Saturday, October 31, 2020

HAPPY (BLUE MOON) HALLOWEEN!


 

Van Stein



129. ILLUSION WITH FINAL FEAST






Private-Sector Intelligence with Clair George

1999


Clair phoned me after a severe tongue-lashing from the countess.  

"I haven't been chewed out like that since Yurchenko re-defected to Russia," he told me afterward.

"What now?"

"She said it's been a month-and-a-half since we've seen her and we've done f----all."

"In those words?"

"Near enough."

"Okay," I said.  "I'll have everything we need by tomorrow."

 

Next morning, I connected to the Swiss Banker's cell phone and found him in Liechtenstein.  "

"Ciao," he said.  "I have the countess with me.  I give you her."

"No, wait…!"

Like a fool, I'd walked into an ambush. 

"We're ready to proceed with Number Two,” I said.  “Your banker must approve the cost.  We can meet," I offered.  "Or I can fax him the information at much less cost."

We must meet in one week, the countess insisted.

"We're there," I said. 

Then I phoned Clair.  "I just saved your sorry ass."

"What happened?" 

"Start packing," I said.  "We're going back to the Cote d'Azur."

 

On the day of Monaco's Grand Prix, Clair and I rolled into the French Riviera and checked into Le Meridien in Nice.  

It gave us the best part of a day and night to stave off jet lag with wine, Armagnac and Cuban cigars.  

Most of this medication was taken under one roof, the famed Hotel Negresco on the Promenade des Anglais.


Bar le Relais, a large, galleried room provided the proper British setting for aperitifs (the Brits once owned the Riviera).  

A jet-black prostitute in purple chiffon sat along one side.  She welcomed us with a mischievous look before answering her cell phone.


We were expecting a pianist.  What we got was a Bill Gates lookalike who produced irritating techno-muzak with a synthesized drumbeat and other canned noise.

At some point, into his second scotch and soda, Clair gazed across the room, leaned toward me and asked, "What instrument is that lady playing?"

I looked where he pointed, then back at him.  

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Over there." Clair pointed again.  "Don't you see it?"

"No."  

Clair, who had recently been diagnosed with macular degeneration, got up, sauntered toward whatever he thought he was seeing, then moseyed around the room, finally returning to our table.  

He reseated himself.  "Maybe I need another scotch," he said.

"Maybe you need more serious medication," I said.  "It sounds like CBS to me."

"Dan Rather?"

"Charles Bonnet Syndrome.  It strikes people with macular degeneration.  Pretty soon you'll be seeing leprechauns."

"I can hardly wait."



Next day we moved our feast from Nice to Monaco, a principality shattered from 200,000 visitors the day before.

This trip we opted for the modest Hotel Abela, in Monaco's quiet Fontvieille quarter.  

The Swiss Banker drove us to our client’s estate where hundreds of pink flowers—planted to look wild, growing out of rock crevices—lined the serpentine road.  

The countess greeted us with warmth, sat us for lunch on her patio.

"Tell me," said the countess.

I re-explained Number Two:

We would not report the contessa's daughter to the IRS.

Instead, we would create the illusion that she might be under investigation by the IRS.

"I met with my friend Moono.  He spent 25 years in the IRS.  Moono told me the best place to make his calls would be from a public phone booth in a large city—maybe Los Angeles or Chicago or Washington.  It is not unusual for an IRS special agent to initiate an investigation from a regional hub—or from headquarters.

"Next, Moono and I crafted the best way for him to word his pitch.  This was the hardest part.  We want him to seem like he's working for the IRS without actually saying that he is, because posing as a federal officer is against the law.  Here's what we came up with:

"I worked for the IRS.  I'm developing a file for likely submission to the IRS's criminal investigation division and I have a question for you:  Does Lara have an account with your bank?

"He would use this line on Lara’s two New Mexico banks, then move onto Cayman National Bank and finally UBS in Geneva."       

The countess and her banker exchanged glances.  She smiled.  He whistled.  Both seemed to understand the waves this would create among Lara’s financial advisers, led by the Gray Fiduciary.

To my mind, this was far better than actually reporting Lara to the IRS, which we would never do though I believe the countess would have done had she dismissed us and hired others. 

In this way, we were protecting Lara from her own mother and a genuine IRS investigation.

The banker broached his concern.  “Is it natural?"  

Meaning:  The Gray Fiduciary and his attorneys will study what they've heard about Moono's phone calls.  

Will it make sense to them?       

"Moono assured me this is how the IRS would handle a preliminary investigation based on data received from an informant."     

We agreed to sleep on this and regroup the following morning, when we thrashed it around one more time.  

The countess feigned new doubts (a dramatic touch), which were immediately dispelled by the banker (himself, very gung-ho—probably because our IRS scare would embarrass his competitor, the Gray Fiduciary).

 

Three weeks later I returned to the French Riviera with results from the IRS scare.

"My operative traveled to Washington," I explained to the countess and her banker.  "He chose a suitable public phone in the quiet area of a mall and I bought him a telephone card so he wouldn't have to pump the thing full of quarters."

The countess smiled. "Bon."  

She appreciated attention to detail.

"The first call he made was to UBS in Geneva."  

I produced a sheaf of hotel stationery inked with old-fashioned scribbling.  

"A female answered.  My operative said, ‘I'm trying to locate Lara [last name], who may have an account with your bank—can you help me?’  The female connected him to a male bank officer, to whom he gave the same opening.  The official asked why he was interested.  My operative said, ‘I'm looking into real estate transactions where there is no mortgage and where payments were made with funds from foreign banks.’  

"The bank officer said, ‘That is confidential information.’  So my operative said, ‘If the United States Internal Revenue Service needed this information, what would be the procedure?’  The bank officer said they'd need to write a letter and go through channels."

The banker nodded.  "Wow," he said.  "This has big impact.  I know.  If I get such call, big impact."

The countess squealed with delight.

I recounted similar telephone calls, made over two days, to the Cayman National Bank (they hung up), Butterfield Bank of Bermuda, Grand Cayman and a bank in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

"When exactly did you make these calls?" asked the banker.

Two weeks ago.

The banker nodded and looked at the countess. "It explains what happens."

"What happened?" I asked.

One week earlier, the Gray Fiduciary had called the banker for an appointment.  

"We know each other 30 years and this is first time he comes to my office," said the banker.  "He is pale and nervous.  He asks for my advice on how to deal with IRS."


Soon after, the countess received a big bouquet of flowers from Lara, who then arrived for lunch at Hotel des Bergues in Geneva.

Mother and daughter whooped it up like there'd never been a bad word between them, let alone a multi-year estrangement. 

"Our countess says her prayers have been answered and the problem's solved," said Clair, who had spoken with her by phone.

"Fine by me,” I said.  "Sounds like a happy ending.   Shall I invoice the countess for that million dollars she promised us for traveling the world to think of her?"

 

A full year passed.  

The countess had not called.  

Nor had we solicited any further assignment.  

Our long-running soap opera, it seemed, had finally been cancelled, mid-season, leaving assorted subplots dangling in the wind.


The Klepp, Reykjavik

On a trip through London, I phoned Baron von Biggleswurm and explained that I'd been looking for the devil in Iceland, part of a new odyssey in search of  creativity and madness.


Clubhouse on Wheels: Thorrablot






"You're a strange person," he replied.

           

Three months later, I had a reason to visit the French Riviera for the first time in ages.  

I phoned the countess and she invited me to lunch.

Although a mistral had blown through and uprooted several tall trees, her grounds looked lovelier than ever.  

The old manservant stood near the front door in full livery and a beaming smile as my taxi wound into the piazza.

My countess was just inside.  She was older and frail.  Her eyes had dulled, the old feistiness gone.

"How is your grandson?" I asked.

The boy everybody had worried about and fought over for a decade had just turned 19.  He was enrolled at London University, just returned from spring break in Spain.

"And how is the baron?"

The countess shook her head.  "His health is not well.  He has an enflamed digestive tract."

"Of course."  I nodded.  "And Lara?"

The countess shrugged, a wan smile.  "One day she calls and tells me she will never forgive me.  A week later she sends me flowers, calls me and says she'd like to give me a big kiss. She put the house in Santa Fe up for sale and moved all her furniture back to Europe.  Now she's very down on the USA."

This was the precise moment I might have reminded the countess to reward the spymaster and me with the the million-dollar bonus she had promised.

"Take a world cruise and think of me," she had said. 

I could not do this.

The manservant called lunch and we took our places:  

Linguine with tomato sauce and mozzarella, veal cutlets, small potatoes—and a salad of greens and avocado.



Friday, October 30, 2020

128. THE FIVE DYSFUNCTIONS OF LEADERSHIP




On Retainer to Prince Albert of Monaco

May-June 2007


In early May, we had a quite alarming if not surprising report from a highly-trusted source coming out of Russia regarding the Prince’s aide-de-camp, who had become well known to the Russians through his relationship with General Pronichev:

Bruno Philipponnat reports Monaco’s national secrets and Palace activities monthly to the French.  There are no secrets for the French concerning Albert’s life and the Russians are equally well informed.


What the Prince hated most was to be taken for a fool—yet he allowed both the French and the Russians to take him for one.  

All my cautions from the day I commenced work in the Prince’s service had been thrown to the wind.

By mid-May, it seemed clear the Prince tolerated us merely as a token service, disinterested in our work and not doing anything about the shady people who continued to prosper and proliferate in his principality. 


This was not fine with me. 


We had been telling other intelligence services in earnest of the Prince’s seriousness about “putting morality, honesty and ethics at the forefront of my government and my cabinet” (Le Monde 2).

It all sounded good, but it wasn’t the truth


Truth was, the Prince was doing nothing about the pervasive money laundering and numerous shady dealings in his own backyard, including the corrupt activities of his appointed ministers.  

It was just too much of a burden for him.

And he finally reached the point where he didn’t want to even hear about it any more. 


I had not signed on to be the Prince’s PR spin-meister. 

That day, our service stopped creating new liaison partnerships.  

It was time to wait, and watch, in passive mode, see what happened next.

Somewhere in my Internet surfing, trying to find an explanation, I came upon The Five Dysfunctions of Leadership:


·      Absence of trust

·      Fear of conflict

·      Lack of commitment   

·      Avoidance of accountability

·      Inattention to results 


Sadly, I concluded Prince Albert suffered all five.  


His leadership style was, in a word, hedonistic.

        

As we approached our fifth anniversary in service to the Prince, I drafted a redefinition of our mission:


·      We respond to requests from the Sovereign for briefings (through liaison partners) and requirements (investigations and operations).

·      We maintain relationships with foreign intelligence services for the purpose of assisting the Sovereign with briefings, shared intelligence and joint investigations/operations; we also respond to requests of services with which we liaise, if they do not conflict with Monaco’s sovereign interests.

·      Columbus Group:  We grow our Micro-Europe intelligence club to enhance deep cooperation among microstates.

 

I wanted to discuss this redefinition with the Prince, to allay his fears about our intentions with regard to Monegasques in important posts, but he had become elusive.

So when I arrived in Monaco on June 13th, I came prepared to dissolve Monaco’s intelligence service—and move on with my life. 

JL met me at Nice Airport and recounted a meeting he’d had with the Prince a few days earlier.   

The Prince still had not provided JL a cover job with salary, as promised and poor JL was drowning in debt.

Incredibly, the Prince replied, “So you want me to help you [financially]?”

“No,” said JL, “I just want to be paid for the work I’ve been doing like you agreed.  What about a job in the tourism office as cover, which you suggested?”

“Oh, can’t do it,” the Prince replied. 

“But you can do anything you want!”  

“I wish,” said the Prince.  

He directed his cousin to (of all people) Palace rat Claude Palmero, whom he would see next morning.

JL came straight to see me at Hotel Columbus after his meeting with Palmero.

 

Palmero: Palace Rat
We sat in the chic lobby, me jet-lagged, JL devastated.  

White-faced, he explained:  Palmero, with contemptuous condescension, had said to him, “So you have money troubles and you expect the Prince to bail you out?”




“No,” said JL.  “I need to be paid for the work I’ve done.”

“What work?” Palmero demanded.

“My work with Eringer.”

“Eringer should pay you.  But regarding a job, Eringer’s cell is terminated. Nothing has changed since what I told him six months ago.  No more invoices will be paid.”

Palmero said he might be prepared to loan JL money, on the Prince’s behalf and help find him a job. 

“So what can you do?” sniffed Palmero. 

“I do intelligence with Eringer,” said JL. 

“I already told you,” Palmero huffed. “Eringer is dead.”

 

Next day, June 16th:  exactly five years after the Prince hired me to be his spymaster. 

I was in Hotel Columbus, ninth floor, awaiting an elevator to descend. 

The Prince phoned.  

“Sorry,” he said, “I’ve been very busy and I’m about to leave for Paris and Marchais.” 

I told the Prince I would depart for Malta next morning for a meeting of the Columbus Group. 

Honest to God, he said, “What’s that?” 

I reminded him of our association of intelligence services from the European microstates, pointing out that San Marino would attend for the first time.  

An excellent addition, I added, because it was in San Marino’s banks that corrupt Monegasque ministers hid their dirty money. 

The Prince did not know quite what to say, so he said nothing.       

“Shall I keep going?” I added. 

“Yes,” he replied.  “Keep going.”

“And bill you next quarter as usual?”

“Yes, proceed,” he replied.

“You know,” I said, “it was five years ago today that you asked me to do this job.  Happy anniversary.”

“Happy anniversary.”  

He sounded robotic.


Windy Proust
Downstairs, JL was chuckling.  

He’d just shared espresso with the minister of state’s chauffeur, Paul, who hated his job because he hated his boss—about whom he told this anecdote:  

Proust climbs into the car smelling of whisky and tobacco, his shirt collar mottled with dirt and grease, sits back in his seat.  

Then, with great effort, he hunches forward. 

“Paul, Paul,” says a grinning Proust, holding out his pinkie.  “Pull.”          

Paul says, “Yes, your Excellency.” 

Paul pulls Proust’s pinkie whereupon the minister of state releases a long, beefy fart and falls back into a giggling heap. 

And doesn’t even open the window.


That afternoon, the 16th, I had to meet Lips at Quai des Artistes.   

We sat in the open air.  

For the first time since we’d met three years earlier, the CIA's inept Paris station chief wore blue jeans, as I’d been suggesting for, well, three years. 

LIPS told me his ambassador (not Langley) had expressed concern about the Prince’s plan to vacation come summer with President Vladimir Putin of Russia.  

“He’s concerned that it could open Pandora’s box.”


I shrugged. “He's right. That box is already open." 

General Pronichev, Bruno Philipponnat, Gocha Arivadze and a dacha at Roc Agel the Russians were building from scratch, a gift (some might say a bribe) from President Putin for Albert's Winter Olympics Sochi vote.   

“You haven’t been paying attention,” I added.   

LIPS gulped—an OMG moment. 

 

This was not how LIPS wanted his tenure as Paris CIA chief, with responsibility for Monaco—and a secret relationship with the Prince—to end. 

“Doesn’t he want to keep doing what he asked you to do?”



“He thinks he should,” I replied.

 “Thinks he should?

“Exactly.”

“That’s an important distinction.”

“I’m glad you caught it.”

“What are you going to do about it?” asked LIPS.

“Whack away,” I said.  “These Russians are like weeds.  We need a giant weed whacker.  Under the circumstances,” I added, “I’d like to see somebody senior at your headquarters to redefine our relationship—next month, if possible.”

“That’s very doable,” said LIPS, for whom everything was always very doable—until you needed actually to do it.  “We have a new European division chief taking over shortly.” 

(The fourth in as many years, dissent and decline within the agency to blame.)

The good news, I said, our Micro-Europe association was progressing well.

“A great legacy,” said LIPS, remembering the enthusiasm Ambassador Stapleton expressed for this initiative.   

LIPS told me he was headed to “the seventh floor”—an executive job in senior management.

(If true, heaven help CIA.)

Before departing from what would be our final meeting, LIPS ran through, as always, his motivational list of concepts to keep our relationship structured.  

“Does that make sense?” he concluded with his catchphrase.

No, our relationship with you folks has been rather sense-less. But thanks for lunch.


At ten minutes to eight at the same table in Columbus where the Prince and I started Monaco's intelligence service five years ago to the day, I met with JLA—our first meeting since he’d been unjustifiably fired eight months before.

 

“The best period,” I told him, “was while you were chef de cabinet.  That was our golden age.”  I meant every word.  “The right changes were being made—we had momentum.” 

JLA seized on the word momentum.  

Indeed we did, he sadly concurred.

One of the incidents held against JLA was his so-called  “firing” of Christine Stahl as Palace Communications Director.   





Stahl had thrown numerous tantrums in JLA’s office, shouting her resignation on three occasions.  On the third, JLA insisted she truly go. 

“I didn’t do such things by my own authority,” JLA told me.

I knew he did not.  

The Prince would authorize JLA to take action on something and, if he were then criticized, Albert would assign blame on JLA for “exceeding his authority.”  

In this case, the Prince flip-flopped, rehired Stahl—and ever since she’d been running around Paris calling Albert “stupid” behind his back.

“The Prince fired me,” said JLA.  “He had every right to do that—it’s the kind of authority I wanted to instill in him.” 

The irony.

As for Thierry Lacoste, JLA had seen him for lunch in Paris one week earlier.  


“He has twenty faces,” said JLA.  “Never trust him.  Last week he said to me, ‘Too bad you left, Monaco is falling apart, Albert doesn’t have a grip, Albert doesn’t work’—can you believe?  Then Lacoste probably goes to Monaco and tells Albert I said something bad about him.”

What bothered JLA the most:  

The Prince never said thank you; he never showed any appreciation for all JLA accomplished, even while the Prince got hailed as a genius due to JLA’s valiant efforts.





Prince Albert II of Monaco is a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

As such, Albert votes on where the Olympics shall be played. 

This is a highly competitive business.

In early July 2007, the IOC met to vote on which city should host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Albert voted for Sochi, in Russia.

Several months earlier, Russian laborers began building a three-bedroom dacha (traditional Russian house) on the grounds of Roc Agel, Prince Albert's private estate in the mountains behind Monaco.  

The dacha was a personal gift from the Russian state.

It is a violation of the IOC's Code of Ethics for an IOC Member to receive a gift from a country engaged in bidding to host the Olympic Games.

Albert never declared his gift to IOC's leadership.

He kept it secret.

Clearly, Russia's Vladimir PUTIN sweetened Albert's disposition toward Sochi with an expensive personal gift.

Others would call it a bribe.


Prince Albert finds new best buddy in Putin

Matthew Campbell, Sunday Times

Published: 21 September 2008

 

RUSSIAN officials sent a team of builders to Monaco to erect a three-bedroom "dacha" in Prince Albert's garden earlier this year as a sign of the growing friendship between Moscow and the tiny principality on the Riviera, according to sources close to the palace.

The simple wooden building has the function of a pool house at Albert's estate in the hills behind Monte Carlo and reflected growing bonds with Moscow that have helped to turn Monaco, a glamorous tax haven, into the favourite playground of Russians.

Albert's spokesman declined to comment but a former adviser saw the dacha as evidence of the warm friendship that has developed between the 50-year-old bachelor prince and Vladimir Putin, 55, the Russian prime minister. 

The two spent a week together last summer, fishing and hunting in Siberia, where the Russian leader was photographed posing without his shirt. Albert was given two freshwater seal pups from Lake Baikal.

They met again last month in St Petersburg, when Putin thanked Albert, a member of the International Olympic Committee, for supporting Russia's bid to host the winter Olympics in the Black Sea port of Sochi in 2014.