Monday, November 4, 2013

"The Investigator" by Terry Lenzner (2013)

What began in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965 as a peaceful one day protest, degenerated into a 3 week odyssey that wound its way through the Courts and into the living rooms of all America. Terry Lenzner was there. He was a young, idealistic assistant attorney for the Justice Department who had just cut his teeth the year before on the murder of the 3 Civil Rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

With a clear and crisp style, Mr. Lenzner takes us on a journey through the decades of the Civil Rights Movement; with all its attendant violence and moral outrage; and on into the Watergate Affair and beyond. From his first work with Robert Kennedy’s Department of Justice, and on through his later work as an independent Legal Investigator, he has been a front row participant in much of the history of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The author defended the Berrigan Brothers for their ant-war activities, which were controversial to even those in the anti-war movement. His portrayal of the men, and their cause, were a bit of an eye opener for me, as the author paints a picture of the nuns and the brothers, taking communion with wine smuggled into the courtroom before the proceedings each day. It should be noted that Mr. Lenzner is Jewish. His account has changed my mind about the sincerity of the Berrigans, whom I considered to be a bit “over the top” in some of their actions. Although I still don’t condone the way they protested, I now understand their motivations more clearly.

I found the Watergate section of this book to be particularly interesting; and although Mr. Lenzner draws a slightly different conclusion than I do as to who started the chain of extortion which was at the heart of the Watergate Affair; the excitement of those times comes to life in his words. He is, after all, the first person to have ever subpoenaed a sitting U.S. President. And, in the end, both sides were the bad guys; with the CIA doing its level best to bring down the President by having him help cover up a botched burglary which he knew nothing of; and the President trying to blackmail the CIA with what he knew about Castro, the Bay of Pigs and even Dealey Plaza. It’s just a case of who was trying to screw the other one first, and more importantly; why?

The author has also represented the CIA’s “Dr. Death”; Sidney Gottlieb; an expert in poisons and the man most responsible for the suicide death of Dr. Frank Olson, who jumped from his room at the Statler Hotel in New York on November 28, 1953. Gottlieb’s testimony was instrumental in shedding light on the American government’s use of mind altering drugs to achieve “parity” with the Soviets, who were ahead of us at the time in this area of espionage during the Church Committee Hearings into the operations of the CIA and the MK-ULTRA program. Although the author seemed impressed with Dr. Gottlieb, this reader sees him more for what he was; a monster. Although his motivations may have been pure, his actions were monstrous. But, in the end, he was given immunity in exchange for his testimony.

When Mr. Lenzner moves into the private sector he finds no shortages of clients to serve. When the Mugar family of Boston wanted to purchase the RKO TV station, Channel 7, in Boston they faced a huge hurdle. They had to prove it was in the public’s best interest to have license transferred from General tire, the entity which held title to it at the time, to the Mugar family.

The only way to do that was for Mr. Lenzner to travel to Mexico in search of 2 disgruntled employees of General Tire who had been forced into retirement for their part in a scheme which made the company a lot of money, but got them fired and exiled to Mexico, where they could presumably avoid prosecution.

Carefully courting the 2 former mid-level executives produced a boatload of information involving foreign bank accounts used as political slush funds, as well as skimming of profits from one company to another. Armed with these revelations, Mr. Lenzner was able to successfully make the case for a change in the license. The Mugar family now owned Channel 7 in Boston.

From Civil Rights and Watergate, to his work on the Alaskan pipeline, and the investigations into Princess Diana's death, the Swift Boating of John Kerry, and even the Monica Lewinsky Affair, Mr. Lenzner has been in the forefront of just about every major headline making case in the latter half of the 20th Century. And, aside from Civil Rights and Watergate, many of those cases have had at least an indirect effect on all of us as citizens.

His career is storied and his path has been, at times, arduous. But the results he has attained; both in the form of his accomplishments, as well as the formation of his company, Investigative Group International; have always been the result of a deep seated belief in the proverbial “little guy.” And, who could ask for a better legacy than that?

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