The Prisoner, like Danger Man, has a British secret agent played by McGoohan as the lead character. This secret agent (there is much debate among fans as to whether it is the same character in both series or not) abruptly turns in his resignation. However, the agency he works for is not so eager to accept his resignation. While packing his bags in preparation for departure, his home is gassed and McGoohan passes out. When he comes to, his home seems just as it was, completely undisturbed. When he opens the window, he is startled to discover that instead of London skyscrapers, he has the view of a garden. Upon further investigation, he finds he is in a secluded coastal place called The Village where everyone is either a prisoner or a warden, but there are no identities; everyone is assigned a number. McGoohan is assigned Number Six (which he resists proclaiming, "I am not a number! I am a free man!") and is constantly kept under surveillance by Number Two. In almost every episode, Number Two is replaced by a "new Number Two", either to confuse Number Six or because the 'old' Number Two was outsmarted by Number Six.
I loved every episode from the pilot to the finale, even the episode set in the Wild West, which actually fit into the pattern of interrogation perfectly. My favorite episode was the penultimate titled Once Upon a Time. It begins with Leo McKern, who had previously played Number Two in the second episode of the series, The Chimes of Big Ben, returning to the role for one last shot at breaking Number Six. He asks on the phone to his superior and gets approval to use "Degree Absolute" on Number Six. Degree Absolute is an extreme form of regressive therapy in which Number Two guides Number Six, who has mentally regressed to a child, through Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man in the hopes of discovering, as every Number Two throughout the series has attempted, why Number Six resigned. Throughout these seven ages, Number Two conducts tests in which he plays an authority figure and Number Six must react in a subordinate role. However, Number Six turns the tables eventually locking Number Two in a room for torment as time for the session runs out. Number Two collapses, apparently dead, and when the Supervisor played by Peter Swanwick enters to ask what Number Six wants, he agrees to give Number Six an audience with the figure he's been asking to confront ever since his imprisonment in The Village: the elusive Number One.
What makes this episode both ahead of its time and incredibly relevant to today is in illustrating how the combination of torture and drugs have been used in the pursuit of mind control. I've written previously on this blog about the subject of MK-ULTRA, the CIA mind control program conducted in secret during the 1950s. Yet knowledge of this classified program did not become public until the 1970s. So in that regard, McGoohan seems to be extremely prescient (or extremely connected) in his enactment of mind control techniques. As for contemporary relevance, one need only read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine to understand that these same techniques have become the favored method of pressure on "enemy combatants" kept prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. Not only has this "enhanced interrogation" been applied to foreign detainees, but in the case of Bradley Manning we have an American citizen whose lawyers alleged that while in solitary confinement at Fort Quantico, Manning was alternately kept naked and forced to sleep in a straitjacket, while being "drugged heavily with antidepressants." Whatever you may think of what Edward Snowden did with his subsequent leak, in the wake of these allegations, can you blame him for escaping from the USA and preferring to spend the rest of his life in exile?
But I digress. We're approaching another anniversary where JFK's assassins have escaped justice. Strangely enough, there is an incident where an intelligence operative who sought to expose part of the charade erected by the conspirators faced his own Degree Absolute.
In January 1964, Yuri Nosenko, a KGB agent who had been selling secrets to the CIA while stationed in Geneva since 1962, asked to defect to the United States because he feared Moscow was aware of his relationship to US intelligence. While one of his CIA handlers George Kisevalter tried to talk him into remaining in place since he was Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko's "watchdog", Nosenko reminded him that he had been in charge of recruiting Americans in Moscow and that he had detailed knowledge of the KGB's relationship to Lee Harvey Oswald during the time Oswald was in the Soviet Union. The CIA brought Nosenko to the US, much to the consternation of James Jesus Angleton. As chief of the CIA's Counterintelligence Staff, Angleton was convinced Nosenko was a fake defector. According to Joseph Trento's The Secret History of the CIA, Angleton's favored defector Anatoly Golitsyn had convinced him that the KGB would send false defectors for the "fools at the CIA" to discredit him. Angleton then uncovered tiny holes in Nosenko's story: he lied about his rank to inflate his status, plus the NSA was unable to intercept a recall message from Moscow. As Trento writes on page 285-286:
It was this last bit of evidence that Angleton used to convince Richard Helms and others in the CIA hierarchy that Nosenko should be incarcerated until his reliability could be determined.
At Camp Peary, the CIA's training base for new agents outside Williamsburg, Virginia, construction began on a tiny cement-block house for Nosenko. Under the supervision of the Office of Security and Pete Bagley from the SR Division, Nosenko was incarcerated under harsh conditions. He was not permitted outside at night because the CIA feared that, with his naval training, he would be able to look at the stars and figure out where he was. Nosenko, then 36, spent the next three years being sweated by experts from the Office of Security. Everything he said, every answer he gave, was picked apart.
The irony gets even thicker when we discover one page later that Nosenko was able to finger a KGB agent that Golitsyn was unable to, which Golitsyn then proceeded to resell as new information to British intelligence. How bad was the torture? In his book Plausible Denial, Mark Lane writes, "during the process many of his teeth were knocked out." Former director of the CIA Stansfield Turner goes into more details about Nosenko in his book Secrecy and Democracy, which like The Prisoner (and allegedly Bradley Manning) also, not surprisingly, includes Nosenko being drugged against his will:
"His prison cell was concrete, about eight feet square, with no windows, only an opening with steel bars in the top half of the door. A single steel bed with a mattress but no pillow or sheets and an occasional blanket were the only furnishings. From time to time he was allowed to go outside into a small compound surrounded by walls so high that he could see only the sky. His clothing was inadequate for the Virginia winters. He was denied toothpaste and a toothbrush and was permitted to shave and shower only once a week. During the entire period he was administered one or more of four drugs on seventeen occasions. Doctors periodically also pressured him psychologically."
What exactly was the nature of the information Nosenko had on Oswald that resulted in his incarceration and torture? It was that Oswald was definitely not a KGB agent. This fact ran contrary to the story the CIA, particularly Angleton, was trying to push in getting the Warren Commission to close the case and cover up the truth about the JFK assassination. The CIA story revolved around Oswald's alleged visit to Mexico City in September through October 1963. The objective of the story was to show that when Oswald went to the Soviet Embassy there, he met with Valery Kostikov, a KGB operative responsible for planning assassinations in the Americas. Doing so would insure that any investigation uncovering this information would risk starting a World War III nuclear holocaust if made public, thus necessitating a cover-up. One problem negating the veracity of this scenario: the phone call in which Oswald allegedly spoke of meeting with Kostikov was proved by the FBI the day after JFK was killed to be someone impersonating Oswald. We know this because J. Edgar Hoover told President Johnson this in a phone call on November 23, 1963:
So who was impersonating Oswald? This question, along with other inconvenient details, were purposely swept under the rug by the Warren Commission. LBJ appointed the Warren Commission for the express purpose of avoiding the prospect of World War III and assuring the public that Oswald acted alone, Ruby acted alone, move along, nothing more to see. Once again, we have a transcript of a phone call as proof, this time between LBJ and Senator Richard Russell, who LBJ appointed to the Warren Commission. In this conversation, LBJ explains that playing the World War III trump card is how he got Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, who had previously turned down the request, to head the Commission:
Do you notice any contradiction within the chronology? Why would President Johnson be warning Senator Russell and Chief Justice Warren about the specter of World War III and 40 million Americans dead in an hour if KGB complicity in the JFK assassination were made public on November 29 when J. Edgar Hoover told him on November 23 that the damning phone call came from an Oswald impersonator? John Newman examines this conundrum in his book Oswald and the CIA and what that implies on page 633:
There was a darker purpose, however, for the suppression of the tapes. As long as the tapes survived, the story in them was undermined by the fact that Oswald's voice was not on them. The cover-up of the Mexico tapes began three hours after Hoover told Johnson that the voice on them was not Oswald's. If this dark detail became widely known, LBJ would not be able to play the WWIII trump card on leaders like Senator Russell and Chief Justice Warren. It is possible that the order to concoct a cover story saying that the tapes were erased before the assassination came from the White House.
With that loose end tied, the Warren Commission then followed the CIA story about the "little incident in Mexico City" President Johnson described exactly as the CIA and LBJ intended. Conveniently, Nosenko was never called to testify.
However Nosenko, like The Prisoner's Number Six, was able to achieve a victory, albeit a somewhat Pyrrhic victory, over his Degree Absolute. After three and a half years of incarceration, interrogation and torture, he was released. The CIA concluded in 1967 that he was a genuine defector and that the information he provided, both prior to his defection and while incarcerated, was truthful and important. They purchased a home for him in North Carolina and arranged for him to become a US citizen with an annual allowance of $30,000.
Victory in the form of a courtroom validation came courtesy of Hunt v. Liberty Lobby, in which attorney Mark Lane successfully defended Liberty Lobby against E. Howard Hunt, who was suing their publication the Spotlight for defamation after they published an article alleging that Hunt was involved in the conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy. Lane wrote an entire book about the case, Plausible Denial, in which he details his defense strategy: for the first time since Jim Garrison in 1969, Lane would try the CIA in open court and prove for the benefit of his client that there was no defamation because the CIA, which employed Howard Hunt, did in fact conspire to assassinate JFK. Lane was successful, first, because while cross-examining Hunt, he was able to trip him up on his own sworn testimony. Lane details this exchange on pages 282-283:
At this trial he acknowledged the accuracy of that deposition transcript and asserted that his statements were truthful. I then asked him about the testimony he had offered at the first trial of the Liberty Lobby case, on December 16, 1981.
Q. Do you recall testifying back on December 16, 1981, that when the allegation was made that you were in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, your children were really upset? Do you recall testifying to that?
Q. Do you recall testifying that you had to reassure them that you were not in Texas that day?
Q. That you had nothing to do with the Kennedy assassination?
A. That's right.
Q. And that you were being persecuted for reasons that were unknown to you?
Q. Did you say that the allegation that you were in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, was the focus of a great deal of interfamily friction, and tended to exacerbate difficulties in the family?
A. I did.
Although neither Hunt nor his attorneys seemed to sense what danger was about to befall them, it appeared that the jurors were anticipating the next question, confident that they knew what it would be.
I put down the dog-eared copy of the 1981 trial transcript. I looked at Hunt and softly asked the most difficult question he was going to face at this trial:
"Mr. Hunt, why did you have to convince your children that you were not in Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, if, in fact, as you say, a fourteen-year-old daughter, a thirteen-year-old daughter, and a ten-year-old son were with you in the Washington, D.C., area on November 22, 1963, and were with you at least for the next forty-eight hours, as you all stayed glued to the T.V. set?"
If someone had struck Hunt in the face his reaction would not have been more physical. His head jerked back. He stared at his attorneys. Snyder and Dunne, apparently thunderstruck, began to speak to each other in whispers. The delay before Hunt responded seemed interminable. In absolute time it probably was not more than half a minute.
Hunt then proceeded to waver and dissemble before the court. Lane summarizes the full impact of this response on page 285:
Hunt had told so many stories, and given so many differing versions of his actions and whereabouts on November 22, 1963, that he had apparently failed to realize that two sets of stories - that he had been with his children the whole time and that his children did not know were he had been at the time - were mutually exclusive explanations.
The jurors understood, however, and in my view before Hunt's cross-examination had concluded his cause had been lost. Yet ours had just begun.
What had "just begun" was sworn testimony proving CIA complicity in the assassination of JFK. Lane did so in the form of a deposition reading of the sworn testimony of Marita Lorenz. She detailed how she had worked with Frank Sturgis, who along with Hunt was later convicted for his role in the Watergate burglary, during November 1963. She witnessed Hunt, operating under the alias Eduardo, making payments to Sturgis in a motel room in Dallas, Texas, on November 21, 1963. Was there anyone else she and Sturgis met at the motel room besides Hunt? Lorenz testified that after Hunt left, one other person came to their room the day before JFK was assassinated: Jack Ruby. When Lorenz was cross-examined, she not only stood by her statements, but added upon request the names of others that were in the car with them on the way to Dallas, such as Pedro Diaz Lanz and Gerry Patrick Hemming.
To try to undermine this testimony, Hunt's lawyers brought the deposition of Newton Miler. Miler testified that as a CIA founder who served under Ray Rocca, who reported only to James Jesus Angleton, he had no knowledge of Marita Lorenz or Frank Sturgis being employed by the CIA. Hunt's attorney Kevin Dunne tried to make it look as if Miler's credentials were impeccable. But when Lane cross-examined Miler, he admitted that he couldn't prove either Lorenz or Sturgis were not employed by the CIA. Then Lane went in for the kill to completely dismantle Miler for having any credibility as an upstanding citizen with his trump card: the story of Yuri Nosenko. From pages 311 and 314-315 of Plausible Denial:
For years Miler had controlled that interrogation, preparing questions, analyzing the responses and determining, with others including Angleton, that Nosenko should be illegally arrested, imprisoned without access to the judicial system, and routinely tortured.
Q. Have you ever played any part in the interrogation of Nosenko in terms of reading reports or suggesting questions for him?
A. Yes sir.
I questioned Miler about Nosenko, not really in the belief that he would provide truthful answers, but rather to permit the jury to hear him discredit himself. The deposition concluded with Miler becoming increasingly uncomfortable. He perspired profusely in the temperature controlled room, continually looked to his attorneys for help and bolted out of the room the moment the deposition was completed.
Q. Was Nosenko held illegally under arrest for more than three years by the Central Intelligence Agency?
A. I would object to the term illegally under arrest. According to the House Assassination Committee, according to the Church Committee and so forth, he was held - incarcerated.
Q. Did the House Select Committee on Assassinations find that the holding of this man for some three years was improper?
A. Was it the House Assassinations Committee that did that? I don't know whether it was that or one of the other Committees. Yes, they did.
Q. And did the Central Intelligence Agency admit that this was an illegal action by the CIA?
A. That I am not certain of what it admitted to.
Q. Did Mr. Nosenko agree to be locked up in a cell for three years?
A. I do not know that from my knowledge of Nosenko.
Q. Was he ever charged with a crime after he came to the United States?
A. Not to my knowledge - not under U.S. law.
Q. Well, he was in the United States after he came here wasn't he? Did any court in the United States order him to be held in a cell?
A. Not to my knowledge.
Q. You were involved then in an illegal operation against the rights of Mr. Nosenko?
A. How do you mean involved in the illegal rights of Mr. Nosenko?
Q. Did you know that he was being held during that period of time?
Q. Were you not an accessory after the fact in the destruction of the rights of Mr. Nosenko?
A. I can not interpret that in a legal way.
Q. I have no further questions.
After these revelations, Hunt's lawyers called no more witnesses and closing arguments were made. Unlike the Garrison trial on March 1, 1969, in which Clay Shaw, and by extension the CIA, was acquitted of the charges of conspiring to assassinate President Kennedy, on February 6, 1985, the verdict was for the defendant, Liberty Lobby, and against the plaintiff, E. Howard Hunt. While there was concurrence in the unanimous decision as to the reason for finding for the defendant, the forewoman Leslie Armstrong was clear that the evidence presented showed the CIA had killed President Kennedy.
How far above Hunt does responsibility with the CIA lie? In the 2008 Epilogue to his book Oswald and the CIA, John Newman offers his views on page 636:
It is now apparent that the WWIII pretext for a national security cover-up was built into the fabric of the plot to assassinate President Kennedy. The plot required that Oswald be maneuvered into place in Mexico City and his activities there carefully monitored, controlled, and, if necessary, embellished and choreographed. The plot required that, prior to 22 November, Oswald's profile at CIA HQS and the Mexico station be lowered; his 201 file had to be manipulated and restricted from incoming traffic on his Cuban activities. The plot required that, when the story from Mexico City arrived at HQS, its significance would not be understood by those responsible for reacting to it. Finally, the plot required that, on 22 November, Oswald's CIA files would establish his connection to Castro and the Kremlin.
The person who designed this plot had to have access to all of the information on Oswald at CIA HQS. The person who designed this plot had to have the authority to alter how information on Oswald was kept at CIA HQS. The person who designed this plot had to have access to project TUMBLEWEED, the sensitive joint agency operation against the KGB assassin, Valery Kostikov. The person who designed this plot had the authority to instigate a counterintelligence operation in the Cuban affairs staff (SAS) at CIA HQS. In my view, there is only one person whose hands fit into these gloves: James Jesus Angleton, Chief of CIA's Counterintelligence Staff.
Does the buck stop with Angleton, or was there a 'maestro' in the conspiracy that he answered to? I believe the answer to that question is that he did answer to someone above him in the top levels of the Military-Industrial Complex. The most likely candidate would be Angleton's former boss, Allen Dulles. As the DCI fired by President Kennedy over the Bay of Pigs, along with his deep ties with the triumvirate that ran the DIA, as well as being the architect of Operation Gladio, swimming with the financial elite as a partner with his brother of the Wall Street law firm Sullivan and Cromwell and initiating talks while head of the CIA with the criminal elite of Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana, Dulles had the means, motive and opportunity to pull it off. As the most active member of the Warren Commission, he had the means, motive and opportunity to cover it up.
Perhaps in some alternate reality, Allen Dulles and James Jesus Angleton are facing their own Degree Absolute - and hopefully losing the battle.