The CIA's purple haze

TV stars run amok; geriatric criminals terrorize nation.

Published May 6, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

The center cannot hold in Televisionland. First, last February, former "Diff'rent Strokes" star Gary Coleman ran afoul of the gendarmes by clobbering a female fan while he was shopping for a bulletproof vest (she looked like she wanted "to slap the taste out of my mouth," Coleman "explained"). He got 90 days for his distasteful behavior. Then, in March, former Mouseketeer Darlene Fraschilla (nie Gillespie) was awarded a two-year residency at a federal B&B for a securities fraud scheme. Now, Roz Kelly, who played the Fonz's squeeze, Pinky Tuscadero, in the 1973-84 sitcom "Happy Days," has been ruled competent to stand trial for peppering two of her neighbors' cars -- an Acura and a Mercury Topaz, both unarmed -- with blasts from her shotgun. Sheesh, what's next? Flipper busted for mugging Free Willy? The Brady Bunch takes over the Spahn Ranch?

Or how about the Central Intelligence Agency dosing unsuspecting United States' citizens with LSD? True, it's an old story, but it may well be a true story, and one of its longest chapters closed last week when a New York jury, in the court of U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood (You remember Kimba. Not Simba! Kimba!), ruled against the estate of artist Stanley Glickman. Until his death in 1992, Glickman insisted that a CIA agent, who for 40 years he consistently described as having a clubfoot, had slipped him a mind-bending mickey in a glass of Chartreuse liqueur at a bar in Paris in 1952, driving Glickman mad and destroying his life.

Glickman's sad predicament, whatever brought it on, is a long and tangled story. The New York jury didn't buy his claim that the CIA played a part, but the spooksters' role in widely -- and wildly -- experimenting with LSD, even on unaware members of the public, has long been the focus of journalistic and government inquiries. In addition to newspaper and magazine articles, and sworn testimony given at the 1977 Senate hearings on CIA abuses, chaired by Sen. Ted Kennedy, at least two books feature extensive, and colorful, coverage of the Company's psychoactive shenanigans -- "Acid Dreams: The CIA, LSD and the Sixties Rebellion," by Martin Lee and Bruce Shlain (1985) and "Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream" by Jay Stevens (1987).

According to "Acid Dreams," and a Feb. 14 article in The Observer, in the 1950s the U.S. government began operating a covert drug-testing program called MK-ULTRA (Where did they get those names? "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." wasn't even on the air yet.) The Observer states that the "architect" of MK-ULTRA was a man named Sidney Gottlieb, who became head of the CIA's chemical division, and two decades later would testify at the Kennedy hearings "about spiking the drinks of unsuspecting Americans" and also "admit that MK-ULTRA tested an array of techniques and substances on dozens of unsuspecting people, and there may well have been hundreds." The U.S. government, the Observer reported, "has over the years issued various qualified denials [of such activities] in the course of seeking to have the [Sidney Glickman] case dismissed."

After Gottlieb's Senate testimony was made public, the Glickman family filed suit in 1983 -- for a period, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark was Glickman's lawyer -- and the case finally went to trial earlier this year, though the artist himself died in 1992. Oddly, on April 27, as the trial was wrapping up, Judge Dominick DiCarlo dropped dead while exercising in the federal court gym. Judge Kimba Wood presided at the remainder of the trial. (Coincidentally -- the Glickman case is full of bizarre intersections -- Wood had thrown out the suit in 1977, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals later reinstated it.)

In any event, it's all over now and it's just as well, perhaps, that Stanley Glickman wasn't around to hear what the jury thought of his story. But two Richard Kimballesque details remain: For more than four decades, Glickman's physical description of the man who dosed him never varied. And even the CIA doesn't deny that Gottlieb, whose activities didn't become public knowledge for over 20 years after Glickman drank the Chartreuse, had a clubfoot.

After that tale, it's almost a relief to move on to Osaka, where today the yakuza are going about their business in refreshingly forthright, albeit felonious, fashion. Osaka is headquarters for organized crime in Japan and home base for the 20,000 member Yamaguchi-gumi, which, as mentioned in an earlier column, seems to be having some internal problems. Things can't be easy on the PR front for a gang of tough guys saddled with a name that sounds like a distant relative of Gummi Bears or a Saturday morning cartoon character -- Tinky Winky, Dipsy, Laa-Laa, Po, Yamaguchi-gumi -- but now the public and the economy are ganging up on the beleaguered mobsters.

In the Osaka neighborhood of Konohana, the Associated Press reports, residents recently "turned out by the hundreds for anti-mob rallies, parades and concerts" and stickers with anti-mob slogans "went up in more than 10,000 windows." To make matters worse, Japan's decade-long economic slowdown is forcing the gang that can't catch a break into a costly operations upgrade. Once content with murder, theft and vice, the Yamaguchi-gumi now must move toward non-traditional income sources such as stock market manipulation and Internet porn, areas where the gang's usual competitive advantage may be more difficult to assert.

Meanwhile, back in the States, "elder crime" -- that would be crimes committed by the elderly, not against them -- seems to be on the upswing. A couple of weeks ago, 90-year-old Brose Gearhart was sentenced to up to four years for dealing crack out of his home. Then, last weekend, Forest Silver Tucker, 78, who once escaped from California's San Quentin in a prison-made kayak emblazoned with the cheerful name "Rub-a-Dub-Dub, Marin Yacht Club," was popped on suspicion of robbing a Florida bank. Tucker, said to have been a member of Boston's famed "Over the Hill Gang," led the sheriff on a merry chase before crashing his car into a palm tree. "This guy had no intention of stopping," a sheriff's spokesman said. "This was his retirement plan, I guess." After the arrest, Lt. James Chinn remarked, "He looked like he just came off the golf course. You'd more expect to see him go to an early-bird special than robbing banks."

Finally, strike another match, babe, let's start anew. Participatory democracy in Las Vegas is alive and well and running like a well-oiled machine. Last Tuesday, Oscar Goodman, a lawyer who defended mob figures such as Meyer Lansky and Tony "the Ant" Spilotro, was the top vote-getter in the City of Lightbulbs mayoral election, but fell just short of the majority he needed to avoid a June runoff with councilman Arnie Adamsen.

"This city's going to really hum, hopefully sooner than later," Goodman crowed. "This is the American dream." An AP report said that the 59-year-old Goodman, who played himself in Martin Scorsese's "Casino," "for years was called the mouthpiece for the mob because of his vigorous defense of people like Lansky and Spilotro, the gangster who legend has it put a rival's head in a vise and squeezed his eyeballs out." (Rumors that Goodman used Barry Goldwater's "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice" line as a campaign slogan are entirely false.)

By Douglas Cruickshank

Douglas Cruickshank is a senior writer for Salon. For more articles by Cruickshank, visit his archive.

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