigation of the "Octopus."
Central to the many activities of the "Octopus" that Casolaro unearthed, was the theft of a software package known as PROMIS. Bill Hamilton, president of Inslaw, a Washington DC., based software firm, developed the programme - licensing it to the US Department of Justice (DoJ). Designed as "case management" software, PROMIS was unique. Capable of tracking disparate data and people, it allowed DoJ prosecutors to keep tabs on all their legal cases throughout the USA. Later disputing their agreement with Inslaw, the DoJ refused to honour its commitment to pay license fees.
During the course of the dispute, Bill Hamilton received a phone call from Dominic Laiti, Chief Executive of Hadron Inc. Hadron was a government systems consulting firm controlled by close Reagan associate Earl Brian. Laiti told Bill Hamilton that he wanted to buy Inslaw. Hamilton refused. Angry, Laiti retorted that he had friends in government and threatened "we have ways of making you sell." Brian was a close confidante of Attorney General Edwin Meese. Shortly thereafter Inslaw was forced into bankruptcy.
A brilliant child prodigy, Michael Riconsciuto specialised in developing cutting-edge technology. In his Grand Jury testimony, Riconsciuto says his software modifications were used to launder drug money from the Mena, Arkansas operation - as well as for secret intelligence eavesdropping purposes. He also helped the CIA develop Gene specific chemical and biological weapons. In addition he testified that he was also instrumental in developing "Air Fuel Bombs," used to devastating effect in Operation Desert Storm, and had worked on advanced infrared sensor technology - designed to permit "saturation surveillance of all movements of all people in every open, visible space on the entire planet."
Broke and angry, Inslaw's Bill Hamilton filed a $30 million lawsuit against the Justice Department and won. Awarding $6.1 million in damages, the Judge said the DoJ had stolen PROMIS by "trickery, fraud and deceit." Shortly afterwards the Judge's reappointment to the bench was blocked. Appointed in his place was the attorney who had petitioned for Inslaw's liquidation. The Justice Department appealed against the decision and lost. Upholding Inslaw's previous victory the appeals Judge noted that there was "convincing, perhaps compelling support" support for their case. Later, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the decision on a technicality.
At this point Bill Hamilton remained unaware why the Justice Department had gone to these lengths to obtain PROMIS illegally. Unknown to him, the DoJ had given a copy of the software to the CIA. They immediately recognised its immense value as an intelligence tool. PROMIS could track, collect and collate a wide range of data. With the Inslaw story assuming an increasing degree of notoriety, the Senate House Judiciary Committee launched an investigation that was to last three years.
Affidavits provided by intelligence insiders were presented to the committee. They contained damning allegations. These include: Earl Brian, confidant to Presidential hopeful Reagan, orchestrated the "October Surprise" that brought Reagan to power. Brian, who owns United Press International (UPI) received pirated copies of PROMIS as a payoff for his services. He, together with others, sold doctored versions of the software to foreign countries. The October surprise centres on allegations that close associates of Ronald Reagan secretly negotiated to delay the release of US hostages held by Iran, until after the forthcoming election. In the last days of his presidency, Jimmy Carter knew that his fate rested upon the early release of the hostages. Confidential negotiations with the Iranians were beset with difficulties. Upon election, President Reagan was quick to announce that the hostages had been released. (In fact, they were released during Reagan's Inaugaration - ed.)
More alarming was the affidavit presented by Michael Riconsciuto. A CIA computer whizzkid, Riconsciuto stated in his sworn statement that he had personally adapted PROMIS software for intelligence purposes, adding that a copy of PROMIS was provided to him by Earl Brian. At the hearing, Riconsciuto predicted he would be arrested for testifying. Eight days later he was hauled up on narcotics' charges. He is presently serving a 30 year sentence in Estill federal prison, South Carolina.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman's report
Chairman of the US House Judiciary Committee, Jack Brooks, released his investigative report on the Inslaw affair in August 1992. The report, sharply critical of the US Justice Department, found that the DoJ "acted wilfully and fraudulently," and "took, converted and stole," Inslaw's PROMIS software by "trickery, fraud and deceit." The committee received corroborating evidence confirming PROMIS was "stolen and distributed internationally in order to provide financial gain to associates of the Justice department and to further the intelligence and foreign policy objectives of the United States." The report complained that two Attorney General's refused to appoint Independent Counsel to investigate the affair.
Israeli Mossad agent, Ari Ben Menashe, backed Riconosciuto's allegations, saying Earl Brian had visited Israel in 1987, to demonstrate up-dated PROMIS software. During that meeting Brian revealed that all US Intelligence agencies were using the software. The Israeli spy went on to explain why PROMIS was so important. Riconosciuto's modifications included a telecommunications "trapdoor." This was done, Riconsciuto says, to enable US intelligence to eavesdrop on those nations and organisations that had purchased the illegal software. Altogether 88 nations are said to have acquired the modified PROMIS, including Britain's intelligence and security services. THIS WRITER has learned that the first intelligence use of PROMIS was in the British and US nuclear submarine fleet. Installed on Vax computers, the software was used to collect and disseminate vital intelligence between both allies.
Accusing high level DoJ officials and former Attorney General, Dick Thornburgh of stonewalling tactics, the Judiciary Committee's report confirmed that "High government officials were involved" in a conspiracy to steal PROMIS. Singled out in the damning investigation were Attorney General Edwin Meese, and D. Lowell Jensen, a former deputy attorney general. In closing his report, Brooks asked then Attorney General William Barr to appoint an "Independent Counsel" to investigate the numerous allegations of DoJ wrong-doing. Instead Barr appointed retired federal judge Nicholas Bua, as a "DoJ Special Counsel," in 1992, thus ensuring that a full, independent investigation was ruled out.
By June 1993 the Bua report was released, clearing Justice officials of any impropriety in the Inslaw scandal. Inslaw's attorney, Elliot Richardson - a former attorney general in the Nixon administration - wrote a scathing 90 page rebuttal of Bua's findings. Well documented and factually cogent, the rebuttal offered a mass of evidence indicating Bua's report was riddled with errors and falsehoods.
More Octopus connections
Lester Coleman, a former operative for the Defence Intelligence Agency, unveiled more aspects of the shadowy Octopus, in his book "Trail of the Octopus." Following his public revelations, Coleman and his family fled to Sweden after death threats from the US intelligence community. His story focuses on covert activities that resulted in the Lockerbie plane disaster. Aboard Pan Am Flight 103, were a team of American intelligence agents - known as the McKee team - returning home to reveal illegal CIA narcotics smuggling from Lebanon to the US. The Lockerbie flight was used as a conduit for narcotics smuggling, Coleman claimed.
Flowing through the Reagan and Bush administrations, the hidden motives that held the key to the Inslaw - Octopus affair, slowly began to untangle. Stories abound speculating that factions within the intelligence community have teamed up with the Mafia and high level government figures to engage in illegal, but highly profitable activities. Hidden behind the veil of national secrecy these activities are said to include widespread narcotic smuggling, gun running, money laundering and stock and financial market manipulations. Inslaw's PROMIS was key to their developing plans.
It has been revealed that the London headquarters of the collapsed bank, BCCI, used a modified version of PROMIS to track money and letters of credit on behalf of intelligence agencies. Evidence provided by Ari Ben Menashe and others claim that British publisher, Robert Maxwell, distributed PROMIS on behalf of Mossad. Maxwell's suspicious death was, at the time, just the latest in a long list of questionable deaths that have been related to the shadowy activities of Casolaro's "Octopus." BCCI was widely implicated in narcotics smuggling and money laundering.
Possibly the most explosive aspect of the PROMIS story is the secret use of the software to track money around the globe. A source has told THIS WRITER that PROMIS is now used by leading banks throughout the world. The source says that members of the "Octopus" - by tapping into the trapdoor - are able to predict patterns and establish trends on the world's stock and financial markets. Able to scoop-up and analyse time and price sensitive information, they make short-term, risk-free investments. The profits are enormous and virtually untraceable, it is believed. Use of PROMIS in this fashion is the ultimate insider trading. According to a trusted source of Mr. & Mrs. Hamilton, this aspect is so secretive and sensitive that disclosure is restricted to the four statutory members of the National Security Council: the President, Vice-President, plus the Secretaries of State and Defence.
Another broken Promis?
Barry R. Kumnick, a brilliant computer engineer with high security clearance, developed an artificial intelligence software suite that would dramatically enhance PROMIS. Missing since 1991, Kumnick's enhancement software, known as "Brainstorm" was discovered, along with his personal possessions and working papers, in five storage crates during an auction. Allegedly, Brainstorm added a powerful element of personality profiling to PROMIS, enabling it to track individuals by predicting their thoughts and future actions. In a letter to his sister, Kumnick said the software would be extremely dangerous in the wrong hands. The US government offered him $25million for the package and then, like Inslaw, reneged on the deal.
The activities of the "Octopus" are believed to be even murkier. Ex CIA contract agent, Terry Reed revealed in 1994, that the CIA's illegal gun running activities to the Contra's, were paralleled by narcotic smuggling. Organised by Col. Oliver North, with CIA Director, William Casey's blessing, planes that secretly shipped weapons to the Contras were loaded with cocaine for the return trip to the US. In the backwoods of Mena, Arkansas - home state of then Governor, Bill Clinton - an entire covert operation was established to facilitate the guns for dope activity. A small airfield protected by US Special Forces was established. Reed claims that a percentage of the proceeds from dope sales were dropped at night from light planes in mail sacks, on a ranch outside Little Rock. Millions of dollars were dropped weekly. Some of it was destined for the "war-chest" of Governor Clinton, then preparing for his presidential bid, Reed claims. Like Hughes and others who have spilled the beans, Reed has fled the country.
Despite being in its fifteenth year the PROMIS story refuses to die. Largely disregarded by the major media at home and abroad, it simmers away in the background. In September this year, Inslaw's Bill Hamilton, has a new court hearing scheduled. In the meantime a number of interested parties continue to probe what may be the biggest story of criminality and high-level corruption during the past two decades. Whatever else may happen, Danny Casolaro's untimely death will not be forgotten.
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